Why Objectivists Should Care About Feminism , By Diana Mertz Brickell
This essay was orginally published on 26 Feb 1996 on AYN-RAND@IUBVM.UCS.INDIANA.EDU.
I would bet that a number of people reading this post are saying to themselves right now, "But what in the world does feminism have to do with Objectivism?!?" As an Objectivist who is also very interested in feminism, I certainly understand the skepticism. But there are significant areas of overlap between Objectivism and feminism that I'd like to briefly examine, as a way of kicking off the 1996 MDOP discussion of feminism.
Rand held some very progressive views about women, particularly given the time period in which she was writing. After all, Dagny is the vice-president of a railroad company, a state of affairs which Rand obviously considers perfectly normal. Rand herself was no woman of her times, obviously preferring to write fiction and philosophy rather than settle for being a wife and mother, as was common at the time. _The Objectivist Newsletter_ also gave a wonderful review (in July, 1963) to Betty Friedan's excellent book _The Feminine Mystique_. Rand also staunchly supported a woman's right to an abortion, which has always been a central issue for feminists.
But Rand's essay "About a Woman President" (in _Voice of Reason_) should give everyone pause. What conception of femininity is Rand really holding in that essay? And is that conception a valid one? Fully examining the concepts of masculinity and femininity and asking what facts give rise to these concepts is an important task for philosophers, because these concepts carry significant normative weight (which could be very damaging to members of both sexes if the concepts are not formed objectively).
Another aspect of Rand's thought which tends to greatly bother people is the "rape scene" in _The Fountainhead_. (I suggest that before commenting on this scene, list members read from the time when Dominique first goes to the quarry to the actual "rape scene," rather than just reading the "rape scene" in isolation, in order to get the full context.) Was that sex between Roark and Dominique really consensual, just rough, a ravishing of sorts? Or was Rand (inadvertently or not) glorifying rape in that scene?
This debate about rape vs. ravishing has come up in academic philosophy circles, in the form of a debate between Christina Hoff Sommers (author of _Who Stole Feminism?_) and Marilyn Friedman (a professor of mine and author of _What are Friends For?_) with respect to the "rape scene" in _Gone with the Wind_.
Sommers defended the scene as a ravishing, not rape, while Friedman argued that it was rape.
Finally, there is the issue of Rand's (and most Objectivists') non-use (and often refusal to use) of gender neutral language. Despite the fact that using a term to denote both a genus (all humans) *and* a specificproportion of that genus (males) is absolute epistemological chaos, the fact that women have to go through mental gymnastics to apply the so-called gender-neutral language to themselves (since most of the timethe terms apply to non-women), and the fact that there is perfectly acceptable actually gender-neutral language in existence (like the term "individual," which I am quite fond of), Objectivists on the whole are still quite recalcitrant. Carolyn Ray has a wonderful article on the use of gender neutral language in Rand's and Peikoff's work, which I hope that she posts. *nudge*I think that that's pretty much the gamut of Rand's views that relate to feminism. But there are other *philosophical* issues which do relate to feminism or gender studies in general.
One of the more interesting issues in (rational) feminism is whether there are biologically-based gender differences (besides secondary sexual characteristics). Most feminists refuse to even consider the possibility, letting their ideology determine what science they find acceptable. Nevertheless, there is interesting work being done in this area. For example, John Stossell did a wonderful one hour special on gender differences last year. I was particularly pleased by his investigation because he didn't fall into the usual collectivistic determinism that people often advocate. Whether there are gender differences (and what those differences are, if they exist) would have some serious implications for the concepts of masculinity and femininity.
Another aspect of feminism that Objectivists ought to be interested in is the dangerous ideas which are a significant part of mainstream feminism. For starters, most academic feminism is continental (rather than analytic) in its roots, which basically amounts to a license for absolute philosophical quackery. Just about every strand of feminism that I know (with the exception of a few types) thinks that a patriarchy *actually exists* in this country today. Lesbianism seems to have become an obsession with feminists, and lesbian feminists often question the integrity of those feminists who "sleep with the enemy," i.e. who are involved in heterosexual relationships. Just about every mainstream feminist thinks that porn is evil and degrading to women, and many think that it ought to be outlawed. Plus, there is the standard fare of support for anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action.
I have heard that some feminists have gone so far off their rockers that they now oppose legal abortion. They argue that it (like birth control) gives men easier sexual access to women, which is obviously a bad thing.
But not all feminists are that bad. There has been a movement among more rational feminists since Christina Hoff Sommers' book _Who Stole Feminism?_ to reclaim the movement. There are books like Rene Denfeld's _The New Victorians_ which gives an excellent analysis of the ways in which modern radical feminism is simply a return to repressive Victorian mores. Warren Farrell's _The Myth of Male Power_ extensively documents the ways in which men have been hurt by cultural norms which (unlike those for women) haven't changed in recent decades. (BTW, I *highly* recommend _The Myth of Male Power_ to all Objectivists, particularly men. If you are going to read one book related to feminism in your life, make it this one!)This new breed of feminism, rational and individualistic at its roots, is not just concerned with exposing the bad theories in feminism. These feminists have argued that pornography is a moral good, that affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws are hurtful to women, and that "husband abuse" is just as possible (and possibly just as prevalent) as abuse of wives.
(Sidenote: After reading Wendy McElroy's article "Husband Abuse" (in September 1995 issue of _Liberty_ which contains some startling statistics on the rates of severe wife-to-husband vs. husband-to-wife beatings, I brought up to my feminist philosophy class the *possibility* that women could be the batterers in a heterosexual relationship. Despite the fact that the people in my class knew (1) that women can and do batter in lesbian relationships (2) physical size is not a limitation because women can do significant damage with weapons (from knives to baseball bat) and (3) that men who tried to get help would be stigmatized (in much the same way that victims of rape used to be), they could not even bear to admit the possibility that a woman could do violence to a man. I found it quite amazing!) The radical feminists do seem to be feeling the pressure. Susan Faludi published an article in the March/April issue of _Ms._ entitled "I'm Not a Feminist, But I Play One on TV," which (very dishonestly, I must say) attacked the views of Sommers, Denfeld, Roiphe, and Paglia. I think that it's important for Objectivists to be familiar with the threat posed by these nutty feminists, and to defend the rational, individualistic feminists when possible.
Another issue that ought to be of personal concern to Objectivists is the large disparity between the numbers of intellectual men and intellectual women in our culture. In just about every walk of life, including theObjectivist movement, there seem to be more intellectual men than women (although my experience has been that the women who are intellectual are *highly* intellectual). Since it is highly probable that this situation is the result of gender-based social norms, I would think that Objectivists would be interested in ways to identify and either eliminate or circumvent these social norms.
Finally, there are some semi-philosophical issues relating to feminism are definitely real-life issues. Is the institution of marriage valid? Should the State be involved in marriage? What are the rational reasons (if any) for two people to get married? Should homosexuals be allowed to marry and adopt children? Should a woman take a man's name? How should a couple work out balancing work and family? Is raising children a rational, productive activity?Or how about the issue of how much gender discrimination the government should be allowed to engage in (such as in military personnel or the police)? Or what types of gender discrimination by businesses are moral?There are definitely more issues and questions here, but I think that I've written about enough already!I hope that this serves as a good introduction to some issues in feminism, as well as convinces you that feminism and Objectivism are related!
Sex and Relationships, By Diana Mertz BrickellThis essay was orginally published on 3 Oct 1996 on OBJECTIVISM-L@cornell.edu.
This essay on sexual ethics is meant as an *exploration*, not a definitive statement, of some of the issues at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and sex that I find interesting. Being a philosopher, the aim of this essay is particularly philosophical. Those interested in a more psychological perspective will find Nathaniel Branden's _The Psychology of Romantic Love_ of interest.
In this exploration, I'm taking for granted some understanding of why sexual ethics is important. Sex is the driving force behind much of human behavior, and the way that individuals approach sex has a fundamental impact on their lives, particularly on relationships. Ethical principles that guide our choices related sex are thus are required if we are to live self-directed and self-aware lives.
In _The Psychology of Romantic Love_, Branden cites "the intense pleasure that [sex] offers human beings" as the reason that sex is extrordinarily important to humans. (PRL 86) Branden is using pleasure broadly here, to encompass psychological states such as joy and efficacy, as well as the physical sensation of pleasure. Branden states that this pleasure "allows us to experience the sense that *life* is a value and that *we* are a value. . . in the vividness of direct experience." (PRL 87) Branden very briefly touches on the fact that directly experiencing these very abstract values though sex involves an integration of mind and body that is not found in other pleasures. It is this capacity for mind-body integration in sex that I think serves as a touchstone for developing moral principles related to sex.
