Maybe it is the terrible mood I am right now, but it was very hard to read Jacques Maritain today. If I want to present a paper in the upcoming conference I need to find something to write about him. But, now that I just finished reading “Christian Humanism”, my impression is that I just listened to Catholic sermon.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“Mr. Chamberlain treated Hitler’s demand as an isolated fact to be dealt with by an isolated response; to do this, he had to drop an immense amount of knowledge. […] The prime minister wanted ‘peace at any price.’ The price included the evasion of political philosophy, history, psychology, ethics, and more. The result was war.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 124-125.
(Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns to Great Britain after signing the Munich Agreement, effectively handing Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Any new knowledge, proposal or idea must always be integrated to its full context, which is ultimately the sum of available knowledge. Such all-encompassing integration, far from being easy, demands a lot of effort, but is made possible through philosophy. The price of not heeding to it can be war. “Combat as philosophy of life – Philosophy as only alternative to combat.”)
According to Leonard Peikoff, objectivity means accepting that “thinking, to be valid, must adhere to reality”. Concepts do not belong only to consciousness or only to existence. They are the product of a specific type of relationship between the two, guided by a human method: logic.
“Prophecy and prescience – How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered questions? Consider: How much is actual prediction of the ‘wave form’ (as Muad’Dib referred to his vision-image) and how much is the prophet shaping the future to fit the prophecy? What of the harmonics inherent in the act of prophecy? Does the prophet see the future or does he see a line of weakness, a fault or cleavage that he may shatter with words or decisions as a diamond-cutter shatters his gem with a blow of a knife?”
— Frank Herbert, “Dune“, page 312.
(The Kaaba. Prophecies, prophets, a mysterious black stone enshrined in a huge granitic cube. The “power of religion” is the theme of Dune. But isn’t it the theme here on Earth too?)
Disregarding the unjust competition of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dune can arguably be considered the first “chosen one” sci-fi novel ever to appear. Luke, Neo, Aragorn, Potter, all of them owe at least some of their powers to Paul Atreides, and, of course, to Frank Herbert. But what really caught my attention right from the start of the book was Herbert’s (sort of) Objectivist tendencies. If I had to pick one single word to represent Objectivism, that word would be “reason”. If I had to pick one for Dune, it would also be… — OK, it would be “sandworms” — but the next choice would be “reason”, as well.
SUMMARY: This is a series of posts that summarize and comment each chapter of the book “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” (O.P.A.R., for short). This book was written by Leonard Peikoff, heir and greatest disciple of Ayn Rand, and may be regarded as the book she would have written had she not been so attached to fiction. As we have “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” we forgive her.