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Dr. Peikoff on Courage

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Thomas M. Miovas Jr.

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Dr. Peikoff's most recent podcast has a few interesting things to say about courage. As with other virtuous acts, courage needs to be understood in terms of a man's relation to reality and to himself -- not with regard to others. For the most part, people think of courage as standing up to others in a dangerous situation, but this might be too other oriented. Basically, Dr. Peikoff talks about courage as pursuing a value in spite of inner conflicts -- i.e. negative emotions (say, fear or anxiety) or even pursuing a value against uncertainty and subconscious or conscious conflicts. He said it was a way of being true to oneself and to one's understanding of existence, so from this perspective, it is quite possible to be courageous without it involving acting against anyone else.

Dr. Peikoff didn't give any examples, but let's say one was in the Twin Towers on the day of the terrorist attacks, and survives; likewise someone you loved, who was also in the towers survived. But let's say you lost touch with her, recover from the attacks, and move on, wondering whatever happened to her. Years later, you find out where she lives and seek to re-unite with her. Due to the terrorist attacks, I think one would necessarily feel a great deal of anxiety and perhaps even terror having to go back to that time when one lost touch with one's loved one. Courage, in this case, would be to act against the anxiety and the terror in order to pursue your true love.

Granted, in this example, others were involved -- i.e. the terrorist -- however one is not fighting the terrorist in the present trying to kill you, but rather fighting anxiety attacks and terror memories in order to pursue a high value, one's true love.

I think this would be true for any tragedy or evil that happened to oneself as one tries to both heal the psychological scars and tries to re-gain a value that might have been lost in the mean time of the recovery process. In such cases, one would definitely be conflicted, because, say one has recovered from the evil or the tragedy, for the most part, and pursuing that value may open up old wounds. In other words, the love for her and the fear of re-experiencing a tragedy or an evil would be experienced at the same time with great intensity (leading to very high anxiety), and one is being true to reality and to oneself to act against that inner confusion in order to pursue her for romance.

Unfortunately, such attempts may not go as smoothly as art -- for example the movie Love Letters by Ayn Rand -- but the attempt is certainly heroic; though further tragedies may befall one as one's intent and purpose may be misunderstood as one is fighting an inner struggle others may not be aware of. So, in that sense, Hank Rearden was very courageous to continue to pursue Dagny, even though he was having inner conflicts; and part of the happy ending aspects of Miss Rand's sense of life was that Dagny understood this and stuck with him.

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I think courage is shown especially in situations where you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between two or more alternatives that all are "painful" to varying degrees, and you have the courage to "accept" reality and choose the right one. An example of this would be the hiker who cut his own arm off after he had a boulder fall on his arm and would have died otherwise. It took a lot of courage to actually face reality and understand that there is no way he can live with his arm.

It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing in situations where your circumstances change, and you have to make decisions based on the current circumstance and not think about the circumstance that does not exist anymore. The hiker example is a very extreme example, and other more "every-day" examples would be the courage to understand that you cant spend like before after you lose your well paid job/livelihood, or the courage to be objective when a person you love does something immoral.

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