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  1. Source of passage?

    Addendum: Turns out it's "man in a lake" in this version, but I'm pretty sure the first time I heard it (again, on a radio show, trying to remember what and when) it was a well. I take it the difference is insignificant.
  2. Source of passage?

    I wanted to note, in case anyone's curious, that I did also make this post on Yahoo. It seemed a reasonable place to ask the question but I realized shortly after I might have better luck on a forum like this one, so just copied and pasted the question here. I've also finally managed to track down one of the places I saw this before (took me a while to find the right search terms): (WARNING: NOT recommended if you have blood pressure issues! The sheer idiocy of many of the arguments--in the article and the comments--is enough to induce a heart attack.) Just search the page for "rope" and you'll find the attribution of the "man in the well" story to Ayn Rand.
  3. Source of passage?

    BrianB-- Thanks for the detailed response. This is one of my chief concerns when it comes to the issue of selfishness, altruism, and morality. The position you outline is advocated, as I'm sure you're aware, by "philosopher" Peter Singer (the name is difficult for me to speak or write without gagging). There are so many obvious flaws with Singer's position we could spend all day going through them and still not make it halfway, but I think one of the biggest mistakes he makes is precisely to assume--without argument, of course--that one is obliged to take responsibility for the lives of strangers, even if there's some "small" sacrifice involved. In short, I'm not convinced an affirmative answer to the "is it wrong not to help the man in the well?" question has the consequences you describe, but the mere possibility of such an argument going through is enough, I would think, to demonstrate that the answer should be a resounding "NO" (and thinking about things this way is what has led me to interpret Rand in the same way you do--thanks for the pointer on "The Virtue of Selfishness," I think that's exactly what I've been looking for).
  4. Source of passage?

    Right, I acknowledge that the story did not originate with her--my apologies for not making that clearer in my most recent comment. Now I'm just curious as to whether I've truly misunderstood how the principles of Objectivism ought to be applied in the situation, as people here are alleging. I've read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged (and just re-read the passage regarding the steel factory mentioned by PhilO above), and as I understand the principles laid out therein, there would be no grounds for criticizing someone who chose not to throw the rope down the well, especially if it involved the sacrifices I mentioned. I don't have the other writings people have mentioned handy, so I'll try to get to the library over the weekend. I do appreciate the pointers, but I'd also be interested in hearing how exactly people think you can get from passages in, say, The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged to the idea that it would be wrong not to assist the man in the well.
  5. Source of passage?

    My apologies; I left out the rest of your comment because I wanted to highlight exactly that portion of what you wrote that I disagreed with. All I'm saying is that people's judgments notwithstanding, there is a fact of the matter about whether someone who chooses not to throw the rope down the well does something wrong. I say that person does nothing wrong, from an objective moral standpoint (especially if they must make a sacrifice in order to do so, but the point holds even if not). I haven't encountered anything in any of Rand's writings that would me to believe that this is false, hence my interest in finding out if this story originated with her.
  6. Source of passage?

    But exactly what I'm saying is that there's a difference between what people do and what they should do. This applies to those who judge as much as it applies to those who act. So I accept that someone who chooses not to throw the rope down the well must be prepared to be judged and criticized, but my point is that those who would criticize such a choice are wrong--if they think that the person who chooses not to help has done somehting wrong, then they are wrong about what morality requires.
  7. Source of passage?

    Again, I'm not sure I see where the slander comes in. Regardless of what any particular person--including any particular Objectivist--would do, there remains the question of what someone is morally obliged to do. For one thing, note that as I fleshed out the story, throwing the rope down does involve sacrifice (not getting out on the water as early as you wanted, having to clean your rope). Some would describe this as "minor" sacrifice, but it is sacrifice nonetheless, and I, for one, don't see why any person should have to make such a sacrifice (even if I, and you, and everyone else here would in fact do so). But even if there was no sacrifice involved, I still don't see why there would be anything wrong, in an objective sense, with choosing not to throw the rope down the well. To think otherwise is to think that there's some general moral imperative for each person to bear some responsibility for the lives of other people. Certainly people can acquire such responsibilities (if the person in the well was a friend or family member, or if I was the park ranger whose job it was to see to the wellbeing of people in that area, then I would be obliged to assist), but in the absence of such circumstances I don't see where this responsibility could possibly come from. So while some people might wish to use this story in a slanderous manner, especially if they imply that Rand's philosophy implies that one ought not assist, I see it exactly the opposite way. I see it as a straghtforward demonstration of the absence of any general moral responsibility for the lives of strangers. Even if it would be extremely rare to find a human being who would not feel inclined to throw the rope down the well, I don't see what grounds there are for criticizing someone who chose not to do so--sacrifice or no.
  8. Source of passage?

