Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happiness and Success Are Natural

This is the essential message of "Atlas Shrugged". Dagny is in Galt's Gulch. She is speaking with Ragnar Danneskjold.

"How can"—she tried to stop, but the words burst involuntarily, in helpless indignant protest, whether against him, fate or the outer world, she could not tell—"how can she live through eleven months of thinking that you, at any moment, might be...?" She did not finish.

He was smiling, but she saw the enormous solemnity of that which he and his wife had needed to earn their right to this kind of smile. "She can live through it, Miss Taggart, because we do not hold the belief that this earth is a realm of misery where man is doomed to destruction. We do not think that tragedy is our natural fate and we do not live in chronic dread of disaster. We do not expect disaster until we have specific reason to expect it—and when we encounter it, we are free to fight it. It is not happiness, but suffering that we consider unnatural. It is not success, but calamity that we regard as the abnormal exception in human life."

This ties in with the dialogue at the beginning of the third section of the book:

"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" she whispered. "'No, we never had to.'"

The essence of "Atlas Shrugged" is not the political aspects. It is not "Going Galt". It is not about Ayn Rand being "prophetic". The essence is about living your life happily and how to do it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hatred Of The Fountainhead Of All Goods -- Spiritual Or Material

This quote from Ayn Rand is highly relevant today -- the egalitarian hatred of "the fountainhead of all goods, spiritual or material -- the men of ability." Paging Professor Barack Obama. Professor? Professor?

The classic example of vicious irresponsibility is the story of Emperor Nero who fiddled, or sang poetry, while Rome burned. An example of similar behavior may be seen today in a less dramatic form. There is nothing imperial about the actors, they are not one single bloated monster, but a swarm of undernourished professors, there is nothing resembling poetry, even bad poetry, in the sounds they make, except for pretentiousness—but they are prancing around the fire and, while chanting that they want to help, are pouring paper refuse on the flames. They are those amorphous intellectuals who are preaching egalitarianism to a leaderless country on the brink of an unprecedented disaster.

Egalitarianism is so evil—and so silly—a doctrine that it deserves no serious study or discussion. But that doctrine has a certain diagnostic value: it is the open confession of the hidden disease that has been eating away the insides of civilization for two centuries (or longer) under many disguises and cover-ups. Like the half-witted member of a family struggling to preserve a reputable front, egalitarianism has escaped from a dark closet and is screaming to the world that the motive of its compassionate, "humanitarian," altruistic, collectivist brothers is not the desire to help the poor, but to destroy the competent. The motive is hatred of the good for being the good—a hatred focused specifically on the fountainhead of all goods, spiritual or material: the men of ability.

The mental process underlying the egalitarians' hope to achieve their goal, consists of three steps: 1. they believe that that which they refuse to identify, does not exist; 2. therefore, human ability does not exist; and 3. therefore, they are free to devise social schemes which would obliterate this non-existent. Of special significance to the present discussion is the egalitarians' defiance of the law of causality: their demand for equal results from unequal causes—or equal rewards for unequal performance.

"Egalitarianism Versus Inflation", The Ayn Rand Letter, Ayn Rand, p. 333.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spiritual Or Not?

Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart discussion in Atlas Shrugged:

He made a step back and said in a strange tone of dispassionate wonder, "We're a couple of blackguards, aren't we?"


"We haven't any spiritual goals or qualities. All we're after is material things. That's all we care for."

She looked at him, unable to understand. But he was looking past her, straight ahead, at the crane in the distance. She wished he had not said it. The accusation did not trouble her, she never thought of herself in such terms and she was completely incapable of experiencing a feeling of fundamental guilt. But she felt a vague apprehension which she could not define, the suggestion that there was something of grave consequence in whatever had made him say it, something dangerous to him. He had not said it casually. But there had been no feeling in his voice, neither plea nor shame. He had said it indifferently, as a statement of fact.

Then, as she watched him, the apprehension vanished. He was looking at his mills beyond the window; there was no guilt in his face, no doubt, nothing but the calm of an inviolate self-confidence.

"Dagny" he said, "whatever we are, it's we who move the world and it's we who'll pull it through."

[Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, p. 87-88]

Dagny senses Hank's error, but does not see it clearly until later in the novel. They were not simply materialists. They were spiritual. Not in the religious sense, but spiritual with respect to one's own life.

The same kind of measurement guides man’s actions in the wider realm of moral or spiritual values. (By “spiritual” I mean “pertaining to consciousness.” I say “wider” because it is man’s hierarchy of values in this realm that determines his hierarchy of values in the material or economic realm.) But the currency or medium of exchange is different. In the spiritual realm, the currency—which exists in limited quantity and must be teleologically measured in the pursuit of any value—is time, i.e., one’s life.

[Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand, p. 33]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The New York Skyline

Conversation between Dominique Francon and Gail Wynand:

He stood, slouched carelessly, one arm raised, grasping a stanchion. She saw the sparks flowing, forming the edges of waves, framed by the curve of his body.

That, too, was becoming to him. She said:

"May I name another vicious bromide you've never felt?"

"Which one?"

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean."

He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

"Yes. And that particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature—I've never received it from nature, only from..." She stopped.

"From what?"

"Buildings," she whispered. "Skyscrapers."

"Why didn't you want to say that?"

"I... don't know."

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes, the shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window—no, I don't feel how small I am—but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

The Fountainhead
, Ayn Rand, p. 446

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Marilyn Monroe

Ayn Rand's view of Marilyn Monroe:

A woman, the only one, who was able to project the glowingly innocent sexuality of a being from some planet uncorrupted by guilt—who found herself regarded and ballyhooed as a vulgar symbol of obscenity—and who still had the courage to declare: "We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it's a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift."

A happy child who was offering her achievement to the world, with the pride of an authentic greatness and of a kitten depositing a hunting trophy at your feet—who found herself answered by concerted efforts to negate, to degrade, to ridicule, to insult, to destroy her achievement—who was unable to conceive that it was her best she was punished for, not her worst—who could only sense, in helpless terror, that she was facing some unspeakable kind of evil.

