HaloNoble6

Moral Flaws in Rand's Fictional Heroes

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Betsy, I agree with you completely about the character of Hank Rearden; he had such a great innocence, and an even deeper, stricter sense of justice, that he wouldn't condemn anyone as evil until he himself was absolutely sure. And this also implies a thorough independence of mind. He so greatly loved life that when he saw the slightest evidence that his family might possibly love him, that meant that they loved being alive too.

For me, what makes the character of Rearden so alive and intense is his unrelenting effort to understand his family and his feelings for Dagny, combined with his ruthless sense of self-justice. However, none of this would be alive at all without his exalted love of, and pride in, his work.

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Betsy, you've given me a lot to think about, but I'm still not completely convinced. I'm making a note to pay special attention to this question of Rearden's conflict on my next re-read. Thanks for the challenging discussion. :)

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I have to say that any flaws are there to demonstrate overcoming them. A character must start out flawed for a book to move. What exactly would Atlas Shrugged be except for a chronicle of the going ons in Atlantis if Dagny hadn't had that flaw to overcome? However, I believe that the flaws are fixed and the character triumphed in all the more heroism by the end of the book, except possibly Eddie. Poor Eddie... His choice though.

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What was Eddie's flaw?

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Her willingness to take on too much and (more so) her over-optimism and over-confidence.

This is an error rather than a flaw though.

From the introduction to my copy of Atlas Shrugged:

Her error- and the cause of her refusal to join the stike- is over-optimism and over-confidence (particuarly this last)

Over-optimism- in that she thinks men are better than they are, she doesn't really understand them and are generous about it.

Over-confidence- in that she thinks she can do more than an individual can. SHe thinks she can run a railroad (or the world) singlehanded, she can make people do what she wants or needs, what is right, by the sheer force of her talent; not by forcing them, of course, not by enslaving them and giving orders- but by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they'll catch it from her. (This is still faith in their rationality, in the omnipotence of reason. The mistake? Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.)

I just had to reprint that quote. It's excellent!

Zak

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Her willingness to take on too much and (more so) her over-optimism and over-confidence.

This is an error rather than a flaw though.

Yes, and that is an important difference. There was no defect in Dagny's character, just an honest error.

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Yes, and that is an important difference. There was no defect in Dagny's character, just an honest error.

I would agree up until the point she landed in Galt's Gulch. She didn't know the question, or even the answer to what Francisco said to Rearden:

"who is the evilest man in this room?"

Rearden thought it was James, and up until the mills were destroyed he still thought that, his was an honest error(after he realized it, he went to Atlantis). Dagny is like Lucifer (or as called in the book, a scab). She is one who has seen understood, and walked the path of the righteous, and still with full knowledge chosen to go back. Up to the point where she made her choice at the end of the month she was perfect (before Atlantis, living with an honest error about human nature, in Atlantis living as she should), once she made the choice to go back to evade reality she, 'fell from grace'.

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Yes, and that is an important difference. There was no defect in Dagny's character, just an honest error.

I would agree up until the point she landed in Galt's Gulch. She didn't know the question, or even the answer to what Francisco said to Rearden:

"who is the evilest man in this room?"

Rearden thought it was James, and up until the mills were destroyed he still thought that, his was an honest error(after he realized it, he went to Atlantis). Dagny is like Lucifer (or as called in the book, a scab). She is one who has seen understood, and walked the path of the righteous, and still with full knowledge chosen to go back. Up to the point where she made her choice at the end of the month she was perfect (before Atlantis, living with an honest error about human nature, in Atlantis living as she should), once she made the choice to go back to evade reality she, 'fell from grace'.

I think you have seriously misinterpreted Dagny's motivation, intentions, and moral status. She evaded nothing: her intellect and her spirit still believed that she could win, that she could save the railroad that she loved and fight to save her world. As she says:

""I want you to know this: I have wished it were possible for me to die in one more month, so that I could spend it in this valley. This is how much I've wanted to remain. But so long as I choose to go on living, I can't desert a battle which I think is mine to fight." (Atlas Shrugged, p. 744.)

I think a careful re-reading of that entire section of the book is in order.

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Up to the point where she made her choice at the end of the month she was perfect (before Atlantis, living with an honest error about human nature, in Atlantis living as she should), once she made the choice to go back to evade reality she, 'fell from grace'.

Do you mean to say that one is evading reality if he does not understand it fully yet? Speaking personally, there have been many ideas that have taken me a while to understand properly (more than a month, at least), but I don't think I was evading reality during the process.

