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Rand on Sculpture

Ayn Rand took sculpture, as an art form, to be confined to human figures (1971, 1012). In defining art, Rand aimed for what has been called a “‘wrapper definition’ that attempts to cover the entire extension of a concept,” rather than only “an evaluative characterization of what the best forms of art aspire to be like” (Stroud 2011, 5). Rand defined art as “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments” (1965a, 16)

Rand specified a function of art beyond its beckon of experience and contemplation for its own sake. Art has integral place in the realm of life functions (cf. Greater Hippias 295c–e on the fine). In its selective re-creations of reality, according to Rand, art isolates and integrates aspects of reality to yield a new concrete that can serve certain functions for the human psyche (1965a, 16).

The highest goal Rand had in her novels was the portrayal of ideal men. The experience of meeting those characters in the stories is an end in itself. She aimed for a story offering an experience worth living through for its own sake, and she aimed for protagonists to be a pleasure to contemplate for their own sake (Rand 1963, 37). That kind of contemplation, in all art, serves a human need, the need for moments sensing as complete the life-long struggle for achievement of values (41). Notice that the concept of contemplation here is broad enough to include rapture, esthetic rapture (cf. Crowther 2007, 35–36).

There is that Randian integration in the esthetic experience of art. However, there are other kinds of contemplation of art for its own sake besides that one, I should say, important and lovely as that one is.

Rand has it in The Fountainhead that the ornamentation inside the Stoddard Temple of the Human Spirit, designed by Howard Roark, consists of the graded projections of its gray limestone walls and its vast windows. The temple is “open to the earth around it, to the trees, the river, the sun—and to the skyline of the city in the distance” (ET XI 356). Before that skyline, stands one ornament, true to the idea of this temple: one statue of a naked human body. Sculpture can be art, yet ornamentation within architectural art, as in Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio.

The form of a building that is a work of art has a theme that is integral with the building’s purpose and its site (PK I 18, X 127, HR I 544–45, III 568, IX 633). Such a work takes function and site as constituents of its esthetic theme, which theme is the uniting principle of its specific form. The ornamentation of the building is integral with the function and theme of the structure. Ornamentation in the building that is a work of art rides on the method of construction; it is an emphasis of the building’s physical structural principles. Ornamentation must not choke the building’s sense, must not destroy its esthetic integrity (PK XI 141, XII 171, XV 205). Rand recognized that although sculpture can serve the function of ornamentation for architecture, that is not its only standing (1971, 1012).

Rand took sculpture to have its play in sight and touch. The play with color (and other visual elements, I should add to Rand) belongs to painting. “Sculpture offers shape as an abstraction; but touch is a somewhat concrete-bound sense and confines sculpture to concrete entities. Of these, only the figure of man can project a metaphysical meaning. There is little that one can express in the statue of an animal or an inanimate object“ (1971, 1012). I should counter that high stylization of an animal, together with a telling title of the work, such as Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” would seem amenable to conveying a metaphysical meaning. I wonder though but what feelings we have in such sculptures as that one are concretizations of aspects of animals that have counterparts within humans.

“Psycho-epistemologically, it is the requirements of the sense of touch that make the texture of a human body a crucial element in sculpture, and virtually a hallmark of great sculptors. Observe the manner in which the softness, smoothness, the pliant resiliency of the skin is conveyed by rigid marble in statues such as Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Rand thought that Romantic art is the main source of a moral sense of life in the child and adolescent (cf. Kant 1788, 5:154–57; 1797, 6:478–84).

“Please note that art is not his only source of morality, but of a moral sense of life. This requires careful differentiation.

“A ‘sense of life’ is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics—an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man’s nature and the nature of reality, summing up one’s view of man’s relationship to existence. Morality is an abstract, conceptual code of values and principles.” (Rand 1965b, 10)

I should note—and this no detraction from Rand’s esthetic theory—that for many children, there can be another, more important source of a moral sense of life. That is from clergy. The experience of child or adolescent with the manner and behavior of their pastor, priest, rabbi, or iman, especially in the setting of worship ceremony and sermon, is a major source of a moral sense of life.

Rand observed that “every religion has a mythology—a dramatized concretization of its moral code embodied in the figures of men who are its ultimate product” (1965a, 16). Such characters and their associated deeds and ordeals, when visualized in a drawing or painting or sculpture, I should say and likely Rand would say, do not bring a moral sense of life to the artwork by their iconographical status. The means of sense of life, including moral sense of life, in a work of art are from other elements in the work, not iconography.

