HaloNoble6

Moral Flaws in Rand's Fictional Heroes

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First of all, I'd like to know what you guys consider the definition of "morally perfect." Secondly, I'd like to ask, of the following, who isn't morally perfect, and if they aren't, what moral flaws exclude them from this characterization:

-Hank Reardon

-Dagny Taggart

-Eddie Willers

-Howard Roark

Of particular interest for me are the following choices, which I've sometimes seen referred to as "acts of immorality":

-Dagny's choice to continue sleeping with Hank Reardon in spite of knowing that he held contradictory ethics.

-Dagny's choice to return to the outside world.

-Hank's decision to continue having the relationship he did with his family.

-Eddie Willer's decision to stay out of Galt's Gulch.

-Howard Roark's choice to sleep with Dominique in what appears to be a one-night-stand, since no promise of seeing her again is ever established (if I recall correctly, they don't even discover each other's names or places of residence).

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First of all, I'd like to know what you guys consider the definition of "morally perfect."  Secondly, I'd like to ask, of the following, who isn't morally perfect, and if they aren't, what moral flaws exclude them from this characterization:

-Hank Reardon

-Dagny Taggart

-Eddie Willers

-Howard Roark

Of particular interest for me are the following choices, which I've sometimes seen referred to as "acts of immorality":

-Dagny's choice to continue sleeping with Hank Reardon in spite of knowing that he held contradictory ethics.

-Dagny's choice to return to the outside world.

-Hank's decision to continue having the relationship he did with his family.

-Eddie Willer's decision to stay out of Galt's Gulch.

-Howard Roark's choice to sleep with Dominique in what appears to be a one-night-stand, since no promise of seeing her again is ever established (if I recall correctly, they don't even discover each other's names or places of residence).

Before answering, I'd like to understand the purpose for and context of your questions. Do you yourself have a sense of what "morally perfect" means? Are these examples presented because, as you say, others have sometimes referred to them as "acts of immorality," or do you yourself view them as such? Or, are you unclear as to how morality applies to these examples? If you are unclear, are you equally unclear about all of these examples?

p.s. "Readon" in Atlas Shrugged is correctly spelled with an "e," as in "Rearden."

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First of all, I'd like to know what you guys consider the definition of "morally perfect." 

An unbreached rationality.

Secondly, I'd like to ask, of the following, who isn't morally perfect, and if they aren't, what moral flaws exclude them from this characterization:

-Hank Reardon

-Dagny Taggart

-Eddie Willers

-Howard Roark

They are all morally perfect by my estimation.

Of particular interest for me are the following choices, which I've sometimes seen referred to as "acts of immorality":

-Dagny's choice to continue sleeping with Hank Reardon in spite of knowing that he held contradictory ethics.

He didn't. He had a mistaken view of sex.

-Dagny's choice to return to the outside world.

It was a mistake, but she was acting in accordance with the full context of her own knowledge.

-Hank's decision to continue having the relationship he did with his family.

He had the relationship because he thought, mistakenly, that they valued him and at least some of his values. When he understood otherwise, he abandoned them.

-Eddie Willer's decision to stay out of Galt's Gulch.

Eddie valued trying to save Taggart Transcontinental MORE than the chance to start all over elsewhere. He didn't think he was capable of doing that, and he was probably right.

-Howard Roark's choice to sleep with Dominique in what appears to be a one-night-stand, since no promise of seeing her again is ever established (if I recall correctly, they don't even discover each other's names or places of residence).

I've discussed this in great detail elsewhere, but the bottom line is they knew a helluva lot about each other because art can do that in a very compact way. Besides, "Thou shalt not have one-night stands," is more Christian than Objectivist. Context is everything.

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Sorry about the typo.

I do have a sense of what morally perfect means, and it is an all-encompassing committement to reason. This is my sense of what it is. And yes, others claim these are acts of immorality, and I don't exactly understand why in some, not all. For example, while I don't view Dagny's choice to sleep with Hank Rearden as a subversion of reason, I do view Hank's continual evasion of the contradiciton between his ethics at work and his ethics at home as one.

