Friday, April 12, 2002

draft v0.75 comments

Ms Lindsey—

DRAFT v0.75

I think the main problem with this draft/version is that at first it seems I am not staying on topic. That’s not quite the case because I’m trying to provide a lot of background details to initially “define” each character’s treatment of “morality and practicality.” My purpose in doing so was to eventually be able to reach a conclusion where I could compare and contrast the differences in the character’s treatment of the topic and force in Rand’s proof of the only “practical [long-term… as the villains who were initially successful via conventionality were later destroyed] success” requiring an intertwining of “morality and practicality.” Unfortunately, when I skimmed through this draft during third period, I somehow find that I have not achieved my goal.

So, it seems that method isn’t working out. I actually did some pre-writing, but the actual essay came out to be near completely different than what I planned… other things just popped in, and a whole new theme evolved. Furthermore, a lot of the episodes I wanted to use had to be abandoned due to sheer brutal word limit.

BEHOLD: I am about 200 words over the limit…
AND I didn’t even get to talk about Dominique, the “Half-morals”: Katie, Mallory, Cameron… and the minor characters Enright, Snyte, Mrs. Keating, etc.

What am I to do?

Anyway, thanks for proofreading.


PS. My email is … Please email me your comments… because I’m guessing if I’m like 5-20 words over the 1600 word limit, I’d best snail-mail it by the Monday postmark deadline so they’ll be less likelier to run computer generated word-count! (The alternative of emailing the essay to them is out; it’s dangerous because I’ve just too much to say!)

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Somewhat Random Ramblings while getting bored on

It decided to spend time during 3rd period working on lit-related stuff, rather than Math. And hence this.

I don’t understand why the Galt society cannot be “real.” If one wants to, one can just ditch mainstream civilization. If the government becomes so corrupt as to regulate business as so, then if one wants to, one can just leave… It’s perfectly moral to do so because one would be reacting to an immoral act posed by the government; thus, the resulting “destruction” of the corrupt government that caused one to leave would be just.

But, perhaps I am misunderstanding everything.

I guess you’re saying Galt’s ideal of the intellectuals going on revolt isn’t possible, as essentially they’re tied down to earth, to an extent. That is, they cannot just isolate themselves from the world because in many ways their selfish need for materialism prevents them from truly retreating to their own individual endeavors… Thus you’re set upon the extremely pessimistic belief that man is ultimately selfish in the traditional sense, which defines selfishness as the opposite of Rand’s selfishness? (Rand: Selfishness is basically “all for self; there is no ‘world’ component involved.” … whereas the traditional definition requires that one cares enough about society to actually “take” from society in order to have society look up to one for one’s somehow-greater than society status; eg: greedy businessmen [not defined as virtuously selfish in Rand’s view, per se, as her ideal selfish man does not take but creates, and then appears overtly rich due to his creation, so that other claim him selfish… but anyhow, the traditional greed is good biz man is defined as selfish in the traditional view).

Galt is possible, but only so on the premise that such people exist. There is a possibility that such people exist…
Thus, objectively (no pun intended), her philosophy is concrete.
But in either case, it cannot be considered a theory.

Other stuff…

Roark has personal quirks, like the architect Rand bases her Roark on. (this is seen especially the wacked out psychology of Roark.) However, Rand specifically states that Roark is NOT based, per se, on Lloyd in her journals… Further supporting the fact that her novels are “imaginary perfect worlds with imaginary idealist people.”

If one were to live life like Roark, one would in the beginning, suffer from stigma, failure, and other rather non-encouraging factors. Yet, if one were to live like Roark, one would have to be as strong as Roark as such a decision would require tremendous gut, to speak colloquially. One would have to be completely and totally dedicated to one’s principles… and the idea is that if one is so dedicated, one would ultimately one day get one’s way. In general, that cannot quite be refuted in real life, because no one has done that, just yet. (The heroes of Rand have done that sort of life, at least in general, and thus their success.)

And… Lit writers must skew their plot in order to portray a view? I don’t think Rand meant to make her novels too realistic. She probably meant them to carry her ideas in an enjoyable easier-than-nonfiction-tor-read format, thus the apparent non-realism of her novels. She cares more about the ends, that her ideas are carried thru, than the means, that her novels may not really reflect society.