Through sex, we experience ourselves (and our partner) as both physical and spiritual beings. Through the sensuality of perception and the reactions of our bodies to our partner, we are able to physically express our emotions and very abstract value-judgments about ourselves and our partner. We are able to perceptually celebrate our existence and experience ourselves as ends, worthy of pleasure for its own sake. And through the physical intimacy of sex, we are able to experience a fuller sense of psychological intimacy with another person.
I do think that sex *necessarily* involves both a physical and a spiritual component, and thus always has some bearing on an individual's view of the relation between their mind and their body. In the case of those that are looking for the meaningless physical experience in sex, the fact that they can't get what they want alone, from masturbation, indicates that they are seeking some sort of psychological value. In Objectivists, however, the tendency seems to be to overemphasize the spiritual aspect of sex, to the detriment of the physical. Given that the psychological values arise out of the pleasure in the physicality of sex, to degrade the physical aspects of sex as "base" or "animalistic" is to drop the context in which the spiritual values of sex arise.
Given the importance of both the physical and the spiritual elements in sexual interaction, mind-body integration can serve as the guiding principle for healthy sexual relations. To that end, each of the four necessary (but not sufficient) conditions that I will discuss, namely attraction, respect, openness, and trust, has a both physical and a spiritual element.
These four conditions are virtues, in the sense that they are the means of achieving the values of sexual relations. But they aren't virtues of the *individuals* in the relationship per se, but rather virtues *of the relationship itself*. They are "emergent properties" out of the interactions of the two people in the relationship (and thus ultimately dependent upon the actions of each individual).
Attraction:Physical attraction, being drawn to someone because they have a certain constellation of physical characteristics, is essential to motivate sex. Many attractive physical characteristics are simply out of a person's control. For example, a man is either born with the deep-set eyes that I like or not, and his having them says nothing to me about his character.
There are, however, other physical characteristics that are under a person's control to a large extent, such a muscle tone, hair style, and facial hair on men. These qualities convey information (although not knowledge) about a person's character. For example, a well-muscled woman is one who probably rejects the ideal of feminine weakness. These attractive qualities aren't exclusively physical or psychological. They are physical traits with psychological import, although they are probably most often experienced as purely physical attraction.
Finally, there is spiritual attraction, being drawn to a person because of their values, virtues, habits, method of approaching other people, vision of the world, etc. The power of this type of attraction is enormous, since it dictates not simply whether someone is worthy of a sexual relationship, but also grounds any love in a relationship. This psychological attraction can often override some considerations of physical attraction. For example, in the TV show _Law and Order_, the (now former) assistant DA Ben Stone had a quality of thoughtfulness, combined with a personal caring, in his work which I find extremely alluring, despite his not-so-exciting physique.
Respect:Respect is the acknowledgement of another person's autonomy and self-established boundaries. To respect others on a physical level entails recognizing their political and moral right to self-possession, to use their bodies as they like and to give their bodies to whomever they wish. On a spiritual level, respect requires a recognition that the desires and values of another person are not negated by your own. The resolution of disagreements (particularly about non-universal values) about must be through a process of mutual accomodation, not pressure or intimidation.
It is equally important for an individual in a sexual relationship to positively exercise his/her autonomy, not to accept the will of the partner as determining the values for both of them. For example, there were men that I became romantically and sexually involved with, particularly in high school, because they were interested in me, not because I had a genuine interest in them. In certain cases, there was a lack of respect for my autonomy on their part, but in others, I simply didn't think about my own feelings independent of theirs. The inevitable result was a very unhealthy relationship.
Openness:Openness is a willingness to expose your body and soul to another person. In order to be relaxed enough to enjoy the pleasure of sex, you must feel comfortable in your body and think that body worthy of the sight and touch of another person. Additionally, you must know that your body is capable and worthy of giving your partner the physical pleasure of sex, and willing to allow your partner that pleasure.
On a much more spiritual level, openness requires being up front about the limits and depths of your feelings for your partner. From what I've seen in my own life and with friends, the greatest disasters come from hidden disparities in the feelings of the two people involved.
Trust:Trust, like openness and respect, is an element in every relationship, but the physical and psychological dangers of bad sexual relations warrant particular carefulness in sexual relationships. A partner not being honest about past relationships and the possibility of disease can have life-threatening consequences.
It is also necessary to be able to trust your partner's good intentions and word, such as when he tells you that his parent's disapproval of you isn't important or when she tells you that she isn't attracted to the new guy at work.
Additionally (and this is more tricky) you must be able to trust a partner's powers of introspection, i.e. to trust their level of honesty with and self-awareness of themselves, so that you are not blindsided by out-of-the-blue revelations about their true feelings.
A few notes before I close:There is definitely an interplay between these virtues, so that, for example, one cannot really be open with another person if the expectation is that that person will use that knowledge maliciously against you. Or, for example, just as respect demands that you recognize your partner's body as his/her own, openness asks that, when the necessary trust is present, that you allow your partner to use it for his/her own pleasure.
I'm sure that those who were involved in the MDOP discussion of sex noticed that I didn't list love as one of the conditions for healthy sex. I don't think that it is, and, in fact, I think that there is a serious danger in refusing to be sexually involved with anyone unless you are in love. The danger is rationalization, that you will convince yourself of being in love in order to have sex. To destroy the sanctity of one's view of love and to cloud one's judgment in the matter would do more violence to the concept of love than the most meaningless sexual relationship could.
But it is clear from the four virtues of a relationship that I discussed that I am not advocating the meaningless sexual relationship, but rather the *validity* of "sexual friendships," in which both the virtues of friendship and the added requirements of sexual intimacy, are taken into account.
I hope that y'all found my essay of interest and that it provides something worth commenting on!
Rights, Egoism, and the Foundation of Ethics I , By Joshua ZaderThis essay was orginally published on 2 Aug 1996 on OBJECTIVISM-L@cornell.edu.
The following brief essay outlines a perspective I take on the foundations of Ayn Rand's ethical system. To start, I would like to paraphrase two examples of a certain argument I have seen made on several occasions by enthusiasts of Rand's philosophy.
1. "Sure it's immoral to break into somebody's house, but the real reason is that it's not in you long-term self interest: every time you pull off a heist, there is a significant chance you will be apprehended, prosecuted or even killed." 2. "You should never copy music from a friend's album. Doing so reduces the musician's incentive to write, the producer's incentive to record and the record label's incentive to distribute. In the long run it hurts you, the music lover. You should respect copyrights because it's in your self-interest."The thrust of each of these arguments is that the logical justification for respecting rights lies in the egoistic reasons for doing so. Why would someone make this argument? One common justification is that, quoting Rand, "There are no unchosen obligations" -- implying that, if we assert people have an obligation to respect the rights of others, we are appealing to a deontological ethic, one based on duty instead of selfishness. And, as we all know, Rand rejected the very concept of duty.
Before addressing whether the concept of "rights" is dependent in this way upon the concept of "selfishness," I want to point out that the two arguments presented above are supreme examples of rationalism -- of nice, logical-sounding arguments utterly detached from perceivable reality. With respect to the first argument, how can one bear the implication that, were it practical to thieve, such would be moral? With respect to the second argument, it is simply false to suggest that copying an album instead of buying it wouldn't be to my advantage, even in the long-term; one violation is not enough to even begin bringing the predicted consequences.
If we are to argue the immorality of being thieves or music pirates, we will have to look beyond pragmatism.
Let me begin my analysis of the relationship between rights and egoism by reviewing the foundation of the Objectivist ethics. Ayn Rand's approach, as we know, begins with observing the facts of reality that give rise to the need for a code of action. Her principal metaphysical observation is that life is an end in itself. Combined with the fact that human life is sustained by the exercise of reason -- and the fact that the exercise of reason is a volitional process -- we reach the ethical premise that each human life is an end in itself, not a means to the goals of God, society or government.
While it is an intermediate step I have never seen Ayn Rand explicitly make, I submit that this is the most important ethical (i.e., not metaphysical or epistemological) premise at the foundation of her moral system: "Each human being should be regarded as an end in him- or herself."The premise leads us to two conclusions: that each human being should (1) act for the furtherance of his or her own life and (2) recognize that it is proper for others to further their own lives. In other words, it leads to both a selfish and a rights-based system of ethics.
