Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

04 June 2006

Civility and Tolerance Among Objectivists

Throughout the history of the Objectivist movement, there have been disturbing excommunications or denunciations of people who have identified themselves as Objectivists or at least neo-Objectivists. There have been many cases in which the civility of a discussion has broken down as the passions of one or more parties to the discussion have transformed to anger. Despite the philosophy's commitment to reason, one not infrequently sees arguments degenerate into blatant strawman killings, dropping of context, creative transformations of the other party's words into new meanings, and even extensive name-calling. Literally childish behavior is not uncommon.

I would like to enlarge the context in which the discussion of this phenomenon usually occurs. I would like us to give some thought to parallels with the development of other philosophies and with religions. I would like to consider the nature of the various kinds of people who tend to be attracted to radical new philosophies and to the consequences on their lives due to their participating as early members of a radically new philosophy. Of course, Objectivism is a particular philosophy with some unusual tenets that also have important consequences with respect to the civility of discussions and relationships. There were also aspects of Ayn Rand's personality and beliefs that have had important effects upon Objectivist discourse.

First, we should establish an historical context. While there are bound to be examples before Christianity, it serves as an interesting case in which a fairly significant change occurred in religion as Judaism was transformed to Christianity and Christianity was further created by adding in elements of Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and later various barbarian European beliefs. The Christian followers, despite growing out of Judaism and borrowing from other religions as their belief sought to expand beyond appealing simply to the Jews, came to hold a belief system readily distinguishable from that of the more primitive religions of the Mediterranean basin. At first, they blended in with the Jews, but as they expanded their range geographically and as the time of their separation from Judaism increased, they became more distinguishable and were more likely to be outcasts from the societies in which they lived. Often, the Christians were secretive to avoid recriminations for these differences. They also developed into many varieties of Christianity, often being influenced by which part of the Mediterranean world they lived in. Finally, they came to at share in the power of the Roman Empire. As the ability to direct power came into play, we know that the battle over differing interpretations of Christianity came to be highly influenced by the desire of Church leaders to exercise power. While Jesus may have been willing to yield unto Caesar the material world, the church fathers were not. Ecumenical councils were called to settle many of the very hot disputes that developed. The Church broke into an Eastern and a Western part. In the West, the Pope became increasingly powerful and some gained personality cult status. Wars were launched against those who disagreed with the Pope, whether they were Muslims or they were Christian heretics. About a million people were killed after 1209 when Pope Innocent called for a crusade against the many heretics of the Albigenses in southern France. Later, after the Reformation, general warfare broke out in Europe for several hundred years fueled by religious differences.

Christianity, the self-proclaimed religion of God's love, with its commandment to turn the other cheek after being slapped once already, proved immensely uncivil in its disagreements. This was so even though their highest value, presumably God, was hardly made less by the disagreements of mere human beings! Similarly, the Muslims had long periods of history, one of which they are presently in, in which they were divided into sects who fought bitterly with one another.

How about the case of a philosophy of secular ideas, such as socialism? In the 1800s there were a number of utopian socialist communities set up in America, such as New Harmony, Indiana and the Shakers in Ohio. All of these communities failed with considerable acrimony. When Russia was taken over by the Bolsheviks, many, many leaders were purged and killed under Lenin and then even more under Stalin, each of whom dominated the Communist Party and Russia. The fascist variety of socialism took hold in Italy under Mussolini, who tightly controlled Italy. Hitler rose to power in Germany and ruthlessly killed any leader who appeared to challenge him for the leadership of the Nazi Party. When Mao led the Communists in China, he killed about 60 million Chinese to consolidate his power. These socialist endeavors marked a sharp departure, in some ways, in the cultures in which they came to hold sway. They were all ruthless, but supposedly in the name of rather radical ideas.

