Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Light Posting Months

I won't be posting much for a while as I'm busy launching a new business, among other things. Greg will be posting as the spirit moves him.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 4

The Role of Myth. In my last post, I briefly analyzed some of the issues dealing with trying to determine how religious beliefs affect individual conduct. There is a common assumption, shared by both pro and anti-religious individuals, that conduct is merely a logical application of doctrine, so that if people hold irrational convictions or pursue imaginary goals, their behavior will be unsuccessful. Since there exist plenty of examples of people holding irrational convictions or pursuing imaginary goals who have not come to grief, theories need to be developed to explain the anomaly.

One possible explanation is that people pursuing irrational and/or imaginary goals are hypocrites. They say one thing and wind up doing something else. This may in fact be true in some instance, or even many instances, but it’s not true in all instances, as a candid examination of history will show. Enlightenment historians, for example, believed that Oliver Cromwell must have been hypocrite. How else could a religious zealot like Cromwell possibly have been so successful as a leader? Yet later historians, after examining the documentary evidence in detail, have found no reason to believe the Cromwell ever was a hypocrite.

Another possible explanation for this anomaly of imaginary goals leading to satisfactory results makes a distinction between motivational rationality and functional rationality. By aiming at an imaginary goal an individual might achieve real utility. Some religions, for example, believe that water can purify the individual from sin. So if, in pursuit of “purificaiton,” the religious enthusiast zealously washes himself, he gains something of real utility: cleanliness. After all, you can’t expect primitive peoples to understand germs. How, then, is the primitive or non-rational, unsophisticated individual to be persuaded to wash? Nothing works better than convince him that washing purifies him from sin or makes him holy in the sight of God. Through an imaginary goal this individual is persuaded to act in his own best interest.

The idea that imaginary goals can be used to motivate individuals to attain individual and social utility was developed into a sophisticated sociological theory by French syndicalist Georges Sorel and Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto as the theory of myths. As Pareto explained:
[It] is commonly recognized ... that enthusiastic derivations are better calculated than cold reasoning to influence human conduct…. The capacity for influencing human conduct [by] derivations that overstep experience and reality throws light upon a phenomenon that has been well observed and analyzed by Georges Sorel, the fact, namely that if a social doctrine (it would be more exact to say the sentiments manifested by a social doctrine) is to have any influence, it has to take the form of a “myth.” To restate in that language an observation that we have many times made, we may say that the social value of a doctrine, or of the sentiments which it expresses, is not to be judged extrinsically by the mythical form that it assumes (they assume), which is only its means (their means) of action, but intrinsically by the results that it achieves (they achieve)….

In other words, it is not what people say or believe that is of the most importance, it is what they do, how they act, what they accomplish. If they can accomplish useful ends through irrational means, this refutes the Randian prejudice against non-logical action. Pareto continues:

If we consider history as a whole it is at once apparent that … acts which have ideal goals, T, or are performed as if they had, must also in many cases achieve results that show a gain in individual and social utility… In point of fact, non-logical actions are still very numerous and still very important in our time; and they were far more so in times past. The impellent of many such actions, the ideal, T, at which they aim, is stated in theological, metaphysical, and like derivations; while the practical purpose of human beings is the welfare and prosperity of themselves and their societies. If the two goals were antithetical, if the person aiming at the ideal, T, never attained practical benefits, it would never have been possible for societies that have made such great efforts to attain T to subsist and prosper…. If, in almost all cases, things had gone [badly], if, that is, in striving for T people had always reached [a worse position], human societies would have to show a continuous decline. That has not been the case, and the hypothesis must therefore be abandoned. [∞1868, ∞1874]

In other words, people aiming at imaginary goals have frequently attained real advantages. If this were not so, it would be impossible for any society holding imaginary goals to have advanced. And, as future posts will demonstrate, that clearly has not been the case. Societies have advanced despite holding imaginary goals—sometimes, even, because of those imaginary goals.

