Donovan A.

Ayn Rand's concept of a Hero

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I'm interested in understanding Ayn Rand's concept of a hero better. I think I recall either Peikoff or Rand defining the concept somewhere. Could someone point me to an article or audio-lecture? In many cases, people's concept of a heroic being is that of an altruist, and this concept is presented to us over and over though art, comic books, movies, fiction books, etc.

Thanks so much,

R

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Well, you could read her. You could also explain what you think you understand so far so someone could reasonably reply without writing a lengthy essay.

--Brant

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We the Living would be a good start. Kira is shown in several instances in how her hero is portrayed, as well as how she perceives herself in his presence being worthy or not.

~ Shane

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We the Living would be a good start. Kira is shown in several instances in how her hero is portrayed, as well as how she perceives herself in his presence being worthy or not.

~ Shane

Hi shane,

Thank you for your response. I am familiar with the characters in Ayn Rand's fiction books. I'm looking for a philosophical, explicit definition and concept. I'm looking for the forest, not the trees.

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I can draw on the concept of moral perfection, the idea that a person is committed to total honesty; when and if a man discovers he is in error he never leaves it uncorrected. I can say a hero is a man who lives by the virtues Ayn Rand defined: rationality, honesty, integrity, justice, independence, productiveness, pride, and I accept benevolence as a virtue. A hero does not live for others, nor does he ask others to live for him. Such a man holds three primary values as essential: reason, purpose and self-esteem. So this is very different than the model of a man whose heroism depends on his relation to the needy and the weak. An Ayn Rand hero is not a servant of the people. In so many ways, this obliterates the generally accepted concept of a hero. An Ayn Rand hero does not grant favors, he is not concerned with charity, he gives the deserved and only the deserved.

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> I'm looking for a philosophical, explicit definition and concept

Randall, there have been lots of discussions on this board of the meaning of concepts Rand uses from selfishness to objective to heroism. My approach is to always instead go to dictionaries first in case she is using one of the standard meanings - or, as in this case, is using the normal meaning but narrowing it. Only if that is not the case would I try to try Ayn Rand Lexicon online or google combinations like 'hero, Ayn Rand'. Then you could tell us what you found in your preliminary work...and if it still leaves questions. My very last resort would be to ask an online list like this which /a/ is very small (notice how few people post and its always the same tiny circle) and /b/ has lots of people who are not Oists or have not mastered Rand's works and just like to "bullshit".

I do have an answer, but would prefer if you did the work yourself going through the above steps first (no offense). Or if you don't think those steps are logical, it would be interesting if you said why?

Edited by Philip Coates

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> I'm looking for a philosophical, explicit definition and concept

Randall, there have been lots of discussions on this board of the meaning of concepts Rand uses from selfishness to objective to heroism. My approach is to always instead go to dictionaries first in case she is using one of the standard meanings - or, as in this case, is using the normal meaning but narrowing it. Only if that is not the case would I try to try Ayn Rand Lexicon online or google combinations like 'hero, Ayn Rand'. Then you could tell us what you found in your preliminary work...and if it still leaves questions. My very last resort would be to ask an online list like this which /a/ is very small (notice how few people post and its always the same tiny circle) and /b/ has lots of people who are not Oists or have not mastered Rand's works and just like to "bullshit".

I do have an answer, but would prefer if you did the work yourself going through the above steps first (no offense). Or if you don't think those steps are logical, it would be interesting if you said why?

Hi Philip,

I have too many resources actually. I like asking people on OL if they can be of assistance, most of the time the posters here have been benevolent and helpful. Recently, I was listening to an audio-lecture and the concept of what a hero is in Ayn Rand's terms came up, I just don't remember where I heard the issue discussed. I can, and probably will have to wait until I just come across it again, if nobody can help me out. If you are able to contribute something helpful I would appreciate it, I might even consider you to be heroic if you did.

Thanks!