(Also, after sifting through the Ayn Rand website some more, it seems the site is split between two kinds of info-material. The kind that seems to just tailor Rand’s ideas, and the kind that seeks to twist her idea for a specific purpose. But… isn’t the latter what philosophy is?)

Anyway, the following is my analysis of the beginning of Roark-Dominique relationship. (It’s actually a page on the limbo part of my website.) Critique!

The Howard-Dominique Relationship: From The Very Beginning

Here was her hero: the innovator who created those objects of beauty, of which she violently destroys, every single time encountered, for fear that they become abused by one who cannot fathom nor bear their greatness. This love, thus, she must deny. He forces her, however, to acept all that she loves him for as the undeniable way moral practicality that the world will accept, must accept (eventually). In terror of such blasphemy against her paradigm, she fights but does no real harm against him, and his progress is really still in the main. He violates her, defiles her virginity and gives her the fleeting intimate taste of his greatness, ability to survive through will; he scorns her errorneous pessimism that he will fail, and she returns, (generalized quote) "You have no right to do this! We are even of different status. You don't know how much pain I will be in if I see you die at the hands of someone else.."

So, obviously, being raped by the genius Howard Roark isn't that convincing of a situation; her views are not changed at first rape, and she becomes even more pessimistic, so much more that next they meet, she decides she must destroy him, lest someone else does for a purpose less noble!

Q: Why does Dominique resist Roark, despite the fact that she seems obviously lovesick for him?

A. T'was the thing she "had thought about, expected..." The direct showing of his invincibility against all the malevolence this world would cast upon him, the evilness she thought would kill him via her pessimistic world view.

"... an act of scorn... Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him--and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she wanted."

Her pessimism forbids her from allowing herself to truly love Roark; she knows that she will only be broken: he will be destroyed, as all modern heroes = martyrs in her view. Thus, "love" becomes defilment: defilement of her virginity, her pessimistic world view. Such an objective stance at proving her wrong allowed her to submit to the "thing one could not bear longer than a second."

One bit of unsureness (tenderness) from Roark, and Dominique would not submit, and her pessmism would re-surge fullswing as its usual indestructable bulwark. Roark's lovemaking is objective; he forces him upon her once he knew their passion is mutual; the last meeting in the forest, where she swiped him across the face with her riding lash due to his non-chalence, solidified this knowledge. Moreover, he forces his love upon her because he wants to prove to her his "super-sureness" about himself; his integrity penetrates Dominique's pessimism for an instant and it allows her to submit to a world where such a being may prosper.

T'is the thing that she "could not have known, because this was not part of living..." Her pessimism decreed that such rapture -- such ultimate intimacy from one whom she idolizes, but knows cannot exist, or if existing, not for long -- is impossible in reality. And perhaps it is... she spends nearly all of the rest of the book rejecting this "one second," as she teams up with Toohey to destroy him -- for the sakes of mercy for Roark.
THE PRINTABLE AYN RAND OBJECTIVISM BACKGROUND (copyrights to whoever wrote this... this is posted just for my personal reference.)

By Ayn Rand “Intro to Objectivism”

At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism

If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”
If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency — to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them — requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot — nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.
My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:
1. Reality exists as an objective absolute — facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
3. Man — every man — is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Ayn Rand named her philosophy “Objectivism” and described it as a philosophy for living on earth. Objectivism is an integrated system of thought that defines the abstract principles by which a man must think and act if he is to live the life proper to man. Ayn Rand first portrayed her philosophy in the form of the heroes of her best-selling novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). She later expressed her philosophy in nonfiction form.
Ayn Rand was once asked if she could present the essence of Objectivism while standing on one foot. Her answer was:

Metaphysics: Objective Reality
Epistemology: Reason
Ethics: Self-interest
Politics: Capitalism

She then translated those terms into familiar language:

“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”
“You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.”
“Man is an end in himself.”
“Give me liberty or give me death.”

The basic principles of Objectivism can be summarized as follows:

“Reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires or fears. This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are — and that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.” Thus Objectivism rejects any belief in the supernatural — and any claim that individuals or groups create their own reality.

“Man’s reason is fully competent to know the facts of reality. Reason, the conceptual faculty, is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. Reason is man’s only means of acquiring knowledge.” Thus Objectivism rejects mysticism (any acceptance of faith or feeling as a means of knowledge), and it rejects skepticism (the claim that certainty or knowledge is impossible).

