Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ayn Rand On Victor Hugo

Ayn Rand on Victor Hugo:

You may read any number of more "realistic" accounts of the French Revolution, but Hugo's is the one you will remember. He is not a reporter of the momentary, but an artist who projects the essential and fundamental. He is not a statistician of gutter trivia, but a Romanticist who presents life "as it might be and ought to be." He is the worshipper and the superlative portrayer of man's greatness.

If you are struggling to hold your vision of man above the gray ashes of our century, Hugo is the fuel you need.

One cannot preserve that vision or achieve it without some knowledge of what is greatness and some image to concretize it. Every morning, when you read today's headlines, you shrink a little in human stature and hope. Then, if you turn to modern literature for a nobler view of man, you are confronted by those cases of arrested development—the juvenile delinquents aged thirty to sixty—who still think that depravity is daring or shocking, and whose writing belongs, not on paper, but on fences.

If you feel, as I do, that there's nothing as boring as depravity, if you seek a glimpse of human grandeur—turn to a novel by Victor Hugo.

"Ninety-Three", The Ayn Rand Column, p.42

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Art: What Is Worthy?

Ayn Rand quoted by Leonard Peikoff on what is worth re-creating in art:

Misery, disease, disaster, evil, all the negatives of human existence, are proper objects of study in life, for the purpose of understanding and correcting them—but are not proper objects of contemplation for contemplation's sake. In art, and in literature, these negatives are worth recreating only in relation to some positive, as a foil, as a contrast, as a means of stressing the positive—but not as an end in themselves ....

That one should wish to enjoy the contemplation of values, of the good—of man's greatness, intelligence, ability, virtue, heroism—is self-explanatory. It is the contemplation of the evil that requires explanation and justification; and the same goes for the contemplation of the mediocre, the undistinguished, the commonplace, the meaningless, the mindless.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 443

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Productive Ability

Leonard Peikoff:

Productive ability is a value by the standard of man's life—and because, like all values, a course of virtue is required in order to gain and keep it. An individual is not born with the knowledge, the skills, or the imaginative ideas that give rise to greatness or even competence in any creative field. He must acquire, then use, all these assets by a volitional process. At each step this process requires effort, purpose, and the commitment to reality. It requires all the attributes inherent in the development and use of the rational faculty, including conscientious focus, independent judgment, the concern with long-range goals, and the courage to remain true in action to one's knowledge.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
, p. 295

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Greatness: On Heaven Or On Earth?

Dagny meeting up with the others in Galt's Gulch:

"This?" She laughed, suddenly, looking at the faces of the men against the golden sunburst of rays filling the great windows. "This looks like … You know, I never hoped to see any of you again, I wondered at times how much I'd give for just one more glimpse or one more word—and now—now this is like that dream you imagine in childhood, when you think that some day, in heaven, you will see those great departed whom you had not seen on earth, and you choose, from all the past centuries, the great men you would like to meet."

"Well, that's one clue to the nature of our secret," said Akston. "Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves—or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth."

Atlas Shrugged, p. 679.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Francisco d'Anconia On Money

Exalted quote from Ayn Rand. Exalting the wrong thing...

"When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, 'Who is destroying the world?' You are.

"You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it's crumbling around you, while you're damning its life-blood—money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men's history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves—slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody's mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers—as industrialists.

"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being—the self-made man—the American industrialist.

"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.' No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality."
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, p. 386

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Birth Control

Ayn Rand on birth control, sex, and love:

It is only animals that have to adapt themselves to their physical background and to the biological functions of their bodies. Man adapts his physical background and the use of his biological faculties to himself-to his own needs and values. That is his distinction from all other living species.

To an animal, the rearing of its young is a matter of temporary cycles. To man, it is a lifelong responsibility—a grave responsibility that must not be undertaken causelessly, thoughtlessly or accidentally.

In regard to the moral aspects of birth control, the primary right involved is not the "right" of an unborn child, nor of the family, nor of society, nor of God. The primary right is one which- in today's public clamor on the subject- few, if any, voices have had the courage to uphold: the right of man and woman to their own life and happiness—the right not to be regarded as the means to any end.

Man is an end in himself. Romantic love—the profound, exalted, lifelong passion that unites his mind and body in the sexual act—is the living testimony to that principle.

