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asked Feb 09 '13 at 17:33

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edited Feb 10 '13 at 18:45

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Greg Perkins ♦♦

In essence, Ayn Rand discovered and validated Objectivist morality by following a consistently "I" approach in cognition. "I" refers to "integration," which emphasizes starting with reality, with observations of concrete existents, identifying what one observes, integrating one's observations without contradiction, and integrating all of one's knowledge without contradictions. All knowledge, in the "I" approach, thus derives ultimately from reality, as observed, identified and integrated by man.

The "I" approach differs from what may conventionally be assumed in the term "derive." Conventionally, "to derive" is often assumed to mean "to deduce from antecedent premises" which may or may not involve or be seen to depend on any direct observation of reality. The "M" variant (misintegration) takes a "supernatural" realm to be the primary "given," with all knowledge of both it and the natural realm of sense-perception as being deduced from, or implied by, the supernatural by means of logical inference or divine revelation. New knowledge is always reached by deduction from prior knowledge (or by direct revelation), in the "M" approach. Religion is the archetype example of the "M" approach, although secular examples have existed historically, also.

The "D" variant of rejecting reality simply rejects integration of any kind, whether natural or supernatural. "D" stands for "disintegration," seeking to "tear apart" any cognitive connections that an "I" or "M" approach might make. In the "D" approach, there is no independent reality at all, neither natural nor supernatural, and all alleged knowledge is entirely subjective. Man, in effect, is trapped within his own consciousness, with no means of knowing objectively anything that might exist independently beyond his own consciousness.

A very comprehensive and systematic explanation of "D", "I", and "M" can be found in Leonard Peikoff's recent book, The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out. I finally finished my own first-pass reading of Chapters 12 through 16 yesterday, and I found the final two chapters, 15 and 16, to be most illuminating. Dr. Peikoff explains that the dominant mode today in American culture is "D," but Chapter 15 shows that the influence of pure M, in the form of fundamentalist Christian religion and its very overt, pervasive anti-secularism, is ominously strong in the U.S. today, though not yet dominant over "D," and that "D" is no answer to it and even assists the rise of "M" as the public becomes increasingly disaffected with the chronic failure of "D" to provide coherent answers to pressing problems. Chapter 16 predicts that within 40 or 50 years, at most, a "modal shift" from "D" to "M" will very probably occur in the U.S., leaving "M" fully in power, due to one or more conditions described in Chapters 13 and 16. "Religious totalitarianism in America -- that is my prediction," Dr. Peikoff writes at the beginning of Chapter 16.

The rise of pure "M" is highly probable, but not yet certain, in Dr. Peikoff's analysis. There is still a possibility, a slight chance, that the "I" approach, perhaps in the form of Objectivism, may be able to grow sufficiently in cultural influence to forestall or even reverse the trend toward "M." But time is running very short, in Dr. Peikoff's analysis. It is vital, during whatever time remains, to show people what an "I" approach consists of and how "D" and "M" can lead only to massively accelerating destruction, with "M" having the potential to endure for centuries once it comes into power.

Ayn Rand's discovery and validation of Objectivist morality is a major example of the "I" approach to cognition in action. At the age of nine, Ayn Rand knew that she wanted to be a writer, primarily a fiction writer. Years later, with her success in fiction, she gradually branched out into nonfiction, as well, to help explain the meaning and context of her fiction. In The Romantic Manifesto, Chapter 11, she explained:

The motive and purpose of my writing is the projection of an ideal man. The portrayal of a moral ideal, as my ultimate literary goal, as an end in itself -- to which any didactic, intellectual or philosophical values contained in a novel are only the means.

With the publication of The Fountainhead, she finally achieved her goal in the character of Howard Roark. The book, Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman, shows, in Ayn Rand's own words in Chapter 8, her effort to create her earliest comprehensive nonfiction work explaining the ethics and politics portrayed in The Fountainhead. Her working title was The Moral Basis of Individualism. At that stage in her thinking, before starting to write Atlas Shrugged, she had identified individualism as essential to the ideal man, but had not yet fully identified the role of rationality. In the Forward by Leonard Peikoff, he highlights one key Journal passage in particular where Ayn Rand is pondering how to begin (p. viii):

The best evidence of AR's increasing depth is her unpublished manuscript, The Moral Basis of Individualism. It is there that we see her evolution from The Fountainhead's stress on independence to Atlas Shrugged's recognition that the basic virtue is rationality, of which independence is but an aspect. We also see her taking the historic step from ethics to the base of philosophy. Traditionally, philosophers started their books on ethics by asking: What is the proper moral code? AR started there, too -- until something occurred to her one day in mid-sentence....

Chapter 8 includes a photo of the actual Journal page on which Ayn Rand was writing (p. 273). She had written to herself (see also p. 272):

Chapter I should begin by stating the axiom. Then define man's nature. Then ask [AR interrupts her thought, crossing out the preceding two words], Or -- begin by asking whether a moral code is necessary? Prove that it is -- for a rational being. What is the rational? That which is true to facts. To exist one must be true to facts. If one goes contrary to the facts of existence -- one perishes, simply by being or making oneself unfit for existence.

