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Derek

Feelings

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I am a music educator. What makes Objectivism so difficult is that, in my job, while there are lots of yes-no areas and lots of places where even after complex thought, a single answer can be defined, there is a lot of emotion involved.

From reading what little I have of her essays, it seems that Rand decries the use of feelings for any judgement. In Atlas Shrugged, she seemed to hint that feelings are still relevant, but not something you can rely on in the face of evidence.

So where does that leave music? Where does the feelingless approach fit in when you are making quality judgements about music and its elements? How do I remain Objectivist, yet be true to the art and the most powerful way of establishing a connection through art: how it feels?

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Emotions are an automatic response to one's values, the more important a value the more emotional your reaction/feelings will be. If one wants to change their emotional response to a value they must first change their thoughts on the value.

I hope you find that helpful and I offer that you can get a further understanding of how emotions fit into Objectivism by reading her non-ficiton works.

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I am a music educator. What makes Objectivism so difficult is that, in my job, while there are lots of yes-no areas and lots of places where even after complex thought, a single answer can be defined, there is a lot of emotion involved.

From reading what little I have of her essays, it seems that Rand decries the use of feelings for any judgement. In Atlas Shrugged, she seemed to hint that feelings are still relevant, but not something you can rely on in the face of evidence.

So where does that leave music? Where does the feelingless approach fit in when you are making quality judgements about music and its elements? How do I remain Objectivist, yet be true to the art and the most powerful way of establishing a connection through art: how it feels?

We would all be boring automatons if we actually refused to live based on our "feelings" or emotions. When your emotions are naturally arising from subconscious premises well-grounded in reality they are perfectly valid to use when forming decisions, as the emotions are merely automatically reflecting what is happening around you with respect to your (presumably healthy) sense of life. Are your positive/negative feelings for a movie not a decisive indicator when deciding whether or not you want to buy it?

What happens that is a problem is when individuals have irrational subconscious premises and they proceed to act on the emotions that arise from those premises without any introspection or premeditation before acting. Hence, a person with an unhealthy attitude towards money might purchase an expensive movie that they can't afford because their feelings were only reflecting the desire for the film, and weren't automatically considering other factors that a mature adult would. Or a man who was beaten in his youth mistakenly ingrains some fear of emotional intimacy with others, and when he tries to get close to a woman he is dating his emotions recoil and backfire, filling him not with feeling of love and joy but instead fear, paranoia, and an overwhelming desire to distance himself from the woman. These are the stereotypical actions of people who never introspect and question the appropriateness of the emotions for the situation, and instead act on the emotions without question or premeditation, and this is what I think you refer to when you say "acting on feeling" with a negative connotation.

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Ayn Rand made several comments about music in her article "Art and Cognition", chapter 4 of The Romantic Manifesto.

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I am a music educator. What makes Objectivism so difficult is that, in my job, while there are lots of yes-no areas and lots of places where even after complex thought, a single answer can be defined, there is a lot of emotion involved.

From reading what little I have of her essays, it seems that Rand decries the use of feelings for any judgement. In Atlas Shrugged, she seemed to hint that feelings are still relevant, but not something you can rely on in the face of evidence.

So where does that leave music? Where does the feelingless approach fit in when you are making quality judgements about music and its elements? How do I remain Objectivist, yet be true to the art and the most powerful way of establishing a connection through art: how it feels?

Objectivism holds that emotions are not tools of knowledge: they don't tell you the truth of your observations/evaluations/estimations. Other than that, one should fully enjoy one's emotional life in all areas of life. If conflicts arise between what your emotions tell you and what your mind tells you, stop and think (introspection), and follow your mind's judgment when it comes to truthful identification. There is no "feelingless" approach to anything in Objectivism. It is a misunderstanding of the philosophy that has been around for too long and needs to be rejected.

For instance, you may love a piece of music because it creates a feeling of heroism, but that feeling does not tell you whether the rhythm, harmony, or other musical parameters are correct and appropriate. Such judgment requires knowledge of music and its methods of expression.

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For a better understanding of Ayn Rand's philosophy of art, I highly recommend The Romantic Manifesto.

She gives less time to Music and suggests that a complete treatment of a philosophy of aesthetics as applied to music remains to be done. Nevertheless, she suggests:

The fundamental difference between music and the other arts lies in the fact that music is experienced as if it reversed man’s normal psycho-epistemological process.

The other arts create a physical object (i.e., an object perceived by man’s senses, be it a book or a painting) and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception—to conceptual understanding—to appraisal—to emotion.

The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception—to emotion—to appraisal—to conceptual understanding.