Would Rand agree with the perspective I advocate here? John Galt would: "I swear by my life and my love of it never to live for the sake of another man, nor to ask another man to live for mine." Or, stated positively: "I swear to regard my own life as an end in itself and to regard other people's lives as ends in themselves."
It should be obvious from this perspective that the concept of "rights" is, in fact, not dependent upon the concept of "selfishness." The two concepts come into being simultaneously and because of the same facts of human nature.
Having said this, let's stop and look at what it means to regard a human being as an end in him- or herself. I have not studied Kant's philosophy carefully but I am told that, as part of his categorical imperative, he advocated that the humanity in all of us should be treated as an end in itself, to which all else should be forsaken. Only, by "humanity" he meant the whole scope of human interaction, including his view of the proper ethical and social structures. As only one consequence, regarding individuals as ends in themselves meant never seeing them as a means to one's own ends.
This is, emphatically, not what it means to regard humans as ends in themselves. Regarding a person as an end in him- or herself entails treating them as the proper primary beneficiary of their own actions -- i.e., as an end with respect to their *own* actions, where, in Kant's view, I should treat them as an end with respect to *my* actions. (I should mention that I think this is an important distinction to make whether I am accurately portraying Kant's view or not.)There are other interesting points that follow from this perspective, which I will not try to address in the present essay. For example, in addition to deepening our understanding of the nature of political rights, this perspective provides a basis for understanding what might be called "ethical rights," i.e., rights we possess but which should not be enforced by the government (for example, the right not to be cheated on by a lover). If a political right is the right to be treated as an end in oneself with respect to the initiation of force, an ethical right is the right to be treated as an end in oneself in *every* respect.
On second thought, since the liberals are having a hard enough time understanding political rights, perhaps we should keep the notion of ethical rights to ourselves. But I thought I would bring it up since several people have asked whether I thought people had rights other than political.
In conclusion, I want to return to the two arguments I paraphrased at the beginning of this essay. The error they make is one of hierarchy. The concept of "rights" is not dependent upon "selfishness." And does accepting this mean we are appealing to a duty-based ethics? No, because we are not extolling unchosen obligations, but negative obligations -- that is, the "duty" to leave others free. But, as we can see, this is not so much a duty as an identification of the nature of human life.
I look forward to reading your comments.
Joshua Zader Los Angeles, CAjzader@polaris.pacificnet.net(c) 1996 by Joshua Zader
Rights, Egoism, and the Foundation of Ethics II , By Joshua ZaderThis essay was orginally published on 15 Sep 1996 on OBJECTIVISM-L@cornell.edu.
Here is my long-overdue follow up post on the subject of the moral basis for observing rights. In earlier posts to this forum I have argued that humans are, by nature, ends in themselves and that this metaphysical fact formed not only the basis for acting in one's own self-interest, but also for observing rights -- and that this (not self-interest as such) constitutes the correct moral standard for respecting the rights of other people.
The present essay is an elaboration upon my earlier thesis, as well as a reply to the more significant objections raised against it (including "The Mozes Challenge" -- reconciling it with the facts that the purpose of morality is to serve one's own life and that Ayn Rand rejected any notion of an unchosen obligation).
By way of starting, I want to address why this matter is worth considering in the first place.
WHY QUIBBLE OVER THE BASIS OF RIGHTS?As Objectivists, we can't help but be appalled by the nonchalant manner in which rights are violated -- on a daily basis, in our own country and around the world. And as individuals who are convinced of the moral significance of rights, it becomes incumbent upon us to explain why.
In an effort to rise to this challenge, and be "consistent" with Ayn Rand's ethics, Objectivists sometimes suggest that one should respect others' rights because doing so is to one's self-interest. And, insofar as the purpose of following moral principles at all is to serve one's life, this is entirely true.
But the statement leaves a lot of elbow room, and several participants in this forum have argued that, in fact, the *only* moral standard for action, including the act of respecting rights, is one's long-term self-interest. This implies that, were it truly in one's long-term self-interest to violate another's right (which, they maintain, is never the case) then the right would simply have to go.
This notion is untrue and does not follow from principles of Objectivism. First, it eliminates the concept of justice; it offers no consideration for the fact that a victim is caused undeserved harm. Second, bearing in mind Rand's distinction between a standard and a purpose, self-interest is not the Objectivist moral *standard* for any action.
But if selfishness is not the principle basis for respecting rights, what is? Until we can provide a good answer to this question, we are left at a disadvantage both in the classroom *and* in congress, because the entire Objectivist conception of a free society rests upon an understanding of the concept "rights."SELF-INTEREST AS THE STANDARD FOR RESPECTING RIGHTS?To see why the moral basis for respecting rights cannot be self-interest as such, one must first understand that egoism and selfishness are not synonymous. Egoism, as an ethical system, can include a particular view of human nature. Self-interest, as a motive, may or may not be based upon an appropriate view of humans.
In her Introduction to *The Virtue of Selfishness*, Ayn Rand makes this point in the following way: "The choice of a beneficiary of moral values is merely a preliminary or introductory issue in the field of morality. It is not a substitute for morality nor a criterion of moral value, as altruism has made it. Neither is it a moral primary: it has to be derived from and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system."The relevant fundamental premises of her moral system are (a) that life is an end in itself, (b) that humans live by the use of reason, and (c) that the exercise of reason is a volitional, self-directed process -- in essence, that humans are ends in themselves. This egoistic view of human nature forms the standard of value and a guide to moral action (both private and social) for a rational being.
ISN'T THE PURPOSE OF MORALITY TO SERVE MY LIFE?The purpose of morality is to serve one's own life, but the *standard* of morality (which means, the guide to moral action) is that which is appropriate to a rational being. The difference between a purpose and a standard is the difference between a value and a virtue; the first tells you what to achieve, the second tells you how to achieve it.
Ayn Rand was clear about this distinction: "The Objectivist ethics holds man's life as the *standard* of value -- and *his own life* as the ethical *purpose* of every individual man." She goes on, "The difference between a "standard" and a "purpose" in this context is as follows: a "standard" is the abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man's choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose. "That which is required for the survival of man *qua* man" is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man.
The task of applying this principle to a concrete, specific purpose -- the purpose of achieving the life appropriate to a rational being -- belongs to every individual man, and the life he has to live is his own." (VOS, 25)So, while the purpose of action is one's own life, the achievement of such purpose is informed and constrained by an abstract principle: That which is appropriate to the life of a rational being. As we will see, it is this principle -- and the facts of human nature on which it is based -- from which the obligation to respect rights is derived.
HOW IS RESPECTING RIGHTS AN OBLIGATION?Let me start with an example: If one accepts the truth of the statement, "It is immoral to cheat on your spouse,"
one then has an obligation -- a *logical* obligation -- to abstain from secret extramarital affairs. This epistemological fact forms the basis for the virtue of integrity; you cannot in reason accept the truth of a principle in the abstract and reject it in practice. ("A is A," if you like.) The purpose of moral principles is to guide action.
It is worth noting that if you do not accept the principle as true, you have no obligation, per se, to abide by it; the moral validity of your stand, then, lies in whether you have correctly identified the facts. But once you can identify the facts, you are obliged to observe them in practice.
Now consider the principle, "All humans are ends in themselves." If you accept the facts of human nature on which it based, you cannot logically deny the implications they have for your actions towards other people. As with the principle "It is immoral to cheat on your spouse," once you accept it, you are obligated to demonstrate it. It becomes a *standard* for moral action.
As such, the obligation to respect rights is a fundamentally epistemological, or logical, obligation. Rand expressed the point in the following way: "The only 'obligation' involved in individual rights is an obligation imposed, not by the state, but by the nature of reality (i.e. by the law of identity): *consistency*, which, in this case, means the obligation to respect the rights of others, if one wishes one's own rights to be recognized and protected." (CUI, 227)As well as being a logical obligation, respecting rights is also a *negative* obligation. Whereas most "obligations" (to one's country, one's neighbor, one's family) require one to act on behalf of another person, the obligation to respect rights is not an obligation to act, as such, but to *refrain* from taking those actions which deny another the life appropriate to a rational being.
This is an additional reason why the obligation to respect rights does not conflict with the purpose of morality: it does not require you to substitute another person's purposes for your own, but to achieve your purposes without denying others theirs. As you can see, the principle *preserves* the integrity of an egoistic moral system, by factoring out the conflict of interest which characterizes moralities of nihilism or altruism.
