Rand thought the human animal to have no automatic, instinctual knowledge of what was good or evil for him. She held that man had a nature of rationality, and that this rationality is held as a value in the individual man only by choice (1957, 1013). Part of his rational nature would be the deliverances of the senses automatically giving information in general and pleasure/pain valence in particular. Those primitive elements for rationality, in Rand’s understanding, are not susceptible to human choice however much humans may try to rub out their validity and replace them with feelings (1037).
She maintained, as mentioned earlier, that humans have a life-or-death need of self-esteem (also at 1057), that in truth this self-esteem is (and is at some level generally known to be) “reliance on one’s power to think,” that self-esteem is rightly attached to being morally right, and that a false morality—one valorizing not thinking, not thinking for oneself—can render one’s self-esteem incoherent, a mess (1030–31). Calling the name John Galt in that novel can be calling one’s own “betrayed self-esteem” (1060).
In the 1961 essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand wrote:
“By what means does [man] first become aware of the issue of ‘good or evil’ in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation.
“The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man’s body; it is part of his nature, part of the kind of the kind of entity he is.”
She described animals below man having automatic ways of living action enlisting only sensation or sensation together with the automatic integration of sensations into percepts, giving perceptual consciousness of entities in the world, though no freedom over the animal’s governing consciousness or over its range. She regarded man as having that much automatic correct, reality-given inputs to cognition and to evaluation. So his higher-order, volitional cognitive and evaluative powers do not take off from a blank or get no feedback from those lower-level processes.
There are two levels to one’s “moral ideal, the image of Man.” There is what Rand would put into it for all men (not brain-damaged and so forth), and this is what she puts into the moral ideals of ethical theory. That is, that much she writes (explicitly) into basic values and virtues of her ethical theory. She personifies them in her fictional character John Galt. That much of John Galt is to be an ideal for everyone. But his love of particular areas of physics or of a particular woman are parts of him that are the realization of the general ethical ideal, but can vary from person to person still holding the same general ideal “image of Man.”
Sorry so much of this is old hat, but I needed to recount it to reach the point that whether one is crafting a general frame in the “moral ideal, the image of Man” or whether one is persuaded that Rand’s general specification is right and one is only figuring out what to do with one’s own particular likes, aversions, and abilities in bringing about the ideal in one’s own case, one doesn’t need to ignore one’s feelings nor accept them without critically examining them as they are used as inputs for one’s craft of “values of character that make [one’s] life worth sustaining.”
Before I read Rand’s 1943 and 1957, I was a devout altruist. The way in which she changed me was by subjecting different systems to rational criticism and by appeal to other values (feelings, a key manifestation of them) that we both already shared. And those two factors could also persuade one to some new virtues of character, significantly modifying the old ones.
“The image of Man” is image of fundamental nature of man but also a norm in Rand’s presentation (for man must be Man by choice). It’s somewhat like “image of God” in man taking after God by possessing reason, although God can’t be a full normative model for man because of radical differences of nature between the two.
ET, an elderly woman dear to me would say to me, Why is God still keeping me here? I can’t do anything or be of any use to anyone anymore.
I think I told her of how good it was for her younger loved ones to be able to enjoy her company. She was still able to talk, as she and I were doing on the phone, and we could stir up each other’s recollections of people and experiences we had shared decades ago.
I am 70. I’m still doing my same creating most important to me. I still have an important work or two in progress. Even if their completion would complete my reach (really, no grasp could match my reach), I think I could still find continued, closing life meaningful. With enough health and memory, I hope to just keep looking back to my accomplishments, including loves attained, here where is the place and future of any value and meaning.