Rand's view is in stark contrast with that of David Hume, who, in 1739, wrote that "reason is, and ought to only be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." We can only image vituperation with which Rand would have responded to Hume's statement. However, it is important to note that Hume is not merely asserting that reason ought to be the slave of the passions; he is also insisting that reason is the slave of the passions, and that it can't be otherwise. In the last twenty years, experimental psychology has been forced to admit that Hume's position comes much closer to the truth than Rand's. Psychologists have found that, although people can and often do reason about morality, they don't engage in reasoning in order to discover truth, but rather use reason to support their emotional intuitions. Moral reasonings serve strategic purposes such as managing one's reputation, building alliances, recruiting bystanders to support one's side in the conflicts and scuffles endemic to social life. [Haidt, The Righteous Mind, 46] Human beings act like "intuitive politicians striving to maintain appealing moral identities in front of multiple constituencies." [ibid, 75]
Now an Objectivist, when confronted with this evidence, might respond along the following lines: "Yes, maybe that's how people actually behave, but that is not how they ought to behave." But this line of reasoning fails to grasp the point at issue. Most people don't behave this way out of choice, but out of necessity. When it comes to morality, people can no more follow reason and ignore their emotions than they can spontaneously combust or sprouts wings and flap around the house.
There are but two very partial exceptions to this: (1) individuals suffering from brain damage to the ventromedial prefontal cortex (vmPFC), and (2) psychopaths.
(1) vmPFC damaged individuals. I have already noted the example of these individuals in previous posts throughout the years. Antonio Damasio brought their plight to the world's attention in his book Descartes' Error. These individuals don't experience emotions and therefore cannot follow their whims. Far from making them perfect Objectivists, this deficiency leads to moral incompetency.
(2) Psychopaths. As Jonathan Haidt explains:
Psychopaths do have some emotions.... But psychopaths don't show emotions that indicate that they care about other people. Psychopaths seem to live in a world of objects, some of which happen to walk around on two legs.... They feel no compassion, guilt, shame, or even embarrassment, which makes it easy for them to lie, and to hurt family, friends, and animals.
The ability to reason normally combined with a lack of moral emotions is a dangerous combination. Psychopaths learn to say whatever gets them what they want.... [ibid, 62]
While neither vmPFC damaged individuals nor psychopaths could serve as models for Objectivist morality, they do, in one respect, attain a moral goal close to Rand's heart: namely, they are much less affected by emotions (i.e., whim worship) than "normal" people when it comes to behavior and moral judgments. The vmPFC damaged folks come closest to the Randian ideal; psychopaths, however, are not that far behind (at least when it comes to moral decisions involving other people). The vmPFC folks apparently don't even experience whims. Yet far from making them Objectivists, it only makes them deeply dysfunctional. Psychopaths feel no empathy or consideration for others. Hence, they are completely free of all "altruistic" whims: yet far from being a step towards Ayn Rand and Objectivism, a lack of empathy leads to Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.
One thing to note right from the start: namely, that neither of these two conditions is a product of "premises." Damage to the vmPFC is not caused by bad premises, but by an injury to the head. And psychopathy is a genetically heritable condition, [ibid, 62] not the result of stale thinking which one's mind failed to revise!
Although Rand was not a psychopath, she nonetheless unwittingly aspired to an emotional life that comes closer to that attained by psychopaths than by normal people. In the first place, Rand seems to have disliked many of the emotions psychopaths are incapable of experiencing, such as guilt, shame, and embarrassment; and if Rand herself had ever experienced either guilt or shame, she kept this fact very much to herself. At the same time, Rand normally portrays guilt as a negative emotion, as something which should only be experienced by those who have committed moral infractions. Guilt was an emotion used by altruists to manipulate individuals for evil ends. "Guilt is altruism’s stock in trade," she wrote, "and the inducing of guilt is its only means of self-perpetuation." It is an emotion experienced by villains and failures, not by heroes and Objectivists.