R

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Randall,

"Hero" or "heroism" is not a concept peculiar to Rand nor does she use it in some radical new way. It means someone who is admired for being extraordinary in some major positive way (heroes of medicine as the title of a book, heroes in a war, men of enormous integrity and courage, etc.) The beyond the norm, extraoridnariness of scale issue is important. One of the military medals is awarded for -conspicuous- gallantry. You have to be more than one of thousands of good, reliable, unflinching under fire soldiers to earn that distinction.

Note, though, that for Rand the virtues and achievements to be admired would not be the altruistic ones.

There is another sense in the dictionary in which 'the hero' means the protagonist, the lead characters in a movie or book. "Rand's heroes" in a certain book can be used to mean that. But for her fiction, the lead character is often likely to be heroic in the other sense as well.

"Man the hero" - in Rand's language means man - at his best - is capable to enormous achievement on the scale of what a hero does.

That's about all there is to say.

Oh, one other point. Someone can be heroic in regard to -one- characteristic or he can be heroic as a general summation.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Randall,

This is a fascinating topic to investigate since the whole tone of Objectivism is set by the word heroic.

I don't have the time to put together a bunch of quotes, but I did do a quick overview using the CDROM. A few things stood out in the references by Rand I read to "hero" and "heroic."

The first is struggle. Apparently in Rand's writings (the passages I just read with this specific focus and her works I remember in general), if there is no struggle, there is no hero or heroic.

The second is choice of the good. Heroes don't just struggle. They struggle to do the good that they chose as a value.

The third is more an implication than something directly quotable, but it underpins all the statements I read: heroes hold a strong vision of the good and are committed to implementing that vision in reality.

The fourth is another implication. If there is struggle, there has to be an impediment. Randian heroes basically struggle against the limitations of physical nature, other evil or less morally committed human beings (villains and/or complacent folks) and their own weaknesses, usually in that order of importance.

And a fifth component is that moral good includes producing.

Something heroic has to include all these, except maybe producing in the case of war and situations like that. If any are missing, it is not heroic.

For instance, producing something you believe in against great odds would be heroic. Producing something (no matter how valuable) on an assembly line at a job you chose, but don't particularly care for, is not.

I think too much focus on the moral perfection thing has derailed a clear perception of these aspects. Anyway, Gail Wynand (for just one case) was anything but morally perfect, yet he was a Randian hero. A tragic one, but a hero nevertheless.

Please don't take this post as my final thoughts or even my final overview of Rand's thoughts on this. It is just a start.

Michael

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Randall, according to my notes, Rand answered a question pertaining to the concept of the heroic after Peikoff’s lecture #7 in the 1976 series The Philosophy of Objectivism. I do not know the question. Rand remarked in reply that there is no such thing as choosing to be heroic. It is not a goal, and one does not have that perspective on oneself. It is something that sometimes attends virtue.

However, I would try to assimilate whatever she remarked in that Q&A context of conversation with her use of the phrase “hero in your soul” in the magnificent closing part of Galt’s speech.

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1. > Rand remarked in reply that there is no such thing as choosing to be heroic. [stephen]

Not so (unless the quote is out of context because she'd never say something so obviously false): One can choose to do something courageous, to live a life of unexcelled achievement in a certain area, etc. People do it all the time. (You don't choose directly "I'm going to be a hero, you choose a goal or specific committment directly.)

2. > A few things stood out in the references by Rand I read to "hero" and "heroic." The first is struggle [MSK]

No: That may be part of some fictional events, but it's not part of the definition or concept A man rushes into a burning building to save his wife and others. He could be called heroic, even though no struggle or overcoming of impediments was involved.

3. > heroes hold a strong vision of the good and are committed to implementing that vision in reality [MSK]

No, again: Some people do things that will later be called heroic from a strong prior commitment or thinking. Others operate less in a less planned or conscious manner.

This is the opposite mistake from 1. above: one tries to unnecessarily restrict heroism to the conscious or deliberate eand chosen and the other does the diametric opposite - the unconscious or unchosen. 2. above also unnecessarily restricts, narrows the concept.

