Friday, May 29, 2009

Morality Of Rational Egoism Required For Exalted Moments

For what reason should one want to achieve or experience an exalted moment? For the sake of God? For the sake of others (society, the state, other individuals)? For the sake of range-of-the-moment subjective whim?


One should want to achieve or experience an exalted moment for one's self for the purpose of pursuing one's own happiness. The pursuit of one's happiness can only be achieved through the morality of rational egoism. It can not be achieved through sacrifice of any kind -- including to others (altruism).

At the root of the morality of rationalism egoism is the epistemology of objectivity or reason. That of course is based upon a metaphysics of objective reality.

In the following YouTube playlist Drs. Leonard Peikoff, Yaron Brook, and Amit Ghate answer questions about reason. In particular, they contrast reason with the greatest impediment to achieving and experiencing exalted moments -- faith.

They provide historical, cultural, and philosophical perspectives. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Ghate's labeling of faith as "spiritual subjectivity" and his inclusion of Al Capone in his point.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Introduction To The Fountainhead, Part 3

Ayn Rand on sense of life,

Perhaps the best way to communicate The Fountainhead's sense of life is by means of the quotation which had stood at the head of my manuscript, but which I removed from the final, published book. With this opportunity to explain it, I am glad to bring it back.

I removed it, because of my profound disagreement with the philosophy of its author, Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophically, Nietzsche is a mystic and an irrationalist. His metaphysics consists of a somewhat "Byronic" and mystically "malevolent" universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to "will," or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms.

This is especially true of the quotation I had chosen. I could not endorse its literal meaning: it proclaims an indefensible tenet—psychological determinism. But if one takes it as a poetic projection of an emotional experience (and if, intellectually, one substitutes the concept of an acquired "basic premise" for the concept of an innate "fundamental certainty"), then that quotation communicates the inner state of an exalted self-esteem—and sums up the emotional consequences for which The Fountainhead provides the rational, philosophical base:

"It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank—to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning,—it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.—The noble soul has reverence for itself.—" (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.)

This view of man has rarely been expressed in human history. Today, it is virtually non-existent. Yet this is the view with which—in various degrees of longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion—the best of mankind's youth start out in life. It is not even a view, for most of them, but a foggy, groping, undefined sense made of raw pain and incommunicable happiness. It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one's life is important, that great achievements are within one's capacity, and that great things lie ahead.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, p. x-xi

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Introduction To The Fountainhead, Part 2

Ayn Rand on religion, man-worship, and sense of life:

This leads me to a wider issue which is involved in every line of The Fountainhead and which has to be understood if one wants to understand the causes of its lasting appeal.

Religion's monopoly in the field of ethics has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life. Just as religion has preempted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man's reach. "Exaltation" is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. "Worship" means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man. "Reverence" means the emotion of a sacred respect, to be experienced on one's knees. "Sacred" means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth. Etc.

But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man's dedication to a moral ideal. Yet apart from the man-degrading aspects introduced by religion, that emotional realm is left unidentified, without concepts, words or recognition.

It is this highest level of man's emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.

It is in this sense, with this meaning and intention, that I would identify the sense of life dramatized in The Fountainhead as man-worship.

It is an emotion that a few—a very few—men experience consistently; some men experience it in rare, single sparks that flash and die without consequences; some do not know what I am talking about; some do and spend their lives as frantically virulent spark-extinguishers.

Do not confuse "man-worship" with the many attempts, not to emancipate morality from religion and bring it into the realm of reason, but to substitute a secular meaning for the worst, the most profoundly irrational elements of religion. For instance, there are all the variants of modern collectivism (communist, fascist, Nazi, etc.), which preserve the religious-altruist ethics in full and merely substitute "society" for God as the beneficiary of man's self-immolation. There are the various schools of modern philosophy which, rejecting the law of identity, proclaim that reality is an indeterminate flux ruled by miracles and shaped by whims—not God's whims, but man's or "society's." These neo-mystics are not man-worshipers; they are merely the secularizers of as profound a hatred for man as that of their avowedly mystic predecessors.

A cruder variant of the same hatred is represented by those concrete-bound, "statistical" mentalities who—unable to grasp the meaning of man's volition—declare that man cannot be an object of worship, since they have never encountered any specimens of humanity who deserved it.

The man-worshipers, in my sense of the term, are those who see man's highest potential and strive to actualize it. The man-haters are those who regard man as a helpless, depraved, contemptible creature—and struggle never to let him discover otherwise. It is important here to remember that the only direct, introspective knowledge of man anyone possesses is of himself.