Now the Objectivist argument against religion, if reduced to the broadest essentials, goes something like the following:

(1) A man’s convictions determine his behavior.
(2) Irrational convictions inevitably lead to harmful behavior.
(3) Religious convictions are irrational.
(4) Therefore religious convictions lead to harmful behavior.

Even if 3 is correct, the conclusion doesn’t follow, because 1 and 2 are false. If, instead of worrying about whether our views accord with those of Rand and her orthodox followers, we concentrate on the evidence of history, the above argument should be reformulated as follows:

(1) There exists no necessary logical connection between a man’s convictions and his behavior.
(2) Non-rational action sometimes lead to beneficial consequences.
(3) Religious convictions that are non-rational sometimes (though not always!) lead to functionally rational (i.e. beneficial) ends.
(4) Therefore religious convictions don’t always lead to harmful behavior.

The key notion behind this analysis is the idea of the importance of non-logical action. I have often contended that Rand’s view of human nature constitutes her greatest error. An important component to Rand’s view is her simple-minded notion that, since reason is man’s only means of survival, non-logical action (that is, conduct based on non-rational convictions) will generally be harmful to individuals and society. This Objectivist view, however, does not accord with the facts as they have been gathered by anthropologists, sociologists, and historians. The majority of human beings are not, nor can they be, fully rational. Nor is a man’s conduct a logical extension of his ideas. Christian conduct is not a logical extension of Christian doctrine. Why should anyone assume such a thing? The very fact that an individual would choose non-rational doctrines should put us on guard against assuming that he’s going to guide his conduct from logical inferences from those non-rational premises. Hence the need for a new way of explaining the relationship between doctrine and conduct: a way that accords with what we actually find in reality, rather than in the assumptions of speculative philosophy. The theory of myth recognizes that human beings are not, in the main “logical,” and that to motivate them to engage in the action necessary for their own and their society's survival and well-being one must sometimes appeal, not to their reason, which is weak and unreliable, but to their sentiments, their emotions, their psychological states. Hence the utility of myth.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 3

“One of the greatest distortions [of social analysis] views [historical phenomenon] as the consequences of certain logical interpretations of scripture or other reasonings of the kind.”

—Vilfredo Pareto

Influence of religious doctrine on conduct. All kinds of contradictory behavior find justifications in religious ideas, often even from the same religion. There are Christian pacifists and Christian warriors (e.g., Cromwell’s ironsides); there are Christian apologists for slavery and Christian abolitionists; there are Christian socialists and Christians for the free market. And it is not merely the case that people who identify themselves as Christians fall on either side of these questions; that their Christianity, in other words, is entirely fortuitous. Not at all; they all justify their positions by claiming that they arrived at it by reading scripture. Slave owners claimed that slavery is defended in the Bible; abolitionists claimed that, since each individual is made in the image of God, Christianity demands the end of slavery. It is truly amazing how every position under the sun can be justified by the New or Old Testament. Even entirely contradictory positions!

Christianity is not alone among religions in having this curious power. Indeed, many belief systems, whether religious or secular, seem to share this kind of flexibility, as was noted by Vilfredo Pareto in his immensely fascinating Mind and Society. Pareto made a point of studying the extent to which explicit belief systems, whether religious or metaphysical or ethical in nature, actually determine conduct. Pareto, in his researches, could discover little if any causal connection between explicit belief systems and conduct. People engage in conduct and then use casuistry to defend this conduct on the basis of their stated convictions. After observing this, Pareto decided that it would be foolish to regard the conduct as being merely a logical consequence (or practical application) of the beliefs. Since the same conduct can spring from diametrically opposed beliefs, the beliefs can hardly be regarded as the cause of the conduct. Christianity hardly caused both slavery and the abolition of slavery! So some other causative agent or motivational complex must be at work here. Pareto believed that the primary cause of conduct was innate psychological states (sometimes referred to as “sentiments”) which he called “residues.” The belief systems which were used to justify these residues Pareto called “derivations.” Pareto contended that residues were the primary causes of conduct, particularly “non-logical” conduct, which he studied in great detail. Deriviations were, in comparison, much less important. As he wrote:
The main error in the thinking of the plain man, as well as in metaphysical thinking, lies not only in an inversion of terms in the relationship between derivations and human conduct—the derivation being taken, in general, as the cause of the conduct, whereas really, the conduct is the cause of the derivation—but also in ascribing objective existence to derivations proper and to the residues in which they originate. [1689]

Pareto did not deny that derivations can affect behavior as a secondary cause, by, for example, intensifying the underlying residues. But he would have regarded the Objectivist conviction that the social order is caused by philosophy as hopelessly naive.