Human Nature
Man is a rational being. Reason, as man’s only means of knowledge, is his basic means of survival. But the exercise of reason depends on each individual’s choice. “Man is a being of volitional consciousness.” “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom. This is the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character.”Thus Objectivism rejects any form of determinism, the belief that man is a victim of forces beyond his control (such as God, fate, upbringing, genes, or economic conditions).

“Reason is man’s only proper judge of values and his only proper guide to action. The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man — i.e., that which is required by man’s nature for his survival as a rational being (not his momentary physical survival as a mindless brute). Rationality is man’s basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem. Man — every man — is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism — the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society.

“The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that no man has the right to seek values from others by means of physical force — i.e., no man or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use force only in self-defense and only against those who initiate its use. Men must deal with one another as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual benefit. The only social system that bars physical force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism. Capitalism is a system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which the only function of the government is to protect individual rights, i.e., to protect men from those who initiate the use of physical force.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of collectivism, such as fascism or socialism. It also rejects the current “mixed economy” notion that the government should regulate the economy and redistribute wealth.

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” The purpose of art is to concretize the artist’s fundamental view of existence. Ayn Rand described her own approach to art as “Romantic Realism”: “I am a Romantic in the sense that I present men as they ought to be. I am Realistic in the sense that I place them here and now and on this earth.” The goal of Ayn Rand’s novels is not didactic but artistic: the projection of an ideal man: “My purpose, first cause and prime mover is the portrayal of Howard Roark or John Galt or Hank Rearden or Francisco d’Anconia as an end in himself — not as a means to any further end.”

2. What is the connection between an individual’s moral worth and his intelligence, in the Objectivist view?

“Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. 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.
“Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul.”
[Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

3. Does Objectivism hold that all individuals have something valuable to contribute? What about people who lack creativity or ability? Would they fit into a pure capitalist society?

“Intelligence is not an exclusive monopoly of genius; it is an attribute of all men, and the differences are only a matter of degree. If conditions of existence are destructive to genius, they are destructive to every man, each in proportion to his intelligence. If genius is penalized, so is the faculty of intelligence in every other man. There is only this difference: the average man does not possess the genius’s power of self-confident resistance, and will break much faster; he will give up his mind, in hopeless bewilderment, under the first touch of pressure.”
[Ayn Rand, “Requiem for Man,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]

“Look past the range of the moment, you who cry that you fear to compete with men of superior intelligence, that their mind is a threat to your livelihood, that the strong leave no chance to the weak in a market of voluntary trade. What determines the material value of your work? Nothing but the productive effort of your mind — if you lived on a desert island. The less efficient the thinking of your brain, the less your physical labor would bring you — and you could spend your life on a single routine, collecting a precarious harvest or hunting with bow and arrows, unable to think any further. But when you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you....
”Every man is free to rise as far as he’s able or willing, but it’s only the degree to which he thinks that determines the degree to which he’ll rise. Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. The man who does no more than physical labor, consumes the material value-equivalent of his own contribution to the process of production, and leaves no further value, neither for himself nor others. But the man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor — the man who discovers new knowledge — is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. This is mutual trade to mutual advantage; the interests of the mind are one, no matter what the degree of intelligence, among men who desire to work and don’t seek or expect the unearned.
“In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong.”

4. Is Objectivism atheistic? What is the Objectivist attitude toward religion?

“I am an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one. This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion. I must also mention that I do respect religion in its philosophical aspects, in the sense that it represents an early form of philosophy.”
[Ayn Rand, Letters of Ayn Rand, March 20, 1965]

“They claim that they perceive a mode of being superior to your existence on this earth. The mystics of spirit call it ‘another dimension,’ which consists of denying dimensions. The mystics of muscle call it ‘the future,’ which consists of denying the present. To exist is to possess identity. What identity are they able to give to their superior realm? They keep telling you what it is not, but never tell you what it is. All their identifications consist of negating: God is that which no human mind can know, they say — and proceed to demand that you consider it knowledge — God is non-man, heaven is non-earth, soul is non-body, virtue is non-profit, A is non-A, perception is non-sensory, knowledge is non-reason. Their definitions are not acts of defining, but of wiping out.”
[Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

From a 1964 interview in Playboy magazine:
Playboy: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?
Rand: Qua religion, no — in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy.
[Ayn Rand, Playboy magazine]