Viewed in the context of the history of these other radical movements, Objectivism has been very tame, despite its radicalism! Like these other movements, Objectivism does attract a number of followers who are unhappy and unable to adjust to the society in which they live. At some level, this may be true of all of us, though the ways and the extent of the unhappiness and inability to adjust vary greatly. This is not to imply that it is desirable for us to adjust completely, but there is much that is good about present-day American society. A partial alienation is good, but a complete alienation is bad. Objectivism has attracted some people who are highly alienated from America. There are always some people in a society who are contrarian by nature and will adopt a philosophy that is at odds with that of most people in the society in good part simply because it is different. One example of this would be the Wiccans and many more exist. Some of the people attracted to a radical philosophy become more alienated and more contrarian as they feel more rejection of their ideas from their neighbors and their society. They react with stronger condemnations of their society and its leadership. This accustoms them to a greater degree of stridency in their dealings with others and soon they are inclined to apply this same stridency with those of the Objectivist movement who may disagree with them on a minor point in the context of all the things they may agree on.

Because of the egoist premise that one is one's own highest value and the need for independent thought in Objectivism, the philosophy attracts a large fraction of individualists and some people who simply want a rationale for a childish kind of self-centeredness. Being independent thinkers and individualists, any collection of such people will embody a huge number of ideas, with many differing nuances and sometimes even strong fundamental differences. Because the philosophy emphasizes the importance of ideas, these differences are taken to be important. This is fine, when the larger context of areas of agreement is remembered, but it is a real problem when it is not. As we all know, many people will focus so intently on the single tree in the forest that they forget that the forest has many, many individual trees in it and each is also important in the context of the total forest.

Even though the Objectivist movement attracts individualists, some contrarians, and some childishly self-centered people, most wish to find others in the movement with whom they can feel comfortable, welcome, and who will like them. Humans are generally social animals. So, there are some who will be all too willing to submerge their independent thought to belong to one clique or another. Just as it is human nature to seek a clique in high school, or in a political party, or in a religious sect, so too do we find this effect in Objectivism, despite its incompatibility with the philosophy itself!

But, this incompatibility does have its consequences. The primary one is that to mask it, most clique comformists do so by claiming to hold the precise and exact same views on every subject that Ayn Rand held herself. They compete with one another to prove that this is so and they try desperately to find meaning in quotes of her work applied initially to a different context in every issue they face decades later by wiping out all thought of any differences in the context between then and now and dependent upon different factors being in play. They must trade in their independent minds, simply to belong to a group and be accepted. Having done this, they then raise Rand to the level of deity. After all, she must provide the answer to their every question, despite the fact she is no longer alive. Only a goddess can do that.

To maintain the clique, disputes must be kept to a minimum. So effectively, this clique claims the goddess Ayn Rand makes this possible by virtue of having developed essentially a complete philosophy, which was closed for further development with her death. The members of this clique cannot then be forced to venture onto new ground, where they might disagree with one another. They also cannot be criticized by others for not being creative and original thinkers. This would be very awkward given that the philosophy was so much created for the purpose of enabling men to be creative and original thinkers. They are simply being pure and true followers of Rand and anyone who disagrees is tainted by being in disagreement with Ayn Rand. Furthermore, one really must have a very substantial self-esteem to venture where Rand did not go. As an Objectivist cult adherent, one acquires a claim to a pseudo-self-esteem to augment any deficiencies of real self-esteem one may have.

Students of history know that very often the most bitterly fought wars are civil wars. Many of the same factors were at work when Christians branded others as heretics, when socialists fought among themselves, and when Objectivists fight among themselves. At least, Objectivists do not kill one another over their disagreements!

When a truly independent-minded and self-confident Objectivist enters into a discussion with a clique and deity-worshipping Objectivist, the clique person cannot help but feel very uneasy. He is constrained from venturing onto new ground. If he even tries, he must do so by the torturous process of finding a quote by Rand that seems generally to apply to the new situation and either sell the idea that the present context is very similar or he has to obscure the fact that it is not. This would be a difficult exercise for someone who is in the habit of thinking for himself! He is also in the awkward condition of having to maintain at all times that Rand was perfect in every way. The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics shows us how torturous that is.

