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Did Ayn Rand live by her own philosophy?

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I will wait with bated breath to read the ultimate thread on the 'true' basis of morally acceptible sexual desire, especially when espoused by those who consider themselves individualists.

If there is a rational standard for the morality of an action, ignoring that is not being an individual, it's being irrational. And agreeing with it is not "cultism" or any other such thing of which some accuse students of Objectivism, it's acting rationally.

Since man is an end in himself and his life is his standard of value, it is moral for him to enter a sexual relationship if it is beneficial to his life, and immoral to do so if it is harmful to it. Now, how do we figure out when a relationship benefits and harms a man's life?

Sex is one of the most important aspects of man’s life and, therefore, must never be approached lightly or casually. A sexual relationship is proper only on the ground of the highest values one can find in a human being. Sex must not be anything other than a response to values. And that is why I consider promiscuity immoral. Not because sex is evil, but because sex is too good and too important . . . .

[sex should] involve . . . a very serious relationship. Whether that relationship should or should not become a marriage is a question which depends on the circumstances and the context of the two persons’ lives. I consider marriage a very important institution, but it is important when and if two people have found the person with whom they wish to spend the rest of their lives—a question of which no man or woman can be automatically certain. When one is certain that one’s choice is final, then marriage is, of course, a desirable state. But this does not mean that any relationship based on less than total certainty is improper. I think the question of an affair or a marriage depends on the knowledge and the position of the two persons involved and should be left up to them. Either is moral, provided only that both parties take the relationship seriously and that it is based on values.

So Ms. Rand argues that sex is only beneficial when it is in a serious relationship that is based on values. She says that so long as those two criteria are met, the benefit or harm of a specific relationship "depends on the knowledge and the position of the two persons involved and should be left up to them."

But why does she argue that sex requires a serious relationship? It is because of the nature of sex.

Sex is a physical capacity, but its exercise is determined by man’s mind—by his choice of values, held consciously or subconsciously. To a rational man, sex is an expression of self-esteem—a celebration of himself and of existence. To the man who lacks self-esteem, sex is an attempt to fake it, to acquire its momentary illusion.

Of course, as you say, "individualists" may choose to disagree. But unless they demonstrate that Ms. Rand's argument is flawed, they are doing so irrationally. I'm not really sure why you have decided that this is the line where we must all disagree in order to be individualists. Students of Objectivism [who understand the philosophy and practice it somewhat consistently] are all individualists, but all agree that A is A and that man is an end in himself and any number of other ideas that are part of Objectivism. I don't see anyone saying "I await the ultimate thread on the 'true' standard of value for a man's life, especially when espoused by those who consider themselves 'individualists.'" Edited by 425

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Ayn Rand did not decide to have a relationship with Nathaniel Branden on a whim; she decided to do so only after realizing that he shared her highest values and (unlike her husband) was her intellectual equal. 

 

Does Rand say this anywhere, that Frank was not her 'intellectual equal'? I've seen that spouted about on here, but I would like a reference to see if that's what Rand actually believed.

 

Whether Rand, O'Connor and the Brandens were all in this state of mind is something that would be difficult to determine, but if they were, the decision to have the affair was moral if they determined, using the best knowledge available to them at the time, that it would have more benefits than drawbacks.

 

More benefits for whom?? Sure, maybe Rand and Branden got something nice out of it while it lasted. But what about Rand's husband and Branden's wife? What did they get? From all that I've read, these actions were selfish in the dictionary definition of the term: "concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others [or at the detriment of others]"

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Does Rand say this anywhere, that Frank was not her 'intellectual equal'? I've seen that spouted about on here, but I would like a reference to see if that's what Rand actually believed.

 

I don't have a reference to this; I based this on what many others have said, which was probably not an excellent idea. I'm sure if this is something she believed, someone with access to The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, which I believe includes some sections of her journals relevant to this topic, can find a relevant quote, if they so choose.

I do not have that book and have no reference to Rand saying this, so I retract that particular claim due to lack of evidence.

 

More benefits for whom?? Sure, maybe Rand and Branden got something nice out of it while it lasted. But what about Rand's husband and Branden's wife? What did they get? From all that I've read, these actions were selfish in the dictionary definition of the term: "concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others [or at the detriment of others]"

Frank O'Connor and Barbara Branden did not gain anything from the affair except the knowledge that someone that they loved would be happier because of it. It is possible that they believed that if they did not grant their permission, divorces would result. It is also possible that they had no feelings of jealously and wanted to see their respective spouses enjoy their relationships with each other.

