Review of Chapter 8 of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: "Virtue"

 

Introduction

 

††††††††††† In terms of its title, chapter 8 fits well within the structure of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.After Chapter 6 dealt with the nature of human beings and Chapter 7 with what is good for them, Chapter 8 presents the virtues necessary to achieve that good. The purpose of all this, happiness, is the topic of Chapter 9.In terms of its content, chapter 8 presents a discussion of six virtues - independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness and pride - all derivatives of the primary virtue which was discussed in chapter 7: Rationality.The list of virtues is identical to the one given at Galt's Speech.

 

The definition of virtue appears already in chapter 7: "Virtue is the action by which one gains and keeps [a value]." (221)Since the topic of chapter 8 is "Virtue", the reader may expect to see this definition again at the beginning of chapter 8, but instead, Peikoff provides a description of virtue: Virtue "consists of allegiance to existence; it consists of a man's recognizing facts and then acting accordingly." (250)Allegiance is not an action, it is an obligation, a standing order, to act.This description fits well with Kelley's definition of virtue in Unrugged Individualism: "A virtue is a character trait, a standing commitment to a certain principle of action." (19).The focus of chapter 8 is on virtue as a trait of character that manifests itself in action, rather than as a means to the end of gaining values.The virtues are differentiated "according to the particular metaphysically given facts they identify," but they are united by their common meta-virtue, rationality. The allegiance to existence is presented in the context of a contrast with obedience to the authority of a ruling consciousness like God, thus adding to the introduction an epistemological level.Bringing up the primacy of existence can serve as a reminder to connect the six virtues to their common source, rationality.But it also directs one's focus inward, to observe and introspect on thinking methods and how they relate to character traits.

 

††††††††††† Following the introduction, Peikoff discusses each of the six derivative virtues at length.He provides a thorough analysis of each virtue as a trait of character and makes sure to ground virtue in reason and to invalidate emotion as a basis for any virtue.

 

Independence

 

Independence is "one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind." (251)Note that acceptance is not an action but an attitude.Forming judgments and living by the work of one's mind are actions, but they are manifestations of independence, not independence itself.†† Independence is not the trait of the "lone wolf" who places the rejection of other people's judgment above her own judgment, lest her judgment corresponds to theirs.Emotion is rejected as a sign of independence, however personal and unique it is.Independent thought is defined not as original thought, but as a thought accepted by one's reason.The division of labor in society is consistent with the independence of each member of society, because everybody trades the values everybody earned independently.There is a problem with the example of the rich heir who must work in order to be independent.Peikoff does not explain it, but says, "as we will see in due course." (257)The due course does not arrive until the section on Productiveness, after the sections on Integrity, Honesty and Justice, and Peikoff does not bring up independence when he explains that recreation is not productive.The issue remains unclear. Does the rich heir have to earn money, or only to do something productive in order to be independent?

 

Integrity

 

††††††††††† Integrity is "loyalty in action to one's convictions and values." (259)Peikoff stresses that this loyalty should be to long-range principles grounded in reason, not to momentary whims.Emotions are invalid, however strong one's loyalty to her emotions may feel.In addition, the context in which to apply a principle must be taken into account.Dogmatic loyalty to principles that fly in face of the facts is not rational. Peikoff writes: "It is not a breach of integrity, but a moral obligation, to change one's views if one finds that some idea he holds is wrong." (260) A breach of integrity is defined as willful evasion, to be morally condemned, but no explanation is given as to why it may happen.Peikoff suggests earlier that one must practice integrity "regardless of emotional or social pressure," (260), implying that succumbing to such pressure is the cause of a breach of integrity.However, succumbing to outside pressure is not the same as willful evasion.It can be the result of conflicting values, like the case of an Atheist who decides to get married in a religious ceremony out of respect for his parents, because he respects and values them in spite of their religion. Or it can be the result of a conflict with external circumstances, like the case of an Atheist couple in a country where there is no provision for a civil marriage ceremony that does not want to spend the money to go abroad to get married.Both cases can hardly be described as a breach of integrity.On the other hand, if one's parents are not worthy of respect, or if a trip abroad is affordable, succumbing to the pressure to get married in a religious ceremony is a breach of integrity. Unfortunately, Peikoff does not explain how integrity should be applied according to each individualís personal hierarchy of values, and how to resolve internal conflicts. Only later, in the section on Honesty, there is a comment on the need for political freedom in order to be able to act according to one's integrity. (275)

