Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Reason’

An Odd Addiction

Posted by Jerry on July 1, 2008

In general, we humans no longer perform back-breaking work in farms, for example; nor do we run on our two feet–with a spear in hand–chasing prey. As a species, we have removed ourselves far away from the direct tasks of survival. We have moved into the phase of flourishment–or survival qua man; i.e., living as appropriate not to “man the animal” but “man the rational animal.”

Actually, it is more accurate to say that the best and brightest among us have ushered the phase of survival qua man for the rest of us humans. Human civilization progresses in the wake of these men of brilliance.

Today, a few taps on the keyboard, a few meetings in plush boardrooms, and a little ride to a high-rise office building ensures our “survival”–it deposits a fat check in our bank accounts. Of course, the leading motive behind all activity today is a sophisticated body of knowledge acquired by our minds. The point is, although reason was always our basic tool of survival, in today’s information age, reason has come to the fore as our most directly used tool of survival.

Reason–like all tools–has to be sharpened, developed, nurtured, and honed over time with repeated use, learning, and development.

When primitive man had to use his physical prowess to chase and kill his prey, he had to ensure that his body was fit for the purpose. Today, we don’t need to use our bodies in such physically demanding roles anymore. Our meat does not come warm, bloody, and fresh after a kill, but cold, frozen, and wrapped after days in transit. Today, we hardly think of our meals as necessary nourishment that sustains our body but as delectable pleasures to please our whimsical palate for the day.

Thus, although we have adapted our minds quickly enough to respond and act effectively in this new age, our bodies–slaves to the sluggish mechanisms of evolution–continue to remain in the state in which our hunting-nomadic ancestors were.

Therefore, I would assume that some level of physical activity–either through sports, dance, or light fitness workouts–are important routines to incorporate into our modern lives. I find it strange that someone would call physical activity “addictive.” This was exactly my reaction when–over the past weekend–someone told me that going to the gym is an “addiction.”

My mind thought: that’s like saying eating is an addiction. And indeed, while gluttony is unrelated to my thoughts, eating is an activity we indulge in very often every day! And never do we think that we are addicted to eating! Likewise, while steroid-induced body-building is unrelated to my thoughts, ensuring that you incorporate a certain level of physical activity on a daily basis is fairly essential to a healthy body in our modern lifestyle. To call this addictive is tantamount to saying that walking is addictive.

There is a rational approach to everything. And then, in corollary, there is an irrational approach that one can adopt towards anything. Like food, fitness and health can be approached either rationally–in which case, you can project how your activity aligns with your goal for a healthy life in the context of the reality you are surrounded in; or irrationally–in which case, you either ignore all needs for physical activity, become indiscriminate about your eating habits, or go overboard in body-building well beyond the reasonable needs of a healthy body.

Thus, to say the least, it is odd to disparagingly call a daily routine of physical fitness an addiction. Quite the opposite, it is a volitional and properly rational act done in the full pursuit of survival qua man. And this is not just my philosophical musings on the subject; I am confident that even medical doctors share the same opinion.

Posted in General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Consistent Irrationality

Posted by Jerry on March 28, 2008

Most people function on a mix of rational and irrational ideas in their lives. There are only two ways you can survive: either you be consistently rational and act accordingly or you allow for instances of irrationality and hope that you will luckily escape the consequences of it or have someone else (usually, the government or rational neighbors) bail you out from the mess of your own creation.

It is only the human mind that can harbor contradictions, because it has free will—and since external reality does not permit such a mix of contradictions, the extent to which a person functions on irrationalities and contradiction, to that extent he is at war with reality.

