Is It OK To Be Selfish?

Why must we be ethical? Why may we not — or why ought we not, as Ayn Rand and others would argue — be selfish? What is so significant about human beings?

The belief in the human soul is perhaps the most enduring remnant of traditional religion. Even those who have rejected religion entirely, or never practiced it to begin with, still hold the indefensible, illogical belief that there is something intrinsic, inalienable and essential about the individual human soul — that spark that makes each of us special.

If you think about it closely, however, this belief is nonsensical. Everything you are, each decision you make and every thought in your mind, each has its own causes and conditions, from genetics to what you ate for breakfast this morning. The causes are uncountably manifold, and impossible to know, but of course they exist. Western religion and our own experience may suggest that there is a "ghost in the machine," a soul lurking within the passages of the cerebral cortex, but neither faith nor intuition is fact. We are, in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "starstuff" — nothing less, but also nothing more.

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