Sunday, March 27, 2011

Integration

integrate - 1: to form, coordinate or blend into a functioning, unified whole: UNITE

integrity
- 3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided: COMPLETENESS

perfective - 1 a: tending to make perfect; b: becoming better; 2: expressing action as complete or as implying the notion of completion, conclusion or result

perfect (verb) - 1: to bring to final form; 2: to make perfect: IMPROVE, REFINE

Assuming an appropriate integration of all the topics of the last posting, I now have to ask: Just how far ahead of everyone else was Ayn Rand from the time she wrote The Fountainhead until the time she composed Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, anyway?

With The Fountainhead, for instance, she had essentially put into place all the elements of a completed or perfected eudaemonist ethics, influenced in significant part by Nietzsche but with clear-cut neo-Aristotelian, pro-reason elements she formulated herself - and that was before she got into reading The Basic Works of Aristotle ca. 1945.

So she had already established the fundamentals of a rational ethic, and then basically devoted the next 20 years of her life to investigating the fundamentals of philosophy - i.e., metaphysics and epistemology - to get at the roots of the basic elements - philosophically speaking, not scientifically speaking - of human cognition. She spent 20 years integrating all the issues involved at a rather frantic pace. Two of those years were spent composing the definitive statement of her entire philosophy, Galt's radio address, and if any true intellectual studies that radio address carefully and in depth, he or she will find a most formidable - nay, a pretty much unassailable - system of thought.

(This would help to explain the "cult-like" following she would get - except that Rand is distinguished from cults by actually being pretty much right about everything she wrote in that speech. She can't help if she ended up getting "followers" she didn't want, need, or deserve, who treated her words like revealed dogma, i.e., stuff not integrated first-hand.)

No other thinker in modern times has done anything comparable to what it took to compose "This is John Galt Speaking." It's actually the crown, the absolute masterpiece within the story of Atlas Shrugged, the portion of the book the "average fiction reader" just skipped over, and about which "mainstream" philosophers have been way too slow on the uptake for no good reason. (The explanation is an ignorance of Aristotelian philosophy, but whether that ignorance is an excuse is another matter.) But Rand was assuming too much on the part of her often-intellectually-mangled readership. That's because she was so far ahead of her audience. (It may have had partly to do with the better-than-expected response she had to The Fountainhead. By the time of Atlas, however, the young Marxist and "progressive" intellectuals of the '30s had become university professors.)

The mindset and the context that it takes to compose "This is John Galt Speaking" is that of a heroic, self-sufficient creator of values. There is a spark of that mentality to some extent or other in most people - most especially in the young, before pragmatism-cum-cynicism gets its final opportunity to dim their sense of life into resignation and acceptance of mediocrity - but between mid-20th century and the present day in America, the ruling mentality of the age has been pragmatism, not heroism. That necessitates many of Rand's readers not "getting" Rand and what it took to compose that speech. It's two wildly different contexts passing in the night. But Rand's context is the much more wholly functional one. I don't think any of these claims can seriously be subject to dispute by appropriately informed people (i.e., those that get what "This is John Galt Speaking" is all about).

Rand, clearly, time after time, specified the theme of Atlas Shrugged as "the role of the mind in man's existence - and, as a corollary, a rational morality of self-interest." Who, except someone with a Rand-like context of knowledge, is going to have the remotest understanding of the "role of the mind in man's existence" (much less how a morality of rational self-interest - eudaemonistically understood, of course - is a corollary)? The youths of our culture certainly aren't given that message - if they were, Ayn Rand would by necessity be much more widely-understood than she is, and much more appreciated - but rather are fed with a constant stream of denigrations of that very idea from all kinds of quarters - not the least of which are our media and political systems. When Palinism dominates the public discourse the way it has, it's easy enough for the cyncial to conclude that it's things other than the mind and philosophy that determine the course of human existence. But Palinism is merely a reaffirmation of the theme in foil form. The problem is, who is appropriately situated to recognize that this theme is always and everywhere reaffirmed? Seasoned students of Objectivism are so situated, but the gap in numbers between your average fiction reader and seasoned students of Objectivism is some orders of magnitude.

The same pattern holds up with Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology - a work that hardly anyone other than students of Objectivism have given serious thought and study to, but it's a landmark in the art of integration, a subject which is the very heart, essence and core of advanced studies in Objectivism. The average fiction reader doesn't even have a clue what's at stake with Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. What makes it a particularly special landmark in the art of integration is that it is focused on subjects of the greatest fundamentality to philosophy - the building blocks of human knowledge, the basic and irreducible method of organizing one's mental contents, all the most fundamental whys and hows of a conceptual consciousness. It represents to date the most complete exercise in philosophical integration. And what else could a woman with Roarkian soul have done after devoting 20 years of unrelenting thought to these issues? It's the most perfectivist thing you could hope to see from a philosopher.

As a recent post made quite evident, the correct and true normative identifications Rand made in the space of her 30-some-odd page essay, "The Objectivist Ethics" (1961), have not been equaled in the moral-philosophical literature before or since, not even in Norton's otherwise amazing work. What all too many readers fail to realize about that essay is just how much a highly-condensed presentation of a vast and integrated context it is, and not - as many professional "philosophers" stupidly maintain - a product of being "simplistic" or "unsophisticated" about the subject matter.

There was one thing Rand asked of her readers more than anything else: to be intellectually active, which meant to study carefully the ideas she committed to print. Her condensed presentations - in ethics as well as epistemology - are pregnant with all kinds of philosophic wisdom for anyone who puts in the time and effort. She was, in other words, calling on her intellectually-minded readership to join her in the heroic task of integration.

"The highest responsibility of philosophers is to serve as the guardians and integrators of human knowledge."
--A Heroic Philosopher

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