Note: This essay is included in the anthology Rational Egoism: The Morality for Human Flourishing, which makes an excellent gift and is available at Amazon.com.
Ayn Rand opposed the morality of self-sacrifice, which is inherent in most philosophic systems and all religions. She advocated instead a morality of self-interest—the Objectivist ethics—which, as she explained in her essay “Causality Versus Duty,” is neatly summed up by the Spanish proverb “God said: ‘Take what you want, and pay for it.’”
Rand was an atheist, so her use of “God” here is metaphorical. By “God said” she means “reality dictates.” She is referring to the immutable fact that if you want to achieve an effect (an end), you must enact its cause (the means). This is the law of causality applied to human values. Our values—whether a wonderful career, a romantic relationship, good friendships, life-enhancing hobbies, or political freedom—do not come to us automatically, nor do we pursue them automatically. If we want these things, we must choose to act in certain ways and not in others. This is the way reality is. This principle is an absolute. “God said.”
“Take what you want” refers to the fact that human values are chosen. The realm of human values—the realm of morality—is the realm of choice. A proper morality is not about “divine commandments” (there is no God) or “categorical imperatives” (there’s no such thing) or “duties” (they don’t exist). Rather, it is about what you want out of life and what you must do to get what you want. A proper morality is a set of principles to guide your choices and actions toward a lifetime of happiness.
Importantly, as Rand emphasized, this does not make morality subjective. What promotes a person’s life is dictated not by his feelings divorced from facts, but by the factual requirements of his life and happiness—given his nature as a human being. Just as a rabbit can’t live and prosper by jumping off cliffs, and just as an eagle can’t live and prosper by burrowing underground, so a person can’t live and prosper by acting contrary to the requirements of his life. . . .