Ayn Rand as a Moral Hero
by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
Ayn Rand accomplished many great things in her life. She was caught behind the Soviet Wall when she was growing up and she saw the devastating effects of Communism first-hand. By the time she came to America, she had been through things that would have destroyed most anyone else. With her escape to freedom, she brought with her a single idea – that reason was man's only absolute. It was only a kernel at the time, but she worked on it, and developed her own philosophy in an age when philosophy had already died. A philosophy is an integrated whole comprised of a man's most fundamental insights into the nature of reality, the nature of his mind, and the nature of life itself. Following in the footsteps of Aristotle, she knew that she had to become reality and factually oriented, to think in terms of what existed and that she could observe for herself. Well, she made her observations and she followed a process of logic based on those facts in a non-contradictory manner, developing a set of ideas that has the power to save the world from the chaos of irrationality. One of the most important aspects of Objectivism is the Objectivist code of ethics; the first fully rational moral guide ever created.
If a morality is to be rational and based on the facts, then some means must be found to integrate the fact that man is alive and that he must do certain things in order to remain alive. But how does one do that? How does a man connect and integrate what he is with what he ought to do? Ayn Rand found that solution, and I think the basis of it is her presentation of teleological measurements. A teleological measurement is a means of relating a thing to one's own life in such a way that one can rationally decided to pursue a certain course of action ahead of time or not. It is a means of determining beforehand if something is of value to one's life or a dis-value, whether it will be beneficial to oneself or detrimental to oneself.
I don't know if Ayn Rand had this idea explicitly in her mind when she began to write her novels or not; I haven't studied her journals. But her heroic depiction of man is unique in that her heroes are always rational, in all areas of their life. And she has always shown her main characters of being the type of man or woman who knows what they want out of the world and pursues it ardently; often alone, all by themselves – individually. Because when you come right down to it, each man is an entity unto himself, and he should act accordingly.
In Objectivism, rationality is the primary virtue because it is only by following reason that a man can accomplish anything in his life. To be rational is to be moral; to hold one's own life as the measure of what is good for him, taking into account everything he knows about mankind in general, is the highest achievement due to the fact that this will bring him happiness -- a happiness that is non-contradictory not only to the facts of reality but to himself as well. A man's happiness is his highest moral goal, and rationality is the only means of achieving that goal.
This is the theory, but what about the practice? It is claimed that no one can be rational all of the time, and many people over the years have called Ayn Rand's practice into question with her theory, due to certain things she had done in her life. In other words, they have claimed that while she advocated rationality as the primary moral virtue, she had fallen short several times in her life and went astray. I honestly don't think so. I don't know of a single case where she did something irrational or immoral given her context of knowledge at the time. Not one thing. And that is quite incredible, when you stop to think about it.
Now, given the complexities of Objectivism and its moral code, one may find oneself questioning what she did from time to time, and ask questions about it. There isn't anything wrong with this so long as one does not say she is immoral without checking out the facts with regard to her actions. Questioning someone or their actions is not the same thing as morally condemning that individual. When one finds an apparent contradiction, it is important to take all the facts into account and to seriously think things over. This may take some time, but it is necessary.
Given everything that I know about Ayn Rand, and the profound influence she has had on my own life, I think she is a moral hero – and I hope she continues to inspire those of us seeking to build a better world where reason is man's only absolute.