Monday, December 19, 2011

Francisco and Dagny

Francisco and Dagny:

That summer, she met him in the woods, in hidden corners by the river, on the floor of an abandoned shack, in the cellar of the house. These were the only times when she learned to feel a sense of beauty—by looking up at old wooden rafters or at the steel plate of an air-conditioning machine that whirred tensely, rhythmically above their heads. She wore slacks or cotton summer dresses, yet she was never so feminine as when she stood beside him, sagging in his arms, abandoning herself to anything he wished, in open acknowledgment of his power to reduce her to helplessness by the pleasure he had the power to give her. He taught her every manner of sensuality he could invent. "Isn't it wonderful that our bodies can give us so much pleasure?" he said to her once, quite simply. They were happy and radiantly innocent. They were both incapable of the conception that joy is sin.

They kept their secret from the knowledge of others, not as a shameful guilt, but as a thing that was immaculately theirs, beyond anyone's right of debate or appraisal. She knew the general doctrine on sex, held by people in one form or another, the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of man's lower nature, to be condoned regretfully. She experienced an emotion of chastity that made her shrink not from the desires of her body, but from any contact with the minds who held this doctrine.

That winter, Francisco came to see her in New York, at unpredictable intervals. He would fly down from Cleveland, without warning, twice a week, or he would vanish for months. She would sit on the floor of her room, surrounded by charts and blueprints, she would hear a knock at her door and snap, "I'm busy !" then hear a mocking voice ask, "Are you?" and leap to her feet to throw the door open, to find him standing there. They would go to an apartment he had rented in the city, a small apartment in a quiet neighborhood. "Francisco," she asked him once, in sudden astonishment, "I'm your mistress, am I not?" He laughed. "That's what you are." She felt the pride a woman is supposed to experience at being granted the title of wife.

In the many months of his absence, she never wondered whether he was true to her or not; she knew he was. She knew, even though she was too young to know the reason, that indiscriminate desire and unselective indulgence were possible only to those who regarded sex and themselves as evil.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 106

Monday, November 21, 2011

Art And Cognition

Art and cognition:

The development of human cognition starts with the ability to perceive things, i.e., entities. Of man's five cognitive senses, only two provide him with a direct awareness of entities: sight and touch. The other three senses—hearing, taste and smell—give him an awareness of some of an entity's attributes (or of the consequences produced by an entity): they tell him that something makes sounds, or something tastes sweet, or something smells fresh; but in order to perceive this something, he needs sight and/or touch.

The concept "entity" is (implicitly) the start of man's conceptual development and the building-block of his entire conceptual structure. It is by perceiving entities that man perceives the universe. And in order to concretize his view of existence, it is by means of concepts (language) or by means of his entity-perceiving senses (sight and touch) that he has to do it.
Music does not deal with entities, which is the reason why its psycho-epistemological function is different from that of the other arts, as we shall discuss later.

The relation of literature to man's cognitive faculty is obvious: literature re-creates reality by means of words, i.e., concepts. But in order to re-create reality, it is the sensory-perceptual level of man's awareness that literature has to convey conceptually: the reality of concrete, individual men and events, of specific sights, sounds, textures, etc.

The so-called visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture) produce concrete, perceptually available entities and make them convey an abstract, conceptual meaning.

All these arts are conceptual in essence, all are products of and addressed to the conceptual level of man's consciousness, and they differ only in their means. Literature starts with concepts and integrates them to percepts- painting, sculpture and architecture start with percepts and integrate them to concepts. The ultimate psycho-epistemological function is the same: a process that integrates man's forms of cognition, unifies his consciousness and clarifies his grasp of reality.

Ayn Rand, Art and Cognition, The Objectivist, p. 1010

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Isle Of Lost Ships

Letter to Henry Blanke from Ayn Rand.

Well, this is a long introduction in order to tell you what an exceptional plot value you have in The Isle of Lost Ships. If this story is given your kind of beautiful production—I will go on record, here, on paper, to predict that it will be a multimillion dollar hit.

