Member Rara Avis
Grinch, I don't think rationality depends on "a judgment of the outcome or answer to validate its own truth value," any more than sound mathematics relies on the correct solution to a numerical problem. There are principles to be applied to each. People can learn sound mathematical principles and, in my opinion, people can also learn to exercise rational, critical thinking.
A man sitting at a blackjack table, staring at his Queen and five of spades, has a decision to make.
If he has a patient dealer or a quick mind, he can mentally calculate the odds of getting a card that will help his hand as just slightly less than fifty fifty. Glancing at the other cards already showing on the table, he might even be able to adjust the odds accordingly. If he does this -- whether he eventually wins the hand or loses it -- he is an Objectivist. The process determines his status, not the outcome.
Another alternative is to look at a cheat sheet. If the dealer's up card is six or less, he will stand, otherwise he will ask for another card. This is the realm, I think, of classical Ethics. Someone else has figured out your "probable" best course of action for you and listed it out for easy use. Of course, a blackjack cheat sheet reflects very finite possibilities and is thus MUCH smaller than the vastly greater variation in human interactions, but I think the principles are very, very similar.
Whether the man uses rational logic or a cheat sheet, his decision to stand or hit should ultimately be the same. Both processes lead to the same destination. Similarly, I really don't care why someone refrains from killing me as long as they DO refrain. Maybe they figured out it would likely be bad for their continued health? Or maybe their Sunday School teacher convinced them it would be bad for their soul? From my perspective, both work equally well.
Rand's complaint with classical ethics and morality, of course, is that not all the rules always seem to be geared strictly towards the benefit of the individual. One might almost suspect a few rules were slipped in there to benefit those already in power? To extend my analogy almost to its breaking point, if the blackjack cheat sheet was supplied by the casino, the players might well have good reason to be cautious. As Brad and Regina have resoundingly confirmed, I think THAT is one of the principle messages of Objectivism. Cheat sheets are dangerous.
Unfortunately, our blackjack player has yet another alternative, one that seems to be followed by many more people than not. He can listen to his gut. Maybe he's suddenly feeling lucky, maybe he's trying to impress the blonde sitting to his left, maybe he just has to use the bathroom really badly and wants to get the hand over, for whatever reason, he always has the option of asking for a hit JUST BECAUSE. Needless to say, the casinos just love to welcome this all too typical player to the table.
Here's the one thing, however, we can be pretty darn sure our blackjack player is NOT going to do. He's not going to purposely lose the hand so the strangers at the table with him have a better chance of winning theirs.
From a semantic perspective, Craig, I tend to agree with you that rational probably isn't the best way to describe what I think Rand was trying to say. Personally, I would much rather differentiate between short- and long-term self-interest, not because the distinction relies any less on rationality, but because I think most people can more readily see the difference.