Religion is fundamentally irrational. To the extent that you practice your religion consistently, it won’t be long before you either seriously or fatally harm yourself or someone else. It is the inescapable nature of reality. Here are just a couple of examples that highlight this principle manifesting in reality (from John Enright’s blog):

An eleven-year old girl is dead because her parents refused to take her to the doctor for a treatable condition. Instead, they chose to pray to god for a healing to occur. When, miraculously, no healing occured, and the child’s condition worsened over 30 days until she eventually succumbed to her death, her parents said that they did not pray with enough faith. Not to accept defeat in their battle against reality, the girl’s mother has now vowed to pray for her daughter’s resurrection:

An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday in Weston, just outside Wausau.

“She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

A very troubling aspect of this story is that the government’s child services division apparently finds nothing alarming about these parents’ behavior and its implications to their three other daughters. The dead child–whose death was directly caused by the faith and irrationality of her parents–has three siblings between the ages of 13 and 16.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

In another account of a battle against reality, a father allegedly placed his infant baby in a microwave oven to burn; his wife explains that her husband was under the influence of Satan, who had taken advantage of a “weak moment.” Through some means, the wife acquired the knowledge that Satan was angry at her husband for choosing to become a Christian preacher. Therefore, Satan compelled her husband to put their infant child in the microwave, shut the door, turn it on, and watch as the baby suffered serious burns.

The wife of this demon-haunted man, however, does admit to an interesting fact:

Mauldin said her husband had a mental disability and her efforts to get him help have failed.

Those who claim that religion is not something to be made fun of are correct in one sense. Religion cannot be taken so lightly as to be made fun of; know that the believers are not taking their religion lightly–and to the degree that they are not, we shouldn’t either, because life hangs in the balance. Religion should be criticized, denounded, and condemned as strongly as the practitioners who practice it hold their faith.

The pernicious death-premise of religion is hardly recognized by even most secular folks and atheists. While the secularists and atheists are content with rejecting religious beliefs, many of them often acknowledge that some people need religion and that religion can certainly provide a path to a virtuous and moral lifestyle. Indeed, many atheists share the same moral code that religion prescribes! Religion is seen as a guide to virtuous living that can be secularized, which is the insidious nature of this form of irrationality—it hides under the garb of universal virtue. 

A majority of people in the world (including many atheists) consider only religious people to be some of the most virtuous people on this planet. Think Teresa of Calcutta. How many people believe that Teresa was lacking in any significant moral virtue? I’d venture to say—very few. How many think she was downright evil?

Do you see my point? 

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UPDATE: Yahoo! News and the Associated Press have just posted a more detailed account of the 11-year old girl’s death, including interviews with the parents and some relatives. Here are some of the details missing from the original link I posted in my article above:

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

She had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, the chief said Wednesday, noting that he expects to complete the investigation by Friday and forward the results to the district attorney.

The girl’s mother, Leilani Neumann, said that she and her family believe in the Bible and that healing comes from God, but that they do not belong to an organized religion or faith, are not fanatics and have nothing against doctors.

She insisted her youngest child, a wiry girl known to wear her straight brown hair in a ponytail, was in good health until recently.

“We just noticed a tiredness within the past two weeks,” she said Wednesday. “And then just the day before and that day (she died), it suddenly just went to a more serious situation. We stayed fast in prayer then. We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering.”

Her daughter — who hadn’t seen a doctor since she got some shots as a 3-year-old, according to Vergin — had no fever and there was warmth in her body, she said.

The girl’s father, Dale Neumann, a former police officer, said he started CPR “as soon as the breath of life left” his daughter’s body.

Family members elsewhere called authorities to seek help for the girl.

“My sister-in-law, she’s very religious, she believes in faith instead of doctors …,” the girl’s aunt told a sheriff’s dispatcher Sunday afternoon in a call from California. “And she called my mother-in-law today … and she explained to us that she believes her daughter’s in a coma now and she’s relying on faith.”

The dispatcher got more information from the caller and asked whether an ambulance should be sent.

“Please,” the woman replied. “I mean, she’s refusing. She’s going to fight it. … We’ve been trying to get her to take her to the hospital for a week, a few days now.”