In Rand’s “For the New Intellectual” (1960), she had conceived of human consciousness as preserving some continuity and as demanding “a certain degree of integration, whether a man seeks it or not” (18). Philosophy should formulate “an integrated view of man, of existence, of the universe” (22). “Man needs an integrated view of life, a philosophy, whether he is aware of his need or not” (18). Rand saw art as addressing a related need for integration. “Art is a concretization of metaphysics” (Rand 1965a, 16). It provides the power to summon in a full, perceptually conscious focus, a condensation of the chains of abstract concepts forming man’s “fundamental view of himself and of his relationships to reality” (16). 

Rand elaborated further what she meant by a sense of life. It is a person’s “generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences” (1966a, 17). This generalized feeling she took to be the result of a subconscious integration summing the history of one’s psychological activities, one’s reactions and conclusions. This conception of sense of life is an extension of her earlier notion that human consciousness preserves willy-nilly some continuity and demands a certain degree of integration (1961, 18).

Rand found metaphysical, cognitive, and evaluative linkages in art. Her final characterization of their assembly was under her concept of a metaphysical value-judgment.

Rand’s explications of sense of life and metaphysical value-judgments are in terms of metaphysics that bears on human life and the role and character of values in it. She said that a sense of life sums up one’s view of man’s relationship to existence. That suggests that when she said this subconsciously integrated appraisal that is sense of life includes appraisal of the nature of reality, she was confining the metaphysical appraisal to implications for moral, human life. That would include some notion of the intelligibility or lack thereof in existence in general and in living existence in particular.

Rand had used the phrase sense of life once in Fountainhead, twice in Atlas, and evidently routinely in conversation (Branden 1999, 38, 56, 101, 105, 168, 171) before beginning to write about the meaning of the phrase in 1965. The phrase and concept “tragic sense of life” was title of Unamuno’s book of 1913.

In Atlas Rand once used the phrase sense of life tied to a sense of beauty and to the love of human existence. During Dagny’s tour of Atlantis, she visits the composer Richard Halley, who plays some of his piano pieces for her.

“She was thinking of the years when the works he had just played for her were being written, here, in his small cottage on the ledge of the valley, when all the prodigal magnificence of sound was being shaped by him as a flowing monument to a concept which equates the sense of life with the sense of beauty—while she had walked through the streets of New York in a hopeless quest for some form of enjoyment, with the screeches of a modern symphony running after her, as if spit by the infected throat of a loud-speaker coughing its malicious hatred of existence.” (AS 781)

In this passage, beauty and a sense of life saturated with it are aligned with life and the love of it. This is a use of the phrase sense of life consistent with Rand’s later definition of it I quoted above. Notice that Rand’s conception of sense of life fits just as well with the conception significance and meaningfulness as the concern of esthetics in art as it fits with Rand’s conception importance as that concern.

Rand’s theory of esthetics, I say, is too restrictive in three ways. Firstly, the cognitive and emotional function of art is a family of end-in-itself integrations, among which Rand’s function is an important one, but only one. In “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” Rand wrote that art fulfills a need for end-in-itself concretization of metaphysical value-judgments. That is consonant with her idea, stated earlier in “The Goal of My Writing,” that the function of art is to supply moments of sensing as complete the life-long struggle for achievement of values. In the later essay “Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” Rand was not broadening her view of what is “the” function of art; she was only articulating more of the means by which it fulfills that function (see also Rand 1966a, 34, 36–37, and 1971, 1009). In Rand’s view, there are other enjoyments in art besides fulfillment of that function, but no other function (1966a, 39).

About psycho-epistemology: Rand and her circle had been using the term to refer to an individual’s characteristic method of awareness. Is the time scope of his outlook brief or long? Is his concern only with what is physically present? Does he recoil into his emotions in the face of his physical life and need for action? How far does he integrate his perceptions into conceptions? Is his thinking a means of perceiving reality or justifying escape from reality? (Rand 1960, 14, 19, 21). Chris Sciabarra reports that Barbara Branden was the one who originated the concept (and, I presume, the word) psycho-epistemology (1995, 194). In her lecture series Principles of Efficient Thinking, Branden defined psycho-epistemology as “the study of the mental operations that characterize a man’s method of dealing with reality” (1962, 178). Nathaniel Branden further specified the compass of psycho-epistemology in an essay with that title (1964).

Art performs the psycho-epistemological function, in Rand’s view, of converting metaphysical abstractions “into the equivalent of concretes, into specific entities open to man’s direct perception” (1965a). Rand held art to be a need of human consciousness. (So did Kant, but we’ll have to hope there is another time for discussion of that.)

