The Ethics of Egoism: Why “The Fountainhead” Is Still Important

Few people truly understand Ayn Rand’s philosophical stance. In other words the idea that rational selfishness is the only natural way for a human being to live his or her life, not because they read a paragraph or even a few words out of the thousands she has written on the subject and misconstrue that what she preaches is evil, rather because it is too complex for them to understand what she is saying. They do not follow their own opinion, but that of others.

Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a story of individualism, and more importantly a story of man’s path towards achievement which is acquired through drudgery, pain, and a strong work ethic, regardless of what others think. This piece of literature appreciates the most important of human tenants and puts them on a pedestal.

Howard Roark, the architect who would not move out of the way to conform to anyone’s expectations, or desires, goes through unthinkable pain and years of hard work to put up his designs which were his own, and are not borrowed or stolen ideas. He is hated for his individualism, he is ostracized, they try to fight him for thinking for himself. Yet he, in the most important line in any Ayn Rand novel, responds simply “But I don’t think of you” conveying that he cares for no one but himself, and his work.

When I first read this line it became immediately obvious to me that everything I had ever believed about human interactions was completely wrong. Man’s purpose on this earth is not to sacrifice himself for others, but to achieve through his own efforts which will lead to a better society anyway. This in essence of course is capitalism-the one economic theory which had proven to be the most prosperous around the world.

Although The Fountainhead does not deal with capitalism explicitly as Atlas Shrugged does, the basics of her ideas are found in this novel are truly a progenitor of what Objectivism will be defined as. She once said that The Fountainhead is only the first page of her manifesto. Atlas Shrugged is the philosophical masterpiece which would represent the most important and comprehensive study of Objectivism as a theory.

This novel is one of reality, reason and self-esteem, the ideals that form the basis of human life and remain as the most important aspect of a healthy individual.

Egoism therefore is an idea that does not promote selfishness at the expense of others, but a rational one, where one’s values and dreams come true through hard work, not through coercion and lying. A robber is described as an egoist because he steals, yet a young man who builds wealth through an unthinkable work ethic is also called an egoist, because people believe his achievement came at the cost of someone else’s. People place the two men in the same category.

Yet, they misunderstand egoism. It is not the achievement of ones desires by any means necessary, rather by rational means only. Life’s purpose is the achievement of one’s happiness, not that of others.

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