How long do you think a human being could stand it?

That hatred of values has always existed in some people, in any age or culture. But a hundred years ago, they would have been expected to hide it. Today, it is all around us; it is the style and fashion of our century.

Where would a sinking spirit find relief from it?

The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe.

"Through Your Most Grievous Fault", The Ayn Rand Column, p. 32

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ayn Rand On Victor Hugo

Ayn Rand on Victor Hugo:

You may read any number of more "realistic" accounts of the French Revolution, but Hugo's is the one you will remember. He is not a reporter of the momentary, but an artist who projects the essential and fundamental. He is not a statistician of gutter trivia, but a Romanticist who presents life "as it might be and ought to be." He is the worshipper and the superlative portrayer of man's greatness.

If you are struggling to hold your vision of man above the gray ashes of our century, Hugo is the fuel you need.

One cannot preserve that vision or achieve it without some knowledge of what is greatness and some image to concretize it. Every morning, when you read today's headlines, you shrink a little in human stature and hope. Then, if you turn to modern literature for a nobler view of man, you are confronted by those cases of arrested development—the juvenile delinquents aged thirty to sixty—who still think that depravity is daring or shocking, and whose writing belongs, not on paper, but on fences.

If you feel, as I do, that there's nothing as boring as depravity, if you seek a glimpse of human grandeur—turn to a novel by Victor Hugo.

"Ninety-Three", The Ayn Rand Column, p.42

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Art: What Is Worthy?

Ayn Rand quoted by Leonard Peikoff on what is worth re-creating in art:

Misery, disease, disaster, evil, all the negatives of human existence, are proper objects of study in life, for the purpose of understanding and correcting them—but are not proper objects of contemplation for contemplation's sake. In art, and in literature, these negatives are worth recreating only in relation to some positive, as a foil, as a contrast, as a means of stressing the positive—but not as an end in themselves ....

That one should wish to enjoy the contemplation of values, of the good—of man's greatness, intelligence, ability, virtue, heroism—is self-explanatory. It is the contemplation of the evil that requires explanation and justification; and the same goes for the contemplation of the mediocre, the undistinguished, the commonplace, the meaningless, the mindless.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 443

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Productive Ability

Leonard Peikoff:

Productive ability is a value by the standard of man's life—and because, like all values, a course of virtue is required in order to gain and keep it. An individual is not born with the knowledge, the skills, or the imaginative ideas that give rise to greatness or even competence in any creative field. He must acquire, then use, all these assets by a volitional process. At each step this process requires effort, purpose, and the commitment to reality. It requires all the attributes inherent in the development and use of the rational faculty, including conscientious focus, independent judgment, the concern with long-range goals, and the courage to remain true in action to one's knowledge.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
, p. 295

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Greatness: On Heaven Or On Earth?

Dagny meeting up with the others in Galt's Gulch:

"This?" She laughed, suddenly, looking at the faces of the men against the golden sunburst of rays filling the great windows. "This looks like … You know, I never hoped to see any of you again, I wondered at times how much I'd give for just one more glimpse or one more word—and now—now this is like that dream you imagine in childhood, when you think that some day, in heaven, you will see those great departed whom you had not seen on earth, and you choose, from all the past centuries, the great men you would like to meet."

"Well, that's one clue to the nature of our secret," said Akston. "Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves—or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth."

Atlas Shrugged, p. 679.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Francisco d'Anconia On Money

Exalted quote from Ayn Rand. Exalting the wrong thing...

"When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, 'Who is destroying the world?' You are.

"You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it's crumbling around you, while you're damning its life-blood—money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men's history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves—slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody's mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer. Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers—as industrialists.

"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being—the self-made man—the American industrialist.

"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.' No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality."
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, p. 386

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Birth Control

Ayn Rand on birth control, sex, and love:

It is only animals that have to adapt themselves to their physical background and to the biological functions of their bodies. Man adapts his physical background and the use of his biological faculties to himself-to his own needs and values. That is his distinction from all other living species.

To an animal, the rearing of its young is a matter of temporary cycles. To man, it is a lifelong responsibility—a grave responsibility that must not be undertaken causelessly, thoughtlessly or accidentally.

In regard to the moral aspects of birth control, the primary right involved is not the "right" of an unborn child, nor of the family, nor of society, nor of God. The primary right is one which- in today's public clamor on the subject- few, if any, voices have had the courage to uphold: the right of man and woman to their own life and happiness—the right not to be regarded as the means to any end.

Man is an end in himself. Romantic love—the profound, exalted, lifelong passion that unites his mind and body in the sexual act—is the living testimony to that principle.

"Of Living Death", The Objectivist, p. 531

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Romanticists

Ayn Rand on The Romanticists:

The Romanticists saw their cause primarily as a battle for their right to individuality and—unable to grasp the deepest metaphysical justification of their cause, unable to identify their values in terms of reason—they fought for individuality in terms of feelings, surrendering the banner of reason to their enemies.

There were other, lesser consequences of this fundamental error, all of them symptoms of the intellectual confusion of the age. Groping blindly for a metaphysically-oriented, grand-scale, exalted way of life, the Romanticists, predominantly, were enemies of capitalism, which they regarded as a prosaic, materialistic, "petty bourgeois" system—never realizing that it was the only system that could make freedom, individuality and the pursuit of values possible in practice. Some of them chose to be advocates of socialism; some turned for inspiration to the Middle Ages and became shameless glamorizers of that nightmare era; some ended up where most champions of the non-rational end up: in religion. All of it served to accelerate Romanticism's growing break with reality.

When, in the later half of the nineteenth century, Naturalism rose to prominence and, assuming the mantle of reason and reality, proclaimed the artists' duty to portray "things as they are"-Romanticism did not have much of an opposition to offer.

"What is Romanticism", The Objectivist, p. 645-6

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On Music

Ayn Rand on music:

Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise this experience—i.e., how they feel about these feelings.