This is all speculation, I want to emphasize that. Unless someone has access to Frank O'Connor's journals and/or a public statement by Barbara Branden concerning her feelings at the time of the affair, we have no way of knowing how either one felt about it.

As such, we do not have all the relevant information about the affair, so we cannot pass a fully informed moral judgement of it. My judgement is only to the extent that: based on what we know (the affair was based on values (or at least perceived values, if you want to argue over the extent of Branden's dishonesty) and occurred with the consent of their spouses), Ayn Rand did not act immorally by choosing to have the affair. To claim that she did would require more evidence than is publicly available (to my knowledge, which is not great on this topic as I've not read the Brandens' books or Valliant's PARC).

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Concerning the affair.  Is it known that Rand and Branden had received permission beforehand?  I'm going to assume so, for the moment; if that's disputed then I'll adjust myself accordingly.

 

Let's say, hypothetically, that A and B are married and A comes up to B, asking for permission to sleep with C.  At this point, what should B do?

 

I think it depends on what B wants.  B needs to examine his priorities, figure out how he feels about it and act accordingly.  If he finds the idea unacceptable (perhaps he'd rather get a divorce than allow it) then he absolutely shouldn't give his approval; he should only give his permission with the full understanding that she WILL act on it.

To give his permission dishonestly (to give permission but find the idea unacceptable) would be immoral on several levels and, if he did give permission without actually accepting it, then he had no right to expect her to act otherwise.

 

So, did he give her permission or not?  If so then, regardless of anything else, she did nothing immoral.

 

Also: tangential.  It probably was a shocking and abhorrent blow to him when she posed the question; it would be hard to imagine it otherwise.  But to expect her to want Branden, but never mention it or act on it, would be to expect her to divorce her own mind from action and reality (to be a repressive automaton).  To expect her to never desire anyone else in the first place would be to expect her to not be human.

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That's what I meant?  Guess I didn't know what I meant.  I must need someone like you to point it out. Thanks.

You mentioned Rand's adultery in the context of a discussion about whether she lived up to her own moral ideals. If you didn't mean to imply that her adultery was immoral, then what were you trying to say?

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 ...

 

Fair enough. I'm just speculating here too. What makes me uneasy when I think about affairs isn't so much the sexual aspect. (Being sexually attracted to other people outside of a monogamous relationship is pretty common and perhaps even unavoidable.) I think what would hurt the most is the knowledge that your significant other is building a serious relationship with someone other than you.. that maybe you aren't enough for her anymore, or maybe you were never as important to her as you thought you were. Whether the significant other acts on these desires or not isn't important. Just knowing that s/he wants more from someone else would be.. devastating.

Edited by mdegges

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Whether the significant other acts on these desires or not isn't important. Just knowing that s/he wants more from someone else would be.. devastating.

Yes.  Emphatically so.

However:

Sure, maybe Rand and Branden got something nice out of it while it lasted. But what about Rand's husband and Branden's wife? What did they get? From all that I've read, these actions were selfish in the dictionary definition of the term: "concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others [or at the detriment of others]"

Marriage requires mutual consent, not only from its inception but throughout (see divorce).  If one party isn't happy then the other has no right to keep them against their will. . . Even if their dissatisfaction is caused by some third party.

It's sad and very unfortunate, any way you look at it.  But that springs from someone's capacity to want something more, in the first place (as you aptly pointed out), which is inherent to being a human being.

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Fair enough. I'm just speculating here too. What makes me uneasy when I think about affairs isn't so much the sexual aspect. (Being sexually attracted to other people outside of a monogamous relationship is pretty common and perhaps even unavoidable.) I think what would hurt the most is the knowledge that your significant other is building a serious relationship with someone other than you.. that maybe you aren't enough for her anymore, or maybe you were never as important to her as you thought you were. Whether the significant other acts on these desires or not isn't important. Just knowing that s/he wants more from someone else would be.. devastating.

I don't know if you're saying that all multi-person relationships end up with someone feeling inferior to another, or if you're saying this happens sometimes. Yes, jealousy happens sometimes, but it stems from bad premises; no person is a threat to your value. Affairs usually imply secrecy, and nonconsent, though. But the context here has full knowledge and consent, so that doesn't apply.

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What Harrison said, and what Eiuol said.

 

Also, I would say it this way: 

 

Surely, when it comes to a relationship you want a partner who chooses you freely, even while having other options. If your partner, or potential partner, were to find someone else who fits them better than you do, then wouldn't you want them to go be with the person they love the most? Or would you want them to deny their own self-interest, and sacrifice in order to be with you instead? 