“Do you believe in God, Andrei?”
“Neither do I. But that’s a favorite question of mine. An upside-down question, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if I asked people whether they believed in life, they’d never understand what I meant. It’s a bad question. It can mean so much that it really means nothing. So I ask them if they believe in God. And if they say they do — then, I know they don’t believe in life.”
“Because, you see, God — whatever anyone chooses to call God — is one’s highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own.”
[Ayn Rand, We the Living]

5. Does Objectivism support Libertarianism?

“For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called ‘hippies of the right,’ who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs.”
[Ayn Rand, “Brief Summary,” The Objectivist, September 1971]

“Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to ‘do something.’ By ‘ideological’ (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the ‘libertarian’ hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.”
[Ayn Rand, “What Can One Do?,” Philosophy: Who Needs It]

6. Given Ayn Rand’s passionate defense of profit, why is the Ayn Rand Institute a non-profit organization?

All human actions and organizations should be “profit”-seeking in the basic sense of promoting the rational self-interests of the individuals involved. If you use the term “profit” to include non-material gains, then all activities should be in that (enlarged) sense profit-seeking. But in the literal financial sense of the term, many important selfish actions are not aimed at monetary profit. The most obvious is love (that’s the difference between romantic love and prostitution!). Or: suppose you give a free copy of Atlas Shrugged to someone who might find it convincing. That is a selfish but not financially remunerative activity. And that’s the kind of thing (in principle) we exist to do.
Ayn Rand endorsed the idea of non-profits for philosophical education, in any of those activities that can’t turn a profit. ARI does not undertake any aspects of philosophical education if there is a commercial market for it. And there are separate commercial ventures that make a profit in publishing books, lectures, and essays on Objectivism, running conferences on Objectivism that people pay to attend, etc. But how would you make a profit in: providing speakers to college-campus Objectivist clubs? running a high-school essay contest on The Fountainhead to increase readership of that book? sending free copies of Ayn Rand’s work on epistemology to college philosophy professors who want to read it (we sent out 1,000 copies to professors around the country who responded to our mailing and ads by requesting it)?
One interesting activity we sponsor, which has to be non-profit, is writing op-eds for submitting to newspapers. The papers don’t pay for publishing them, and professional Objectivist authors won’t write them regularly for free. So ARI enables its contributors to spend some of their money on financing the writing of these pieces and the training of new writers in our Objectivist Graduate Center.
We act as the paid agents of Objectivists who are interested in spending some of their money to spread Objectivist ideas. They don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves, so they pay us to do it for them. They do this as a selfish (but not financially remunerative) activity.
And since ARI is, legally, a 501(c) organization, our contributors at least get a tax-deduction for their contributions.

A Brief Summary
By Dr. Leonard Peikoff
Originally published in The Ominous Parallels (Plume Books, 1997)