Secondly too restrictive, importance as Rand’s criterion of esthetic abstraction is a salient criterion in such abstraction, but the broader criteria of significance and meaningfulness also sort the esthetic from the purely cognitive and normative types of abstraction. To those two overly narrow restrictions in Rand’s esthetics—function of art and criterion of esthetic abstraction—I should add a third. Rand’s range of philosophical issues going into the makeup of all the facets of one’s sense of life might well be too limited. Moreover, there is no muster of evidence that a sense of life is a singular, well-integrated thing.

Importance is the concept Rand took to be key in formation of a sense of life. She then restricted importance to a fundamental view of human nature. A sense of life becomes an emotional summation reflecting answers on basic questions of human nature read as applying to oneself. Such questions would be whether the universe is knowable, whether man has the power of choice, and whether man can achieve his goals (Rand 1966b, 19). In development of one’s sense of life in childhood and adolescence, Rand was thinking of more particular forms or ramifications of those broad questions in application to oneself. Later the broad questions themselves can be formulated and generalized to human kind, not only oneself.

The fundamental importance-questions whose emotional answers are vested in a sense of life were the same as Rand had listed the previous year in spelling out what are metaphysical value-judgments. Those questions had been:

“Is the universe intelligible to man, or unintelligible and unknowable? Can man find happiness on earth, or is he doomed to frustration and despair? Does man have the power of choice, the power to choose his goals and to achieve them, the power to direct the course of his life—or is he the helpless plaything of forces beyond his control, which determine his fate? Is man, by nature, to be valued as good, or to be despised as evil?” (1965a, 16)

That last question would seem at first blush to be a normative question, rather than a metaphysical one. I suggest, however, that it is a question for (i) the metaphysics of life and value in general, to which, as metaphysical fact, man is no alien and (ii) for the metaphysics of mind joining (i) (see also Peikoff 1991, 189–93).

American Heritage Dictionary defines art as “the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty; specifically, the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.” The types after the semicolon are the specific types most typically meant when the term is used in the general sense of art preceding the semicolon. This dictionary has nine other senses in which art is used, but the one quoted here is the one pertinent to this discussion.

On Rand’s definition, art is “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments” (1965a, 16). I am not persuaded that all art under the dictionary definition I just quoted nor that all of what should be grouped under art is captured by Rand’s theoretical explanatory definition. Her definition holds for a major subclass of art.

We are able to sense the feelings indicated in a great variety of created illusions, or re-creations of reality. One would expect the same for artists, and some artists might have considerable success in expressing a sense of life not their own. It is only a slight modification, a slight broadening of Rand’s definition to say art is a selective re-creation of reality according to metaphysical value-judgments, therewith leaving in suspension how much they are favored by the artist, if at all. It is, I think, also overly restrictive to confine the metaphysical in art to man’s relationship to reality, that is, to Rand’s metaphysical value-judgments. That said, Rand’s house of metaphysical value-judgments itself need not be so restrictive as one might first think from her list of metaphysical value-questions. For example, to ask whether the universe is intelligible is also to ask whether existence is one and interconnected within itself and whether a negative judgment on that question-couple leaves existence intelligible and, if so, differently so than were existence truly one and highly interconnected. This would seem to be an expansion of Rand’s list of questions, remaining within her conception, because the judgments the question and its subsidiaries invite are metaphysical and bear on basic human purposes.

There is something else to remember about Rand’s compact definition of art, which is intended to cover arts literary and visual (and more). When she says these works are re-creations of reality, one needs to remember two things implicit in that conception: imagination and stylization. An artist stylizes reality in his re-creations. In that, re-creations are his (his/her) integration of facts and his metaphysical evaluations, and these are set concrete in his selection of theme and subject, brushstroke and word, and indeed in all his craft with elements of the medium (Rand 1966a, 35; 1971, 1011–12).

We should lastly note that one might concur with Rand’s definition of art, yet one might disagree with Rand’s analysis of various artworks within this framework (1966a, 37–39; 1968, 501–3; see also Sures 1969; Peikoff 1982, 173–74; 2012, 84–101).


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Branden, N. 1964. Psycho-Epistemology. The Objectivist Newsletter 3(10):41, 43–44; 3(11):46–47.

——. c. 1968. The Basic Principles of Objectivism. In The Vision of Ayn Rand. 2009. Cobden.

——. 1999. My Years with Ayn Rand. Jossey-Bass.

Crowther, P. 2007. Defining Art, Creating the Canon. Oxford.

Kant 1788. Critique of Practical Reason. M. J. Gregor, translator. In Practical Philosophy. 1996. Cambridge.

——. 1797. The Metaphysics of Morals. M. J. Gregor, translator. In Practical Philosophy. 1996. Cambridge.

