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Is objectivism consequentialist?

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Would it be fair to characterize Objectivist ethics as consequentialist in the sense that if one wants to live a flourishing life one ought to behave in a self interested way?

Reason I ask is that I went to see Craig Biddle speak last night and he made a comment(which I have heard before) along the lines of "in Objectivism there are no thou shalts." This would seem to imply that one could choose a sort of bohemian lifestyle-live in a yurt, smoke pot, and play x-box- rather then live a heavily productive life and that it may be perfectly moral for some individuals to do so since there is no moral imperitive that you must live a flourishing life..

It seems like that what make objectivism subjective at the level of the ultimate choice to flourish as much as possible or only enough to sorta get by.

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No, for various reasons. If you want to classify Objectivist ethics as a "kind of" something that isn't Objectivism, go for virtue ethics.

For consequentialism a.k.k. pragmatism, what counts is actual success or failure and the focus is on the external act; for Objectivism the focus is on the agent's choice. What consequentialism and Objectivism have in common is that they are not deontological ethics. Consequentialism also doesn't care at all about the particular consequences, whereas for Objectivism, there is a unified consequence that drives ethics. The role of the agent is irrelevant for consequentialism -- thus self-sacrifice is a virtuous consequentialist action. The role of the agent is obviously central to Objectivism.

What consequentialism has going for it, relative to deontology, is some notion of causality, which is essential to solving the is/ought problem. That's a very thin similarity to Objectivism.

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I went to see Craig Biddle speak last night and he made a comment(which I have heard before) along the lines of "in Objectivism there are no thou shalts." This would seem to imply that one could choose a sort of bohemian lifestyle-live in a yurt, smoke pot, and play x-box- rather then live a heavily productive life and that it may be perfectly moral for some individuals to do so since there is no moral imperitive that you must live a flourishing life..

The absence of "thou shalt" simply means that no moral imperatives can arise prior to a choice made by you. For Objectivism, this refers to the fundamental choice to live or die. However, once that choice is made, it is not the case that "anything goes," productivity and loafing alike. The reason for this is that reality is a certain way, and a bohemian lifestyle undermines your ability to sustain your life in the long term according to the standards of reality.

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No, for various reasons. If you want to classify Objectivist ethics as a "kind of" something that isn't Objectivism, go for virtue ethics.

Thanks for your answer, David. virtue ethics is probably close to what I'm looking for.

(Dante, the following is also relevent to your answer)

Somewhat related, the concept of "good" in objectivism is connected to (paraphrasing here)values that presuppose a valuer; That something is good for someone and for some purpose. That the adjective, good, loses meaning outside of a context since in is not intrinsic or subjective.

After the primary choice to live rationally, I think I agree that objectivism is more similar to virtue ethics. With my question though I mean to constrain the issue to the level of that fundamental choice. The premise seems to be that humans choose life or death and if they choose life then a consequential proof easily follows. The problem I am running into is that it is not a dichotomic choice to live or die. It is a choice to live a "rational, flourishing life." People can an in fact usually do choose something far less then that and a whole range of things in between. So in the sense of the basic question, it still seems fundamentally consequentialist. Man ought to behave in a certain way if he chooses to live this particular sort of rational productive life.

I feel like there is something I am missing in my line of reasoning, I just can't put my finger on it.

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The problem I am running into is that it is not a dichotomic choice to live or die. It is a choice to live a "rational, flourishing life." People can an in fact usually do choose something far less then that and a whole range of things in between. So in the sense of the basic question, it still seems fundamentally consequentialist. Man ought to behave in a certain way if he chooses to live this particular sort of rational productive life.

I feel like there is something I am missing in my line of reasoning, I just can't put my finger on it.

I'm not sure if this will help or not since it sounds like you've already taken it into account by stating that it is a choice to live a "rational, flourishing life", but I think you are combining the ultimate choice with other information.