Guilt and shame were emotions Rand wished to banish from herself and from her ideal man; which is a rather odd desideratum, considering that being free of guilt is a characteristic of psychopaths. Rand's ideal man constitutes a strange mixture: half psychopath, half moral visionary.
A guilt-free conscience was not the only ideal Rand aspired to that had the whiff of psychopathy about it. Rand also scorned excessive concern for what other people thought. Such concerns were sometimes regarded as a symptom of "social metaphysics" (defined by one Objectivist polemicist as "the privileging of others’ opinions over reality as the ultimate arbiter of truth and value"). Psychological evidence demonstrates that most human beings are (in the words of Jonathan Haidt) "obsessively concerned about what others think" of them. [ibid, 91] We are hardwired that way; and it would be a very miserable world if it weren't so. Who are the exceptions? Who are these great heroes who do not care about what other people think and are thereby free of the horrid taint of social metaphysics? Not Ayn Rand. The author of The Fountainhead did in fact care what others thought (at least part of the time). After all, if she didn't care what others thought, why did she demand strict unanimity of both thought and feeling among her acolytes? If she didn't care what others thought, why was she so upset at Whittaker Chamber's review of Atlas Shrugged, or Sidney Hook's review of For the New Intellectual? Those of Rand's admirers who insist that Rand didn't care about what others thought are doing her a disservice. For as it turns out, the only people who don't care about what other people think are psychopaths. And why would any of Rand's admirers insist that she exhibited a personality trait that is an exclusive property of psychopaths?
There is, however, a larger and more serious point to be drawn from the relation between psychopaths and a rational morality. The inability of psychopaths (and vmPFC damaged individuals as well) to experience certain emotions impairs their ability to behave morally. This constitutes powerful evidence that emotions play a key role in ethical behavior. Rand doesn't appear to have understood the necessity of emotional motivation in moral behavior. Reason, at its best, is merely a tool; it is not a source of motivation or a controlling power. Hume turns out to be right: reason can can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey the emotions.
You forgot to mention that she modeled one of her heroes after a real psychopath : Edward Hickman.
I have been long lately for something like this ... on the Objectivist Living site the tangled subject came up (under the very stupid and/or ironic rubric "Is Evil Impotent or Virile"). Many arguments started and hit the wall of opinion. Some discussants thought they were talking about the same thing (evil actions of human beings) but were not.
Into the blender went sociopathy, sociopaths, 'psychopath'(popular), psychopathy (Hare, PCL-R), criminals, violent criminals, incarcerated violent criminals, Evul -- and all of this gummed up with Bible Says bullshit.
One erstwhile practicing psychotherapist fainted dead away when asked to provide some frigging support, some evidence for his assertions about psychopaths. This was Dennis Hardin ...
Then the list owner said something about fMRI and sociopathy.
I thought, "Yeah, a quick visit to the Walmart of research, PubMed, we will settle this!"
Well, of course, 'the literature' is an ecosystem, a complex swamp. You cannot simply go to PubMedWalMart and take home a box of reality.
So, as I continue my struggles in the swamp (not quite that bad), hoping to return to the forgotten thread where the pot was full of opinion, assertion, Bible verses, and fainting dead away, I find this solace, this dry land.
So, I shall likely return with a post once I trim, dry and process what I have pulled out of the swamp.
The very misfit between assertion and support that I originally found in Objectivism -- the 'guesses' of Rand in re Human Nature -- this is what still fascinates me and engages me with the Objectivish.
What can a philosophical system do once science or further concerted and rigourous inquiry turns up bumf and filler in its walls, when the thought of empirical confirmation gives the vapours or is met with aggression?
The whole idea that a woman like Rand could smoke a carton of Chesterfields, think and think and think, and then tell me what I need to know about emotion ... GAH.
