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The Essentiality of Reading Atlas

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Is it essential, as an Objectivist, to read through all of Atlas Shrugged? Do you think someone is missing a necessary component of the philosophy by not doing so?

I ask because I have a friend who very much is into Objectivism and Rand's philosophy but who does not want to read through Atlas. He says he has read Galt's speech, and that besides the plot points within, he understood it but he just doesn't think he can read it all. Perhaps it is because he is not that good of a reader, or that he does not like the style and way it flows. I know I sat it down for a very long time before completing it, while in the meantime reading most of her non-fiction.

So, I don't think it is essential. If you don't enjoy Rand's style of fiction writing, I can't imagine going through 1200 pages of it.

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Harry Binswanger was asked a relevant question a while ago.

Q: "At what point of knowledge of Objectivism should one describe themselves as Objectivist?"

A: "Basically, it is up to the integrity of the individual to decide when he has a good enough grasp of the philosophy. A minimum, I would think, is two years after you begin reading the non-fiction. Having read and understood "The Virtue of Selfishness" and "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" is certainly a prerequisite. For those who aren't there yet, or aren't sure, other locutions are possible, such as: "I agree with the Objectivists, who argue that . . ." What I'm concerned about is not the state of the speaker but getting into the public consciousness that there is such a body of thought."

Edited by JMartins

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Yeah, I would consider reading Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology, VoS, and OPAR to be pretty much required.

Do you think there is an order that they should be read? I would recommend someone to read For The New Intellectual first and foremost.

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Yes, it is essential due to man's need of art. (To borrow Peikoff's words from OPAR: concepts condense percepts, philosophy condenses concepts, and art condenses philosophy [by bringing it back to the perceptual level in the form of a concrete]).

If a systematical philosophy is to work as a guide to living, a person needs "concrete abstractions" (you could say) to help him choose his actions, lest he become rationalistic. I too thought I could go without reading Rand's fiction, but after reading it I find the abstractions of Objectivism to be much more understandable and easier to retain in my head for reference.

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No, and we didn't have OPAR, which I still haven't gotten to.

In early spring '68 I read THE FOUNTAINHEAD, grabbed up the two freebie issues of THE OBJECTIVIST offered therein, liked them, took a 6 month sub in late April which was interuppted by the Branden fiasco in June, Read VoS and CtUI and by October '68 I was there. When the half-year sub ran out I went for it all and started reading ATLAS in late spring '69. By August '69 I had the back issues of THE OBJECTIVIST and the bound volumes of THE OBJECTIVIST NEWSLETTER. I've never looked back.

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Is it essential, as an Objectivist, to read through all of Atlas Shrugged? Do you think someone is missing a necessary component of the philosophy by not doing so?

Yes, it is essential. I think if one reads OPAR, VOS, CUI, ITOE, etc. one can at best understand Objectivism only a floating, rationalistic level. I would go so far as to say that one who reads Atlas and none of the other books has, all else equal, a better understanding of Objectivism as a reality-based system than one who reads all of the other books and not Atlas.

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I was introduced to Objectivism through my boyfriend, and in my case I started with the Nonfiction (VOS, OPAR, IOE, RM, P:WNI?, C:TUI), and I think I benefited greatly from reading her non-fiction afterwards because I had a clearer and more technical understanding of her philosophy, so I could see how it was realized in an artistic level. In a way not unlike how I came to love opera and classical music- through exposure to knowledge about it first, then as an avid listener (and finally as a professional opera singer myself. I guess the pattern repeated there too)

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I know someone who started to read AS and found it boring--she wanted the straight dope instead of a story about intense (and to her, boring) businessmen (and -women). So I bought her OPAR. At least she is reading it.

She is in college and has taken some college level philosophy so I feel a sense of urgency here.

Edited by Steve D'Ippolito

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Is it essential, as an Objectivist, to read through all of Atlas Shrugged? Do you think someone is missing a necessary component of the philosophy by not doing so?

I ask because I have a friend who very much is into Objectivism and Rand's philosophy but who does not want to read through Atlas. He says he has read Galt's speech, and that besides the plot points within, he understood it but he just doesn't think he can read it all. Perhaps it is because he is not that good of a reader, or that he does not like the style and way it flows. I know I sat it down for a very long time before completing it, while in the meantime reading most of her non-fiction.

So, I don't think it is essential. If you don't enjoy Rand's style of fiction writing, I can't imagine going through 1200 pages of it.

Yes - because it is a dramatized concreteness of the abstracts of the philosophy... indeed, that is one of the reasons for its surge in present popularity, the similarity in the concretes of the book to the concretes of the real world... moreover, in reading it from beginning to end, the philosophical detection of ideas - why's and what's - is given in a deliberate order, to lead the reader in effect, to grasping cause-effect relationships more readily and with greater understanding than if reading a treatise... that way, when the speech is given by Galt, everything comes into place, and all the clues of opposing philosophical views are shown why false, and the necessary answer given - then there is grasped the essentials of the philosophy in working order...