The aunt called back with more information on the family’s location, emergency logs show. Family friends also made a 911 call from the home. Police and paramedics arrived within minutes and immediately called for an ambulance that took her to a hospital.

But less than an hour after authorities reached the home, Madeline — a bright student who left public school for home schooling this semester — was declared dead.

She is survived by her parents and three older siblings.

“We are remaining strong for our children,” Leilani Neumann said. “Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time.”

The Neumanns said they moved from California to a modern, middle-class home in woodsy Weston, just outside Wassau in central Wisconsin, about two years ago to open a coffee shop and be closer to other relatives. A basketball hoop is set up in the driveway.

Leilani Neumann said she and her husband are not worried about the investigation because “our lives are in God’s hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Liars and their Lies

Posted by Jerry on November 28, 2007

Capitalism Magazine has an excerpt from a collection of essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Written by Michael Berliner, the article is a strong piece of philosophic detection that unravels the contradictions, lies, distortions, and malicious intent behind Whittaker Chamber’s 1957 review of Rand’s last novel, which was published repeatedly by the National Review.

Read the entire article—not too long—because it is an excellent work.

Rand’s approach to ethics is not to Chambers’s liking, because “everybody [in Atlas Shrugged] is either all good or all bad.” Of course, perhaps employing some dialectical logic from his past, he also claimed that her heroes were presented as being “beyond [my italics] good and evil.” Nevertheless, he is obviously opposed to Rand’s moral absolutism. He is also unsympathetic to her individualism, because it leaves “no other nexus between man and man other than naked self-interest,” a view he claims allies her with Marxism, although his criticism is almost identical to that leveled by Marx against individualism: “The concern of the French Constitution of 1793,” wrote Marx, “is with the freedom of man as an isolated monad withdrawing into itself. . . . The human right of freedom is not based on the connection of man with man but rather on the separation of man from man. It is this right of separation, the right of the limited individual, limited unto himself. . . .”[5]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Who Cares For the Disabled?

Posted by Jerry on November 12, 2007

I have been having fruitful e-mail exchanges with an intellectual blogger who is only now discovering the philosophy of Objectivism. I believe my blog has had something to do with it. On my eager recommendations, he bought four Ayn Rand books to read–including the Virtue of Selfishness.

I am very happy to respond to his e-mails and queries because he seems truly committed to discovering a philosophy that makes rational sense, and I find great interest in fostering his rational explorations. Therefore, even if I’m busy with my day, I try to take the time to give him detailed responses, often with literature recommendations, links to Objectivist resources, and Objectivist blogs (I recently sent him over to Gus Van Horn’s excellent essay on modern-day atheists).

Today, he asked me: 

In an Objectivist society, what about the people who cannot work; the mentally or physically handicapped? Would national insurance and the NHS be abolished? Rand says that in a purely capitalist society these people fare better, but how can this be if they cannot actually work? Where does the money to support them come from, if not the government and our taxes?

Readers are welcome to contribute a point or perspective that I may have missed in response to the above question. I could forward the comments over to the questioner. My response was as follows:

I understand that it is difficult to imagine a context with practically no government involvement in individual/private affairs because we have become so accustomed to having the government practically run every aspect of our lives.

Let me just point to one principle–the rest is all a matter of concrete-bound applications of principles: Omniscience is an invalid epistemological standard. No entity has an omniscient faculty.

Therefore, having uncertainties about the manner in which a free market or a laissez-faire society would function is not to concede the necessity of having a government to manage and handle the areas of our uncertainty. The government–a group of bureaucrats and politicians–is as non-omniscient as the rest of us are.

In fact, uncertainty is a very integral part of a free society: it is the way in which specific individuals can deal with their own specific issues and resolve them privately without epistemologically burdening other individuals who have no stake in that particular transaction or issue. A simple example: I don’t need to know exactly *how* a doctor will perform his surgery on me in order for me to trust my body in his hands. It’s his business to know; not mine. The uncertainty exists, but it does not faze me.

