Philosophy professor Tara Smith has produced a book of value to Ayn Rand scholarship. While Rand wrote many nonfiction essays describing the Objectivist approach to ethics (and certainly writes on the subject at length in her novels), I think this is the first book-length treatment of Rand's moral philosophy of virtuous egoism. There are several books, of course, on egoism and many books on virtue ethics, but the combination of the two is quite unique. And, honestly, a common critique of Rand in academic circles is that she seems sometimes a rule utilitarian, sometimes a virtue ethicist, and even occasionally a deontologist. That is why this book is so important for Rand scholarship.
First, I have to say that the book's organization (and writing) is very, very good. Smith devotes one chapter to each of the virtues as seen by Rand: rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. In each chapter, Smith explains why it is a virtue, argues why Objectivistic egoism demands that particular virtue, and what the internal and external conditions are for exercising that virtue. So, rationality, considered the cardinal virtue, is defended on the egoistic grounds that only use of rationality (rather than faith or emotional decision making) can ensure that individuals deploy their judgment in ways that aids their lives, and is a virtue demanding exercise of rational decision making, availability of information on which to make rational decisions, etc.
That brings me to the second merit of the book: Smith does defend all of these virtues on egoistic grounds. Where Rand, I think, did sometimes slip into an almost rule utilitarian defense of her moral system (that honesty's goodness is at least in part due to the idea that only in a world where people are honest, can we make fully rational decisions based on correct information, which leaves the egoist asking why I should care about anyone's ability but my own to act rationally.) So, a virtue like justice, which is usually defended either on deontological or rule utilitarian grounds, Smith defends by appealing to indivduals' self-interest in judging people appropriately and accurately. (Of course, justice involves much more than judging people accurately, but rewarding them according to what you truly believe they deserve, and I still think the question of why I should give a waiter who I'll likely never see again the fat tip they deserve, rather than keep more money for myself, is hard to answer by appealing to egoism.)
This book, though, has some weaknesses in my view. First - to expand on another reviewer's criticism - this book doesn't deal much with defending these virtues and their rationale from objections; the objections considered are usually light-weight ones, and Smith rarely strays from Objectivist literature (generally, except to point out where non-Objectivist philosophers agree with an aspect of her argument). So, this book is more an explication of Rand's moral philosophy than a defense of it, and as such, it will appeal much more to those already in agreement with Rand than those who may need convincing.
Secondly, I did find a few of Smith's arguments a bit wanting. For instance, the virtue of honesty is defended largely on the grounds that giving into temptations to be dishonest can have consequences to the actor, such as having to keep stories straight in the future, the risk of being found out, and the psychological stress of keeping up the deception. But, these are all very speculative as consequences, and one who is a REALLY good liar may successfully avoid all of these (in a way where Smith will have no good argument to convince them to be honest).
Another way honesty is defended is by suggesting that if one, say, lies about their qualifications to get a job, they may risk attaining a job they didn't earn and aren't sufficiently skilled for. As to getting a job I do not deserve, an egoist should ask: why do I care that (others think) I don't deserve the job, as long as I know I am qualified for the job? And to Smith's argument about deception's possible consequence of getting me a job I am not qualified for, it can just as easily be that my prospective employer is wrong about what qualifies me for the job: maybe a Harvard MBA isn't a good qualification, and my lying just gets me the job I knew I WAS qualified for without the Harvard MBA.
Several virtues are defended by their apppeal to the virtue being life-enhancing and its negation being life-denying. This may be too thin an approach, I think. Yes, telling the truth to others means that I am dealing objectively and rationally (as long as one disbelieves game theory's assertion that lying can sometimes be the most rational position). But in a case where I can lie (to get food I have no intent on paying for) or starve, it seems odd to say that truth-telling would be the more life-affirming position than gaining food I need to keep myself alive. (The same can be said for someone who can't fend for themselves becoming dependent on another; if their option is to become dependent or shrivel, is it not more life-affirming to become dependent?)
My last criticism is that, if Rand is a virtue ethicist, there are many aspects of her approach (as defended by her and Smith) that are radically out of the virtue ethic tradition. For instance, Rand and Smith talk often (not always) in deontic language (right and wrong, justified and unjustified) rather than aretaic language (good and bad, virtuous or vicious). And while Smith certainly admits that judgment in how to deploy the virtues is contextual, there are many aspects of Rand's philosophy that seem too rule-based for virtue ethics (natural rights as side-constraints, the idea that integrity demands acting inflexibly according to one's principles, seemingly NOT taking context into account). Lastly, in a big break with virtue ethics, Rand's ethics is more act based than intent based. Where in most virtue ethic theories, the virtuous person simply desires to perform those acts that are virtuous, in Rand's ethic, what matters is that the virtues are instantiated in acts, not that the actor just desires to perform virtuous acts. (The virtuous person is honest, even though they may not want to be.)
For all of this, I still want to give this book three stars because I think that Smith, whatever loose ends she leaves untied, has provided a valuable resource to serious Rand scholarship. The objections I list above may be answerable, but maybe that is for a different book - one dedicated more to defending Rand's virtuous egoism rather than explicating it. And the writing and book organization is quite good, enhancing my enjoyment of this important book.