On a number of occasions, I made the following experiment: I asked a group of guests to listen to a recorded piece of music, then describe what image, action or event it evoked in their minds spontaneously and inspirationally, without conscious devising or thought (it was a kind of auditory Thematic Apperception Test). The resulting descriptions varied in concrete details, in clarity, in imaginative color, but all had grasped the same basic emotion—with eloquent differences of appraisal. For example, there was a continuum of mixed responses between two pure extremes which, condensed, were: "I felt exalted because this music is so light-heartedly happy," and: "I felt irritated because this music is so light-heartedly happy and, therefore, superficial."

Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a certain emotional state and, with one's sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one's fundamental feeling about life.

When the emotional abstraction projected by the music corresponds to one's sense of life, the abstraction acquires a full, bright, almost violent reality—and one feels, at times, an emotion of greater intensity than any experienced existentially. When the emotional abstraction projected by the music is irrelevant to or contradicts one's sense of life, one feels nothing except a dim uneasiness or resentment or a special kind of enervating boredom.

The Objectivist, Ayn Rand, p. 1014-5

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The Grandeur, The Reverence, The Exalted Purity"

Ayn Rand from "The Chicken's Homecoming" on religion and philosophy:

It is not a question of whether man chooses to be guided by a comprehensive view: he is not equipped to survive without it. The nature of his consciousness does not permit him an animal's percept-guided, range-of-the-moment form of existence. No matter how primitive his actions, he needs to project them into the future and to weigh their consequences; this requires a conceptual process, and a conceptual process cannot take place in a vacuum: it requires a context. Man's choice is not whether he needs a comprehensive view of life, but only whether his view is true or false. If it is false, it leads him to act as his own destroyer.

In the early stages of mankind's development, that view was provided by religion, i.e., by mystic fantasy. Man's psycho-epistemological need is the reason why even the most primitively savage tribes always clung to some form of religious belief; the mystic (i.e., anti-reality) nature of their view was the cause of mankind's incalculably long stagnation.

Man came into his own in Greece, some two-and-a-half thousand years ago. The birth of philosophy marked his adulthood; not the content of any particular system of philosophy, but deeper: the concept of philosophy—the realization that a comprehensive view of existence is to be reached by man's mind.

Philosophy is the goal toward which religion was only a helplessly blind groping. The grandeur, the reverence, the exalted purity, the austere dedication to the pursuit of truth, which are commonly associated with religion, should properly belong to the field of philosophy. Aristotle lived up to it and, in part, so did Plato, Aquinas, Spinoza—but how many others? It is earlier than we think.

If you observe that ever since Hume and Kant (mainly Kant, because Hume was merely the Bertrand Russell of his time) philosophy has been striving to prove that man's mind is impotent, that there's no such thing as reality and we wouldn't be able to perceive it if there were—you will realize the magnitude of the treason involved.

The task of philosophy requires the total best of a mind's capacity; the responsibility is commensurate. Most men are unable to form a comprehensive view of life: some, because their ability is devoted to other professions; a great many, because they lack the ability. But all need that view and, consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly, they accept what philosophy offers them.

The Anti-Industrial Revolution, Ayn Rand, p. 45-46

Friday, May 29, 2009

Morality Of Rational Egoism Required For Exalted Moments

For what reason should one want to achieve or experience an exalted moment? For the sake of God? For the sake of others (society, the state, other individuals)? For the sake of range-of-the-moment subjective whim?


One should want to achieve or experience an exalted moment for one's self for the purpose of pursuing one's own happiness. The pursuit of one's happiness can only be achieved through the morality of rational egoism. It can not be achieved through sacrifice of any kind -- including to others (altruism).

At the root of the morality of rationalism egoism is the epistemology of objectivity or reason. That of course is based upon a metaphysics of objective reality.

In the following YouTube playlist Drs. Leonard Peikoff, Yaron Brook, and Amit Ghate answer questions about reason. In particular, they contrast reason with the greatest impediment to achieving and experiencing exalted moments -- faith.

They provide historical, cultural, and philosophical perspectives. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Ghate's labeling of faith as "spiritual subjectivity" and his inclusion of Al Capone in his point.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Introduction To The Fountainhead, Part 3

Ayn Rand on sense of life,

Perhaps the best way to communicate The Fountainhead's sense of life is by means of the quotation which had stood at the head of my manuscript, but which I removed from the final, published book. With this opportunity to explain it, I am glad to bring it back.

I removed it, because of my profound disagreement with the philosophy of its author, Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophically, Nietzsche is a mystic and an irrationalist. His metaphysics consists of a somewhat "Byronic" and mystically "malevolent" universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to "will," or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms.

This is especially true of the quotation I had chosen. I could not endorse its literal meaning: it proclaims an indefensible tenet—psychological determinism. But if one takes it as a poetic projection of an emotional experience (and if, intellectually, one substitutes the concept of an acquired "basic premise" for the concept of an innate "fundamental certainty"), then that quotation communicates the inner state of an exalted self-esteem—and sums up the emotional consequences for which The Fountainhead provides the rational, philosophical base:

"It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank—to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning,—it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.—The noble soul has reverence for itself.—" (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.)

This view of man has rarely been expressed in human history. Today, it is virtually non-existent. Yet this is the view with which—in various degrees of longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion—the best of mankind's youth start out in life. It is not even a view, for most of them, but a foggy, groping, undefined sense made of raw pain and incommunicable happiness. It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one's life is important, that great achievements are within one's capacity, and that great things lie ahead.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, p. x-xi

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Introduction To The Fountainhead, Part 2

Ayn Rand on religion, man-worship, and sense of life:

This leads me to a wider issue which is involved in every line of The Fountainhead and which has to be understood if one wants to understand the causes of its lasting appeal.

Religion's monopoly in the field of ethics has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life. Just as religion has preempted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man's reach. "Exaltation" is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. "Worship" means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man. "Reverence" means the emotion of a sacred respect, to be experienced on one's knees. "Sacred" means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth. Etc.

But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man's dedication to a moral ideal. Yet apart from the man-degrading aspects introduced by religion, that emotional realm is left unidentified, without concepts, words or recognition.