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OK, so here's what I don't understand about Hank's relationship with his family. Did he not identify a contradiction between the emotional response to his work and the emotional response at home? Or, must he also taken the step and identified that his emotional mechanism is governed by the validity of his values, which when he did he acted accordingly?

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OK, so here's what I don't understand about Hank's relationship with his family.  Did he not identify a contradiction between the emotional response to his work and the emotional response at home?  Or, must he also taken the step and identified that his emotional mechanism is governed by the validity of his values, which when he did he acted accordingly?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Rearden did not identify the contradiction between his emotional response to his work and the emotional response at home. He did not evade the issue, but could not resolve it on his own. He needed Francisco D'Anconia to explain it to him. And even Francisco D'Anconia needed John Galt to explain to him why he should abandon and destroy his copper industry.

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I do have a sense of what morally perfect means, and it is an all-encompassing committement to reason.  This is my sense of what it is. And yes, others claim these are acts of immorality, and I don't exactly understand why in some, not all.  For example, while I don't view Dagny's choice to sleep with Hank Rearden as a subversion of reason, I do view Hank's continual evasion of the contradiciton between his ethics at work and his ethics at home as one.

Perhaps the difficulty you are having in applying moral principles stems from a misunderstanding of the difference between evasion and honest error. A commitment to reason does not guarantee proper identification and knowledge in each and every case; even a completely rational mind takes time to identify and integrate material, and a commitment to logic does not preclude the possibility of error. We cannot per se fault people for their ignorance, but we can fault them for their refusal to know. To willfully refuse to see or grasp reality is an act of evasion, but an error in knowledge, or, even the absence of knowledge, is not necessarily an evasive act. Evasion is a moral failing, but honest error or ignorance is not.

I would suggest that you carefully re-read the sections in Atlas Shrugged where you think that Hank Rearden performs "continual evasion," and do so in light of the distinction between evasion and honest error (or ignorance) that I draw above.

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OK, so here's what I don't understand about Hank's relationship with his family.  Did he not identify a contradiction between the emotional response to his work and the emotional response at home?  Or, must he also taken the step and identified that his emotional mechanism is governed by the validity of his values, which when he did he acted accordingly?

It is no accident that Part Two, Chapter IV, of Atlas Shrugged is titled "The Sanction Of The Victim." Rearden eventually learned, with the especial help of Francisco, in what way he was morally sanctioning evil. Note that when Rearden understood the nature of his error, he not only stepped away from his family leeches, but also from those outside of his family, those of the same nature. Rearden grasped a profound principle which had eluded him before, and once the principle was grasped he acted accordingly. Rearden always acted, before and now, with an unbreached morality.

It might be helpful for you to re-read the Chapter mentioned above.

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Did he [Rearden] not identify a contradiction between the emotional response to his work and the emotional response at home?
Not until Francisco. But the fact that he did not identify it does not indicate that he evaded identifying it. Rearden was kind of lost between two contradictory premises, and being a consummately honest person, he attempted to live up to both even then. That may be an example of a lack of understanding, but it is also as much a show of virtue as there ever can be. I mean just think about the incredible degree of Rearden's commitment to honesty, no matter what -- that's quite admirable.

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I don't understand the notion that Rearden was guilty of, or experienced, some sort of cotradiction between his emotional response to his work and his emotional response at home. His emotional response to both was appropriate, was it not?

What he would not allow himself to do was reach the conclusion that his family was evil; even though he felt nothing but revulsion and loathing for them (the appropriate emotional response given his values), since he could not understand them, he believed he lacked all the information needed to reach a conclusion.

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...even though he felt nothing but revulsion and loathing for them...

He also felt guilty for feeling revulsion and loathing. His acceptance of an unearned guilt involved a heapload of contradictions, which he did not identify until Francisco helped him.

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He also felt guilty for feeling revulsion and loathing. His acceptance of an unearned guilt involved a heapload of contradictions, which he did not identify until Francisco helped him.

Any emotional conflict involves a contradiction -- a contradiction between competing values. For instance, Rearden had an emotional and explicit moral conflict between the desire to end his marriage to Lillian and his pride in always fulfilling his contracts.

Just recognizing that one has a contradiction, however, does not provide a person with the knowledge he may need to resolve it. That is why having such a conflict is not a moral failing so long as a person tries to resolve the conflict rather than evade it.

