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[Spoiler Alert ] In Ayn Rand's early short story, The Husband I Bought, published in The Early Ayn Rand, and recently re-spun into an as-yet unreleased film of the same name starring Charlize Theron, the heroine sends her husband away to be with another woman ... because, although she loves him passionately, and he does, in fact, love her, she realizes, correctly, that he'll be happier with the other woman than with herself.

Is this a proper decision on the part of the heroine?

If you're an Objectivist, would, or could, you make the same decision if you found yourself in an analogous situation?

asked Sep 18 '10 at 13:47

Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

Robert Nasir ♦
238113

edited Sep 18 '10 at 22:32


I would just slightly amend the above: a rational man may desire for the unattainable, or what is not in his best interest. Being rational is not an immediate guarantee against an improper hierarchy of values, or a desire for something unattainable. Such can happen to anyone - what the rational man is able to do, however, is to realign his values with reality. Things which he wishes were the case, without considering the wider context, may have a great emotional effect on him (such as wishing to have a woman who one cannot have, for one reason or another,). Such wishing can be very difficult to overcome, just owing to the emotional force itself, for both the rational and irrational man. The mark of the rational man is not to simply bury such feelings, nor to be impervious to feeling them. Rather he is capable of acknowledging the emotions for what they are, for the real values that they reflect, and is then able to start reassessing his values over time, realising that other things matter more, that they are what will make him happy.

Even in spite of this, it is not to say that a rational man can still never reflect on what he has lost and consider it a real loss, in as much as it was a value (in an incomplete sense of the term), and feel a twinge or more of sadness. He is able to take the wider perspective however, to see it in the context of his full life, and to move on from it. Lost values can still bring times of sadness, but they are not blocks to an overall happiness of one's life, is what I am saying.

answered Sep 19 '10 at 05:42

Tenure's gravatar image

Tenure ♦
21915

edited Sep 19 '10 at 05:44

I agree completely. It's certainly not irrational for, say, Eddie Willers to fall in love with Dagny Taggart ... judging Eddie's rationality would depend on what he chooses to do about it, knowing he can never have her.

(Sep 19 '10 at 09:57) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

To amend my answer in regards to the comment I recieved, I will say that a person should always act for their own sake. I don't think there is ever a good time to give up a value for "its own sake." In the case of "The Husband I Bought" I believe the character was really giving up the value as a rational basis (although it's been a while since I've read it). She came to realize that she could never be happy with him, and neither could he be happy with her. So she would give him up and worship him from afar. I was trying to make the argument that a man or woman must always seek values which are congruent with their own happiness. They may make mistakes of course. And thanks for the comment and answer!

*And one more side note to the comment about eddie willers loving Dagny. I agree completely with this assesment, however, it would be completely wrong for Dagny to suddenly pretend to love Eddie. And, I'd add, it would be wrong for Eddie to accept her. Eddie would have to pretend he was Dagny's final decision, he would fake his whole identity. If he was unaware of this then, of course, he is morally blameless (it would be Dagny's fault). So long as he understand's that she doesn't love him, he would be wrong to pretend otherwise.

A person must seek values which are congruent with their own happiness. This means not being contradictory and evading certain facts. If a woman loves a man, yet that man doesn’t really love her, it would be a terrible evasion to continue with the relationship. The man would likely be miserable knowing that the woman he really loves is somewhere else or with someone else instead of with him. The woman who “won” the man would have to evade the knowledge that she is not his highest value, that she is only second rate. This is a terrible attack on one’s pride and ability to attain happiness.

This is equivalent to a career. A career should not be desired if it comes at the expense of one’s ability to survive and flourish. For instance, a man wants a job in a career like academia, he values intelligence and integrity, yet he finds himself at odds with the requirements of modern academia. But he pretends these requirements are just a small “compromise” on his integrity. He then proceeds to pursue a career and ends up constrained by certain rules he doesn’t agree with, or pushed into agreeing with or pretending to desire aspects of the career he doesn’t like. Eventually, he is likely to abandon his integrity and simply adhere to the dominant trend in the career, or leave it.

This doesn’t mean he can’t acquire happiness outside of academia, and pursue a career in teaching. But it does mean if he is trying for a career that is actually going to destroy his values, he is not acting towards his own happiness.

A rational man would never desire the unattainable, or the not in his best interest. The rational man would always want what his ability can attain and what is in his best interest.

answered Sep 18 '10 at 16:45

Kirk's gravatar image

Kirk ♦
2907

edited Oct 29 '10 at 12:57

Good insights, Kirk. Brings to mind the expression, "I do not want what I cannot have."

However, in this specific case it's more an issue of, "shall I keep what I do have, and do want, or let it go for it's own sake?"

(Sep 19 '10 at 10:03) Robert Nasir ♦ Robert%20Nasir's gravatar image

What is attainable or not is a matter partly of circumstances. That a rational man would never desire the unattainable is false. There is a huge difference between living a successful life, and living one's life successfully.

(Nov 05 '10 at 18:17) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

In addition to the points already made, I would just like to ask what it meas to "give up" the person one loves most. That other individual is also a human being with volition. If that individual would be happier with someone else, why are they staying with the first person? Is it out of guilt, obligation, shame? None of these are reasons a rational person would seek to use to keep their significant other with them. If the partner feels "bound" such that it is up to the first individual to "give them up" then there is already a problem. The rational person should seek to rid their relationship of things like guilt or shame, and thus the other person will be free to choose their ideal partner.

Now, a word of caution: This does not mean that people should dump their significant others for the first hot thing that comes along. Favoring a life of memories and love over the prospect of newness is not staying out of a sense of obligation, but out of a long-range view of one's self-interest. There are absolutely good reasons for couples to split up if one has found someone who is better for them. This decision is not one, however, that either side should make lightly.

answered Sep 23 '10 at 10:18

ryankrause's gravatar image

ryankrause ♦
340210

I spent a little time this evening reading Ayn Rand's story, to find out how well the question actually corresponds to what Ayn Rand created. I found the story to be very well worth reading. It is an incredibly rich portrait of the psychological state of a passionately loving woman, genuinely loved by the man she loved and married, but who loses him to another woman whom he truly loves and who truly loves him. The main focus of the story is on the first woman's psychological state. She does not jump to conclusions and act rashly, but judges the situation on the basis of confirmed evidence. It would have been self-sacrifice for her husband to stay with her (which he would have been willing to try to do), given his newly aroused love for the other woman. The first woman, Irene, understands that and choses not to live her life as a sacrifice collector.

Even at the young age of 21, when Ayn Rand wrote this story (her first story written in English), we see her brilliance as a writer and observer of human value-choices. The story also reminds me of the scene in Atlas Shrugged where Francisco finally realizes that he has "lost" Dagny to John Galt, despite the early romance between Francisco and Dagny in their youth and the enormity of what Francisco had to give up in joining Galt's strike.

(The story's title, by the way -- "The Husband I Bought" -- is a cleverly ironic reference to how Irene's actions were viewed by the general townsfolk. Before and during the marriage, however, the mutual love was real -- and hers remained so to the very end of the story.)

answered Oct 30 '10 at 02:52

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Asked: Sep 18 '10 at 13:47

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Last updated: Nov 05 '10 at 18:17