What makes the hardcore Objectivish so rigid and uncomprehending about the limits of Rand's system? It isn't like they have given their life to the Church and now have to go live in a ditch if they become apostates, is it?
Anyhow, I shall hang out here secretly a bit more, and when the time comes, I will show my work.
Glad you all are still mining the rich vein of Wrong in Objectivish fantasies of knowledge.
You forgot to mention that she modeled one of her heroes after a real psychopath : Edward Hickman.
Good point. What she wrote about Hickman is quite revealing. It shows that she was attracted to Hickman, not for his crimes (which she deplored), but for his disdain for what other people thought. She wrote, "He [i.e., Hickman] doesn't understand, because thankfully he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people. Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should." [Heller, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, 70]
I'm loving the analysis and criticism of Objectivism, but I can't agree with this idea that caring what others think is good. I'm willing to entertain that in some cases it may be, but in most cases, it isn't.
All I know is that if I lived my life obsessively concerned with what others think of me, I would want to die. I wouldn't have a mohawk, because too many people object to it, even though I like it and it makes me happy. I wouldn't skydive, because most people don't understand it and assume it's dangerous (although my skydiving friends have a different opinion). What am I supposed to do, imagine how all the people around me will think about me before I make any kind of choice? Why are their opinions of my conduct so important, but mine aren't?
I definitely prefer people to think well of me, rather than negatively. I would much rather live in a world of friends than a world of enemies. I'm not indifferent in that regard. I am happy that my friends accept me and like me. But not everyone does, and I could not care less.
Exploring the psychopathy of purely logical, unemotional people is very important. But I don't think choosing not to care what others think necessarily makes one an unemotional psychopath.
Caring what others think goes beyond the narrow way you've framed it. What about if others would be happier if you wore a mohawk, just as you would be? Would you then say that wearing the mohawk is bad because it makes other people happy?
The bottom line here is that if you think anything like eudaemonism is the social moral ideal, then you need to understand how to intersect your pursuits with those of others to get there. That you value your own happiness doesn't mean that you have to seek it to the exclusion of the happiness of others. Of course, there will be conflicts but that does not detract from the ideal - it just makes it sometimes (and maybe unfortunately) unattainable.
By the way, this is not part of Greg's topic per se, which is simply that you cannot engage in serious and practical moral reasoning without engaging the emotions, and that "reason" cannot get you there.
All I know is that if I lived my life obsessively concerned with what others think of me, I would want to die.
Haidt goes over the research on this issue in his book and it's quite revealing. What researchers found is that nearly everyone (except psychopaths and vmPFC damaged individuals) are quite concerned about what others think. This is true even of those who don't believe they care what others think (experiments reveal this fact). While it may be slightly over-stating the case to say that all normal people are "obsessively" concerned about what others think of them, it's very hard to be indifferent; and even people who sincerely believe they are indifferent to what others think are not aware that, unconsciously, they are not indifferent.
Of course, individuals don't always care what people in general think; they tend to care most about the people in their own particular in-group, whatever that may be. Teenagers may not care a whole lot about what their parents think; but they tend to be quite obsessive about what their peers think.
Perhaps you would be interested in the work of Andrew Lobaczewski. I did a Google search on the ARCHN site and found no reference, so perhaps you have not come across it.
Lobaczewski joined a community of researchers studying psychopaths in the 1930s in Poland. He alone of all his colleagues survived Nazism and Communism, lived in the USA for a time, and was able to publish a distillation of their discoveries -- cataloging psychopathology, schizoidism and other related pathologies having socio-political consequences.
One of many possible quotations. "Our modern Western culture lacks an adequate framework to understand the causes and processes of what we commonly refer to as evil in our history. The Third Reich, the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinism… Our body of literature, social sciences, and our common sense of morality only scratch the surface of a true comprehension of the nature of evil. Thus, the very people who are, in fact, the initiators of the greatest ponerogenic activity pass undetected. Our lack of understanding will inevitably lead to the very problems that the majority of humanity seeks to prevent."