This story has the same elements of appeal as The Fountainhead. No, not literally the same in specific surface detail, but the same in general principle—and that's what counts. It is not "realistic" (the audiences are sick of sordid realism), it belongs to my school and style of writing—romanticism. It is not a story of trite, homey, "everyday" people and events (and are audiences sick of that!)—it is a story of strong, unusual characters in unusual, exciting events and in a real, dramatic conflict. Its sex angle is, in spirit, exactly the Roark-Dominique romance—sex through antagonism, the love story of a society girl and a convict. Of all forms of romance, this is the most powerful one and the surefire one. This form is difficult to write—that is why we don't see it often on the screen nowadays. But the audiences are starved for it. People are sick of the lukewarm, sentimental, "mushy" treatment of most love stories on the screen. That is why they now laugh at love scenes. Observe that they did not laugh at our "rape" scene. The time is right for a real, strong sex story. But few stories have the elements needed for it. The Isle of Lost Ships has them all. As a sex story, it's tops.

I saw the silent version of The Isle of Lost Ships (with Milton Sills and Anna Q. Nielsen) when I was a child in Europe, and I have never been able to forget it. It was a tremendous hit and I remember the delighted excitement with which everybody talked about it. A good story is timeless. It cannot be dated. Its essential appeal will always remain the same. One merely has to modernize the surface details, such as the dialogue. A good story is like a beautiful body. A beautiful body is beautiful to any audience in any day, age or century; the only thing that changes is the fashion in clothing. The Isle of Lost Ships needs a writer to modernize its clothing, which is its treatment, technical details and dialogue. The body is there.

Needless to say, I am most eager to be that writer. This is the kind of story I love and can do well.

"Letters of Ayn Rand", Michael Berliner, editor. p. 430.

The movie was not re-made.

Monday, November 7, 2011


On humor:

Jean Kerr, the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, is a benevolent humorist. She is allegedly complaining about the hard lot of a mother and the difficulty of coping with children. For instance, when her children eat the daisies, that is supposed to be a great evil on their part. But is that in fact what she is saying? No; she is really conveying the adventurousness and imagination of her children—their high spirits, which she has such a "hard" time controlling. At one point, when she describes how impossible it is to talk to one of her boys who is very literal-minded, I fell in love with that boy. She tells him to throw all of his clothes into the washing machine, and their conversation then goes something like the following. He says: "All my clothes?" She says: "Yes." "My shoes, too? .... Well, no, not your shoes." "All right, but I'll put in the belt." What comes across from their dialogue is an extremely intelligent, rational child. What Jean Kerr is actually laughing at is the kind of mother who would really consider this bad or difficult. She is negating the difficulty of the situation, and she is glorifying the good qualities of her children.

O. Henry is a benevolent humorist, as is Oscar Wilde in many of his plays, particularly The Importance of Being Earnest. Cyrano de Bergerac contains a lot of comedy, all of it aimed at destroying the pretentious or the cowardly. Cyrano laughs at villains, not at values or heroes.

Ernst Lubitsch was the only screen director famous for romantic comedies. Ninotchka, the Greta Garbo picture he directed, is a good example: it is comedy, but also high romance. What is laughed at is the sordid, undesirable aspects of life—and what comes across by means of the humor is the glamour, the romance, and the positive aspects.

In the benevolent type of humor, something good is always involved, as in Ninotchka, where the hero and heroine are quite glamorous. They are not funny—some of their adventures are; or they are acting humorously toward certain things, but not in a way that undercuts their own dignity, value, or self-esteem.

Ayn Rand, "The Art Of Fiction", p. 167-168.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sense Of Life

Sense of life:

A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It sets the nature of a man’s emotional responses and the essence of his character.

Long before he is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics, man makes choices, forms value-judgments, experiences emotions and acquires a certain implicit view of life. Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him—most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events (i.e., merely feel). Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

Ayn Rand, "Philosophy and Sense of Life"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Subject & Style In Art & Psycho-Epistemology

Subject and style in art:

Whatever the case may be, it is the subject (qualified by the theme) that projects an art work's view of man's place in the universe.

The theme of an art work is the link uniting its subject and its style. "Style" is a particular, distinctive or characteristic mode of execution. An artist's style is the product of his own psycho-epistemology—and, by implication, a projection of his view of man's consciousness, of its efficacy or impotence, of its proper method or level of functioning.

Predominantly (though not exclusively), a man whose normal mental state is a state of full focus, will create and respond to a style of radiant clarity and ruthless precision—a style that projects sharp outlines, cleanliness, purpose, an intransigent commitment to full awareness and clear-cut identity—a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A is A, where everything is open to man's consciousness and demands its constant functioning.