The ultimate choice is dichotomous, it is the choice to live or die. But once you've answered that question nothing else is given to you so you must ask the next question: how? How do I live as a man? And the answer, as you have indicated is: by reason, by using my mind. This then leads you to figure out systematically how to apply rationality to all areas of life, how to act rationally all the time, how to be virtuous. One way, as you again have indicated, is to be productive and I don't think your Bohemian can claim this mantle.

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I'm not sure if this will help or not since it sounds like you've already taken it into account by stating that it is a choice to live a "rational, flourishing life", but I think you are combining the ultimate choice with other information.

The ultimate choice is dichotomous, it is the choice to live or die. But once you've answered that question nothing else is given to you so you must ask the next question: how? How do I live as a man? And the answer, as you have indicated is: by reason, by using my mind. This then leads you to figure out systematically how to apply rationality to all areas of life, how to act rationally all the time, how to be virtuous. One way, as you again have indicated, is to be productive and I don't think your Bohemian can claim this mantle.

breaking it down into two questions helps simplify it a bit, but I think the problem just gets punted up a notch. Since no one is rational 100% of the time, it is probably accurate to say that in order to live, you must be somewhat productive, and the more often you stay focused and productive, the more happy you are going to be. It still becomes a range of choices and still depends on what degree to which you would like to be productive. So the revised question is, why ought someone choose to be as rational and productive as possible instead of just mostly as rational and productive as possible? Is it primarily psychological? Like it would make you happier and more satisfied? Or hedonistic-ish pleasure seeking/pain avoidance is inherent in human nature? Or something else entirely?

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So the revised question is, why ought someone choose to be as rational and productive as possible instead of just mostly as rational and productive as possible?

I think Tara Smith has a lecture explaining specific value of moral ambitiousness to human life.

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More generally, I recommend her Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, which elaborates on why one should be honest, rational, proud, independent, productive and so on.

I think I should clarify that this is not a personal issue and I am not in search of understanding or justification for living a good life in that sense.

I am in a long, ongoing, theoretical argument with a very philosophically educated friend in which this issue is a constant stumbling block. So I am looking for ways to discuss objectivism in the context of other schools of thought; especially their similarities to objectivism on particular issues.

So my question is much more on the meta-ethical level then the normative level. The particular wording and meaning is the source of misunderstanding that I am wanting to avoid.

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So my question is much more on the meta-ethical level then the normative level.
Thus a plug for Smith's Viable Values, which is the logical (and chronological) metaethical precursor to Normative Ethics. It does, especially, deal with the requirement to make the fundamental choice to exist or not, from which flows everything else of interest in ethics.

In order to address the question "Why be as rational as possible", you have address the question "why be rational" (ch. 3 of Normative Ethics). If you are particularly interested in comparisons with other philosophies, Viable Values is excellent for that purpose.

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Thus a plug for Smith's Viable Values, which is the logical (and chronological) metaethical precursor to Normative Ethics. It does, especially, deal with the requirement to make the fundamental choice to exist or not, from which flows everything else of interest in ethics.

In order to address the question "Why be as rational as possible", you have address the question "why be rational" (ch. 3 of Normative Ethics). If you are particularly interested in comparisons with other philosophies, Viable Values is excellent for that purpose.

ok...great. thanks david and michelle

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The Objectivist ethics doesn't fit into any of the standard categories of normative ethics that mainstream academic philosophy uses: It's neither deontological, nor consequentialist, nor a virtue ethics. (Of the three, I'd say it's closest to being a consequentialism. But it's still not one.)

In differentiating other ethical theories from consequentialism, it's common to confuse consequentialism--which is a very broad category of ethical theories--with some variant of utilitarianism, and I see that confusion in this thread as well. While utilitarianism is the most popular form of consequentialism, there is such a thing as an "egoist" consequentialism. This would at least purport to be a theory where moral action benefits the agent and where self-sacrifice would never be called for. It is not as easy and obvious how one would differentiate the Objectivist ethics from egoist consequentialism, as from utilitarianism.