To this point, I have made no claim that either the philosophy or Ayn Rand herself are responsible for the infighting. The problems I have described are the result of common problems we have always seen in human nature. For the record, I do not believe that the philosophy is at fault for these problems by virtue of its essential and correct principles. There are some minor points that Rand made that may be minor contributors, but that is because she was either wrong or simply did not get the complete context of the ideas herself. Fundamentally, the philosophy is one for living life well and doing so harmoniously with other thinking and achieving people. Yes, it is radical, so it attracts some alienated people and some who are simply contrarian by nature, but that cannot be changed and is not a fault of the philosophy. The philosophy makes ideas very important and that makes the outcome of disagreements important. How you promote knowledge-seeking and practical discussions and collaborations among people has been the subject of many of my earlier essays and is also the primary subject of David Kelley's Truth and Toleration. Ayn Rand did not sufficiently address these issues, but they can and have been addressed properly in the context of the principles of Objectivism. Unfortunately, those who believe that Objectivism is a closed system do not enjoy a decently expanded concept of the roles that benevolence and toleration play as enablers of the transmission of ideas between people, to develop new creative ideas, and to test ideas.

Was Ayn Rand responsible in some ways for the legacy of infighting in Objectivism? Yes, I would say that she did contribute to this in ways that will slow the spread of the philosophy. Since I always thought that Objectivism would take at least 100 years to become America's dominant philosophy, I am not as disappointed as those who thought this was going to happen in their lifetime. But, I would like to have seen it get wider acceptance than it has.

Ayn Rand's own failure to think and write more about benevolence and toleration is a factor in Objectivist culture having problems engaging others and one another in effective discussions and collaborations. There is some reason to suspect that she did not properly understand these issues, based upon her personal behavior with her colleagues.

Rand came from a very fragile society that fell to Communism and her view of human nature seems to have been affected by that experience. When discussing politics, she often exaggerated the effect that a bad government policy was going to have on the nation. She underestimated the strength of the American economy and the ingenuity of its people in getting around the problems created by government on a number of issues. She even advocated a reduction of freedom of speech in the interest of making the broadcasting media deliver opposing viewpoints because she was so afraid of socialism taking over America. Consequently, she had an exaggerated fear of error in general.

She was an idealist and she was sure that any compromise between the ideal and the achievable was usually bad. She had a tendency to make the ideal the enemy of the good. This has infected many Objectivists. They are unwilling to make compromises for fear that this means that they have forsaken the ideal. Frankly, they overdo this, as she did. Because many do this, they cannot even converse with Libertarians, Conservatives, and Socialists. How do you change people's minds if you will not talk to them? This desire for purity carries over into discussions with other Objectivists with somewhat different viewpoints. In general, it is stultifying.

Ayn Rand was also too ready to assume that when someone held a mistaken viewpoint, it was due to a moral shortcoming. Many of her worshipping followers are even more inclined to make such unbenevolent and intolerant assumptions. Ayn Rand underestimated the intelligence that was necessary for others to understand complex issues. She thought that if someone had an inadequate IQ, enough effort would increase their IQ by enough. I agree that many people probably can increase their IQs, but probably not by nearly as much as she thought they could.

Ayn Rand's tendency to denounce people who disagreed with her on significant, but not necessarily central principles was a problem. Her failure to share responsibility for the break-up of her romantic relationship with Nathaniel Branden certainly created a problem. The way she dismissed him in To Whom It May Concern was highly irrational and set a bad example. Her denunciation of Barbara Branden was absolutely senseless. Some of these problems came about because she was certain she was a great hero in all respects and should be treated as such. She clearly had difficulty in properly valuing the ideas of others. She was a natural loner in many ways and did not always do justice to the contributions that earlier thinkers had made to her development of Objectivism. Of course, their work often had serious errors in it, but work with serious errors can still be very valuable in suggesting how to avoid those errors and to stimulate new approaches.

But, in summary, I think that the shortcomings of Ayn Rand's personality in her personal relations with people and as a thinker about society and human interactions are secondary issues. She presented us with a wonderfully sound and substantially developed philosophy with many innovative features. There is still much to be developed, but it is fantastic that a novelist accomplished so much as a philosopher. The core of the philosophy is not at fault in causing the in-fighting among Objectivists either. Where it has shortcomings, they can be fixed and the philosophy can be filled out in a manner consistent with Ayn Rand's own work in its essential aspects. Most of the problems in the Objectivist movement are the result of human nature and have been experienced to an even greater degree perhaps by other historically radical movements. With dedicated work, we can learn to work better as a team, but individualists will find things to disagree about. Some people will always latch onto a movement with a religious mindset. Some people will always form cliques. Objectivism has to find ways to live with this.