More specifically, the essential division between these two camps is: those dedicated to the exaltation of man's self-esteem and the sacredness of his happiness on earth—and those determined not to allow either to become possible. The majority of mankind spend their lives and psychological energy in the middle, swinging between these two, struggling not to allow the issue to be named. This does not change the nature of the issue.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, p. ix-x

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some Moments Of Exaltation...

Burgess Laughlin at Making Progress continues his focus on exaltation:

In a free or semi-free society, the prospect of a life without the probability of occasional exaltation is a warning sign. If I were not feeling at least some moments of exaltation, I would examine my life to see why.

He discusses the similarities and differences of happiness, glory, and...exaltation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Introduction To The Fountainhead, Part 1

Ayn Rand on religion and ethics:

But an issue of this sort should not be left to implications. What I was referring to was not religion as such, but a special category of abstractions, the most exalted one, which, for centuries, had been the near-monopoly of religion: ethics—not the particular content of religious ethics, but the abstraction "ethics," the realm of values, man's code of good and evil, with the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur, which pertain to the realm of man's values, but which religion has arrogated to itself.

The same meaning and considerations were intended and are applicable to another passage of the book, a brief dialogue between Roark and Hopton Stoddard, which may be misunderstood if taken out of context:

" 'You're a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark—in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.'

" 'That's true,' said Roark."

In the context of that scene, however, the meaning is clear: it is Roark's profound dedication to values, to the highest and best, to the ideal, that Stoddard is referring to (see his explanation of the nature of the proposed temple). The erection of the Stoddard Temple and the subsequent trial state the issue explicitly.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, p. viii-ix

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Notre-Dame de Paris

Ayn Rand on Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo:

Although the priest does terrible things in the novel, one is never convinced that he is a total villain. Hugo obviously intended him as a villain, but, psychologically and philosophically, he was not sold on the idea. This conflict between Hugo's conscious convictions and his deepest, subconscious view of life shows in his style.

If Hugo's full conviction had been that the priest's passion is evil, the priest's way of speaking of his passion would have been much less attractive. He would have projected something ugly or sadistic—a perverted or evil feeling. But instead he speaks of his love in so romantic a way—the examples selected are so glowing and beautiful—that the reader necessarily feels sympathy for him (and so does the author).

In this passage, there are no exalted sentences in defense of religion. When the priest mentions religion, it is always in a blasphemous manner. In this particular projection, religion means nothing to him; he wants to put God under the girl's feet—which is wonderful, but not the way to project an evil passion.

If Hugo's own viewpoint had been what it ostensibly is—if he had really considered the priest a villain for his conflict—he would have presented the passion less attractively and religion more forcefully. But Hugo's subconscious is so much on the side of love and of this earth that I say: "May his God help him!"

Throughout the novel, the priest keeps announcing that his passion is "fate." In fact, earlier in his speech to the girl, he states that he lost the battle against temptation because God did not give to man a power as strong as the devil's. This is a deterministic premise. But what an author might have his characters say, or even what his own stated philosophy might be, is an issue totally different from what his actual, subconscious premises are—as this speech illustrates.

The speech expresses a violence of emotion that can come only from the possibility of choice. An automaton does not experience violent emotions. In literature written on the determinist premise, emotions of pain can be convincingly portrayed, but never a violent passion for a specific object on earth.

Observe the priest's self-assertion. He constantly tells how he tried to fight his passion; then, when he felt the desire to see the girl again, he watched and waited for her. He constantly talks about what he did; and he is begging her to have pity on him, by which he means: consent to love him. He is acting on his passion. He has decided that he cannot fight it any longer, so now he will try to win her. And his emotional violence has one purpose: "If I can convince her of the greatness of my love, then maybe I can win her." This is a man in charge of his own destiny.

If a man in a Naturalistic novel has a passion he cannot resist, there is an enormous tone of whining, amounting to: "Poor little me, I couldn't help it." Here, although the priest uses begging terms like have pity on me and mercy, his tone is not one of complaint.

The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand, p. 101 - 102

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Opposite Of Exaltation?

Burgess Laughlin on gaining further understanding of "exaltation":

Besides (1) examining one's own experiences as referents for a puzzling term/concept, (2) reading a dictionary for its list of conventional usages of the term/concept, and (3) investigating the etymology of a term, there is still another approach to better understanding a problematic term/concept: Consider its opposite.

He investigates "humility".

"Atlas Shrugged", "The Objectivist Ethics", And Exalted Moments

The sales rate of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is triple the rate of 2008. Given the attention of the novel, it is important to understand Miss Rand's point in writing it. Many think it was "prophecy". Many think it was to organize a strike ("Going Galt").

Many would be surprised to hear Miss Rand's answer: "Exalted moments."

