A system of thought must provide a philosophical understanding of the nature of man. The metaphysical nature of man, as Ayn Rand put it, is what links the broad abstract principles at the base of any one system to the practical decisions at its apex. If you don’t know what you are, you won’t be able to decide correctly what to do in any given situation. For example, if you are a cell of a larger whole, whether of Society or of God, you will behave according to the dictates of one of them; if you are “just” an individual, you will act as one.
The most fundamental difference between the entities we encounter in the world is whether they are animate or inanimate. The actions of a living organism are generated by itself, and are directed to a goal; they are initiated by the organism in order to achieve an end. But “end” or “goal” is not synonymous with “purpose”; the second applies only to the goals of conscious beings, who know what they are after. Living organisms can and should act to achieve goals, because living beings must face something that does not concern inanimate objects: the alternative of life or death. “The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action.”
Every living organism has, therefore, a means of survival. It can be said that lower conscious species survive by “instinct,” but instinct, whether of self-preservation or anything else, is precisely what a conceptual being does not possess. Man does not survive by adjusting to what is given by existence. He is not, for example, prepared to defeat the animals using his own strength and nothing else. The objects he needs to overcome the animals — and therefore survive — are not ready-made. They must be created by human action. They must be produced. And this involves a special kind of knowledge: conceptual knowledge.
If reason is the faculty of man to know reality, and if man is an organism that survives through his knowledge (and consequent action), the conclusion must be that reason is the basic tool of man’s survival. The mind is indispensable to human life. Integrating data from reality into abstractions and concepts is not a luxury, but a necessity. Thought is man’s guide to action. Reason is a practical attribute. The mind acquires knowledge and sets goals; the body translates these conclusions into action. There is no mind-body dichotomy. Man, in Ayn Rand’s words, is “an indivisible entity, an integrated unit of two attributes: matter and consciousness.”
Reason is not an attribute of the collective, but only of the individual. Thought is a process initiated and guided by the free will of a specific man — the one doing the thinking. The notion of a “collective consciousness” is as arbitrary as that of a “supernatural consciousness.” Both notions represent the primacy of consciousness. No. The individual is sovereign. It is his own cognitive faculty that determines his conclusions, his character, his life. It is man himself who creates himself, who governs himself, and who is responsible for his own attitudes. Determinism, in any of its variants, is invalid; all of them deny the metaphysical nature of a rational being.
“Man qua man is a hero — if he makes himself into one.”