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Yes - because it is a dramatized concreteness of the abstracts of the philosophy... indeed, that is one of the reasons for its surge in present popularity, the similarity in the concretes of the book to the concretes of the real world... moreover, in reading it from beginning to end, the philosophical detection of ideas - why's and what's - is given in a deliberate order, to lead the reader in effect, to grasping cause-effect relationships more readily and with greater understanding than if reading a treatise... that way, when the speech is given by Galt, everything comes into place, and all the clues of opposing philosophical views are shown why false, and the necessary answer given - then there is grasped the essentials of the philosophy in working order...

All you've done is prove that it is beneficial, not essential. In fact if you have the abstracts, you do not need any of the particular concretes since they will apply to any concretes If one person can come to a sufficient understanding of Objectivism without doing so, then the "essentiality" of it is refuted.

Given human nature, it would seem to me that if you are reading AS to understand Objectivism, then you're so busy trying to "get it" that you're missing out on the fun of the ride: And that test of the Readen Metal tarck was quite a ride. Things were going so faxt that I was duzzy at the end of it.

I can just see it: The year is 2793 and the big thing is "the hidden prophetic codes in ATLAS SHRUGGED; Pay attention to the thred letter in 'Dagny' and 'Taggart'. It was clear that Rand meant 'go galt'". then comes the blockbuster THE D'ANCONA CODE. Then we find out that Roark dynamited the Courtland becasue it was being used as a staging area for alien abductions; etc, etc, etc.*.. Why I bet if I select any two pages of ANTHEM at radom, I can find a combination of letters that will yield either "twin towers" or "AIG bailout"

In "Gail" the G goes away, transpose the i and l. and add the "e" and "n" in "Enrigh" voila!

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I can just see it: The year is 2793 and the big thing is "the hidden prophetic codes in ATLAS SHRUGGED; Pay attention to the thred letter in 'Dagny' and 'Taggart'. It was clear that Rand meant 'go galt'". then comes the blockbuster THE D'ANCONA CODE. Then we find out that Roark dynamited the Courtland becasue it was being used as a staging area for alien abductions; etc, etc, etc.*.. Why I bet if I select any two pages of ANTHEM at radom, I can find a combination of letters that will yield either "twin towers" or "AIG bailout"

In "Gail" the G goes away, transpose the i and l. and add the "e" and "n" in "Enrigh" voila!

Do you have a point?

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If aesthetics is a necessary branch of not only philosophy (and more to the point, if art is an important value to man), but Objectivism in particular, then I think that reading Atlas Shrugged is a necessary but not sufficient condition of honestly considering oneself to be an Objectivist.

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If aesthetics is a necessary branch of not only philosophy (and more to the point, if art is an important value to man), but Objectivism in particular, then I think that reading Atlas Shrugged is a necessary but not sufficient condition of honestly considering oneself to be an Objectivist.

According to Miss Rand, the purpose of art is to provide "emotional fuel", it's primary appeal is to the sense of life. not directly the intellect where understanding occurrs. Given all of this, it can be niether necessary nor sufficient to provide understanding except as a by-product, since the main target is the emotions and the emotions are not tools of cognition, Reason is the sole tool of cognition.

Are you impying that I am dishonest? About 6 months before I read ATLAS SHRUGGED, I had sufficient knowledge of Objectivism to want to make it mine and did so.

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According to Miss Rand, the purpose of art is to provide "emotional fuel", it's primary appeal is to the sense of life. not directly the intellect where understanding occurrs. Given all of this, it can be niether necessary nor sufficient to provide understanding except as a by-product, since the main target is the emotions and the emotions are not tools of cognition, Reason is the sole tool of cognition.

Holy Rationalism Batman!

Atlas Shrugged is essential because one must become acquainted with the specific concretes in order to induce the philosophy from reality. Of course, AS is a work of art, not a philosophy primer, but its value for understanding Objectivism is enormous, and one, unless he has a mind equivalent to Ayn Rand's, cannot, without the guidance provided by the survey of concretes in AS, understand Objectivism in anything approaching a concrete, reality-based manner. The best one could do with merely the nonfiction is understand Objectivism as a rationalistic, floating system.

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The best one could do with merely the nonfiction is understand Objectivism as a rationalistic, floating system.

Not true--if one has concrete material to work with from life experience or makes a point of going out to gain that material. The concrete material is necessary, reading the fiction is merely one avenue for obtaining it.

