|Shayne, I say "nobody's perfect" because after about four decades of up-close involvement with the Objectivist movement -- including first-hand interactions with many of the most prominent "exemplars" of the philosophy (and I mean the leaders of ALL the partisan factions), I have never yet seen an individual practicing Objectivist virtues fully and consistently.|
This was not a welcome conclusion: I was not seeking feet of clay. To the contrary, I first eagerly sought out such individuals precisely because of their reputations and status within the movement. No, I won't descend to naming names. I'll simply state for the record that, on the basis of the enunciated principles of the philosophy, I have not observed moral perfection. I have observed degrees of good and of bad -- sometimes very good, sometimes very bad. But not moral perfection, or anything close.
This may irk you; it may irk those desperately craving unblemished icons; it may irk some lionized as leaders of the movement. But it is my direct experience, and since honesty is a cardinal Objectivist virtue, I am morally obliged to be frank.
Given that I believe the Objectivist ethics is the best philosophical guide to living yet formulated, and given my unhappy experiences with the most prominent leaders and spokesmen of the Objectivist movement, I must conclude that "nobody's perfect" accurately describes today's state of the world.
Please note that I didn't generalize about the metaphysical possibility or impossibility of the task of practicing perfectly the virtues. That was your inference. However, regarding the likelihood of such perfection, let me say this:
Unavoidable contextual factors -- physical hunger and fatigue, overwhelming emotional traumas, value conflicts whose sources are murky and whose solutions are anything but self-evident, the virtual impossibility of determining at any given moment THE best use of one's mind and time (from among countless plausible options), limitations of knowledge, limitations in understanding the implications of one's knowledge, difficulties in maintaining "a sense of proportion" about the relative significance of various facts and judgments that are competing for one's attention, innate limitations of intelligence and consequent limitations of one's ability to reason clearly and consistently, limitations on the time one has to think about certain issues -- these and many, many other factors make "perfect" objectivity well-nigh impossible to define, let alone practice.
To take a single example, the core Objectivist virtue of rationality consists of always maintaining a rational "focus." But focus on what? What "should" one think about at given moment? If both A and B are extremely important to one's life, why not subject B instead of subject A? How deeply should one think about each of them? And for how long? Is 20 minutes enough for A? Twenty days for B? Does the failure to think about A instead of B at any given moment constitute "evasion"? When should one stop thinking about it and eat or sleep or go to the movies or have sex? What is the appropriate amount of time to devote to each of these?
If you think the application of each of the virtues is so self-evident that clear answers to such contextual considerations are self-evident, then I suggest you hang out a shingle and declare yourself Objectivist Guru.
But this long-time Objectivist finds that after nearly 40 years of study and practice, the implications of honesty, justice, productivity and even rationality are still very complex, and not at all self-evident, except in very broad ways. My observation of other self-proclaimed Objectivist exponents leads me to conclude that nobody has yet remotely figured them out.
In fact, I'll add this, by way of my own concluding remarks on this topic:
Some of those who have been touted (or who tout themselves) as exemplary in regard to the Objectivist ethics have been, in my direct personal experience, among the most flagrantly irrational and unjust human beings I've had the displeasure to encounter. Some others have truly been among the finest.
But perfect? No.
In the end, I think the whole obsession about one's "moral perfection" takes his eyes off a far more ethically relevant issue: one's "moral values" -- i. e., specific, life-enhancing personal aims and goals that are consonant with the Objectivist virtues.
If one views ethics as a life compass, as I do, then what does it mean to guide one's life "perfectly"? Is the goal of a sailor to "perfectly" follow a compass heading in a perfectly straight line -- or is it to get to his destination, learning and adjusting as he goes, using his knowledge and skills to the best of his ability?
Woe be unto any sailor whose standard of "perfect helmsmanship" consists of keeping his boat utterly unmoved by shifting winds and currents. He'll become a self-conscious, nervous wreck, looking not at the ocean around him and making adjustments, but obsessed with staring at his compass. And looking inwardly rather than outwardly, he'll be blind to the course ahead. He'll drift away from his destination, or pile up on rocks, forgetting that the whole point of the journey is not to follow a compass: it's to get somewhere.
So it is with a life. Rather than focusing on and fretting about one's own moral stature (or that of others), or what "moral perfection" consists of, or whether one is "living up" to some standard, it is much more fruitful -- morally -- to focus on one's own productive purposes.
If you do that, in my experience, virtues take care of themselves.
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 2/13, 12:37pm)