The Objectivist ethics is also not a virtue ethical theory, since virtue ethics takes virtues to be, fundamentally, character traits that are the most basic explanation of morality. In other words, a virtue ethics takes "virtuous" character traits as irreducible primaries, and all moral actions and goals to be properly explained in terms of them. In contrast, the Objectivist ethics takes virtues to be, fundamentally, principles of action. It also understands virtues to be such, because they lead to values.

I discuss the three main categories of normative ethics in academia and how Objectivist Ethical Egoism relates to them in more depth in this essay: Ethical Theories Summarized & Explained: Consequentialism, Deontology, Virtue Ethics, and Objectivist Ethical Egoism.

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15 hours ago, Sword of Apollo said:

The Objectivist ethics is also not a virtue ethical theory, since virtue ethics takes virtues to be, fundamentally, character traits that are the most basic explanation of morality. In other words, a virtue ethics takes "virtuous" character traits as irreducible primaries, and all moral actions and goals to be properly explained in terms of them. In contrast, the Objectivist ethics takes virtues to be, fundamentally, principles of action. It also understands virtues to be such, because they lead to values.

I don't know if that's really the idea. Wouldn't character traits be principles of action, as long as we say character traits can be cultivated? Some might describe these as immutable traits, sure. Virtue is still about the individual -being- good and as part of one's thinking. Objectivism just derives what virtue is differently than say, Aristotle, but the purpose to ethics for either one is guiding and habituating -being- good.

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I don't know if that's really the idea. Wouldn't character traits be principles of action, as long as we say character traits can be cultivated? Some might describe these as immutable traits, sure. Virtue is still about the individual -being- good and as part of one's thinking. Objectivism just derives what virtue is differently than say, Aristotle, but the purpose to ethics for either one is guiding and habituating -being- good.

Indeed, I read that funny too. On his blog post he argues that virtue can become traits of character when habituated and automotized, but then goes ahead and concludes Rand isn't a virtue ethicist. Of course Rand is a different species from, say, Aristotle, Anscombe, Foote, etc. but it seems odd to say she is not all in the same virtue theory genus. That would take a really controversial reading of her.

There are some passages of Rand where she seems to say that virtue is merely an instrumental means to attaining life, but there's other passages where she talks about virtue as developing a character based on long term principled action. Peikoff in OPAR also talks about character as automatized morals. 

This is somewhat a matter of debate amongst Rand scholars in the instrumentalist vs constitutive reading of Rand. You could have a more consequentialist reading of her based on emphasizing the instrumentalist strand, but once you've accepted the need for automatizing long term principles, you've accepted that they are both a means to and component of an end. That would seem to put her rather comfortably in the virtue ethics camp.

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To see the contrast between virtue ethicists and Objectivism on the nature of virtue as a character trait versus a principle of action, note how I say in the essay:

Quote

For Aristotle, a virtue is an excellence of a person’s functioning in a certain area of life. It is a stable character trait that governs a person’s actions in some respect. It is not a superficial habit or routine, but permeates every aspect of a person’s character, including his emotions, desires and intuitions.

This points to Aristotle's distinction between the virtuous man and the merely "continent" man. A virtuous man, according to Aristotle, not only acts rightly, he does so naturally. His whole psychology must be harmonized with right action. He has no temptation to do wrong, and no emotional responses that conflict with what he should do. If he did, he wouldn't be virtuous, but merely "continent."

Ayn Rand doesn't hold this. She says that, so long as a man acts on the proper principle, he is to that extent virtuous. Whether he's conflicted about his action is irrelevant to the virtue of the action.

As far as I'm aware, modern virtue ethicists follow Aristotle on this issue. They see virtue as fundamentally a character trait, not a principle of action that an emotionally conflicted agent can follow. They don't identify each virtue with the recognition of certain facts about reality and fundamental human nature.