In the light of the historical facts illustrated by Pareto’s theory, what are we to make of the actual, real world influence of a religion like Christianity in contemporary America? If we dislike Christianity, we will tend to focus every bad thing done by Christians or in the name of Christianity. If we like Christianity, we will tend to commit the opposite error of focusing on all the good things done by Christianity and Christians. Neither approach does complete justice to the facts, because neither attempts to separate that which is caused by the residues (i.e., religious sentiments) from that which is caused by the derivations (i.e., Christian doctrine).

The situation is rendered even more thorny and complex by the type of relationships that exist between Christian doctrine and Christian conduct, that is, between residues and derivations, sentiments and rationalizations. It is not simply one-to-one causation, but reciprocal causation, with influences running back and forth, springing forth a befuddling web of mutual interdependence. This makes it very difficult to determine precisely how much Christian doctrine actually influences conduct.

You might think this problem can be solved by comparing Christian behavior with, say, Islamic behavior. But this doesn’t work because all the other factors aren’t equal. Christians in the West are influenced by the secularization of the West, and are therefore a breed apart from Moslems, many of whom have not benefited at all from three hundred years of enlightened secularization in the West.

Now Rand and her orthodox followers make the mistake of assuming that Christian conduct follows Christian theory. That is one of the central themes of Leonard Peikoff’s “Religion Versus America.” Peikoff quotes several of the derivations made on behalf of religious sentiments and then makes the gratuitous assumption that religious conduct is merely a logical deduction from these derivations. Hence he quotes several incendiary statements about faith and then assumes religious people are going to derive all their conduct from beliefs gained “in the absence of evidence.” Now if this how religious people in fact determined their conduct in all aspects of life, they would long ago have disappeared from the earth. The fact that they are still around and flourishing suggests that their conduct is based on more substantial grounds.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 2

Man, the religious animal. “Man is by his constitution a religious animal,” averred Burke. This statement, if taken as a generalization, is hard to refute. Evidence for it confronts us on all sides. Most people throughout civilized human history have believed in the religion of their tribe or country. In recent centuries religion has waned among the educated classes; yet what we find is not so much a move from religion toward enlightenment as simply a move from theistic religions to non-theistic belief-systems that are religions in all but name. Thus intellectuals and other such delusional people have become acolytes of the religion of Democracy, the religion of Socialism, the religion of Humanitarianism, the religion of Marx, the religion of secular humanism. There is even, sad to say, a religion of science! I’m not referring here to real science, which involves experiments, empirical criticism, peer review, etc., but to irrational beliefs connected to science, such as the conviction that all (or most) human problems could be solves if everyone exchanged their religious views for “scientific” views.

No one has explored this facet of human nature more exhaustively than the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto:

As various religions succeed one another in history, their forms may be as different as one please, but after all they are all expressions of religious sentiments that vary but slightly. The modern free thinker enforces, in the name of Science, Holy of Holies, a morality but slightly differing from the code that the God of the Israelites proclaimed for His people, or the code that the Christians received from their God; or the codes that now one, now another, of the ancient peoples received from gods or from lawgivers legendary or divine….