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I would agree up until the point she landed in Galt's Gulch.  She didn't know the question, or even the answer to what Francisco said to Rearden:

"who is the evilest man in this room?"

For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that Francisco asked Rearden, "Who is the guiltiest man in this room?" (emphasis added, page 394, AS)

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I would agree up until the point she landed in Galt's Gulch.  She didn't know the question, or even the answer to what Francisco said to Rearden:

"who is the evilest man in this room?"

Rearden thought it was James, and up until the mills were destroyed he still thought that, his was an honest error(after he realized it, he went to Atlantis).  Dagny is like Lucifer (or as called in the book, a scab).  She is one who has seen understood, and walked the path of the righteous, and still with full knowledge chosen to go back.  Up to the point where she made her choice at the end of the month she was perfect (before Atlantis, living with an honest error about human nature, in Atlantis living as she should), once she made the choice to go back to evade reality she, 'fell from grace'.

Dagny does not evade reality. Even after one month, she still thinks that she will win on her terms. She makes a choice between two alternatives. There is no evasion here.

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I would agree up until the point she landed in Galt's Gulch.  She didn't know the question, or even the answer to what Francisco said to Rearden:

"who is the evilest man in this room?"

Rearden thought it was James, and up until the mills were destroyed he still thought that, his was an honest error(after he realized it, he went to Atlantis).  Dagny is like Lucifer (or as called in the book, a scab).  She is one who has seen understood, and walked the path of the righteous, and still with full knowledge chosen to go back.  Up to the point where she made her choice at the end of the month she was perfect (before Atlantis, living with an honest error about human nature, in Atlantis living as she should), once she made the choice to go back to evade reality she, 'fell from grace'.

I am troubled by your comparison between Dagny's plight and Lucifer. You seem to regard this as a religious fight between good and evil. Does Galt's views represent God's word to you? Is Dagny supposed to live up to Galt views independently of her own knowledge and values?

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I would agree up until the point she landed in Galt's Gulch.  She didn't know the question, or even the answer to what Francisco said to Rearden:

"who is the evilest man in this room?"

Rearden thought it was James, and up until the mills were destroyed he still thought that, his was an honest error(after he realized it, he went to Atlantis).  Dagny is like Lucifer (or as called in the book, a scab).  She is one who has seen understood, and walked the path of the righteous, and still with full knowledge chosen to go back.  Up to the point where she made her choice at the end of the month she was perfect (before Atlantis, living with an honest error about human nature, in Atlantis living as she should), once she made the choice to go back to evade reality she, 'fell from grace'.

One more point. Exactly why does Dagny leave? It is the belief that the looters still value their own lives. This is the premise that (I think it was Mulligan or Akston) told her to go back and check. The strikers believed that once she grasped that answer, then she'd change her mind. Which, in fact, she did when she grasped the answer.

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"Dagny, how may years is it going to take to learn to be yourself?"... "don't pretend that you don't understand us. You do."

This is an initial, almost incidental clue, that Dagny is in denial, at the first dinner at Akston's house.

Well, that's one clue to the nature of our secret," said Akston.  "Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves - or whether it should be ours here and now on earth."
(AS, 735)

This is the basic philosophic premise of the strike.

"Given up?" said Hugh Akston.  "Check your premises, Miss Taggart.  None of us has given up.  It is the world that has . . .
(AS, 737)

Akston telling Dagny to reexamine her thought processes.

This was the Taggart Terminal, she thought, this room, not the giant concourse in New York... It was for the sake of this that she had dedicated herself to the rail... She had found it, everything she had ever wanted, it was right here in this room, reached and hers-- but the price was that net of rail behind her, the rail that would vanish, the bridges that would crumble, the signal lights that would go out . . . And yet . . . Everything I had ever wanted, she thought-- looking away from the figure of a man with sun-colored hair and implacable eyes.
(AS, 749)

This is the first sign that her irrational love of Taggart would overcome the rational choice to stay in Atlantis. She understands that this is where she wants to be, yet she denies it.

Sorry it was so long in replying, I had to get back to my copy of AS. My view is that Ayn Rand created two 'perfect' characters, John Galt, and Howard Roark, everyone else, although heroic, is not perfect.

-- NAS

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NAS, maybe you should read the introduction by Leonard Peikoff where he gives a quote from Ayn Rand's notes about Dagny Taggart:

"Her error - and the cause of her refusal to join the strike - is over-optimism and over-confidence (particularly this last).

Over-optimism - in that she thinks men are better than they are, she doesn't really understand them and is generous about it...."