DIDN'T AYN RAND ARGUE AGAINST UNCHOSEN OBLIGATIONS?The obligation to respect rights is not an unchosen obligation.
In her 1974 essay "Causality Versus Duty," Ayn Rand wrote: "Realty confronts man with a great many "musts,"
but all of them are conditional; the formula of realistic necessity is: "You must, if--" and the 'if' stands for man's choice: "--if you want to achieve a certain goal." You must eat, if you want to survive. You must work, if you want to eat. You must think, if you want to work. You must look at reality, if you want to think -- if you want to know what to do -- if you want to know what goals to choose -- if you want to know how to achieve them."
The "formula of realistic necessity" identifying the obligation to abstain from violating rights is: "If you wish to live by reason -- if you wish to be consistent -- you must respect the rights humans possess by virtue of their nature." It is not mandatory that one accept the facts of human nature, or any facts; but if one accepts them, one is obliged to act upon them.
As such, the obligation to respect rights in no way conflicts with Rand's views on duty; in fact, she rejects duty on the same metaphysical basis (causality) that she endorses rights.
BUT ISN'T THE MORAL THE PRACTICAL?Some suggest that it *must* always be in one's self-interest to respect rights because, as Ayn Rand observed, "The moral is the practical." This is an improper application of her principle; the statement must be understood in both the philosophical and the historical context in which it was formulated.
When you look at the moralities humankind has come up with so far, most of them, as we know, are variants of altruism: sacrifice yourself to a neighbor, a god, or a government -- or all three. The only way such a morality can lend itself credibility is to denounce practicality, success and happiness on earth.
It is in this context and against this practice that Ayn made her observation "The moral is the practical." It describes the orientation of an ethical system based upon human nature and upon living life on earth. It was hardly intended as the touchstone of ethical thinking, whether inductive ("It must be moral to copy this CD if it's practical") or deductive ("It must be in my self-interest to observe the copyright since that is what's moral").
In other words, "The moral is the practical" does not mean that every ethical decision you make will be to your identifiable personal gain. It is nothing so concrete-bound. It means that it will be in your best interest to live your life in accordance with reason (which may occasionally seem like quite another thing).
IS IT TO OUR SELF-INTEREST TO RESPECT RIGHTS?Since I have devoted a great deal of space to combating an incorrect understanding of the manner in which it is to one's self-interest to respect rights, it would be helpful here to briefly identify the considerable sense in which it *is* in our self-interest.
One of the fundamental premises of our morality is that its principles benefit our life. But when we look at *how* they benefit our life, a principle such as "respect rights" is not quite in the same category as a principle like "be productive" or "be purposeful." These latter two tell us how to achieve a goal. Acting in accordance with the first ("respect rights") may assist us achieving a goal, but that is not its primary purpose, for it is not an injunction to *act* at all, but rather to abstain from taking unjust actions.
Accordingly, the selfish benefits of respecting rights are a secondary consequence resulting, not from achieving a value as such, but from the type of social interaction it makes possible. It is a link to a whole new level of value-achievement, all made possible by living in accordance with reason.
One difficulty in discussing this topic is the notion that respecting rights *has* to be based (directly) on selfishness, and that if it is not always to one's self-interest to respect rights, then our entire moral system is in danger of collapsing. I hope the foregoing discussion makes it clear that this is an unnecessary oversimplification.
Diana Brickell has an especially valuable insight about why respecting rights need not always be "to" one's self-interest, but rather *compatible* with one's self-interest, and it bears particular relevance to the present discussion:One could argue that because holding oneself as an end [in oneself] and others as ends [in themselves] arise from the exact same facts (namely, those that Rand laid out in "The Objectivist Ethics"), the two cannot conflict.
(Sidenote: This is how Josh's position, as I understand it, avoids the charge of a moral-practical dichotomy. A dichotomy can't exist between two principles that don't come into conflict.) It would be rationalistic to leave the argument so abstract, however. There are apparent conflicts, such as in tape-copying, which still need to be examined, to verify the compatibility of myself-as-end and others-as-ends to determine the proper course of action. (It could be that tape-copying doesn't violate the principle to treat others as ends [in themselves] or that tape-copying isn't in one's self-interest.)But, and this is important, unlike previous arguments about tape-copying and self-interest, we don't need to *justify* respecting copyrights through selfishness, rather we just have to show that selfishness and respecting copyrights are *compatible*. In other words, we no longer have to get so much out of our arguments about selfishness and rights.
I think that this leaves open the door to the explanations that one hears fairly frequently about living a principled life. We ought not copy tapes because the benefits of living strictly by principles (including the principle that copyrights should be respected) is worth the small cost of having to purchase a tape. This argument may seem a bit overblown, but think for a minute about all the time that you'd waste if you "rationally" calculated your chances of getting caught every time you were faced with a candybar at the checkout line of a supermarket. I, at least, have better things to do with mind. I suspect that everyone else does too. :-) I don't think that this argument is strong enough to *justify* not copying tapes, but it does show that selfishness and not copying tapes are *compatible*.
If the obligation to respect rights follows from reason as our means of survival -- and is compatible with the *independent* pursuit of one's self-interest -- then our moral system is quite safe from disintegrating if we are occasionally obliged to deny ourselves the gains to be had by violating others' rights.
EPILOGUE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN END IN ONESELF?Ironically, when I undertook the project of examining the basis of rights, my initial purpose was not simply to argue we have an obligation to respect rights -- that seemed to follow obviously from Rand's writings -- but to ignite discussion of the fascinating idea that "Humans are ends in themselves." Consider the following:o What does the statement *mean*?
o What implications does it have for our actions toward other people ...politically?
o ...Ethically (i.e., aside from physical force and government intervention)?
o In concrete terms, what does treating people as ends in themselves entail?
o If people are ends in themselves, does that make it immoral to treat others as a means to our own ends?o How does Rand's concept of "an end in itself" track with other philosopher's views on the subject?Since I think these issues warrant their own full discussion and analysis, I will not attempt to address them in the present essay. But of all the issues I raise today, it is these that I personally would most like to hear your responses.
I look forward to reading them.
Joshua Zader , Los Angeles, California , firstname.lastname@example.org
Why man needs approval, by Marsha Familaro Enright
Originally published in Objectivity, Volume 1, Number 2.
In Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged, Ken Danagger asks Dagny Taggart: "And if you met those great men in heaven, . . . what would you want to say to them?"
"Just . . . just hello, I guess."
"That's not all," said Danagger. "There's something you'd want to hear from them . . . you'd want them to look at you and say, Well done."
She dropped her head and nodded silently. . . . (Rand 1957, 735) In this passage, Dagny shows an intense desire to be recognized and appreciated by heroes. She was not the sort of character who desired false praise or approval of others in place of self-approval. She did desire a deserved approval, a recognition of her and her achievements.
In this essay, I shall argue that it is a part of man's nature, of his animal as well as his rational nature, to desire positive responses from others. The desire to be liked by others, to have pleasant day-to-day interactions with other people, and to enjoy positive feedback on many levels of social interaction is a need of man's conceptual and perceptual nature. It is a vital factor in human development. A person cannot experience the most happiness possible in life if this deep need is left unfulfilled.
Aristotle posed the question: Why does a happy and self-sufficient man need friends? His answer was an early forerunner of the view elaborated here: A good man gets pleasure from contemplation of the good, a friend is another self, and "we can contemplate our neighbors better than ourselves and their actions better than our own." Therefore, the supremely happy man will need good friends because "his purpose is to contemplate worthy actions and actions that are his own, and the actions of a good man who is his friend have both these qualities" (Aristotle 1941, EN.9.9.1169b30-1170a4).
I. Concretizing the SelfAyn Rand spent much of her career defending and explaining man's unique form of consciousness -- reason.
She explored such issues as how the ability to reason distinguishes man from the other animals, how reason works, and why man needs freedom to use his reason. She explained a number of man's most interesting and unique characteristics as being caused by his possession of reason.
Rand argued that man produces and needs art because his conceptual consciousness has a special need to concretize its basic grasp of reality (Rand 1975, 17-20). Nathaniel Branden, an associate of Rand's, argued that man needs romantic love because, unlike introspective awareness, love enables man to perceive his self in the world (Branden 1969, 184-88, 195-98). These theories propose that art and love derive specifically from the need to integrate the abstract and the concrete, the conceptual and the perceptual. Man is a rational animal and, as such, has cognitive needs resulting from his animal nature in combination with his rational faculty.
Abstractions themselves exist only in man's mind -- everything else in reality is concrete. One of man's fundamental cognitive needs is to concretize his ideas and values, to grasp what they mean in reality. Rand surmised that the function of words is to give abstractions concrete forms (Rand 1990, 10). Man cannot think without finding particular forms for his thought. I would further argue that only the faculty of abstraction, of reason, can handle abstractions directly. Man's other cognitive faculties, such as perception, memory, and eidetic imagination, function by using perceptual, concrete forms in conjunction with abstractions. Memories or fantasies always use a perceptual mental image -- be it visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, or kinesthetic -- to mentally anchor abstractions, to give them concrete form (Koestler 1964; Hadamard 1954).
These cognitive facts make sense in light of the evolution of man's cognitive hierarchy. All living things are organized hierarchically, the higher forms always subsuming the lower form's organization within them.
(Aristotle discerned this general pattern; see, e.g., De An. 2.2.413a20-415b7, 3.9-3.13.) In the organization of consciousness, this means that at each phylogenetic level, animals possess within them the general cognitive abilities of the lower levels. The phylogenetic classification schemes used in biology reflect increasing modes of awareness -- from rudimentary sensations to elaborate ones, to perception of entities and the faculty of memory, etc. (Green 1987, 20-23, 169-81). Of all his cognitive faculties, only the rational level of man's consciousness is distinctively human, but this level must work with the sensory and perceptual levels of cognition for knowledge to be produced. Reason must find concrete forms for its product to be used by memory, imagination, and perception.
This is true of all of man's mental contents, whether they be factual or evaluative. Man needs to objectify his values as well as his knowledge. One can be immediately, perceptually aware of objects and persons in external reality, but cannot be so aware of one's own self and one's own long-range, deepest-held values. To a great extent, art fulfills the need to concretize one's greatest values. Rand's esthetic theory outlines how this occurs.
She followed Aristotle's idea that art is what might be and ought to be: "Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to the artist's metaphysical value judgment's (Rand 1975, 19).
Art essentializes the way in which man should look at the world, rendering concretely the essence of the deepest values of the artistic creator. Here we need to lay aside the thorny question of what architecture and music might re-create. Consider some arts that Rand examined in her writings on esthetics: fiction, painting, sculpture, and dance (ibid., 44-50, 66-70). Rand proposed that these various arts give man the experience of using his senses conceptually; they essentialize the experience of the sense. "The visual arts . . . do not deal with the sensory field of awareness as such, but with the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness" (ibid., 47). Painting does so with vision, sculpture with touch and vision, and dance with body movement. These arts show men how their reason should direct the way in which they perceive the world, these arts show them to what to pay attention. Fiction, which includes novels, stories, movies, and plays, concretize abstractions by using words to (re)create specific people and events.
In any artwork, the artist's values dictate what parts of reality are represented and in what way. What he selects to show in the work effectively tells the viewer "this is what's important about the world, this is what you should notice about life." The difference between the voluptuous beauty of a Vargas girl and the perfectly rendered decay of an Ivan Albright woman illustrates this effect.
The cognitive and motivational purpose of art is to make the potential seem real. Thus one experiences concretely and is moved to pursue what one loves (or, in the case of Naturalistic art, be justified in not striving for great things in life). Rand called this the "psychoepistemology of art. " Art integrates into a real, concrete thing (the artwork) the deepest, most essential values which a man holds, so that he may feel as if he perceives them existing, and thus be moved to act toward them.
Those values most important to man are, on the whole, very abstract -- self-esteem, success, honor, justice, to name a few. They are not easily nor quickly obtained, and, even when they are, they are not always easily recognized. For example, a businesswoman may not realize that her business is successful or that it is failing.
The amount of money coming in, alone, is not a sure measure of success. The businesswoman needs to know her costs, including those for materials, labor, and overhead, to weigh against sales in order to calculate success or failure. Recognizing success sometimes requires a complex process of abstraction; it is not necessarily self-evident.
This is generally true of man's greatest values. It is a long, arduous process to recognize, plan for, and achieve one's highest values. Art enables man to experience important values as if they were here and now, as if the essentials were concretely before him. This gives man the experience of their actual existence. It is both thrilling to experience their existence, and inspiring. One walks away from a positive artistic experience feeling "that's what life should be like" -- and feeling motivated to achieve it.
Rand's favorite metaphor for art was "fuel for the spirit." Seventeen thousand years ago, the cavemen of Lascaux needed this fuel and painted elaborate and beautiful scenes of the hunt to energize them for their work; modern men need this experience no less.
However, the experience of art is not interactive. It is a one-way process, from the artwork to one's consciousness. The viewer either "gets it" or does not. Furthermore, although works of art can mirror a person's essential values, art does not reflect an individual, particular self (except the self of the creator).
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand used the metaphor of a mirror to communicate, exquisitely, an occasion of love -- Dagny Taggart and John Galt in reflection of each other: It was not the pressure of a hand that made her tremble, but the instantaneous sum of its meaning, the knowledge that it was his hand. . . . It contained her pride in herself and that it should be she whom he had chosen as his mirror, that it should be her body which was now giving him the sum of his existence, as his body was giving her the sum of hers. (Rand 1957, 956-57) In an explication of the psychology of romantic love, Branden also turns to the mirror metaphor. He contends that one's need of love is a consequence of one's rational nature; it derives from a need to objectify one's deepest values of self. Men want their souls to be psychologically "visible" -- understood and valued -- by others as a means of objectification (Branden 1969, 184-88; cf., Sartre 1966, 344-47).
Man's highest value, his own self, is something he can never perceptually experience as an integrated, whole, and concrete thing. He can only focus on some one specific aspect of his self at any one time. The rest of his self can only be grasped by him abstractly, by reflecting on and integrating all he knows about himself into an imagined picture. He cannot experience himself concretely as a whole person -- a personality -- as he can experience others. He cannot see the facial expressions or body movements he makes nor hear the tone of his voice as he could perceive these things about another person.
"Normally man experiences himself as a process -- in that consciousness itself is a process, an activity, and the contents of man's mind are a shifting flow of perceptions, thoughts, and emotions . . . the sum total of which can never be held in focal awareness at any one time; that sum is experienced, but not perceived as such"
(Branden 1969, 185-86). Only the understanding and reactions of another consciousness can give him concrete, specific, and timely feedback about himself. Others can experience his personality concretely, and, through their reactions and appreciation, give to him a concrete, immediate experience of himself (see also Nozick 1981, 464-65).
A man gets enjoyment from the appreciation of others through verbal expressions and, especially, through the actions and emotional reactions of others. Men seem to be tuned into the emotional reactions of others (Hoffman 1981, 74-79). On occasion men can experience these reactions viscerally -- in their guts. Another's response seems to be able to affect emotions very directly. It appears that certain facial expressions, tones of voice, and body postures can themselves induce pleasure and pain.
Man does not have automatic knowledge of what is the right food to eat, but foods that are good for him generally taste and smell good, and foods that are not good, even though not deadly, have ill effects from which he learns soon enough (Ornstein and Sobel 1989; Binswanger 1990, 129-34, 202). Man's nature determines what foods are of value to him, and his mind and body function so as to discriminate what is good or bad through pleasure and pain. More generally, man does not have automatic knowledge of what to value, but man's actual needs are set by his nature.
Man needs some social interaction. For any individual, social facility is an objective strategic value. Moreover, given the right people, sociability can be a pleasure. Rand's fictional characters -- the virtuous ones -- strike one with their independence and devotion to productive work. Yet it is with just these characters that Rand is able to convey so well, in a scene in The Fountainhead, the feel of genuine sociability. After work Roark, Mallory, Dominique, and Mike ...sat together in Mallory's shack. . . . They did not speak about their work. Mallory told outrageous stories and Dominique laughed like a child. They talked about nothing in particular, sentences that had meaning only in the sound of the voices, in the warm gaiety, in the ease of complete relaxation.
They were simply four people who liked being there together. (Rand 1943, 357-58) Society is a human value. Since the mind is an individual function, independence is also a value. Flourishing requires social interaction and independence. Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead, is an independent man who thinks for himself. He is fundamentally indifferent toward the beliefs and feelings of others when determining the truth of a matter. He always aims at discerning the truth, and he never disregards it. This does not mean that he has no feeling for others, nor that he finds no pleasure in being liked by others.
Roark's friend, Gail Wynand, speaking to Roark: "Howard, this is what I wanted. To have you here with me."
[later] "I'm glad you admit that you have friends."