Those Objectivists who are truly independent thinkers and who are creative must simply continue their work. They must teach benevolence and tolerance. They must hold in their minds that a society as productive and free as the American society is has many good people in it. They must remind the more alienated Objectivists of this context. Still more important, they must reach out to Americans in general and engage them in discussions in a constructive manner. They must be explanatory, rather than accusatory. Most important, they must lead by example. If they live productive, thinking lives, exercise self-responsibility, treat others with justice, and engage others in reasoned, respectful discussions, then the Objectivist movement should flourish over the long haul.

08 March 2006

Benevolence:People as Tolerance:Ideas

In my recent essay The Virtues of Benevolence and Tolerance, I chose to create a greater separation of the domains of benevolence and tolerance. People often speak of having tolerance for other people's ideas, but they also often speak of having tolerance for other people. Frequently, in either context, the emphasis is put on having to endure something distasteful, painful, and threatening to one's values. In his chapter called Toleration in The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in Objectivism, David Kelley starts by pointing this out. He then proceeds to say that tolerance, "In regard to ideas, the object [of toleration] is a person with whom we disagree, who holds a conviction we believe to be false."

Now clearly this is at odds with my deciding that toleration can be made a more useful concept by making its object ideas. But what David Kelley does in his very admirable book is to develop the concept of toleration along a traditional mode of thought and in a manner that has plenty of merit. He wants to give us the utmost freedom to argue against and condemn bad ideas without having to morally condemn the person who has made a mistake and who has a bad idea. He then proceeds to give many good reasons why it can be a very bad policy with respect to doing justice to others and acquiring knowledge to too readily morally condemn the person for a bad idea. Why do I choose to take a different path when I agree with so much of his viewpoint, which is a viewpoint I have held in the past?

First of all, I think that all of the reasons that one does not too easily decide to condemn a person with a bad idea are covered by the same reasons for treating others benevolently until one has thoroughly established the rational need to do otherwise. The attitude of benevolence, which is rich in the desire to do justice to our fellow man, already provides us with the virtue of regarding others of being of value to us until we are sure that we know they are more of a threat instead. In a civilized society, such as ours, we constantly derive benefits from living among other men. They generate numerous ideas that make our lives better. They specialize in areas of knowledge that we as an individual cannot amass in our single person and single lifetime. We benefit from their services as novelists, physicists, clothing designers, car makers, doctors, farmers, grocers, and literally thousands of other disciplines and careers. The doctor who may have saved our life or that of someone we love may have some very bad political ideas and yet, he is of great value to us.

We must retain full knowledge of this greater context of knowledge and have a preference for not morally condemning others for their ideas without very strong rational reasons for doing so. There are people who are monsters. There are people we must condemn. However, most people in our society have many very bad ideas and yet they have many good ones also. Most of them are productive and contribute real values in trade with the people around them. The rational man observes this and establishes the policy of regarding others benevolently as the standard. He accepts that there are too many bad ideas and that these can be threatening, but he does not lose sight of the greater context of the value of most people in our society.

This benevolent approach to others with respect to their role as idea generators enables the trade of ideas and personal services with others. Most of the value that others give us comes via their ideas, so benevolence is critical both as justice and as a means to acquire knowledge. The latter is actually probably the more fundamental value. This knowledge acquisition value is actually the value that David Kelley develops most fully in his chapter Toleration.

I now choose to make the object of toleration that of ideas instead of the person. Toleration then only requires us to have a fundamental respect for the value of ideas in human life, to recognize that the resources we can personally direct toward creating and developing ideas are limited, to realize that other people represent a tremendous asset as thinkers, that their ideas are commonly made readily available to us, and they provide us a tremendous resource of thought against which we can check our premises and ideas. These assessments do not differ from those of David Kelley.

Now, if ideas are the object of toleration, we do not reject them as false until they fail rational evaluation. But, if they do fail the tests of rational evaluation, then we can call the idea false and we can note that human action directed by that idea may be evil or at least wrong. We are free to proclaim the falsity of any faulty idea and we clearly have not been intolerant. Now, tolerance is a tool to help us acquire knowledge, with a reduced role with respect to justice. As a tool for knowledge, its epistemological role is the role to be emphasized and we leave most issues related to impartial and rational justice to be provided for by the virtue of benevolence. Assessments of the morality of people would be very complex whether or not ideas are the object of toleration. We have not simplied these assessments of people in any way with this definition of tolerance, but we have simplified the requirements of tolerance.