It is this highest level of man's emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.

It is in this sense, with this meaning and intention, that I would identify the sense of life dramatized in The Fountainhead as man-worship.

It is an emotion that a few—a very few—men experience consistently; some men experience it in rare, single sparks that flash and die without consequences; some do not know what I am talking about; some do and spend their lives as frantically virulent spark-extinguishers.

Do not confuse "man-worship" with the many attempts, not to emancipate morality from religion and bring it into the realm of reason, but to substitute a secular meaning for the worst, the most profoundly irrational elements of religion. For instance, there are all the variants of modern collectivism (communist, fascist, Nazi, etc.), which preserve the religious-altruist ethics in full and merely substitute "society" for God as the beneficiary of man's self-immolation. There are the various schools of modern philosophy which, rejecting the law of identity, proclaim that reality is an indeterminate flux ruled by miracles and shaped by whims—not God's whims, but man's or "society's." These neo-mystics are not man-worshipers; they are merely the secularizers of as profound a hatred for man as that of their avowedly mystic predecessors.

A cruder variant of the same hatred is represented by those concrete-bound, "statistical" mentalities who—unable to grasp the meaning of man's volition—declare that man cannot be an object of worship, since they have never encountered any specimens of humanity who deserved it.

The man-worshipers, in my sense of the term, are those who see man's highest potential and strive to actualize it. The man-haters are those who regard man as a helpless, depraved, contemptible creature—and struggle never to let him discover otherwise. It is important here to remember that the only direct, introspective knowledge of man anyone possesses is of himself.

More specifically, the essential division between these two camps is: those dedicated to the exaltation of man's self-esteem and the sacredness of his happiness on earth—and those determined not to allow either to become possible. The majority of mankind spend their lives and psychological energy in the middle, swinging between these two, struggling not to allow the issue to be named. This does not change the nature of the issue.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, p. ix-x

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some Moments Of Exaltation...

Burgess Laughlin at Making Progress continues his focus on exaltation:

In a free or semi-free society, the prospect of a life without the probability of occasional exaltation is a warning sign. If I were not feeling at least some moments of exaltation, I would examine my life to see why.

He discusses the similarities and differences of happiness, glory, and...exaltation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Introduction To The Fountainhead, Part 1

Ayn Rand on religion and ethics:

But an issue of this sort should not be left to implications. What I was referring to was not religion as such, but a special category of abstractions, the most exalted one, which, for centuries, had been the near-monopoly of religion: ethics—not the particular content of religious ethics, but the abstraction "ethics," the realm of values, man's code of good and evil, with the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur, which pertain to the realm of man's values, but which religion has arrogated to itself.

The same meaning and considerations were intended and are applicable to another passage of the book, a brief dialogue between Roark and Hopton Stoddard, which may be misunderstood if taken out of context:

" 'You're a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark—in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.'

" 'That's true,' said Roark."

In the context of that scene, however, the meaning is clear: it is Roark's profound dedication to values, to the highest and best, to the ideal, that Stoddard is referring to (see his explanation of the nature of the proposed temple). The erection of the Stoddard Temple and the subsequent trial state the issue explicitly.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, p. viii-ix

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Notre-Dame de Paris

Ayn Rand on Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo:

Although the priest does terrible things in the novel, one is never convinced that he is a total villain. Hugo obviously intended him as a villain, but, psychologically and philosophically, he was not sold on the idea. This conflict between Hugo's conscious convictions and his deepest, subconscious view of life shows in his style.

If Hugo's full conviction had been that the priest's passion is evil, the priest's way of speaking of his passion would have been much less attractive. He would have projected something ugly or sadistic—a perverted or evil feeling. But instead he speaks of his love in so romantic a way—the examples selected are so glowing and beautiful—that the reader necessarily feels sympathy for him (and so does the author).

In this passage, there are no exalted sentences in defense of religion. When the priest mentions religion, it is always in a blasphemous manner. In this particular projection, religion means nothing to him; he wants to put God under the girl's feet—which is wonderful, but not the way to project an evil passion.

If Hugo's own viewpoint had been what it ostensibly is—if he had really considered the priest a villain for his conflict—he would have presented the passion less attractively and religion more forcefully. But Hugo's subconscious is so much on the side of love and of this earth that I say: "May his God help him!"

Throughout the novel, the priest keeps announcing that his passion is "fate." In fact, earlier in his speech to the girl, he states that he lost the battle against temptation because God did not give to man a power as strong as the devil's. This is a deterministic premise. But what an author might have his characters say, or even what his own stated philosophy might be, is an issue totally different from what his actual, subconscious premises are—as this speech illustrates.

The speech expresses a violence of emotion that can come only from the possibility of choice. An automaton does not experience violent emotions. In literature written on the determinist premise, emotions of pain can be convincingly portrayed, but never a violent passion for a specific object on earth.

Observe the priest's self-assertion. He constantly tells how he tried to fight his passion; then, when he felt the desire to see the girl again, he watched and waited for her. He constantly talks about what he did; and he is begging her to have pity on him, by which he means: consent to love him. He is acting on his passion. He has decided that he cannot fight it any longer, so now he will try to win her. And his emotional violence has one purpose: "If I can convince her of the greatness of my love, then maybe I can win her." This is a man in charge of his own destiny.

If a man in a Naturalistic novel has a passion he cannot resist, there is an enormous tone of whining, amounting to: "Poor little me, I couldn't help it." Here, although the priest uses begging terms like have pity on me and mercy, his tone is not one of complaint.

The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand, p. 101 - 102

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Opposite Of Exaltation?

Burgess Laughlin on gaining further understanding of "exaltation":

Besides (1) examining one's own experiences as referents for a puzzling term/concept, (2) reading a dictionary for its list of conventional usages of the term/concept, and (3) investigating the etymology of a term, there is still another approach to better understanding a problematic term/concept: Consider its opposite.

He investigates "humility".