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Any emotional conflict involves a contradiction -- a contradiction between competing values.  For instance, Rearden had an emotional and explicit moral conflict between the desire to end his marriage to Lillian and his pride in always fulfilling his contracts.

All of his contradictions go back to something more fundamental - a contradiction between two opposing moral codes, which he applied to different areas of his life. In his professional life, he lived up to a rational, egoistic ethics, while in his family life, he was attempting to hold an altruistic ethics.

It's interesting that he was so emphatic in keeping the two areas of his life completely separate. This cannot have been an accident on Ayn Rand's part - she was too good at what she did for it to have been. Remember his anger when Lillian invited Dagny to the party and how much he disliked his mother coming to visit him at work. These events are an eloquent illustration of the inner conflict he had over the conflicting moral codes from the two sides of his life. (Who says Ayn Rand knew nothing about literary subtlety?!)

It's a testament to his fundamental honesty that he never allowed his work-ethics to be sacrificed to his home-ethics. He never gave into his brother's "need" of a job. He gave his brother money to support a cause with which he disagreed, he accepted Lillian's attitude toward sex, he accepted his mother's urgings that it was his duty to "take care" of his family (all do to an honest, but fundamental, error), but he never, ever let that sacrifice his mills, which were the physical embodiment of his selfish moral code.

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All of his contradictions go back to something more fundamental - a contradiction between two opposing moral codes, which he applied to different areas of his life. In his professional life, he lived up to a rational, egoistic ethics, while in his family life, he was attempting to hold an altruistic ethics..

But he wasn't. He was trying to be FAIR to them. He thought that they probably had genuine values he did not understand or that they were like children who needed his help and guidance. In no case did he make a sacrifice. "It's so easy for me [to help them] and so hard for them [to achieve their values]."

It's interesting that he was so emphatic in keeping the two areas of his life completely separate.

He didn't do that either. The first thing he did in the book was to have the bracelet made and give it to Lillian. He WANTED to share his work with his family -- but he couldn't and for reasons he did not understand.

This cannot have been an accident on Ayn Rand's part - she was too good at what she did for it to have been. Remember his anger when Lillian invited Dagny to the party and

Rearden really didn't want to be at the party himself. Remember the scene where he can't seem to summon up the energy to dress for the party?

He gave his brother money to support a cause with which he disagreed

He did not know anything about the "cause" and Rearden did it to share his selfish joy over the first pouring of Rearden Metal and to show his brother the happiness that comes from achieving a value. He was surprised to see that it didn't make him happy -- for reasons he didn't understand.

he accepted Lillian's attitude toward sex
He had been left feeling an angry emptiness—because he had sought an act of triumph, though he had not known of what nature, but the response he received was only a woman's acceptance of a casual pleasure, and he knew too clearly that what he had won had no meaning. He was left, not with a sense of attainment, but with a sense of his own degradation.

Rearden didn't want sex to be degrading, but, in fact, it was -- until Dagny.

he accepted his mother's urgings that it was his duty to "take care" of his family

I don't think that is why he did it at all. It wasn't duty, it was an attempt to be fair and just.

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"It's so easy for me [to help them] and so hard for them [to achieve their values]."

You don't think this is the same as the premise that the "haves" should give to the "have-nots?" The above statement basically means: Their non-ability is a claim on my ability.

He didn't do that either.  The first thing he did in the book was to have the bracelet made and give it to Lillian.  He WANTED to share his work with his family -- but he couldn't and for reasons he did not understand.

But also remember, that he didn't make the bracelet for Lillian the person.

He touched the bracelet in his pocket. He had had it made from that first poured metal. It was for his wife.

As he touched it, he realized suddenly that he had thought of an abstraction called "his wife" - not of the woman to whom he was married. He felt a stab of regret, wishing he had not made the bracelet, then a stab of self-reproach for the regret.

He did not want to share his work with Lillian, he wanted to share it with a true wife, i.e. one who shared his values. As soon as he thought of giving the bracelet to her, he (properly) experienced a conflict. Then comes the altruistic unearned guilt: "a stab of self-reproach for the regret."

