The Virtues Of The Moral Individual

On an Objectivist forum one poster recently wrote:

"Benjamin Franklin wanted to achieve moral perfection so he wrote in a journal and marked in his journal everytime he violated one of his virtues... I want to do something similar but with the Objectivist virtues ...".

Objectivist Virtues

Since the question concerns, Objectivist virtues, let's examine what those might be.

Ayn Rand made two lists of virtues, one published in The Virtue of Selfishness, the other unpublished in her Journal, in a section called, "The Moral Basis Of Individualism."

The published list of virtues includes: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, Rationality, Productiveness, and Pride.

The unpublished list of virtues includes: Integrity [which Rand described as, "the first, greatest and noblest of all virtues"], Courage, Honesty, Honor, Self-confidence, Strength, Justice, Wisdom, and Self-respect.

What Virtues Are

Virtues are the characteristics of a moral individual and a moral individual is one who lives by moral principles. Such a life will necessarily be characterized by the moral virtues.

Of the two Ayn Rand lists of virtues, the unpublished one is superior, beginning as it does with integrity, which she said, "is that quality in man which gives him the courage to ... remain whole, unbroken, untouched ...," that is, to be a truly moral individual. Integrity is the virtue that makes all the other virtues possible.

In an earlier version of The Moral Individual I described a moral individual as, "one who choose to take responsibility for his own life, neither desiring or seeking anything in life but what he has achieved or acquired by his own effort, fully confident in his own ability and competence to live happily and successfully in this world, gladly bearing the consequences of his wrong choices, and proudly enjoying the rewards of his right ones, neither needing nor wanting the agreement or approval of any other individuals, always seeking to be the best he can be in all things, mentally, morally, and physically."

A Sparkling Life Of Achievement, Joy, And Happiness

Moral or ethical principles are commonly thought of as some kind of obligation, or duty imposed on individuals, but true moral principles are not limitations to life but the means to success and happiness. The article, "Principles," which lists the ten most important moral principles, concludes with these words: "Are these principles hard! Yes they're hard and yes they are demanding, as hard and demanding as life itself. To evade them is to evade life. No moral individual regards them as limits or restrictions on their life, however, because they are the means of achieving and being all that life makes possible. Living by these principles is the only way to live a life that is worth living."

The Pursuit Of Virtue

Virtues are not achieved by pursuing them directly. One does not learn to be honest or just or wise by attempting to practice them the way one learns to type or play a musical instrument.

The moral virtues are natural consequence of living by moral principles. The moral individual is whole which is the integrity of no contradiction between any aspect of his being, his values, his thoughts, his beliefs, his choices, and his actions which all agree and spring from the same understanding of and love for reality. He is honest because he cannot be a fake or cheat denying his own nature. He is honorable because he loves the truth above all things. He is self-confident because he knows he has done everything he possibly can to learn and be competent to live his life successfully. He is strong, whether physically strong or not, he has that strength of character that comes from knowing he is right enabling him to persevere in the face of any difficulty. He is just because he allows nothing but reason to determined his judgment. He is wise because he does not allow himself to be influenced by appeals to his irrational feelings, sentiments, and desires, discerning the truly important from that which has no real significance, both immediately and long-term. His self-esteem is inevitable because he knows what his true value is.

Then Why Mention Virtues?

Pursuing virtues will not make an individual moral, but being moral will produce the moral virtues. Understanding what the moral virtues are cannot produce morality, but can be used as a gauge of one's own life. If one finds a lack of moral virtue in their own life it indicates something wrong which is usually a mistaken ethical view or other wrong values.

If you are interested in knowing more about morality and ethics the following articles, beginning with the one mentioned above, will be helpful: