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asked Nov 16 '12 at 07:52

Louise's gravatar image


edited Nov 16 '12 at 11:54

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I'm not quite sure of the nature of your question. Is there something that makes you believe an Objectivist wouldn't love a pet? I'm confused.

(Nov 16 '12 at 10:13) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Yes. We love our pets.

Ayn Rand had cats. She often said:

"One can either have unscratched furniture or cats. I choose to have cats."

The revised version of the question asks whether one should love animals.

Love is an emotion, and it can be counterproductive to think morally about an emotional issue. We don't have direct volitional control over our emotions. Someone who attempts to take volitional control over his emotions is a repressor. A repressor spends time worrying about how he should feel. That's a mistake.

Instead, we should think factually about something in order to discover how to treat it morally. Once we do that, our emotions toward the thing gradually fall into line with our moral actions. Appropriate emotional responses lag behind appropriate practice. In this way, we lead our emotions, rather than following them.

To take this question out of the emotional realm and into the factual realm, one would ask: "How valuable are animals?"

This, of course, raises many other questions, such as: "To whom?" and "For what?" and "Relative to what else?"

Some animals are valuable for eating. Some are valuable as household companions. And yes, some reclusive people consider their pets to be more valuable, as companions, than other people.

Ayn Rand said: "To love is to value." In her book "Anthem" she wrote of a society where love was a sin. It was called "the sin of preference." To love is to prefer.

Valuation is always comparative. When we say "I love my cat", we mean, at least, that we love our cat more than we love, say, other people's cats or dogs. It doesn't mean that we love the cat as much as we love the wife. Context is relevant in determining the meaning of "I love my cat."

On average, objectively speaking, people are more valuable than house-cats. But that doesn't mean that for some people, in specific situations, a particular house-cat cannot be more valuable than some or even most other people. Values are personal.

We who are not living in this person's situation might have some contempt for how they have chosen to live, but as long as this person doesn't violate the rights of people, how much he loves his cat is probably none of our business.

answered Nov 17 '12 at 07:58

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

edited Nov 17 '12 at 11:10

Okay that was rather poorly phrased.

Here's an improvement, "I have dealt with many mainstream people who declare one shouldn't love animals, even pets. What is the Objectivist view of this issue?"

(Nov 17 '12 at 08:29) Louise Louise's gravatar image


I'm going to quote extensively from Nathaniel Branden's "Psychology of Self-Esteem," and particularly in regard to what he terms "psychological visibility." I think that will answer your question and place it in a broader context. I like John's answer above as he has synthesized the principle in his own words. But your followup comment makes me think that you might want chapter and verse, so to speak.

Italics mark the quoted material and the bold marks that part that directly addresses your question. Consider the rest to be context. If you find this excerpt interesting, I would recommend you purchase Branden's book.

Man's desire for human companionship may be explained in part by the fact that living and dealing with other men in a social context, trading goods and services, etc., afford man a manner of survival immeasurably superior to that which he could obtain alone on a desert island or on a self-sustaining farm. Man obviously finds it to his interest to deal with men whose values and character are like his own, rather than with men of inimical values and character. And, normally, man develops feelings of benevolence or affection toward men who share his values and who act in ways that are beneficial to his existence.

It should be apparent, however—from observation and by introspection—that practical, existential considerations such as these are not sufficient to account for the phenomenon in question; and that the desire for and experience of friendship and love reflect a distinct psychological need. Everyone is aware, introspectively, of the desire for companionship, for someone to talk to, to be with, to feel understood by, to share important experiences with—the desire for emotional closeness with another human being. What is the nature of the psychological need that generates this desire?

I shall begin by giving an account of two events that were crucial in leading me to the answer—because I believe this will help the reader to understand the issues which the problem involves.

One afternoon, while sitting alone in my living room, I found myself contemplating with pleasure a large philodendron plant standing against a wall. It was a pleasure I had experienced before, but suddenly it occurred to me to ask myself: What is the nature of this pleasure? What is its cause?

The pleasure was not primarily esthetic: were I to learn that the plant was artificial, its esthetic characteristics would remain the same, but my response would change radically; the special pleasure I experienced would vanish. Essential to my enjoyment was the knowledge that the plant was healthily and glowingly alive. There was the feeling of a bond, almost of a kind of kinship, between the plant and me; in the midst of inanimate objects, we were united in the fact of possessing life. I thought of the motive of people who, in the most impoverished conditions, plant flowers in boxes on their window sills—for the pleasure of watching something grow. What is the value to man of observing successful life?

Suppose, I thought, one were left on a dead planet where one had every material provision to ensure survival, but where nothing was alive; one would feel like a metaphysical alien. Then suppose one came upon a living plant; surely one would greet the sight with eagerness and pleasure. Why?

Because—I realized—all life, life by its very nature, entails a struggle, and struggle entails the possibility of defeat; and man desires, and finds pleasure in seeing, concrete instances of successful life, as confirmation of his knowledge that successful life is possible. It is, in effect, a metaphysical experience. He desires the sight, not as a means of allaying doubts or of reassuring himself, but as a means of experiencing and confirming on the perceptual level, the level of immediate reality, that which he knows conceptually.

If such is the value that a plant can offer to man, I wondered, then cannot the sight of another human being offer man a much more intense form of that experience? This is surely relevant to the psychological value that human beings find in one another.

The next crucial step in my thinking occurred on an afternoon when I sat on the floor playing with my dog—a wire-haired fox terrier named Muttnik.

We were jabbing at and boxing with each other in mock ferociousness; what I found delightful and fascinating was the extent to which Muttnik appeared to grasp the playfulness of my intention: she was snarling and snapping and striking back while being unfailingly gentle in a manner that projected total, fearless trust. The event was not unusual; it is one with which most dog-owners are familiar. But a question suddenly occurred to me, of a kind I had never asked myself before: Why am I having such an enjoyable time? What is the nature and source of my pleasure?

Part of my response, I recognized, was simply the pleasure of watching the healthy self-assertiveness of a living entity. But that was not the essential factor causing my response. The essential factor pertained to the interaction between the dog and myself—the sense of interacting and communicating with a living consciousness.

Suppose I were to view Muttnik as an automaton without consciousness or awareness, and to view her actions and responses as entirely mechanical; then my enjoyment would vanish. The factor of consciousness was of primary importance.

Then I thought: Suppose I were left on an uninhabited island; would not the presence of Muttnik be of enormous value to me? Obviously it would. Because she could make a practical contribution to my physical survival? Obviously not. Then what value did she have to offer? Companionship. A conscious entity with whom to interact and communicate—as I was doing now. But why is that a value?

The answer to this question—I realized—would explain much more than the attachment to a pet; involved in this issue is the psychological principle that underlies man's desire for human companionship: the principle that would explain why a conscious entity seeks out and values other conscious entities, why consciousness is a value to consciousness.

When I identified the answer, I called it "the Muttnik principle"—because of the circumstances under which it was discovered. Now let us consider the nature of this principle.

My feeling of pleasure in playing with Muttnik contained a particular kind of self-awareness, and this was the key to understanding my reaction. The self-awareness came from the nature of the "feedback" Muttnik was providing. From the moment that I began to "box," she responded in a playful manner; she conveyed no sign of feeling threatened; she projected an attitude of trust and pleasurable excitement. Were I to push or jab at an inanimate object, it would react in a purely mechanical way; it would not be responding to me; there could be no possibility of it grasping the meaning of my actions, of apprehending my intentions, and of guiding its behavior accordingly. It could not react to my psychology, i.e., to my mental state. Such communication and response is possible only among conscious entities. The effect of Muttnik's behavior was to make me feel seen, to make me feel psychologically visible (at least, to some extent). Muttnik was responding to me, not as to a mechanical object, but as to a person.

What is significant and must be stressed is that Muttnik was responding to me as a person in a way that I regarded as objectively appropriate, i.e., consonant with my view of myself and of what I was conveying to her. Had she responded with fear and an attitude of cowering, I would have experienced myself as being, in effect, misperceived by her, and would not have felt pleasure.

Now, why does man value and find pleasure in the experience of self-awareness and psychological visibility that the appropriate response (or "feedback") from another consciousness can evoke?

Consider the fact that normally man experiences himself as a process—in that consciousness itself is a process, an activity, and the contents of man's mind are a shifting flow of perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. His own mind is not an unmoving entity which man can contemplate objectively—i.e., contemplate as a direct object of awareness—as he contemplates objects in the external world.

He has, of course, a sense of himself, of his own identity, but it is experienced more as a feeling than a thought—a feeling which is very diffuse, which is interwoven with all his other feelings, and which is very hard, if not impossible, to isolate and consider by itself. His "self-concept" is not a single concept, but a cluster of images and abstract perspectives on his various (real or imagined) traits and characteristics, the sum total of which can never be held in focal awareness at any one time; that sum is experienced, but it is not perceived as such.

In the course of a man's life, his values, goals, and ambitions are first conceived in his mind, i.e., they exist as data of consciousness, and then—to the extent that his life is successful—are translated into action and objective reality; they become part of the "out there," of the world that he perceives. They achieve expression and reality in material form. This is the proper and necessary pattern of man's existence. Yet a man's most important creation and highest value—his character, his soul, his psychological self—can never follow this pattern in the literal sense, can never exist apart from his own consciousness; it can never be perceived by him as part of the "out there." But man desires a form of objective self-awareness and, in fact, needs this experience.

