Ayn Rand Answers

by | Sep 1, 2009

Rather belatedly, I’ve just finished reading Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of her Q & A, edited by Robert Mayhew. It’s a superb collection, and I want to re-read it soon. In reading it, I was wondering how impressed a non-Objectivist reader might be–and certainly should be–by the range of issues Ayn Rand had thought […]

Rather belatedly, I’ve just finished reading Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of her Q & A, edited by Robert Mayhew. It’s a superb collection, and I want to re-read it soon.

In reading it, I was wondering how impressed a non-Objectivist reader might be–and certainly should be–by the range of issues Ayn Rand had thought about. Let me give some examples, giving only the question and the start of her answer. In each case, try to project what any other intellectual–from John Kenneth Galbraith to David Brooks to any contemporary philosopher–would say (or sputter) in response to such questions.

1. Q: Could you explain why modern naturalistic novels do not deal with fundamentals as well as romantic novels?

AR: Take a novel like By Love Possessed, by James Gould Cozzens. Implicit in it is the idea that reason is helpless.

2. Q: How do you face your own mortality?

AR: I don’t. I won’t be here to know it when it happens. I’m concerned only with the time when I *am* here. Mortality, by definition, finishes me. So why worry about it?


3. Q: Is there a good reason for going to the moon?

AR: Yes, the extension of knowledge.


4. Q: Is it moral for a businessman to sell goods to our government and to foreign governments, when the source of government funds is expropriated wealth?

AR: It’s certainly moral for an American businessman to sell goods to our government, to the extent to which it is moral for him to exist. He cannot accept moral responsibility for actions or policies over which he has no control.


5. Q: Should the state prescribe the obligations of a marriage, or should that be left to the contractual desires of the couple?

AR: This is an important and difficult subject, because of two complex issues: the rights of children and property rights.


6. Q: Concerning pollution, what is the property status of air and water?

AR: I’m against all *preventive* government controls. Let people demonstrate an actual harm, and then sue the individual polluter.


7. Q: Why do hippies and other militant students of the New Left attack their liberal friends and protectors more than they attack the Republicans?

AR: . . . The New Left is cashing in–logically and with justice–on those who hold their basic premises. They have nothing in common with the Right. Fundamentally, there’s no premise to appeal to–no guilt to induce.


8. Q: If the United States and the Soviet Union can destroy the world ten times over, why should we spend more on defense?

AR: First, because of scientific discoveries, nuclear weapons (like other kinds of weapons) quickly become obsolete.


9. Q: A rational person finds himself in a life-threatening situation, such that unless he kills an innocent man, he will be killed. Under such circumstances, is it morally permissible to kill an innocent person?

AR: This is an example of what I call “lifeboat questions”–ethical formulations such as”What should a man do if he and another man are in a lifeboat that can hold only one?” First, every code of ethics must be based on a metaphysics–on a view of the world in which man lives. But man does not live in a lifeboat–in a world in which he must kill innocent men to survive.


10. Q: If you are discussing an issue with somebody, is it proper not to volunteer the while truth?

AR: That is a very vicious form of lying. There are many situations in which you don’t have to answer, particularly certain family situations. . . . What I regard as vicious is when you agree to discuss an issue with someone, yet you do not tell the whole truth.

That’s more misleading than simply lying . . .

11. Q: This question is going to sound silly . . .

AR: Never apologize for your own thoughts, and don’t estimate them for me in advance.


12. Q: Can you comment on Erich Fromm’s views on love?

AR: His book The Art of Living presents, as proper, the view of love that in Atlas Shrugged I give to the villain James Taggart.


13. Q: Is priestly celibacy advocated as a form of birth control?

AR: It isn’t so much birth control as a declaration that sex is evil or unworthy of the man who dedicates his life to God.


14. Q: Is a girl’s impression of her father her impression of manhood?

AR: God help womankind if it were! . . . First, nobody forms an abstraction from just one concrete. You need at least two of something.


15. Q: How can you account for life and the wonders of the universe on the basis of accident or chance, without the concept of design?

AR: I suggest you identify the meaning of every concept you use. There is no design in nature. The consistency of nature, the fact that nature follows certain laws, is not a product of design but of the Law of Identity . . .


16. Q: I thought you and Emerson were both champions of individualism, so I was surprised by your remark about Emerson’s “very small mind.” Could you comment.

AR: I’m glad you asked this. Individualism is not a philosophical, nor even a political primary. It is a concept which, to be valid, must rest on a valid epistemological and metaphysical base. Emerson was an archenemy of reason; he believed in a form of supernatural mysticism. He was a “transcendentalist”–a variant of European Romantic philosophy . . .


17. Q: In your “An Open Letter to Boris Spassky,” you claim that enthusiasm about chess is in some ways an escape from reality. Does this apply to professional athletes?

AR: No. If men become professional athletes, that improves their skill in the relevant respect. If a man is a champion runner, he runs well outside of sports, too.


18. Q: In a university, what should be the relationship among faculty, students, and the administration?

AR: First, there should be an agreement between faculty and administration–an agreement that does not exist today–that teaching in the university will be intelligible. A fundamental epistemology– with rules of logic, presentation, and what is taken as evidence and explanation–should be established, so that teachers do not confuse their students epistemologically.


19. Q: What’s the difference between a person who is well trained in his field and someone who is exceptional?

AR: The exceptional person has premises leading to an active mind; he doesn’t rest too easily at any one level of his development, and he doesn’t take too much as given.


20. Q: When I go to museums, I get very tired after looking at paintings for about a half hour. It isn’t physical tiredness, because sitting down doesn’t help. Do you know what causes this?

AR: Yes. This is why you shouldn’t go to a museum with the aim of carefully studying every painting. The reason is that in looking at different paints, you are switching contexts–switching universes.

I skipped questions that a philosopher should be able to answer, because he is a philosopher. But my question is: wouldn’t it obvious to anybody, from the above, that Ayn Rand had an extraordinary, unparalleled mind? A mind that was constantly thinking, questioning, going to a deeper level? A mind that was interested in everything that bears upon human life?

Or are non-thinkers blind to such things?

Buy Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of her Q & A from Amazon.com

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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