A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It sets the nature of a man’s emotional responses and the essence of his character.
Elsewhere, Rand writes:
Rand's term "sense of life" is roughly equivalent to such terms as character and personality. Rand's sense of life is, in effect, the general drift or tendencies of the individuals emotional reactions. Two important conclusions can be drawn from the Randian conception:
It is only those values which he regards or grows to regard as “important,” those which represent his implicit view of reality, that remain in a man’s subconscious and form his sense of life.
“It is important to understand things”—“It is important to obey my parents”—“It is important to act on my own”—“It is important to please other people”—“It is important to fight for what I want”—“It is important not to make enemies”—“My life is important”—“Who am I to stick my neck out?” Man is a being of self-made soul—and it is of such conclusions that the stuff of his soul is made. (By “soul” I mean
“consciousness.”) The integrated sum of a man’s basic values is his sense of life.
A. That the "content" of a man's sense of life (i.e., his specific reactions) are not determined or even influenced by innate tendencies, but are the consequence of integrated (or "misintegrated") value judgments.
B. People tend to have either a "benevolent" or "malevolent" sense of life; or, if they seem to have parts of both, this is a result of contradictory basic premises.
The first conclusion states what should be fairly obvious: Rand's conception of an individual's sense of life is merely her view of human nature applied to the issue of aesthetic judgment. An individual's reaction to a work of art is thoroughly emotional; and this emotion, for Rand, is "automatic effect of man’s value premises." The second conclusion is one of those hidden premises in Objectivism, one implicit in the philosophy, rather than one explicitly endorsed by Rand or her chief disciples. Rand tends to break down sense of life emotional reactions into two predominant types: (1) A "benevolent" sense of life; and (2) a "malevolent" sense of life. If an individual does not easily into either category, that can only be as a result of contradictions in the basic premises that make up his character.
I have written enough posts on this blog about Rand's theory of human nature to establish that it her view of man is factually incorrect. The character or personality of the individual is not a mere product of his basic premises, ethical or otherwise. So Rand's assumption that an individual's sense of life is, in effect, his own responsibility is empirically insupportable. Moreover, it has the unfortunate effect of reducing all arguments about aesthetic judgments to an argument ad hominem (more on this in my next post).
What about conclusion B? Well, the falsity of conclusion A causes serious problems for conclusion B. Here's the chief problem: Rand tends to categorize aesthetic reactions as being either benevolent or malevolent. Yet in real life, aesthetic reactions tend to be far more complex and even nuanced than can be adequately summed up in just two words. Nor does this complexity result from mixed or contradictory premises, as is suggested in Objecitivism: it doesn't result from premises at all, but from much more complex sources, which may include innate proclivities, influences from peers, reactions to traumatic events, and independent conscious judgments. There is no support in experimental psychology for the view that emotions arise either solely or even primarily from consciously chosen (or accepted) value judgments.
Rand's conception of a sense of life is, in its overall tenor, merely an attempt to integrate her view human nature with her aesthetics. It also serves as a convenient rationale for attacking those who have aesthetic reactions that varied with Rand's own. In my next post, I will examine how Rand uses her sense of life notion to denigrate those who dared to have different aesthetic tastes from her own.