A full system of philosophy advocating reason and egoism has been defined in our time by Ayn Rand. It is the philosophy of Objectivism, presented in detail in Atlas Shrugged, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and The Virtue of Selfishness. It is the antidote to the present state of the world. (All further quotations, unless otherwise identified, are from the works of Ayn Rand.)
Most philosophers have left their starting points to unnamed implication. The base of Objectivism is explicit: “Existence exists — and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.”
Existence and consciousness are facts implicit in every perception. They are the base of all knowledge (and the precondition of proof): knowledge presupposes something to know and someone to know it. They are absolutes which cannot be questioned or escaped: every human utterance, including the denial of these axioms, implies their use and acceptance.
The third axiom at the base of knowledge — an axiom true, in Aristotle’s words, of “being qua being” — is the Law of Identity. This law defines the essence of existence: to be is to be something, a thing is what it is; and leads to the fundamental principle of all action, the law of causality. The law of causality states that a thing’s actions are determined not by chance, but by its nature, i.e., by what it is.
It is important to observe the interrelation of these three axioms. Existence is the first axiom. The universe exists independent of consciousness. Man is able to adapt his background to his own requirements, but “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” (Francis Bacon). There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it. “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”
The philosophic source of this viewpoint and its major advocate in the history of philosophy is Aristotle. Its opponents are all the other major traditions, including Platonism, Christianity, and German idealism. Directly or indirectly, these traditions uphold the notion that consciousness is the creator of reality. The essence of this notion is the denial of the axiom that existence exists.
In the religious version, the deniers advocate a consciousness “above” nature, i.e., superior, and contradictory, to existence; in the social version, they melt nature into an indeterminate blur given transient semi-shape by human desire. The first school denies reality by upholding two of them. The second school dispenses with the concept of reality as such. The first rejects science, law, causality, identity, claiming that anything is possible to the omnipotent, miracle-working will of the Lord. The second states the religionists’ rejection in secular terms, claiming that anything is possible to the will of “the people.”
Neither school can claim a basis in objective evidence. There is no way to reason from nature to its negation, or from facts to their subversion, or from any premise to the obliteration of argument as such, i.e., of its foundation: the axioms of existence and identity.
Metaphysics and epistemology are closely interrelated; together they form a philosophy’s foundation. In the history of philosophy, the rejection of reality and the rejection of reason have been corollaries. Similarly, as Aristotle’s example indicates, a pro-reality metaphysics implies and requires a pro-reason epistemology.
Reason is defined by Ayn Rand as “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.”
Reason performs this function by means of concepts, and the validity of reason rests on the validity of concepts. But the nature and origin of concepts is a major philosophic problem. If concepts refer to facts, then knowledge has a base in reality, and one can define objective principles to guide man’s process of cognition. If concepts are cut off from reality, then so is all human knowledge, and man is helplessly blind.
This is the “problem of universals,” on which Western philosophy has foundered.
Plato claimed to find the referent of concepts not in this world, but in a supernatural dimension of essences. The Kantians regard concepts (some or all) as devoid of referents, i.e., as subjective creations of the human mind independent of external facts. Both approaches and all of their variants in the history of philosophy lead to the same essential consequence: the severing of man’s tools of cognition from reality, and therefore the undercutting of man’s mind. (Although Aristotle’s epistemology is far superior, his theory of concepts is intermingled with remnants of Platonism and is untenable.) Recent philosophers have given up the problem and, as a result, have given up philosophy as such.
Ayn Rand challenges and sweeps aside the main bulwark of the anti-mind axis. Her historic feat is to tie man’s distinctive form of cognition to reality, i.e., to validate man’s reason.
According to Objectivism, concepts are derived from and do refer to the facts of reality.
The mind at birth (as Aristotle first stated) is tabula rasa; there are no innate ideas. The senses are man’s primary means of contact with reality; they give him the precondition of all subsequent knowledge, the evidence that something is. What the something is he discovers on the conceptual level of awareness.
Conceptualization is man’s method of organizing sensory material. To form a concept, one isolates two or more similar concretes from the rest of one’s perceptual field, and integrates them into a single mental unit, symbolized by a word. A concept subsumes an unlimited number of instances: the concretes one isolated, and all others (past, present, and future) which are similar to them.
Similarity is the key to this process. The mind can retain the characteristics of similar concretes without specifying their measurements, which vary from case to case. “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.”

The basic principle of concept-formation (which states that the omitted measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity) is the equivalent of the basic principle of algebra, which states that algebraic symbols must be given some numerical value, but may be given any value. In this sense and respect, perceptual awareness is the arithmetic, but conceptual awareness is the algebra of cognition.

Concepts are neither supernatural nor subjective: they refer to facts of this world, as processed by man’s means of cognition. (The foregoing is a brief indication; for a full discussion see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.)

The senses, concepts, logic: these are the elements of man’s rational faculty — its start, its form, its method. In essence, “follow reason” means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic (ultimately, the Law of Identity). Since each of these elements is based on the facts of reality, the conclusions reached by a process of reason are objective.
The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism.
The mystic seeks supernatural knowledge; the skeptic denies the possibility of any knowledge. The mystic claims that man’s means of cognition are inadequate and that true knowledge requires illumination from God; the skeptic agrees, then throws out God. The mystic upholds absolutes, which he defends by an appeal to faith; the skeptic answers that he has no faith. The mystic’s faith, ultimately, is in his feelings, which he regards as a pipeline to the beyond; the skeptic drops the beyond, then follows his feelings, which, he says, are the only basis of action in an unknowable world.
Feelings are products of men’s ideas and value-judgments, held consciously or subconsciously. Feelings are not tools of cognition or a guide to action.
The old-fashioned religionists condemned human reason on the grounds that it is limited, finite, earthbound, as against the perfect but ineffable mind of God. This implies an attack on identity (as does any rejection of the finite); but it does so under cover of affirming a consciousness with an allegedly greater, supernatural identity. The modern nihilists are more explicit: they campaign, not for the infinite, but for a zero. Just as in metaphysics they reject the concept of reality, so in epistemology they reject the possibility of consciousness.
Man, say the Kantians, cannot know “things as they are,” because his knowledge is acquired by human senses, human concepts, human logic, i.e., by the human means of knowledge.
The same type of argument would apply to any consciousness — human, animal, or divine (assuming the latter existed): if it is something, if it is limited to some, any, means of knowledge, then by the same reasoning it would not know “things as they are,” but only “things as they appear” to that kind of consciousness.
Kant objects to the fact that man’s mind has a nature. His theory is: identity — the essence of existence — invalidates consciousness. Or: a means of knowledge makes knowledge impossible. As Ayn Rand points out, this theory implies that “man is blind, because he has eyes — deaf, because he has ears — deluded, because he has a mind — and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.”
Just as Kant’s epistemological nihilism sweeps cognition away from identity, so his ethical nihilism sweeps morality — the field of values — away from any enjoyment of life.
The Objectivist ethics is the opposite of Kant’s.