One of the advantages of developing the concepts of benevolence and tolerance along these parallel lines with the person the object of benevolence and the idea the object of tolerance is that our understanding of benevolence then helps us to understand the role of tolerance better. Tolerance is the somewhat more abstract term and seems to be harder for people to grasp. Of course, the fact that our definitions for tolerance have been traditionally confused does not help. But there are reasons why those definitions were confused. The required concept is a difficult and very abstract concept. Now having grasped this concept, it is helpful that once an idea is rationally evaluated, one can clearly declare it right or wrong without being intolerant, with its negative connotations. It is simply an epistemological issue and we are not making the usually more complicated assessment that the person holding the idea is immoral or evil. Many ideas are wrong which are not immoral. Actually, an idea can only be said to be evil in the sense that a person acting on the idea does something evil. To say the idea is evil is really just a shorthand way of saying this.

One of the reasons it is difficult to get people to accept the need for tolerance is that they think it means that they must adapt an ambivalence about whether an idea is right or wrong. The tolerant person has no need to do this with the definition of tolerance I am using here. Each and every wrong idea can be identified as such and one is free to proclaim it false. This is not the same as condemning the holder of the false idea as evil. The focus is on the idea, not the person. There is no requirement that one suffer a bad idea. There is no need to endure a false idea. There is no need to ignore the threat that a bad idea may cause people to damage one's values.

In the normal confused usage of the concept tolerance, many people, especially a large faction of Objectivists, actually dislike tolerance. They believe that tolerance and any call for it is actually an act of moral cowardice, if not evil itself. This is because they believe that tolerance means either the acceptance of bad, evil ideas or at least the refusal to condemn them. Indeed, if one does not condemn the person who has a bad idea, they claim that you have given your sanction to the idea and to the person. Out of this hatred for evil or wrong ideas and people who have them, they also throw out all the valid and rationally necessary aspects of tolerance. They do indeed become intolerant. They do not have sufficient respect for ideas to give them a thorough, rational, and independent evaluation. They become very dismissive of the value of ideas which do not lie within what they call the closed system of Objectivism. If the idea was not Ayn Rand's, or Leonard Peikoff's or maybe someone licensed by Peikoff to speak of Objectivism, then the idea need not be given a serious examination. Indeed, anyone who does runs the serious risk of being excommunicated from the Objectivist movement.

This rejection of tolerance with respect to ideas (and the corresponding rejection of benevolence toward people) makes it systematically less likely that they can render independent rational evaluations of ideas (and of people). The adherents of this mindset will still likely engage in excessive moral condemnations of people, but more of them may be able to separate the epistemological evaluation of ideas from the moral evaluation of people if they can be brought to accept this more straightforward concept to tolerance. Unfortunately, the very complex evaluation of people will remain impossible for the simple-minded and fraught with error even for very intelligent and wise people. My hope is that with tolerance directed at ideas, it will at least be possible to get more people to commit themselves to the rational evaluation of ideas, even when those ideas originate in the thinking of others.

01 March 2006

Objectivism, Individuality, and Sexuality

Ayn Rand summarized Objectivism in the words, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

This is a wonderful summary, which when thought through carefully, contains all the essentials. Nonetheless, it might be helpful to also say that Objectivism is the philosophy committed to reality, reason, rational egoism, productive achievement, individualism, heroism, sensual sexuality, and happiness on earth. This is not a better way to summarize Objectivism, but it is a useful supplement to make some of our values more explicit and to make still more contrasts with the philosophies most people accept today.

Perhaps one of the most jarring inclusions is the acceptance of and the value accorded to the sensual sexuality of man as one of his greatest pleasures. Objectivism is not only reality-directed and committed to a mental evaluation of that reality and to hard work. These goals seem to some people to be insufficient paths to happiness, though I think them exhilarating inducements. But we live in a society with serious reservations about individual pleasures on this earth, especially about the joy and life-stimulation available to us in a healthy, sensual sexuality. We also find a strong belief that individuality should be suppressed in sexual expression. Virtually all of the religions have doctrines to deprive sexual pleasures of their value to us and to create a strong sense of guilt in the enjoyment of sex. In fact, they recognize the importance of robbing sex of its pleasure through guilt as a critical means to separate man from the pleasures of life on earth. This means of diminishing such earth-based pleasures makes it much easier to sell the trade of happiness in this life for happiness in an afterlife. The denial of the individual nature of our sexuality also undercuts our self-esteem and confidence in acting heroically to oppose the force of religious convention.