"Atlas Shrugged", "The Objectivist Ethics", And Exalted Moments

The sales rate of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is triple the rate of 2008. Given the attention of the novel, it is important to understand Miss Rand's point in writing it. Many think it was "prophecy". Many think it was to organize a strike ("Going Galt").

Many would be surprised to hear Miss Rand's answer: "Exalted moments."

In a letter to a fan, she said of "Atlas Shrugged" and exalted moments:

You ask me about the meaning of the dialogue on page 702 of Atlas Shrugged:

"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" she whispered. "'No, we never had to.'"

Let me begin by saying that this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book, because it is the condensed emotional summation, the keynote or leitmotif, of the view of life presented in Atlas Shrugged.

What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man's existence on earth, are the meaning of life—not the pain or ugliness he may encounter—that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience, not for the sake of suffering—that happiness matters, but suffering does not—that no matter how much pain one may have to endure, it is never to be taken seriously, that is: never to be taken as the essence and meaning of life—that the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain.

So how does one "live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience"? An excellent place to start is with Miss Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics" which was published in her book "The Virtue of Selfishness", and is now available at the Ayn Rand Institute web site.

The purpose here is not to summarize Miss Rand's ethical system. You can read her words. Instead I will focus on the structure, explicitness, and completeness of her stunning contribution to the field of ethics -- while providing a few examples. And then, I will tie it back to "exalted moments".

Her essay opens with her explicit and novel definition of morality and ethics.

It is 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. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

Is it not wonderful to have a writer explicitly define her terms?

She then takes a logical step-by-step building of the case for her ethical system. One could imagine Miss Rand, at her desk, questioning each of her own statements until she came up with a consistent, complete, and objective structure. She was not content with providing a list of commandments to be obeyed under some threat. She was not content with presenting a set of concocted whims. She instead asked "Why?" And in particular, she asked "Why?" in the context of human life.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?

Her starting point is not "Thou shalt or shalt not". Nor is it, "You must value this and that". The starting point is "Should I value -- and why?"

She strips her answer away from "personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations". Instead, she again lays down her terms by providing a definition of "values". And she provides the necessity of values to living things. She builds the case that life, your life, is the ultimate value.

Miss Rand's case for her ethics is built in the classic structure of philosophy as set forth by Plato - metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. This is not solely an essay on ethics. "The Objectivist Ethics" is a shining example of how to write by creating a structure where each statement is logically based upon the previous -- with no unconnected assertions.

With regard to epistemology, Miss Rand makes clear the fundamental differences between plants and animals. And then, she provides the fundamental distinctions among various types of animals and how they obtain their knowledge. Most importantly, she explains how human beings are different from all other animals in how they gain their knowledge.

Man, the highest living species on this earth- the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge—man is the only living entity born without any guarantee of remaining conscious at all. Man’s particular distinction from all other living species is the fact that his consciousness is volitional.

She provides definitions for "reason" and "consciousness". She explains why human beings must have goals.

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.

With regard to ethics, she builds her system not out of arbitrary mystical assertions, social conventions, or upon whim. Her system is based upon her view of a human being and what is required for a human's ultimate value -- life. Her ethics are built upon human epistemology -- the basis of man's maintenance of life.

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.

Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work.

Miss Rand then provides an explicit and structured presentation of the values and virtues of the Objectivist ethics. Again, these are left to the reader to investigate at the above link. The bottom line of the Objectivist ethics is that they are not built on the premise upon the mystic's arbitrary claim of a duty to the service of God and of everlasting life. They are not built upon the skeptic's claim of human failing and of duty to others. They are not based upon personal whim.

The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.

Having completed her foundation of epistemology (how do I as a human gain knowledge) and ethics (how do I choose and act as a human), Miss Rand then follows with man in the social context. She provides the values that an individual gains from living with others -- and what are the proper and improper means of dealing with another. This then naturally flows explicitly into her thoughts on politics.

Note that many readers of "Atlas Shrugged" focus upon Miss Rand's politics -- either praising or damning them. To both I say, "Please shift your focus". Miss Rand was not primarily a political analyst, nor a prophet, nor a strike organizer. She was a philosopher-novelist with an integrated system of thought -- of which politics was a consequence of her foundation of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. As Miss Rand was fond of saying, "Check your premises". Her premises did not begin with politics.

Miss Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics" provides us with a complete view of how and why a human gains knowledge, how (and why) he or she should act on that knowledge, and how we should act with others (and why). She not only identifies "why the world is now collapsing to a lower and ever lower rung of hell", she provides the antidote. It is yours for the taking -- not to save the world, but rather for your ultimate value -- your life. "The Objectivist Ethics" is a remarkable essay -- for its content, explicitness, structure, and completeness.

And this brings us back full circle -- to exalted moments. When she wrote of exalted moments, she stated "that happiness matters". "The Objectivist Ethics" addresses this in more detail:

The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

May you live for the sake of exalted moments!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Is Important?

Leonard Peikoff on what is important:

No concrete within an art work, such as the type of ending given to a story, can be judged outside the full context of the work. The point is that, within the context, every concrete, simply by virtue of being included, acquires significance.

As a teenager, I told Miss Rand once that it was difficult to live up to the exalted quality of her novels. "If John Galt were out on a date," I said, "he would open a bottle of champagne with the ease of flourishing a cape, and the mood would be highly romantic. But when I do it, the cork sticks, I fumble with the bottle, and the mood is sabotaged. Why can't life be more like art?"

Miss Rand answered that the cork could very well stick for a real-life Galt, too. But if it did, he would brush the distraction aside; he would not let it affect his mood or evening. "In life," she said, "one ignores the unimportant; in art, one omits it."