Epistemological lesson: One of biggest mistake in defining very broad concepts, ideas, or principles is to short circuit one's thinking before the analysis is complete, to unnecessarily restrict them because you come up with too few or too similar examples.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Phil,

I don't think you read my post very closely or maybe didn't understand it.

Not only did I clearly state that it was a preliminary thing, I distilled my observations from Rand's own words. I used the CDROM and looked up the terms.

Here is how it worked. Rand made a large number of references to "heroic struggle" when I scanned it, and I remember countless more. So when I looked at the other references to hero and heroic where the word "struggle" was not present, I perceived that the fact of struggle was present in the content. Not one quote fell outside this so far.

If you can find one, I'm all ears.

Granted, this is not Objectivist jargon and nobody preaches it, but I can back this observation up with quotes.

Same for my other points.

I am not going to do that now, though. In addition to time constraints, I am going to save this one for an article. It's important. This quick research was a bit eye-opening.

Epistemological lesson: Look at evidence and try to put it in your own words rather than use jargon if you are interested in true knowledge.

Michael

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Go back. Reread what I said -carefully- before making this kind of out-of-focus reply. Your points have been addressed.

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2. > A few things stood out in the references by Rand I read to "hero" and "heroic." The first is struggle [MSK]

No: That may be part of some fictional events, but it's not part of the definition or concept A man rushes into a burning building to save his wife and others. He could be called heroic, even though no struggle or overcoming of impediments was involved.

Hi Phil, I hope my challenging your point here will elicit a respectful response. I would consider a man that rushes into a burning building to save his wife (maybe others) as a hero. I would consider overcoming the danger of a serious fire burning in a building as a major challenge. The struggle in this case would be overcoming the fire which threatens the man's values. I would consider this to be true, in reality or in a fictional sense.

My computer dictionary has this definition for the concept hero:

hero |ˈhi(ə)rō|

noun ( pl. -roes)

a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities : a war hero.

• the chief male character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.

• (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semidivine origin, in particular one of those whose exploits and dealings with the gods were the subject of ancient Greek myths and legends.

This definition is very broad because before you can identify a heroic act or character, you must define what a noble quality is and what the good is. Noble, according to which philosophy? Good, by what standard? In our current culture, altruism (self-sacrifice) is considered noble and good and this is heavily reflected in art via: movies, comic books, paintings, etc. Even if you get a person to accept that the good is not self-sacrifice, but trade, rational personal achievement, the pursuit of rational happiness, this does not mean that the concept of a hero will be clear, because, in my view, the association of heroism with altruism has been strongly developed and accepted in our culture.

I think Barbara Branden in her Efficient Thinking course may have touched upon the idea that when someone is young they will accept comic book characters as heroic, and as adults they may come to the abstraction that John Galt or Howard Roark are heros. Perhaps Barbara could shed some light on this thread for us, and I would really appreciate that.

Regards,

R

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> I would consider overcoming the danger of a serious fire burning in a building as a major challenge. The struggle in this case would be overcoming the fire

Randall, yes, it's a -challenge- in the sense of a risk to enter a burning building, but not necessarily a -struggle- with oneself. It might be done instantly, without any internal conflict, without doubt or pause in other words. I could easily vary the example. But the point is the issue of struggle is not part of the definition, as your own (and my) dictionary research show.

Many cases of heroism involve overcoming an enormous external barrier or overcoming oneself, but not all of them do. Let me put it another way: Heroism is an issue of what one does or what one achieves in an extraordinary fashion, not necessarily an issue of how hard it was to get there. A hero is a person who has a certain result in terms of how he performs out in the world. (A special case is the hero whose result is internal, a victory over fear or over pain, etc. As in a heroic struggle. But that is only one arena or special case of heroism.)

