Ayn Rand – I ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 35

			Who was Ayn Rand? She was a Russian Jewish woman born in 1905. She immigrated to the ‎United States in 1925 and took up a career as a writer. Her first works during the 30’s met ‎with mixed success. In 1943 she published her first big hit, a novel called ‘The Fountainhead’, ‎which revealed the philosophy of life that she was in the middle of constructing. This ‎philosophy, eventually called by the difficult term ‘Objectivism’, became one of the most ‎important and controversial philosophical trends of the 20th century. The philosophy reached ‎its complete form in 1957 in her magnum opus, a massive work called ‘Atlas Shrugged’. Over ‎‎1,000 pages long, Atlas Shrugged is nothing less than monumental. In it, Rand’s Objectivism ‎is exposed in all its brilliance and all its notoriety. ‎
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It was received with mixed reviews. It was hated as much as it was loved, and generally it ‎was either one or the other. Intellectuals and literary critics almost invariably detested it, ‎frequently deeming it beneath their criticism. She was not a recognized academic, so who was ‎she to philosophize? She conformed to neither current liberal or conservative outlooks, so she ‎was a nobody. But somehow, what she wrote and the way she wrote it hit home with the ‎average reader. One poll had it voted second only to the Bible as the book that made the most ‎difference in personal life. Another had it the best novel of the 20th century. What was she ‎advocating that effected people in such radically different ways? ‎
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She clarified her beliefs in the essays and books she wrote over the remainder of her life. In ‎essence, Atlas Shrugged and all the rest promoted the idea that human beings were meant to ‎look out for their own good only, and that certain people were better at this than others. ‎These people should run the world and everybody else should follow for their own good. If it ‎sounds startlingly selfish, it is. One of her later books was called ‘The Virtue of ‎Selfishness’. If anything, this should clarify why so many people were highly offended by her ‎philosophy. But she defined selfishness as ‘concern with one’s own interests’. It may be ‎objectionable but it’s not necessarily wrong. In addition to her controversial outlook on life, ‎she was highly critical of anybody who disagreed with her and not all that kind to many who ‎agreed with her. She seemed to go through life looking for a fight. ‎
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Some editions of Atlas Shrugged have an appendix in which Rand expressed her philosophy ‎in a nutshell. The following quote is found there: ‘My philosophy, in essence, is the concept ‎of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with ‎productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’ This is Ayn ‎Rand in her own words. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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What is Objectivism? In a word, it is the belief that reality is real, definite, and independent ‎of what we think of it. Before dismissing it as one more nonsensical philosophical rant that is ‎either totally obvious or totally ridiculous, and that maybe these idiots who think this stuff up ‎ought to get a real job for a change, it should be noted that there is something quite important ‎here. Objectivism goes against the ‘all in the mind’ approaches that crept up during the ‎enlightenment and became popular during the 20th century. The first thing is that the world ‎out there is real and nothing can change that. It is all that is real and anything ‘beyond reality’ ‎is not real at all. Thus, objectivism rejects any notion of a deity.   ‎
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The second thing is that we are conscious movers of that world while simultaneously being an ‎intrinsic part of it. We can use our will however we choose, whether in a rational or irrational ‎manner. It is our task as human beings to use it in the most rational manner possible. Our ‎faculties of conscience and rationality set us apart from everything else and give us a power ‎that is akin to the powers of the gods of old. We can use the world however we want. We can ‎change it. We, and not some non-existent god, control our own fate. ‎
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The third thing is identity. This can be summed up by a famous Ayn Rand quote: ‘A is A’. If ‎you are wondering what that is supposed to mean, she meant just what it said – things are ‎exactly what they are and nothing else. There is no sense in trying to believe that they are ‎something else other than what they are. She even went further and claimed that ‘all the ‎secret evil you dread to face within you and all the pain you have ever endured, came from ‎your own attempt to evade the fact that A is A. The purpose of those who taught you to ‎evade it, was to make you forget that Man is Man.’ Thus, the importance of this seemingly ‎obvious and meaningless axiom is to underscore that the basic nature of a thing, such as a ‎human being, is what it is and cannot be otherwise. To pretend that it is otherwise is evil and ‎destructive. ‎
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The bottom line of all of this is that there is an objective and absolute truth that cannot be ‎altered no matter how much it doesn’t fit into the way we would like things to be. At the ‎foundation of that truth is that life is the most precious thing in existence and that we human ‎beings should do anything we can to preserve it. But our first, and really our only concern, is ‎to preserve our own life. Everybody else is responsible for themselves. That certain people get ‎this point and others don’t does not make it any less true. The path towards preserving one’s ‎life is through the greatest tool that we possess - our ability to think rationally, to reason. It is ‎through reason, and only through reason, that man can persevere in the battle and come out ‎victorious. ‎
