The Fountainhead The Fountainhead discussion

confused a bit, a lot!

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Mahadevan V The book is a nice one, even though I do not completely agree with Ms.Rand, her philosophies are worth reading. However, I had this confusion while I was reading, and it still lingers in my mind.

Ms.Rand's definition of selfish is being creative and intuitive, thinking on our own, standing on our own, having an "independent" character where our world is shaped by our thoughts and deeds rather than by the society's thoughts. I understand this point. Not to get confused by what the mass thinks is the right thing to do, and not to make satisfying the masses the core aspect of our life/work.

However, I cannot comprehend why that is against philanthropy. In what way is this related to philanthropy/altruism? Or, in what way is this related to communism? In what way does being a philanthropist hamper one's own individualism? Or, is being altruistic different from being a philanthropist?

In the book, other than "promoting" individualism, there are many places where I could see that Ms.Rand was against altruism. Toohey's articles, his and his fellow friends' reviews, the way he degraded the society, the way he was shaping the society's opinions, the reason he was promoting mediocrity rather than brilliance etc etc is something that has to be condemned, and she does that pretty well. But, why against Toohey's altruism?

Can anyone help me by explaining this?

message 2: by One (new) - rated it 5 stars

One Flew It's the idea that we should be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others that Rand is fighting. Communism is the perfect example of this, where the individual has almost no rights, only society or the state matter. If the rights of the individual don't exist then the concept of altruism fails, no system where one man is expected to suffer for the benefit of another can possibly work.

Capitalism works as a system because of its inherent selfishness. In a capitalist society, everything is done on a system of mutual advantage, rather than enforced 'altruism'.

Mahadevan V I guess we are different on the takes of Communism here. I come from a state with its fair share of history in Communism - Kerala in India.

And, as far as I know, communism is not a system where an individual has no rights. It is a system which encourages state owned industries rather than privatization of industries. You may argue that both are one and the same, but I guess they are significantly different.

And regarding the point " If the rights of the individual don't exist then the concept of altruism fails, no system where one man is expected to suffer for the benefit of another can possibly work.", I am with you. But, in the book, is that the reason of the Roark's suffering? As far as I could understand, he was neglected by the society because his designs were ridiculed by Toohey and the general public (whose thoughts were shaped by Toohey and so). Does it have anything to do with altruism?

message 4: by Hitoshma (last edited Feb 10, 2014 11:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hitoshma It's been a few years that I read this book, but since I have read couple of Ayn Rand's works, I think I can make a fair comment on her ideology in her writings.

I understand that philanthropy/altruism are virtues considered as positives in a person. But these virtues need to surface from one's own will to help others, not by forced action. A state expecting you to go against your set of principles, your ambitions and conscience (as regular behavior), with only the pretense of helping others is not exactly an uplifting situation. Also, when this kind of motivation is used to build up a scenario that would rather go against the society's well-being in the long run, succumbing to altruism/philanthropy can be disastrous.

It kills the motivation for growth is one aspect, it makes the capable burdened and mandated to provide for people he is not responsible for.

It's the classic example of the grass-hopper and the ant story. That is how I think she pictures it.
Hope I could clear your confusion.

message 5: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed Morawski Many people (myself included) believe that giving a person something just encourages that person to take more. A person who receives what they need for free is not encouraged to work for anything. Charity serves to keep people down. It's harsh but true. I have given people charity many times and out of all those times only one ever used it to make something of themselves. Most come back asking for more.

Some one said: give a person food and they'll eat once, give them the means to fish or to plant and they'll eat for life.

In Rand's perfect society everyone would be gainfully employed and there would be no need for charity.

Susan Ray Mahadevan wrote: "The book is a nice one, even though I do not completely agree with Ms.Rand, her philosophies are worth reading. However, I had this confusion while I was reading, and it still lingers in my mind.


I was never impressed by Toohey's "altruism." It always seemed to me to be a means of manipulating people. His goal was to take over The Banner and spent much time and money setting the scenes necessary to build towards his ends. He was a master planner, much like Kevin Spacey's character in "House of Cards," and he used the appearance of altruism to advance his plans.

Walter Foddis It's important to understand that Rand's meaning of altruism, she is following in the philosophical tradition of August Comte, who invented the term. In basic terms, altruism means that our moral purpose in life is to serve others. This means that one can be generous, charitable, philanthropic, kind, compassionate, or helpful, but that this does not mean the same thing as "altruistic" in the way Rand uses it.

From the online Ayn Rand Lexicon:

"What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good."

“Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 61

Walter Foddis For those interested, I started a moderated group to discuss ideas and fiction related to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. The group description:

"A group to discuss Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism in a critical, yet respectful way. Discussion is not limited to what Rand wrote. In addition to your own thinking, feel free to introduce any Objectivist critiques, Objectivist scholarship, or any libertarian thought."

If this interests you, feel free to join!

E.D. Lynnellen Walter wrote: "It's important to understand that Rand's meaning of altruism, she is following in the philosophical tradition of August Comte, who invented the term. In basic terms, altruism means that our moral p..."


Good thing we developed democracy to counter that, eh?

message 10: by S.W. (new) - rated it 3 stars

S.W. Gordon Selfishness and sharing are not mutually exclusive. I don't share my wife. Does that make me selfish?

message 11: by E.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

E.D. Lynnellen Wouldn't that depend on your wife's point of view? :}

message 12: by Walter (last edited Feb 10, 2014 12:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Walter Foddis S.W., one can view sharing of things of personal value as self-interested, which is more along the lines of Rand's argument. To act in one's rational or objective self-interest is not the same as pursuing one interests while disregarding (or harming) the welfare or interests of others. Rand, in her rhetorical style, was trying to provoke people's thinking by attacking the word "selfish." However, an ethics of egoism is not that controversial in philosophy. I don't think Rand succeeded in her egoism argument (once you get past her rhetoric), nonetheless, her perspective helped make me aware of the logical impossibility of living solely to serve others (i.e., altruistically).