"I even admit that I love them." (ibid., 655, 660) II. Animal CompanyEnjoyment of interactions with other sentient beings is not confined to the human species. Branden began to isolate the principle of psychological visibility, so pervasive in human life, while playing with his dog, Muttnik.
In his own pleasure with the play, Branden noticed an element of self-awareness. Muttnik understood and responded appropriately to the Branden's false boxing. She was understanding the man's intentions and returning them (Branden 1969, 184-85).
Branden explained his enjoyment as consequent to self-objectification. I have always wondered, though, why Muttnik wanted to play with Branden. The dog had no rational consciousness striving for objectification of its abstract nature. The dog would not be subject to the need for psychological visibility, at least not as the need has been articulated by Branden.
However, the higher animals do have a grasp of reality above mere sensation or stimulus-response (Koestler 1967, 3-18; Green 1987, 313-18; Binswanger 1990, 7-15, 30-36). They have generalizing and processing abilities, at the perceptual level, that take them far beyond mere response to stimulus (Prosser 1986, 433-35). They have a rather sophisticated perceptual grasp of events, causal relations, and emotions. Pigeons in experiment have exhibited the ability to visually generalize; they were able to recognize any one of forty -- two typographic forms of the letter A. Dog's apprehensions of causal relations are impressive; one dog is reported to have run down two stories of a building after having seen a piece of meat thrown out a window (Walker 1983, 255, 292).
The facial expressions, body positions, and vocalizations attending some emotions seem to be common to a number of animals, particularly mammals. The wolf and the chimpanzee are favorite illustrations in psychology texts. The dog's grasp of human intentions appears to entail an interspecific grasp of emotions. Even though we look very different from dogs, they are able to read our faces. They can sometimes grasp the meaning of our facial expressions and body postures. Apparently, they are able to match them with their own experience of emotions and to anticipate concomitant behavior. Dogs accomplish these things with only a perceptual, automatic level of consciousness. This suggests that the perceptual, automatic faculties of human consciousness may afford a similar ability.
Dogs not only enjoy playful interaction with humans but actively seek it. They are not the only animals to do so. Dolphins are known for their playfulness and friendliness. There are reports from "dolphin encounter"
centers in Florida that male dolphins are sometimes attracted to and pursue human females in the water.
Considering the differences in dolphin and human anatomy, it seems remarkable that the dolphins can sort out the women; probably through scent (Chicago Tribune, March 1989).
Many of the higher-order animals, given the proper circumstances, seek and enjoy positive interactions with members of other species. The gorilla Koko who kept a kitten, the killer whales at Sea World who swim by their trainers to be petted, the dogs and cats in the same household who become buddies, are but a few examples. The ability of animals, including humans, to recognize emotions and intentions across species argues for a specific biologically built-in means of emotional recognition.
Animals whose nature requires them to live in a cooperative group for their well-being tend to have more advanced communication skills than other species. Concomitantly, they are more sensitive and responsive to members of other species, and they have more need of interaction (Dunbar 1988, 179-81).
The extent to which a particular type of animal depends on a social group for survival goes hand-in-hand with its sensitivity to the emotions and actions of other group members (Hoffman 1981, 79). The dog's emotional sensitivity is a major source of its appeal to humans; it is more popular as a pet than the cat. By emotional sensitivity, I mean the great amount of attention which the dog pays to the emotions and emotional reactions of other animals, especially humans, the amount of pleasure or pain which others' emotions illicit in the dog, and the swift and direct effect the emotional reactions of others can have on a dog's actions. The dog is also very emotionally expressive, which makes its reactions to things relatively easy to grasp.
The cat is seen as more aloof and independent in its character and not so much in need of interaction. When we come home, the cat runs to see us, purrs, and rubs against us. It may follow us around and may jump upon us for petting when we sit down. In those behaviors, the cat expresses its gladness to see us. But the cat's face does not express subtle changes of emotion the way the eyebrows, eyes, and tongue of the dog do. The cat responds most to our touching, petting, and scratching of it, not to our words of interest or praise. Unlike the dog, the cat is only slightly responsive to our praise. Scoldings or anger might send a cat fleeing, but, unlike the dog, its body does not show that it feels guilty or crestfallen at our disapproval.
In the wild, the dog's survival depends on a complex series of orchestrated group actions for the hunt. Wild dogs live in packs. The cat, with the exception of the lion, is a lone hunter and normally lives alone or with a family. The relative ease with which the dog is controlled by human voice and language is probably a reflection of the use of voice to control and direct social relationships and actions in the pack.
Higher orders of intelligence in animals covary roughly with the amount of complex group interaction in the species (Dunbar 1988, 181-82; Plotkin 1988, 156-59). The need for interaction is a result of the activities necessary for the growth of a complex intelligence. The need for interaction is a fusion of the cognitive with the motivational for survival purposes; cognitive development is advanced during the pursuit of pleasurable interactions.
III. Interaction in DevelopmentIn the 1950's, Rene Spitz found that infants raised in orphanages sometimes developed marasmus (from the Greek, to waste away). These children were well-cared for physically, but, because help was short, they lacked human interaction. No one had time to cuddle them, play with them, talk to them. Consequently, many of these infants became very withdrawn, silent, and unresponsive. They sucked their thumbs in their cribs, rocked themselves, and did not eat well. They did not thrive. Some died. The antidote to marasmus was human interaction -- positive feedback (Bowlby 1965). The rise in foster homes was, in large part, due to the recognition of the marasmus syndrome.
Similar problems have been reported for rhesus monkeys raised in isolation. Infant monkeys in a laboratory were allowed to view others but were prevented from physically interacting with them. When not merely withdrawn and sickly, these babies were autistic, rocking continuously for comfort and fearing interaction greatly. They often became self-mutilating. The addition of a soft cloth-on-wire mother greatly ameliorated the marasmus, although those raised by cloth mothers were not free of problems, since their isolation prevented them from learning many important skills. These infants spent most of their time clinging to the cloth mother even when milk was available from a plain wire mother. A cloth mother who rocked was preferred over the static cloth one and seemed to reduce the number of monkeys who rocked themselves obsessively (Harlow 1959).
The greater normality of the cloth-raised monkeys implies that pleasurable tactile interactions are important to the development of the mind of the infant rhesus monkey. Abnormalities such as marasmus among infant humans imply a similar need for physical contact. Touch is the first and most immediate sense through which positive feedback is needed, recognized, and delivered. It remains a very important avenue of feedback throughout life. It offers the most concrete evidence of the existence and response of others (Montague).
The pleasure that an adult and an infant each derive from interaction with the other helps to motivate both for the goal of helping the infant develop. The very appearance, sounds, and activities of babies -- those pesky, needful little creatures -- gives so much pleasure to adults. I think this is nature's way of insuring that we shall take care of them. The adult emotional reaction to babies seems to be interspecific. Adult animals often seem to recognize the young of other species and treat them accordingly (often, more tolerantly). Dogs put up with the shenanigans and abuse of children when they would not from adults. I have a cat who will tolerate pulling, rough petting, jumping on, and so forth from babies, kittens, and puppies, but begins to whack these selfsame individuals for the same behavior after they pass through puberty. In-built perceptual recognition processes of certain kinds of facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures, and movements -- some causing pleasure, others pain -- work to enable adult animals to recognize the young and to treat them accordingly. Niko Tinbergen contended that the smallness of the fledgling's body and the roundness of its head elicit positive emotions from adult birds for the fledgling (Walker 1983, 213; on primates, see Alley 1986).
Humans certainly possess such in-built recognition and response processes for the young and between the young and adults. Two-week-old infants prefer to look at pictures of faces over those of other objects. The human face is one of the most compelling attractors of infant attention during the first four months (Wood 1989, 63).
Infants are able to smile within the first few weeks (Schultz 1976, 27-29). Parents try to make the infant smile; they enjoy it immensely without really knowing why. Intuitively, they act to cause the infant to smile and reward the infant's smile by demonstrating pleasure when it appears. The smile of the infant evokes the smile of the mother, which in turn increases the intensity of the pleasure evoked by the smiling, in a positive feedback loop (Pines 1987, 21, 23). Smiling affords an opportunity for awareness of the other's feelings and consciousness during interpersonal interaction. Between five and eleven months, one of the most effective elicitors of infant smiling and laughter is peek-a-boo (Schultz 1976, 30-31).
