I have read that Ayn Rand was a Romantic writer, who used fiction to describe her ideals. In Atlas Shrugged John Galt was the only ideal man because he was the only man who completely believed and lived Objectivist ideals. Other characters were Objectivists, but all had flaws that made them less than ideal. My question is: Could John Galt, as the ideal Objectivist, empathize with those who were not Objectivists? In particular, could he empathize with their fear? Also, to what extent could he empathize with the emotions of other non-ideal Objectivists?
Let me define empathy in this thread as Princeton's Wordnet does: "understanding and entering into another's feelings." Please note the "and."
I do not think Galt could empathize with the irrational emotions of the non-Objectivists. He did not fear either life or death in the same way as those who had incomplete, irrational conceptions of what life and death are. So, I say he could not empathize with the non-Objectivists, because the basis of their fears was foreign to him, as their fears stemmed from different premises and a more muddled 'logic' than his mind knew. Perhaps he could understand where their fears came from intellectually, as Ayn Rand did, but I do not see him - able and ideal as he was - as able to "enter into" the feelings non-Objectivists, so I say he could not empathize with non-Objectivists. Thus, I say an ideal Objectivist could not empathize with non-Objectivist emotions.
Galt could only feel fear "to a certain point," while some of the non-Objectivists were wracked by fears that shook their very core, and once confronted, sundered their tenuous grasp on reason and destroyed their sanity. Galt's core, his sane grasp of reason and his precepts, were never in question in his mind, even when he was tortured and confronted with corporeal death. Thus I say his ability to not fear was fundamentally different than that of the non-Objectivists. He really could not fear as they did, without degenerating metaphyisically, epistemologically and ethically to their level, which would have been impossible for Galt qua Galt.
Galt could only empathize with other non-ideal Objectivists to the extent that they were ideal. As I read his history, while he had struggled and worked to find success in the world, in his mind he was always completely rational, living and believing as an Objectivist before he realized he was a breed apart. So, he could not empathize with the struggle to become a perfect Objectivist, as he never had or would enter into that struggle, but he could intellectually understand it. Thus, his ability to empathize with the non-ideal was limited.
I would like to clarify the abilities, such as empathy, of the penultimate Objectivist to better understand Objectivist ideals so I can apply them better, and, occasionally, better educate others who I believe misinterpret the Objectivist philosophy. I recently had an argument with a person who claims to understand, admire, and perhaps even follow the Objectivist philosophy. When we discussed Galt and I claimed he could not empathize with non-Objectivists, I was told that my claim was ammunition for those who see Objectivism as cold and antisocial. If misunderstood, Galt's lack of empathy could be used as 'ammunition' against Objectivism, sure. Words and ideas are twisted every day. But a lack of empathy for those who are not good (in this context, akin to those who are not Objectivists), thus for those who are evil, is not an evil thing. Thus, I do not judge Galt's lack of empathy as a bad thing. It is a good thing. Galt was never a mystical god, omniscient and capable of all experience. He is man qua man, capable of only highest human experience internally, regardless of external circumstances, and thus could never lower himself to the level of evil on a rational or emotional level. He is not cold, but glowing warm with the internal light of his rational mind. Similarly, Objectivism doesn't require others be cold, or un-feeling, but to feel the best, and nothing less. If that is anti-social, what does that say about the society being used as context? It certainly isn't anti-man to not empathize with evil. An interesting thread to begin after this one would be What is the extent non-ideal Objectivists (everyone but Galt) should empathize with those who are non-Objectivists? I will leave that for another day, or for another person to start. I am very curious to read your analysis of my question, answer and commentary, and wish to thank you for your effort in advance.