The Objectivist ethics begins with a fundamental question: why is ethics necessary?
The answer lies in man’s nature as a living organism. A living organism has to act in the face of a constant alternative: life or death. Life is conditional; it can be sustained only by a specific course of action performed by the living organism, such as the actions of obtaining food. In this regard plants and animals have no choice: within the limits of their powers, they take automatically the actions their life requires. Man does have a choice. He does not know automatically what actions will sustain him; if he is to survive he must discover, then practice by choice, a code of values and virtues, the specific code which human life requires. The purpose of ethics is to define such a code.
Objectivism is the first philosophy to identify the relationship between life and moral values. “Ethics,” writes Ayn Rand, “is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man’s survival — not by the grace of the supernatural nor of your neighbors nor of your whims, but by the grace of reality and the nature of life.”
The standard of ethics, required by the nature of reality and the nature of man, is Man’s Life. “All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.”
“Man’s mind,” states John Galt, the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged,

is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive, he must act, and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without a knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch — or build a cyclotron — without a knowledge of his aim and of the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.

Thinking is not an automatic process. A man can choose to think or to let his mind stagnate, or he can choose actively to turn against his intelligence, to evade his knowledge, to subvert his reason. If he refuses to think, he courts disaster: he cannot with impunity reject his means of perceiving reality.
Thinking is a delicate, difficult process, which man cannot perform unless knowledge is his goal, logic is his method, and the judgment of his mind is his guiding absolute. Thought requires selfishness, the fundamental selfishness of a rational faculty that places nothing above the integrity of its own function.
A man cannot think if he places something — anything — above his perception of reality. He cannot follow the evidence unswervingly or uphold his conclusions intransigently, while regarding compliance with other men as his moral imperative, self-abasement as his highest virtue, and sacrifice as his primary duty. He cannot use his brain while surrendering his sovereignty over it, i.e., while accepting his neighbors as its owner and term-setter.
Men learn from others, they build on the work of their predecessors, they achieve by cooperation feats that would be impossible on a desert island. But all such social relationships require the exercise of the human faculty of cognition; they depend on the solitary individual, “solitary” in the primary, inner sense of the term, the sense of a man facing reality firsthand, seeking not to crucify himself on the cross of others or to accept their word as an act of faith, but to understand, to connect, to know.
Man’s mind requires selfishness, and so does his life in every aspect: a living organism has to be the beneficiary of its own actions. It has to pursue specific objects — for itself, for its own sake and survival. Life requires the gaining of values, not their loss; achievement, not renunciation; self-preservation, not self-sacrifice. Man can choose to value and pursue self-immolation, but he cannot survive or prosper by such a method.

Moral selfishness does not mean a license to do whatever one pleases, guided by whims. It means the exacting discipline of defining and pursuing one’s rational self-interest. A code of rational self-interest rejects every form of human sacrifice, whether of oneself to others or of others to oneself. The ethics of rational self-interest upholds the exercise of one’s mind in the service of one’s life, and all of the specific value-choices and character attributes which such exercise entails. It upholds the virtues of rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride. It does not advocate “survival at any price.”

Man’s life, as required by his nature, is not the life of a mindless brute, of a looting thug or a mooching mystic, but the life of a thinking being — not life by means of force or fraud, but life by means of achievement — not survival at any price, since there’s only one price that pays for man’s survival: reason.