Most men do not know in explicit terms what they regard as important. They are unfamiliar with philosophy and hold few ideas on the subject; yet they are able to create and/or respond to art. This is possible because all men, whatever their conscious mental content, hold metaphysical value-judgments in a special form, which Ayn Rand calls a sense of life. A "sense of life" is "a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence." Such a subconscious appraisal is involved in art of any kind or school.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, p. 425-6

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Leonard Peikoff on sex:

No man desires everyone on earth. Each has some requirements in this regard, however contradictory or unidentified—and the rational man's requirements, here as elsewhere, are the opposite of contradictory. He desires only a woman he can admire, a woman who (to his knowledge) shares his moral standards, his self-esteem, and his view of life. Only with such a partner can he experience the reality of the values he is seeking to celebrate, including his own value. The same kind of sexual selectivity is exercised by a rational woman. This is why Roark is attracted only to a heroine like Dominique, and why Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged is desperate to sleep with John Galt, not with Wesley Mouch. Romantic love is the strongest positive emotion possible between two individuals. Its experience, therefore, so far from being an animal reaction, is a self-revelation: the values giving rise to this kind of response must be one's most intensely held and personal.

When a man and woman do fall in love—assuming that each is romantically free and the context otherwise appropriate—sex is a necessary and proper expression of their feeling for each other. "Platonic love" under such circumstances would be a vice, a breach of integrity. Sex is to love what action is to thought, possession to evaluation, body to soul. "We live in our minds," Roark observes, "and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form." Sex is the preeminent form of bringing love into physical reality.

The subject of sex is complex and belongs largely to the science of psychology. I asked Ayn Rand once what philosophy specifically has to say on the subject. She answered: "It says that sex is good."

Sex is moral, it is an exalted pleasure, it is a profound value. Like happiness, therefore, sex is an end in itself; it is not necessarily a means to any further end, such as procreation. This uplifted view of sex leads to an ethical corollary: a function so important must be granted the respect it deserves.

To respect sex means to approach it objectively. The guiding principle should be: select a partner whom you love on the basis of values you can identify and defend; then do whatever you wish together in bed, provided that it is mutually desired and that your pleasures are reality-oriented. This excludes indiscriminate sexual indulgence and any form of destructiveness or faking—such as, among other examples, the chaser's promiscuity, the rapist's coercion, the adulterer's pretense of fidelity, and the sadist's pretense that his power to cause suffering is a mark of efficacy. (Fantasy, in sex as in other departments of life, is a form of imagination and thus legitimate, as long as one does not drop the distinction between fantasy and reality.)

The guiding principle in sex should be: esteem sex as an expression of reason and of man's life in the full, moral sense of the term; then, keeping this context in mind, pursue the value greedily.

Such a viewpoint is the opposite of today's dominant philosophy on the subject.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, p. 345-6

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Burgess Laughlin On Exaltation

Burgess Laughlin at Making Progress writes of "exaltation":

In his first post (on April 11), "Introduction to 'Exalted Moments'," the anonymous author of the new Exalted Moments weblog quotes Ayn Rand's correspondence.

Burgess has a lot to say. He focuses upon the importance, necessity, nature and other aspects of "exaltation". A very good read. Check it out.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Exalted Sense of Life

Editor David Harriman writes:

Despite the tragic aspects of To Lorne Dieterling, the novel was to have an uplifting theme. AR's purpose was to show that Hella, as a profoundly independent person, can be affected "only down to a certain point." Though she suffers as a result of the moral treason of others, she is ultimately able to preserve the exalted sense of life that is so eloquently expressed in AR's favorite music.

AR regarded philosophy as a means to the achievement of a unique goal: the lighthearted, joyous state of existence that she had envisioned—and experienced—from the time of her youth. It is fitting, therefore, that her last fiction notes are about a woman like herself, who maintains such a view of life to the end, even while those around her do not.

The Journals of Ayn Rand, David Harriman (editor), p. 716

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Future

Leonard Peikoff on the future:

There is no future for the world except through a rebirth of the Aristotelian approach to philosophy. This would require an Aristotelian affirmation of the reality of existence, of the sovereignty of reason, of life on earth—and of the splendor of man.

Aristotle and Objectivism agree on fundamentals and, as a result, on this last point, also. Both hold that man can deal with reality, can achieve values, can live non-tragically. Neither believes in man the worm or man the monster; each upholds man the thinker and therefore man the hero. Aristotle calls him "the great-souled man." Ayn Rand calls him Howard Roark, or John Galt.

In every era, by their nature, men must struggle: they must work, knowingly or not, to actualize some vision of the human potential, whether consistent or contradictory, exalted or debased. They must, ultimately, make a fundamental choice, which determines their other choices and their fate. The fundamental choice, which is always the same, is the epistemological choice: reason or non-reason.

Since men's grasp of reason and their versions of non-reason differ from era to era, according to the extent of their knowledge and their virtue, so does the specific form of the choice, and its specific result.

In the ancient world, after centuries of a gradual decline, the choice was the ideas of classical civilization or the ideas of Christianity. Men chose Christianity. The result was the Dark Ages.

In the medieval world, a thousand years later, the choice was Augustine or Aquinas. Men chose Aquinas. The result was the Renaissance.

In the Enlightenment world, four centuries later, the founders of America struggled to reaffirm the choice of their Renaissance ancestors, but they could not make it stick historically. The result was a magnificent new country, with a built-in self-destructor.

Today, in the United States, the choice is the Founding Fathers and the foundation they never had, or Kant and destruction. The result is still open.

The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff, p. 311-2

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Exalted Egoism

From Ayn Rand's first philosophic journal:

An example from my own experience, which, at the present time, affects me most, is the fact that few men have the ability or the desire to judge literary work by its essential worth. To most men, that work becomes valuable only after it has been recognized as such by someone else. They themselves do not have any standards of their own (and they do not feel the lack). The same is true of any other field of mental activity: scientific, philosophical, etc. This is the great unselfishness of today. As a matter of fact, unselfishness is merely selflessness. The true, highest selfishness, the exalted egoism, is the right to have one's own theoretical values and then to apply them to practical reality. Without that self there are no values. Here again—ethics based on self, not on society, the mass, the collective, or any other form of selflessness.