Peikoff, L. 1982. The Ominous Parallels. Stein and Day.

——. 1991. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Dutton.

——. 2012. The DIM Hypothesis. NAL

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

——. 1957. Atlas Shrugged. Random House.

——. 1958 [2000]. Lectures on Fiction Writing. In The Art of Fiction. T. Boeckmann, editor. Penguin.

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——. 1961. The Objectivist Ethics. In The Virtue of Selfishness. Signet.

——. 1963. The Goal of My Writing. The Objectivist Newsletter (ON) 2(10):37–40, 2(11):41–42.

——. 1965a. The Psycho-Epistemology of Art. ON 4(4):15–16, 18.

——. 1965b. Art and Moral Treason. ON 4(3):9–10, 12–14.

——. 1966a. Art and Sense of Life. The Objectivist (O) 5(Mar):33–40.

——. 1966b. Philosophy and Sense of Life. O 5(Feb):17–22.

——. 1968. Basic Principles of Literature. O 7(Jul):481–88; 7(Aug):497–504.

——. 1971. Art and Cognition I. O 10(Apr):1009–17.

Sciabarra, C. M. 1995. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Penn State.

Stroud, S. R. 2011. John Dewey and the Artful Life. Penn State.

Sures, M. A. 1969. Metaphysics in Marble. O 8(Feb):602–8; 8(Mar):618–24.

Unamuno, M. 1913. The Tragic Sense of Life. J. E. Crawford Fitch, translator. 1921 [1954]. Dover.

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Schopenhauer  I

Mary Ann Sures took up Rand’s essays on the nature of art and applied them more particularly to sculpture (1969). Sures attributed the differences of human form between Winged Victory and a medieval work such as Eve at St. Lazare in Autun to differences in what Rand had conceived as metaphysical value-judgements. Schopenhauer too had thought that sculpture and other arts have underpinnings in metaphysics. He saw in sculpture opposition of the fundamental conception of man in classical Greece (Phidias, Praxiteles, Scopas) to the conception of man within Christian culture, but he saw the opposition as playing out within a somewhat odd limitation he placed on sculpture per se. He found Young John the Baptist by Donatello rather repulsive, and he diagnosed that response as stemming from the circumstance that sculpture is suited only to affirmation and principally concerns beauty and grace. By contrast painting is suited to denial of the will to life. Thus it followed, he opined, that sculpture was the art of the ancients, and painting the art of Christian times (W2 §36, 476). Sures did not note such a limitation or slant for what can be suitably expressed by the human form in sculpture.

Schopenhauer seems off the mark on that point. He did not write much about sculpture and nothing about its connection to architecture. He did have an esthetics, one rooted in metaphysics, and he wrote about architecture. I want to look at those and compare them to Rand after him and to Kant before him. I’d like to begin in this installment by laying out a chunk of his setting of esthetics in his widest philosophy. In the next installment, I’ll convey his thoughts on esthetics in architecture.

From Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Presentation (W1 – 1819; W2 – 1844):

“The aesthetic satisfaction is essentially one and the same, be it called forth by a work of art or immediately through perception of nature and of life. The work of art is merely a means for facilitating the cognizance in which that satisfaction consists. That Ideas confront us more easily through works of art than immediately through nature and actual reality is due to the fact that the artist, who is cognizant only of Ideas, no longer of actual reality, has also purely replicated only its Idea in his work, separated it out from actual reality, omitting all disturbingly contingent factors. The artist lets us look into the world through his eyes.” (W1 §37, 229–30)

“[Art] replicates the eternal Ideas that are apprehended through pure contemplation, that which is essential and enduring in all the world’s phenomena, and depending on the material in which it replicates them, it is plastic or pictorial art, poetry, or music. Its single origin is cognizance of Ideas, its simple goal communication of this cognizance.

“While science, following the unresting and insubstantial stream of quadruply configured grounds and consequences [see Schopenhauer 1813], is always, with the achievement of each goal, directed to something else—and can as little find an ultimate goal or full satisfaction as one could reach the point where the clouds touch the horizon by walking—art, to the contrary, is always at its goal. For it tears the object of its contemplation out of the stream of the world’s course and holds it isolated before itself. And the individual thing, which was a vanishingly small part of that stream, becomes for it a representative of the whole, equivalent to infinitely many things in space and time. It stays, therefore, with the individual thing, it stops the wheel of time, relations vanish for it; only that which is essential, the Idea, is an object for it.” (W1 §36, 217–18)