 

When it comes to love (yes this is a tough pill to swallow but you MUST get it and accept it) there are only two options:

 

1.) You let your partner socialize and meet people and continue to choose you freely, in the face of other options, because they value you and the relationship with you. This means, though, that if they find someone whom they would have a BETTER relationship with, then you let them go, and let them enjoy that. After all, you want real love -- which is when someone chooses YOU the most, maybe even abandoning some former relationship for you. If they don't accept you freely, then it isn't love. It does no good to try to force someone to commit to you like a slave when their heart isn't freely and truly in it. 

 

2.) You try to manipulate your partner, or potential partner, into not socializing or meeting other people. You lock him/her in a closet, only letting them out when you are around, giving them strict rules on when and how to socialize with people, out of a fear that they might meet someone they like or someone to whom they are sexually attracted.

 

The Irony is, the second option ends up causing the relationship to atrophy, and ends up making the insecure person seem less attractive, and pushes the other person away more. 

 

I know it's a scary thing, but you have to open the cage door and leave it open, and let the little birdie fly back to you willingly, because that's their favorite place to be. That's the ONLY way love can actually work.

Edited by secondhander

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If your partner, or potential partner, were to find someone else who fits them better than you do, then wouldn't you want them to go be with the person they love the most?

 

Of course. (And not for their sake, but for mine! I wouldn't want to be with someone who would rather build a relationship with another person than work on our own. That's the whole point.)

 

1.) You let your partner socialize and meet people and continue to choose you freely, in the face of other options, because they value you and the relationship with you. This means, though, that if they find someone whom they would have a BETTER relationship with, then you let them go, and let them enjoy that.

 

Exactly. Wouldn't it seem cruel to string your spouse along while you build a relationship with someone else?

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Exactly. Wouldn't it seem cruel to string your spouse along while you build a relationship with someone else?

 

You make the assumption that the spouse would be strung along. Or that in Rand's case, that's what happened. Your presupposition seems to be that it's impossible to have some kind of relationship with another new person without cruelly sacrificing the first. For all I know, Rand continued to love her husband every bit as much as she ever did.

 

Do you sacrifice your love for your best friend if you meet another friend and spend some time with that person?  As though there is only so much love contained within you, and you might run out of it by spending it on some new friend? And when your best friend comes around, you have to say, "Oh sorry. I've just used up all my love for now; the well runs dry." 

 

Of course not.

 

Love and friendship doesn't have a limited quality. If you find someone else interesting and fun, it does not diminish whatsoever your love and enjoyment of your other friends. But for some reason, people seem to think that that's how it works when it comes to relationships. I reject that notion. 

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Of course. (And not for their sake, but for mine! I wouldn't want to be with someone who would rather build a relationship with another person than work on our own. That's the whole point.)

If you would rather be with someone else, you are right. But being with someone else also does not always mean there is one you would rather be with. There isn't an inherent hierarchy in human relationships.

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Fair enough. I'm just speculating here too. What makes me uneasy when I think about affairs isn't so much the sexual aspect. (Being sexually attracted to other people outside of a monogamous relationship is pretty common and perhaps even unavoidable.) I think what would hurt the most is the knowledge that your significant other is building a serious relationship with someone other than you.. that maybe you aren't enough for her anymore, or maybe you were never as important to her as you thought you were. Whether the significant other acts on these desires or not isn't important. Just knowing that s/he wants more from someone else would be.. devastating.

 

In ancient Greece, the men certainly weren’t monogamous by today’s standards.  Were hunter/gatherer ancestors monogamous?--I’m not sure what the evidence on that is but offhand I would say it’s doubtful and I have read that monogamy is quite rare in mammals in general.  Monogamy as a symptom in mankind could be just another hangover due to Christianity.  Monogamy may be as much in our nature qua man as embarrassment due to being observed naked is—that is, not at all.  This is speculating but perhaps before we ate from the tree of knowledge polygamous attitudes were most natural to our species but now monogamy is just so ingrained into the culture.  It could be at least one reason why the divorce rates are so high.  Personally I don't have a strong opinion but I don’t advocate running around after more than one person though as even one would be time consuming and confusing enough.  In the case of Rand, well, she was a genius so I’m sure she could handle it without demeaning her husband in any way.

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According to O'ism , what is 'sex'? Is there an explicit definition of what is considered 'sex'? Is this thing that is important anything other the experience of orgasm? Is it the relationship between individuals that includes actions that lead to each experiencing orgasm, what exactly is the conceptual/emotional/ value response that takes place that must be recognized and evaluated before engaging in such a relationship? Casual intercourse between adults is immoral or amoral?