The Journals of Ayn Rand, David Harriman (editor), p. 71

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ayn Rand in Playboy

Ayn Rand in Playboy:

PLAYBOY: As a novelist, do you regard philosophy as the primary purpose of your writing?
RAND: No. My primary purpose is the projection of an ideal man, of man "as he might be and ought to be." Philosophy is the necessary means to that end.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Night of January 16th

Ayn Rand on The Night of January 16th:

This means that its events are not to be taken literally; they dramatize certain fundamental psychological characteristics, deliberately isolated and emphasized in order to convey a single abstraction: the characters' attitude toward life. The events serve to feature the motives of the characters' actions, regardless of the particular forms of the actions—i.e., the motives, not their specific concretization. The events feature the confrontation of two extremes, two opposite ways of facing existence' passionate self-assertiveness, self-confidence, ambition, audacity, independence—versus conventionality, servility, envy, hatred, power-lust.

I do not think, nor did I think when I wrote this play, that a swindler is a heroic character or that a respectable banker is a villain. But for the purpose of dramatizing the conflict of independence versus conformity, a criminal—a social outcast—can be an eloquent symbol. This, incidentally, is the reason of the profound appeal of the "noble crook" in fiction. He is the symbol of the rebel as such, regardless of the kind of society he rebels against, the symbol—for most people—of their vague, undefined, unrealized groping toward a concept, or a shadowy image, of man's self-esteem.

That a career of crime is not, in fact, the way to implement one's self-esteem, is irrelevant in sense-of-life terms. A sense of life is concerned mainly with consciousness, not with existence—or rather: with the way a man's consciousness faces existence. It is concerned with a basic frame of mind, not with rules of conduct.

If this play's sense of life were to be verbalized, it would say, in effect: 'Your life, your achievement, your happiness, your person are of paramount importance. Live up to your highest vision of yourself no matter what circumstances you might encounter. An exalted view of self-esteem is a man's most admirable quality: How one is to live up to this vision—how this frame of mind is to be implemented in action and in reality—is a question that a sense of life cannot answer: that is the task of philosophy.

The Journals of Ayn Rand, David Harriman (editor), p.22

I always felt this way about The Godfather. Many of the characters seemed heroic because of their ambition and independence. But of course, they were not heroic. And Michael Corleone certainly was not a man of self-esteem.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Religion And Sex

Ayn Rand on religion and sex:

The theoreticians of religion know that it is impossible to prohibit thought. They do not expect the ban on sexual thoughts to be obeyed. Their purpose is not to abolish such thoughts, but to induce guilt—and thus to undercut man's self-esteem.

The following small incident captures the essence of the religious censors' mentality. In the 1930s, the "self-censorship" office of the movie industry (known as the Hays Office or, later, the Johnson Office) went on one of its periodic crusades against sex in the movies. That office was run predominantly by a religious organization, the Purity League. The two foremost sex symbols of the period were Greta Garbo and Mae West, who embodied two diametrically opposite attitudes: Garbo projected an exquisitely spiritual, exalted, man-worshiping sexuality—Mae West offered an "earthy," eye-winking, hip-swinging, humorously vulgar image that verged on the obscene, projecting the silent invitation: "Come, one and all." A representative of the censorship office was quoted as saying: "We don't mind Mae West—she makes sex ludicrous. What we oppose is Greta Garbo—she makes it glamorous."

Use your own judgment on the question of whose goal is "to deprave or corrupt."

"Thought Control", The Ayn Rand Letter, p.251

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

John Galt

Exalted quote from Ayn Rand. This is John Galt speaking...

"You, who dare to regard us as the moral inferiors of any mystic who claims supernatural visions—you, who scramble like vultures for plundered pennies, yet honor a fortune-teller above a fortune-maker—you, who scorn a businessman as ignoble, but esteem any posturing artist as exalted—the root of your standards is that mystic miasma which comes from primordial swamps, that cult of death, which pronounces a businessman immoral by reason of the fact that he keeps you alive. You, who claim that you long to rise above the crude concerns of the body, above the drudgery of serving mere physical needs—who is enslaved by physical needs: the Hindu who labors from sunrise to sunset at the shafts of a hand-plow for a bowl of rice, or the American who is driving a tractor? Who is the conqueror of physical reality: the man who sleeps on a bed of nails or the man who sleeps on an inner-spring mattress? Which is the monument to the triumph of the human spirit over matter: the germ-eaten hovels on the shorelines of the Ganges or the Atlantic skyline of New York?

"Unless you learn the answers to these questions—and learn to stand at reverent attention when you face the achievements of man's mind—you will not stay much longer on this earth, which we love and will not permit you to damn. You will not sneak by with the rest of your lifespan. I have foreshortened the usual course of history and have let you discover the nature of the payment you had hoped to switch to the shoulders of others. It is the last of your own living power that will now be drained to provide the unearned for the worshippers and carriers of Death. Do not pretend that a malevolent reality defeated you—you were defeated by your own evasions. Do not pretend that you will perish for a noble ideal—you will perish as fodder for the haters of man.

"But to those of you who still retain a remnant of the dignity and will to love one's life, I am offering the chance to make a choice. Choose whether you wish to perish for a morality you have never believed or practiced. Pause on the brink of self-destruction and examine your values and your life. You had known how to take an inventory of your wealth. Now take an inventory of your mind."
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, p. 967-8

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Peikoff On Rand

Leonard Peikoff on Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand's real intellectual interest was emphatically not politics. Of course, she was a champion of capitalism and freedom. But unlike today's libertarians and conservatives, she was a thinker; she was not content to preach liberty or private property as though they were self-evident axioms. She wanted to know what they depend on and how they can be proved, all the way back to metaphysics and epistemology. This is why she admired Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas even more than she did Thomas Jefferson, and why, to the amazement of today's businessmen, she hated Kant and Hegel much more than income taxes. It is also why, starting with an interest in political questions, she was led eventually to formulate an overall system of thought, expressing a complete philosophy of life.

Ayn Rand's mind had an exalted quality, one shared by only a handful of kindred spirits across the ages. Hers was a mind with the profundity of a true philosopher; a mind that greeted the deepest issues of man's life with solemn reverence and ruthless logic; a mind that derived its greatest joy and its personal fulfillment from the rational study of fundamentals. In our age of mediocrity and anti-philosophy, this fact doomed her to a certain loneliness. It made her a unique personality, unable to find her equal, just as her product, the philosophy of reason that she called Objectivism, is unique and unequaled.