“Any sort of cognizance, rational as well as merely perceptual . . . proceeds originally from will itself . . . just as means for maintaining the individual and the species as any of the body’s organs. Originally determined for service of its will, for the accomplishment of its purposes, it also remains throughout almost entirely in its service: so it is in all animals and in nearly all human beings. And yet . . . in individual human beings, cognizance is able to withdraw from this subservience, throw off its yoke and stand purely on its own, free from all the purposes involved in willing, as the bare clear mirror of the world from which art proceeds. . . . Finally we will see . . . when this mode of cognition works back on the will, self-nullification of the latter can take place, i.e., resignation, which is the ultimate goal, indeed the innermost essence of all virtue and saintliness, and redemption from the world.” (W1 §27, 181)

In true contemplativeness, according to Schopenhauer, a person sustains a regard for things in an entirely disinterested way. The artistic genius is capable of true contemplation of objects, of reaching their Platonic Idea, then representing the object’s Idea more perfectly than is likely in particular occasions in nature. Dropping orientation to his own person, entirely losing sight of his interests, his willing, and his purposes, the artistic genius attains objectivity (W1 §36, 219–20). He makes himself pure subject of cognition. Similarly it goes with the beholder of art receiving esthetic satisfaction, though cognizing the Idea of the object has been made easier for the beholder by the artist (W1 §37, 229–30).

Schopenhauer was in step with the German idealists and their disciples in the general view, after Plotinus, that Idea shining through matter is the cause of esthetic satisfaction (PB 153–54). Schopenhauer’s construction of what this amounts to is integral with his metaphysics and is as distinctive as that metaphysics.

It was his predecessor Kant who made popular the idea that disinterestedness is the differentia of esthetic delight from other delight. Kant had the idea before his eyes in the writings of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Kames, Burke, Moses Mendelssohn, and Karl Philipp Moritz (PB 281–82; Cassirer 1981, 326; Guyer 2005, 7–12, 22, 168, 191–92, 307). The related idea that esthetic delight is delightful of and by itself can be found in Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Philo, Plotinus, Augustine, John Scotus Erigena, William of Auvergne, Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, and Aquinas (PB 282–83).

“The world as presentation” means the world presented to a cognizant subject. In Schopenhauer’s conception, it does not mean the world presented for that cognizing subject. To this general situation, Schopenhauer’s ultra-disinterestedness in the esthetic mode of consciousness joins smoothly. But that general situation does not necessitate his radical disinterestedness in esthetic consciousness. His is even more radical than Kant’s 1790 (204–10, 221–26, 242–44, 257–60, 267, 270–73, 292).

Rand confines the end-in-itself contemplation of art to rest from, and emotional fuel for, achievement of one’s ongoing purposeful struggle of life. Schopenhauer takes end-in-itself contemplation of art to have more thorough disconnection from those strivings of life. In art we stop all looking at things in their temporal, causal, and useful relations. We see the eternal Ideas of things, which is to say their eternal Ideas are present to us (Schopenhauer 1813, 41–42; W1 §17, 114). 

Esthetic attention in Rand’s view should include a turning away from not only utilitarian, moral, and other non-esthetic functions insofar as they interfere with the esthetic interest. I add that one should set aside also Rand’s (sole) ultimate function of art, its provision of regeneration for pursuing one’s life projects. What should remain not set aside then from Rand’s structure is the means to that purported ultimate function, namely the more immediate psychological function of art, which by her is end-in-itself engagement with concretized value-metaphysics. This remainder is the specifically Randian character of Kovach’s* general form of esthetic attention, the Randian specific form of the cognitive openness with interest “in whatever the esthetic object has to offer the rational mind,” a deliberate set of mind to recognize the beauty of the object “as fully as possible and thereby, to enjoy it as much as possible” (PB 297).

Among Schopenhauer-disinterests for the sake of esthetic attention would be his ultimate function of art (aside from music): rest from the strivings of will, from concern with one’s situation and struggles. What remains in esthetic interest is interest in Idea with its eternity. Being fully absorbed in perception of the art object so as to be pure mirror of Idea presented in that concrete object, this is the mode of esthetic attention for Schopenhauer. “Rid of the suffering self, we become utterly one with those objects as pure subject of cognition, and as foreign as our hardship is to them, so foreign is it in such moments to ourselves. The world as presentation alone is then still there, and the world as will has vanished” (W1 §38, 234).