In a letter to a fan, she said of "Atlas Shrugged" and exalted moments:

You ask me about the meaning of the dialogue on page 702 of Atlas Shrugged:

"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" she whispered. "'No, we never had to.'"

Let me begin by saying that this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book, because it is the condensed emotional summation, the keynote or leitmotif, of the view of life presented in Atlas Shrugged.

What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man's existence on earth, are the meaning of life—not the pain or ugliness he may encounter—that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience, not for the sake of suffering—that happiness matters, but suffering does not—that no matter how much pain one may have to endure, it is never to be taken seriously, that is: never to be taken as the essence and meaning of life—that the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain.

So how does one "live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience"? An excellent place to start is with Miss Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics" which was published in her book "The Virtue of Selfishness", and is now available at the Ayn Rand Institute web site.

The purpose here is not to summarize Miss Rand's ethical system. You can read her words. Instead I will focus on the structure, explicitness, and completeness of her stunning contribution to the field of ethics -- while providing a few examples. And then, I will tie it back to "exalted moments".

Her essay opens with her explicit and novel definition of morality and ethics.

It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

Is it not wonderful to have a writer explicitly define her terms?

She then takes a logical step-by-step building of the case for her ethical system. One could imagine Miss Rand, at her desk, questioning each of her own statements until she came up with a consistent, complete, and objective structure. She was not content with providing a list of commandments to be obeyed under some threat. She was not content with presenting a set of concocted whims. She instead asked "Why?" And in particular, she asked "Why?" in the context of human life.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?

Her starting point is not "Thou shalt or shalt not". Nor is it, "You must value this and that". The starting point is "Should I value -- and why?"

She strips her answer away from "personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations". Instead, she again lays down her terms by providing a definition of "values". And she provides the necessity of values to living things. She builds the case that life, your life, is the ultimate value.

Miss Rand's case for her ethics is built in the classic structure of philosophy as set forth by Plato - metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. This is not solely an essay on ethics. "The Objectivist Ethics" is a shining example of how to write by creating a structure where each statement is logically based upon the previous -- with no unconnected assertions.

With regard to epistemology, Miss Rand makes clear the fundamental differences between plants and animals. And then, she provides the fundamental distinctions among various types of animals and how they obtain their knowledge. Most importantly, she explains how human beings are different from all other animals in how they gain their knowledge.

Man, the highest living species on this earth- the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge—man is the only living entity born without any guarantee of remaining conscious at all. Man’s particular distinction from all other living species is the fact that his consciousness is volitional.

She provides definitions for "reason" and "consciousness". She explains why human beings must have goals.

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.

With regard to ethics, she builds her system not out of arbitrary mystical assertions, social conventions, or upon whim. Her system is based upon her view of a human being and what is required for a human's ultimate value -- life. Her ethics are built upon human epistemology -- the basis of man's maintenance of life.

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.

Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work.

Miss Rand then provides an explicit and structured presentation of the values and virtues of the Objectivist ethics. Again, these are left to the reader to investigate at the above link. The bottom line of the Objectivist ethics is that they are not built on the premise upon the mystic's arbitrary claim of a duty to the service of God and of everlasting life. They are not built upon the skeptic's claim of human failing and of duty to others. They are not based upon personal whim.

The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.

Having completed her foundation of epistemology (how do I as a human gain knowledge) and ethics (how do I choose and act as a human), Miss Rand then follows with man in the social context. She provides the values that an individual gains from living with others -- and what are the proper and improper means of dealing with another. This then naturally flows explicitly into her thoughts on politics.

Note that many readers of "Atlas Shrugged" focus upon Miss Rand's politics -- either praising or damning them. To both I say, "Please shift your focus". Miss Rand was not primarily a political analyst, nor a prophet, nor a strike organizer. She was a philosopher-novelist with an integrated system of thought -- of which politics was a consequence of her foundation of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. As Miss Rand was fond of saying, "Check your premises". Her premises did not begin with politics.

Miss Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics" provides us with a complete view of how and why a human gains knowledge, how (and why) he or she should act on that knowledge, and how we should act with others (and why). She not only identifies "why the world is now collapsing to a lower and ever lower rung of hell", she provides the antidote. It is yours for the taking -- not to save the world, but rather for your ultimate value -- your life. "The Objectivist Ethics" is a remarkable essay -- for its content, explicitness, structure, and completeness.

And this brings us back full circle -- to exalted moments. When she wrote of exalted moments, she stated "that happiness matters". "The Objectivist Ethics" addresses this in more detail:

The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

May you live for the sake of exalted moments!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Is Important?

Leonard Peikoff on what is important:

No concrete within an art work, such as the type of ending given to a story, can be judged outside the full context of the work. The point is that, within the context, every concrete, simply by virtue of being included, acquires significance.