One section suggests to me, that Rand could well have been schizoid. “[Schizoids] are hypersensitive and distrustful, while, at the same time, pay little attention to the feelings of others. They tend to assume extreme positions, and are eager to retaliate for minor offenses. Sometimes they are eccentric and odd. Their poor sense of psychological situation and reality leads them to superimpose erroneous, pejorative interpretations upon other people’s intentions. They easily become involved in activities which are ostensibly moral, but which actually inflict damage upon themselves and others. Their impoverished psychological worldview makes them typically pessimistic regarding human nature.” and interestingly, "If schizoidal views are published and widely distributed (like the writings of Marx, or of Leo Strauss), they can play a large role in the origin of evil on a mass scale. When normal people read the work of a schizoid, they are often unaware of the true nature of the author they are reading."
I think anyone wishing to understand the historical and modern processes of evil will be interested in http://ponerology.com
Just stumbled onto this blog, coming from a perspective of someone who is not a Rand follower, but has read some of her work and found some things I agree with and other things I don't. A few thing here
"Psychologists have found that, although people can and often do reason about morality, they don't engage in reasoning in order to discover truth, but rather use reason to support their emotional intuitions."
Well, if there is no moral truth in the first place than (which I don't entirely agree with) than this is irrelevant because it would be impossible to reason to truth in the first place. I happen to think that morality has a subjective element to it (unlike Rand) so I think people do have to reason to support some intuitions, but I don't think that is a necessarily bad thing. Some of those moral intuitions may be quite valuable to have and they have have evolved for good reasons.
With that said, I disagree that one cannot follow reason anymore than one can grow wings if what I wrote is kept in mind. I would say that it is much more unlikely for primary beliefs and values to be changed. Which leads me to the point that a lot of the criticisms of Rand I have seen even on this site (that stupid Hickman thing trotted out again) are very moralistic, but if what you are saying is true than Rand could no more not be the way she was than could have grown wings so why bother with the moralism. I would also disagree that psychopaths that do things psychopaths are known for in the popular conception are necessarily acting rationally in their their long term interests (most of the time).
As for whether people are concerned about what others think about them I think they are though I would disagree that it is always obsessive. I do think there is a difference between the conscious and the unconscious concern about what others think. I am more optimistic than this author about the prospects of changing out thought processes and I don't consider anything to be conclusive here.
Lastly, could it not be argued that the author's own arguments in his book and blog are merely reasoning based on his emotional dislike of Rand and/or her work.
Well, if there is no moral truth in the first place than (which I don't entirely agree with) than this is irrelevant because it would be impossible to reason to truth in the first place.
This is sort of vague. I'm not sure what the point is here, or what exactly is supposed to be irrelevant to truth? Is moral "truth" irrelevant because most people rationalize about morality? Is that what's being claimed here? If so, that strikes me as a non sequitar. If truth is "objective," it exists whether people rationalize or not. The people rationalizing may not arrive at that truth; but perhaps the handful don't rationalize might reach it; or it might be reached by some non-rational method, such as the "moral intuitions" referenced by the poster.
I would also disagree that psychopaths that do things psychopaths are known for in the popular conception are necessarily acting rationally in their their long term interests (most of the time).
I'm not sure who you are disagreeing with. That's precisely one of the points made in the post.
As for whether people are concerned about what others think about them I think they are though I would disagree that it is always obsessive.
The term "obsessive" is what Haidt himself. Perhaps it's a tad exaggerated. But if you're acquainted with the evidence, it's not that far off the mark.
I am more optimistic than this author about the prospects of changing out thought processes and I don't consider anything to be conclusive here.
If we go by the evidence, rather than what the poster merely thinks (and perhaps wishes), "optimism" about the "prospects of changing thought processes" on the issue at hand does not appear warranted. Read Haidt's book. It's tremendously sobering.
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