One man’s limited knowledge in a particular area does not mean that everyone else is also limited in knowledge in that same area. Just as the industrial revolution engendered the division and specialization of physical labor, the whole free market system fosters the division of intellectual and physical effort. It leaves you free to pursue and specialize in that which you have the most interest in pursuing, thus resulting in different people attaining knowledge and specializing in different fields.

I mention all this to assuage your future concerns about the specificity of how some particular aspect of a free market will function. If you know that a principle is moral and practical, then you just have to remain consistent with that principle in your applications to specific situations; if you know the government has no business meddling in the free and voluntary affairs of individual men, then you simply have to apply that principle across the board.

Now, coming to the specific issue of what happens to those who cannot work–due to physical or mental disabilities, etc. The principle is, regardless of your mental and physical state, no man can make unearned demands on another human being: no man is a slave to another; no man is morally obligated to be servile to another. Therefore, people with disabilities can make no legislative demands or claim moral obligations on the work, effort, and productivity of other abled people.

Now, specifically *how* such people might be cared for in a free society is an area of uncertainty (though not wholly); but remember that the principle with regard to uncertainty is, no one is omniscient–and therefore, you cannot claim that in a free society such people will *not* be cared for by some or the other means. In other words, this uncertainty does not justify government involvement just because you cannot seem to project how this matter will be resolved. (Do you see the parallels here with the religious argument for the existence of god from epistemological ignorance?)

In a free society, people with disabilities may be taken care of by several means: family members, lovers, friends, immediate social groups, the general benevolence and voluntary charity of free individuals, private institutions, corporations, religious organizations, etc. You do not need to have the concrete and specific answer to this. Just think at the level of principles.

A free society does not de facto translate into a malevolent society. In fact, observe that the most generous countries and cultures are the ones that have the highest levels of civic liberties–because free societies typically produce more than enough wealth and capital to have some left over to give away: another principle at work here is freedom allows rational choices, and rationality fosters prodigious, often competitive, productivity. Private american citizens are the most generous group of people in the world–in terms of voluntary donations.

When man is left free, he realizes that it is in his best interest to be rational in order to ensure his survival. In a society of individuals, men will realize that it is to each of their own selfish interest to foster a society of rational individuals that they will enjoy living in, find value in entering into economic transactions with, and find purpose in mutual productive benefit. People will realize that it is to their own interest to live in a society that is free from poverty-induced agitation, civil unrest, and fear of crime. Also, on a personal egoistic level, it is rational to cultivate personal virtues of benevolence and kindness: those are the virtues you admire and seek in others in your vicinity; you do not want yourself or your valued lover/children/parents/friends to live next to a malevolent psychopath who hates everyone and treats others maliciously.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

God Under the Knife

Posted by Jerry on November 8, 2007

I am currently watching a story on the late-night news program, and at the same time, reading the same story blogged by ReasonPharm.

Doctors in Bangalore, India, just completed a successful surgery to remove a set of limbs on a two-year-old girl. The little girl was born with 8 limbs–the extra four being that of her parasitic twin that did not develop fully inside the womb.

Seeing a child with 8 limbs, the primitive minds of Indian villagers saw similarities with their goddess Laxmi, from which the child gets her name.

The Indian villagers believed that the girl was a reincarnation of the goddess and lost no time in getting down to venerating the infant Laxmi.

ReasonPharm made some good observations about this story. Here’s one of them:

Reason triumphs over mysticism. The girl’s parents could have decided that their daughter was indeed Lakshmi reincarnated, and that they shouldn’t tamper with the body of a goddess. Instead, they realized that their daughter is a human being who could not have lived a normal life in the body she was born with. “It will be great to see our daughter have a normal body,” her father Shambhu, who only goes by one name, told reporters. “We were worried for her future.”