A man who is moved by the fog of his feelings and spends most of his time out of focus, will create and respond to a style of blurred, "mysterious" murk, where outlines dissolve and entities flow into one another, where words connote anything and denote nothing, where colors float without objects, and objects float without weight—a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A can be any non-A one chooses, where nothing can be known with certainty and nothing much is demanded of one's consciousness.

Style is the most complex element of art, the most revealing and, often, the most baffling psychologically. The terrible inner conflicts from which artists suffer as much as (or, perhaps, more than) other men, are magnified to catastrophic proportions in their work. As an example: Salvador Dali, whose style projects the luminous clarity of a rational psycho-epistemology, while most (though not all) of his subjects project an irrational and revoltingly evil metaphysics. A similar, but less offensive, conflict may be seen in the paintings of Vermeer, who combines a brilliant clarity of style with the bleak metaphysics of photographic Naturalism. At the other extreme of the stylistic continuum, observe the deliberate blurring and visual distortions of the so-called "painterly" school, from Rembrandt on down—down to the rebellion against consciousness, expressed by a phenomenon such as "Cubism" which seeks specifically to disintegrate man's consciousness by painting objects as man does not perceive them (from several perspectives at once).

A writer's style may project a blend of reason and passionate emotion (Victor Hugo)—or a chaos of floating abstractions, of emotions cut off from reality (Thomas Wolfe)—or the dry, bare, concrete-bound, humor-tinged raucousness of an intelligent reporter (Sinclair Lewis)—or the disciplined, perceptive, lucid, yet muted understatement of a represser (John O'Hara)—or the carefully superficial, over-detailed precision of an amoralist (Flaubert)—or the mannered artificiality of a social metaphysician (several moderns not worthy of mention).
Style conveys what may be called a "psycho—epistemological sense of life," i.e., an expression of that level of mental functioning on which the artist feels most at home. This is the reason why style is crucially important in art—both to the artist and to the reader or viewer—and why its importance is experienced as a profoundly personal matter. To the artist, it is an expression, to the reader or viewer a confirmation, of his own consciousness—which means: of his efficacy—which means: of his self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).

Ayn Rand, "Art And Sense Of Life", The Objectivist, p. 38-39.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rand Letter To Fan: Roark Did Not Rape Dominique

Letter from Ayn Rand to fan about relationship between Roark and Dominique:

Dear Mr. Coleman:

Here is another letter to leave to your heirs, since you say that is what you intend to do with my first one.

Your confession about your personal problem made me feel that I have to lecture you a little bit. I am afraid that you have misunderstood the relationship of Roark and Dominique in a very improper way. You write as if you thought that the lesson to be derived from it is that a man should force himself on a woman, and that she would like him for that. But the fact is that Roark did not actually rape Dominique; she had asked for it, and he knew that she wanted it. A man who would force himself on a woman against her wishes would be committing a dreadful crime. What Dominique liked about Roark was the fact that he took the responsibility for their romance and for his own actions. Most men nowadays, like Peter Keating, expect to seduce a woman, or rather they let her seduce them and thus shift the responsibility to her. That is what a truly feminine woman would despise. The lesson in the Roark-Dominique romance is one of spiritual strength and self-confidence, not of physical violence.

In regard to the girl who sent you The Fountainhead, I would guess that sex was not the point she wanted you to see in the book; sex is only a minor aspect of a much wider theme—which is man's integrity—and that is probably what she wanted you to see.

Thank you for saying that the twelve editors who rejected The Fountainhead were "out of character in the publishing business." I got a kick out of hearing that.

"Letters of Ayn Rand", Michael Berliner, editor. p. 282.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Plot Is Important

Why plot is important:

For instance, the meaning of the Dagny-Rearden romance in Atlas Shrugged is that their shared ideas, values, and struggle is the root of their love. Consider what a non-plot writer would have done with this material, Dagny would come to Rearden's office, they would start talking, and suddenly he would draw her into his arms and they would kiss. This is realistic, it can happen—but it does not have much dramatic value. The same scene could have happened between any two people, including villains such as James Taggart and Betty Pope.

By contrast, in Atlas Shrugged I bring about Dagny and Rearden's love scene at the height of their mutual triumph, in connection with the achievement which unites their careers: the opening of the John Galt Line. I make them admit their love during an event which presents in action the ideas and values they have in common. This is an example of presenting an issue in plot terms.

