“The Reason That Makes You Afraid of It”

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

–Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Apropos of selfishness, a snippet from my Phil 100 class today, devoted to discussing J.W. Davis et al, “Aggressive Traffic Enforcement: A Simple and Effective Injury Prevention Program,” Journal of Trauma 60:5 (May 2006).

KHAWAJA: The authors of the study suggest that there’s a significant decrease in mortality from aggressive traffic enforcement, and are convinced that this is a treatment effect, not a selection effect, or one thrown off by any of the confounding variables we’ve been discussing. So our bottom line question is, would you accept their recommendation that we go ahead and adopt what they call “aggressive traffic enforcement”?

STUDENT: No.

KHAWAJA: But what about the finding that failure to adopt aggressive traffic enforcement would cost thousands of lives every year? That’s a lot of lives lost.

STUDENT: That’s their problem.

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