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Your Love of Existence

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Your Love of Existence

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says “existence is to all men a thing to be chosen and loved” (NE 1168a6; further, 1170a20–b10). In Atlas Shrugged, Rand writes: “All life is a purposeful struggle, and your only choice is the choice of a goal. . . . Such is the choice before you. Let your mind and your love of existence decide” (AS 1068).

Those Atlas lines are near the end of Galt’s speech, which was the first extended statement of Rand’s philosophy. Woven all together therein were metaphysics, philosophy of mind, epistemology (broadly), ethics, and politics. In the present essay, I want to reflect on this text of Rand’s in connection with her fundamental metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and metaethics.

The first sense of existence in the Rand quotation is one’s own personal living existence. I suggest two further senses of love of existence that are cohorts of that first sense. One of these further senses is love of human existence of which one’s own is a case. The other is love of existence-with-identity in general, against nothing.

In On the Soul, Aristotle says: “That too which involves no action, i.e. that which is true or false, is in the same province with what is good or bad: yet they differ in this that the one is absolute and the other relative to someone” (DA 431b10–12). We should hesitate over the conception of cognition involving no action, for at least there is the aim and movement towards truth. Aristotle will concede that, and we should concede to Aristotle that good and bad are relative to an agent, whereas truth and falsehood are independent of the identifier.

American Pragmatists take thoroughgoing issue with Aristotle’s conception that cognition is sometimes untied from possible action in the world. They could warm, however, to Aristotle’s thought that true and false are in the same province as good and bad. Rand was warm to that idea as well. She set forth a way, different from Pragmatist ways, for tying true and false to good and bad. Hers is a tie more intimate than would be suggested by Aristotle in my isolated quote from him in DA 431. Rand articulates an absolute character of agent-relative good and bad by taking them in view under identities of existents, their traits, relationships, and kinds. She stresses particularly the kind to which the individual human belongs, the kind one is.

Reality is an absolute, existence is an absolute, a speck of dust is an absolute and so is a human life. Whether you live or die is an absolute. (AS 1054)

Nothing but a man’s mind can perform that complex, delicate, crucial process of identification which is thinking. Nothing can direct the process but his own judgment. Nothing can direct his judgment but his moral integrity.

. . .

Man’s reason is his moral faculty. A process of reason is a process of constant choice in answer to the question: True or False?—Right or Wrong? Is a seed to be planted in soil in order to grow—right or wrong? Is a man’s wound to be disinfected in order to save his life—right or wrong? . . . . The answers came from a man’s mind, a mind of intransigent devotion to that which is right.

. . .

A rational process is a moral process. (1017)

Rand once remarked that if she were to place a preamble over the total of her fiction writing it would be: “To the glory of Man” (1963, 172). Her fiction and her Objectivist philosophy are shot through with love of the existence of man. “Man, not men [as a collective]” (1946, XII). Man the individual, independent, productive, rational animal; not man the irrational animal, the all-sharing animal, the suicidal animal (AS 1013). Man worthy of honor and love is man as maker of the means for human life. Man in this goodness is the broad ideal that should be held dear to every individual.* Man in this goodness is concretely in oneself and in others. For such men, there is possible the joy that is happiness and there is for each “the joy he receives from the virtues of another” (1034, also 1059–60).[1]

Rand’s character John Galt is an artistic concretization of ideal man in general. By Galt she has ideal man speak to each reader, at least to each retaining “a remnant of the dignity and will to love one’s life” (AS 1052). Ideal man says to the listener: “Whatever living moments you have known, were lived by the values of my code” (1060), the code of reason, purpose, and self-esteem (1018). “If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life” (1014).

“Let your mind and your love of existence decide.” Love of one’s existence includes love of man the ideal, rational being.