Reason is an attribute of the individual. Thought is a process performed not by men, but by man — in the singular. No society, committee, or “organic” group can do it. What a group can do in this regard is only: to leave the individual free to function, or to stop him.
The basic political requirement of Man’s Life is freedom.
“Freedom” in this context means the power to act without coercion by others. It means an individual’s power to act according to his own judgment, while respecting the same right in others. In a free society, men renounce a lethal method of dealing with disagreements: the initiation of physical force.
Force is the antonym and negation of thought. Understanding is not produced by a punch in the face; intellectual clarity does not flow from the muzzle of a gun; the weighing of evidence is not mediated by spasms of terror. The mind is a cognitive faculty; it cannot achieve knowledge or conviction apart from or against its perception of reality; it cannot be forced.
The proper political system, in essence — the system which guards the freedom of man’s mind — is the original American system, based on the concept of inalienable individual rights. “[T]he source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A — and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.”
The Founding Fathers were right about the fact that rights are political, not economic, i.e., that they are sanctions to act and to keep the products of one’s action, not unearned claims to the actions or products of others. And they were right about the fact that the proper function of government is the protection of man’s rights.
Man’s rights, Ayn Rand observes, can be violated only by physical force (fraud is an indirect form of force). A political system based on the recognition of rights is one that guards man against violence. Men therefore deal with one another not as potential killers, but as sovereign traders, according to their own independent judgment and voluntary consent. This kind of system represents the methodical protection of man’s mind and of his self-interest, i.e., of the function and purpose on which human life depends.
Government is the agency that holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. In a free society the government uses force only in retaliation, against those who start its use. This involves three main functions: the police; the military; and the courts (which provide the means of resolving disputes peacefully, according to objective rules).

The government of a free society is prohibited from emulating the criminals it is created to apprehend. It is prohibited from initiating force against innocent men. It cannot inject the power of physical destruction into the lives of peaceful citizens, not for any purpose or in any realm of endeavor, including the realm of production and trade.
This means the rejection of any dichotomy between political and economic freedom. It means the separation of state and economics. It means the only alternative to tyranny that has ever been discovered: laissez-faire capitalism.
Historically, capitalism worked brilliantly, and it is the only system that will work. Socialism in every variant has led to disaster and will again whenever it is tried. Yet socialism is admired by mankind’s teachers, while capitalism is damned. The source of this inversion is the fact that freedom is selfish, rights are selfish, capitalism is selfish.
It is true that freedom, rights, and capitalism are selfish. It is also true that selfishness, properly defined, is the good.
There is no future for the world except through a rebirth of the Aristotelian approach to philosophy. This would require an Aristotelian affirmation of the reality of existence, of the sovereignty of reason, of life on earth — and of the splendor of man.
Aristotle and Objectivism agree on fundamentals and, as a result, on this last point, also. Both hold that man can deal with reality, can achieve values, can live non-tragically. Neither believes in man the worm or man the monster; each upholds man the thinker and therefore man the hero. Aristotle calls him “the great-souled man.” Ayn Rand calls him Howard Roark, or John Galt.
In every era, by their nature, men must struggle: they must work, knowingly or not, to actualize some vision of the human potential, whether consistent or contradictory, exalted or debased. They must, ultimately, make a fundamental choice, which determines their other choices and their fate. The fundamental choice, which is always the same, is the epistemological choice: reason or non-reason.
Since men’s grasp of reason and their versions of non-reason differ from era to era, according to the extent of their knowledge and their virtue, so does the specific form of the choice, and its specific result.
In the ancient world, after centuries of a gradual decline, the choice was the ideas of classical civilization or the ideas of Christianity. Men chose Christianity. The result was the Dark Ages.
In the medieval world, a thousand years later, the choice was Augustine or Aquinas. Men chose Aquinas. The result was the Renaissance.
In the Enlightenment world, four centuries later, the founders of America struggled to reaffirm the choice of their Renaissance ancestors, but they could not make it stick historically. The result was a magnificent new country, with a built-in self-destructor.
Today, in the United States, the choice is the Founding Fathers and the foundation they never had, or Kant and destruction. The result is still open.

For the definitive, systematic statement of Objectivism, see Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff.

notes for the contest

The base of Objectivism is explicit: “Existence exists — and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.”