“Philosophy can tell us only this much: reality is a unity; to depart from it at a single point, therefore, is to depart from it in principle and thus to play with a lighted fuse. The bomb may not go off. The liar may blank out the power of his nemesis: that which is, and may get away with any given scheme; he may win the battle. But if such are the battles he is fighting, he has to lose the war.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 271.
To lie is to declare war on reality.
(A demonstration of a flame fougasse somewhere in Britain during World War II. )
“Honesty” is the refusal to fake reality, that is, to pretend the facts are different from what they really are. If rationality is commitment to reality, honesty is the rejection of unreality. The rational man recognizes that existence exists; the honest man, that only existence exists.
“The power of the good is enormous, but depends on its consistency. That is why the good has to be an issue of “all or nothing,” “black or white,” and why evil has to be partial, occasional, “gray.” To be evil “only sometimes” is to be evil. To be good is to be good all of the time, i.e., as a matter of consistent, unbreached principle.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 266.
In another life, I worked a bit with Fuzzy Logic, and I used to say that “life is fuzzy, but I am boolean” when talking about integrity. It is a hard, not always successful way of living, but the only one that allows me to sleep at night.
(Image by Kyle McDonald from Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Integrity is loyalty in action to one’s convictions and values. As Ayn Rand put it, the man of integrity may “permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions….” But to keep all your value-judgments ready at hand amid the turbulence of everyday life is a volitional task. And a hard one. You need to hold the full context of your knowledge in focus while retaining your long-range purposes in front of your eyes all the time. The only way you can do that is if you have integrated your knowledge and purposes into principles.
“Nothing is given to man on Earth. Everything he needs has to be produced. And here man faces his basic alternative: he can survive in only one of two ways—by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others. The creator originates. The parasite borrows. The creator faces nature alone. The parasite faces nature through an intermediary. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive. The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind … demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary. The basic need of the second-hander is to secure his ties with men in order to be fed. He places relations first.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 251-252, citing Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”.
(What else can I say?)
Image by Nicooografie from Pixabay.
Objectivism sees the virtuous man as one who follows reason at all costs. In this way, its main virtue is rationality, whose corollary is objectivity — adherence to reality through the rational recognition of facts. The rational man moves from the perceptual field of his moment-to-moment experiences to the conceptual field of abstract knowledge through the use of logic. The virtues show him in the form of principles the values he should pursue, and how to apply his rationality to the daily concrete choices he faces. Leonard Peikoff expounds the Objectivism’s main virtues in the same order they appear in John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged; I follow a slightly different order which I consider a bit more logical.
“By its nature, evasion is a form of nonintegration. It is the most lethal form: the willful disintegration of mental contents. A man in this condition no longer has the means to determine consistency or contradiction, truth or falsehood. In his consciousness, all conceptual content is reduced to the capricious, the baseless, the arbitrary; no conclusion qualifies as knowledge in a mind that rejects the requirements of cognition. Thus the real evader […] reaches only one end and one kind of “safety”: all-encompassing blindness.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 225.
(Stop evading. Look at reality. See something you can’t accept? Combat it.)
Combat has a built-in morality, and it is beautiful. But please understand what I mean by combat. It is not a war or a violent situation in which you find yourself. Combat is an attitude toward life, it is choosing the fight rather than running away from it. The most easily recognizable forms of combat are the explicit ones, like the one I practice in the favelas, but it is not the external appearance that matters — it’s the underlying ethic. When I press the trigger of my rifle, I am not choosing death; I am choosing life — the life of a man qua man
— as my standard of value.
“For what end should a man live? By what fundamental principle should he act in order to achieve this end? Who should profit from his actions? The answers to these questions define the ultimate value, the primary virtue, and the particular beneficiary upheld by an ethical code and reveal thereby its essence. […] The ultimate value is life. The primary virtue is rationality. The proper beneficiary is oneself.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 206.
(Diogenes Sitting in his Tub, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860): Man’s life qua man is the Objectivist standard of value, not life at any price. One thing I can say for sure: Diogenes was not an Objectivist.)
Ethics provides “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.” Value, according to Ayn Rand, is “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” Value presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where there is no alternative, there are no possible goals and values. The fundamental alternative of life or death is the precondition of all values. This shows that life should be our ultimate value, something to be pursued as an end in itself, the standard for all other values.