Rearden really didn't want to be at the party himself.  Remember the scene where he can't seem to summon up the energy to dress for the party?

You're right in that he didn't want to be at the party himself. But what bearing does that have on Dagny being there? Why was he so upset that Lillian invited her?

When he stepped back into the crowd, he was smiling. But the smile vanished abruptly; he saw the entranc of a new guest: it was Dagny Taggart . . .

. . . "Next time you give a party," he said, "stick to your own crows. Don't invite what you think are my friends. I don't care to meet the socially."

He did not know anything about the "cause" and Rearden did it to share his selfish  joy over the first pouring of Rearden Metal and to show his brother the happiness that comes from achieving a value.  He was surprised to see that it didn't make him happy -- for reasons he didn't understand.
"I am trying to raise money for the friends of Global Progress."

Rearden had never been able to keep track of the many organizations to which Philip belonged, not to get a clear idea of their activities. He had heard Philip talking vaguely about this one for the last six months. It seemed to be devoted to some sort of free lectures on psychology, folk music and co-operative farming. Rearden felt contempt for groups of that kind and saw no reason for a closer inquirty into their nature.

So Rearden did have some idea of what the organization did, although not a complete, in-depth one. It goes on a little farther to show that you were correct in that Rearden's initial intention was to show Philip the happiness that comes from achieving a value, but then after he realized that Philip did not appreciate the gift and was not made happy by it, we have the following:

"By the way, Henry," Philip added, "do you mind if I ask you to have Miss Ives give me the money in cash?" Rearden turned back to him, puzzled. "You see, Friends of Global Progress are a very progressive group and they have always maintained that you represent the blackest element of social retrogression in the country, so it would embarrass us, you know, to ave your name on our list of contributors, because somebody might accuse us of being in he pay of Hank Reardan."

He wanted to slap Philip's face. But an almost unendurable contempt made him close his eyes instead.

"All right," he said quitely, "you can have it in cash."

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He did not want to share his work with Lillian, he wanted to share it with a true wife, i.e. one who shared his values. As soon as he thought of giving the bracelet to her, he (properly) experienced a conflict. Then comes the altruistic unearned guilt: "a stab of self-reproach for the regret."

More correctly: He experienced a negative emotion after giving the bracelet to her. The emotional conflict came with the guilt.

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[...]

The quotes in quotes don't seem to be working, so I can't reply point by point, but that would make for a crow-killing, too-long post anyway. I'll just address our essential disagreement.

I see "It's so easy for me [to help them] and so hard for them [to achieve their values]" as the motivation for rational, benevolent generosity. It means that the gift is not a sacrifice and that the recipient is seeking values. The altruistic premise that the "haves" should give to the "have-nots" is based, not on the fact of the gift, but on the premise that the gift is the moral justification for the donor's existence. I don't see Rearden buying into that premise ever.

A real altruist is motivated by guilt because, in giving, his moral worth is on the line. Rearden did feel negative emotions all right, but what he felt was regret, disappointment, and contempt none of which (with the exception of sex) was directed toward himself. When his family tried to make him feel guilty, he was so genuinely innocent that he could not fathom what they were up to and what they wanted.

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The quotes in quotes don't seem to be working, so I can't reply point by point, but that would make for a crow-killing, too-long post anyway.  I'll just address our essential disagreement.

I had problems getting my quotes to work, too.

A real altruist is motivated by guilt because, in giving, his moral worth is on the line.  Rearden did feel negative emotions all right, but what he felt was regret, disappointment, and contempt none of which (with the exception of sex) was directed toward himself.  When his family tried to make him feel guilty, he was so genuinely innocent that he could not fathom what they were up to and what they wanted.

And of course, Rearden was not a real altruist. He was a fundamentally honest, selfish, rational and life-loving man who, in my view, had mistakenly (and implicitly) accepted a few altruistic premises in regard to one area of his life. If he were a real altruist, he would have continued to hold these premises after Francisco helped him identify them explicitly.

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And of course, Rearden was not a real altruist. He was a fundamentally honest, selfish, rational and life-loving man who, in my view, had mistakenly (and implicitly) accepted a few altruistic premises in regard to one area of his life.