It is indeed noteworthy that these Indian devotees of Laxmi were willing to let their goddess Laxmi (or her reincarnation) go under the surgical–and rational–knife, almost literally severing mysticism from reality! 

Contrast this with the attitude of Christian fundamentalists in the US–presumably the more “educated” and “civilized” counterparts of the Indian devotees–with regard to stem cell research and biogenetic engineering. And these cells are not even reincarnations!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Target of Ideological Outreach

Posted by Jerry on October 16, 2007

Someone at the Atlas Shrugged event I organized asked me why the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is not doing enough to educate children in the pre-school and high school levels on the ideas of Objectivism. He made the case that since children are at a particularly impressionable age, we must protect them from the influences of religious and irrational ideas imbibed by their parents and teachers. His argument was that if we protect the minds of young children early enough, they will have a better chance of being immune to irrational ideas later on in life, thus creating a fertile ground for the spread of Objectivist ideas.

He argued that by focusing on intellectuals and philosophers at the academic university level, ARI was already losing the opportunity of fostering young minds to grow with the ideas of reason. This, he argued, created the difficult situation of having to “unblock” the minds of later adults when they encounter Objectivist ideas, having to re-train them to think rationally, and perhaps not having much success in penetrating the minds of young adults who have been fed with irrationalism all their lives by their parents and teachers.

I disagreed with his analysis.

Objectivism is (1) a philosophy in general, and (2) a philosophy of reason in particular

As such, Objectivism makes crucial demands on a person to apply his critical thinking skills to process ideas and premises before reaching any conclusions. This statement implies two important requirements that a non-Objectivist must meet, failing which, it is best to leave the person alone and not bother engaging him in a discussion on the philosophy: one, he must be mentally and intellectually capable of considering new ideas; two, he must be honestly open to considering new ideas.

Therefore, it is more than a pursuit of frustration to try and convey the ideas of Objectivism to a mentally immature or intellectually incapable person: for example, little children, the retarded, the really old and infirm.

Objectivism is not a body of principles that must be religiously memorized and fed to little children, who should then be able to regurgitate the right principles in the exact order. Objectivism is a philosophy: it needs to be processed by an intellectually capable mind, a mind that has reached a sufficient level of maturity to make sense of philosophical premises. Objectivism is a philosophy of reason: it needs to be processed by a mind consciously dedicated to the task of rational and honest thinking, a mind that refuses to memorize a principle until it has rationally convinced itself of the principle’s truth.

The questioner above was implicitly–and perhaps unknowingly–propounding the idea of psychological determinism: that a child’s mind and intellectual premises are formed irreversibly during his childhood and that the child is doomed to those premises for the rest of his life. Granted that there are cases of children who grow up to hold the exact premises in adulthood that they were taught when they were kids; however, such cases are not proofs of psychological determinism but indicators of human volition. The Objectivist movement is better off not having such docile adults who succumb without a fight to the mental blocks laid by their parents or teachers. Remember, Objectivism demands an active consciousness that is committed to understanding and demanding reasons for every premise; Objectivism would benefit not having those without such an active epistemological inclination or those who tend to claim the intellectual victimhood of their particular circumstances.

Young children should properly be engaged at the sense-of-life level, i.e., at the level of aspirations, imagination, emotions, art, movies, books, recreational activities, friends, family, etc.; not at the level of philosophical principles. Philosophical ideas can be much effectively transmitted to a child’s mind through emotionally appealing, artistic or recreational means. Of course, as a child progresses through school, he should be taught critical thinking skills explicitly in order to tackle philosophical ideas in a limited measure. However, a pre-mature introduction to philosophical premises–especially, those as radical as the Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest–without the requisite years of training in critical thinking will only lead to an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs. Eventually, such a child may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

In religious training, little children are commanded by their parents or “moral science” teachers to memorize a set of incantations: like Koranic verses, the Apostles Creed, the Act of Contrition, etc. Many children grow up learning these prayers without ever pausing to reflect on the philosophical meaning of the words being uttered. Objectivism cannot–and should not–be taught to a child in this manner. A child must be shown the principle of rationality in action, not lectured on the essential nature of man that makes rationality virtuous and important. However, teaching by action and example is the job of an adult who understands the meaning and value of such lessons–and therefore, an adult is the proper target of philosophical outreach.

