"Imagine the whole of Nature stretched blooming at my feet; a line of blue, misty hills encompassed the horizon in the east; the sun was sinking in the west; all Nature's temple lay before our enchanted eyes. Like Thetis, I could have flown down, and sunk into those flowery rivers. [...] At length, when the sun had just set, a mass of blossoming spring roses came floating up out of the dying rays - the tops of the mountains glowing, the woods all aflame - and illimitable Nature melted into soft rosy tints; and as I was gazing into this ocean of purple, [...] all stood enchanted before me, and sweetly smiled at me." — Robert Schumann, from a letter to a friend, dated Aug. 29, 1827
If all life were to disappear off the face of the earth, would beauty still exist? Obviously not. Beauty is an evaluation, made by a mind whose nature allows it to experience the phenomenon of beauty. Thus, one philosopher concludes: "beauty does not actually exist in the world. When the Poet says that roses are beautiful, he is not referring to something that exists out there. He describes a subjective mental construct. To him, either beauty exists out there in the world, just like trees and stars do, or it only exists in man's mind. Only non-mental things are real, and to be of a mental nature automatically means to not have reality or substance.
But all mental experiences - whether we refer to sensory form, beauty, intuition, freedom, the grasp of poetic allegory - are real, as real as trees and mountains and stars. Man comes to know them through the ostensive process that stands at the base of all knowledge: direct experience. While his consciousness provides him with valid information about the world, he cannot ever step outside of consciousness. Every experience that he goes through during the span of his life is an experience of consciousness, but for some reason, that dimension has no reality for the philosopher. And nothing is more dangerous for a man's proper functioning than to doubt or deny the validity of his own consciousness.
According to our philosopher, only descriptive statements, such as "Today is raining", can be factual. As soon as we enter the realm of consciousness, we aren't talking about reality anymore - we venture into the world of subjective experience. But man's mental faculties are not separate from nature, they are as much a part of it as everything else. The Poet, then, is right. When the Poet's consciousness encounters roses, a real and distinct phenomenon of consciousness occurs. The rose, as perceived and evaluated by a particular man, is beautiful. Or, certain types of daffodils, as perceived by a specific kind of consciousness, are yellow. And further, if life has identity, then its chemical origin and mechanism must be similar on every planet that can give rise to life. And if there are life forms on other planets, their emotions (or equivalent faculties) probably pertain to the exact same categories as earth's animals possess: fear of threats, desire for values, pain, pleasure and so on. If existence is identity, evaluations are not arbitrary.
Our philosopher prides himself in doing whatever he can to perceive reality as it really is, without tainting it with his own mental nature. And in doing so, he's willfully suffocating his consciousness. He represses his spontaneous emotional reactions, intuitions and connotative associations. He struggles to express himself in the driest, most 'objective' way possible - after all, he equates the evaluative with the unreal.
For each category of value, there are countless options that are just as good as the others - in fact, some tastes and preferences might be randomly shaped by childhood experiences or determined by genetic differences. And this makes the philosopher feel that his personal infrastructure of chosen values is a subjective construct. Feeling emotionally invested into any such infrastructure would mean non-objectivity, an evasion of the arbitrary nature of his choices. Consequently, life to him is just a play, a pretense. In his attempts at making objective choices, he is not aware that objectivity encompasses the entire context - including his psychological makeup and what is possible to him in a world that has identity.
When our philosopher discovered that volition can shape man's character and psychology, he formed the unchecked premise that his mind and subconscious do not have a specific nature at all - that they are identity-less and entirely shaped by the self (or the environment). He thinks that there is no need to pay much attention to his own consciousness, because going through a series of proper conceptual and physical motions will eventually culminate in involuntary happiness and conscious-subconscious harmony. In doing so, he misses heaps of important and ostensively available details about himself, information that can be known only by direct introspection.