That's where I disagree. If Rearden "accepted a few altruistic premises," what were they?

That he should help his family? That's a rational, non-sacrificial thing to do if his family valued him (he assumed they did) and he was returning their good will. He always saw the matter as his choice and not something he owed them. He wasn't motivated by "should."

The only area where he accepted unearned guilt was with regard to sex and that wasn't due to altruism but to the lack of a woman worthy of him.

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Here is another Rearden question for discussion. After visiting Dagny in Colorado to propose the Rearden Metal bridge, he apparently lies to Dagny about his travel plans. Why? Merely to avoid being in her presence in his plane for a few hours? Why doesn't Dagny confront him on this?

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Here is another Rearden question for discussion.  After visiting Dagny in Colorado to propose the Rearden Metal bridge, he apparently lies to Dagny about his travel plans.  Why?  Merely to avoid being in her presence in his plane for a few hours?

That's my guess.

Why doesn't Dagny confront him on this?

Probably for the same reason she didn't confront him about remaining married to Lillian. She respected him and that was his choice.

Rearden may have had a good reason that she was unaware of. She only knew the "what" and not the "why" so she was only in a position to note the occurrence for future reference, but not to judge it.

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That's where I disagree.  If Rearden "accepted a few altruistic premises," what were they? 

That he should help his family?  That's a rational, non-sacrificial thing to do if his family valued him (he assumed they did) and he was returning their good will.  He always saw the matter as his choice and not something he owed them.  He wasn't motivated by "should."

I would say that it's a rational, non-sacrificial thing to do if his family was a value to him, rather than him being a value to his family. Philip especially was a disvalue to him, a disvalue which he recognized, yet he still supported him and still gave him money to support an organization he disliked, even after Philip gave him the double slap in the face of not appreciating the gift, and condemning Rearden for making the very money he was accepting.

Whatever Rearden's motivation was, in this situation, it certainly wasn't to gain a value. He explicitly identified the value he was trying to gain and had already failed to gain it by the time Philip demanded the money be given in cash.

The only area where he accepted unearned guilt was with regard to sex and that wasn't due to altruism but to the lack of a woman worthy of him.

In what way was the guilt he felt in about not wanting to give Lillian the bracelet earned?

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Here is another Rearden question for discussion.  After visiting Dagny in Colorado to propose the Rearden Metal bridge, he apparently lies to Dagny about his travel plans.  Why?  Merely to avoid being in her presence in his plane for a few hours?

That's my guess.

I don't recall the exact order of some events. Was this event before or after Rearden recognized his attraction to Dagny?

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I would say that [helping Rearden's family was] a rational, non-sacrificial thing to do if his family was a value to him, rather than him being a value to his family.

I think Rearden was motivated to help his family out of a sense of justice rather than duty or guilt.

Parents support and raise us when we are helpless children and, as long as they aren't very abusive, there is justice in expressing gratitude for that. Also, parents, brothers, and sisters share an important part of our lives with us and can also be a value for that reason too. Rearden married Lillian because he fell in love with something that wasn't there but he saw staying with her as a serious committment -- a contractual obligation. He mistakenly, and benevolently, misjudged his family's motives but, in the name of justice, he was unwilling to condemn what he didn't understand.

Whatever Rearden's motivation was, in this situation, it certainly wasn't to gain a value.

It was to be fair and just and to keep his freely chosen contracts and promises. That is hardly an altruistic motive.

He explicitly identified the value he was trying to gain and had already failed to gain it by the time Philip demanded the money be given in cash.

In what way was the guilt he felt in about not wanting to give Lillian the bracelet.

You mean:

As he touched it, he realized suddenly that he had thought of an abstraction called "his wife" - not of the woman to whom he was married. He felt a stab of regret, wishing he had not made the bracelet, then a stab of self-reproach for the regret.

The self-reproach was for regretting the consequences of his own choices. He was too proud and too responsible to give way to what he regarded as self-pity.

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I don't recall the exact order of some events. Was this event before or after Rearden recognized his attraction to Dagny?

The scene in Colorado is on pages 165 - 166. The scene in Rearden's office, which I believe is the first time he acknowledges his desire, is on page 196.

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