Would You Like A Frozen Abstraction With That?


February 20, 2013 by Anders Ingemarson

A couple of weeks ago Maria and I attended a Hungry Minds Speaker Series event here in Denver. Hannah and Doug Krening have found a great format for providing food for both body and mind in one neat package. The evening’s keynote speaker was Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard (TOS) who spoke about “The Trinity of Liberty: Individualism, Individual Rights and Independent Thinking”. The entire talk is well worth listening to, but I was inspired by one point in particular.

It is not uncommon for professed liberty lovers to argue that Capitalism is the only political system under which freedom can flourish. Yet, few understand that Capitalism has to be based on a moral code of rational selfishness. Craig observed that a significant reason is that many people hold morality or ethics as a frozen abstraction.

Contrary to what it may sound like, this is not the latest custard flavor from Good Times. A frozen abstraction “consists of substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs…”[1]. In the context of ethics, the frozen abstraction consists of substituting Altruism, the morality of sacrifice (some one particular concrete), for morality as such (the wider abstract class to which it belongs). In other words, holding this frozen abstraction means to believe that Altruism is morality; the idea that alternative codes of ethics may exist simply doesn’t enter your mind.

It’s an understandable mistake in today’s culture. Altruism has close to a monopoly on ethics (where are the trust busters when you really need them?). It is all around us. The common view is that to be good is to be altruistic, to give up something of higher value in exchange for something of less value, to sacrifice. Growing up, we were told to be good and share our favorite toys against our will. As grown-ups, we are told to be good and give up some of our hard earned money to support those in need. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks for the years in between.

Don’t assume that because someone claims to be an altruist necessarily means that he or she wants to be one. That person may simply not have considered any other options. Giving the benefit of the doubt and explaining that there is an alternative code of morality, a code of rational self-interest, may provide just the right amount of anti-freeze to thaw the frozen abstraction. You will promote a solid moral foundation for Capitalism in the process, and perhaps turn a lukewarm liberty lover into a Capitalist crusader.

And be sure to include a plug for SEPARATE!. Championing the moral case for separating state and the economy is an integral aspect of winning the battle.

[1] Ayn Rand, Collectivized Ethics, The Virtue of Selfishness

3 thoughts on “Would You Like A Frozen Abstraction With That?

  1. Wonderfully articulated, Anders! I’ll try this approach….


  2. Theresa Letman says:

    Anders, I really enjoyed this weeks blog, and especially the reminder that sometimes people don’t realize there’s a moral alternative to altruism.


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