Or take the quarry scene in The Fountainhead, where Dominique meets Roark. She is an extreme hero-worshiper; she has declared that she will never fall in love except with someone great; and she does not want to find a great man because she thinks he would be doomed. If, while researching tree of her newspaper columns, she had met Roark as a rising architect, that would not have been dramatic. But it is dramatic for her to meet the ideal man at the bottom, as nothing but a quarry worker. She had feared that the world would crush a hero—and the scene brings her face-to-face with the fact that no matter what the world does to him, a hero is a value, and one she cannot resist.

Ayn Rand, "The Art of Fiction", p. 26-27.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Emotion For Which They Had No Equivalent

Dagny Taggart and the railroad:

She never tried to explain why she liked the railroad. Whatever it was that others felt, she knew that this was one emotion for which they had no equivalent and no response. She felt the same emotion in school, in classes of mathematics, the only lessons she liked. She felt the excitement of solving problems, the insolent delight of taking up a challenge and disposing of it without effort, the eagerness to meet another, harder test. She felt, at the same time, a growing respect for the adversary, for a science that was so clean, so strict, so luminously rational. Studying mathematics, she felt, quite simply and at once: "How great that men have done this" and "How wonderful that I'm so good at it." It was the joy of admiration and of one's own ability, growing together. Her feeling for the railroad was the same: worship of the skill that had gone to make it, of the ingenuity of someone's clean, reasoning mind, worship with a secret smile that said she would know how to make it better some day. She hung around the tracks and the round-houses like a humble student, but the humility had a touch of future pride, a pride to be earned.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 54

Monday, September 26, 2011

It Was A Symphony Of Triumph

Dagny Taggart:

She sat listening to the music. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean, and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 20.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Is My Joy If...?

From Anthem:

What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?

Ayn Rand, Anthem, p. 112.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More Sacred Than The Privacy Of A Romance Between A Man And A Woman

Ayn Rand on the sacred nature of writing:

I'm glad if people can grasp the idea of my story. I'm glad if they like the sex. I'm glad if they buy the book at all. But none of this has anything to do with my book ["The Fountainhead"]. All of this is a personal indulgence which I can permit myself after the book is written and published. I can then permit myself to enjoy all those secondary things, if they happen. I cannot think of them when I write the book.

Do you know something else? I cannot even think of them when I reread the book now. I cannot read it and say to myself: "Isn't it wonderful that this was successful?" I can't. Not while I'm reading it. What there is between an author and his book is more personal—and well, yes, sacred—than the privacy of a romance between a man and a woman. Nobody else can enter. No readers, publishers, critics or box offices. I don't know how I can impress this upon you any stronger.

"The Letters of Ayn Rand", Michael Berliner, editor. p. 160.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Psycho-Epistemology And Writing

Judging one's audience when writing:

A "type of audience" is an abstraction. Concretely, you will find evaders and people with dreadful psycho-epistemologies in any audience (including an Objectivist one). The cognitive level of your readers does not determine their psycho-epistemology. Children can make a more intelligent, better focused audience than professors. Therefore, do not give any consideration whatever to the possibility of bad psycho-epistemologies. Once you have projected your audience's level of knowledge, address yourself to the best, most focused mind that you can imagine in that cognitive group.

It is improper to address yourself to a faulty psycho-epistemology. Devising a rational method to address the irrational is a contradiction. If some of your readers are irrational, there are no principles by which to decide what they will choose to hear, what they will not, and what connections they will make. Neither you nor the evader can predict what he will miss and what he will integrate. That is in the nature of irrationality.

Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction, p.21-22.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Happiness Is A State Of Noncontradictory Joy

Dr. Peikoff on happiness:

"Happiness," writes Ayn Rand, in an important elaboration of her definition,

is a state of noncontradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind's fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer.

Since joy of this kind involves the achievement of values, it demands values (as against whims); a passion to attain goals one is convinced are right (as against uncertainty about goals that are arbitrary); in a word, purpose (as against drifting). The rational man fulfills this requirement. The irrational man does not. Qua irrationalist, what moves him is not the quest for positives, but the avoidance of negatives. In psychological terms, he exhibits not healthy self-assertion, but neurotic defensiveness. In Ayn Rand's words, he exemplifies not "motivation by love," but "motivation by fear."