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Reason dictates that we should think of ourselves first and only think of others as a means to ‎foster our own survival. Thus, cooperation and human progress are really selfish goals, and ‎there is no reason to call them anything else. Each person has to strive in whatever way they ‎can to ensure their own survival and to increase their own happiness. If that requires ‎cooperation with others, so that together they can facilitate this goal, then so be it. But it is ‎means to an end. Looked at in this sense, each person is their own hero, the main character in ‎the book they are writing or the movie they are making. Everybody else is a supporting actor. ‎The goal of everybody is the same, but it is applied by each person to their own self. If all ‎people thought this way, Rand believed, the world would be a perfect place with no ‎problems. Everyone’s goal would be to lead a productive life that would further their chances ‎for survival and happiness. ‎
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In ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’ she wrote: ‎
‎‘The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics - the three values which, together, are the ‎means to and the realization of one’s ultimate value, one’s own life - are: Reason, Purpose, ‎Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, ‎Pride. Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that ‎integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the ‎precondition of his productive work - pride is the result.’ ‎
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Thus, happiness is the ‘moral purpose of his life’, while productive work is the ‘central ‎purpose of a rational man’s life’. Are they one and the same thing, or are they flip sides of the ‎same coin? It seems like the second is the case – that the ultimate goal is happiness, but the ‎means to get there is through productive work. Reason is the guide to productivity, and ‎feeling good about oneself, or self esteem, is the reward. She called this scheme ‘rational self ‎interest’, a cruel sounding phrase that does indeed seem to be part of human nature. Ayn ‎Rand was not trying to win any popularity contests. She certainly wasn’t looking to be ‎politically correct. As far as she was concerned, she was simply telling it like it is. ‎
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As far as where God fits into all this - it doesn’t. God was not part of existence, and therefore ‎did not exist. Was there a substitute for God in her world, something that gave ultimate value ‎to life? Indeed there was, though it is rather surprising. In an early work, a 1938 novel called ‎‎‘Anthem’ (11:20-22), she revealed her version of god: ‘And now I see the face of god, and I ‎raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this ‎god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: I.’ This ‘I’ was ‎Rand’s god in all its glory. Is it selfish? You bet. Is it heartless and cruel? It sure is. But is it ‎true? That is a question for all of us: to decide what kind of world we want to live in and ‎what kind of human being we want to be. ‎
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Practical ‎
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Ayn Rand’s philosophy has attracted a considerable following. It’s not hard to see why. It ‎does push self interest quite heavily, and everyone, to varying degrees, has that as a high item ‎on their agenda. But it has its problems also. For instance, when reading Atlas Shrugged, the ‎almost unavoidable temptation is to imagine oneself as one of the few gifted individuals ‎around whom the world revolves. It is quite difficult to see oneself as one of the poor saps ‎who really should just serve these gifted few. A second difficulty is that it isn’t clear why one ‎should help out a dying relative, or someone who just got severely injured in a car crash, or ‎even a friend who periodically goes through depression. These, and a million other ‘basket ‎cases’ don’t really hold much promise for ‘rational self-interest. So what can we walk away ‎with from her philosophy? ‎
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For starters, that reward of self esteem is nothing to scoff at. Genuine self esteem is a ‎precious commodity in our automated, instant gratification world. There just aren’t all that ‎many opportunities for real solid ‘I feel proud of myself for improving my own life’ moments ‎of celebration. In a sense, this is what she was really after – that the only way to genuinely ‎feel good about ourselves is to lead productive lives. The only true happiness, ‘the moral ‎purpose of life’, is through productivity. Ironically, she is saying the same idea as her mortal ‎enemies - Karl Marx and his communist lunatics. But perhaps this really is the ultimate ‎meaning that can be found in a godless world – happiness and self esteem through ‎productivity. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Ayn Rand, it seems that genuine and ‎well-earned self esteem is a highly worthwhile goal in life. ‎
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A second practical element of all this is recognizing that catering to one’s own needs is ‎nothing to ashamed of. The ‘I’ is the only thing that we have direct awareness of. Everything ‎else may be real, but it comes to us through a filter. Perhaps it isn’t so strange to put that ‘I’ ‎before everything else. When the dust clears, it is the only thing we really can call our own. ‎
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Food for Thought ‎
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Ayn Rand’s system, when thoroughly studied, is both fascinating and moving. Some people ‎consider it akin to Biblical revelation. Yet it is unabashedly selfish. How could it be that after ‎all we have learned about the meaning a purpose of life, the best a leading 20th century thinker ‎can come up with is a philosophy in which ‘I’ is god? ‎



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