Aristotle held in the Metaphysics:

The primary objects of desire and thought are the same. . . . Thought is moved by the object of thought, and one side of the list of opposites is in itself the object of thought; and in this, substance is first, and in substance, that which is simple and exists actually. (. . . “Simple” means that the thing itself has a certain nature.) But the good, also, and that which is in itself desirable are on this same side of the list; and the first in any class is always the best, or analogous to the best. (Met. 1072a30–36)

Thought in itself deals with that which is best in itself, and that which is thought in the fullest sense with that which is best in the fullest sense. (1072b18–20)

The side of the list of opposites to which Aristotle fundamentally fastens thought and desire is the side of being and its categories, in opposition to their negations. The primary type of being, on which all others depend, is substance. There is not only substance that is essence of sensible, material things; there is substance that is essence of pure intelligibility, pure in that it is entirely free of sensible matter. Substance of pure intelligibility is most actual and is logically prior in being to substance of material things.

According to Aristotle, the intelligibility of the world and our fundamental desire to understand the world spring ultimately from the expression in the world and in ourselves of immaterial maximal being. It is ultimately towards this being that all life, perception, and human intelligence strive.

Aristotle identifies ultimate being that draws our thought with the unmoved mover of the heavens and of the world of nature below. It moves the world by its allure. God is this being. God the first mover is good and most worthy of human desire and intellectual reach.

“And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s essential actuality is life most good and eternal” (Met. 1072b26–28). God’s permanent state is ours in the moments our thought is in active possession of its objects. That is our own divinity, the best within us.[2]

There are great differences between Rand and Aristotle in this area, but much in common as well. Recall this passage of Rand’s:

Some of you will never know who is John Galt. But those of you who have known a single moment of love for existence and of pride in being its worthy lover, a moment of looking at this earth and letting your glance be its sanction,[3] have known the state of being a man . . . . I am the man who knew what made [that state] possible and who chose consistently to practice and to be what you had practiced and been in that one moment.

That choice is yours to make. That choice—the dedication to one’s highest potential—is made by accepting the fact that the noblest act you have ever performed is the act of your mind in the process of grasping that two and two make four. (AS 1058)

The existence in “love for existence” in the preceding quoted passage is at once existence of the individual human and existence of the world, of existence per se. One’s living self-existence together with existence of the world is here spoken of as a lover to which one may be worthy. This mild personification of one’s biological nature as well as of existence in general is employed elsewhere in Galt’s speech.

Rand speaks of human virtue as loyalty to life, akin to the loyalty of “a bird or flower reaching for the sun” (AS 1059). One’s biological nature calls for rationality and calls one to rationality (1012–14, 1021–22).

Then too, Rand speaks of the world as being a place “so eagerly worth seeing” (AS 701). It was as if Galt’s eyes imparted that value to the world, as if his sight lit the seeing-value of the world. In the world is worth for those worthy by sight.

Galt is a moral avenger. In her mild personification, Rand speaks of existence and its law of identity also as a moral avenger (AS 1062). Subversion of mind affronts reality (1013); all the same, “reality is not to be cheated” (1037). There is something one owes to all of existence, as well as to oneself: rationality (1022). One may drop rationality. That is an attempt “to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality. But existence exists: reality is not to be wiped out, it will merely wipe out the wiper. . . . / . . . Reality will wipe him out, as he deserves; reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it” (1018).

“By refusing to say ‘It is’, you are refusing to say ‘I am’” (AS 1018). Then truly and fully loving “I am” is loving “It is.”

“Whoever rejects reality rejects existence [of self]” (AS 1046). Then whoever loves their existence loves reality in its affordance of human comprehension and human life.

Rand against Aristotle (and Plato): It is earthly life alone, not God, that is the undergirding and ultimate reason we seek understanding. The value of thinking arises purely from the value of life, earthly life (a, b, c). Joined to love of existence as object of thought is love of thinking of existence. As with contemplation in Aristotle’s God, thought in man is itself a mode of life (I say, harmoniously with Rand who does not say this[4]). Thinking itself—the process of grasping that two and two make four—thinking itself—“the process of defining identity and discovering causal connections” (AS 1038)—thinking itself bears the goodness of life, the foundational end in itself. One’s thinking self is an end in itself because its organized activity is an occasion of life itself and because it is the integral, necessary, and proper leader of a human life.