"Love" in this context means the desire to gain and enjoy a value; "fear" means the desire to escape a disvalue. The distinction pertains to a man's primary motive in a given undertaking. As examples: the man who struggles to create something new in his work (and who may, as part of the process, have to fight many obstacles placed in his path) vs. the man who wants primarily not to get blamed by the boss or fired—the man who seeks a passionate romance with a kindred spirit vs. the man who sleeps with anyone because what he wants is not to be left alone—the man who tends to his health in order to be free to live and act vs. the hypochondriac obsessed with not being sick—the man who turns to Rachmaninoff for melody and inspiration vs. the man who turns to Schonberg in order not to be passé and not to be too awake—the presidential candidate who has something to say in a TV debate, who wants to make a case to the country and win the argument vs. the candidate who wants only not to make any mistakes onscreen and not to lose.

In one sense, both the above types of men are "purposive"; both are "after something." They are not both "purposive" in the moral sense, however, because morality is a means to survival, and the goal of life, as Ayn Rand points out, cannot be attained by the zero-seeking method:

. . . achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death. Joy is not "the absence of pain," intelligence is not "the absence of stupidity," light is not "the absence of darkness," an entity is not "the absence of a nonentity." Building is not done by abstaining from demolition; centuries of sitting and waiting in such abstinence will not raise one single girder for you to abstain from demolishing .... Existence is not a negation of negatives. Evil, not value, is an absence and a negation ....

Happiness is not an absence, either; nor is it some guilty pleasures that serve merely to lessen anxiety. It is not what you feel when you stop beating your head against a wall. It is what you feel when you refuse ever to engage in such beating, when you esteem and protect your head as a matter of principle. Happiness, the reward of life, is an aspect of life. It too requires values, not merely avoidance; and, therefore, a functioning mind.

Just as man cannot achieve self-preservation arbitrarily, but only by the method of reason, so he cannot achieve happiness arbitrarily, but only by the same method. The method is the same because self-preservation and happiness are not separate issues. They are one indivisible fact looked at from two aspects: external action and internal consequence; or biological cause and psychological effect; or existence and consciousness.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", p. 338-339.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Kira Saw In Him "What Could Have Been"

Ayn Rand on Kira of "We The Living":

Kira saw in him "what he could have been." Her romance with him is also her desperate fight to "keep them from getting him." As to Leo, his love for her was the best thing in his life. It was all of his higher sentiments and better self. The "man that could have been" understood Kira, saw the superior woman in her, and loved her more than he had ever loved anyone.
Journals of Ayn Rand, David Harriman editor. p. 54-55

Monday, August 15, 2011

Psycho-Epistemology And Art (More)

More on psycho-epistemology and art from Dr. Peikoff:

So far, I have been considering the subject of an art work, or what it presents—the perceptual concretes that convey its view of the world. But there is another essential aspect of art: style, i.e., how the artist presents his subject. "The subject of an art work," writes Ayn Rand, "expresses a view of man's existence, while the style expresses a view of man's consciousness. The subject reveals an artist's metaphysics, the style reveals his psycho-epistemology." An artist's style, for example, may express a state of full focus—of clarity, purpose, precision; or a state of fog—of the opaque, the random, the blurred. In either (and any) case, style, like subject, has philosophical roots and meaning. In Ayn Rand's words, style reveals an artist's implicit view of the mind's "proper method and level of functioning," the level "on which the artist feels most at home." This is another reason why men react to art in profoundly personal terms. Like subject, though from a different aspect, style is experienced by the reader or viewer as a confirmation or denial of his consciousness.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", p. 422.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Psycho-Epistemology And Art

Dr. Leonard Peikoff on art and psycho-epistemology:

An art work does not formulate the metaphysics it represents; it does not (or at least need not) articulate definitions and principles. So art by itself is not enough in this context. But the point is that philosophy is not enough, either. Philosophy by itself cannot satisfy man's need of philosophy. Man requires the union of the two: philosophy and art, the broad identifications and their concrete embodiment. Then, in regard to his fundamental, guiding orientation, he combines the power of mind and of body, i.e., he combines the range of abstract thought with the irresistible immediacy of sense perception.

Ayn Rand summarizes in a definitive formulation:

Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man's concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.

This is the psycho-epistemological function of art and the reason of its importance in man's life (and the crux of the Objectivist esthetics).

Here again we see man's need of unit-economy. Concepts condense percepts; philosophy, as the science of the broadest integrations, condenses concepts; and art then condenses philosophy—by returning to the perceptual level, this time in a form impregnated with a profound abstract meaning.