Rand observed “there are many different aspects from which one may enjoy a work of art—other than sense-of-life affinity” (1966, 39). Even if one does not enjoy it at all, and finds its theme and style aberrant, one can yet discern the artist’s technical mastery and how well he has projected sense of life and metaphysical value-judgments (39). One can discern how well the artist has concretized a fundamental human consciousness and conveys a certain way of looking at existence (Rand 1971, 1009). Then Randian esthetic attention and its appetition, readiness for end-in-itself engagement with concretized value-metaphysics, can include anticipation of delight in “many different aspects” of the artwork, including delight in skill and the delight that is beauty. Notice that “visual harmony is a sensory experience and is determined primarily by physiological causes” (1044).

In his metaphysically based analysis of art, Schopenhauer did not overlook adjuncts of art’s interest and operation.

“Although . . . the real purpose of painting, as of art in general, is to facilitate our apprehension of the (Platonic) Ideas pertaining to the beings of this world, whereby we are simultaneously put into the state of pure, i.e., will-less cognition, it is additionally characterized by an independent and self-sufficient beauty, which is produced by mere harmony of colors, pleasing groupings, favorable distribution of light and shade, and the tone of the picture as a whole. This adjunct, subordinate kind of beauty promotes the state of pure cognition, and is in painting what diction, meter, and rhyme are in poetry; both, namely, are not what is essential, but what is initially and immediately effectual.” (W2 §36, 480)

I think Schopenhauer’s rendition of end-in-itself contemplation is too restrictive by way of leaving out the sort in Rand’s rendition. And vice versa: Rand’s is too restrictive by leaving out the sort in Schopenhauer’s rendition. I do not mean to credit Platonic Ideas expressed in art, but to credit schematized conceptions of what is, expressed in art, where esthetic cognizance of what is is sufficient unto itself.

By esthetic cognizance of what is, I mean in the particular esthetic subject. Rand included the nature of reality in its intelligibility and affordance of valuable action as within the scope of sense of life and metaphysical value-judgments concretized in art. Those pleasures and self-satisfactions can be there, I say, yet another one too: concrete expression of some schemata of what is the individual subject, stressing some of its specific identity and some of its particular identity. That might be all there is to the subject. It need not be amalgamated as a subsidiary of Rand’s sense-of-life questions or her metaphysical-value questions. It can stand alone as an esthetic subject, and when it is joined with expressions of answers to those questions, it need not get its interest from their presence alone.

Consciousness is in a living being, but at least in the human case, consciousness can set itself to take in the world or to re-imagine the world simply because it is interesting. Some of our interests are seeded by the merely interesting (cf. Kant 1790, 224, 271–73; Allison 2001, 92–97, 221–35; Crowther 2007, 68–69, 83; Crowther 2010, 70–72, 117–23, 128–35, 170–71; Guyer 1997, 148–83; Stroud 2011).

Whether scope of art subject is rightly confined to the scope Rand gave it or rightly expanded with my addition, particular subjects of an artwork need to be objects of consciousness, but need not be only those objects. Subjects can be consciousness itself with respect to objects. That is, subjects can stress elements of particular and specific identification. Baumgarten was not out of court to say that art perfects perception. It would be an error, however, to conclude the earlier view; that art perfects objects is not also true. Both of those views can be found in Rand’s writings on esthetics, including Fountainhead. (Another connection between Rand and Baumgarten is noticed in Bissell 2001, 305–6.)

The Ideas Schopenhauer sees expressed in art are like Platonic Ideas, but importantly different. Plato sometimes conflates Ideas with concepts, according to Schopenhauer, and that is a serious mistake. Ideas, in Schopenhauer’s sense, are like concepts in that they represent a multitude of individual things. Unlike concepts, Ideas are not expressible in words, and they have no definition exhausting their meaning. Ideas are determinate completely and perceptible only (cf. Baumgarten in Guyer 2005, 268–69). They do not receive their unity by abstraction from plurality, as do concepts, but are a unity “broken up into plurality by virtue of temporal and spatial forms of our intuitive apprehension” (W1 §49, 277). In addition, in Schopenhauer’s view, Ideas are fecund, unlike concepts.

In Schopenhauer’s understanding, concepts are useful for life and science, but they are unfruitful for art. Apprehended Idea is the source of art. By the true artist, Idea is “drawn in its primal force only from life itself, from nature, from the world . . . . Precisely because the Idea is and remains perceptual, the artist is not conscious in abstracto of the intention and goal of his work; he has not a concept, but rather an Idea in mind” (W1 §49, 278). Idea in this role is parallel the role of sense of life in Rand’s theory of art.

Twenty-five years later, Schopenhauer wrote a second volume to The World as Will and Presentation. Here one finds him moving a bit closer to what would become Rand’s view in the next century. 

