Rebirth of Reason


More Mind-Body Dichotomy
by Joseph Rowlands

One of the parts of Objectivist theory that I disagree with is the idea that rationality is the primary virtue. According to this view, all of the other virtues are mere sub-divisions of rationality. The virtues focus on one aspect of rationality. For instance, honesty is viewed in terms of not creating a fake reality. It's similar to rationality in that rationality demands you focus on what's real.


One way to look at many of the virtues is in terms of allowing yourself to act on your best judgment (i.e., your rational thinking). Honesty as a virtue avoids distractions or pressure from the unreal or imagined. Independence avoids pressure from other people. Integrity avoids pressure from emotional temptations. Pride might even be seen as avoiding pressure from lack of confidence of self-esteem. These virtues work to varying degrees, but the argument gets really weak for productiveness and justice.


Productiveness is the big virtue in my eyes. Obviously it is less important when artificially restricted to material wealth, which traditional Objectivist thought does. But when taking a wider view, productiveness is the virtue of taking action and achieving values. This isn't something that happens automatically. We have to adopt a policy, and people can practice that policy to varying degrees. It makes sense to highlight this as a specific, and quite unique, moral virtue.


How does one see productiveness as merely a part of rationality? Apparently, productivity relies on rationality to pursue wealth in life, and so is included as a kind of rationality. That connection is weak. Just because productivity requires rationality, does not make it an instance of rationality, nor a method of being rational.


For other virtues, you can see those virtues as means to achieve the end of rationality. Honesty, integrity, and independence are virtues that make rationality possible. They are an aspect of being rational, as actions taken for these virtues are actions taken to be rational. But for productivity, the relationship is reversed. Rationality is a means of being productive. Rationality is a form of productiveness. The relationships are exactly opposite.


And all of this seems to imply a mind-body dichotomy. It treats rationality as the underlying goal of the virtues, instead of the pursuit of values or life in general.


Consider life as self-generated, self-sustaining action. Your life is the things that you do, and the values you perceive. You go to work, you accomplish each task, you figure out how to solve your problems, you communicate with other team members, and at the end of the work day you go home. Once home, you have a full range of other values to pursue. You watch you favorite television show or read a book. You prepare a meal. You spend time with your friends or family. You pay your bills. You go shopping.


This is life. Life is the things that you do. The virtues are methods of achieving those values. They are methods of living your life well.


The first and foremost virtue, from this perspective, is productiveness. It is the virtue of pursuing values. Which means it is the virtue of self-generated, self-sustaining action. Which means it is the virtue of living your life.


Rationality, by contrast, is a kind means of being productive. It isn't an end in itself. It isn't valuable for its own sake. It is a profoundly important virtue, necessary in every aspect of our lives. But treating it as the primary virtue, and treating productiveness as a derivative of rationality, puts things backwards.


It boils down to the relationship between productiveness and rationality. If productiveness is just rationality, it can be thought of as applying rationality to the pursuit of material wealth. It is just highlighting one additional aspect of rationality. Those who think that material wealth accumulation can be pursued through irrationality or instinct would subvert their rationality. So productiveness can be viewed as virtuous in that it reaffirms the place of rationality in this area.


But that view has a very limited, and not particularly useful, view of productiveness. In order to make it a mere application of rationality, it has to remove the most significant and morally important qualities. It eliminates the idea that value pursuit is something that needs to be initiated (self-generated), and that a virtue can be found in recognizing this need and pursuing it wholeheartedly. Instead, we're left with this empty husk of a virtue that says we should be rational in our careers.


All of this is an attempt to put rationality at the center of the virtues, as if virtue was defined in terms of whether you are rational or not. But virtues are moral tools, and this morality seeks life as the standard. Trying to place rationality as the measure of virtue changes its place with life, elevating 'being rational' above life.


If instead we measure virtue in terms of its ability to allow us to live effectively, we see that productivity is a virtue in its own right, separate from rationality. And in many ways, productivity in the wider sense is a method of measuring life.


Were your actions productive? This is a way of asking whether you achieved values that furthered your life. Did you maximize your productivity? Again, it is measured in terms of your life.


The key here is that what you measure ends up being what you pursue. If you measure in terms of rationality, then rationality is your goal. If you measure in terms of values pursued and gain, then it the pursuit of values that is your goal. And life is the pursuit of values.


Once we eliminate this idea that rationality is the measure of virtue, we can see how it improperly narrowed the scope of the other virtues. While we can see independence in terms of being able to come to your own conclusions, we can also see it in terms of being able to act on your own conclusions. Dependence on others, whether in mind or body, can prevent you from acting on your best judgment. Independence is not just a virtue aimed at letting you make good judgments. It aims at allowing you to make good judgments and act upon them.


Integrity also is not simply a means of intellectually standing by what you know and not being pressured to change your mind. Integrity include putting your judgment into practice.


Honesty is not just intellectual honesty. It also deals with whether you present false information to others. Do you tell the truth? Do you openly communicate information so that the real is recognized by others instead of the unreal? Do you pursue values by pursuing the truth, or simply pursue values while personally recognizing the truth?


This mind-body dichotomy spreads to other areas. In justice, the focus is often on moral judgment, determining if someone is good or bad. But justice is more than mere judgment. It is creating incentives for people to act properly. It is punishing the wicked, or supporting the good. It requires action. Judgment alone is easy. It takes much more to follow through on your judgments and pursue values (either acting to gain or keep them) through acting in accordance with justice.


The traditional account of virtues in Objectivism is fraught with mind-body dichotomies, and the source of it is the idea that rationality is the primary virtue and the others are mere instance of that. But virtue is not simply being rational. Virtue is living life well, which means pursuing and achieving genuine values and continuing the process of self-generated, self-sustaining action. The mind-body dichotomy must be rejected. Mind and body need to be integrated by integrating rationality and productivity. It requires integrating judgment with action.

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