Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Reality: Our Objective, Benevolent Friend
by Glenn Lamont

Many people become confused by the concepts of "objective reality" and the "benevolent universe." And understandably so. The concepts "objective" and "benevolent" are usually used in the context of virtues. A person is objective if he chooses to acquire facts by reason in accordance with logic. A person is benevolent if she chooses to engage positively with others. However, abstractions like "reality" are obviously not confronted with these choices. So what do these concepts mean?

Given that objectivity and benevolence are usually used in a human context, I like to think of "objective reality" and the "benevolent universe" as metaphors. Beautiful and appropriate ones at that, as they contrast with the literal, non-metaphoric ideas of opposing philosophies that hold a subjective reality and a malevolent universe.

Objective reality was the idea that the name of the Objectivist philosophy was coined from. Ayn Rand stated that she was not primarily an advocate of capitalism or individualism, but of reason. She believed that reason and its relationship to reality objectivity - was the fountainhead of her philosophy.

Objective reality essentially means that reality exists independently of a consciousness, whether that consciousness is an individual one, a group, or is supernatural. Although the prefix "objective" may seem redundant, it does differentiate the Aristotlean/Objectivist view from opposing philosophies that claim that the natures of existents in reality are subject to a consciousness; that wishing will make it so. The premise "existence exists (independently of consciousness)" is an axiomatic concept. That means that the premise precedes proof. Proof requires a standard that we don't have when it comes to the ideas of reality and existence. We need reality and existence as standards for proof.

And if we think about it, it would be impossible for humans to be objective without an objective reality. We could not "dispassionately" observe and apply reason to facts as the nature of those facts would be subject to the whim of some consciousness with no standard to validate their certainty.

The "benevolent universe" is essentially the idea that the world is auspicious to man's existence. It means that there are values out there in the world to gain. That does not mean the universe chooses to act that way, but it does contrast with those philosophies holding a malevolent universe premise. An example of this is the idea that the world acts to thwart us; that the world, or some conscious manifestation of it, can somehow identify our values and act against our achieving them. This idea is implicit in those people who claim that "nothing ever works out" or that "everyone is out to get me." Another variant of the malevolent universe is the idea that the world is simply hostile in nature to man's requirements. This idea is found in those religions that believe the world is a series of trials, a testing ground for a place in the next life and implicit in those people who claim "life is tough," "the world isn't meant to be fair." They're not meaning that life contains challenges; they're meaning that the rules of the game are set against you.

The benevolent universe premise means that if we recognize and adhere to reality, then we can achieve our values in reality and, all other things being equal, we will. It recognizes that happiness, although scarce, is not an exception. Happiness is scarce because the achievement of values is difficult. And happiness is not an exception because once its cause is enacted, the effect follows naturally. This view is not blind optimism or pollyannaism, it's merely the recognition of the nature of the universe. There are values out there to attain and happiness is possible. And that's enough to provide the basis for human beings to be benevolent themselves.

If we look at both of these ideas a little closer, we can actually see they're related. Imagine for a moment that reality was subject to some consciousness. The universe could cease to be conducive to your existence. The nature of the values you seek could be altered on a whim, rendering their achievement, and your happiness, impossible. This idea is held by those religions that believe the universe is at the mercy of a vengeful (malevolent) God (consciousness). Therefore we see that a world auspicious to our survival is only possible when the rules of the game are objective.

Ayn Rand's works integrated fiction with philosophy, so it's not surprising that some of Objectivism's philosophic terms have a little creative color to them. "Benevolent universe" and "objective reality" are two metaphors I hope we keep.

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