 

Instead, Peikoff brings up an example of a poisonous food, for which a rational person would have no appetite. (261) Rational individuals would not consider acting against their convictions, any more than they would consider eating poisonous food. In this context, a breach of integrity is indeed no more than a willful evasion.After all, who would put pressure on someone to eat poisonous food, and what type of a person would eat the food known to be poisonous?This example isolates the element of willful evasion, as the only cause of a breach of integrity.However, in today's world, people are more likely to commit a breach of integrity due to conflicting values or external pressures.These pressing issues are not addressed.


Honesty

 

The virtue of Honesty is defined as "the refusal to fake reality, i.e., to pretend that facts are other than they are." ( 267) . Peikoff distinguishes between honesty in reference to existence, which consists of the truthful rendering of facts, and honesty in reference to consciousness, which is qualified as intellectual honesty.Whereas the former is contrasted with giving a false account, the latter is contrasted with intellectual pretense.Intellectual honesty consists of "taking the process of cognition seriously," "developing an active mind," and "seeking knowledge because one needs it to act properly" as opposed to impressing others. ( 269)This is an innovative point and an expansion of Rand's discussion of honesty.Peikoff makes clear that intellectual honesty is up and above existential honesty: "Intellectual honesty is more profound an issue than not telling lies to one's neighbors. It means becoming a priest of truth in every aspect of one's mind, life, and soul." ( 270)†† A genuine quest for knowledge is, therefore, the best guarantee of a genuinely honest individual.

 

The section on Honesty is the first section to include an explicit connection between virtue and value: Honesty is connected to the value it attempts to gain because such value must correspond to reality, it cannot be faked.In this context, virtues are described in relation to what is good for human beings: "Virtues are not their own reward or a species of self-torture, but a selfish necessity in the process of achieving values."†††††† ( 274)The discussion of honesty, as well as the discussion of the vice of dishonesty, are clear and include the appropriate examples. Peikoff also clarifies that it is proper to lie to the IRS to save your income or to snoopers to protect your privacy.Honesty is contextual. At the end of the section, addresses the question of how to apply all the virtues, not just integrity: "The proper approach is to recognize that virtues are broad abstractions, which one must apply to concrete situations by a process of thought." ( 276)Honesty gains the status of the most moral virtue: "This is the only way there is to know what is moral - or to be honest."In order to know what is moral and how to apply each virtue, human beings need honesty, i.e. a genuine quest for knowledge.

 

Justice

 

Next comes Justice, "the virtue of judging men's character and conduct objectively and of acting accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves."(276)The reader may ask: What about judging oneself?Shouldn't one be ready to be judged as well?Peikoff does not provide the answer, but it can be implied in the prior virtues.A person of independence, integrity and honesty (not to mention rationality) has earned the right to judge others.Again, emotions are invalidated as a guide, as illustrated by the blindfolded statue symbolizing justice. It is blind to emotions and free to consider the facts.Peikoff brings up an important point regarding how to judge psychological problems.He stresses that as long as such problems are not manifested in action, they should not be judged as character flaws.This view appears to be different from the view expressed in Fact and Value, according to which there can be no such separation between one's ideas and one's actions.Apparently, psychological problems are not caused by having bad ideas.

