October 20, 2010

March 2001 -- A writer suffering from clinical depression finds relief from Prozac. Realizing how profoundly the drug's inventor has affected her life, she sets out to find him. But she is disappointed when she finally tracks down Bryan Molloy, a scientist at Eli Lilly. "How does it make you feel, I asked, to know that you have helped people? . . . 'I just wanted to do it for the intellectual high,' he said. 'It looked like scientific fun.' Reality is rarely what we imagine. Great and noble things do not always happen for great and noble reasons."

The story is a perfect illustration of what's wrong with altruism as a moral code. Bryan Molloy helped create a drug that millions have used to flee the dark nights of their souls. For the altruist mindset, however, the fact that he aimed only to satisfy his own curiosity makes the benefits to others irrelevant and his achievement unworthy of praise.

This blind spot springs from the assumption that the basic moral choice we face in life is self versus others. It is an ancient assumption. Conventional moral codes were forged in a pre-industrial era, when most people lived in societies based on ties of family and tribe. Producing food and other goods was largely a matter of routine, with little scope for the exercise of thought and imagination and little prospect of increasing output. Since the pool of wealth was more or less fixed, the key question was how to distribute it. Living in close dependence on their fellows, people survived the hard times by sharing, and at all times feared that the strong and rapacious would take more than their share. In the circumstances, it was not implausible to regard sacrifice, compassion, and mutual support, at least within the tribe, as important virtues.

With the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of complex economies, however, two facts have become blindingly obvious. The first is that production is not a routine task; the scope for employing man's highest powers of creativity, daring, and commitment is unlimited. The second is that wealth is not a fixed quantity; it can be expanded continuously through invention, trade, and investment; one person's success does not come at the expense of others, as long they cooperate and trade with each other freely. These facts may not have been obvious at the dawn of civilization. Now they are.

Economists have understood them for over two centuries, but moralists have not caught up. At a time when human intelligence is transforming the world at an accelerating pace, creating wealth on a scale undreamt of in human history, people still operate with the moral perspective of tribes eking out their existence.

Altruism is a demand-side ethic, based on the view that the distribution of goods is the fundamental issue in ethics and that the needy have first claim on goods. In defending egoism, Ayn Rand did not merely defend a new standard for the beneficiary of one's actions. She completely recast the framework of debate by denying that distribution is the fundamental issue.

Rand was the first thinker, to my knowledge, who proposed a genuine supply-side ethic. She recognized that achievement, not suffering, is the central fact of human existence. She honored the act of creating value above the act of giving it away. Pride of place in her moral code went to the virtues that make achievement possible--rationality, courage, productiveness, pride--rather than the virtues of benevolence to others. She was impatient with the altruists' obsession about whether a person is acting for himself or others. People have a right to live for themselves, and a creator has a right to the value he creates; that's a matter of justice. Still, when people are free to create, one person's gain does not come at another's expense; everyone benefits. But it is the act of achievement, from which those benefits flow, that deserves our highest moral honor.

The career of Michael Milken illustrates what is at stake here. In the 1970s and 1980s, Milken developed a market for high-yield ("junk") bonds, which he then used to capitalize innovative companies and to finance the takeover and restructuring of ailing ones. In the late 1980s, he was targeted in a high-profile investigation of Wall Street and eventually served two years in prison for alleged securities violations. His defenders and publicity people tried to counter public animus against him by citing the time and personal effort he devoted to education, medical research, and other philanthropic activities. But they could not overcome the perception of Milken as a symbol of "the decade of greed." That perception is still alive, and probably explains why he did not get one of President Clinton's last-minute pardons.

Imagine how different things would have been in a culture that valued achievement rather than sacrifice. To dramatize the difference, I once compared Michael Milken with Mother Teresa (on John Stossel's program "Greed"). Mother Teresa is the emblem of altruism: raising money for the poor and sharing their plight. She has a saintly aura not because of her works, strictly speaking--other philanthropists have done more--but because she is seen as deliberately sacrificing herself. She has cut corners at times, strong-arming donors and making deals with corrupt governments, but these flaws are easily excused as excesses of a noble soul.

In a supply-side culture, Michael Milken would possess that aura of nobility. Even if the allegations against him are true, they would count as no more than flaws of excessive zeal for creating wealth. What would be remembered and celebrated would be the new technologies he funded, the part he played in the spectacular economic boom of the 1980s, the foundation he laid for the information economy of the 1990s. He would be admired for his mind, energy, and vision. It would be a compliment, a moral tribute, for a creator to be compared with him.

The cultural change that Objectivists seek is nothing less than this.

This article was originally published in the March 2001 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.

David Kelley earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, and later taught cognitive science and philosophy at Vassar College and Brandeis University. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, and elsewhere. His books include  Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand; The Evidence of the Senses, and The Art of Reasoning, one of the most widely used logic textbooks in the country. Kelley is founder and executive director of The Atlas Society.

TNI articles by David Kelley          Atlas Society articles by David Kelley






David Kelley Ph.D
About the author:
David Kelley Ph.D

David Kelley founded The Atlas Society (TAS) in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.


ケリーの哲学的著作には、倫理学、認識論、政治学の独創的な著作があり、その多くは客観主義の思想を新たな深みと方向性で発展させている。著書に 五感の証拠を、 認識論で論じたものです。 目的論における真理と寛容目的論運動の問題点に関するもの。 無抵抗の個人主義。博愛の利己的根拠そして 推理の極意論理学入門の教科書として広く利用されている論理学入門』も第5版となりました。

ケリーは、政治や文化に関する幅広いテーマで講演や出版を行っている。社会問題や公共政策に関する記事は、Harpers、The Sciences、Reason、Harvard Business Review、The Freeman、On Principleなどに掲載されています。1980年代には、Barrons Financial and Business Magazineに 、平等主義、移民、最低賃金法、社会保障などの問題について頻繁に執筆した。

彼の著書 A Life of One's Own:個人の権利と福祉国家福祉国家の道徳的前提を批判し、個人の自律性、責任、尊厳を守る私的な選択肢を擁護するものである。1998年、ジョン・ストッセルのABC/TVスペシャル「Greed」に出演し、資本主義の倫理に関する国民的議論を巻き起こした。

客観主義の専門家として国際的に知られ、アイン・ランドとその思想、作品について広く講演を行っている。の映画化ではコンサルタントを務めた。 アトラス・シュラッグドの編集者であり アトラス・シュラッグド小説、映画、哲学.



"Concepts and Natures:A Commentary onThe Realist Turn(by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl)," Reason Papers 42, no.1, (Summer 2021); 近著のレビューで、概念の存在論と認識論への深掘りが含まれています。






The Party of Modernity, Cato Policy Report, May/June 2003; andNavigator, Nov 2003; プレモダン、モダン(啓蒙主義)、ポストモダンの文化的分裂に関する論文として広く引用されている。

"I Don't Have To"(IOS Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, April 1996) と "I Can and I Will"(The New Individualist, Fall/Winter 2011): 個人として自分の人生をコントロールすることを現実化するためのコンパニオン作品です。