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How would Objectivism apply to those whose rational faculties are compromised? How do the schizophrenic (does not accurately perceive physical reality) and the bipolar (does not accurately perceive social and personal reality), to pick two examples, live their lives in accordance with Objectivism, and what does Objectivism suggest about interacting with them?

asked Sep 16 '10 at 21:46

ryankrause's gravatar image

ryankrause ♦

edited Sep 18 '10 at 01:07

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

That depends on the illness. If a person is severely mentally handicapped they would obviously not be expected to choose their values rationally and thus not capable of looking after themselves. This then, would fall under private charity.

However, if someone has ADD or some slight malfunction of the brain, they should do everything they can to understand their illness and correct it to the best of their ability. This may not be possible for them of course, in which case they must live on their own as best as they can.

Philosophy is the study of the fundamentals of the universe and man's relationship to it. The fact that a man may not be capable of dealing with reality does not change the fact that objects in reality are what they are and act the way they do. So, again, depending on the severity of the illness the man must do whatever he can to orient himself with reality. Seeing a psychiatrist may help, taking certain drugs may also help.

If at some point he proves to be unable to adhere to reality, he may need to be forced from harming others. This is similar to someone with a deadly contagious disease. If they prove to be an objective threat to others, they must be detained in some fashion.

*A special thanks to John for pointing out my error in regards to forcing one to adhere to reality, which is an error because a person must adhere to reality on their own (this is a seperate discussion in reagards to "can one force a mind?")

*Ryan, thanks for the updated comment. I'll only say that I honestly don't think philosophy can give specifics of this sort. This is more within the realm of psychology. A psychiatrist may determine what is the malfunction in a person's mind and then attempt to help them realign themself with reality. Much like a doctor can diagnose an illness and prescribe a treatment. This is not the purpose of philosophy. A philosopher can not prescribe drugs to a patient, they can only explain what one should do. Philosophy's purpose is to help guide man's actions. However, if a man is unable to associate with reality he must do what he can to fix his problem, or try his best to live with it. Just like if someone has a deadly disease they must work towards the day when they no longer have it (which, by the way, is what objectism would have to say about the mentally ill), so too a man with a damaging mental ilness has to work towards the day when they no longer have it, or until they are at least somewhat capable of living with it.

If someone is unable to ever align themselves, they may be unable to function fully as a human being. And in these special cases they are subject to the charity of others.

answered Sep 19 '10 at 13:49

Kirk's gravatar image

Kirk ♦

edited Sep 19 '10 at 22:39

I must note an error, above. No-one can be forced (yes forced) to adhere to reality. A person can be physically prevented from harming others, but this does nothing regarding his mental adherence to reality. It just gives him more experiences that he is metaphysically free to ignore if he wishes -- perhaps at his own peril.

(Sep 19 '10 at 14:08) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I agree with John's comment, but I would also like to offer my own. While Kirk's answer of "living on their own as best they can" might not be technically wrong, it offers little practical advice to those suffering from these illnesses. ADD is a pretty light condition compared to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. My question was mainly about what can these individuals actually do if their rational faculties are compromised? How do you judge reality if you can't be sure what you are perceiving is real? Is there a justified time to rely on others' judgment, rather than one's own?

(Sep 19 '10 at 15:49) ryankrause ♦ ryankrause's gravatar image

I agree with most of what Kirk has said in his answer, but there are few points I think need to be made. Therefore, I wish to offer a few thoughts on this issue, even though I was the one that raised it.

If you are mentally ill, not with a mild condition like ADD or a completely debilitating condition like Downs Syndrome, you have difficulty thinking and acting rationally. Here, I am not discussing problems that can be talked away. I am talking about chemical imbalances that absolutely require medication to fix, and usually still persist even with medication. I have known several individuals with mental disorders (Objectivist individuals, actually) who regularly face the frightening problem of second-guessing the rational and/or perceptive faculties. What is an individual to do in this instance? The problem is exacerbated by the fact that these individuals cannot tell when they are having an episode.

