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.