“The lower conscious species may be said to survive by “instinct,” if the term means an unchosen and unerring form of action (unerring within the limits of its range). Sensations and percepts are unchosen and unerring. An instinct, however—whether of self-preservation or anything else—is precisely what a conceptual being does not have. Man cannot function or survive by the guidance of mere sensations or percepts. A conceptual being cannot initiate action unless he knows the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot pursue a goal unless he identifies what his goal is and how to achieve it. No species can survive by regressing to the methods of more primitive organisms.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 193-194.
(Sanichar, the “wolf-boy”, forces us to think what really makes us men. If reason is our basic means of survival, and we have no instincts, how did he survive?”)
As I said in my crazy post about “Dune“, reason is the word of Objectivism. Chapter 5 of O.P.A.R. established that it is only through reason (not emotions) that we acquire knowledge about the world; and Chapter 6 has established that it is only through reason that man survives. I will no longer delve into (i) for now, but I think (ii) needs a little more attention.
“Reason is man’s tool of survival. From the simplest necessity to the highest abstraction, summarizes ‘The Fountainhead‘, ‘from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man—the function of his reasoning mind.’”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 198.
(A pre-historic mammoth hunt showing a great number of men using arrows, spears and knifes to overcome one single mammoth. Could they do it by instinct? No. Perhaps they could when they were apes. But the moment they stopped being apes, their survival depended on their minds. Man is the rational animal, “because man is the organism that survives by its use.”)
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 agnostic treats arbitrary claims as matters properly open to consideration, discussion, evaluation. He allows that it is “possible” that these claims are “true,” thereby applying cognitive descriptions to verbiage that is at war with cognition. He demands proof of a negative: it’s up to you, he declares, to show that there are no demons, or that your sex life is not a result of your previous incarnation as a pharaoh of ancient Egypt.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 170.
(There might be aliens on the dark side of the moon. Who knows? Claims devoid of any evidence should be disregarded. It doesn’t matter what you feel about it. Take your stance based on your assessment of reality and say what you know. You know there isn’t any alien civilization on the dark side of the moon, don’t you? Or are you going to tell me you are an agnostic with respect to that too?)
“Yo no creo en brujas, pero que las hay, las hay”. That summarizes the agnostic’s creed. This is no attitude at all. It is sitting on the fence. It is renouncing the responsibility of judging, of choosing your path, of building and then standing behind your own convictions. In a word, it is evasion. I used to say I was an agnostic. No. Let’s take a stance. Let’s have the guts to say it. Let’s be bold for once. I am not an agnostic anymore. I am an atheist.
“Objectivism is not against emotions, but emotionalism. Ayn Rand’s concern is not to uphold stoicism or abet repression, but to identify a division of mental labor. There is nothing wrong with feeling that follows from an act of thought; this is the natural and proper human pattern. There is everything wrong with feeling that seeks to replace thought, by usurping its function.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 162.
(Do you really think you should kill a cockroach and pity the cats on the streets? Do you really think you do so because you have reasoned through all the facts? You kill a cockroach because it evokes a bad feeling. Nothing more. What else do you kill — or let die — based on your feelings? In the end, it’s all about philosophy — or the lack of it.)
“Follow Reason”. If objectivity is adhering to reality, reason is the faculty of man that allows him to do so. It is the faculty that processes data coming from reality — percepts — into the human form of cognition — concepts — through the human method of cognition — logic. Yet man would rather be guided by his feelings than by reason. And then he wonders why the world is as it is.
“All knowledge is interconnected. To cut off a single field — any field — from the rest of cognition is to drop the vast context which makes that field possible and which anchors it to reality. The ultimate result, as with any failure of integration, is floating abstractions and self-contradiction.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 127.
(The Hindenburg disaster. This is just a visual metaphor for a floating abstraction: when the context is dropped and reality sets in, concepts become a dangerous thing.)
Earlier when I talked about epistemological evasion I mentioned our mental laziness, how we avoid the effort to think correctly because it hurts. The problem is that if we really go through each idea thoroughly, we become responsible for it when we use it, and that is something we hate. This may sound offensive, but I have no doubt that this is the case with the vast majority of us, during the vast majority of our waking time. Of course, I include myself in this team of evaders.