Ayn Rand emphasized this approach again in her article, "The Objectivist Ethics" (TOE, in VOS Chap. 1):

What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions -- the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

(Quoted from pp. 13-14 in the Signet paperback edition of VOS.) Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged also explains why man needs a code of values, as follows:

Man's mind is his basic tool of survival....

But to think is an act of choice.... man is a being of volitional consciousness....

A being of volitional consciousness has no automatic course of behavior. He needs a code of values to guide his actions.

(Quoted from pp. 133-134 in the Signet paperback edition of FNI.) Galt's speech goes on to identify the nature of what "value" is (in any serious philosophy), its fundamental presuppositions, and the fact that "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil." (FNI, pp. 134-135.)

Galt's speech (GS) then surveys how 'value' relates to the life of any living entity, from plants to non-human animals and finally to man. For man (FNI p. 136):

There is a morality of reason, a morality proper to man, and Man's Life is its standard of value.

All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.

Man's life, as required by his nature, is not the life of a mindless brute, of a looting thug or a mooching mystic, but the life of a thinking being -- not life by means of force or fraud, but life by means of achievement -- not survival at any price, since there's only one price that pays for man's survival: reason.

TOE elaborates further on the importance of reason as follows (VOS p. 25):

Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work.

GS and TOE both refine this a little further to three cardinal values (reason, purpose, self-esteem) and seven primary virtues: rationality and six corollary aspects of it (productiveness, pride, independence, integrity, honesty, and justice).

Note the tight coupling of all of Ayn Rand's moral abstractions to natural reality and non-contradictory integration from observations of it. A key summarizing formulation in GS states (FNI p. 142):

My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists -- and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason -- Purpose -- Self-esteem.

This passage goes on to explain further what each of those cardinal values means and why it is fundamentally important. This is followed in GS by a detailed description of each of the seven primary virtues.

There is a little more that can be said about the choice to live, to explain more fully why it is so fundamental and why the alternative (choosing death) does not lead to any alternative code of morality nor to any necessary conflict with others' choice to live (nor, for long, any means to remain alive at all). I have already elaborated on this issue in other Objectivist Answers postings in the past.

Some observers might react to the preceding formulation quoted from GS and say: "Aha! At last we find something in Ayn Rand's methodology that looks like deduction from antecedent premises." That is not, however, the essence of her "derivation." She did not start with the choice to live, "out of the blue," and then proceed to make deductions from it. She led up to it inductively, step-by-step, as a process of integration (non-contradictory), not deduction. That GS formulation is a concise summation of interconnectedness, integrating the long development preceding it. It is the "I" methodology in action -- integration from observable facts of reality (natural reality, not supernatural) to reach broad generalizations that came from reality and give man practical guidance for dealing with it.

answered Feb 10 '13 at 18:27

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Ayn Rand, in forming any of her ideas, did two things: she observed, and then she integrated what she observed. Integrating two observations involves seeing how they relate: are they both instances of the same kind of thing? Does one cause the other? Do they both have the same result? Are they both the result of one other thing?

What sets Ayn Rand apart from most thinkers is that when trying to make philosophical conclusions, she never started from arbitrary starting points (such as "God exists"), but she also never gave up trying to find an observable starting point.

Other thinkers, like Descartes, would start with ideas like: "There are tons of ideas. Which of them is the one I can doubt the least?" and he ended up with "I think, therefore I am." In doing this, he didn't succeed in getting to the bottom of anything. His starting point was arbitrary.

In thinking about morality, then, Ayn Rand, after having observed lots of human action, asked effectively "What, then, is morality"? And while most people would have answered something like "paying your debts" or "doing the right thing", she could recognize that such answers don't get to the base of what morality is because they indicate a specific moral code, arbitrarily chosen.

I don't know her exact process, but I'm sure her goal was to discover a moral code which did not have an arbitrary basis. This, then, would have motivated her search for an objective moral standard, which then got her thinking about morality as such and why morality exists at all.

Once identifying why and how morality even exists, and therefore knowing the objective standard for morality, the rest of moral thinking involves observing which human actions serve the standard and which ones do not. From this would come Ayn Rand's identification of the virtues.

Of course, in this whole process, if what one discovers about the standard and what serves it were to contradict one's pre-formed notions about what is moral, that would require more thinking -- "Did I pick the standard wrong? Or was I mistaken about what is really right?"

Underlying the entire process is one question: "What's really right?" Ayn Rand was the kind of person who would not stop until she'd found a satisfactory answer -- one which squares with everything else she knew.

answered Feb 12 '13 at 08:53

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Feb 09 '13 at 17:33

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Last updated: Feb 12 '13 at 08:53