Infants enjoy interaction not only with caretakers but with other infants. Watching the little ones in their play, we observe ...smiles, interest in each other and in the other's actions, . . . and actions directed apparently towards the other. . . . The infants seem attracted by perceptual similarities, sensing that the other is like oneself. . . . The other is distinct, yet like oneself, and I suggest that we can infer that the child becomes more aware of being himself or herself through this similarity and differentiation from the other similar person." (Pines 1987, 33) When being held satisfactorily by a caretaker, the wakeful infant begins to look around. He looks mostly at the holder's face. What does he see? "Ordinarily, what the baby sees is himself. . . . A mother is looking at the baby and what she looks like is related to what she sees there" (ibid., 25). The face of the good mother is a mirror. It is thought that adult needs ...for kissing, smiling, and physical caring or lovemaking have their origins in the shared gaze, touch, holding, and vocal "conversations" of infant and mother. The response of each partner to the other is required for a sense of well being. Failures of mirroring in infancy leading to false self problems make it difficult to re-create the mirroring experience in adult sexual life. Without a capacity for mutual mirroring, exchange is severely hampered. (Scharff 1982, 24) Infants respond pleasurably to the human voice. Mothers quickly learn which tones are most soothing. The very fact that infants spend so much time practicing speech sounds and trying to talk to adults and each other implies that listening to speech and speaking are inherently pleasurable. Conversely, parents find certain tones of voice, such as those of whining, crying, and infant screaming, to be painful. These sounds quickly move them to action. I think some of these tones in themselves induce pain, which, in turn, motivates us to do something about their source. The desire to do something about a crying child is not only in regard to our own children.
Many people wish they could do something about an unrelated, whining or screaming child who is in the same restaurant as they! Marvin Minsky suggests that the urgency aroused in us may be due to a connection of the specific arousal mechanism to remnants of the mechanism that ensured we would cry as infants (Minsky 1985, 171).
At about four months, the infant begins to pay more attention to objects and events in her physical surroundings. She begins to reach. During this phase, a caretaker is likely to follow the infant's flow of attention and say something in babytalk about that at which the infant looks. At around ten months, the infant begins to use gesture and vocalization to attract attention or to demand service; she begins to coordinate people and events. By thirteen months, she coordinates vocalization with pointing. She looks sequentially from her partner in interaction to the object of communication. Soon after, speech emerges (Wood 1989, 63).
Speech does not emerge simply from hearing it. There must be interaction. A boy with normal hearing but with deaf parents was exposed to television every day so that he would learn English. By age three, he had become fluent in the sign language of his parents and their associates. He neither understood nor spoke English (Muskowitz 1978, 94-94B).
For the infant, hearing the speech of significant others plays an important role in the acquisition of both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. When a deaf child tries to grasp what others are communicating, the demands on the child's cognitive skills become formidable. The deaf child must try to watch both the speaker and what she is speaking about -- the child's attention is divided, and information is lost along the way. Those interacting with the deaf child naturally respond by attempting to direct the child's attention to what the speaker believes is relevant to the communication; this does not work very well and creates new problems. Since deafness is an impediment to the child's communicative competence, it becomes an impediment to intellectual competence (Wood 1989).
For all children, an elementary understanding of social interaction is attained somewhat differently than an elementary understanding of physical processes. Persons and animals afford types of interaction nonexistent in the inanimate world.
"Most significantly, there is the ability of persons intentionally to coordinate their actions, thoughts, and perspectives with one another. Persons do not simply react to one another, but do so consciously, purposefully, with mutual intent. This intentional coordination makes possible forms of communication and reciprocal exchanges unimaginable in the inanimate world." (Damen 1981, 158) One might think that social cognition would be more difficult than physical cognition. People, unlike inanimate objects, can move themselves. The movement of everyday inanimate objects is predictable from cognizance of their everyday physical situation; the behavior of people is only loosely predictable from their social circumstances. Yet, as Martin Hoffman has observed, development of social cognition evidently does not lag behind development of physical cognition. Young children grasp the nature of human action apace with or ahead of their grasp of the nature of the inanimate world (Hoffman 1981, 69-71).
Hoffman draws attention to some characteristics of social interaction that may facilitate social cognition. The continuous feedback which people give each other compensates for the complexity of behavior by allowing partners in interaction to easily correct interpretations of their observations. The fact that people, broadly speaking, are built in the same way, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, also facilitates comprehension of the actions and reactions of others (ibid., 72-74).
Another aid to elementary social comprehension is the vicarious, or empathic, arousal of feelings. These avail through involuntary, minimally cognitive mechanisms. As one person looks at another, in a swift, subconsciously directed way, he compares the other's words, facial expressions, body language, and voice quality to his own past experiences and calls forth those which match the other's present expressions. When calling forth memories, he recalls feelings and thereby has a rough sense of what the other is expressing and feeling more quickly than conscious analysis would allow (ibid., 74-80).
Profound effects of empathy and social interaction on human life are illustrated well by the research discussed by James Lynch (1977). A psychologist and researcher on the psychosomatic aspects of man's life, Lynch has compiled an impressive amount of evidence for the existence of a biological need of companionship for health and well-being. He documents evidence of the relationship between grief, loss, and loneliness and sudden death, disease, and heart attacks.
At the University of Oklahoma Medical School, Dr. Stewart Wolf examined 65 patients who had documented myocardial infarctions and 65 matched control subjects who were physically healthy.
All 130 of these individuals were interviewed monthly and given a battery of psychological tests to determine their levels of depression and social frustration. Predictions were then made after a series of interviews as to which 10 subjects would most likely have a recurrent heart attack and die -- the prediction being based solely on the level of depression and social frustration, without any knowledge of who, in fact, had even had a heart attack. All 10 patients selected by purely psychological criteria were among the first 23 who died within the four-year period after these predictions were made. (Lynch 1977, 61-62) Martin Seligman has also garnered clinical evidence about helplessness, grief, loss, and sudden death in humans. He recounts, in addition, numerous examples of experimentally created situations in which animals were helpless to escape shock and pain and the adverse effects on the animals later cognitive abilities and health. For example, wild rats which had been squeezed until they stopped struggling, drowned within 30 minutes of being placed in a water tank from which there was no escape, unlike rats not squeezed, which swam for 60 hours before drowning (Seligman 1975, 59). Upon autopsy, the squeezed rats appeared to have had a heart attack; blood was pooled centrally, congesting the heart. The rats not squeezed appeared to have died of exhaustion (after the 60-hour swim); blood was pooled in extremities.
This phenomenon parallels the heart attacks and sudden death seen in humans experiencing loss, especially sudden loss, of loved ones. Lynch (1977) reports case after case of the death of individuals relatively soon after that of a wife, husband, child, brother, or sister.
Loneliness and lack of companionship can affect health. "Death rate from coronary heart disease for 40-year-old divorced males . . . is 2.5 times greater than for married males of the same age" (Lynch 1977, 87). A patient was in a coma; for medical reasons, every muscle in his body had been completely paralyzed by the drug d-tubocurarine." In spite of his acute condition, the heart rate change in the comatose man when the nurse comforted him was striking" (ibid., 91). Hospital staff have found that the incidence of a second heart attack is highest when the patient is moved from the intensive care unit to the regular ward -- unless the same nurses and doctors follow the patient to the regular ward and continue caring for him.
The emotional lives of men and animals are powerfully influenced by perception. The rat dies from its perception of its helplessness. If a person feels extremely helpless, the presence of others, especially someone he loves and who loves and values him, reassures him in a direct, concrete, perceptual way that his needs will be looked after. Thereby his feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are relieved. We are built such that the mere verbal reassurance and abstract knowledge that someone cares for us and will look after our interests is not sufficient to completely, subconsciously, emotionally convince us that we are not helpless. The personal presence and tactile contact of another seems essential to make the injured person feel better and -- in many cases -- to survive.
We are constituted so as to be in tune to the feelings of others and to be very responsive to those feelings. It is our nature to be a social animal.
IV. Sensitivity and IndependenceHuman intelligence evidently evolved among social animals. The existence of the social group with its network of interaction and feedback seems to have provided the right conditions within which the intelligence of the apes and man might develop (Cheney and Seyfarth 1985; Clementson-Mohr 1982, 63-64, 67). Individual human intelligence certainly develops only with social interaction. Man is born with very little in the way of immediately usable skills and must learn a tremendous amount. The survival value of many of the things humans (and other animals) must learn is not directly experienced by the young, but motivation to learn is essential to development. Positive feedback from adults helps provide motivation for the young to acquire knowledge and practice the skills necessary for adult survival and happiness.