For one person heroic independence and integrity might be hard (Rocky Balboa has to struggle with a lot of self-doubt and internal demons), but Roark for example seems to have much less of that kind of herculean struggle.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Phil,

It is possible to struggle against factors other than oneself. I mentioned the other two above: physical reality and other folks.

To quote myself: "Randian heroes basically struggle against the limitations of physical nature, other evil or less morally committed human beings (villains and/or complacent folks) and their own weaknesses, usually in that order of importance."

I probably should have said "OR their own weaknesses." My intent was not that all three are present all the time in Randian heroism, but instead that at least one is present.

I also could have prefaced it with, "These are the kinds of things Randian heroes basically struggle against: ..." Then I could have kept the "and" and my intention would have been clear.

Sloppy writing on my part.

Michael

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Stephan,

I had forgotten about that discussion. Thanks for bringing it back up. I only reread the first page of posts, but I want to go back a reread the entire thread.

I want to mention something to refine what I said in the last post. I was mulling this over as I was driving home just now.

A heroic act as portrayed by Rand entails struggle of at least one of the three categories I mentioned (nature, others and self). It can include all three, but it does not have to. But a Randian hero as portrayed in her fiction, with reference to being a hero in general, struggles with all three to impose and/or construct his values in life. In this broader view, struggling with himself is a fundamental part. Even John Galt, her most distant hero in terms of the reader being able to observe inner struggles (or practically any inner anything), had his moments of internal struggle. There's the scene, for instance, when he stayed up all night smoking on the other side of Dagny's bedroom door, struggling with himself to not enter it. This was so he could stay true to his vision of not faking reality on a fundamental level.

Another point is that Americans generally hold up sports champions as heroes. "Football hero," for example, is a standard phrase. I don't recall that much about sports in her writing or anything about calling sports champions heroes. I will have to look this up.

Michael

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Subject: Defining One's Terms and Context

Very interesting that almost this identical issue - whether struggle is an inevitable part of being a hero - has been discussed in great detail in that RoR thread as well as this one. After reading many, many posts it's clear that the extended disagreement comes because people are talking at cross-purposes about several distinct (although related) things:

(i) What does an Ayn Rand hero do in her writing or novels?

(ii) What is the basic definition of the concept hero or heroic in any context, not just Objectivism or fiction?

(iii) Is there greater heroism when someone has to struggle or expend greater effort?

(iv) Is it possible to achieve heroism without the slightest struggle or extended effort whatsoever?

All four topics have come up in the two threads. And yet they are not identical questions. Without recognizing and addressing this, the arguments go on and on, unending (analogous to the debate topic in Lionel Ruby's Introduction to Logic about "Is Russia a Democracy?" in which they participants are equivocating on the exact meaning of the word 'democracy').

The answer to the first point, argued here by Michael, is that in fiction you have to show conflict (man with society, with reality or nature, and with himself - are the standard three categories). And, yes, Rand's characters are faced with one or the other of these.

The answer to the third point, argued by Bob Palin and George Cordero, is obviously yes. That is one factor that makes the achievement (in the dictionary definition of a hero and in Rand's and Objectivism's form of a hero) more exceptional or extraordinary or greater.

The answer to the fourth point, argued by Hong, is also clearly no. To rise to that level has costs, effort, investment.

But my argument, and that of JJ Tuan, was on the second point: the broadest possible definition of the basic concept hero - for which a good dictionary is, as it usually is, accurate. [i checked quite a few, including the definitive Shorter OED.]

Edited by Philip Coates

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Phil,

There's another element to hero (both Rand's version and the one I hold, which is identical in most respects). I believe that having a story to tell is part of heroism. And a story without conflict (or struggle or adversity or whatever you want to call effort against impediments) is not a very good story.

For example:

Roark wanted to build a building. He advertised his services and got a commission. He drafted the plans. They were approved by the client. A construction company was hired and the building was erected.

The end.

:)

I don't see much of a story in that, nor much heroism.

Roark blew up a building complex under construction he designed to make a point and openly faced jail in order to make that point.

