The Objectivist Trilogy Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem
by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
While Objectivism is not a type of religion -- counter to those who think all systems of thought are a religious stance -- it does have a trilogy; and that trilogy is the basic or fundamental values for which we all ought to strive to achieve. Those primary values are: Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem. Reason is the faculty of being aware of existence, of remaining true to the facts of reality in a non-contradictory manner (logic); Purpose is the recognition of the fact that each man has free will and must learn how to use his mind to achieve all that is important in his life by his own volitional effort; Self-Esteem basically states that one is worthy of making the achievements, that man is not born with Original Sin and that his path is clear to hold himself in high enough esteem or self-worth that he will go out, face the facts of reality, choose his standards and his goals appropriately, and then live a life worthy of a human being. Like a waltz in three step, these fundamental values play out in various ways throughout a man's life, according to whether he recognizes them as values or betrays them in his thoughts and his actions.
I'll give you one small example of how this triple perspective plays out even in seemingly minor efforts. I tend to wake up earlier than my parents because I once had a job whereby I had to get up at 4am to get ready for work. Even though I no longer have that job, I still tend to get up early – at about sunrise. As I sat down to write this essay at about 8am, the sun had risen to the point where it was right in my eyes because my desk faces east and while the window in front of me has Venetian blinds on it, there is a gap of about two inches between the dual blinds, and the sun peaked through and was disturbing my focus. Now, unlike Liberty of “Anthem”, I do not think it is a sin for me to write this; despite my mistakes of my past (and there have been plenty of those), I still think I am worthy of facing the facts of reality, understanding Objectivism, and presenting it to the world on my philosophical website blog. So, what was I to do with the sun getting in my eyes such that I could not see well enough to create a blog entry on the Holy Objectivist Trinity? Well, after thinking about it a bit, I decided to put a newspaper up in the window blinds gap, so that I could continue with my purpose and thus had self-esteem enough to take the action to achieve my purpose.
Unlike some philosophies that hold self-esteem in low regard, Objectivism states that insofar as one understands the facts and chooses a purpose, one can achieve self-esteem; or rather, one must have that self-esteem before undertaking that specific task. There is a sense in which the self-esteem comes before the achievement, due to the fact that man has a volitional consciousness and must project what he can achieve before he sets about to do so. As an example from Miss Rand's works, Howard Roark (of “The Fountainhead”) had to think it was possible for him to become a great architect before he went to school and studied under Cameron; and Hank Rearden (of “Atlas Shrugged”) had to think it was possible for him to create a superior metal before he got into his laboratory and worked like crazy for many years before actually achieving Rearden Metal. In other words, the lack of Original Sin coupled with the ability to understand existence by one's own reasoning mind, acting accordingly, and thinking oneself as worthy of living one's own life to the fullest, are the primary values for any rational human endeavor. The projection of the future achievement is crucial if one is to act to bring about one's other values in life.
In this regard, the Objectivism primary values are a “game changer” when it comes to the history of philosophy. This triple augmentation of the rational approach is the root of any life-sustaining human activity because it is the only philosophical approach that takes all of the facts of human existence into account. It does not saddle a man with unearned guilt from the get-go, but rather states that any man who puts his mind to it can achieve all the splendors of being a man – that he, himself, qua individual geared towards existence can “pull himself up by his own boot-straps” and set the terms for his own existence; but this can only be achieved if he takes the facts of reality into account, realizes that he has free will and can organize his mind and purpose to account for these facts, and hold himself as a living being deserving of living his life to the fullest because he is not only innocent until proven guilty, but has no unearned guilt to get in the way to begin with.
While scientists have come up with many wonderful healing remedies for infections, like the triple anti-biotic of Neosporin, Ayn Rand has come up with a triple anti-biotic of the soul: Her identification of the three primary values for which each man ought to strive, regardless of what errors he has committed in the past. No man is omniscient, and he may not fully realize what he has done until well after the fact in some cases, like when I used to promote that there was three primary types of stuff in the universe; physical stuff (matter), space stuff (the aether), and mind stuff (consciousness as a stand-alone metaphysical entity), and that these may not even be related to one another at all. He has to think through his positions very carefully, given the facts of reality, and re-assess his positions regarding what he promotes and when and where and how he does this. And it is only by the guidance of philosophy that he can do this.
If one stops and thinks about everything one has achieved up to now, one will realize via observation and introspection that Ayn Rand hit upon a wonderful formulation of the basics of living one's life and has created several works of art to show how it all works. That like Liberty, Howard Roark, and Hank Rearden, a man can choose what he wants to do with his life, and understanding the right philosophical guidance can go out and earn his values by his own efforts. This is the full meaning of the Objectivist Trilogy of Reason, Purpose, and Self-esteem.
Some of my early readers of the above essay were wondering why I cast the issue in religious or semi-religious terms. My answer to them was that all philosophies have a position on three interrelated aspects of human existence: Mind, Body, and Spirit. And for most people, they come at these issues from a religious perspective and I wanted to show that it was possible to have these views without being religious or mystical.
For early Christianity and even more modern Christianity, the predominant operative philosophy of the United States, mind, body, and spirit come down to Faith, Hope, and Charity. In other words, the three uppermost or most important values a man ought to strive for are Faith in God, Hope in His Salvation, and participating in the Holy Spirit which is made possible by God and given to man even though he hasn't earned it due to Original Sin. To them, God is the source of all things good and one's mind ought to be geared towards receiving His Good by means of Faith rather than reason, because reason is a means of knowing Earthly goods, but only Faith can bring one to God. Since one cannot account for much without God and because, in the light of God there is no Earthly purpose that is uppermost, one must Hope that He will shed His grace on thee in a Charitable fashion. And Spirit is not something one can understand via reason, but rather without God one cannot even have a Spirit since it is thought of as being a part of God inside each and every one of us.
If one is to reject this approach, it is sometimes helpful to cast the issue in those terms in order to make the transition more meaningful. In other words, since my audience may include non-Objectivists, and Objectivists will not be offended by holding in their mind Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem as primary holy values (holy in secular terms), then I decided to make an essay geared towards showing one could have a very value oriented way of coming at life that was not based on anything mystical, but rather based upon observations of existence and using reason to understand them.
As Ayn Rand pointed out in her introduction to “The Fountainhead,” the mystics have had such a hold on fundamental values for two thousand years that it is very difficult to convey things like fundamental values in non-religious terms. One can say that, to an Objectivist, the characters of Liberty, Howard Roark, and Hank Rearden are so valuable as guides to living one's own life that the term “holy” is about the only way to put it. Right off hand, I cannot think of another single term that would convey the meaning of more valuable than life itself because it is the source of a rational life. If someone can think of such a secular term, I would appreciate hearing it, but I can't think of one. In other words, to a religious man, God is the center of all his thoughts; to an Objectivist, it is romantic realism in the arts that provides him with the motivation to live a good life. Where God is the meaning and source of life in religion, the projection of the idea rational man is the meaning of a life worth living to those who do not partake in mysticism in any form. The mystics have their God, but the rational man has his art; and it is very important to realize the role of art in a rational man's life. The concretized abstractions of Liberty, Howard Roark, and Hank Rearden act as conveyors of the holy ideal to an Objectivist, because Miss Rand was able to characterize them in such a way that one can take their specifics and apply them to one's own life. And, yes, John Galt is the secular equivalent of Jesus, in this perspective; the one who came up with a philosophy for living on Earth in completely secular terms; fully concretizing or making real in art, the role of Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem.