Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Feeling Your Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on August 24, 2007

“Nothing is outside the province of reason,” Ayn Rand said in The Romantic Manifesto. This statement has come to represent a gross distortion of Ayn Rand’s unflinching defense of reason: Rand is commonly attacked for placing too much emphasis on the “rational approach to living,” where the “rational approach” is commonly understood to mean a consciously planned, often tedious, deliberated, logically screened approach to every situation.

Given this understanding of the rational approach, Rand is then criticized for outrightly dismissing other approaches to situations, such as an immediate emotional response, a quick and inexplicable value-judgment, or an artist’s spontaneously creative or mystically inspired response. Critics contend that these responses are not within the province of reason or in the control of a consciously reasoning mind and are often inaccessible to conceptualization.

Furthermore, even those advocating a rational method tend to deride a passionately emotional commitment to a value, thus reinforcing the view that to be rational is to utterly expunge yourself of any emotional response, and that to express emotional admiration or outrage–in a discussion of ideas, for example–is to abdicate the responsibility to have a rational discussion. In other words, for these critics, to be rational is to be a sterile, non-human, computing device.

The basic premise in both views is the same: not everything can be contained within the province of reason; that to be emotional is to be de facto irrational.

To reveal how shallow these criticisms of Rand and reason are, we must begin to appreciate the expansiveness of concept of rationality. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is undoubtedly Rand’s exemplar of a rational being–a man passionately committed to his work, his life, and the use of reason in his life. Further, observe that the internal, mental narrative of Roark’s mind never resembles a sterile methodology of reason and logic while arriving at a decision. Rand did not present Roark as a man who stops to compute what the right outcome should be, what is the rational principle to follow, what is the logical belief to hold. Nor is Roark presented as an emotionally unpredictable, capricious, whimsical architect who gives in to whatever emotional urges or surges of inspiration he experiences.

Howard Roark is a man who has gone beyond the conscious adherence to a rational principle; Roark’s philosophy is not saliently held and explicitly summoned at every juncture of decision-making. Instead, his philosophy integrates his conceptual and emotional mechanisms. He is, what I call, a rationally habituated human being who has come into a habit of living by principles that are not explicitly held anymore, and literally feeling his philosophical principles in the kinds of emotional responses he has to people and situations.

Just as art can concretize the widest philosophical abstractions for immediate perception, one’s emotional responses can sensualize and reflect your most fundamental philosophical principles. When you respond with joy at someone’s achievement of greatness or with fear at a narration of ghost stories, you are feeling your subconsciously held philosophical beliefs.

Howard Roark’s philosophy, i.e., his conceptual body of rational principles, is so fully and seamlessly integrated in his mind that his essential mode of living, feeling, and experiencing is a realization of his philosophy: literally, he lives and feels his philosophy. In more familiar terms, Roark not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.

All of Rand’s fictional characters are embodiments of their respective philosophical principles, and they experience emotions arising from those subconsciously integrated, disintegrated, or misintegrated principles–i.e., rational principles or a contradictory mess of ideas.

Rand’s projection of a “rational approach to life” is not a mental flowchart of logical steps that is utterly devoid of passion or emotional content but an initially conscious commitment to applying reason to every aspect of one’s life so consistently and so relentlessly that over time it ceases to be a conscious effort and becomes a habit

The rational approach to life is identifying the basis of your emotional responses and channeling them to remain consonant with your rationally habituated premises; it is habituating your mind to make subconscious rational integrations that will elicit rational responses; it is integrating and internalizing principles so thoroughly that you begin thinking at the level of principles and experiencing emotions consonant with those principles; in sum, it is not about living according to a philosophy of life but actually personifyng it.

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9 Responses to “Feeling Your Philosophy”

  1. Myrhaf said

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post on emotinos, a tricky subject that many misunderstand.

    Off topic, I want to alert you and your readers to my latest blog post, titled “India.”

  2. Richard Bramwell said

    Well put. Well done!

  3. I’ve always found it interesting when I met a psuedo-Objectivist who claimed to believe in mind body integration, then disparaged his emotions.

    Nice essay.