Similar uniformities are observable even in phenomena much less important. In ancient times people who were sick made pilgrimages to the temples of Aesculapius in order to regain their health. They were succeeded in the Middle Ages by devout Christians who prayed to their saints for health and visited shrines and relics. Nowadays they would recognize descendants in the throngs that flock to Lourdes, in the devotees of “Christian Science”…

To such are still to be added the practices of those many medical quacks whom Daudet happily dubbed “deathers.” In their regard the credulity of the ancients has its perfect counterpart in the credulity of the moderns. At no time in history have quacks flourished more abundantly on the money of simpletons than they do today [circa 1905]; and in many countries the law protects such priests of the goddess “Science” just as religiously as it protected priests of the pagan gods of old—sometimes even more so. Believers gather in droves in those clinics and sanitoria which are temples of the modern quack. Some of them get well, if Mother Nature chances to look upon them with a kindly eye; but all of them contribute to the collection box of the high-priests of the goddess “Science” and their acolytes—among whom, let us not fail to count the pharmacists who sell their drugs at 1000 per cent profit; and the inventors of those patent medicines which shoot across the sky of publicity like meteors, cure every conceivable illness for more or less extensive, and often very brief, periods of time, and then are gone; not without leaving huge fortunes in the pockets of certain traders on public credulity who exploit the poor in spirit under the kindly eye of the legislator. And there is no argument, no fact, however obvious, however striking, that can avail to open the eyes of the fools. (1695, 1697)

With the improvements in medicine, the situation has somewhat improved in the hundred years since Pareto wrote. But it has hardly been a complete improvement. Quackery still survives in many forms, and is often resorted to as a last resort, when conventional medicine fails. Quackery, of course, is one of the more negative elements of religion. However, it is not as negative as Pareto paints it; science now recognizes the existence of placebo effects. Now in medicine, it is generally better to supplement placebo effects with conventional medical treatment, since science-based treatment is considerably more efficacious than placebo effects. But that is not true in all venues in life. There may be areas of life dealing with psychology of motivation or one’s general attitude toward existence which might be best served by the “placebo-like” comforts of religion.

In any case, whether religion is positive or negative in its overall impact on an individual or on society as a whole, the evidence strongly suggests that it is here to stay. Most human beings are incorrigibly religious. Even when they turn secular, their basic religious orientation remains. So why, then, should we waste our time quixotically inveighing against it? A far wiser policy for the statesman or the social leader is to try to cultivate the positive and discourage the negative elements in religion. Trying to argue people out of religion is a complete waste of time. Debates may be instructional or entertaining, but they’re not going to change many peoples’ minds.

Arguing people out of religion, far from being a good thing, may actually be a bad thing. What happens when people stop being religious? They become secular. Their religion simply takes another form; but it's usually a worse form. Centuries of trial and error have purged the religions of the civilized West (mainly Christianity and Judaism) of many of their worst excesses. The secular equivalents of religion, on the other hand, being rather new developments, have not undergone this sifting process. That is why various secular equivalents of religion may prove harmful while a religion such as conventional Christianity may prove, in its overall effects, beneficial.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 1

Militant atheism. Does disbelief in God entail hostility toward religion? Militant atheists answer: Yes, it does, because God poisons everything. Objectivism is a species of militant atheism. Rand not only disbelieved in God, she regarded religion as irrational and malevolent. “A specter is haunting America—the specter of religion,” declared Rand’s intellectual heir, Leonard Peikoff. Rand held that religion, even when it exercises “a good influence” or inculcates “proper principles,” rests on a “dangerous or malevolent base.” Religion is based on faith, which is “extremely detrimental to human life.”

Not all unbelievers are militant atheists. George Santayana was naturalist, materialist, and atheist, yet he thought well of religion. In an essay entitled “Whether Naturalism is Irreligious,” he defended his views of the matter as follows:

Materialism is not itself a theology, as are some forms of idealism. Its inspiration and temper are purely scientific and intellectual. But why should so pleasant a thing as science and so vital a thing as intelligence be angry with the world they explore? And they spoil their own work if, with a vehemence which is not naturalistic but political and moral, they inveigh against religion, in the manner of Lucretius or of modern anticlericals. The materialist in his ethics and politics should be a humanist, an anthropologist, and a philanthropist; and is it love of man that prompts the hatred of religion? No: it is insensibility to the plight of man and to all that which man most deeply loves. Modern materialists, I must confess, have usually had vulgar and jejune minds; but not so the ancients who were materialists by nature, and not foolishly hostile to popular religion or without religion in their hearts. And they were the only normal materialists, harbouring towards politics, morals, and religion the sentiments proper to a naturalist. They were not deceived by these human passions and inspirations, but understood them and knew the place and the need of images in the world; and when they were poets they sang the praises of the gods with a tender emotion.

