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Moral Integrity

by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.


Moral integrity is one of the primary virtues of Objectivism. It is unique in the history of philosophy in that it does not say to stick by your guns no matter what, or to follow that path even if it is getting you into trouble with important others who share your values, or standing by a principle that one hasn't yet verified. No, these would all be cases of what Ayn Rand called rationalism – of not going by the facts in a logical, non-contradictory manner in support of one's own life and benefit. All of the virtues of Objectivism are subsets of rationality, in that they focus on a particular aspect of the relationship between a man's mind and existence. And they all stem from one fact -- that we each have our own mind and that we need to use it to better understand existence and learn to live, each of us individually, going by the best judgment of those facts by man's life as the standard. Part of what this means is that if one has no hard facts one way or the other regarding something one thinks or something one does or did, that one needs to think these things over very carefully going by the facts that are at his disposal. In this regard, going by half-hints or suggestions in life by others would be very detrimental; one needs hard cold facts and a process of reason in order to insure that one's mind is connected to existence and not just dealing with floating abstractions not connected to anything real. And one needs to be careful in not substituting the judgment of others in any given issue. Substituting the judgment of others is an out of context means of trying to comprehend reality because no man can think or act via someone else's mind. It is not the nature of reality nor the nature of human consciousness that we are all tied together in that fashion. When you come right down to it, it is each man facing reality on his own because he only has awareness of existence via his own consciousness and is only fully aware of the context of his own mind. One can learn a great deal from others, and that is always appreciated by a rational man, but learning from others is not the same thing as them doing your thinking for you.

This is why it is very important to think things through before taking any specific action that can effect one's own life. Often, since man is not omniscient, we have to consult the experts in a field before doing something. For example, recently, I had to get my car inspected before I could drive it legally on the road. I got estimates on what repairs had to be made by three different automobile shops. And I did this even though I do know how to work on cars to some degree, though I don't always have the specialty tools required today to do that work. Two of those three experts told me I needed to replace my rear ball joints, one of them said I didn't. Because I don't make a lot of money, I opted for the third advice after talking it over with a relative in another state who has been repairing cars for nearly forty years. And that is just for an automobile repair; think of all the more important decisions in your life you have to make that are far more important, and ask yourself if you want to be taking advice from a rank amateur. You can't simply listen to those who may not know what they are talking about in a given field; you have to decide for yourself who to listen to and who to ignore in favor of better advice. This is especially true on the internet, where one can find as many different ways of fixing problems as there are people on the internet. Before jumping into anything, get the facts. Otherwise you, yourself are violating the virtue of integrity because you are not making a rational determination based upon those facts. In the case of taking advice from someone who has no credentials in a field, you are letting him be a pinch hitter for the judgment of your own mind, which is never a good idea.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand goes into a lot of these issues in an exciting story of a lone architect, Howard Roark, seeking to make buildings according to his own judgment, versus most everyone else in the story who thinks he is a fool for going against the prevailing accepted way of constructing them. As a contrast to Howard, Ayn Rand created Gail Wynand, who panders to the crowd, never stating his own judgment on anything important to him, aside from an art collection that he has in private. As the story progresses, we can see each man making his decisions and why he made them. On the surface, Howard Roark and Gail Wynand seem to be complete opposites, Gail even starts a campaign against Howard just to have power over him, because he cannot stand a man of true integrity. But as we get to know the characters, we find out that deep down, where it really counts, Howard and Gail are very similar, though with important differences. And at the climax of the story, we find out which one not only had integrity, but lived by it, versus he who had integrity, and kept it hidden. In a most compelling achievement for one and dreadful tragedy at the same time for the other, we find out what happens when one does not act on moral integrity; one winds up betraying everything that is important to oneself.

So in your daily activities and as you are living your own life, pay careful attention to your virtue of integrity. Preserve it and protect it. Think before you act, and act on a rational basis. Integrity is the connection between a man's thoughts and his actions, of his thinking and his doing – the connection between mind and body. To have a breach between one's ideas and one's existence is to either be living in a fantasy world, or living without a mind at all. Neither one will get one very far in this world.