In this respect, the Ayn Rand Institute is brilliantly following the right course of action: they freely distribute Ayn Rand’s Anthem, We The Living, and The Fountainhead to be taught in the pre-school and high school levels to introduce young children (in accordance with their general level of mental maturity in that grade) to a new emotional sense of life, not a set of explicitly philosophical principles. The target of full-fledged philosophical outreach is properly adults–the adults who are parents of these children, the adults who do the “imbibing” of ideas in their children, the adults who are teachers, professors, and mentors of these children, the adults who are capable of processing and disseminating ideas in a culture.

Objectivism seeks the rational and active mind who wrestles the hardest with an idea before accepting it; Objectivism does not seek to have a large following of docile minds who were nursed with its philosophy from infancy and never bothered to validate its truth for themselves. Each man has to discover the truth of the principles of reason for himself: this task can only be done by an adult who is both capable and willing to do it.

[Edited]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments »

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.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

The Right to Life

Posted by Jerry on July 5, 2007

A commentor asked me if I had written anything on the Objectivist standpoint on the right to life. Since Ayn Rand’s own works have exhaustively and explicitly covered the topic of man’s rights (in other places besides The Virtue of Selfishness), I had not written anything that directly touched upon the topic.

Nevertheless, in order to present a very distilled introduction to the Objectivist theory of rights, and to serve as a quick reference to general readers and passers-by, I wrote up the following. Of course, I cannot write anything like this without borrowing heavily from Rand’s own essays:

In Ayn Rand’s words, “life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action.” Rand pointed out that stillness and stagnation are antithetical to life. Thus, the only fundamental alternative facing living organisms is the alternative of existence (life) or non-existence (death). To live, one must act.

The need to act, which is a requirement of life, gives rise to the question of how to act in order to continue living and what actions to take. Such knowledge of action is automatic to other animals in a sufficient degree, i.e., they automatically engage in survival or progenitive behavior only to the extent necessary and not more; that is, animals only act to survive and procreate, not flourish.

However, human beings do not have an automatic knowledge of the course of actions to ensure their own survival. Man needs to consciously identify, learn, know, and determine how to act, what actions to take, and to what extent. Thus, man faces a need for guidance in helping him learn and identify the proper courses of action to ensure his survival, i.e., man needs a moral or ethical theory that is consonant with the requirements of living life that is proper to him as a human being. 

Since morality requires the existence of alternatives and the ability to choose, the actions open to and possible to man are actions open to moral scrutiny, because they are acts that are chosen in the face of alternatives against the backdrop of survival. Thus, even if a man were to live alone on a deserted island with no other human beings around him, he cannot escape the need for a moral code, i.e., a system of moral principles that will give him the proper knowledge to ensure his survival qua human being.

Now, the concept of rights arise in a social context–when men live amongst each other. “Rights” are moral concepts that guarantee man’s freedom of action in a social context. Now, remember also that life is self-sustaining and self-generated action. Also note Rand defines rights as moral principles pertaining only to actions in a social setting. This is because in order to live (i.e., to act), man must be guaranteed the freedom to act (which can be denied him by others in a social setting), i.e., he must be guaranteed the freedom to live–this guarantee is his right to life. If he is denied the freedom to act, he is denied the right to life; as a corollary, if one man denies another man’s freedom to act, he has denied the other man’s right to life. In other words, rights define and sanction man’s freedom of actions. The right to life is the source of all other rights, and his right to property makes all his rights practiceable in the real world.

