Moral Virtue

This course will answer the following questions.

  • Justice: What is Rand’s view of justice? How does it differ from conventional views, retributive and utilitarian alike? What did Rand mean by “moral sanction” and why did she place such emphasis on this issue?
  • Force: What does it mean to initiate physical force and why is this act evil? Why do so many people believe that you can achieve the good by initiating force? Why does Rand reject all such views?
  • Independence: What is Rand’s account of independence? How is it grounded in the fundamental principles of Objectivism? In today’s world, can anyone really be independent?

This course is an in-depth treatment of three important issues in Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy: the virtue of justice, the evil of the initiation of physical force, and the virtue of independence. This course is adapted from recorded lectures that Dr. Leonard Peikoff gave at a conference for fans of Ayn Rand in 1989. The lectures are based on Dr. Peikoff’s work for his book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, published in 1991.

The section on independence is of particular interest because Dr. Peikoff discusses at length his earlier, mistaken account of the Objectivist virtue of independence when drafting his book on Objectivism. In that discussion, Dr. Peikoff draws an important methodological lesson for understanding philosophical principles.

Disclaimer: Although Dr. Peikoff granted permission for the creation of this course in a new format, he has not reviewed or approved any of its content. The videos are accompanied by quizzes and other supplementary materials that were not part of the original course.


Course video available on mobile devices and tablets.

Note that user interactions are not accessible on mobile devices. So watching courses on your smart phone or tablet is possible – but you won’t get the full experience and some check marks will remain unchecked until completed on a personal computer.

Moral Virtue

Course Outline
Module 1: Course Introduction and the Virtue of Justice

  1. Course Introduction
    1. 3 Issues: Justice, Force, Independence
    2. Context: The Previous Chapters in OPAR
    3. Chapter 8: Virtue
    4. Order of These Lectures
    5. All the Objectivist Virtues Are Interrelated
  2. The Virtue of Justice
    1. Justice
      1. Its definition
      2. Its wider context
    2. The Need for Moral Judgment
    3. Moral Judgment vs. Moral Neutrality
    4. Wider Benefits of Justice
    5. What Justice Demands of You
    6. Moral Judgment Not the Only Form of Evaluating Men
  3. The Intellectual and Existential Aspects of Justice
    1. The Two Aspects of Every Virtue
    2. The Intellectual Aspect of Justice
      1. Step one: Identify the facts
      2. Step one: Some clarifications
      3. Step two: Evaluate by objective moral principles
      4. Step two: Some clarifications
      5. Summary
      6. Polemics: Altruism
    3. The Existential Aspect of Justice
      1. Its nature
      2. Its validation
      3. Incorrect Approaches: Retributivism and Utilitarianism
      4. Rewards and punishments
      5. The Trader Principle: Justice in a positive and personal context
      6. Forgiveness
      7. Mercy
  4. The Evil of Egalitarianism
    1. Egalitarianism
  5. Module 1 Knowledge Checks

Module 2: The Initiation of Physical Force

  1. Introduction
    1. The Context of the Discussion
    2. No Code of Ethics Can Escape This Issue
  2. The Initiation of Physical Force Is Evil
    1. The Basic Evil of Force
      1. The key idea
      2. The mind is a cognitive faculty
      3. Cognition cannot be forced
      4. To control action is to force the mind
      5. Summary: Force vs. rationality
    2. Force vs. the Derivative Virtues
    3. Force vs. Values
    4. Clarifications
      1. What is and is not force
      2. Violence and force
      3. Fraud
      4. Retaliatory force
    5. The Philosophical Roots of Force
      1. Altruism
      2. Intrinsicism and Subjectivism
    6. Conclusion
  3. Module 2 Knowledge Checks

Module 3: The Virtue of Independence

  1. Introduction
    1. A “Before and After” Lecture
  2. Mistaken Account of Independence
    1. Dr. Peikoff’s Prior, Mistaken Account of Independence
      1. Summary: Essence of the argument
    2. Problems with the Account
      1. Many unresolved questions
      2. The missing elementd
  3. Correct Account of Independence
    1. Dr. Peikoff’s Correct Account of Independence
      1. The principle of independence
      2. Its philosophical roots
      3. Its intellectual aspect
      4. Its existential aspect
  4. Conclusion
    1. Independence and the Great Creators
  5. Module 3 Knowledge Checks

Additional Reading by Ayn Rand: Moral Virtue, General

“The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness An essay based on her 1961 lecture providing a detailed overview of Ayn Rand’s ethics of rational egoism.

Additional Reading: Essays Related to Justice

“The Age of Envy” in Return of the Primitive
Dr. Peikoff refers to this essay as an excellent source to understand the vicious nature of egalitarianism, and how its true motive is to smash the good.

“How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?” in The Virtue of Selfishness
Ayn Rand writes about the importance of rationally judging others.

“The Psychology of Psychologizing” in The Voice of Reason
Dr. Peikoff alludes to this essay as additional reading on psychologizing, which he said one should not do when judging others.

“The Sanction of the Victims” in The Voice of Reason
In this essay based on her 1981 lecture, Ayn Rand exhorts businessmen to stop apologizing for making money, and to supporting anti-capitalist institutions. This article is a real-world concretization of Rand’s view of the self-inflicted damage that can be done when victims give sanction to their destroyers.

“An Untitled Letter” in Philosophy: Who Needs It
Ayn Rand discusses why she rejects John Rawls’ theory of justice.

Additional Reading: Essays Related to Independence

“The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made” in Philosophy: Who Needs It
In the lecture on the virtue of independence, Dr. Peikoff identifies how the independent man understands the difference between the metaphysical and the man-made. This is the essay where Ayn Rand highlights the fundamental difference between these two categories of facts.

“The Nature of the Second-Hander” in For the New Intellectual
One of the major speeches from The Fountainhead that Dr. Peikoff frequently references, which details the nature of the second-hander.

“The Soul of the Individualist” in For the New Intellectual
One of the major speeches from The Fountainhead that Dr. Peikoff frequently references, which details the nature of the independent man.

Additional Reading: Essays Related to Initiation of Force

“Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World” in Philosophy: Who Needs It?
An essay based on her 1960 lecture in which Ayn Rand offers a broad historical-philosophical survey detailing the relationship between the acceptance of faith and the initiation of force.

“What is Capitalism?” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
In this essay, Ayn Rand explains why capitalism is the only moral social system—one in which individuals are free to peacefully coexist as rational beings and why the initiation of force must be banned in a free society.

...for Those Familiar with Ayn Rand's Writings

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff
Dr. Peikoff frequently mentions this book throughout the course, as it was the book he was writing at the time the course was given. Much of the material used for the course was later incorporated into the book. It is his systematic presentation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, based on a course that Dr. Peikoff taught under Ayn Rand’s guidance.

Viable Values: Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, by Tara Smith
A study of an objective morality that is grounded in the factual requirements for attaining a flourishing life. In particular, the author draws extensively from Ayn Rand’s conception of the nature of values and their connection to the requirements of life.

Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, by Tara Smith
An in-depth exploration of Rand’s virtue ethics, offering a detailed discussion of each of the virtues Rand emphasizes—including justice and independence—and discussing how these virtues integrate with Rand’s broader theory of egoism.

Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand’s Normative Theory, by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox (Editors)
A collection of scholarly papers commenting on a variety of philosophic issues in Ayn Rand’s ethics.

“The Dollar and the Gun,” by Harry Binswanger, in Why Businessmen Need Philosophy
A discussion of the crucial difference between physical force and economic “force” employing ideas from Ayn Rand’s philosophy.