The other issue that divides Rand from the virtue ethicists is the fundamentality of virtue. Virtue ethicists hold virtues as irreducible, explaining eudaimonia in terms of virtues (as at least one of the components.) This makes their concept of eudaimonia moralized, (value-laden) and it means that they beg the question about what virtues are. Where the virtues come from is rationally inexplicable. Rand grounds her morality--including the moral virtues--in the concept of "life," and life is not moralized or value-laden. A key passage from the essay:

 

Quote

 

The characteristic and necessary mode of human survival, which is self-sustaining action (i.e. pursuit of objective values) on the basis of thought, is the foundation of an objective account of human happiness, in Objectivism. This happiness is not merely a subjective assessment of one’s own psychological state, but a state of consciousness that is the psychological aspect of living one’s life as a human being. It is the experience of living well as a human being which can be called “flourishing” or, using Aristotle’s terminology, eudaimonia.

So here we see that Objectivism identifies eudaimonia with successful and sustainable life. It provides a solid theoretical foundation for Aristotle’s ultimate good. It clearly explains what eudaimonia means and gives it content in a way that is not dependent on assorted virtues of character as its irreducible foundation. It thus avoids the logical circle of: “What are the virtues? The character traits that combine under auspicious conditions to produce eudaimonia. What is eudaimonia? The state that is the combination of the virtues under auspicious conditions.” For Objectivism, happiness is the mental experience of eudaimonia, which is surviving as a human, par excellence. It is the mental experience of engaging–to the fullest of one’s capacity–in the sorts of actions that enable humans to survive and be healthy in the long term.

 

 

Hence the conclusion that Objectivist Ethical Egoism is not a form of virtue ethics:

Quote

Is OEE a type of virtue ethics? Recall from the start of the section on the Objectivist virtues that Objectivism doesn’t conceive the idea of virtue in the same way that virtue ethicists generally do. Objectivist virtues are not fundamentally character traits, but principles of action grasped by reason. Moreover, even as principles of action, virtues are not the most fundamental starting points of OEE. Principles of action are regarded as virtues because of their impact on individuals’ achievement of values. So OEE can’t be considered a virtue ethical theory.

Virtue ethics is not merely a concern with virtues or character traits. Other moral theories, like utilitarianism and deontological theories can also have concerns for virtues and character traits. What defines and differentiates virtue ethics from other ethical approaches is that it regards character traits ("virtues") as the fundamental guidelines of moral behavior, not to be explained in any deeper terms, nor judged by any deeper standard.

Edited by Sword of Apollo

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17 hours ago, Sword of Apollo said:

Ayn Rand doesn't hold this.

Sure she does. What about all she says about moral perfection? What about the fact that attaining the most fundamental values requires constant and unbreached rationality? One must be at all times virtuous, if we use these standards at all. It's no wonder then that Rand sees the ideal man as an integrated person - having a virtuous character.

If one is conflicted about their actions, that means there's a lack of integration somewhere. They have failed to be virtuous to some degree. Stated from the other side, acting with the proper principles will mean no conflict. Virtues must become so habituated that it feels natural.

Of course we should be critical of other virtue ethicists who reecognize human nature differently. Rand still captures and follows Aristotle the way he thinks of virtue. Aristotle probably thought of virtuous character as innate, but that's inessential.

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If one is conflicted about their actions, that means there's a lack of integration somewhere. They have failed to be virtuous to some degree. Stated from the other side, acting with the proper principles will mean no conflict. Virtues must become so habituated that it feels natural.

People have to learn to handle their subconscious premises, and they can make innocent mistakes about it. Thus it doesn't follow that someone with an unbreached rationality will be perfectly integrated in his psychology. Conversely, it doesn't follow that someone who feels an out-of-context desire has been irrational somewhere. The long-term ideal of the rational man is to achieve perfect integration between conscious and subconscious, and this needs to be striven for. But its lack at any given time is not a sure sign of irrationality, and it doesn't defeat the virtue of actions based on explicit moral principle.