Suddenly I smell heroic in the air—or psychopathic. Whatever it is, it is not ordinary. You don't need to know much else about the story to know that deeply held values, struggle, integrity, decisive action and strong intentional impact on some part of the world are involved here. This may not make sense if it is your only contact with the story. It might remind you of Timothy McVeigh's bombing of innocent civilians over politics. But once you learn that Roark was reclaiming a large-scale product he designed from being butchered by his worst enemies, it starts to sound heroic. And the more you learn about it, the more you realize just how deeply Roark was committed to his values and integrity.

One might be able to say the same about McVeigh (in fact, Gore Vidal did), except for the fact that you cannot talk about fighting for freedom and deprive innocent people of their lives and justify killing bystanders as "collateral damage" with any kind of logical consistency. What about their freedom? As Rand would say, blank-out. That, the delusion as his premise, is what made his act psychopathic instead of heroic.

Michael

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Randall, according to my notes, Rand answered a question pertaining to the concept of the heroic after Peikoff’s lecture #7 in the 1976 series The Philosophy of Objectivism. I do not know the question. Rand remarked in reply that there is no such thing as choosing to be heroic. It is not a goal, and one does not have that perspective on oneself. It is something that sometimes attends virtue.

However, I would try to assimilate whatever she remarked in that Q&A context of conversation with her use of the phrase “hero in your soul” in the magnificent closing part of Galt’s speech.

I just reviewed the Q&A where Ayn Rand participates in lecture 7 and I didn't hear that question being covered.

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Randall,

"Hero" or "heroism" is not a concept peculiar to Rand nor does she use it in some radical new way. It means someone who is admired for being extraordinary in some major positive way (heroes of medicine as the title of a book, heroes in a war, men of enormous integrity and courage, etc.) The beyond the norm, extraoridnariness of scale issue is important. One of the military medals is awarded for -conspicuous- gallantry. You have to be more than one of thousands of good, reliable, unflinching under fire soldiers to earn that distinction.

For conspicuous gallantry and risk of life in armed combat. That's the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for heroism in the US armed forces.

Soldiers naturally enough flinch under fire. You have to be more than one of thousands to get the DSC.

There are lots of heroic soldiers who aren't appropriately decorated.

If you aren't heroic you are living an unfortunate life. Heroism is simply doing the right thing under adversity. What it all adds up to is another matter.

--Brant

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Randall,

The notes I have immediately preceding the response to a question about choosing heroism are these:

—Daydreaming can be valuable and in focus (purposeful, conscious); daydreaming is letting subconscious make connections. Random association is not in focus; like an association test.

—To avoid Rationalism, avoid authoritarianism, which is accepting without knowing reasons and constructing arguments for already accepted conclusion.

Then in my notes is the entry for a heroism question. The two entries following it are these:

—Instinct is a pattern of action (of whole man, not reflex) that is unlearned and innate; it supposes innate ideas.

—Socrates was wrong; men can knowingly commit evil; but if fully know evil and it is kept in mind, can’t act against the good; deliberate evil act possible because of evasion.

Do any of these ring a bell from the recording you have? My notes are bound to be largely paraphrase, and for all I know now, they may contain inferences or connections I made that would have been meaningful to me from studies and interests up to that time. I heard these lectures only once, by recording, 32 years ago.

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[...] In my present mood, I am starting to warm up the garbage truck.

In the sense of reporting on my own present mood and perceptions:

You appear to be suggesting that you are inclined to throw such a thread into this site's ... cornfield. (See "It's a Good Life," a famous and bone-chilling episode of The Twilight Zone.)

When you say this, I lose any incentive to even closely read such a thread, let alone to respond to it.

I'd rather not add to a thread where my own contributions may soon be deemed worthy of only residing in the "garbage pile." Whenever, that is, you don't care for how the thread is proceeding.

I readily admit, though, that others are clearly far less bothered by this. That's each individual's lookout. Again, I only report my own reaction.

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