Monday, July 25, 2011

Mental Growth Is Possible To Every Person

Dr. Leonard Peikoff on The Fountainhead, happiness, and rationality.

A man does not qualify as rational if he walks around in a daze but once in a while, when someone mentions a fact, he wakes up long enough to say "I'll accept that," then relapses again.

Rationality requires the systematic use of one's intelligence.

Ayn Rand's novels abound in instructive examples of this aspect of virtue. Consider, for instance, Howard Roark's encounter with the Dean at the beginning of The Fountainhead. The Dean tells him that men must always revere tradition. Roark regards this viewpoint as senseless, but he does not ignore it. Roark is not a psychologist, nor does the field interest him much; but he does deal with men, he knows that there are many like the Dean, and he is on the premise of understanding what he deals with. So he identifies the meaning of the event in the terms available to him. There is something here opposite to the way I function, he thinks, some form of behavior I do not grasp—" the principle behind the Dean," he calls it—and he files this observation in his subconscious with the implicit order to himself: be on the lookout for any data relevant to this problem. Thereafter, when such information becomes available (new examples or aspects in new contexts), he recognizes and integrates it. In the end, by a process whose steps the reader has seen, Roark reaches the concept of the "second-hander"—and of the opposite kind of man, whom he represents. At that point, he grasps what the issue is on which his own fate and that of the world depend.

Whatever the heroes in Ayn Rand's novels deal with, including work, romance, art, people, politics, and philosophy, they seek to understand it, by connecting the new to what they already know and by discovering what they do not yet know. They are men and women who like and practice the process of cognition. This is why they are usually efficacious and happy individuals, who achieve their values. Their commitment to thought leads them to a sustained growth in knowledge, which maximizes the possibility of successful action.

In citing the Roark example, I do not mean to suggest that rationality has to involve the discovery of new ideas. The exercise of reason applies within the sphere of each man's knowledge, concerns, and ability. The point is not that one must become a genius or even an intellectual. Contrary to a widespread fallacy, reason is a faculty of human beings, not of "supermen." The moral point here is always to grow mentally, to increase one's knowledge and expand the power of one's consciousness to the extent one can, whatever one's profession or the degree of one's intelligence. Mental growth is possible on some scale to every person with an intact brain.

"Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", Dr. Leonard Peikoff, p. 222-223.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beauty, Emotions, Romance: Dagny Taggart As A Teen

Dagny Taggart as a teen:

Mrs. Taggart watched her daughter in unhappy bewilderment. She could have forgiven all the omissions, but one: Dagny showed no sign of interest in men, no romantic inclination whatever. Mrs. Taggart did not approve of extremes; she had been prepared to contend with an extreme of the opposite kind, if necessary; she found herself thinking that this was worse. She felt embarrassed when she had to admit that her daughter, at seventeen, did not have a single admirer.

"Dagny and Francisco d'Anconia?" she said, smiling ruefully, in answer to the curiosity of her friends. "Oh no, it's not a romance. It's an international industrial cartel of some kind. That's all they seem to care about."

Mrs. Taggart heard James say one evening, in the presence of guests, a peculiar tone of satisfaction in his voice, "Dagny, even though you were named after her, you really look more like Nat Taggart than like that first Dagny Taggart, the famous beauty who was his wife." Mrs. Taggart did not know which offended her most: that James said it or that Dagny accepted it happily as a compliment.

She would never have a chance, thought Mrs. Taggart, to form some conception of her own daughter. Dagny was only a figure hurrying in and out of the apartment, a slim figure in a leather jacket, with a raised collar, a short skirt and long show-girl legs. She walked, cutting across a room, with a masculine, straight-line abruptness, but she had a peculiar grace of motion that was swift, tense and oddly, challengingly feminine.

At times, catching a glimpse of Dagny's face, Mrs. Taggart caught an expression which she could not quite define: it was much more than gaiety, it was the look of such an untouched purity of enjoyment that she found it abnormal, too: no young girl could be so insensitive to have discovered no sadness in life. Her daughter, she concluded, was incapable of emotion.

"Dagny," she asked once, "don't you ever want to have a good time?" Dagny looked at her incredulously and answered, "What do you think I'm having?"

The decision to give her daughter a formal debut cost Mrs. Taggart a great deal of anxious thought. She did not know whether she was introducing to New York society Miss Dagny Taggart of the Social Register or the night operator of Rockdale Station; she was inclined to believe it was more truly this last; and she felt certain that Dagny would reject the idea of such an occasion. She was astonished when Dagny accepted it with inexplicable eagerness, for once like a child.

She was astonished again, when she saw Dagny dressed for the party. It was the first feminine dress she had ever worn—a gown of white chiffon with a huge skirt that floated like a cloud. Mrs. Taggart had expected her to look like a preposterous contrast. Dagny looked like a beauty. She seemed both older and more radiantly innocent than usual; standing in front of the mirror, she held her head as Nat Taggart's wife would have held it.

"Dagny," Mrs. Taggart said gently, reproachfully, "do you see how beautiful you can be when you want to?"

"Yes," said Dagny, without any astonishment.

The ballroom of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel had been decorated under Mrs. Taggart's direction; she had an artist's taste, and the setting of that evening was her masterpiece. "Dagny, there are things I would like you to learn to notice," she said, "lights, colors, flowers, music they are not as negligible as you might think."

"I've never thought they're negligible," Dagny answered happily. For once, Mrs. Taggart felt a bond between them; Dagny was looking at her with a child's grateful trust. "They're the things that make life beautiful," said Mrs. Taggart. "I want this evening to be very beautiful for you, Dagny. The first ball is the most romantic event of one's life."

To Mrs. Taggart, the greatest surprise was the moment when she saw Dagny standing under the lights, looking at the ballroom. This was not a child, not a girl, but a woman of such confident, dangerous power that Mrs. Taggart stared at her with shocked admiration. In an age of casual, cynical, indifferent routine, among people who held themselves as if they were not flesh, but meat—Dagny's bearing seemed almost indecent, because this was the way a woman would have faced a ballroom centuries ago, when the act of displaying one's half-naked body for the admiration of men was an act of daring, when it had meaning, and but one meaning, acknowledged by all as a high adventure. And this—thought Mrs. Taggart, smiling—was the girl she had believed to be devoid of sexual capacity. She felt an immense relief, and a touch of amusement at the thought that a discovery of this kind should make her feel relieved.

Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged", p. 99-100