Rand with Aristotle (and Plato): Aristotle, as I said, fastens thought and desire fundamentally to being and its categories, in opposition to their negations. Rand upholds life, not death, as the premise proper to man (AS 1050). “Your fear of death is not a love for life and will not give you the knowledge needed to keep it” (1013). Furthermore,

Life is not the equivalent of avoiding death. Joy is not “the absence of pain,” . . . light is not “the absence of darkness” . . . . Existence is not a negation of negatives. Evil, not value, is an absence and a negation . . . . (AS 1024)

Suffering as such is not a value; only man’s fight against suffering, is. (1060)

Rand with Aristotle:

Waking, perception, and thinking are most pleasant . . . . (Met. 1072b17–18)

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. (980a21–23)

The first thing she grasped about him was the intense perceptiveness of his eyes—he looked as if his faculty of sight were his best-loved tool and its exercise were a limitless, joyous adventure, as if his eyes imparted a superlative value to himself and to the world—to himself for his ability to see, to the world for being a place so eagerly worth seeing. (AS 701)

Notes

1. Cf. NE 1155b17–20, 1156a14–19, 1156b7–24, 1157b25–1158a1, 1167a18–20, 1169b31–1170b10.

2. See further, Lear 1988, 134–41, 265–306, and Richardson Lear 2004, 188–207.

3. The idea that man is a completion and height of nature, in which man is at home and to which he says Yes is an idea in her earlier novels that Rand developed and brought forward to Atlas. In his self-transformation from Equality 7-2521 to a Prometheus, Rand’s protagonist of Anthem says “all things come to my judgment, . . . and I seal upon them my ‘Yes’ or my ‘No’” (1938; quoted in Mayhew 2005a, 39; see also Milgram 2005, 17–18). He discovers that it is he, his body and spirit, that is the meaning of the earth (XII). For architect Howard Roark of Fountainhead, his work is consecrated to a human joy, “a joy that justifies the existence of the earth” (PK VI 80).*

4. Well, in the original edition (1937) of We the Living, Rand has Kira say to Andrei “What do you think is living in me? Why do you think I’m alive? Because I have a stomach and eat and digest food? Because I breathe and work and produce more food to digest? Or because I know what I want and that something that knows how to want—isn’t that life itself?” (quoted in Wright 2005, 203).

References

Aristotle c. 348–322 B.C. The Complete Works of Aristotle. J. Barnes, editor. 1984. Princeton.

Lear, J. 1988. Aristotle – The Desire to Understand. Cambridge.

Mayhew, R. 2005a. Anthem ’38 & ’46. In Mayhew 2005b.

——., editor. 2005b. Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Lexington.

Milgram, S. 2005. Anthem in Manuscript: Finding the Words. In Mayhew 2005b.

Rand, A. 1943. The Fountainhead. Bobbs-Merrill.

——. 1946 (1938). Anthem. Issue 3(1) of The Freeman.

——. 1957. Atlas Shrugged. Random House.

——. 1963. The Goal of My Writing. In The Romantic Manifesto. 1971. Signet.

Richardson Lear, G. 2004. Happy Lives and the Highest Good. Princeton.

Wright, D. 2005. Needs of the Psyche in Ayn Rand’s Early Ethical Thought. In Mayhew 2005b.

Edited by Boydstun

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Thank you. This is a great article. I'd like to comment on the your quote from Aristotle-desire and thought have the same source. But what is the source? Life is process of self-initiated goal orientated interaction with the environment when the goal is a continuation and bettering of the life itself. Life is autonomic, self relied and self-reclusive system which cannot be driven by antecedent cause. What is then life's driven force? Objectivist's answer-the goals, projected into the future. Such a goals are the source of desire. Every living organism possesses the ability to anticipate the future events and to direct its actions in order to achieve desirable results and to avoid the harm. On the conceptual level the mechanism which facilitates such an achievement is a thought. The rational thinking is a mechanism which projects the desirable goals into the future and allows to us to act on them. The love for existence is inherent in the very nature of life

So Aristotle was right-desire and thought have the same source. However he was wrong invoking God or primary mover-each and every organism including man is his own primary mover. The whole story of Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead could be summarized by this sentence.

Edited by Leonid

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Thanks for the further reflection, Leonid.

I have now written a companion essay which expands a portion of this one. It is titled “Thought’s Living Existence” and is linked here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Return to Diana’s program for tomorrow here.

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