So much benevolence may be shown to religion by the intelligent materialist; it is the same benevolence that he feels towards the senses, in both cases delighting in the image without mistaking it for a substance. The substance of both, in his view, will be ultimately the same: namely the Power that brings these images and feelings before the spirit in this order and with this irresistible force. So much he may consistently feel and say without transcending the natural sphere, but still taking the imagination only for a system of signs, to be interpreted as effects produced in the animal psyche by the revolutions of matter within and without that animal….

Now what materialists have always abhorred in religion is its pretense to be a practical art, its magic, its false miracles, its appeals to animal thrift, prudence, and fear. With the spiritual side of religion they have had little acquaintance. On the spiritual side religion is not a false science but an ideal affection. It does not misrepresent the facts but transcends them. Often where this question touches politics the materialist, being a realist, may feel a natural aversion from the waste, as he thinks it, of faith, sacrifice, and money in keeping up official religions. The natural limitations of human taste and faculty will probably hold him back from developing a religious life in himself. But there would be nothing inconsistent with his materialism if he became a poet, a musician, or a hermit; and his judgments upon existence and the direction of his affection and invention in the ideal sphere might be those of an ancient prophet, as they might be those of a pure artist, without any departure from materialism in his natural philosophy. He might live in moral harmony with the power, the order, and the spirit in the whole universe, and cherish nothing but friendliness towards the traditional religion prevailing in his time and country.

Any philosophy whose temper is purely scientific and unbiased will harbor sentiments similar to those of Santayana’s toward religion. To regard religion with hatred or contempt is to regard it without any depth or wisdom. The militant atheist is animated, not by a disinterested love for truth and wisdom, but by the fanaticism of party spirit. He attacks religion because he sees it as a rival to be destroyed, rather than as a phenomenon to be appreciated and understood. Objectivism, as will be made clear in the ensuing series of posts, has no real insight into religion. It has no idea what religion means in practical terms, nor does it have a clue about the role that religion plays in the lives of individuals or society at large. Objectivism does not view religion as a scientist or naturalist would view it; rather, it regards religion as one brand of fundamentalism regards all other fundamentalisms: with suspicion and hostility.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rand's Ethics, Part 16

Post-Rational Morality. Objectivism presents itself as a rational system of ethics. Indeed, Rand goes so far as to suggest that her system is the only rational system ever devised. This is clearly an exaggeration. Systems of rational ethics go back to Socrates and Aristotle and have found modern exponents in Spinoza and Santayana.

Many ethical systems aren’t so much rational as they are “post-rational.” As Santayana explained:
Aversion to rational ideals does not ... come ... from moral incoherence or religious prejudice. It does not come from lack of speculative power. On the contrary, it may come from undue haste in speculation, from a too ready apprehension of the visible march of things. The obvious irrationality of nature as a whole, too painfully brought home to a musing mind, may make it forget or abdicate its own rationality. In a decadent age, the philosopher who surveys the world and sees that the end of it is even as the beginning, may not feel that the intervening episode, in which he and all he values after all figure, is worth consideration; and he may cry, in his contemplative spleen, that all is vanity…

Pessimism, and all the moralities founded on despair, are not pre-rational but post-rational. They are the work of men who more or less explicitly have conceived the Life of Reason, tried it at least imaginatively, and found it wanting. These systems are a refuge from an intolerable situation: they are experiments in redemption. As a matter of fact, animal instincts and natural standards of excellence are never eluded in them, for no moral experience has other terms; but the part of the natural ideal which remains active appears in opposition to all the rest and, by an intelligible illusion, seems to be no part of that natural ideal because, compared with the commoner passions on which it reacts, it represents some simpler or more attenuated hope—the appeal to some very humble or very much chastened satisfaction, or to an utter change in the conditions of life.