As a teenager, I told Miss Rand once that it was difficult to live up to the exalted quality of her novels. "If John Galt were out on a date," I said, "he would open a bottle of champagne with the ease of flourishing a cape, and the mood would be highly romantic. But when I do it, the cork sticks, I fumble with the bottle, and the mood is sabotaged. Why can't life be more like art?"

Miss Rand answered that the cork could very well stick for a real-life Galt, too. But if it did, he would brush the distraction aside; he would not let it affect his mood or evening. "In life," she said, "one ignores the unimportant; in art, one omits it."

Most men do not know in explicit terms what they regard as important. They are unfamiliar with philosophy and hold few ideas on the subject; yet they are able to create and/or respond to art. This is possible because all men, whatever their conscious mental content, hold metaphysical value-judgments in a special form, which Ayn Rand calls a sense of life. A "sense of life" is "a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence." Such a subconscious appraisal is involved in art of any kind or school.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, p. 425-6

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Leonard Peikoff on sex:

No man desires everyone on earth. Each has some requirements in this regard, however contradictory or unidentified—and the rational man's requirements, here as elsewhere, are the opposite of contradictory. He desires only a woman he can admire, a woman who (to his knowledge) shares his moral standards, his self-esteem, and his view of life. Only with such a partner can he experience the reality of the values he is seeking to celebrate, including his own value. The same kind of sexual selectivity is exercised by a rational woman. This is why Roark is attracted only to a heroine like Dominique, and why Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged is desperate to sleep with John Galt, not with Wesley Mouch. Romantic love is the strongest positive emotion possible between two individuals. Its experience, therefore, so far from being an animal reaction, is a self-revelation: the values giving rise to this kind of response must be one's most intensely held and personal.

When a man and woman do fall in love—assuming that each is romantically free and the context otherwise appropriate—sex is a necessary and proper expression of their feeling for each other. "Platonic love" under such circumstances would be a vice, a breach of integrity. Sex is to love what action is to thought, possession to evaluation, body to soul. "We live in our minds," Roark observes, "and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form." Sex is the preeminent form of bringing love into physical reality.

The subject of sex is complex and belongs largely to the science of psychology. I asked Ayn Rand once what philosophy specifically has to say on the subject. She answered: "It says that sex is good."

Sex is moral, it is an exalted pleasure, it is a profound value. Like happiness, therefore, sex is an end in itself; it is not necessarily a means to any further end, such as procreation. This uplifted view of sex leads to an ethical corollary: a function so important must be granted the respect it deserves.

To respect sex means to approach it objectively. The guiding principle should be: select a partner whom you love on the basis of values you can identify and defend; then do whatever you wish together in bed, provided that it is mutually desired and that your pleasures are reality-oriented. This excludes indiscriminate sexual indulgence and any form of destructiveness or faking—such as, among other examples, the chaser's promiscuity, the rapist's coercion, the adulterer's pretense of fidelity, and the sadist's pretense that his power to cause suffering is a mark of efficacy. (Fantasy, in sex as in other departments of life, is a form of imagination and thus legitimate, as long as one does not drop the distinction between fantasy and reality.)

The guiding principle in sex should be: esteem sex as an expression of reason and of man's life in the full, moral sense of the term; then, keeping this context in mind, pursue the value greedily.

Such a viewpoint is the opposite of today's dominant philosophy on the subject.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, p. 345-6

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Burgess Laughlin On Exaltation

Burgess Laughlin at Making Progress writes of "exaltation":

In his first post (on April 11), "Introduction to 'Exalted Moments'," the anonymous author of the new Exalted Moments weblog quotes Ayn Rand's correspondence.

Burgess has a lot to say. He focuses upon the importance, necessity, nature and other aspects of "exaltation". A very good read. Check it out.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Exalted Sense of Life

Editor David Harriman writes:

Despite the tragic aspects of To Lorne Dieterling, the novel was to have an uplifting theme. AR's purpose was to show that Hella, as a profoundly independent person, can be affected "only down to a certain point." Though she suffers as a result of the moral treason of others, she is ultimately able to preserve the exalted sense of life that is so eloquently expressed in AR's favorite music.

AR regarded philosophy as a means to the achievement of a unique goal: the lighthearted, joyous state of existence that she had envisioned—and experienced—from the time of her youth. It is fitting, therefore, that her last fiction notes are about a woman like herself, who maintains such a view of life to the end, even while those around her do not.

The Journals of Ayn Rand, David Harriman (editor), p. 716

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Future

Leonard Peikoff on the future:

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.

The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff, p. 311-2