One of the philosopher's contemporaries and friends is a German Idealist. His eccentric and poetically-minded friend believes that reality is a mental construct. To him, Nature's objects, the mind’s abstractions and his evaluative emotional experiences are all equally real and spring from the same source: a supernal productive imagination. Though his philosophy is factually wrong, he is much happier than the first philosopher, as his characteristic way of facing life seems to suggest. So, is it true that ignorance is bliss? If there is no God, immortality or primacy of consciousness, doesn't that make reality... stale? A pointless cycle of survival and reproduction? Our first philosopher objects: you can have all of these things without indulging in mystic fantasies. But in truth, deep down he doesn't feel that this is true. He does feel that his existence is a bit dry and pointless.
A man's beliefs about the world shape the way he perceives his environment. His philosophy doesn't affect the raw sensory data, but it does control how he relates to it, what he experiences in his mind's eye. It's not a surprise, then, that when the two philosophers took a stroll through a nearby forest and discussed metaphysics at length, they saw the forest in completely different ways - even though their eyes and minds took in the same sensory data. If we tried to illustrate what went on in their mind's eye, the result would probably look something like this:
The first philosopher saw a lifeless chunk of matter. The second philosopher saw Poetry made visible. Their subconsciously integrated and automated philosophy has stylized their consciousness, imbuing objects with connotative meaning, giving Nature beauty and staleness; it made the two men focus on certain aspects that affirmed their own worldview, while ignoring the aspects that seemed to contradict it. The two quintessential preconditions of human happiness are a world that is auspicious to joy, and an exalted view of man's nature. And for some reason, our first philosopher feels that the world is stale and pointless, while the second philosopher is intoxicated by it.
Philosophy and religion are important and invaluable sources of information about human psychology. A lot of philosophical systems distort the truth not because man is blind to ostensively self-evident axioms; in truth, a lot of people are afraid that they'll end up like our first philosopher. They create systems that rationalize what they want to be true, worlds in which they intuitively feel they would be happy in. The proper attitude is not to shun those philosophies - but to study them, and learn which human needs are so compelling that they end up tempting people to discard the 'unpleasant truth'.
A German Idealist proposes an organic system of Nature, where everything (including inanimate matter) is alive, and all concrete existence is an expression of Self's productive imagination. Why is that appealing to him? Because if everything is a part of him, he is not a tiny little man anymore - he is an all-powerful creative intelligence striving for self-awareness by objectifying himself to himself. This prospect makes his own self-esteem and view of man go up. If what he previously thought of as dead matter is actually organic in some way, he acquires a feeling of kinship between him and the entire Universe. If everything in existence strives for the same goal, the universe ceases to appear frightening or alien to him - it takes on the mantle of a benevolent and even exotic or elevated realm. If pleasure has a forbidden quality to it, values seem to become more tantalizing than if no mind-body breach existed. If the entirety of the universe and human life can be rationalistically deduced and contained by a crow-friendly system, he is at an advantage - because reason is his means of knowledge, and he longs for that type of crystal-clear and unshakably certain conceptual guidance - his need of self-esteem is again peeking through the curtain.
What about religion? Man's nature as an integrator pushes him to unify his life into infrastructures such as culture, subculture and religion, infrastructures that integrate most or all aspects of his life (including ethics and very identifiable ways of dressing and behaving) into single, coherent systems. And the prevailing epistemological errors? Some philosophers intuitively feel that a world in which concepts merely classify the world - instead of shaping it – would mean that the nature of the external world is sharply different from the way their own consciousness is naturally built. They perceive a threat to the potency of their consciousness - to their self-esteem. And wouldn't it be nicer if Nature actually was as we perceived it, if sensory form was a myth? That would certainly give objective validity to what goes on in one's inner eye. Man would never have to doubt the metaphysical validity of his richly evaluative experience.
A wrong system of philosophy can comfort man in the short-term, but will ultimately lead to existential and psychological turmoil. And a largely correct system of philosophy that was not properly integrated into his mind, can lead to worldly success, but also to the inability to enjoy that success. As man's nature dictates, if he implicitly believes and feels that the truth clashes with the requirements of his life or consciousness, truth will become his enemy.