Ayn Rand agreed with me:

Quote

 

A man’s moral character must be judged on the basis of his actions, his statements and his conscious convictions—not on the basis of inferences (usually, spurious) about his subconscious.

A man is not to be condemned or excused on the grounds of the state of his subconscious.

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/psychologizing.html#order_4

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand also had her supremely ideal man, John Galt, relate an instance in which he experienced an out-of-context desire while observing Hank Rearden. That he felt that desire did not make him immoral.

A consequence of the view that you ascribe to Rand would be that psychology is an illegitimate profession: It would just be a sanction of irrationality: a cover that allows the irrational to pretend that they're rational. Any rational man would have his psychology completely figured out and integrated, with no conflicts. (The most we might say a psychologist would be useful for would be to hear about the patient's emotional conflicts and then condemn him for his bad premises. The psychologist would merely act as a form of punishment for a perpetrator of irrationality. But then this wouldn't require any specialized training, only philosophical education.)

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I have yet to find anything in Objectivist ethics which treats with any importance, anything which is inconsequential to a man's life or of no consequence to it.  Any aspect of the ethics which defines any element of means are, to the extent they are considered ethical or pertaining to ethics purely directed to the ends.

As such, I would submit that the whole of Objectivist ethics is decidedly and ultimately not inconsequential.

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3 hours ago, Sword of Apollo said:

People have to learn to handle their subconscious premises, and they can make innocent mistakes about it. Thus it doesn't follow that someone with an unbreached rationality will be perfectly integrated in his psychology.

I don't mean to say that someone with a faulty subconscious premise is acting immorally or we should say the person is immoral. They can fix it. But I can't even think of when someone was conflicted and a wholly-integrated as a person. In other words, the person may be good on the whole, but fail to be an ideal. That ideal man is the virtuous man.

I see how the quote suggests that an unintegrated person could be also a virtuous person. "Bad" thoughts don't make you bad. But it doesn't refer to the ideal man.

Now, Galt may have felt conflict, but I don't think Rand succeeded with Galt in portraying the ideal man. He was a supporting character and not concretized as deeply Dagny or Rearden. I'd say Galt was good on the whole and a great guy, but not an ideal. If he were wholly integrated, I don't think he'd feel a temptation to sabotage his own goal even for one second. Good people may struggle, but it's easy for the virtuous person.

I don't think Rand said much on integrated virtue, only that we should seek to be our best and eliminate our internal conflicts. Since Rand's fiction mostly deals with character growth, it's fair to say she thought it took years to become that pillar of moral perfection. Psychologists can help us get there if we have trouble.

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26 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Since Rand's fiction mostly deals with character growth, it's fair to say she thought it took years to become that pillar of moral perfection. Psychologists can help us get there if we have trouble.

But wasn't Roark "morally complete/grown up" at an early age, a young man? Or was he a work in progress?

Same with Galt and his two buddies.
 

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I must say, I can't see any hint of consequentialism in Objectivism. Unless taken in the casual sense, of directing one's actions towards their due consequences. But isn't this the idea that results and ends are all that count, regardless of how one arrives there? The Objectivist would not compromise his virtues or sacrifice values to attain an objective. He couldn't "cheat reality" nor his own reality. In itself, an important source of self-esteem is ~how~ he reaches his goals.

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4 hours ago, whYNOT said:

The Objectivist would not compromise his virtues or sacrifice values to attain an objective. He couldn't "cheat reality" nor his own reality.

(leaving aside the dubious notion "his own reality")

This hides (albeit poorly) a implicitly held contradiction.  That somehow virtue and principle are beyond the achievement of a flourishing life.  That the ideal is beyond, above or apart from the practical... above or beyond reality and nature and consequences. This is not the case for Objectivism.

There is no dichotomy between rational and objectively identified means and ends.  There is no dichotomy between the practical and the ideal, no dichotomy between virtue, principle, and reality.  Morality is OBJECTIVE.  It's standard is firmly rooted in reality, and every virtue, principle, and action of a moral man are purposefully adopted and taken according to that standard. 