There is an obvious analogy here between language and art. Both blend parts (whether perceptual units or philosophical principles) into a whole by similar means: both complete a process of conceptual integration by the use of sensuous elements. Both thereby convert abstractions into the equivalent of concretes. As Miss Rand puts it, both convert abstractions "into specific entities open to man's direct perception. The claim that 'art is a universal language' is not an empty metaphor, it is literally true—in the sense of the psycho-epistemological function performed by art."

("Psycho-epistemology" is an invaluable term of Ayn Rand's, albeit one that pertains more to psychology than to philosophy. "Psycho-epistemology" designates "the study of man's cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious." Epistemology, in essence, studies conscious, volitional processes; a "psycho-epistemological" method or function is one that also involves subconscious, automatized elements.)

By converting abstractions into percepts, art performs another crucial (and inseparable) function. It not only integrates metaphysics, but also objectifies it. This means: it enables man to contemplate his view of the world in the form of an existential object—to contemplate it not as a content of his consciousness, but "out there," as an external fact. Since abstractions as such do not exist, there is no other way to make one's metaphysical abstractions fully real to oneself (or, therefore, fully operative as one's guide). "To acquire the full, persuasive, irresistible power of reality," Miss Rand writes, "man's metaphysical abstractions have to confront him in the form of concretes—i.e., in the form of art."

Dr. Leonard Peikoff, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", p. 418-419.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Psycho-Epistemology And History

Ayn Rand on psycho-epistemology:

Men's epistemology—or, more precisely, their psycho-epistemology, their method of awareness—is the most fundamental standard by which they can be classified. Few men are consistent in that respect; most men keep switching from one level of awareness to another, according to the circumstances or the issues involved, ranging from moments of full rationality to an almost somnambulistic stupor. But the battle of human history is fought and determined by those who are predominantly consistent, those who, for good or evil, are committed to and motivated by their chosen psycho-epistemology and its corollary view of existence—with echoes responding to them, in support or opposition, in the switching, flickering souls of the others.

A man's method of using his consciousness determines his method of survival. The three contestants are Attila, the Witch Doctor and the Producer—or the man of force, the man of feelings, the man of reason—or the brute, the mystic, the thinker. The rest of mankind calls it expedient to be tossed by the current of events from one of those roles to another, not choosing to identify the fact that those three are the source which determines the current's direction.

Ayn Rand, For The New Intellectual, p. 21.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mental Growth Is Possible To Every Person

Dr. Leonard Peikoff on The Fountainhead, happiness, and rationality.

A man does not qualify as rational if he walks around in a daze but once in a while, when someone mentions a fact, he wakes up long enough to say "I'll accept that," then relapses again.

Rationality requires the systematic use of one's intelligence.

Ayn Rand's novels abound in instructive examples of this aspect of virtue. Consider, for instance, Howard Roark's encounter with the Dean at the beginning of The Fountainhead. The Dean tells him that men must always revere tradition. Roark regards this viewpoint as senseless, but he does not ignore it. Roark is not a psychologist, nor does the field interest him much; but he does deal with men, he knows that there are many like the Dean, and he is on the premise of understanding what he deals with. So he identifies the meaning of the event in the terms available to him. There is something here opposite to the way I function, he thinks, some form of behavior I do not grasp—" the principle behind the Dean," he calls it—and he files this observation in his subconscious with the implicit order to himself: be on the lookout for any data relevant to this problem. Thereafter, when such information becomes available (new examples or aspects in new contexts), he recognizes and integrates it. In the end, by a process whose steps the reader has seen, Roark reaches the concept of the "second-hander"—and of the opposite kind of man, whom he represents. At that point, he grasps what the issue is on which his own fate and that of the world depend.

Whatever the heroes in Ayn Rand's novels deal with, including work, romance, art, people, politics, and philosophy, they seek to understand it, by connecting the new to what they already know and by discovering what they do not yet know. They are men and women who like and practice the process of cognition. This is why they are usually efficacious and happy individuals, who achieve their values. Their commitment to thought leads them to a sustained growth in knowledge, which maximizes the possibility of successful action.

In citing the Roark example, I do not mean to suggest that rationality has to involve the discovery of new ideas. The exercise of reason applies within the sphere of each man's knowledge, concerns, and ability. The point is not that one must become a genius or even an intellectual. Contrary to a widespread fallacy, reason is a faculty of human beings, not of "supermen." The moral point here is always to grow mentally, to increase one's knowledge and expand the power of one's consciousness to the extent one can, whatever one's profession or the degree of one's intelligence. Mental growth is possible on some scale to every person with an intact brain.

"Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", Dr. Leonard Peikoff, p. 222-223.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beauty, Emotions, Romance: Dagny Taggart As A Teen

Dagny Taggart as a teen:

Mrs. Taggart watched her daughter in unhappy bewilderment. She could have forgiven all the omissions, but one: Dagny showed no sign of interest in men, no romantic inclination whatever. Mrs. Taggart did not approve of extremes; she had been prepared to contend with an extreme of the opposite kind, if necessary; she found herself thinking that this was worse. She felt embarrassed when she had to admit that her daughter, at seventeen, did not have a single admirer.

"Dagny and Francisco d'Anconia?" she said, smiling ruefully, in answer to the curiosity of her friends. "Oh no, it's not a romance. It's an international industrial cartel of some kind. That's all they seem to care about."

Mrs. Taggart heard James say one evening, in the presence of guests, a peculiar tone of satisfaction in his voice, "Dagny, even though you were named after her, you really look more like Nat Taggart than like that first Dagny Taggart, the famous beauty who was his wife." Mrs. Taggart did not know which offended her most: that James said it or that Dagny accepted it happily as a compliment.

She would never have a chance, thought Mrs. Taggart, to form some conception of her own daughter. Dagny was only a figure hurrying in and out of the apartment, a slim figure in a leather jacket, with a raised collar, a short skirt and long show-girl legs. She walked, cutting across a room, with a masculine, straight-line abruptness, but she had a peculiar grace of motion that was swift, tense and oddly, challengingly feminine.

At times, catching a glimpse of Dagny's face, Mrs. Taggart caught an expression which she could not quite define: it was much more than gaiety, it was the look of such an untouched purity of enjoyment that she found it abnormal, too: no young girl could be so insensitive to have discovered no sadness in life. Her daughter, she concluded, was incapable of emotion.

"Dagny," she asked once, "don't you ever want to have a good time?" Dagny looked at her incredulously and answered, "What do you think I'm having?"

The decision to give her daughter a formal debut cost Mrs. Taggart a great deal of anxious thought. She did not know whether she was introducing to New York society Miss Dagny Taggart of the Social Register or the night operator of Rockdale Station; she was inclined to believe it was more truly this last; and she felt certain that Dagny would reject the idea of such an occasion. She was astonished when Dagny accepted it with inexplicable eagerness, for once like a child.

She was astonished again, when she saw Dagny dressed for the party. It was the first feminine dress she had ever worn—a gown of white chiffon with a huge skirt that floated like a cloud. Mrs. Taggart had expected her to look like a preposterous contrast. Dagny looked like a beauty. She seemed both older and more radiantly innocent than usual; standing in front of the mirror, she held her head as Nat Taggart's wife would have held it.

"Dagny," Mrs. Taggart said gently, reproachfully, "do you see how beautiful you can be when you want to?"

"Yes," said Dagny, without any astonishment.

The ballroom of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel had been decorated under Mrs. Taggart's direction; she had an artist's taste, and the setting of that evening was her masterpiece. "Dagny, there are things I would like you to learn to notice," she said, "lights, colors, flowers, music they are not as negligible as you might think."

"I've never thought they're negligible," Dagny answered happily. For once, Mrs. Taggart felt a bond between them; Dagny was looking at her with a child's grateful trust. "They're the things that make life beautiful," said Mrs. Taggart. "I want this evening to be very beautiful for you, Dagny. The first ball is the most romantic event of one's life."

To Mrs. Taggart, the greatest surprise was the moment when she saw Dagny standing under the lights, looking at the ballroom. This was not a child, not a girl, but a woman of such confident, dangerous power that Mrs. Taggart stared at her with shocked admiration. In an age of casual, cynical, indifferent routine, among people who held themselves as if they were not flesh, but meat—Dagny's bearing seemed almost indecent, because this was the way a woman would have faced a ballroom centuries ago, when the act of displaying one's half-naked body for the admiration of men was an act of daring, when it had meaning, and but one meaning, acknowledged by all as a high adventure. And this—thought Mrs. Taggart, smiling—was the girl she had believed to be devoid of sexual capacity. She felt an immense relief, and a touch of amusement at the thought that a discovery of this kind should make her feel relieved.

Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged", p. 99-100