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Could John Galt Empathize with Non-Objectivists?

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Hello,

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.

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Are "irrational emotions" are emotions felt for irrational reasons? (e.g. an irrational fear of real-estate agents.) I suppose the very the same emotion can be felt for rational reasons too. Therefore, the emotion itself is not rational or irrational, but the thing that underlies it might be. (One might still speak of "irrational emotion" as a shortcut, but one is actually describing something underlying it.)

If one breaks the process down, the first step is some conclusion or evaluation about reality. This conclusion may be conscious or sub-conscious; it may be true or false; it may be reach rationally or irrationally. Regardless of which route one took to get there, a certain type of conclusion can lead to fear, another type can lead to worry, another to anger, and so on.

So, if one person has felt anger, he ought to be able to empathize at least somewhat with the anger of someone else. It appears that different people have different characteristic emotional responses and different ranges, but I'd guess that everyone has felt most of the common emotions at some point in their life.

Sometimes, empathizing with someone else may require a conscious effort. I think some actors engage in such empathy when they try to put themselves in the shoes of a character. Perhaps psychologists need to do something similar (never been one).

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Mine is a 'yes' and 'no' answer. It is important for one's grasp of such a close-to-ideal figure as John Galt that one shouldn't turn him into a remote Superhuman, I believe. Not that you are.

The very characteristics that make him superior to most would be meaningless if he was not also and always a man.

I see him as a man with a range of levels, as we all have. The range encompasses everything human, including sympathy, empathy, and human understanding; it's just that in his case, the levels extend upwards and higher into realms that we can hold as an inspiring example, but not always completely achieve. Certainty, pride, productiveness, morality, and obviously, always Reason. All the more magnificent that he could gain these, and still be human. That's how Ayn Rand viewed a Hero, isn't it?

Yeah, you or I could have sat down with a guy like this, and 'related' to each other, I think.

He would understand our fears, simply because he has known them himself - he's not robotic. As a result of his level of consciousness, however, he has integrated all such emotions.

But if by 'being empathetic' to any one else, one implies following up with any sort of action, - well, this is where Galt would draw a definite line. His respect for himself - also his respect for other self-respecting individuals - would obviate this.

In the case of non- Oists, he would likely take the attitude of "I understand where you're coming from buddy, now stay out of my way."

{ This is just an addendum to what you asked and answered very well for yourself.} :o

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Let me define empathy in this thread as Princeton's Wordnet does: "understanding and entering into another's feelings." Please note the "and."

To 'enter into' another's feelings means to bring your own emotional state into a parallel and similar emotional state.

To be empathetic, is it necessary to be able to empathize with anyone and everyone regardless of context? I say no, because that is not even possible. Having definite evaluations and the corresponding emotions limits the ability to take seriously a contradictory evaluation. Understanding and recognition are still possible but not 'entering into'. Galt could empathize with the people he recruited into his strike but not Orren Boyle or Jim Taggart. Galt was empathetic.

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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.

Firstly, don't conflate the term Objectivist with the term rational. None of the characters in Atlas Shrugged were Objectivists because they did not (and could not) subscribe to Ayn Rand's philosophy--she didn't exist in their "universe".

That, and your definition of empathy is really awful. What does it mean to "enter" another person's feelings? That you, yourself, have felt the same way they did at times, so you "know" firsthand what they're going through? All humans possess the same basic array of emotional states. What is different is what triggers which state in each person. So, if you're asking "Does John Galt know what it means to feel really awful?" Well, yes. Of course he does. Does he know what it means to feel really awful *because* his power-lust or desire to get away with the impossible has been frustrated? No.

You might benefit from writing a shorter post that conveys more information by being more precise. The forumites don't care why you're asking this question or who you were arguing with. Say *exactly* what you mean and provide examples and leave this meandering exploration of implications for a later post.

Edited by JMeganSnow
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I agree with the above assessment concerning that definition of empathy. To me empathy is understanding the emotional state of another person. You mention in particular the emotion of fear that Galt could or couldn't empathize with. I see no reason why he could not. His ability to understand that fear was essential when he makes his speech. Understanding what irrationality caused that fear was necessary so he could target that irrationality for change.

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I agree with the above assessment concerning that definition of empathy. To me empathy is understanding the emotional state of another person. You mention in particular the emotion of fear that Galt could or couldn't empathize with. I see no reason why he could not. His ability to understand that fear was essential when he makes his speech. Understanding what irrationality caused that fear was necessary so he could target that irrationality for change.

Empathy doesn't just mean an intellectual awareness and understanding of someone's feelings and thoughts, but also an emotional one. It involves sensing and actually experiencing (briefly) their state of mind and emotions, besides just understanding them.

I think the "understanding and entering another's feelings" sums it up nicely, if you interpret the metaphor the obvious way. But it's better to keep metaphors out of definitions, there are plenty of ways of saying the same thing explicitly.

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Empathy doesn't just mean an intellectual awareness and understanding of someone's feelings and thoughts, but also an emotional one. It involves sensing and actually experiencing (briefly) their state of mind and emotions, besides just understanding them.

I think the "understanding and entering another's feelings" sums it up nicely, if you interpret the metaphor the obvious way. But it's better to keep metaphors out of definitions, there are plenty of ways of saying the same thing explicitly.

I see what you're trying to say but still I just can't understand that definition. I've felt different levels of fear in my past. If I see someone else in a state of fear similar to what I have felt, I can "put myself in their shoes" in an intellectual way without having to experience that fearful emotion again. Do people who can not feel empathy, like some serial killers, not make that intellectual link or do they just not experience that emotion briefly?

Ah, the joy of definitions.

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