Ayn Rand Center Ukraine

Are objectivists against charity?

Ayn Rand and her proponents are often accused of opposing helping others. But this is not the case. Objectivists only argue that charity should be an act of goodwill, not a sacrifice of one’s own values and resources.



 «…any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty».


Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness


 Charity is not a moral obligation 


Altruistic morality teaches us that helping others is right, even at the expense of our own interests. However, objectivists advocate rational selfishness, that is, that people prioritize their own reasonable interests. One might think (as many Ayn Rand critics do) that such views mean that people should neglect others and abstain from helping others. But this is a false conclusion due to a shallow understanding of the ideas of Ayn Rand.


Ayn Rand has never spoken out against charity. She objected that charity should be considered a moral duty and a major virtue. Charity should be an act of goodwill. This means that you don’t have to help someone just like that, and others don’t have to help you.


That is, a person can call himself an objectivist and at the same time give his own time or money for good deeds. The only thing that matters is that “giving” was not self-sacrifice.



What is self-sacrifice?


Self-sacrifice is when we exchange something more valuable for ourselves for less valuable.


If you give money to help a friend, it will not be self-sacrifice. If you give it to a stranger because “that is right,” it will be. Giving a friend the amount you can afford to give is not self-sacrifice. If you give money to a friend at the expense of your own catastrophe, it is entirely self-sacrifice.


In order for charity not to be self-sacrifice, it is necessary to consider one’s rational interests and values ​​when deciding to help someone or not. The time, money, or effort you give is proportional to the value of the person you want to help.


Take, for example, helping a drowning person. If this person is a stranger to you, it is morally right to save him only when the danger to you is minimal. When the threat is significant, there is nothing immoral about not helping. After all, if you still try to save a person by risking your life, it means that you value the life of a stranger above your own.


It is another matter when someone close, valuable, to you sinks. Even if the risk is great, you can take it because the value of another person’s life for you may be greater than the value of your life without that person. That is, you can be ready to give your life for a loved one when life without them is unbearable.


 If the person to be rescued is not a stranger, the risk to be prepared to take is more significant in proportion to the value of that person to themselves. If it is a loved one or woman, you can be willing to give your life to save them – for the selfish reason that life without a loved one can be unbearable.



When should you take help?


It is morally right to accept help when it is offered not as a moral duty but as an act of goodwill and generosity and when the giver can afford it. That is when helping you is not self-sacrifice for another person.