“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“Gorgias, who was the perfect example of a 20th century skeptic transplanted into ancient Greece […] maintained three basic propositions: one, nothing exists; two, if anything existed, you couldn’t know it; three, if you could know it, you couldn’t communicate it. Now that is what you call skepticism.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 7.
(I don’t like modern art. But if we look hard, there might be something to learn from it. The steel sculpture “Protagoras”, by Charles Ginnever, could well be considered the concretization of a philosophic idea. The sculpture changes shape as viewers move around it, the play of light and shadow on its triangular forms giving life to the massive structure. “The senses deceive” I’d say is the message. But, now, try to imagine someone jumping from this malformed idea (because it’s not the senses that are wrong, but the concepts we generate from them) to the conclusion that nothing exists. Perhaps some of the federal judges working at the Burger building, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where “Protagoras” is installed, would like it to vanish. But to assert it never existed would be a bit farfetched. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what sophists like Protagoras and Gorgias did.)
The sophists have been branded throughout history as greedy and imoral teachers, but that’s polemics for a history course, or one on Plato and his obsession with them. Leonard Peikoff focuses instead on the ideas they put forth — even if their main idea is the negation of all ideas.
“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.