If you want to know what Ayn Rand was like as a person, I can now answer simply: you already know it, because she was just what she had to be given the nature of her intellectual processes. Ayn Rand the person was an expression and corollary of Ayn Rand the mind.

"My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand", The Voice of Reason, p. 346-7

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Ayn Rand on greatness:

Greatness is achieved by the productive effort of a man's mind in the pursuit of clearly defined, rational goals. But a delusion of grandeur can be served only by the switching, undefinable chimera of a public monument—which is presented as a munificent gift to the victims whose forced labor or extorted money had paid for it—which is dedicated to the service of all and none, owned by all and none, gaped at by all and enjoyed by none.
"The Monument Builders", The Virtue of Selfishness, p.89

Nat Taggart Statue From Atlas Shrugged

Exalted quote by Ayn Rand from Atlas Shrugged:

Dagny regretted at times that Nat Taggart was her ancestor. What she felt for him did not belong in the category of unchosen family affections. She did not want her feeling to be the thing one was supposed to owe an uncle or a grandfather. She was incapable of love for any object not of her own choice and she resented anyone's demand for it. But had it been possible to choose an ancestor, she would have chosen Nat Taggart, in voluntary homage and with all of her gratitude.

Nat Taggart's statue was copied from an artist's sketch of him, the only record ever made of his appearance. He had lived far into old age, but one could never think of him except as he was on that sketch—as a young man. In her childhood, his statue had been Dagny's first concept of the exalted. When she was sent to church or to school, and heard people using that word, she thought that she knew what they meant: she thought of the statue.

The statue was of a young man with a tall, gaunt body and an angular face. He held his head as if he faced a challenge and found joy in his capacity to meet it. All that Dagny wanted of life was contained in the desire to hold her head as he did.

Tonight, she looked at the statue when she walked across the concourse. It was a moment's rest; it was as if a burden she could not name were lightened and as if a faint current of air were touching her forehead.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, p. 63

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Exalted" Definition

Do you have any additional relevant definitions?

Exalted from Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: ex·alt
Pronunciation: \ig-ˈzȯlt\
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin exaltare, from ex- + altus high — more at old
Date: 15th century
transitive verb
1: to raise in rank, power, or character
2: to elevate by praise or in estimation : glorify
3obsolete : elate
4: to raise high : elevate
5: to enhance the activity of : intensify
intransitive verb
: to induce exaltation
— ex·alt·ed·ly adverb
— ex·alt·er noun


Main Entry: glo·ri·fy
Pronunciation: \ˈglȯr-ə-ˌfī\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): glo·ri·fied; glo·ri·fy·ing
Etymology: Middle English glorifien, from Anglo-French glorifier, from Late Latin glorificare, from gloria
Date: 14th century
1 a: to make glorious by bestowing honor, praise, or admiration b: to elevate to celestial glory
2: to light up brilliantly
3 a: to represent as glorious : extol a song glorifying romantic love
4: to give glory to (as in worship)
— glo·ri·fi·ca·tion \ˌglȯr-ə-fə-ˈkā-shən\ noun
— glo·ri·fi·er \ˈglȯr-ə-ˌfī(-ə)r\ noun

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Introduction To "Exalted Moments"

Philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand was the originator of the philosophy known as "Objectivism". Of her famous novel "Atlas Shrugged", she wrote:

You ask me about the meaning of the dialogue on page 702 of Atlas Shrugged:

"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" she whispered. "'No, we never had to.'"

Let me begin by saying that this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book, because it is the condensed emotional summation, the keynote or leitmotif, of the view of life presented in Atlas Shrugged.

What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man's existence on earth, are the meaning of life—not the pain or ugliness he may encounter—that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience, not for the sake of suffering—that happiness matters, but suffering does not—that no matter how much pain one may have to endure, it is never to be taken seriously, that is: never to be taken as the essence and meaning of life—that the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain. The issue she refers to is the basic philosophical issue which John Galt later names explicitly in his speech: that the most fundamental division among men is between those who are pro-man, pro-mind, pro-life—and those who are anti-man, anti-mind, anti-life.

It is the difference between those who think that man's life is important and that happiness is possible—and those who think that man's life, by its very nature, is a hopeless, senseless tragedy and that man is a depraved creature doomed to despair and defeat. It is the difference between those whose basic motive is the desire to achieve values, to experience joy—and those whose basic motive is the desire to escape from pain, to experience a momentary relief from their chronic anxiety and guilt.

It is a matter of one's fundamental, overall attitude toward life—not of any one specific event. So you see that your interpretation was too specific and too narrow; besides, the Looters' World had never meant anything to Dagny and she had realized its "sham and hypocrisy" long before. What she felt, in that particular moment, was the confirmation of her conviction that an ideal man and an ideal form of existence are possible.

The Letters of Ayn Rand, Michael Berliner (editor), p. 583-4

The purpose of this blog is to examine "exalted moments" and to answer questions such as:

How does one define an exalted moment?

How does one achieve an exalted moment?

What kind of thinking is required for an exalted moment?

What kind of action is required for an exalted moment?

What is the relationship between goal-directed actions (goal setting) and exalted moments?

What values and virtues are necessary to achieve an exalted moment? Do certain values and virtues have primacy over others?

What does one feel emotionally when one is experiencing an exalted moment? Is the feeling of an exalted moment the same or different than happiness? Is an exalted moment momentary? Is happiness a longer duration emotion?

Why are exalted moments psychologically important (necessary) for human life?

What is the proper social environment for exalted moments? How does one share exalted moments with others?

What is the relationship between esthetics and exalted moments? How is an exalted moment portrayed in art? Who are artists who correctly portray exalted moments?

At what age can one start experiencing exalted moments? How does one explain them to children?

How do exalted moments related to romantic partners and friends?

What are the great exalted moments of history?

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