Since man is the motor of his own actions, since his concept of himself, of the person he has created, plays a cardinal role in his motivation—he desires and needs the fullest possible experience of the reality and objectivity of that person, of his self.

When man stands before a mirror, he is able to perceive his own face as an object in reality, and he finds pleasure in doing so, in contemplating the physical entity who is himself. There is a value in being able to look and think: "That's me." The value lies in the experience of objectivity.

Is there a mirror in which man can perceive his psychological self? In which he can perceive his own soul? Yes. The mirror is another consciousness.

Man is able, alone, to know himself conceptually. What another consciousness can offer is the opportunity for man to experience himself perceptually.

To a very small extent, that was the opportunity afforded me by Muttnik. In her response, I was able to see reflected an aspect of my own personality. But a human being can experience this self-awareness to a full and proper extent only in a relationship with a consciousness like his own, a consciousness possessing an equal range of awareness, i.e., another human being.

A man's intelligence, his psycho-epistemology, his basic premises and values, his sense of life, are all made manifest in his personality. "Personality" is the externally perceivable sum of all those psychological traits or characteristics which distinguish one man from another. A man's psychology is expressed through his behavior, through the things he says and does, and through the way he says and does them. It is in this sense that a man's self is an object of perception to others. When others react to a man, to their view of him and of his behavior, their reaction (which begins in their consciousness) is expressed through their behavior, through the things they say and do relative to him, and through the way they say and do them. If their view of him is consonant with his own, and is, accordingly, transmitted by their behavior, he feels perceived, he feels psychologically visible—and he experiences a sense of the objectivity of his self and of his psychological state; he perceives the reflection of himself in their behavior. It is in this sense that others can be a psychological mirror.

Just as there are many different aspects of a man's personality and inner life, so a man may feel visible in different respects in different human relationships. He may experience a greater or lesser degree of visibility, over a wider or narrower range of his total personality—depending on the nature of the person with whom he is dealing and on the nature of their interaction.

Sometimes, the aspect in which a man feels visible pertains to a basic character trait; sometimes, to the nature of his intention in performing some action; sometimes, to the reasons behind a particular emotional response; sometimes, to an issue involving his sense of life; sometimes, to a matter concerning his activity as a producer; sometimes, to his sexual psychology; sometimes, to his esthetic values.

All the forms of interaction and communication among people—intellectual, emotional, physical—can serve to give a man the perceptual evidence of his visibility in one respect or another; or, relative to particular people, can give him the impression of invisibility. Most men are largely unaware of the process by which this occurs; they are aware only of the results. They are aware that, in the presence of a particular person, they do or do not feel "at home," do or do not feel a sense of affinity or understanding or emotional attunement.

The mere fact of holding a conversation with another human being entails a marginal experience of visibility—if only the experience of being perceived as a conscious entity. However, in a close human relationship, with a person one deeply admires and cares for, one expects a far more profound visibility, involving highly individual and intimate aspects of one's inner life.

A significant mutuality of intellect, of basic premises and values, of fundamental attitude toward life, is the precondition of that projection of mutual visibility which is the essence of authentic friendship. A friend, said Aristotle, is another self. It was an apt formulation. A friend reacts to a man as, in effect, the man would react to himself in the person of another. Thus, the man perceives himself through his friend's reaction. He perceives his own person through its consequences in the consciousness (and, as a result, in the behavior) of the perceiver.

This, then, is the root of man's desire for companionship and love: the desire to perceive himself as an entity in reality—to experience the perspective of objectivity—through and by means of the reactions and responses of other human beings.

The principle involved ("the Muttnik principle")—let us call it "the Visibility principle"—may be summarized as follows: Man desires and needs the experience of self-awareness that results from perceiving his self as an objective existent— and he is able to achieve this experience through interaction with the consciousness of other living entities.

In any given relationship, the extent to which a man achieves this experience depends, crucially, on two factors:

  1. The extent of the mutuality of mind and values that exists between himself and the other person.

  2. The extent to which his self-image corresponds to the actual facts of his psychology; i.e., the extent to which he knows himself and judges himself correctly; i.e., the extent to which his inner view of himself is consonant with the personality projected by his behavior.

answered Nov 17 '12 at 10:53

c_andrew's gravatar image

c_andrew ♦

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Asked: Nov 16 '12 at 07:52

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Last updated: Nov 17 '12 at 11:10