Take bipolar disorder as an example. The individual, when properly medicated and not in the throws of either mania or depression, may perfectly understand the risks and downsides of blowing his life savings in Vegas or sleeping with a different person every night. If the individual's medication slips out of balance, however, he may enter a manic phase, at which time these activities look like no-lose propositions. How could he lose, he's on a winning streak? He can't get AIDS, all of his partners said they were healthy. These are irrational positions, but the manic person is incapable of seeing that. They won't be dissuaded by a rational argument either. It's like the brain switches from "I need to act in compliance with reality" to "I need a reality that complies with my actions."

What does an Objectivist individual do when faced with an illness like this? While my answer is not fool-proof, and it is not clean, it does get the job done a good percentage of the time, and allow the individual to live their life more or less as a rational being. The answer is anathema to Objectivists under normal circumstances, but under these circumstances, I believe it is not only consistent the Objectivism's most basic principles, but absolutely necessary if the individual is to live a happy life.

The answer is to trust in the judgment of another person, or perhaps two, preferably the closest people to the individual. This does not apply to every judgment; actually it only applies to one: whether the individual is making rational decisions. The individual needs to ignore their own judgment as to their mental state in favor of the judgment of a trusted spouse/family member/friend. The individual has to accept, almost on faith, that if their trustee tells them they are sick, then they are sick. With the knowledge that someone is watching their back, they can make any other decision on their own with clear conviction that they are making rational decisions and perceiving reality correctly.

Is this perfect? No. But it is the only answer I have found to be consistent with Objectivism's requirement of obeisance to reality, that allows the mentally ill individual to pursue their happiness to the utmost of their ability, with the least amount of freedom surrendered. Does it open the individual up to manipulation? Yes. Is it a sacrifice on the part of the trustee? It shouldn't be. If it is, that trustee is not the right person for the job. The answer provided here is a way for both the sick individual and the one who cares deeply for him or her to live as happily as possible.

If anyone has an answer they believe to be more consistent with Objectivist principles I welcome their answers to this question and their comments.

answered Sep 23 '10 at 17:40

ryankrause's gravatar image

ryankrause ♦


First, what's the principle here? One should follow the advice of others if they think they aren't acting rationally? Second, What's the point of living when one's rational faculty is that of other people? Third, how can one judge the person who is going to judge reality for them? To judge another person one must assess their character over time, in regards to reality. If a person can't judge reality, then they must trust (blind faith) a person that they can't objectively judge. This is not good advice.

(Sep 23 '10 at 20:37) Kirk ♦ Kirk's gravatar image

Kirk, I hope you were not insinuating in your second point that mentally ill people should commit suicide. There's enough of them at risk of that already. Like I said, this answer has logical pitfalls; it has holes. I would like to hear an answer that affords the individual more epistemological certainty, adherence to reality, and ultimate happiness than what I have proposed. As far as I can see, given the facts of reality pertaining to mental illness, this answer is the most consonant with Objectivist principles.

(Sep 23 '10 at 22:21) ryankrause ♦ ryankrause's gravatar image

I said "what's the point of living when one's rational facultry is other people." My advice in my answer was to do everything in your power to live the best life you can. I never implied nor said that you shouldn't take the help of others, but your claim is to trust - as a replacement to your own faculty - other people. And how do you justify this as "consonant with objectivist principles?" My first question was what's the principle here. You have yet to elucidate how telling a person who may or may not be able to adhere to reality (how does one determine this?) that they should trust others.

(Sep 23 '10 at 22:53) Kirk ♦ Kirk's gravatar image

The principle is that reality is what it is, and individuals must deal with reality to the best of their ability. Determining that one is intermittently incapable of adhering to reality is an inductive, iterative process (usually long and painful). Sometimes the individual never achieves this understanding. When they do, however, what other option do they have? Constantly worrying whether they are perceiving things correctly? I agree with all your concerns. The fact is, though, that this is the reality, and it must be lived with. If there is a better alternative, again, please tell me.

(Sep 23 '10 at 23:00) ryankrause ♦ ryankrause's gravatar image
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Asked: Sep 16 '10 at 21:46

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Last updated: Jan 23 '11 at 18:20