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You make the assumption that the spouse would be strung along. Or that in Rand's case, that's what happened. Your presupposition seems to be that it's impossible to have some kind of relationship with another new person without cruelly sacrificing the first. For all I know, Rand continued to love her husband every bit as much as she ever did.

 

I should have clarified: I was responding to your claim that there are 'only two options' when it comes to romance: 1) letting your lover enjoy other people, but if/when he finds someone better for him, break up, or 2) preventing your lover from meeting new people out of fear that he'll find someone better for him.

I agree that if your lover is interested in pursuing a serious sexual relationship with another person, breaking up is the right thing to do.

 

Now as for your assumption and mine, that's all they are: assumptions. Obviously none of us can say with certainty how Rand/Branden/their spouse's felt about the affair before and after it started. Actually, we do know how Ms. Branden felt- she has shared it multiple times.. most notably in her 1992 interview:

 

Q: So do you think he let her have this affair more because he valued her as a person and this is something she needed.

Branden: It was terribly painful to him. He and I were in a way in the same boat. I was not romantically in love with Nathan, but the affair was agonizingly painful to me. I had married him; I cared about him; there was a very powerful bond between us. I planned to spend the rest of my life with him. It was an absolute commitment in my mind.

Q: Did Rand know all this?

Branden: She certainly knew we weren't having a very good time. But I don't think she ever knew quite the extent of the pain. We didn't say. In certain ways perhaps neither of us fully knew, because once we decided it was reasonable and it was something we should accept, then I don't think we quite let ourselves know how desperately we were suffering.

Q: A lot of repressing going on.

Branden: I don't know how we would have lived with it otherwise. Which might have been a better solution — not to be able to live with it. The price of living with it was overwhelming repression. And you can't repress about just one issue, it spreads and grows and grows. The results were terrible for me. I ended up cut off from everybody in the world.

 

I empathize.. I imagine I would feel the exact same way in that sort of situation.

 

You can go on claiming that Rand was perfect in every way, that her affair was moral because she asked her husband to reluctantly sign off on it, that everyone was happy with the situation, no one got crushed, etc... but I really doubt it.

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I'd argue that casual intercourse between consenting adults is moral or immoral depending on objectivist ethics. In other words, just as the concept of "value" presupposes an answer to the questions "to whom" and "for what," and it also presupposes an alternative option. The fundamental moral value for a living being, then, is life, and the alternative is death. So, the "to whom" is yourself; the "for what" is to live (and live well); and the alternative is to die (whether totally or by a matter of degree).

 

So how does that apply to sex? Just like any other action in your life, and any other relationship in your life, sex must not be "cut off from your code of values." Since you value life, you should be aware of STIs and practice safe sex. It would be unwise to have sex with some person with low value, like a moocher, or thief, or violent person, or mentally unstable person. Just like you might refrain from forming close friendships with those sorts of people, even more so should you refrain from sexual relationships from those sorts of people, because they may very well bring death to you, even if by matter of degree.

 

You should apply rationality to your relationships, sexual or otherwise. In the same way that you should practice safe sex, and utilize your rationality to know which methods of safe sex are best, you should also manage pregnancy (using the technology available) so that you do not become or get someone pregnant without meaning to. You may also decide not to have sex with someone who is anti-abortion, if you are in favor of abortion, just in case an accidental pregnancy happens. 

 

These are not strict rules. But the principles should be heeded: Seek good life for yourself, and use your brain.

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According to O'ism , what is 'sex'? Is there an explicit definition of what is considered 'sex'? Is this thing that is important anything other the experience of orgasm? Is it the relationship between individuals that includes actions that lead to each experiencing orgasm, what exactly is the conceptual/emotional/ value response that takes place that must be recognized and evaluated before engaging in such a relationship? Casual intercourse between adults is immoral or amoral?

Ditto secondhander.

 

I find it hard to imagine casual sex as being self-destructive at all. . . So long as it's done rationally, while remembering the full context of everything else in one's life.  Casual sex is immoral if you 1: treat your partner as if they were mindless (objectify them; womanizers) or 2: do it without regard for the consequences (in which case, reality will punish you).

Basically be safe, use your brain, don't accept candy from strangers and it's all good.

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I agree that if your lover is interested in pursuing a serious sexual relationship with another person, breaking up is the right thing to do.

 

I didn't say that breaking up is the right thing to do if your lover is interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with another person. I am all for non-monogamy. But both people in the relationship have to be on the same page. So if you don't want non-monogamy, and your partner does, then yes, breaking up may be the right thing to do.

