NickOtani Posted May 16, 2006 Share Posted May 16, 2006 Dr. Hazel E. Barnes, Ph.D is best known for translating Jean-Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness." She also wrote several books about him and existentialism. In one of her books, "An Existentialist Ethics," published in 1969, she has a chapter called "Egoistic Humanism: Ayn Rand's Objectivism," which compares Sartre's existentialism with Rand's Objectivism. Although the chapter is much too long to copy word for word and post here, I will try to paraphrase the gist of that article in my own words and then respond with my own views: Sartre's existentialism would seem the very opposite of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Not only is existentialism thought of as very subjective, not objective, but Sartre and de Beauvoir were Marxist socialists as opposed to Rand's conservative capitalistism. In "For the New Intellectual," Rand wrote, "The majority of those who posture as intellectuals today are frightened zombies, posturing in a vacuum of their own making, who admit their abdication from the realm of the intellect by embracing such doctrines as Existentialism and Zen Buddhism." Leaving aside the differences between Existentialism and Zen Buddhism, there are common elements as well as differences between the philosophies of Rand and Sartre. Both Rand and Sartre are atheistic and egoistic. They are individualistic. They are humanistic. They are both opposed to forces which would dehumanize man, forces which would objectify him. Both Rand and Sartre would agree that man needs ethics. And, they would agree that choice is a way of making one's self. The "I" speech from Rand's "Anthem" could have been written by Sartre. It emphasizes individualism, independence, and freedom of choice. So, what is the big difference which would make Rand speak disparagingly about the existentialists? What makes Rand a capitalist and Sartre a Marxist?To Rand, man's potential is a path already forged. He just has to choose to take that path. It is like the embryo of the oak tree which is already in the acorn. The choice is to become a strong or weak oak tree. Sartre would rather see man as facing an open field where the path must be forged by him, that being a man means deciding what a man will be. Any hint of a pre-existing path that may be better than another is a threat to man's freedom and responsibility. It keeps morality descriptive rather than allowing it to be prescriptive. It keeps us from moving from "is" to "ought." Where's the challenge, after all, in just determining the best path and taking it? What happens when the field is open or all paths are the same or there is not enough information to weigh to determine the best pre-existing path? Existentialism allows for man to create his own best path, even if it may go too far in ignoring facts of survival with which we all must deal.Rand is a systematic philosopher in the tradition of Plato and Aristotle. She believes in an essence prior to existence, that existence is identity. The existentialist, however, opposes system-building and believes existence preceeds essence. Rand does say that man becomes, but his task is to become rational. His essence is Reason. Sartre, on-the-other-hand, would say man is a being who is what he is not and is not what he is. His essence is freedom itself to become what he will. He makes the definition, itself, of what he will have been.Is this existentialists' denial of pre-existing, external paths what Rand characterizes as "a vacuum of their own making..." "..their abdication from the realm of the intellect."? The Sartrian existentialist would say Rand is leaning on crutches, relying on safety nets, not having the courage to face life without guidelines. They would say she is substituting Reason for God.In "Atlas Shrugged," Rand's fictional character explains objective Reason:Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precidence over that act of perceiving it, which is thinking--that the mind is one's only judge of values and one's only guide of action--that reason is an absolute that permits no compromise.According to Rand, this conforms to reality, the ultimate standard, and she defines reality thus:Reality is that which exists; the unreal does not exist; the unreal is merely that negation of existence which is the content of a human consciousness when it attempts to abandon reason. Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man's only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth.The very next paragraph explains that this reason belongs to each individual person.The most depraved sentence you can now utter is to ask: Whose reason? The answer is: Yours. No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. ...It is only your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider. Your mind is your only judge of truth--and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal.Well, not only are some people better able to reason than others, but some people have more information with which to reason than others. It's fine to make reality the court of final appeal, but it can be exactly that reality which is in question.Further, when the questions are about values, the disagreements seem much less capable of being resolved by reason and that which we perceive as reality. However, Rand defines 'value' as that which man acts to gain and/or keep and 'virtue' as the action by which one gains and keeps it. She is willing to say, as she does in the opening essay in "The Virtue of Selfishness," that "man chooses his values," but she goes on to classify these choosen values as rational or irrational.So, if I decide today that some goal is in my self-interest and pursue that goal with all my reasoning ability, what if I change my mind? Was my former goal the objective and rational one, or is it my present goal? Whose reason is most objective and rational, and when are they thus? But then, I'm not suppose to be depraved and ask such questions. Rand brow beats me with arguments from intimidation.Theists have God. Aristotle had an Umoved Mover. Nietsche had his Superman. Rand has John Galt. Is John Galt enough to anchor her philosophy? Sartre admits there are no absolutes. There is no anchor, but, perhaps, that is his anchor.Some people think Rand engages in naive, wishful thinking. She says that if businessmen lived in a perfectly laissez-faire society and followed pure self-interest, there would never arise conflict among them. Does it not seem like she yearned for the days when black was black and white was white, where there were no shades of gray? In Rand's world, since there can be no compromise between good and evil, everything is 'either/or' and one side is right and the other is wrong. Is life really so simple? I can understand not compromising with, say, a mugger or an obvious psychotic who wants to chop off my arm. It would be absurd to offer him a few fingers instead. There are lines where 'either/or' is justified. And, existentialists would not disagree with this in the area of Being. Even if, after several examinations of an object, there is something left over, a transphenomenality of Being, a table is still a table, even if it could be something else also. Stating that one never knows absolutely is not to deny all knowledge. We can have certainty about many specific things even if absolute certainty is lacking. However, are values and morals subject to the same rational appraisal as tables? It would be nice if they were. The existentialist confronts freedom in anguish. He must reflect on it, not just choose to think or not to think. Some things, like