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As noted earlier in Ethics, Objectivism holds that we should view 3 values as supreme in our lives: reason, purpose and self-esteem.

Self esteem comes from believing that one is able to rely on one’s mind, and that one deserves to be happy. As with any other value, self-esteem must be earned. Pride is the means by which we earn self-esteem.

For Objectivism, pride is moral ambitiousness, the policy of constantly striving to shape one’s soul by living the other Objectivist virtues. It is “the sum of all virtues.”[1]

“Pride is the commitment to achieve one’s own moral perfection.”[2] “Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality – not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.”[3]


The Process of Pride

What actions does pride require?

  1. Before taking action, analyse the options and gather all the facts.
  2. Conscientiously weigh the alternatives according to the Objectivist principles, and take action accordingly. By continually undergoing this process, you start to build these moral principles into your soul.
  3. If in hindsight your action was mistaken, analyse the causes of the mistake and take action to remedy it. If the mistake was caused by a character flaw, take whatever action is necessary to correct the flaw.
  4. Do not accept guilt but do whatever is required to compensate for any damage you have caused and to guard against repeating the mistake.[4]

Benjamin Franklin was a good example of the virtue of pride. In his early twenties, he wrote in his journal “I have never fixed a regular design as to life, by which means it has been a confused variety of different scenes. I am now entering upon a new one; let me therefore make some resolutions, and form some scheme of action, that henceforth I may live in all respects like a rational person.”[5] And so he made a list of what seemed to him to be 13 desirable qualities of character. Each week he would focus on one of these in a cycle so that at the end of each year he had spent 4 weeks focussing on each. Whenever he failed to practise his virtues he would analyse the reason and try to prevent it happening again. His work at character building obviously stood him in good stead. After buying a one-third share in a print shop in 1728, by 1748 he had retired from head of the largest chain of print shops in America. He went on to be a scientist, inventor, founding father and diplomat.

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The Effects of Pride

When the Objectivist virtues are practised continually, self-esteem develops throughout your life. The increased self-esteem means that you strive for harder and harder goals, each one further boosting your self-esteem and making it easier to aim higher. This process is accompanied by increasing self-confidence and courage.

Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric capitalised on this aspect of pride. When he took over he made the decision to close down any business interests which were not integral to the company’s purpose. Only those that were leaders in their field were retained. The resulting sense of pride that GE employees feel has probably done much to fuel the growth of the company’s value from $25 billion in 1983 to $129 billion in 2000.[6]

Having attained great success, one is at risk of becoming over-confident (“pride goes before a fall”). So it is important to guard against this. Bill Gates has said “I have a fear of failure. Absolutely. Everyday that I come in this office, I ask myself: Are we still working hard? Is someone getting ahead of us?”[7] Dr. Locke describes the appropriate attitude as “possessing basic self-confidence combined with humility before reality accompanied by the fear that…[one] could fail if …[one] did not make the right choices.”[8]


Self-Esteem vs Boastfulness

Pride does not involve boastfulness or conceit – these are the banners of someone with low self-esteem, who feels the need to convince others of his value. Real self-esteem feels no need to draw attention to itself but usually moves quietly but confidently through life.
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[1] Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (Signet 1992) p. 974
[2] Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism, The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, (Meridian 1993) p. 303
[3] Ayn Rand, op cit p. 983
[4] Leonard Peikoff, op cit pp. 304-305
[5] Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (Penguin, 1991) p. 69 quoted in Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni, op cit p. 131
[6] Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni, op cit p. 133
[7] G. Landrum, Profiles of Genius (Prometheus Books, 1993) p. 130 quoted in Edwin Locke, op cit. p. 76
[8] Edwin Locke, op cit. p. 76

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