"Of Living Death", The Objectivist, p. 531

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Romanticists

Ayn Rand on The Romanticists:

The Romanticists saw their cause primarily as a battle for their right to individuality and—unable to grasp the deepest metaphysical justification of their cause, unable to identify their values in terms of reason—they fought for individuality in terms of feelings, surrendering the banner of reason to their enemies.

There were other, lesser consequences of this fundamental error, all of them symptoms of the intellectual confusion of the age. Groping blindly for a metaphysically-oriented, grand-scale, exalted way of life, the Romanticists, predominantly, were enemies of capitalism, which they regarded as a prosaic, materialistic, "petty bourgeois" system—never realizing that it was the only system that could make freedom, individuality and the pursuit of values possible in practice. Some of them chose to be advocates of socialism; some turned for inspiration to the Middle Ages and became shameless glamorizers of that nightmare era; some ended up where most champions of the non-rational end up: in religion. All of it served to accelerate Romanticism's growing break with reality.

When, in the later half of the nineteenth century, Naturalism rose to prominence and, assuming the mantle of reason and reality, proclaimed the artists' duty to portray "things as they are"-Romanticism did not have much of an opposition to offer.

"What is Romanticism", The Objectivist, p. 645-6

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On Music

Ayn Rand on music:

Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise this experience—i.e., how they feel about these feelings.

On a number of occasions, I made the following experiment: I asked a group of guests to listen to a recorded piece of music, then describe what image, action or event it evoked in their minds spontaneously and inspirationally, without conscious devising or thought (it was a kind of auditory Thematic Apperception Test). The resulting descriptions varied in concrete details, in clarity, in imaginative color, but all had grasped the same basic emotion—with eloquent differences of appraisal. For example, there was a continuum of mixed responses between two pure extremes which, condensed, were: "I felt exalted because this music is so light-heartedly happy," and: "I felt irritated because this music is so light-heartedly happy and, therefore, superficial."

Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a certain emotional state and, with one's sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one's fundamental feeling about life.

When the emotional abstraction projected by the music corresponds to one's sense of life, the abstraction acquires a full, bright, almost violent reality—and one feels, at times, an emotion of greater intensity than any experienced existentially. When the emotional abstraction projected by the music is irrelevant to or contradicts one's sense of life, one feels nothing except a dim uneasiness or resentment or a special kind of enervating boredom.

The Objectivist, Ayn Rand, p. 1014-5

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The Grandeur, The Reverence, The Exalted Purity"

Ayn Rand from "The Chicken's Homecoming" on religion and philosophy:

It is not a question of whether man chooses to be guided by a comprehensive view: he is not equipped to survive without it. The nature of his consciousness does not permit him an animal's percept-guided, range-of-the-moment form of existence. No matter how primitive his actions, he needs to project them into the future and to weigh their consequences; this requires a conceptual process, and a conceptual process cannot take place in a vacuum: it requires a context. Man's choice is not whether he needs a comprehensive view of life, but only whether his view is true or false. If it is false, it leads him to act as his own destroyer.

In the early stages of mankind's development, that view was provided by religion, i.e., by mystic fantasy. Man's psycho-epistemological need is the reason why even the most primitively savage tribes always clung to some form of religious belief; the mystic (i.e., anti-reality) nature of their view was the cause of mankind's incalculably long stagnation.

Man came into his own in Greece, some two-and-a-half thousand years ago. The birth of philosophy marked his adulthood; not the content of any particular system of philosophy, but deeper: the concept of philosophy—the realization that a comprehensive view of existence is to be reached by man's mind.

Philosophy is the goal toward which religion was only a helplessly blind groping. The grandeur, the reverence, the exalted purity, the austere dedication to the pursuit of truth, which are commonly associated with religion, should properly belong to the field of philosophy. Aristotle lived up to it and, in part, so did Plato, Aquinas, Spinoza—but how many others? It is earlier than we think.

If you observe that ever since Hume and Kant (mainly Kant, because Hume was merely the Bertrand Russell of his time) philosophy has been striving to prove that man's mind is impotent, that there's no such thing as reality and we wouldn't be able to perceive it if there were—you will realize the magnitude of the treason involved.

The task of philosophy requires the total best of a mind's capacity; the responsibility is commensurate. Most men are unable to form a comprehensive view of life: some, because their ability is devoted to other professions; a great many, because they lack the ability. But all need that view and, consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, they accept what philosophy offers them.

The Anti-Industrial Revolution, Ayn Rand, p. 45-46