what Hitler did, are, (according to my philosophy) obviously wrong. A mugger or an obvious psychotic who wants to chop off my arm is, (again, according to NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism) wrong, but there are shades of gray and places where standards are still needed, where we may have to create them and take responsibility for them. God has not been deposed so that nature or reason can take His place. According to atheistic existentialism, we have to take His place.Rand's portrait of a "second-hander," a Peter Keating type character from "The Fountainhead," is much like Sartre's inauthentic person. He lives for others rather than himself. He has no self. He is an object shaped by others. Sartre also describes a man who lives in bad faith, who is deluded. He may think, on one level, he is happy, but he is decieving himself. His values are not his own.Rand blames the doctrine of altruism for pushing the men of integrity down, making them feel guilty about being successful, calling them selfish.Peter Keating, however, is not what we normally think of as an altruist. Keating is not trying to win the approval of others for their benefit. He is a self-seeker. He just goes the wrong way. Rand's use of terminology sometimes differs from conventional usage.Rand also embraces the term "selfish." To her, it's a compliment. And, we understand this as living for ourselves. It would not be conducive to a flourishing survival to determine what is not in one's rational self-interest and pursue it to avoid being selfish. However, very few people actually do that. Would they even be seccessful, since it would then be in their interest to avoid that which is in their interest?It does get complicated, however, when Rand talks about sacrificing her own life to save a loved one and justifies that as a selfish act, because her interest would be the interest of someone else. On page 1013 of "Atlas Shrugged" John Galt cautions Dagney Taggert not to let his opponents know what they mean to each other. If Dagney were to be tortured to pressure Galt, then he would rather commit suicide, thus taking away her value as a barganing chip and not living by their standards. So, he would rather die than be responsible for the suffering of another. The distinction between altruism and selfishness seems to merge.Both Rand and Sartre stress treating others as ends and not as means. Rand stresses the being an end but recognizes the 'hands off' policy regarding others, so that they can be ends as well. It's the old libertarian ideal of doing whatever one wants with the only condition of allowing others also to do what they want. For Rand, this leads directly to laissez-faire capitalism. People deal with each other on a mutually voluntary basis only, exchanging value for value. All forms of physical force are not tolerated.I don't think Sartre's Marxism is an extension of his existentialism. One can be an existentialist like Sartre and still disagree with his political and economic views. That's the difference between systematic philosophies and non-systematic philosophies. Rand requires that we accept all of her views as a whole, but this is not a requirement with Sartre.Sartre sees some of Rand's views as a bit cold, seeing humans as valuable because they are productive, not because they are simply human. Sartre would be a little more pro-active in curing the ills of society. He might support, for example, affirmative action to offset the historical injustices of racism. To Rand, this would be racist. She would allow business owners to discriminate on the grounds that it is their right to hire and fire who they want and serve who they want. We would perhaps hope that bigots will lose business by some natural unwillingness of rational people to patronize those businesses, that the invisible hand of economic law will regulate things justly. In some communities, this is fantasy.According to Objectivism, one need not go to the assistance of someone in trouble. One may do so if one wants, but he or she would not be condemned for pulling the shades to avoid seeing someone raped or mugged outside one's window. One has no obligation to help.Dr. Barnes concludes her chapter with the following two paragraphs:Objectivist Man is both an ideal and a reality. He represents only one of the possibilities for the human species. Existentialism rejects Objectivism because it ignores the two sources of existentialist despair instead of seeking some way to overcome them. Objectivism hides the fact that to be free to become what one chooses means also that one must choose what one feels one ought to become. Objectivism tries to evade the knowledge that to exist means not only to be-in-the-world but to-be-with-others. John Galt said in his radio speech that men have secretly hated the doctrines of altruism and of living for others. Existentialists, too, confess to a horror at the knowledge that one must face these unchoosen responsibilities. But it refuses to evade them. Rand attacks those who say that we can have no absolute certainty. Existentialists, too, oppose those who use the inadequacy of knowledge to defend irresponsible action or to refuse to engage themselves. But existentialism never seeks to clothe its commitment with the false certainty of authoritative guarantee.To the existentialist, Objectivism appears to be based on wish-fulfillment. Barbara Branden's biographical sketch of Ayn Rand treats as significant Rand's early decision to create a life which would resemble the world of the operetta rather than the given reality of the Sopviet Union in the early twenties. And we are told that while Rand loves the theater, she does not care for tragedy. Joy and happiness are possible in this life, and I think they are legitimate goals. I do not think one can win them legitimately by denying the essence of the tragic vision. The cross, like the hemlock, is an ambivalent symbol, one which reminds us of the failures of the majority at the same time that it speaks to us of the heroic self-transcendence in self-fulfillment on the part of a few. We may feel as Rand does, and as I do, that the cross as a symbol of self-sacrifice is not an adequate measure of human aspiration. I do not think we will improve things by replacing it with the dollar sign. That is all too good an emblem for Objectivism, suggesting that happiness is for those who have the wherewithal to pay and in the currency set by those who are in power. Existentialism seeks something less subject to the arbitrary whims of the market.Okay, my response to all this is to say there are valuable things in both existentialism and Objectivism, but both have problems in their pure forms. Pure Objectivism has a problem with freedom, but existentialism has a problem with facts, with laws of nature which do pre-exist us and are external to us. There is an essence to humanness such that an Asian in asia is no more or less human than an American in Spokane. Rand would recognize this and realize, as did Locke and Jefferson, that it follows from this that all men have natural rights to pursue life and happiness. Reason does not reach all situations, as was pointed out in the essay above, so man must have some freedom to forge his own paths. The parameters inwhich he is free to do this, however, must be generalizable, objective. NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism combines existentialism and Objectivism such that the strengths of both philosophies are augmented and the weaknesses of each are off-set.bis bald,Nick Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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