This is the Objectivist standpoint on rights in general–and the right to life in particular.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Serving Faith in Reasonable Doses

Posted by Jerry on September 19, 2006

Pope Benedict of the Catholic Church is trying to mask the fundamental dangers of faith in small, innocuous doses of reason. Desperately attempting to revitalize the Scholastic tradition of Aquinas in the Catholic Church, and rid itself of mysticism and enigma, the Pope is defending Christianity–and God–by an appeal to a return to Reason! As Aquinas had argued, so now does the Pope, that Reason and Faith are complementary; that the essential nature of God is rational and logical, and that the man has been endowed with the same apparatus of reason and logic that we share with God.

It is most dangerous when one blurs the very crucial line between reason and faith; because faith is a form of force, and force is utterly incompatible with reason. In any mixture of or compromise between good and evil, as Rand said, the good suffers and the evil wins out; in any compromise between reason and faith, reason suffers and faith (force) wins out.

Therefore, in light of this, I wish to highlight my own unique arguments for atheism against the claims that reason and faith are complementary.

First, the very idea that God has endowed man with reason and logic contradicts Christianity’s very cherished Book of Genesis. Read my “God’s Original Plan for Humanity.” Excerpt:

The Devil liberated human beings from the state of ignorance and animal-like existence. The Devil gave us the glimpse of immense possibilities, of achievements, of the concept of happiness, joy, love, of the higher meanings of morality, choice, freedom, failure, etc.
The Devil made the world we live in, possible. The Devil free-ed humans to build our own heaven, here in Earth.

Next, the Pope says the Christian idea of God is essentially rational in nature–that God’s nature does not subsume the contradictory, for example, even God cannot make a circle with four corners. Fair enough, and I agree wholeheartedly. But, why stop there? Read my “God’s Limitations.” Excerpt:

Since no capacity to ever do wrong exists in God, He is bounded by His nature to always do right — automatically.
Thus, no free-will, thus no choice, then automatic nature, like instinct. Thus, this whole argumentation of God being “perfectly moral” and having “free-will” and being independently “omnipotent” seems to fall flat on its face.

In another related, but seperate posts, I demonstrate how a God that is immortal and infinite must by necessity of His nature have a very monotonously boring life! Excerpt:

God cannot but live. God cannot but be moral. God cannot but be perfect. Thus, all of those things (at least), have absolutely no alternatives. And in the face of no alternatives, one cannot engage in choice. Thus, God has no choice in the matter and therefore cannot value His own actions nor can He value His own existence. This also means that God is limited in the things He can do.

The point is that a God who follows the principles of logic must–ironically enough–by the necessity of His own logical nature, NOT exist! Thus, to claim that God is rational and logical is to claim that God does not exist! Thus, it is clear that at the most fundamental level, reason does not permit the existence of God, but only faith does, and hence, reason and faith are diametrically opposed at all levels.

However, in my “First Principles of Atheism” I argued that the best way to prove the non-existence of God is to have the believer admit–like the Pope did–that any concept of God must be intelligible and open to rational and logical scrutiny. If this condition is not met, then I will have equal legitimacy in claiming Batman (or Superman) as my deity as you have in claiming Jesus or the Spaghetti Monster as your deity. If God is not required to be intelligent or rational or logical, then anything and everything can be considered “God”; one does not even have to worry about consistency, let alone truth!

Anyway, I used this opportunity not only to argue against the modern trend of mixing faith with reason but also to highlight the uniqueness of my own approach to atheism based on reason not on faith.

Posted in Atheism, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments »

About Faith and Reason

Posted by Jerry on June 11, 2005

“An error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.” — Atlas Shrugged, Rand.

