“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.
Please, look at the world instead!
(Gorilla Selfie, by Anthony Poynton)
I will not pretend here that I fully understand Existentialism, Phenomenology or Thomism — I am just a student climbing the first steps of a long, long ladder. But ignorance works well as a first filter. The blunt intellectual knife which is all I have to work with, for the moment, impedes a complex elaboration of thought that might justify all sorts of absurdities. So it is navigating (or drowning) amidst this ignorance that I ask this question: Why do the most subjective philosophies try to disguise themselves as objective? They do not look at the world; they look at themselves.
Of course Jacques Maritain was not an Objectivist; he was a Thomist. But to be a Thomist, I learned, is to partake of at least the first (and, arguably, the most important) axiom of Objectivism: “Existence exists”. This makes my life much easier, now that I decided to present a non-existent paper on him at an upcoming conference.
I still have no idea what a substance is, and only a rough one of what a universal is.
But, at least, I do know what an accident is.
My last post on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” didn’t amount to much, I know. But now it will get worse. Because I need a long digression in order to prepare the terrain for that elusive thing which is understanding. Aristotle first defines substance in the “Categories“, a work usually considered to be prior in time to the “Metaphysics”, and one which should be read first too. There he explains the foundations of many terms he uses afterwards in all of the corpus. There is also where he introduces his famous ten categories of being. All I want here is to get to the first category, but allow me to walk the whole way there.
“To get God out of Plato’s Form of the Good, you in effect have to do two things — drop an “o,” and add a personality (which was very shortly done).”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 9.
Plato’s World of Forms demands innate ideas, a soul separable from a body, mystic revelation and the disregard for the senses. While I admire Plato a lot, and greatly enjoy reading and thinking about his dialogues, I wonder how much more objective the world would be if he had never existed.
(Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.)
Although Leonard Peikoff (and Objectivism) disagrees entirely with Plato, he admits the genius of the philosopher. Plato was the first to gather all the “suggestions” that had been produced by the pre-Socratics and the sophists, in addition to all the teachings of Socrates in a coherent whole. In doing so, he created philosophy as it is, for better or for worse.
“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.
Is a horse a substance? Is a man? What about a statue of a horse and a man? Is its underlying matter the substance, or is it its form? Or is it the compound of both matter and form what a substance really is? Maybe there is no substance. Doubts, doubts and more doubts…
For the vast majority of my life, I have favored reading nonfiction over fiction, using the argument that since “truth is stranger than fiction”, why waste my time with “invented truths”? Needless to say that I was profoundly wrong. But I say that now just to explain why, during that same stretch of my life, I have read nonfiction as if it were fiction. I read it page by page, enjoying the mystery of understanding gradually unfold in front of my eyes, yearning to reach the end of the book as if the murderer of an Agatha Christy’s story would be revealed. It was this naive (not to say stupid) that I made a feeble attempt to face Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” three years ago. The trauma was so strong that only now I am recovering. Boy, I wish I believed in God or any lesser superstition! Because now I’ll need all the help I can muster to wrestle with this tome.
“A dog, for instance, likes a bone; he likes a number of bones. Now the question is: Why doesn’t it occur to him to start a bone store, or to start a science of bones, boneology, and ﬁnd out where do bones come from and how do you get them? And the trouble is the poor dog can’t get the idea of boneness, you see; he gets this bone, and then the next one, he forgot the ﬁrst one, and then the next one, and so on. And so his problem is he’s enmeshed in particulars and he can’t rise to universals.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 8.
(The “Universal Man”, by Gerald Gladstone. Socrates was probably not thinking of that when looking for a proper abstraction of man, but I guess it’s a nice mnemonic for the topic of universals. Original source: SimonP; CC BY-SA 3.0 / Desaturated from original)
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the influence of Socrates in the history of thought. He taught Plato, who taught Aristotle; only that would show his importance, but, of course, he did much more. Most of what we know about Socrates, however, is through Plato’s dialogues, so the truth is we do not know much about him. Scholars tend to agree that the first dialogues represent mainly the historical Socrates, while the middle and the final dialogues represent Plato himself. Be that as it may, as a fictional character, a true philosopher, or just a man of character, Socrates has been teaching all of mankind for millennia. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This could be considered his motto; today it is mine.
“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.