"On these two points, Dagny is committing an important (but excusable and understandable) error in thinking, the kind of error individualists and creators often make. It is an error proceeding from the best in their nature and from a proper principle, but this principle is misapplied..."

I will let you read the rest yourself. If you want to dispute what Ayn Rand meant within her own notes, feel free to go right ahead. I grasp that Mrs. Rand wanted to show Dagny making an error not that she had a moral flaw.

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My view is that Ayn Rand created two 'perfect' characters, John Galt, and Howard Roark, everyone else, although heroic, is not perfect.

What do you mean by perfect? Do you mean always pursuing the highest values of reason, purpose and self-esteem and exercising the virtues that support them?

If so, which ethical standards do you believe that Kira, Dominique, Dagny, or Francisco, among others, were violating at one time or another?

(I am assuming you are speaking here of moral failure not psychological problems.)

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"Dagny, how may years is it going to take to learn to be yourself?"... "don't pretend that you don't understand us. You do."

This is an initial, almost incidental clue, that Dagny is in denial, at the first dinner at Akston's house.

I don't interpret that scene in the way you did. Dagny is not in denial of anything. She cannot substitute her thinking with another person's. The fact that she may understand an issue does not mean she agrees with it.

QUOTE

Well, that's one clue to the nature of our secret," said Akston.  "Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves - or whether it should be ours here and now on earth."

(AS, 735)

This is the basic philosophic premise of the strike.

QUOTE

"Given up?" said Hugh Akston.  "Check your premises, Miss Taggart.  None of us has given up.  It is the world that has . . .

(AS, 737)

Akston telling Dagny to reexamine her thought processes.

QUOTE

This was the Taggart Terminal, she thought, this room, not the giant concourse in New York... It was for the sake of this that she had dedicated herself to the rail... She had found it, everything she had ever wanted, it was right here in this room, reached and hers-- but the price was that net of rail behind her, the rail that would vanish, the bridges that would crumble, the signal lights that would go out . . . And yet . . . Everything I had ever wanted, she thought-- looking away from the figure of a man with sun-colored hair and implacable eyes.

(AS, 749)

This is the first sign that her irrational love of Taggart would overcome the rational choice to stay in Atlantis. She understands that this is where she wants to be, yet she denies it.

Sorry it was so long in replying, I had to get back to my copy of AS. My view is that Ayn Rand created two 'perfect' characters, John Galt, and Howard Roark, everyone else, although heroic, is not perfect.

-- NAS

Again, I think your substituting the perspective of the strikers for the knowledge and context of Dagny. She was not about to give up her highest values unless she fully understood and agreed with the issues. You state "she understands that this is where she wants to be, yet she denies it." Well, from your quote it is clear that she also wants to be working on her railroad. This was the conflict she had to resolve. But it was not a conflict that resulted from any moral failure. It resulted from her lack of knowledge and understanding. If you classify her love for her railroad as irrational, then how do you explain the fact that she changed her mind and evaluation of the railroad when she acquired additional knowledge of the morality of her enemies? She could only have done so on the basis of her rationality.

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This is the first sign that her irrational love of Taggart would overcome the rational choice to stay in Atlantis.

I wonder what you mean by a "rational choice?" To me, a "rational choice" is a choice made by a conscious mind in full focus, using a proper method of reasoning. Note that, depending upon the full context of one's knowledge, rational people can differ in the choices they make. But, as long as they maintain full focus and use reason as their guide, each has made a rational choice.

Clearly, the more knowledge of reality a person has, using a proper method can better lead him to choose a course of action which, in fact, may be the best one for the circumstances. You seem to think that the "rational choice" is for Dagny to have stayed in Atlantis, but "irrational" is not synonymous with choosing differently from the choice made by the person with the widest context of knowledge. People who evade or act on emotions rather than thought are being irrational, none of which characterizes Dagny Taggart.

If you think, as you expressed elsewhere in this post, that Dagny, Francisco, and other such heroes are not "perfect," I think you need to check your premises. They are not omniscient, as is the nature of man, but they are morally perfect.

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I wonder what you mean by a "rational choice?" To me, a "rational choice" is a choice made by a conscious mind in full focus, using a proper method of reasoning. Note that, depending upon the full context of one's knowledge, rational people can differ in the choices they make. But, as long as they maintain full focus and use reason as their guide, each has made a rational choice.

Indeed, that is what I understand a rational choice to be as well.

Clearly, the more knowledge of reality a person has, using a proper method can better lead him to choose a course of action which, in fact, may be the best one for the circumstances.

Indeed, my quotes, specifically the one on 479 are pulling examples where Dangy is shown to have the knowledge, the full context to make the choice to stay in Atlantis at that time.

