SATURDAY, October 15, 2011 7:00 PM Arrival Time

Ayn Rand vs. Alan Greenspan on Selfishness
Video of talk by Tibor R. Machan
Given at The Atlas Society Free Minds 2010 Summer Seminar

Alan Greenspan’s reference to “self-interest” is radically different from Ayn Rand’s.  He said, before Congress, that “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself especially, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”  The latter reference to self-interest is not, however, to Rand’s idea, which is, “whatever will enhance the objective well being of an agent” but to the neo-classical economist’s idea of homo economicus, namely that everyone is always doing whatever he or she wants to do, provided no one else interferes.

In contrast to this subjectivist idea of self-interest, Rand’s calls to mind the exchange between Crito and Socrates in one of Plato’s dialogues, the Phaedo, where Crito asks, “When you are gone, Socrates, how can we best act to please you?”  and Socrates replies: “Just follow my old recipe, my friend: do yourselves concern yourselves with your own true self-interest; then you will oblige me, and nine and yourself too.”  This is pretty much the gist of Ayn Rand’s ethics of Objectivism: Do what in fact advances our best interest as the individual human being you are!

As already noted, Greenspan, in contrast, was talking about the contemporary idea of homo economicus prominent among neo-classical economists.  Rand’s idea of self-interest or selfishness, as that of Socrates, requires that one adhere to strict standards of conduct while the latter requires no standards for one to follow but only to choose to do whatever one prefers or wants to do.

Tibor R. Machan, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford University, CA).  He is professor emeritus of philosophy at Auburn University, and holds the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University.  He lectures regularly, on political philosophy and business ethics, in Europe, Latin America, South Africa, and New Zealand and throughout the United States.

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