Once a mind ever “devotes itself to regarding the world purely objectively, a striving has been aroused, as concealed and unconscious as it may be, to grasp the true essence of things, of life, of existence . . . . The result of every purely objective, thus also of every artistic apprehension of things, is an expression . . . of the essence of life and existence, . . . an answer to the question ‘What is life?’” (W2 §34, 461–62). Art says in a perceptual image “Look here, this is life!” So thought Schopenhauer and this too: It remains for philosophy to address the question in reflection, in abstraction, in concepts. Art and philosophy have the same root (462).

Schopenhauer had also clarified in W2, closer to Rand, that the artist is indeed thinking of the arrangement of his work. The thought content, the stimulating force, was perceived before its enlistment of thought for its embodiment (W2 §34, 465). However, to arbitrarily play with the means of art, “without true cognizance of its end, is in every art the fundamental characteristic of dilettantism. That sort of thing shows itself in the nonbearing columns, purposeless volutes, arches and jutties of bad architecture, in the meaningless runs and figures, along with the purposeless noise, of bad music, in the jingle-jangle rhythms of poems destitute of meaning, etc.” (464).

It might seem Schopenhauer has gotten his view around to Rand’s limits on what makes art, specified by what can make a sense of life or a metaphysical value-judgment. This is incorrect. What is life in terms of the fundamental ingredients of being, according to Schopenhauer, and his dissolution of individual personality of the artist in accessing Idea are in much contrast to Rand’s conception of life in the cosmos and to her conception of creative cognition in human life.

(Continued immediately.)

Edited by Boydstun
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Schopenhauer  II

Let us see how Schopenhauer’s esthetics plays out for architecture. Kant had rightly thought of architecture as having its esthetic ideas confined by the use to be made of the building. Unlike sculpture, architecture is not only an esthetic expression, an object made only to be looked at and liked on its own account (Kant 1790 §51, 322). A building’s beauty is adherent to, and encumbered by, the concept of the building’s purpose (§16, 230). Unlike Rand 1943, and many of her century (see Parsons and Carlson 2008 [PB], 43–44), Kant does not locate distinctively esthetic satisfaction in conformance of the building’s form to its function, though he notes the conformance as salutary (see further, Allison 2001, 290–98; Guyer 2005, chap. 5; Crowther 2010, chap. 5). He does not mention positive potentials from interplay of building form and materials with the building’s site, such as one finds in Rand 1943.

Schopenhauer’s view on the esthetics of architecture is more highly developed than Kant’s. Schopenhauer has it that the practical purposes of a building pertain to its service to will, not to pure cognizance, so not to the building’s form as esthetic. In its aspect as esthetic, removed beyond utility, the building architecture makes distinctly perceptible the Ideas of gravity, cohesion, solidity, and hardness on the one hand and the Idea of light on the other.

We construct and use a building in space and time, thinking upon material capabilities and principles. Kant would say all those forms, relations, and identities are the stuff of the phenomenal world and phenomenal mind, not the stuff of things as they are in themselves. Kant’s phenomenal world is Schopenhauer’s world of presentation. Although, we should keep in mind that Schopenhauer takes issue with Kant on what are our theoretical faculties and their overbearing in Kant on our perceptual world, and he takes issue with Kant’s system of categories. 

Schopenhauer objects to Kant speaking of things in themselves being potential objects of presentation knowable for what they are in themselves by god-like minds, minds not finite and not confined to our forms of cognition. In Schopenhauer’s view, things in themselves, things as they are apart from their presentations to us, are not objects of presentation at all. Let us drop talk of their plurality as well, which belongs to presentation.

Moreover, our presentations do not directly issue from thing in itself. Platonic Ideas issue from thing in itself, they are generic presentations, objectifications of thing in itself. Platonic Ideas are in turn objectified into the particular presentations of our world and thought.

In our world, it is the human will that is most like thing in itself. Will is, but is not presentation. Schopenhauer’s thing in itself, he calls Will. Its objectification in Ideas is hierarchical. Architecture in its artistic presentations replicates Ideas from the base level of that hierarchy—Ideas of matter and light—to minds released from time and space and their individual will, which is to say from all the objectifications of Will beyond Ideas. In art we rest in and enjoy pure presentation as such (W1 §§30–35, 38; Guyer 2005, 281–85).

A boulder resting on the ground is ordinarily no perceptual show of the Ideas of matter, such as gravity, cohesion, solidity, and hardness. These Ideas are displayed and displayed as objectifications of Will when material of a building is disposed to display the battle of gravity and rigidity. The essence of Will is conflict. By the detours of weight in architectural form, purposive to the whole in all its features, “the battle between rigidity and gravity which constitutes the life, the expression of Will in the stone” unfolds in complete visibility, revealing those Ideas, those objectifications of Will (W1 §43, 253; also W2 §35). 