Being someone who enjoys reading and fiction in particular, I don't think I'd care much for the company of people who don't *want* to read Atlas for one reason or another, but it's not morally obligatory that they read it. My housemate, for instance, doesn't read. It takes him months to read novels and he can't track names from the beginning to the end of the story. Atlas would be an exercise in self-torture for him. It's unlikely he'd even still remember who Dagny was by the time he got to the end of the first section. But he has a good grasp on many Objectivist ideas simply by dealing with reality on a day-to-day basis.

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Not true--if one has concrete material to work with from life experience or makes a point of going out to gain that material. The concrete material is necessary, reading the fiction is merely one avenue for obtaining it.

Perhaps, though I think it helps enormously to have the concretes presented in an essentialized manner in a specific, structured way. AS is not enough — life experience by itself is far more valuable than AS by itself — but life experience does not present one with concretes shorn of irrelevancies as AS does.

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Perhaps, though I think it helps enormously to have the concretes presented in an essentialized manner in a specific, structured way. AS is not enough — life experience by itself is far more valuable than AS by itself — but life experience does not present one with concretes shorn of irrelevancies as AS does.

Quite true - as Ayn wrote, "The basic purpose of art is not to teach, but to show - to hold up to man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe..."

This is why, like any other work of art, Atlas Shrugged is to be not just read but read many times, each rereading providing new insights according to one's life experiences, to further the initial exemplifying given in the novel - and, as a form in enlightenment, the concretes examples given therein are needed, something mere treatises would not have - which, too, this being a deliberate philosophical novel, both the abstract and the concretes are given, correlating to each other in a unified whole of philosophical discourse... remember, all works of art deal with the important, omitting what is not - fundamentalizing as it were the essence of the universe being presented -- thus is why it is 'shorn of irrelevancies'...

Edited by anonrobt

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Not true--if one has concrete material to work with from life experience or makes a point of going out to gain that material. The concrete material is necessary, reading the fiction is merely one avenue for obtaining it.

Being someone who enjoys reading and fiction in particular, I don't think I'd care much for the company of people who don't *want* to read Atlas for one reason or another, but it's not morally obligatory that they read it. My housemate, for instance, doesn't read. It takes him months to read novels and he can't track names from the beginning to the end of the story. Atlas would be an exercise in self-torture for him. It's unlikely he'd even still remember who Dagny was by the time he got to the end of the first section. But he has a good grasp on many Objectivist ideas simply by dealing with reality on a day-to-day basis.

I hade a voracious appedite for reading, especially science fiction. I also had the advantage of the "space cadet shows" of the 1950's which projected utopias founded on science and reason and of these, Space Patrol was the most adult (deliberately so) and had more depth inplicitly. Asimov's Foundation trilogy was also a projection of the value of science. I was already atheistic. Top that off with THE FOUNTAINHEAD as my intro to Rand and you have it all there. So maybe I kind of cheated. Much of ATLAS SHRUGGED's premise material was an inherent part of our cultur

http://www.spacepatrol.us/firstpage.htmll

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According to Miss Rand, the purpose of art is to provide "emotional fuel", it's primary appeal is to the sense of life. not directly the intellect where understanding occurrs. Given all of this, it can be niether necessary nor sufficient to provide understanding except as a by-product, since the main target is the emotions and the emotions are not tools of cognition, Reason is the sole tool of cognition.

Are you impying that I am dishonest? About 6 months before I read ATLAS SHRUGGED, I had sufficient knowledge of Objectivism to want to make it mine and did so.

I'm not implying you are dishonest at all. Perhaps mistaken, and Rationalistic in this example since you are connecting concepts in superficial ways, but let me explain where I'm coming from a bit. First, that's not the purpose of art according to Rand. To quote from the Romantic Manifesto (page 21 in The Psycho-Epistemology of Art):

It is important to stress, however, that even though moral values are inextricably involved in art, they are involved only as a consequence, not as a causal determinant: the primary focus of art is metaphysical, not ethical. Art is not the “handmaiden” of morality, its basic purpose is not to educate, to reform or to advocate anything. The concretization of a moral ideal is not a textbook on how to become one. The basic purpose of art is not to teach, but to show—to hold up to man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe.

Yes, we experience art through our emotions, but that's not the end of the line. Since we are discussing literature, we're dealing with substantively conceptual material; if we were discussing music, I'd make no quibble over your argument about sense of life. I take Rand's position on art as far as it's purpose is concerned to be the concretization of a specific kind. It does serve the purpose of emotional fuel, but that's not it's primary or fundamental purpose.

