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infotrack source copy ayn rand
over 5 years ago
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Title:Ayn Rand revisited
Source:Catholic Insight. 22.2 (Feb. 2014): p14. From Student Resources in Context.
Copyright : COPYRIGHT 2014 Catholic Insight
Ayn Rand, who passed away in 1982, is still very much with us and, through the various literary and organizational outlets she has bequeathed to us, remains both popular and influential. Her continuing fame, however, continues to be somewhat of a conundrum for those who appreciate literature and for those who have an aptitude for philosophy. Was she primarily an author or a philosopher? Mike Wallace put this question to her in a 1959 television interview. The author of Atlas Shrugged replied, in no uncertain terms, that she was "primarily both" She used literature as a vehicle to express her philosophy. Therefore, the two are perfectly welded together, though her literary efforts are subordinate to her philosophical convictions.
Rand's philosophy is dearly stated, if not over-stated in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. She labels it "Objectivism? Basic to this philosophy is the notion that an object is what it is, which is to say, an object. Thus, in her words, "existence is existence" She assigns absolute importance to reason, since she contends that it is "man's only guide to action." The consequence of this is a complete dissociation of reason from faith and spirituality. The only philosopher to whom she acknowledges any indebtedness is Aristotle, largely for his logic which affirms that "A = A" (the principle of identity) and that 'A is not non-A" (the principle of non-contradiction).
Given these basic principles of Objectivism, one might expect that Rand would offer a reasonable and objective view about abortion. Nonetheless, it is only too well known then when people begin to argue in favor of abortion, reason and objectivity are often the first casualties.
In an essay entitled "Of Living Death" which appears in a collection of essays appropriately called The Voice of Reason, she writes: "An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn)."
From the perspective of reason, which science honors and Rand professes to have lived by, the unborn is an embryo for only a short period of time. For the greater part of its gestation, it is a "fetus" Nonetheless, from what science tells us, the embryo/fetus is an unborn human being from the time of conception at which moment it has a complete and unique DNA containing all the genes it will ever have that will, given time, express themselves in the fully developed human being.
On the matter of potency and act, Rand throws Aristotle out the window. For the distinguished disciple of Plato, no object is pure potency. He distinguishes something that has potential from something that is merely possible. Basic to Aristotelian philosophy is the recognition that every being we perceive through our senses is a composite of potency and act. Such a being is not mere potency, but a being with much potential. Change takes place when the potential for a particular form is actualized. The unborn is certainly an actual being. It is completely unreasonable, as well as unscientific, to believe otherwise.
When Rand asserts that a "child cannot acquire any rights until it is borne' she indicates by her own words that the unborn is a child, though one that does not, as yet, have rights, and therefore not something that is not an actual being. The self-professed proponent of Aristotelian logic, consequently, contradicts herself, violating the very cardinal principle (non-contradiction) on which she bases her Objectivism. An actual unborn child cannot be actual and at the same time pure potency.
Then she goes on to claim that the unborn child is "not-yet-living" This is an astonishing claim that is both unobjective and irrational. The unborn child is surely alive, a fact made sufficiently evident to any reasonable observer by its continued growth and development, biological characteristics that are observable even in an unborn squid.
In the same essay, Rand goes on to assert that "abortion is a moral right--which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered" Reason, it would seem, is a human faculty that gives us a broad views of things. Sir Isaac Newton used his reason to span the universe in his formulation of the universal law of gravity. Concerning abortion, reason would consider the medical consequences of induced abortion, its impact on the mother psychologically and the child physically, the will of the child's father, the influence that abortion has on law, medicine, the family, and society. But for Rand, reason suddenly becomes severely circumscribed, reduced in fact to the "discretion of the woman" while the concept of a "moral right" is founded on nothing broader than a "wish." If reason is allegedly our only guide to action, how can an action, especially one as morally significant as abortion, be founded on a "wish"? We all know how frivolous a wish can be.
Rand then asks: "Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?" This question, rhetorical as it is, exemplifies the logical fallacy of "begging the question" The unborn child has its own body, its own blood type, and its own uniqueness. It is from the unborn that the placenta develops. Fetologists aver that the unborn child is the one who is in charge of the pregnancy. Moreover, it is most easy to "conceive" of people opposing abortion. They are the real, objective people with prolife views, and they have not gone unnoticed. Rand's use of the word "dictate" is not fair. People who oppose abortion are not dictators. They make their opposition known in the form of an appeal. They have no other legal option.
The Ayn Rand Letter (1971-1976) is a collection of letters penned by the founder of Objectivism. In one of these letters, she warns that the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living, "the right of young people to set the course of their own lives?' Is such a statement the product of dear-headed reason or reckless emotionalism? Do people, young or not so young, really "set the course of their own lives"? John Steinbeck had some sobering things to tell us about the various hopes and plans of mice and men. Do pro-life advocates, merely by advocating continued life for the unborn, "obliterate the rights of the living"? Can one honestly say that the developing unborn child is "non-living"?
If Rand had been fair and objective about her views on abortion, she could rename her philosophy "Contradictionism" This philosophy--completely un-Aristotelian--would allow a person to say one thing and then contradict it at will. It would permit emotion to replace reason, wish to defeat logic, and anger to dismantle objectivity. The new name would have been a mortal blow to her reputation, even though it would be more in keeping with the true tenor of her views, particularly those on abortion.
Rand and her ardent followers believe that they can navigate safely through life solely on the basis of reason. Reason, however, is a fragile bark and needs a great deal of support from spiritual forces. Otherwise, it is defenseless reed blowing in the wind. For our reason to remain a reliable ally, we need virtue, both intellectual and moral, which is to say, strength of character. We also need something that atheist Rand would fiercely reject: God. His Love, His Grace, and His guidance.
It is a tempting but dangerous illusion to think that reason alone can make people behave reasonably. Ironically, despite her bravado to the contrary, this is the best lesson Rand has left to her legion of readers. It is not the lesson she wanted to leave, but it is the one that is more compelling than either her words or the philosophy her words express.
Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International's Truth and Charity Forum.
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