Post-rational morality is, then, the morality of a chastened experience, of disillusion and societal decadence. Santayana identifies not merely religious moralities as post-rational, but even such secular moralities as stoicism and Epicureanism. These are all moralities of despair. They are devised by philosophers who have found the eudaimonism of rational ethics unworkable. Happiness is ephemeral, vain, and impossible, these philosophers decided. Retrenchment in some other moral standard, such as the absence of pain (Epicureanism), indifference to fate (stoicism), comfort in the benevolence of the supernatural (Christianity), the embrace an "unworldly" “spiritual life” (Plotinus, Spinoza, Santayana), or the achievement of “nirvana” through ascetic or spiritual discipline (Schopenhauer, Buddhism) becomes the central focus of the moral philosopher.

When Santayana, in the first decade of the twentieth century, introduced his theory of post-rational morality, he was clearly on the side of rational ethics. But later in life, he slightly modified his view, supplementing his rational ethics with post-rational values. In 1940, he was criticized for this change by some American pragmatists, who, sympathizing with Santayana’s earlier views, regarded the Spanish-American philosopher’s increasing obsession with the “spiritual life” as a betrayal of The Life of Reason. In his “Apologia Pro Mente Sua,” Santayana responded by pointing out that rational ethics is itself based on pre-rational impulses. After all, there can no such thing as a rational end—as Hume demonstrated. “ Reason alone can be rational, but it does not follow that reason alone is good,” Santayana explained. “The criterion of worth remains always the voice of nature, truly consulted, in the person who speaks.”

Since the voice of nature speaks uniquely to each individual, secluded in the egotism of his personal perspective, what is to prevent morality from sinking into narrowness and provincialism? Santayana proposes, as a counter-measure to moral perspectivism, an “ulterior shift” to post-rational morality. Rational morality seeks to establish harmony within the human psyche and the human world. But an individual chastened by the ultimate vanity of human goals might wish to extend this harmony, “not merely within the human psyche or within the human world, but between this world and the psyche on the one hand and the universe, the truth, or God on the other.” This involves a passage “from morality to religion,” admitted Santayana; “but not so as to destroy morality, because religion itself only adds a fresh passion (reason raised to a higher power and taking a broader view) to the passions that reason undertakes to harmonize.” By “higher power” Santayana does not mean some type of religious entity, like a God or a spirititual power. The phrase is used here to suggest an expansion of reason from a mere method of determining the means to achieving ends to a species of wisdom that seeks to see truth under the aspect of eternity, as Aristotle and Spinoza, in their more grandiose moments, sought to see truth. In other words, we are talking about viewing truth for its own sake, rather than as means for attaining some naturalistic end. The chastened spirit, recognizing the ultimate vanity of rational ethics, seeks consolation in purely intellectual pursuits. “I see the perfect continuity of post-rational with rational and pre-rational morality,” explained Santayana. “We begin with the instinct of animals, sometimes ferocious, sometimes placid, sometimes industrious, always self-justified and self-repeating [i.e., we begin with pre-rational morality]; we proceed to a certain teachableness by experience to a certain tradition and progress in the arts [i.e., we proceed to rational ethics]; we proceed further to general reflection, to tragic discoveries, to transformed interests [i.e., we culminate in post-rational morality].” “To draw the sum total of our account, and ask what do we gain, what do we lose, is possible at any moment of reflection, whatever the wealth or paucity of our experience,” Santayana noted. “But it is the impulse to reflect, not the impulse to acquire or to venture, that is here at work; and reason, instead of looking for the means to achieving given ends, has become an autonomous interest capable of criticising those ends. To itself therefore it seems reason liberated rather than reason abandoned.” In other words, the shift to a post-rational attitude, although ultimately founded on pre-rational sentiment, is nevertheless in accordance with reason, and is therefore entirely consistent with rational ethics, even when it criticizes these ethics or finds them vain or comfortless.

