The totally independent free individual is the only truly moral individual and only a moral individual is ever truly free.
The purpose of ethics in philosophy is to discover and identify the fundamental principles of right and wrong in thought and action. The objective of those principles is the success and happiness of the individual as a human being, as Ayn Rand wrote:
"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." [For the New Intellectual, "Galt's Speech from Atlas Shrugged," page 123]
The objective of moral principles is the success and happiness of the individual as a human being—happiness is the objective, but not the standard, not the principles by which that objective is realized. The principles are the objective identification of a man's nature and the nature of the world he lives in. It is reality that determines the principles one must conform to if one wants to live successfully and happily in this world.
"Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself.... There is no substitute for personal dignity. There is no standard of personal dignity except independence." [For the New Intellectual,—The Fountainhead, "The Soul Of An Individualist"]
"Man's life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life."
"You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most." [Atlas Shrugged, "Part Three,—Chapter VII, 'This is John Galt Speaking.'"]
In my article,
"America's Descent Into Savagery
," I describe one of the signs of moral depravity prevalent in all societies today, even among those who call themselves Libertarians, Objectivist, Voluntarists, and Anarchists. Like every form of moral degradation, and it is degrading, the loss of a sense of privacy and personal dignity is absence of moral virtue.
True moral virtues are only possible to independent individualists.
[NOTE: I am not an objectivist and do not subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, no one in literature or philosophy has articulate individualism and its virtues more forcefully or correctly than Ayn Rand, the arch individualist.]
Virtues of Individualism
Ayn Rand made a distinction between values and virtues, but the distinction was more rhetorical than philosophical. In truth, the pursuit of values is a virtue, and all virtues are the realization of values. In some cases, they are indistinguishable.
I've called them virtues, but they might just as well have been called the characteristics of the moral individual, or creators, or independent individualists. These characteristics are not something added to an individual's character, they are an individual's character; they are what an independent individualist is.
The list of virtues below is adapted from Rand's list of virtues in her journal notes, The Journals of Ayn Rand, "Part 3 - Transition Between Novels," 8 - "The Moral Basis Of Individualism."
Theorem II: The Life Giver—the Active Man
Integrity—the first, greatest and noblest of all virtues—is a synonym of independence. Integrity is that quality in man which gives him the courage to hold his own convictions against all influences, against the opinions and desires of other men; the courage to remain whole, unbroken, untouched, to remain true to himself.
Courage is the strength to face any threat and to fight back. Fight what? Nature, as well as other men when necessary. If, however, one must place others above self—then it is evil to resist them; then one must surrender if a conflict arises. But the man of courage is the one who does not surrender.
Honesty is implicit in the function of the rational faculty. Man requires the greatest, the most ruthless honesty of observation and reasoning in order to reach as correct a conclusion as his rational capacity will permit. A man willing to fool himself will collapse—and does—in his first attempt at thought. The incentive to dishonesty comes when man deals with other men. What is the exact procedure of a dishonest action? A man says a thing which he knows to be untrue ... in order to obtain something from other men or achieve some end that depends upon others. ... This is the placing of others above self. The procedure of dishonesty is the procedure of dependence and subordination of oneself to others.
Honor is a selfish virtue, because it implies the honor of one's own self. Of one's ego. A man with a sense of honor will not submit to certain things nor permit them to be done to him—the things which he considers dishonorable. Dishonorable to whom? To him. Will not permit them to be done—by whom? By other men. What, then, does a sense of honor require? The placing of self above others.
Self-confidence is confidence in one's own ability, in one's strength, one's courage, one's judgment, one's vision. Confidence in one's own ego.
Strength means strength of character, strength of will, strength of spirit.
Independence is love of freedom. Freedom from what? Nothing can take a man's freedom away from him—except other men. Freedom means freedom from others. A man who places others above self should have no objection to being a slave.
Justice is an intellectual quality—totally selfish, because it cannot be exercised except through one's own judgment, one's own rational faculty. An individual cannot accept the pronouncement of others, as he cannot accept it in any process of reason.
Rand had a different list of virtue in VOS, The Virtue of Selfishness, "1. The Objectivist Ethics."
"Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep—virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it. The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics—the three values which, together, are the means to and the realization of one's ultimate value, one's own life—are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.
Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result.
Rationality is man's basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues. Man's basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know.
Irrationality is the rejection of man's means of survival and, therefore, a commitment to a course of blind destruction; that which is anti-mind, is anti-life.
The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action.
It means one's total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one's waking hours. It means a commitment to the fullest perception of reality within one's power and to the constant, active expansion of one's perception, i.e., of one's knowledge. It means a commitment to the reality of one's own existence, i.e., to the principle that all of one's goals, values and actions take place in reality and, therefore, that one must never place any value or consideration whatsoever above one's perception of reality. It means a commitment to the principle that all of one's convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one's fullest capacity permits. It means one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one's convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)—that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). It means that one must never desire effects without causes, and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects-that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one's own purposes and motives-that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one's knowledge—and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions. It means the rejection of any form of mysticism, i.e., any claim to some nonsensory, nonrational, nondefinable, supernatural source of knowledge. It means a commitment to reason, not in sporadic fits or on selected issues or in special emergencies, but as a permanent way of life.
The virtue of Productiveness is the recognition of the fact that productive work is the process by which man's mind sustains his life, the process that sets man free of the necessity to adjust himself to his background, as all animals do, and gives him the power to adjust his background to him-self. Productive work is the road of man's unlimited achievement and calls upon the highest attributes of his character: his creative ability, his ambitiousness, his self-assertiveness, his refusal to bear uncontested disasters, his dedication to the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values. "Productive work" does not mean the unfocused performance of the motions of some job. It means the consciously chosen pursuit of a productive career, in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability. It is not the degree of a man's ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.
The virtue of Pride is the recognition of the fact "that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining—that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul." (Atlas Shrugged.) The virtue of Pride can best be described by the term: "moral ambitiousness." It means that one must earn the right to hold oneself as one's own highest value by achieving one's own moral perfection—which one achieves by never accepting any code of irrational virtues impossible to practice and by never failing to practice the virtues one knows to be rational—by never accepting an unearned guilt and never earning any, or, if one has earned it, never leaving it uncorrected—by never resigning oneself passively to any flaws in one's character—by never placing any concern, wish, fear or mood of the moment above the reality of one's own self-esteem. And, above all, it means one's rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty.
Individualism—Not Subjectivism And Not Hedonism
The opposite of virtue is vice, and all vice is self-destructive and the opposite of all that is of real value to an individual's own life. The two sources of all vice are hedonism and subjectivism.
In my article, "My Friend, Ayn Rand," I explained Ayn Rand's position on these two perversions of individualism, with which I'm in total agreement, because freedom is not license to indulge any mindless passion or desire, but freedom to use one's mind to discover and choose those virtues that make life, as a human being, worth living and the source of the joy which human life ought to be.
[NOTE: For a more formal introduction to ethical principles please see the articles, "Values," and, "The Moral Nature."]