As is hinted at it is impossible to "cheat reality".

4 hours ago, whYNOT said:

In itself, an important source of self-esteem is ~how~ he reaches his goals.

This also contains a latent error.  It implies a man may reach "his goals" in ways which can either thwart or strengthen his self-esteem, when in fact self-esteem (being instrumental to his ultimate and on-going goal) is part of the goal.  Self-esteem is simply unimportant to a man who does not choose to live, does not adopt life as the standard, or is misguided and not fully understood value, but to a man who fully understands the value of self-esteem to the achievement of life, he understands that it is crucial for long term flourishing to have a strong sense of self-esteem, and that it is an important means to the ultimate end.  Each and every goal along the way and contributing to the ultimate goal of life, thus incorporates the goal of flourishing, staying mentally fit and healthy to continue pursuing the ultimate goal of life.

 

IF a man sets as a particular goal the achievement of building a pyramid in the long term, taking a shortcut which requires the severing of his arm, may achieve some immediate short term goal but it thwarts achievement of his ultimate goal.  A rational man does not shy from severing his arm because of some higher sense of self beyond reality, self, goals and life, he is neither irrational nor a supernaturalist, he shies away from severing his arm because such a thing WOULD be life defeating in general.

 

It is not "how" one reaches goals that is crucial here, but whether or not he actually is reaching or thwarting his ultimate goal...

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48 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

(leaving aside the dubious notion "his own reality")

 

 

 

It would seem you gratuitously dropped in "the ideal" (with the motive of uncovering my "implicit" and 'latent' premises) when in fact I made no mention of the ideal, and would not imply it. Nor, of course, that there is any dichotomy between the moral and the practical.

And of course, "it is crucial for long term flourishing to have a strong sense of self-esteem..."!

Was that not what I said (or implied)?

If one doesn't know one's "own reality", then how does one know one's consciousness? "Reality" is the reality of oneself too... How else would an individual know at which point he begins sacrificing his values, virtues and character for his 'flourishing'?  If 'a goal' (of sorts) demands altruistic sacrifice, then it is not a rational goal, nor is it likely and possible he will flourish. That, explicitly, would appear to be "the case for Objectivism".

I stand by what I said, and repeat that I don't see that consequentialism, the ends justifying the means, is anywhere evident in Objectivism. Do you know different?

All in all, a good lecture which shouldn't go to waste. 

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7 hours ago, whYNOT said:

I stand by what I said, and repeat that I don't see that consequentialism, the ends justifying the means, is anywhere evident in Objectivism. Do you know different?

The ends, life, long range, is not required to "justify" anything.  In fact "justice" itself is only validated because life requires it.  Does life justify the virtue justice?  No... life is first, justice (only one of many other things) follows as a requirement.

The ends, life long range, in fact require the means, morality: virtue, principles, moral action, only because life long range is a consequence of them.

 

What else could morality: virtue, principles, moral action possibly be for?

 

 

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5 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

What else could morality: virtue, principles, moral action possibly be for?

What you say is true and all correct as far as Objectivism. "The ends justify the means" sums up consequentialism though. Not just that that there are ends, but that -any- means is appropriate as long as the end is correct. There are modifications to this, but any consequentialist philosophy is only concerned with the ends in principle. That is, ends external to you as a person, only the stuff that we see at the end. Objectivism strongly advocates integration of means and ends - it promotes selfishness because who we are as actors is primary. I don't think you disagree, I'm posting this as a way to show that I think you and whyNOT mostly agree.

 

On 9/24/2017 at 10:15 PM, Easy Truth said:

But wasn't Roark "morally complete/grown up" at an early age, a young man? Or was he a work in progress?

I'd argue not, or at least not until the end of a book. Even still, Roark had almost no internal conflicts. Since it was fiction, if anything, showing those conflicts detracts from portraying the ideal. In real life, the ideal takes a long time to form. 

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