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly.

“Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, p. 50 [this quote from The Ayn Rand Lexicon

Therein, I think, lies your answer to Ayn Rand's appreciation of the importance of feeling, or, as she puts it, emotion, in the appreciation of music. It is essential. It does not answer the finer questions of the ultimate quality of a piece of music, but it represents the first level of appreciation of a work. And, in the case of a well-trained and educated ear such as yours, it will often be quite seamlessly and rapidly translated into an evaluation of the piece, at least an initial one. And that is because, as you may have read from her elsewhere (and as Paul points out), "emotions are not tools of cognition." That does not mean they are valueless -- quite the contrary. Rand discusses at length that emotions are automated value judgments, arrived at seemingly instantaneously, via the subconscious. As you learn to understand, appreciate, and judge a work of art, you are actually learning what you like and why, what it means to you and what it tells you about the performer and/or creator. The value judgments you make from such experience is automatized and, in response to the experience of a work, is experienced as an emotion, pleasure, displeasure, happiness, anger, fear, etc.

Although emotions are not tools of cognition, meaning they don't teach you the meaning of the piece, they are instant "read-outs" of your automated judgment of the piece. And, as your knowledge and experience and sophistication grows, so to will your automated evaluations. However, there is always the chance that some new understanding may not yet be integrated into your subconscious evaluations. This can result in a "cognitive dissonance" as you find your response to a piece inconsistent with your conscious values. For instance, you may find yourself being resistant to listening to a piece in a style you've only begun to appreciate. Or, conversely, you may find yourself surprised at understanding and enjoying, in a way you never did before, a work of Rachmaninoff (or Duke Ellington, or Debussy, or Justin Bieber*), after having spent considerable time studying and learning about the composer's works.

So, no, Ayn Rand does not dismiss emotions, she acknowledges them as essential in the enjoyment of art, but as the result of previous conscious thought, experience, and reflection.

* Just testing :D

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For a better understanding of Ayn Rand's philosophy of art, I highly recommend The Romantic Manifesto.

She gives less time to Music and suggests that a complete treatment of a philosophy of aesthetics as applied to music remains to be done. Nevertheless, she suggests:

The fundamental difference between music and the other arts lies in the fact that music is experienced as if it reversed man’s normal psycho-epistemological process.

The other arts create a physical object (i.e., an object perceived by man’s senses, be it a book or a painting) and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception—to conceptual understanding—to appraisal—to emotion.

The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception—to emotion—to appraisal—to conceptual understanding.

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly.

“Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, p. 50 [this quote from The Ayn Rand Lexicon

Therein, I think, lies your answer to Ayn Rand's appreciation of the importance of feeling, or, as she puts it, emotion, in the appreciation of music. It is essential. It does not answer the finer questions of the ultimate quality of a piece of music, but it represents the first level of appreciation of a work. And, in the case of a well-trained and educated ear such as yours, it will often be quite seamlessly and rapidly translated into an evaluation of the piece, at least an initial one. And that is because, as you may have read from her elsewhere (and as Paul points out), "emotions are not tools of cognition." That does not mean they are valueless -- quite the contrary. Rand discusses at length that emotions are automated value judgments, arrived at seemingly instantaneously, via the subconscious. As you learn to understand, appreciate, and judge a work of art, you are actually learning what you like and why, what it means to you and what it tells you about the performer and/or creator. The value judgments you make from such experience is automatized and, in response to the experience of a work, is experienced as an emotion, pleasure, displeasure, happiness, anger, fear, etc.

Although emotions are not tools of cognition, meaning they don't teach you the meaning of the piece, they are instant "read-outs" of your automated judgment of the piece. And, as your knowledge and experience and sophistication grows, so to will your automated evaluations. However, there is always the chance that some new understanding may not yet be integrated into your subconscious evaluations. This can result in a "cognitive dissonance" as you find your response to a piece inconsistent with your conscious values. For instance, you may find yourself being resistant to listening to a piece in a style you've only begun to appreciate. Or, conversely, you may find yourself surprised at understanding and enjoying, in a way you never did before, a work of Rachmaninoff (or Duke Ellington, or Debussy, or Justin Bieber*), after having spent considerable time studying and learning about the composer's works.

So, no, Ayn Rand does not dismiss emotions, she acknowledges them as essential in the enjoyment of art, but as the result of previous conscious thought, experience, and reflection.

* Just testing :)

I know seeking validation is lazy, but I have to say that all made a lot of sense. I do intend to read her work on art. But it's always good to see what the lay people think too. Thanks.

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