The solution is to identify and correct those faulty integrations, the ones that made the first philosopher discard, among others, the realm of poetry and emotional investment. In poetry, metaphor does not equal non-objectivity - poetic language describes facts of reality, as grasped by a human mind that relates everything to his own life, a consciousness that needs to clarify meaning by comparisons to other objects to which he attaches symbolic meaning. A proper human consciousness is staunchly anthropocentric. In the case of emotional investment, optionality does not equal the arbitrary. The nature of man and the universe dictates that he must achieve and settle for what is, to his current knowledge, the absolute best he can get. If he believes that 'everything could have been different', he is factually wrong - he can only live one life, not an unspecified number of parallel existences. And he is weakening his will to live, because he can't wantonly dive into the pond of Life while not being fully convinced that his particular values allow him to actually make the most out of his existence. Equally important is the issue of human greatness. Does he think it actually exists in reality? Or are humans just cavemen with high pretensions?
The truth-loving philosopher does not need to make peace with the staleness of the world. After all, he lives in the exact same universe as his life-loving friend, and if the German Idealist can be happy, he can be happier than him. To unlock the beauty of the world, he must award the same reality to his own inner world as he does to the external world. He must give free reign to the natural realm of his emotions, inclinations, fears, desires, intuitions, yearnings. In every moment and issue of his life, he must be focused not only on growing and optimizing his practical excellence, but also on making the most out of his inner experience.
After a full system of philosophy, psychology is the most crucial science that man must develop and master if he is to be fully guided in his life. He must understand the psychological causes of joy in all of its myriad forms: love, excitement, importance, luxury, humor, the Sublime, affection, curiosity, the exotic, the unusual, the cool, the beautiful, the idealized - as well as the nature of personal taste. In doing so, he will eventually tie them back to the two fundamental preconditions of happiness: the feeling that the universe is auspicious, and that man is an exalted being.
"Miss Rand used to be a strong advocate of what she called 'the pleasure-purpose principle.' She meant the idea that on any level, whether we're talking about thought or action, you cannot function without a purpose that brings you pleasure, something you want to achieve, that you enjoy achieving. You can see this in an everyday example in the contrast between getting up on a day when there's something that you like [...] as against that kind of gray, dragging yourself through some dutiful routine, which can only go on for a limited period of time, after which you either end up giving up action and giving up generally, or else you say, 'I can't stand philosophy,' and you become an emotionalist. The point here is that pleasure - and we mean here personal pleasure, personal interests, your likes and dislikes - is essential to your functioning, in action and in thought". — Leonard Peikoff, Understanding Objectivism: Lecture Ten
"Learn to be at home and well acquainted - I would almost say, be on intimate terms with your emotions. [...] After you've become acquainted with yourself emotionally, when you no longer have any great mysteries to yourself, then you can start to identify your sense of life. And the best - perhaps the only way to identify it - is by observing your own reactions to art." — Ayn Rand, 1974 Q&A session
"How comes it that, to every tolerably cultivated taste, imitations of the so-called Actual, even though carried to deception, appear in the last degree untrue - nay, produce the impression of spectres; whilst a work in which the idea is predominant strikes us with the full force of truth, conveying us then only to the genuinely actual world?" — F. W. J. Schelling - On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature (speech on the celebration of the 12th October, 1807, as the Name-Day of the King of Bavaria)
The most important insight that a rational philosophy can give you is this: the profound efficacy of consciousness. Here, I am not confining myself to the ability to acquire objective knowledge. I am referring to the whole of human consciousness, including, among others, the perceptual, conceptual, subconscious, evaluative and emotional levels.
Life is not a series of empty abstractions and standards of value. Abstractions stand for a rich symphony of specific values and content. Man's god is set by his nature: Joy - or survival, which cannot be legitimately sundered from Joy. His Religion is his particular value infrastructure, his love for everything that he strives to live here on earth. And his philosophy and heroes are the signposts that guide his footsteps.