Return to Kant, Immanuel

If men lived the sort of life Kant demands, who or what would gain from it? Nothing and no one. The concept of “gain” has been expunged from morality. For Kant, it is the dutiful sacrifice as such that constitutes a man’s claim to virtue; the welfare of any recipient is morally incidental. Virtue, for Kant, is not the service of an interest—neither of the self nor of God nor of others. (A man can claim moral credit for service to others in this view, not because they benefit, but only insofar as he loses.)

Here is the essence and climax of the ethics of self-sacrifice, finally, after two thousand years, come to full, philosophic expression in the Western world: your interests—of whatever kind, including the interest in being moral—are a mark of moral imperfection because they are interests. Your desires, regardless of their content, deserve no respect because they are desires. Do your duty, which is yours because you have desires, and which is sublime because, unadulterated by the stigma of any gain, it shines forth unsullied, in loss, pain, conflict, torture. Sacrifice the thing you want, without beneficiaries, supernatural or social; sacrifice your values, your self-interest, your happiness, your self, because they are your values, your self-interest, your happiness, your self; sacrifice them to morality, i.e., to the noumenal dimension, i.e., to nothing knowable or conceivable to man, i.e., as far as man living on this earth is concerned, to nothing.

The moral commandment is: thou shalt sacrifice, sacrifice everything, sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, as an end in itself.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.