[My discussion with Sasco D’Agostino]

Me: Well, you have made two different statements concerning our efforts at understanding God. First you said, “one can rightly NEVER say ANYTHING of God…”
Then you say, “we can never FULLY get at the essence of Him, we can merely come to a continually greater awareness of Him.”
THe two statements have very different implications. Initially, I used your first statement as a premise and logically built my argument. By the first statment, one can NEVER say ANYTHING rightly of God. In other words, one ALWAYS does say WRONG things about God…(OR, whenever one makes an effort to say ANYTHING about God one is ALWAYS WRONG). This is the implication of your first statement.
The second statement now allows more room for discussion. It says that one can say SOME things rightly about God, but NOT everything TOTALLY. I fully and clearly understand this view and subscribe to this perception assuming the existence of a real God. Thus, as a scientist would try to understand physical experiences in increments, I try to understand (as much as is possible to my weak and finite brain) the concept of God in little increments of logic and rationality.
THe reason I use logic and rationality as my method of investigation rather than acceptance based on faith is because I believe (similar to what Aquinas believed) that any concept of God SHOULD BY DEFINITION include the attributes of a perfectly Intelligent, perfectly Rational, and perfectly Logical Being. THus, a potential Being possessing such infinitely beautiful logic, infinitely profound intelligence, should atleast in some tiny and small way be perceivable to us by our serious attempts at being rational and logical to understand that Being (or come closer to an understanding of It).

Contrary to popular neo-didactic thinking that Rationality and Faith do not necessarily contradict but are complementary, I believe that right from the most basic premise, rationality and faith enter into major conflicts. The essential core of the concept “Reason” and the concept “Faith” enter into a contradiction. According to the Principal of Non-Contradiction, A is A. A and non-A cannot remain without conflict. In other words, Reason (A), which is a faculty of knowledge based on evidence, demonstration, axioms, and logic cannot in any way complement Faith (Non-A), which rests on an acceptance of ideas without any need for demonstration, logic, proofs, or axioms. Reason (A) and Faith (non-A) MUST by necessary logic exist in a contradiction with each other.
Another way to explain this is to look at how we gain knowledge through science. The basic and fundamental first principal of the Rational (or scientific) method is to assume a hypothesis and work towards disproving or falsifying that. One can never begin a hypothesis of negation and then prove its veracity, i.e. prove something is not true by showing that it has no evidence of being true. As a concrete example, I cannot assume that God does not exist and say there is no proof of God’s existence and therefore He does not exist. This is wrong.
I have to begin with a positive hypothesis and then disprove or falsify it. Thus, I begin by saying, Assume God exists. Therefore, going by what the definition of such an entity is that does exists… He should be this.. He should be that… He should whatever…
Based on the first principal of positive hypothesis, you build a coherent, logical, rational argument derived from self-evident truths, axioms, or verifiable evidence. If all of your arguments lead you to a hypothesis contrary to the one you started out with, then you must discard the initial hypothesis and revert to the null hypothesis. Thus, a logical analysis of the concept of God leads me to major contradictions and therefore I must reject the hypothesis that God exists and accept the null hypothesis, or I must reject my essential definition of God. In other words, the burden of proof then rests upon the believer to resolve contradictions and prove the non-contradictory existence of God.

Now, faith. Faith is the exact opposite of the rational method I just described. The method of faith begins as such: Believe that God exists. Then express wonder at the assumed fact that God exists. Then admire the assumed fact that God exists. And wonder why non-believers can’t grasp this assumed fact.
Faith starts out with the hypothesis that needs to be proven and assumes it is already true! The first principle according to a faith-based attempt at rationality is this: assume the conclusion and then provide rationalizations for assuming the conclusion.
Aquinas, among other doctors, in their effort to reconcile faith with reason and put on a facade of intelligibility upon mysticism, propagated this false epistemological method. The method works as such: Faith — God exists and He has created this Universe (That is the assumption of the faithful). Then “rational proof”: This Universe appears to be so well designed and orderly, surely there is an intelligent God that made all of this. Therefore, God must exist because the universe that we just assumed is so orderly and that we just assumed was made by God is the proof that God made the Universe and therefore must exist!

Posted in Atheism, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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