Objectivism offers us heaven on earth, while the religions only offer heaven in a dubious otherworldly setting. While religion generally allows man a very narrow scope for sex, which is not allowed to express his individuality, Objectivism sees it as one of life’s noble activities when shared with a moral person who shares one’s values. We should emphasize this advantage of Objectivism more. Religion offers the worship of God as the embodiment of the good, while Objectivism offers the worship of the best in man as the embodiment of the good. A key expression of our worship of the good in man is joining with another or others of good character in the act of shared sensual love. The Christians recognized this when they committed nuns to a life as the brides of Christ. But we love the best in man and we should express that sexually with good people in an integrated stimulation of mind and body on this earth.

Many people are greatly frustrated by the rigid and impersonal constraints on sexual expression rampant in society today. The sharing and worship of values in the sensual stimulation of our bodies and minds that good sex offers us is largely denied. The need for sex and the means of enjoying it have strong evolutionary roots. They are central to who we are as individuals. When society acts to discourage us from enjoying sex with all of its individual differentiating manifestations, this is a very fundamental attack upon individuality. It is also an attempt to ignore the biochemistry of the human body and mind, which is largely designed to allow man to enjoy and to be made healthy by sex. Good sex gives us peace of mind, it stimulates our minds, and it provides healthy exercise. It is an expression of the healthy animal that man needs to be if he is not to daily live a life attempting a mind-body dichotomy. This dichotomy is actually impossible given the integrated mind-body sexual machine that man is, but an unhealthy deprivation of sensual sex is very achievable. We can see this all too easily by observing the huge numbers of sexually deprived and frustrated human beings around us.

Good sex is an heroic act. It is an assertion of individuality, of shared values, of the integrated action of mind and body, of the worth of oneself, a means to explore and develop ourselves, and a central joy of life. In good sex, we come close to feeling and knowing god. We know that god is the best in us and that we have the power to achieve our own happiness on earth. Let us not succumb to the sad morality of the mystics and fail to assert our proud sexuality when we attempt to sell the ideals of Objectivism to a philosophically challenged society. That society needs to see the light, so people can heal their sexual dysfunction and end their brutal sexual frustration. We can and should help them.

Some will object that Ayn Rand’s vision of sex appears to be one of male-domination and excessive violence, so the sexuality of Objectivism is a hard sell. First, the reality is that the violence operates within a framework of adult consensual sex and was a definite form of role-playing that apparently appealed to the sexuality of the individual named Ayn Rand. Her expression of her individual sexuality is just that. Others are free to adopt other forms of sexuality more appropriate to their biochemistry, nervous system, fantasies, and experiences. Individuals are highly differentiated in many ways and there is little that is more complex and differentiating than our individual sexuality. Objectivism, as an individualist and reality-oriented philosophy, has to recognize and accommodate this. Few other philosophies do this and none do it within a rational system of philosophy. This aspect of Objectivism is incredibly important. It is also a sufficient driving force to motivate many people to read a novel of nearly 1100 pages length! Only a small fraction of Americans will otherwise ever do that.

24 February 2006

The Virtues of Benevolence and Tolerance

In the context of the times and the society in which I live, benevolence and tolerance are important and intertwined virtues. As I have pointed out earlier, in a different society and in a different time, these virtues would be less important and might, if broadly applied, insure my death and that of those I love. In other words, in a violent and capricious society, they might simply constitute an unwise trust in unknown people and in unknown ideas. However, in America today and in a number of other areas of today's world, to adopt a malevolent view of others and to be intolerant of new and differing ideas, is to cut oneself off from the benefits of trade and friendships with others and will isolate oneself from knowledge to be gained by examining their ideas with fairness and thoroughness.