 

Another important point is that the same person can have some good qualities and some bad qualities, so a judgement must take both into account. It does not mean that there are no black and white and everyone is gray, but that it is sometime necessary to deal with the white side of a person who has a black side as well: "Justice in action consists in requiting the positive (the good) in men with a positive and the negative with a negative." ( 283)†† A strikingly benevolent point is that justice should first be concerned with the good and only than with the bad.Justice to the good consists of acknowledging it, supporting it and championing it.It is more important to praise than to condemn.The section ends with a rebuttal of Christianity and its virtue of forgiveness as the ultimate antithesis of the virtue of justice.

 

Productiveness

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††††† Productiveness is "the process of creating material values, whether goods or services." (292) Peikoff stresses the spiritual value of productiveness, because physical labor alone is not productive, only the mind behind is.The more intellectual the endeavor, the more productive and moral it is, but it cannot remain in an ivory tower.Peikoff stresses that intellectual work should be actualized, or it remains unproductive.A scientist or scholar must present their discoveries to the world so that other people make use of them.This is an intriguing interpretation, because it implies that a oneís work depends on the productiveness of others in order to be productive.In other words, John Galt's work becomes productive only when the strikers use his motor in the valley, not when he uses it in his secret lab.

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††††† Peikoff also stresses that productiveness does not only sustain human life, but provides a purpose for it.An unproductive person depends on others for survival. In addition, in the absence of purpose, such a person must resort to some form of second-handedness as a substitute for purpose.Whereas the prior virtues focused on character traits, productiveness focuses on activity - on the way we use our time.

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Pride

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†† The last of the virtues is pride, "the commitment to achieve one's own moral perfection." (303) The important issue here is that pride is not the end-result but the prerequisite of achieving moral perfection.It is a commitment, not actual achievement. You do not have to wait until you reach the state of moral perfection in order to allow yourself to be proud.You have to value your potential for moral perfection, in spite of your flaws, in order to keep working on yourself.Pride consists of the ability to believe in one's virtues in spite of one's flaws.Thus, there is no excuse for someone who resigns himself to his flaws.Lack of pride is the worst flaw because it prevents self- improvement.In the section on Justice, Peikoff wrote that a person is not to be judged by his flaws as long as he did not act on them.Here, Peikoff provides the course of action one should take once one acted on them: "He acts decisively to clean the slate and restore his moral purity.He condemns his improper behavior, analyzes its roots (identifying in the process the underlying evasions), makes reparation (where applicable) and works to reshape his mental policy." (305) As humiliating as this course of action may look, the virtue behind it should be pride: the commitment to undo the bad action.Humility is the worst flaw of all, because it makes restoration of character impossible.

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The rewards of pride are all the values that a moral character makes possible, in particular self-esteem.In this section, Peikoff is consistent with what Rand wrote about Pride.

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Force

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††††† After concluding his discussion of the six virtues, Peikoff presents the one vice that represents the antithesis of rationality -- the meta-virtue -- and thus is the destroyer of the six derivative virtues: the vice of the initiation of physical force.Physical force prevents people from using their reason and acting virtuously.The discussion of force is rather lengthy and includes deviations into such topics as when it is proper to use force against other people.There is one inconsistency in this section.First, Peikoff writes that only the physical initiation of force can prevent you from exercising your reason.As long as your mind is physically free, you can see through an attempt to manipulate or deceive you. (310) Later, Peikoff writes that "the physical" is not limited to forcing one's body or seizing oneís property, but includes fraud as well. (319) No distinction is made between these two opposite approaches.

 

The discussion of force ends with a one-page finale about virtues and values, which concludes the chapter and brings up the issue of optional values.This issue is an appropriate bridge to the topic of the next chapter, Happiness.

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††††† As I wrote in the beginning of this essay, Peikoff is walking the tightrope of being faithful to what Rand wrote about virtue, while trying to elaborate on what she wrote.The result is some new interpretations that are not fully developed here and some unresolved inconsistencies or gaps.†† The purpose of presenting Rand's views is mostly achieved, albeit in the dry, uninspiring tone of a textbook.I missed the dramatic oratory style of Peikoff's taped course "The Philosophy of Objectivism" where he originally presented the Objectivist virtues.

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