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What Makes Evil Possible?: Salmieri on Rand’s Answer

In Rand’s view, evil is neither inherent in human nature nor an unintelligible force.

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Is evil ubiquitous in the world, or is it a rare and mysteriously potent force? We hear one or the other view today expressed to explain the persistence of racism, the appeal of socialism, or the shock of mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

In one of the highlights of last summer’s Objectivist summer conference, Gregory Salmieri challenged both of these popular views of evil and explored Ayn Rand’s view as a third alternative. Evil, in her view, isn’t something inherent in human nature, but it is something we’re all capable of.

Drawing both from Rand’s nonfiction and from her fictional characterization of evil (especially in Atlas Shrugged), Salmieri portrays the psychology of irrationality as Rand saw it. On her view, evil is essentially the rejection of reality and of life in favor of some wish, an anti-value nihilism that pits our motivational mechanism against its normal function.

In the main talk, Salmieri grapples with puzzles that often arise about this view. How can irrational ideas count as evil? What about irrational feelings that are beyond our control? And how can human psychologies possibly be set in reverse in the manner Rand suggests? Even more challenging questions are tackled in the Q&A.

This provocative talk is representative of the quality, in-depth exploration of Ayn Rand’s ideas you can expect at ARI’s summer Objectivist conference, OCON. If you’re not attending this summer’s Washington, DC, conference in person, you can still sign up for a virtual pass. We look forward to seeing you in person — or virtually!


If you value the ideas presented here, please become an ARI Member today.

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Ben Bayer

Ben Bayer, PhD in philosophy, is a fellow and director of content at the Ayn Rand Institute and the author of Why the Right to Abortion Is Sacrosanct (2022). Ben is a managing editor of New Ideal and a member of the Ayn Rand University faculty.

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