This was the Taggart Terminal, she thought, this room, not the giant concourse in New York... It was for the sake of this that she had dedicated herself to the rail... She had found it, everything she had ever wanted, it was right here in this room, reached and hers-- but the price was that net of rail behind her, the rail that would vanish, the bridges that would crumble, the signal lights that would go out . . . And yet . . . Everything I had ever wanted, she thought-- looking away from the figure of a man with sun-colored hair and implacable eyes.

The above quote, shows, I think, two things. The first is that Dangy is struggling to make choice (I hope no one disputes that). The second, less obvious one, that I attempted to highlight with emphasis, is that she has the full context of knowledge to make the better choice, and refuses to use it.

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NAS,
[M]y quotes, specifically the one on 479 are pulling examples where Dangy is shown to have the knowledge, the full context to make the choice to stay in Atlantis at that time.
Why do you believe Dagny had the full context while in the valley?

Also, are you familiar with the distinction between knowledge arrived at inductively vs deductively?

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Indeed, that is what I understand a rational choice to be as well.

Indeed, my quotes, specifically the one on 479 are pulling examples where Dangy is shown to have the knowledge, the full context to make the choice to stay in Atlantis at that time.

The above quote, shows, I think, two things.  The first is that Dangy is struggling to make choice (I hope no one disputes that).  The second, less obvious one, that I attempted to highlight with emphasis, is that she has the full context of knowledge to make the better choice, and refuses to use it.

This quote shows that Dagny sees the end she has so long worked for, BUT she still thinks that the means she had used, plus her competence in using them, can still succeed.

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The above quote, shows, I think, two things.  The first is that Dangy is struggling to make choice (I hope no one disputes that).  The second, less obvious one, that I attempted to highlight with emphasis, is that she has the full context of knowledge to make the better choice, and refuses to use it.

NAS, first, I have no idea how you inferred full context of knowledge from the words you put in bold in the passage you quoted. Are you suggesting that she learned nothing in the time after she leaves the valley, and therefore didn't add to her knowledge -- not what she was told by the strikers?

Second, how do you get from Dagny looking at a room to Dagny evading? Does your inference proceed like this:

Dagny looked at a room.

Therefore Dagny evaded.

If that is not your argument, and I am sure it isn't, then what is? Could you spell it out, using the words you put in bold? You have leaped from your "evidence" to a conclusion, but I don't know what intermediate steps of logic you have taken.

Third, the passage you quoted -- in particular the words "... she thought ... she thought ..." -- directly contradicts your thesis, that she evaded, that is, refused to think.

Fourth, along the same line as item three, your own stipulation -- that Dagny is struggling to make a choice -- directly contradicts your assertion that she is evading. Not making a choice is what an evader does.

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Fourth, along the same line as item three, your own stipulation -- that Dagny is struggling to make a choice -- directly contradicts your assertion that she is evading. Not making a choice is what an evader does.

I was right with you until this. Aren't their some instances where an evader does make a choice? For instance, I had a coworker once who had a sever drug-addict brother. Her parents found his "stash" a number of times, bailed him out of jail, and all that other hoopla that goes along with being a drug addict. The entire time all of this was going on, they would gloss over or lie about their sons activities in public, in order to"save face" with their social circle, and then acknowledge the son's drug use within the family, but deny that it was an addiction, saying he just hadn't settled down yet.

I wouldn't say that evaders don't make any choice whatsoever. What they don't make is a fundamental choice to face up to reality.

That said, I don't think Dagny was immoral or an evader at all, but had an error of thinking which she (admirably) corrected immediately upon recognition.

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The second, less obvious one, that I attempted to highlight with emphasis, is that she has the full context of knowledge to make the better choice, and refuses to use it.

Having a context of knowledge does not simply mean hearing words spoken by others. Gaining knowledge is a process that starts with identification, and leads towards integration. Dagny was not yet ready to fully identify all the facts and their implications, much less integrate them all. Galt himself is completely aware of that fact, and he states so explicitly in the very section from which you quoted.

"We never demand agreement," he said. "We never tell anyone more than he is ready to hear. You are the first person who has learned our secret ahead of time. But you're here and you had to know. Now you know the exact nature of the choice you'll have to make. If it seems hard, it's because you still think that it does not have to be one or the other. You will learn that it does."

Dagny mistakenly thought that she could still save her railroad and regain the world. She could not. And, as Galt presaged, eventually Dagny understood the nature of the choice that she had to make, and she chose accordingly. There was never any moral failing on her part, only an error of knowledge.

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