Maria Montessori argued that the mastery of skills in itself was highly pleasurable for children, but she also recognized that the guidance of the child by the adult is essential for the child to learn properly. Her educational system, using the structured environment with directresses instead of teachers, was a means by which to maximize the child's exercise and feeling of independence while guiding his learning.
Man was not born to be Robinson Crusoe. The experience of those in accidental or enforced isolation suggests that social interaction is important for good cognitive functioning during the adult, as well as the infant, period of life. It is a common experience of those in isolation to experience sensory disorientation and to either forget how to speak or to speak to themselves and fantasize extensively about conversations with others. The eighteenth-century word for those left in isolation a long time was maroon, meaning "to run wild, having reverted to a state of nature" (OED). To this day, maroon implies a kind of wild-eyed, disoriented, or unusually slow-to-comprehend-the-obvious type of person. In Treasure Island, such a character is found stranded on the island and is called "a maroon." Bugs Bunny frequently applies this epithet to those he thinks are not with it.
Humans are not entirely capable of fully independent judgment until adolescence. Their extreme sensitivity to the opinions and judgments of others during adolescence is partly a result of their need to formulate independent abstract judgments about the world, combined with their knowledge that they are not very sure of their reasoning processes. This makes adolescents simultaneously feel the need of approval more urgently than in other periods of life and be more susceptible to perversion of their proper development by means of approval.
Lack of positive feedback or the presence of terrible negative feedback in childhood can not only cause marasmus in infants but, apparently, can cripple a person's cognitive capabilities in regard to his relationships to other people. We all know about the cases of abused and neglected children who grow up to be criminals or lead lives filled with failure and despondency. But what of those neglected and abused children who grow up to achieve great and unusual triumphs? Unfortunately, they often bear the scars of their early emotional deprivation. Such people often grow up to be unable to think rationally about their relations with others because their need for positive feedback has been so greatly frustrated. The longing for approval, understanding, and love can be felt as superceding all other things.
I remember an extremely intelligent young man, an honor student about to go to graduate school. He had endured an early life of horrid beatings, of legs broken by his father, of physical neglect, institutionalization, and abusive foster care. At seventeen his adoptive family told him they did not want him back after he was discharged from the army, and he was on his own. In the face of all this, he managed not only to provide for his basic necessities but to put himself through college and be at the top of his class. However, he suffered endless bouts of self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, and depression. Just at the point in his life at which he had achieved so much, he was rejected by his first love. He committed suicide.
I think that however brilliant he was in intellectual matters, his frustrated need for love and approval was so great that he could not reason correctly about the importance of that rejection in terms of his whole life. The rejection took on dimensions of importance that made life seem unbearable and not worth living. His case is far from unique.
Sensitivity to others differs dramatically among people. We vary as much in our natural, temperamental sensitivity to others as we do in every physical respect of our bodies. There are remarkable variations in the structure and functioning of our physical organs and in our biochemistries (Williams 1971, 24-65). These individual differences underlie variations in patterns of breathing and sleep and variations in responses to narcotics (ibid., 144-70). They carry over, also, to physiologically-affected psychological characteristics (ibid., 69-71, 82-85). Individual temperamental differences are more easily seen in other animals because they are not subject to self-conscious control of personality. For example, some individual dogs are very responsive to us, making them more suitable as pets; some are naturally grouchy or indifferent to human interaction.
Human infants are born with distinctively different temperaments (Kagan 1984, 64-70). Some neonates are very aware of people and facial expressions, tones of voice, and gestures while others barely pay attention to others and their feelings at all. (Some autism may be the result of a lack of the normal human ability to recognize and respond to other humans.) Some are placid and easily pleased, some are very active, and some are extremely irritable and cranky.
It is widely thought that women tend to be more sensitive to other people. Girls are culturally encouraged to develop their sensitivity to people. There is another possible factor though. In early childhood, females generally develop more quickly than males; they respond more to voice and develop language more quickly than males. Perceptual abilities that aid communication and interaction with other people are favored in female development; they develop quickly. People tend to do what they do best. Is it so surprising, then, that women so frequently work and excel at activities consisting of interpersonal interaction? -- teacher, nurse, psychologist, counselor, child caretaker, etc. Male infants develop more rapidly in visual-spatial abilities. They apparently tend to overtake females in overall mental ability. I have wondered whether female sensitivity to people lets girls use feedback and learning from others better early in life but then stunts their cognitive growth later by making them too sensitive to the feelings of others.
Rand's fictional character, Howard Roark, is introduced as a young person very, naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. He is not a person who notices others, who pays attention to the presence of others, much less their feelings. "People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. . . . Howard Roark saw no one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked there naked without concern" (Rand 1943, 10-11). But he is very sensitive to inanimate visual-spatial relationships. "He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. . . . He tried to consider it. But he forgot. He was looking at the granite" (ibid.,9). Roark's attention and interest is riveted to the look of the world, to the things of inanimate nature that he can rearrange for building. His architectural greatness and his visual-spatial orientation go hand-in-hand.
Another sympathetic character, Dominique Francon, is quite sensitive to people, to their feelings and reactions.
Her independent mind leads her to hide from the world so as not to have to experience the pain of feedback from others. She, too, is sensitive to the visual-spatial but most especially to what the visual-spatial creations of men express about them. Roark tends to react to the look of things directly, to the landscape and how he can make it look. Dominique is obsessed with the man behind the work and the greatness -- or puniness -- it implies.
I think it is unfortunate that so many readers try to exactly emulate Roark's natural emotional state in regard to other people, to imitate his temperamental proclivities. For many readers of The Fountainhead, Roark serves as a model for character building and personality change. However, it is sometimes difficult to separate what is essentially good and universally necessary for good character and happiness from those aspects of Roark's personality which are individual characteristics. Some aspects of his personality are not necessarily tied to what makes him a morally great person but perhaps to what makes him a great dramatic character. Rand made him naturally, dispositionally unaware of others in order to dramatize his nature and his conflict with others. The premier antagonist, Ellsworth Toohey, asks of Roark: "Why don't you tell me what you think of me? . . . No one will hear us." Roark replies, "But I don't think of you" (ibid., 413).
An important part of Roark's development in the novel is his learning to understand other people, their characters and motivations. A large part of Dominique's development consists in her realization that men do not have to be horrible. In the beginning, she is revolted by those around her. In part because of her natural social sensitivity, she feels personally violated by the feelings, wants, and demands of the shabby people surrounding her. She cultivates indifference and coldness. Dominique is saved not by intellectual independence nor by the suppression of feeling but by her discovery that Howard Roark is possible.
The contrast between Dominique's and Roark's personalities illustrates an important psychological and ethical distinction. In evaluating oneself and others, one must be aware of natural individual levels of sensitivity to others and not confuse it with lack of independence in judgment. One should not presume that any concern for the feelings and thoughts of others or any desire to be liked by others must spring from lack of independence, debased motives, weakness of character, or "social metaphysics."
Branden defined social metaphysics as "the psychological syndrome that characterizes a person who holds the minds of other men, not objective reality, as his ultimate psycho-epistemological frame of reference" (Branden 1969, 167). He argued that social metaphysics arises when a person has not adequately developed his rational faculty but feels that he must depend on the judgment of someone. While I think his account is essentially correct, I want to emphasize the role of our animal need of positive feedback in the development of social metaphysics. Human development is such a long, complex, and arduous task that there are many opportunities for our animal need of positive feedback to distort cognitive development. Our animal need of approval certainly comes first in our lives, before the development of reason or even rudimentary concepts, so, in a way, it is not surprising that it can get us off-course in our struggle for independent judgment.
One must not let sensitivity to others cloud or sway judgment. One must not repress sensitivity altogether; a basic need would be unfulfilled; frustration would follow. One needs to learn how to be aware of the facts, all the facts, including the facts of one's emotional life. We need to recognize our need for positive feedback from others and cultivate its proper fulfillment, pursuing good relationships with those genuinely deserving of our love and admiration.
It is right to enjoy interacting pleasantly with the cashier at the grocery store if she is treating one well. It is right to want to be friendly. It is right to enjoy the love of our natural families, even if they do not share many of our philosophical values but do have other significant values in common with us.
Our natural biological families, in some ways, can offer very good feedback because they are biologically, perceptually, emotionally, temperamentally like us. By the same token, strife with them can be particularly painful, sometimes devastating.
Desiring the positive regard and positive reactions of others is a part of our rational and our animal nature. We should channel and integrate those desires for our own highest happiness.
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