“I should therefore ask [my critics] to admit post-rational sentiment into their life of reason as an element,” concluded Santayana, “and to coordinate it with all the other profound and perennial elements in human nature. If they refuse to do so, it seems to me that rational life in them would itself sink to the pre-rational level. They would be fighting for a closed circle of accidental interests, established by them as absolute and alone legitimate, and fighting in the pre-rational jungle, like cats and dogs, or like prophets crying anathema to all other prophets.” [The Philosophy of George Santayana,, 560-565)

There is every reason to believe that Rand would have despised the notion of a post-rational morality based on “tragic discoveries” and “transformed interests.” Rand’s view, as stated by intellectual heir Leonard Peikoff, is that, while “accidents and failures are possible, they are not ... the essence of human life. On the contrary, the achievement of values is the norm”—provided that the individual follows the Objectivist morality. There are a number of serious problems here. In the first place, Rand’s notion of the benevolent universe principle is fraught with mischievous implications. Achievement of values and the personal happiness that goes with it are, Rand declares, the norm for those who follow her morality. So what does this mean for the person who does not achieve their values, but who instead endures misery and hardship? What does Rand have to say to this individual? Only one of two things: (1) that this individual is an unlucky exception to the general rule; or (2) that this individual has not followed the Objectivist morality and therefore deserves his misfortune. I would suggest that neither of these answers is adequate to console the individual in the face of suffering and tragedy. Indeed, Rand's two responses verge toward mockery and denigration

There are also serious questions whether “achievement of values” really is the norm. In real life, people experience both achievement and disappointment, suffering and happiness. A philosophy with any depth or wisdom at its core will take account of both the good and the bad in human life. It won’t simply sweep the bad under some jejune “benevolent universe” premise. Nor will it moralize the issue by implying that unhappy people are immoral and deserve their unhappiness. Psychology has discovered that, at least for some people, the level of happiness they are capable of reaching is probably genetically determined. For this reason, a rational ethics, with its stress on eudaimonic values, cannot serve everyone’s needs. People cannot be happy all the time. One way or another, whether they like it or not, they will suffer. Achieving moral perfection, even on Objectivist terms, will not cure the ills of the human condition. A philosophy that merely tells people to be happy, or insists they would be happy if only they followed this or that code of ethics, is a philosophy addressed to only one aspect of existence. It’s a philosophy for those unserious, superficial thinkers afraid of tackling the really difficult issues confronting the human species.

Philosophy is chiefly concerned with tackling problems—the more difficult, the better. Happiness, benevolence, joy are not problems. Most people agree in finding them desirable. Suffering, pain, disappointment, tragedy constitute very serious problems. They do so even when they don’t represent the norm. The fact that they occur at all gives them a special importance that no serious thinker can ignore.

Post-rational moralities such as stoicism, epicureanism, Buhddism and Christianity have each, in their own way, tried to grapple with these darker issues. For this reason, if for no other, such systems have a leg up on Objectivism when it comes to dealing with the tragic side of existence; which is to say, there is much that can be learned from them. We can learn not merely from their successes, but from their failures as well. To approach these moral systems with contempt, merely because they are not fully “rational” (i.e., because they don’t agree with Objectivism), constitutes yet another lapse into superficiality and fatuousness.

Rand’s failure to appreciate and learn from other points of view is symptomatic of her general failure to take a broader point of view. Her ethical philosophy is indeed guilty of “fighting for a closed circle of accidental interests, established ... as absolute and alone legitimate.” Most of the virtues she extols are virtues that apply, if they apply at all, only to a small number of people—nor could they ever be extended to mankind in general without doing a great deal of mischief. Her moralizing contempt for people who disagree with her only serves to isolate herself more firmly within the pre-rational jungle. It also prevents her and her orthodox followers from ever incorporating post-rational sentiment into their philosophy. Yet without this post-rational incorporation, Objectivism can never be considered a complete philosophy addressed to the chief problems of human existence.