    I want to be clear that I don't have any ulterior ad hominem strategy here, I'm simply trying to get clear on the moral framework of Objectivism. If some people think Objectivism is an "uncaring" moral framework (whatever that means), that's their business. For my own part, I have a certain degree of sympathy for the "it's your choice" view, and I'm trying to figure out whether that's consistent or inconsistent with Objectivism (as the folks here understand it). (For the record, in one instance where I heard this story described, the "there's nothing wrong with not helping" sentiment was presented approvingly, and in the other it was criticized. So some people use this story for exactly the purpose you describe, but apparently some people think that it wouldn't be wrong not to help, and are under the impression that this is Rand's view as well.) But, to provide the context that, as you rightly point out, is relevant but missing from the story as I've described it (these details weren't supplied when I heard the story, so I'm supplying them according to what I think think the original intent was and what I think makes for an interesting question): You're on your way to a nearby lake to take your boat out; you're trying to get out on the water before it gets dark (for whatever reason) and if you stop to help you'll most likely be late. You're carrying the rope to use for the sorts of things sailors typically use rope for. If you throw the rope down the well, it'll likely get wet and dirty, meaning you'll have to clean it before you can use it (to prevent the grit from scratching up part of your boat, let's say). You don't know who the person is (and let's stipulate that they don't look like a terrorist) or why he fell in; the acoustics of the well and the man's rather panicked state are interfering with communication, so your requests for information about how he ended up in the well are unfruitful. Your seamanship is a solitary pursuit so there isn't anyone with you and there isn't likely to be anyone nearby who can provide assistance. So far as you know, your wife and assorted other family members, friends, and acquaintances are all safe and sound. What would people say? Would it be wrong (or morally improper, if you prefer) not to throw the rope down the well?
  9. Source of passage?

    John-- See above: I've heard it a couple times, once on a radio show and once on a blog post, so never got a chance to follow up with those who mentioned it, unfortunately. I'm only familiar with some of Rand's work so I thought it might have appeared in one of the works I haven't read, and thought folks here might know more about this.
  10. Source of passage?

    Well, I heard this once said by a caller to a radio show and saw it once in a comment on a blog post, so in neither case did I have the opportunity to ask them exactly what they were talking about. Reagarding the relationship of this apocryphal story to Ayn Rand's actual views, it seems to me there's a clear distinction you're overlooking. That's the distinction between what it would be wrong to do and what it would be wrong not to do. I was inquiring whether, according to Rand's moral framework, it would be wrong not to help, and your response was that she does not think it would be wrong to help, which is a different question. Think of it this way: perhaps I am a generally benevolent fellow who loves human life, so presented with the story about the man in the well I might say that I would be quick to throw the rope down the well. That's perfectly consistent with my holding that another person--one who was not malicious but simply didn't have the same depth of concern for human life--would be perfectly within her moral rights to choose not to help. Whether to help is a decision for her to make based on her own values and concerns, and if she decides that helping the man is not that important to her, it's not for me to criticize her choice (though I might chose to find a way of helping the man myself). My impression was that the story (which I now understand to be misattributed) was meant to evince this latter sentiment, which is a far cry from saying it would be wrong to help the man if one found oneself with a desire to do so (and which I never understood to be Rand's view). I hope I've clearly articulated the distinction I have in mind.
  11. Source of passage?

    I've heard that there is a passage in one of Rand's writings where she discusses the following scenario: You're walking in the woods and you come across a well. A man has fallen down into the well and is calling for help. You have a rope with you, and you have to decide whether to throw the rope down to pull the man out. The story goes that Rand concludes that you would not be doing anything wrong if you decided not to throw the rope down the well to help the man. Does anyone know whether there is such a passage in Rand's writings, and if so, where it appears? Thanks.