Like Kant, Schopenhauer registered genuine appreciation for the ability to create the art in architecture in a way suited to the utility of the building. However, like Kant, he erred in not embracing that suitedness as part of the building’s esthetics. Schopenhauer bumps his head on the doorway of truth more than once (Metaph. 993a30–b7), but does not rethink his scheme. He holds that esthetic correctness of parts in architecture entails consideration of their structural role. The shape of column, frieze, beam, arch, and dome “has to be determined purely by its purpose and its relation to the whole, not arbitrarily” (W1 §43, 253). Bump. He finds analogy with life in the struggle between gravity and rigidity (see also Aquila 2008, xxxvii, and Guyer 2005, 272–73). Bump. Why is a building raised? Could not that be the deepest ground of its peculiar statics and any artistic eloquence given them? Could not its form and other artistic elements express evocatively simply our life and intelligence and will in a world open to our view and celebration?

Schopenhauer was correct to think architecture can make perceptible the ideas—schematic ideas, I say—of gravity, cohesion, solidity, and hardness, and light too. Concerning that last, I think Schopenhauer would agree if we add that colors and textures as well as the manipulation of natural light’s reception, reflection, and shadows are part of the architectural esthetic means. He would also not frown at notice that a building’s interior confines of space are a major esthetic instrument, affecting a person’s visual and motor senses of space. The join of spaces and masses in successfully artistic architecture attain a unified composition, with proportions and rhythms (repetitions) among its play (W1 §43, 254–55).

Schopenhauer understood that beauty in a building may be not only mathematical, but dynamical. What speaks to us through architecture in its aspect as fine art “is not anything like mere form and symmetry, but those fundamental forces of nature, those primary Ideas, those lowest levels of the objectification of [W]ill” (W1 §43, 254).

The role of Platonic Ideas in art is better given to schematic ideas, schematized concepts, or Rand’s concretized abstractions. Ideas without platonic capitalization are identifications. Identity of a thing includes some potential relationships to other things (ITOE 39). Ideas include that. Schopenhauer writes that in esthetic cognition one “no longer considers the Where, the When, the Why, and the Whither of things, but simply and solely the What” (W1 §34, 210). But part of the What of a thing, even the essential What, consists of specific external relations. He was in error to think that in esthetic contemplation we apprehend things lifted from all their static, kinetic, and causal relationships to other things. He was in error to sweep all function and purpose out of ideas intuited in the esthetic experience of nature or art.


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Aquila, R. E. 2008. Translator’s Introduction to Schopenhauer 1819.

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

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Cassirer, E. 1981 [1918]. Kant’s Life and Thought. J. Haden, translator. Yale.

Crowther, P. 2007. Defining Art, Creating the Canon. Oxford.

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Guyer, P. 1997. Kant and the Claims of Taste. 2nd ed. Cambridge.

——. 2005. Values of Beauty – Historical Essays in Aesthetics. Cambridge.

Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Hackett.

——. 1790. Critique of Judgment. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1987. Hackett.

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——. 1966. Art and Sense of Life. The Objectivist (O) 5(Mar):33–40.

——. 1966–67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. 1990. Meridian.

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Schopenhauer, A. 1813 [1847]. On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. E. F. J. Payne, translator. 1974. Open Court.

——.  1819 [1859]. The World as Will and Presentation, Volume 1. R. E. Aquila, translator. 2008. Pearson Longman.

——. 1844 [1859]. The World as Will and Presentation, Volume 2. D. Carus and R. E. Aquila, translators. 2011. Pearson Longman.

Stroud, S. R. 2011. John Dewey and the Artful Life. Penn State.

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Thorncrown Chapel (1980)

Located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Designed by E. Fay Jones, who had apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright. This is a work that strikes me as needing no ornamentation, no external sculpture. Rather, the building is its own sculpture.

Thorncrown Chapel.jpg

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What is this? Something man-made and of wood. Not something whose form and strength are determined for some utilitarian purpose so far as I know. It is something pleasing to me, and I’d like to see it in real space and walk around it to get its different views. I’d like to touch it. Any principles of geometry it exhibits would be of a secondary interest. Any neurological findings of why it is pleasing (or not) to us would be of secondary interest. Any imagination-feats along the lines of “It’s like a (fill-in-the-blank)” or “I could use it as a (fill-in-the-blank)” would be of still lower interest.

This solid form in 3-space is itself the center of interest. The sharing of it, with its bundle of pleasures, between creator and audience inheres in our experience of it. I think that much suffices for metaphysics in sculpture.  


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