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The Objectivist literature says at numerous times that there is no such thing as "talent". This is presumably related to the "tabula rasa" doctrine. But is it really the claim that anyone can do anything (excluding perhaps purely physical activities) if only they study hard enough and in the right fashion? For example, can anyone learn to master a musical instrument as well as the best player?

asked Jun 28 '11 at 06:43

FCH's gravatar image


edited Jun 28 '11 at 07:42

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


In the Objectivist understanding, "tabula rasa" refers only to the content of consciousness, not its capacities. It simply means that we are not born with knowledge.

(Jun 28 '11 at 12:59) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Also, I don't recall where Ayn Rand or other Objectivists discussed the idea of "talent," which is somewhat ambiguous in meaning. Can you edit your question to cite or refer to a specific essay?

(Jun 28 '11 at 13:05) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

I am thinking specifically of the Foreword of We The Living. You can find the quote in the Ayn Rand Lexicon under Tabula Rasa. I'm not sure but I believe I've heard or read similar statements elsewhere.

The quote in the Lexicon: "No one is born with any kind of “talent” and, therefore, every skill has to be acquired. Writers are made, not born. To be exact, writers are self-made."

So my question is just for clarification, what this means, how far it goes, in which way or which issues people do or do not have specific endowments.

Was that any clearer...?

(Jun 28 '11 at 15:28) FCH FCH's gravatar image

Of course it may very well be that I am totally misunderstanding this and taking her statement out of context; if so, be assured that I'm honestly mistaken, and that in that case, I'd appreciate it very much if you could correct me and show where the mistake happened.

(Jun 28 '11 at 16:41) FCH FCH's gravatar image
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Hardly numerous times. Talent is mentioned about 194 times across her works and Leonard Peikoff's. The specific reference in the forward to "We The Living" is written in the context of writing specifically.

In "For The New Intellectual", on page 82, a more generalized application, she writes:

"Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man's independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man.

This suggests that there are various factors that play into developing talent. Degrees of ability is what allows us to rank best apart from the rest. To develop your example a bit, most anyone can learn to master a musical instrument. Physical limitations such as the size of the hand on say a piano or guitar will be a factor which will segregate the best from the great from the good.

In "Return to Hollywood, 1944) she writes:

Competence, talent, efficiency, ability are the only values I recognize. Plus the first and most important one—integrity.

She clearly aligns talent with values here. If you are familiar with values as something one seeks to gain or keep, talent is a result of virtue which is to say the action(s) one takes to gain and/or keep a value.

To further develop your example here, the desire to master a musical instrument would be the value. The activities of taking lessons and/or practicing with a musical instrument in order to master it would be considered the virtue.

answered Jun 28 '11 at 17:09

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

edited Jun 28 '11 at 17:17

Talent is the gift given by the god to each person. Talent is like electricity. We don't understand electricity. We use it

(Jul 06 '11 at 07:38) aruthra aruthra's gravatar image

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Asked: Jun 28 '11 at 06:43

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Last updated: Jul 06 '11 at 07:38