Originally Posted by River
Rand is anathema to all of my literate friends . . . I'm a great big fan of altruism, actually, and I have seen a Rand title, "The Virtue of Selfishness" (which would seem to go against my sense of virtue). Am I missing something? Can it be boiled down?
I'm only a little familiar with Rand's ideas, and haven't ever been able to finish one of her books, but I know a few people who've explained it to me. "The Virtue of Selfishness" is from Rand's Objectivist philosophy. Unfortunately, I don't think I can explain it at all, so I'm turning to Wikipedia for a few main points:
Rand's explanation of values presents the view that an individual's primary moral obligation is to achieve his or her own well-being—it is for his or her life and self-interest that an individual ought to adhere to a moral code. Egoism is a corollary of setting man's life as the moral standard. A corollary to Rand's endorsement of self-interest is her rejection of the ethical doctrine of altruism—which she defined in the sense of Auguste Comte's altruism (he coined the term), as a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Rand did not use the term "selfishness" with the negative connotations that it usually has, but to refer to a form of rational egoism: "To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem."
. . .
Objectivism is a philosophy defined by the Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally.
Rand originally expressed her philosophical ideas in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and other works. She further elaborated on them in her magazines "The Objectivist Newsletter," "The Objectivist," and "The Ayn Rand Letter," and in non-fiction books such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Virtue of Selfishness.
The name "Objectivism" derives from the principle that human knowledge and values are objective: they are not created by the thoughts one has, but are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by man's mind. Rand stated that she chose the name because her preferred term for a philosophy based on the primacy of existence—"existentialism"—had already been taken.
Hopefully, the above will give you a glimpse into what her writings are about. Wikipedia has entries for "Virtue of Selfishness" and "Objectivism," as well as her books.