For what it's worth, David Kelley expands the Objectivist ethical argument for benevolence (i.e., generosity, sensitivity, helpfulness, etc)) in Unrugged Individualism The Selfish Basis for Benevolence.

message 13: by E.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

E.D. Lynnellen Not to be flippant, but I've always seen Kelly's argument as the Randian version of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Less annoying than the standard pontification, but, still only a baby step toward "playing well with others".

What is that adage....; something about "flies and vinegar"? :}

Walter Foddis E.D., typical of your posts, you are enamored with your own words and fail to address the issue with logic or substance. But thanks for being consistent.

message 15: by S.W. (new) - rated it 3 stars

S.W. Gordon E.D. wrote: "Not to be flippant, but I've always seen Kelly's argument as the Randian version of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Less annoying than the standard pontification, but, st..."

I prefer your other adage about flies, E.D. And I apologize for what my profession has done to your first two initials. I think Walter nailed it. Rand relies so heavily on logic and substance that her message gets lost in the translation. Most of us are not high brow intellectuals who can differentiate between an "egoist" and an "egotist." Sometimes humor and flippancy can make a point more memorable and poignant especially to the masses (i.e. John Stuart's Daily Show, Mash 4077th).

message 16: by E.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

E.D. Lynnellen S.W., no animosity over the initials. Actually, quite a boon from a "branding"standpoint...; tickling the funny bone, and all. :}

My dear Walter,
You're very welcome.
On a serious note (no..really, totally serious), balancing "looking out for the other guy" with "looking out for myself" seems intuitive to me; a lesson learned from day to day interaction with others. You seem fixated on a rigid definition of altruism as the destroyer of your personal being. Who, exactly, do you think wants you to sacrifice yourself? How do they want you to do it? Why you in particular?

Wasn't Rand capable of finding such a balance? Or was her rigidity more than rhetoric?

Flippant minds want to know.

Longhare Content Let's just set aside the terms. The Fountainhead illustrates 1) an ideal man, who defines his own life and persists in living it despite opposition; 2) the crippling effect of being "given" assistance; 3) the social control possible by "giving" assistance to people. When Roarke can't get work as an architect, he works at a quarry and bides his time, seeking opportunity (Good). When the sculptor guy whose name I can't remember is unable to get commissions, he works for a corporation that specializes in undermining American taste with hideous knick knacks (Bad). When Toohey's saintly niece is dumped by faithless and unprincipled Peter, she wrecks her revenge by becoming a charity worker controlling the lives of poor people by making them dependent and unhappy (Worst of all!).

Rand has Roarke rescuing Sculptor Guy with a badly needed commission, but Roarke chooses him for the commission based on his work--not because the guy was starving. If he'd thought the sculptor was lousy, he would have told him to stick with his day job at the knick knack factory or, better yet, go work in a quarry where he could grow manly muscles and maybe get an employee discount on marble. Rand would apply the same advice to the niece's charity cases. Get a job or go hungry. We can argue about that till the cows come home.

What baffles me is the "ha, you can't seduce me because I'm going to rape you first" scene. The whole book is about individual autonomy and the evils of controlling or being controlled by other people, but Roarke decides Dominique really wants him and she's just fooling herself if she thinks she doesn't. Hmm. Whaaa? Did I miss something?

message 18: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed Morawski A good (if somewhat oversimplified) synopsis!

As far as your rape vs seduction comment: don't forget this was written in 1943, when women weren't quite so overt in their sexual feelings.

I always viewed this in the context of bathing suits versus underwear. Women will wear the skimpiest bikinis in public but are loathe to be seen in their essentially the same lingerie. It's all a matter of mindset I suppose.

Longhare Content Ed, yeah, but... We know that Dominique is frigid because of the exchange she has with Peter. Her frigidity seems an act of will, a refusal to engage intimately with other human beings. Rand makes a point that her frigidity is not the result of moral qualms or social inhibitions. She just has no sexual feelings--until Roarke forces her. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Rand was subscribing to the old bodice-ripper fable that the most romantic form of seduction is rape. It's just ironic.

Walter Foddis E.D., you missed my point and preferred to listen to yourself. Why not actually read Kelley, show you understand his arguments, then criticize (if you disagree) based on an accurate representation of Kelley's thesis and line of reasoning. In other words, argue with integrity. Seriously.

I see that Sam Harris is experiencing some serious misrepresentations of his thesis, even by professional philosophers, in The Moral Landscape; a thesis that Rand essentially shares.

Harris's thesis:

"Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science. On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life."

- See more at:

message 21: by E.D. (last edited Feb 17, 2014 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

E.D. Lynnellen My dear Walter,
Read Kelly, disagreed with his reasoning, and think my critique was fairly clear and concise. I fully recognize your preferred form of interlocution requires a jargon-laced "paper" full of bullet points and logical proofs. What you might deem..."serious".

I, however, prefer dispensing with "intellectual diarrhea" in the tradition of Buckley, Twain, and Carlin. I can see how this grates against your sensibilities. Sorry. But I don't see this as precluding our being interlocutors. To the contrary, I see mutual benefit accruing. So..., you bloviate at will, and I'll poke you with a metaphorical stick. It'll be fun, as well as edifying.

Harris's thesis: I think something about morals and values, therefore, I'm conscious. I'm constrained by physical and/or metaphysical laws that may, or may not, exist. Therefore, people who agree with me are right...and the rest, of course, are wrong.

See? Fun and topical.

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