Objective Reality v. Fictional Lives

Stephen Whittington's picture
Submitted by Stephen Whittington on Tue, 2005-12-13 01:14

Objectivists always talk about the existence of an objective reality. Often they say drug use is bad (Ayn Rand did at least) because it distorts the view of reality and makes you live in a world of fiction which, to the objectivist, is as much a crime as being a social metaphysician.

Why, then, are they (and Rand in particular) so surprised at the 'Culture' we live in when they publish works or actually look around them? And why is it that they instead create a fictional world in the form of groups that serve no purpose but to, for a few hours a week, live in a world that does not exist? And why is it that the transcendence of an objectivist actually occurs when they live in that fictional world for life? "Do these people exist?" "Of course they do, you're looking at one of them, and there's one over there" said Ayn Rand as she pointed at Nathaniel Branden.

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Thomas Edison or Robert Kennedy?

milesian's picture

Thank you, Stephen Whittington, for another insightful question. I have no instant answers. Nonetheless, please allow me to reflect on what you wrote.

You are right. This is an example of a false dichotomy. Objectivist art is defined as presenting the world as it could and should be. Objectivist metaphysics is the identification of the world as it is.

As a classicist, you appreciate what most others here miss: the purpose of Greek philosophy was NOT to CHANGE people, but to lead the individual to live a good life. That is a subtle but powerful difference. If I am not living a good life now, then I must be living a bad life and therefore need to change. At least, that would be the easiest inference. The error is the "good/bad dichotomy." You are not living a bad life: you are just living. If you want to live a bad life, it can be arranged -- lots of drink, too much food, no exercise, and as much immunity from the consequences of rash judgment as the rest of us can tolerate. Mostly, people just live, neither good, nor bad. Some actions are one or the other, but the Life is neither good nor bad, but simply "is." To live a good life, certain ideas and actions must be in place. That is not Objectivism.

Objectivism is a moral philosophy. Morality is a choice between mutually exclusive alternatives: "is" becomes "ought" -- and "ought" must become "is" or else you are bad, evil, unworthy, contemptuous, pitiable,... immoral.

And yet, when you realize that everything you work to create can be taken or destroyed by others around you, you have to stop and ask, "By what right?"

The biga and quadriga become the Bugati and Peterbilt. The unattested flying models of Archytas become the space shuttle. The suggestion that life can be good becomes the demand that it must.

As for the title, Robert Kennedy is one of several notables credited with the saying: Other men see things as they are and ask "Why?" I see things as they ought to be and ask, "Why not?" On the other hand, the creator understands things as they are, brings into existence that which was not, and is satisfied -- regardless of what other people do.
"I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings."

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