  4. mahendrap said

    I’m completely with you on this one. Using the Romantic Manifesto’s terminology, your philosophy is integrated in your Sense of Life, which directs your immediate responses and emotions in any situation.

    Also, while I do believe that such criticisms are shallow and miss the point entirely, why are these and other misinterpretations about emotions so common with Rand? Does Branden offer some insight with his theory of how Rand unwittingly encouraged emotional repression?

  5. Ergo said

    Mahendrap,

    The only thing Branden offers in that essay is a rationalizaton for his own distorted view of Objectivism; he quite self-admittedly is responsible for much of the smears on Rand like the kind I discussed in my post. It is feature of many naive minds who approach Objectivism as a set of commandments and then go around spouting those commandments at others; and then when they get to some level of intellectual maturity over the years, then either claim to have “grown out of Objectivism” or blame Rand for creating a philosophy that “unwittingly encouraged” their own intellectual insubordination. It’s a pathetic act of unaccountability and evasion, and much of it can be traced back to the Branden’s practice and view of Objectivism.

  6. reasonmrsmith said

    Interesting post. My philosophy has been:

    To be rational is to recognize your own irrationality.

    – reasonmrsmith.wordpress.com

  7. Excellent!This is what i wanted in the article i was searching for.What a lucid narration!

  8. […] the heavy promotions of that special mango-flavored drink, and I smiled at myself realizing how rationally habituated I had […]

  9. I thought this was cool.
    I was very fortunate to meet with her back at the beginning of the year and she just BLEW me away with her concepts of life and man… and of course — human action. Just thought I’d share it.

    “Political Revival : 21 and Making a Difference”
    10, 2008

    When the five-foot-ten, Brazilian beauty, Max Summit, walks in to a room, you would hardly believe that she would be the type to get down and dirty for a cause. But 21 year old Maxime Summit isn’t afraid to do just that. “Those who know her, don’t really know her at all”, Professor Emerson says from the University of Pennsylvania, “while some may be quick to judge and place her among the ditsy or air-headed, Max (as she likes to be called among those whom she considers close) is anything but.”

    Born in Boston, Massachusetts, but raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil (one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world), Max learned at a very early stage the true colors of the world. “Inequality was at my very door step”, the 21 year old beauty says as she slowly pulls her hair back and reaches under her bed and pulls out an old leather shoe box filled with childhood photos, “ you couldn’t escape it – poverty. It was everywhere, you see. ..Everywhere I went. At each stop light, street corner, and hands –of every small child that walked up to my car door, begging for spare change. … And it was in their mother’s eyes, as we – the ones inside the cars– turn our heads away and nod in denial.”

    Now in her third year of Undergraduate studies, Max attempts to redesign the rather cold, realpolitik world of government and policy making. ”My principal academic interest is in the ethical dimension of international politics, particularly in the realms of humanitarian imperatives. Many governmental structures and policies assume that concern for others is not a legitimate public matter and that its presence is considered rather impractical. I wish to contest that philosophy. I am convinced that even in the cold-blooded world of realpolitik, compassion can and must exist.”

    These powerful words form the basis to Max’s undergraduate thesis and research goals. Concepts and philosophical reformative approaches, which she continues to test on both the structuralized, as well as non structuralized world of politics and government. “Reform in both governmental and economic policies is necessary, but perhaps more importantly is the needed revival of humanitarian compassion among our people and leaders.”

    But in a world defined ever more frequently by the measures of power, wealth, and supremacy, is Max’s proposal for an enlightened self-government even feasible? Can us humans pick peace over war?

    “It isn’t a matter of picking” Maxime adds, “It isn’t even about peace versus war. It’s about cultivation – cultivation of the human heart – the most powerful weapon of all.”

    “Mencius introduced the concept of the “heart/mind”, arguing that it is the only organ that is capable of “thinking and feeling” on its own, and it is precisely this capacity “to feel” that clearly distinguishes us humans from animals.

    But is heart enough?

    “Absolutely” Max says, “Absolutely.” “The question there in lies…
    do we chose to be more human. ..or will we embrace the current animal?”

    GO TO PERMANENT LINK AT: http://insearchofachange.wordpress.com/

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