 

Now as for your assumption and mine, that's all they are: assumptions. Obviously none of us can say with certainty how Rand/Branden/their spouse's felt about the affair before and after it started.

 

Absolutely. And forgive me, because I don't want to presume to say that I know what was going on in Rand and Branden and their spouses' relationships. I have no idea, other than knowing that they did agree to the arrangement. Whether it pained them or not, I don't know. I take Barbara at her word. Anything I said about Rand and Branden's relationship in a hypothetical way was meant to be just that -- hypothetical, as a way to examine possible ways of approaching the issue of non-monogamy.

 

You can go on claiming that Rand was perfect in every way ...

 

Gosh no. I definitely don't claim she was perfect in every way. In fact, I am probably more critical of her than many might be on this forum. And in fact, I am maybe most critical of her on this very topic. I think she got some things very wrong about sex and relationships. And even though she did have a non-monogamous relationship, I think she had some very confused and conflicted emotions and fundamental principles guiding her relationship with Branden. 

 

In brief, I think she tacitly accepted ideas about relationships and love that have their genesis in religious and social conventions, and tried to hang on to some of those conventions while at the same time trying to incorporate her natural sexual desire for other people. What resulted was a confused mix of ideas on relationships that didn't really fit into an objectivist ethic. But I'm no Rand-basher. When considering all of her teaching and ideas, I'd say she got things absolutely right about 95 to 99 percent of the time. 

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So if you don't want non-monogamy, and your partner does, then yes, breaking up may be the right thing to do.

 

I agree. I assumed that Barbara and Frank did not want polygamous relationships, based on the fact that they themselves never had affairs with other people, and both were upset about their spouses hooking up.

 

Honestly I think it was a pretty messed up situation. Note where Barbara says "...once we decided it was reasonable and it was something we should accept, then I don't think we quite let ourselves know how desperately we were suffering." I can easily see this happening.. and how sad is that. She let herself be conned into believing that she should share her husband with other women, that it was the right, rational thing to do- even though that's the exact opposite of what she was thinking and feeling. Makes me angry that her husband (and Frank's wife) would put them in that sort of situation in the first place.

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secondhander said #66

So how does that apply to sex? Just like any other action in your life, and any other relationship in your life, sex must not be "cut off from your code of values." Since you value life, you should be aware of STIs and practice safe sex. It would be unwise to have sex with some person with low value, like a moocher, or thief, or violent person, or mentally unstable person. Just like you might refrain from forming close friendships with those sorts of people, even more so should you refrain from sexual relationships from those sorts of people, because they may very well bring death to you, even if by matter of degree.

You should apply rationality to your relationships, sexual or otherwise. In the same way that you should practice safe sex, and utilize your rationality to know which methods of safe sex are best, you should also manage pregnancy (using the technology available) so that you do not become or get someone pregnant without meaning to. You may also decide not to have sex with someone who is anti-abortion, if you are in favor of abortion, just in case an accidental pregnancy happens.

These are not strict rules. But the principles should be heeded: Seek good life for yourself, and use your brain.

I understand why thought should be given to action with recognition of the possibilities of outcomes, but my question is why(or how) does the inclusion of term 'sex' change the dynamic of the process? What is there about 'sex' that makes it a separate category from all other forms of human interactions?

Edited by tadmjones

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I agree. I assumed that Barbara and Frank did not want polygamous relationships, based on the fact that they themselves never had affairs with other people, and both were upset about their spouses hooking up.

Do the people we love have a moral obligation to never upset us?

I don't know anything about Barbara, but Frank and Ayn grew old together, didn't they? I'm sure both did things that upset the other person, over the course of their lives. Sometimes, that is morally justified. Just because you're in a relationship, doesn't mean you now have to live for the other person first, and yourself only once the other person is fully satisfied.

You still live your own life, and share it with the other person to the extent you can. Obviously, in this case, Frank and Ayn accepted what each had to offer. I would've judged it immoral if Ayn Rand put her husbands feelings first, and suppressed her own love for another man, not the other way around. If anything, her honesty towards herself and her husband was admirable.

Most people would either lie to themselves (and their spouse, about their own feelings) and stay monogamous, or lie to their spouse and cheat, in a similar situation. Very few people would even think that the right thing to do is be fully honest with everyone involved, irrespective of how it may hurt their feelings. But that's, as far as I understand, precisely what Objectivism is. To me, this episode has always been a shining example of how Rand lived her own ideas. And I have a feeling it has been that for her critics, too: that's why they keep harping on it, because, on an emotional level, it's an indictment of her ideas.

Edited by Nicky

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