As to why I think that reading Atlas Shrugged is essential to call oneself an Objectivist, I want to refer to another quote that sums it up for me:

Art is the indispensable medium for the communication of a moral ideal . . . This does not mean that art is a substitute for philosophical thought: without a conceptual theory of ethics, an artist would not be able successfully to concretize an image of the ideal. But without the assistance of art, ethics remains in the position of theoretical engineering: art is the model-builder . . .

I can't remember where I heard it first, but I believe Peikoff once said something in a lecture about AS and the Fountainhead being absolutely essential for the concretization of Objectivism, and specifically Objectivism. If you did not have either of those works, you would not have the idea of what Rand means by "the ideal man" or what a consummate exemplar of her philosophy would be like. They are indispensable for the concretization and understanding of Objectivism specifically. To be clear, I think that one can still agree with the Objectivist principles outlined in the various non-fiction Rand has written and consider oneself in agreement with Objectivism, just as not having read Objectivist works (whether fiction or non-fiction) doesn't make you any less pro-reason or pro-life, but in my opinion, the fiction is the necessary (but not sufficient) condition to be a dyed-in-the-wool Objectivist.

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Are you saing that, to make my mind up on the direct contents of Objectivism, processed via Reason was "mistaken"? Because that is what I did. I came to the same conclusions as I would have from reading ATLAS SHRUGGED. But then I was part there anyway. If you'd have presented me with the Primacy of Existence, being a person of sicience, I'd have said "of course". If you had presented me with the proprietary role of reason in knowldge: "Of course". However, I did not thinkof them as philosophy; I though of philosphy as a bit airy-fairy but expressing some truths, just a matter of scientific fact. I was far from a Rationaiist (too airy-fairy), If you had asked my to adopt a label, it would have been Empiricist (rooted in reality and staying there). It was THE FOUNTAINHEAD that jelled them to philosphical ideas with me (I was 22). Where the rub would come in is ethics; I was more psychologically oriented than philosphically so and had come to the conclsuion that man was by nataure, made to act in his interest since that was necssary to survive. THE FOUNTAINHEAD brought that to a philosphical matter. Also Individual Rights was to me a means to the end of productivity in a Skinnerian sense as with self-interext My economic approach was about that of Scientific Socialism, in which intellegent manipulation of the economy was seen as a benefit to all and in everyone's self interest. the most salient thing that I had in common with Rand was that were were both atheistic. At first encounter, I regarded capitalism as backward and conservative. Rand won her case on the logic of it pure and simple. The cure for that was Buckley's UP FROM LIBERALSM which showed that those charged with guiding the economy were much less than honest. Prior to Rand, my model for things was the Foundation trilogy.

it was true that in the early part of '68, just before and during the time I was reading THE FOUNTAINHEAD, I was studying Math Logic and generic philosphy on my own and had had a taste of it at a Catholic High school (De La Salle Academy, Nweport RI), which is how I came to think of myself as an Empiricist and two years earlier had used philosophy as what would turn out to be a tool of prediction. So I was beginning to understand its role before I focused on Objectivism. Therefore by the end of May of '68, I was ready. Also, this was the Psychedelic era which saw a blossoming of interest in larger matters before it was co-opted by the hippies.

As for the metaphysical aspects of this in particular. I mentioned my association with Science Fiction and the space shows and what they presented. Well what would be the metaphysics of such if not almost identical to those of ATLAS SHRUGGED? Certainly close enogh at the sense of life level to come up "Match". In fact, you could call them proto-Objectivist and certainly objectivist (Primacy of Existence and the Propriety of Reason as the Tool of Knowledge). Granted they were unstated. It goes like this: The various "cadet" organizations were a police and quasi-military force defending a specific type of society. The "starting position" was that this society was the good guys. This society was (implicity), ultimately, a reason-based (epistemolgically) utopia. Ergo, reason and rationality were proper. Now, at age 6 to 9, even had the been explicit, I would not have gotten them except at a superficial level, but it gets into you and is what I mean when I said "You never retire from the Space Patrol. the principles and values stay with you for a lifetime" and elsewhere "When I understood Objectivism enough to pass judgement on it, I said "Wow: Space Patrol come to life!". Don't forget, also, less than 10 years earlier, we had won a war via technology and productivity and that was in our culture for the post-war decade. What would be the cultural leitmotif of that? Later brought home by the surprise of Sputnik. the net result would be a fertile ground for Objectif=vism to grow like a weed. That's why I say I kind of cheated.

There is another issue here. How can I be mistaken about my own consciousness and its operation unless I am not "a creature of self-made soul"? So why go there? There is a saying: "it is better to let sleeping dogs lie". Also "What goes around, comes around". I never leave the gun I use to shoot someone lying around: It may be picked up and used on me and the claim that one does not know his own consciousness is a doomsday device. Hint: Miss Rand was fond of referencing "the mechanism of projection".

Edited by Space Patroller

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