To the extent that others, though personally unknown or little known to us, might reasonably be assessed as likely to be able to deliver values to us in the context of our time and our society, the rational man will approach such strangers with an assumption that their persons are of value as an enhancement to our own lives. This means that we have a benevolent assessment of our fellow man preceding our opportunity to evaluate them morally upon getting to know them. Without such a benevolent approach, it will in fact be much more difficult to get to know them, since they will reasonably be loath to entertain our company and unwilling to confide their thoughts to us. A benevolent approach to others is often a necessary prelude to our being able to make a rational assessment of someone previously unknown to us. If we are to benefit from the existence of this person, whether through commercial trade, an exchange or simply a gleaning of their knowledge and experiences, or the development of a great friendship, we must take the risk of first assuming the likelihood that we will find some value in them. It would not be reasonable to invest our time in getting to know another, if we thought before we knew them that we would find no value in them.

The result of getting to know someone might be that we evaluate them as not a particularly rational person, but we might still have gained something of reasonable value for our effort. We might have learned something new that we would have been unlikely to have learned otherwise. But having learned this, we realize it is time to move on and invest any future time into getting to know someone else. We might realize that we have encountered a monster and devote some effort to thwarting their monstrous activities. On the other hand, we might find the love of our lives or develop a wonderful, lifelong friendship. Benevolence does not substitute for a rational judgment of others. It precedes that assessment and enables it.

Toleration is a parallel to benevolence. As benevolence is to the unexamined person, so is tolerance to the unexamined idea. This concept is a bit more abstract and it is therefore a bit more difficult to grasp. Furthermore, as I have earlier noted in other essays, English dictionary definitions are inadequate and sometimes even self-contradictory for this word. Whereas benevolence enables us to know and evaluate other people and makes it possible for us to ultimately enjoy values created by other people, toleration enables us to know and evaluate the ideas of others and makes it ultimately possible for us to find such values as those ideas may have. Just as we ultimately assess the value of the people we encounter and invest the time to get to know, we also evaluate the ideas we encounter upon taking the time to understand and critically assess them. We will encounter many good ideas and many bad ideas. Toleration does not in any way require us to be kind to an evil or reality-denying idea. Toleration does depend upon an overall assessment that ideas are important, that many other people have spent a great deal of time and effort developing ideas, that some of the ideas they have developed are either right or will teach us that this line of thought leads to a deadend, and that examining the ideas of others will allow us to understand more than if we tried to develop every thought entirely on our own.

Toleration is the attitude that there is great value in the ideas developed by others and that to realize this value we should invest a considerable effort into rationally examining the ideas of others and fairly assessing their value.

Tolerance is a virtue since we recognize that ideas are important, that valuable resources are required for their development, that many valuable ideas have been developed by others, and that a thorough understanding of our reality is not realistic in our own finite lifetime without reference to the many valuable ideas that others have developed. Tolerance offers us a path to gather up such valuable thoughts as others have had. Of course, randomly adopting other people's ideas would be foolish. Many irrational ideas have been developed, but without tolerance we will never be able to rationally identity the good ideas and differentiate them from the bad ideas. Without toleration, even the greatest genius will encounter many a brick wall he can only batter his head against, though someone else has climbed over it, burrowed under it, or outflanked it.

Toleration does not require us to accept the validity of bad ideas. It does not require us to refrain from a constructive criticism of an idea found wanting. It does not necessitate backing down from evil. It simply enables a rational assessment of ideas. Many people who read the works of Ayn Rand, whose ideas are developments along directions substantially set by Aristotle and Enlightenment thinkers in many cases, and are yet very different from most of the ideas accepted by scholars at many of our traditionally accepted best universities, had to initially approach her ideas with a healthy sense of toleration. Having done so, they became convinced that Objectivism was the philosophy they should adopt and that they should invest much of their future efforts to further develop it. Some Objectivists thought they were Christians when they first encountered her works. Some were at least moderate socialists. Many had simply never thought much about some aspect or other of philosophy. They may not have thought about concept formation, about the mind-body dichotomy, about what their ultimate value was, or about the moral basis of Capitalism. But they had enough toleration for new ideas to read her work and to evaluate it. They may have learned a great deal in the process about how to evaluate an idea. Before they adopted many or almost all of her ideas, they most likely thought that ideas were important and that they might learn something by fairly examining the ideas of Ayn Rand. Of course, if they simply adopted her ideas without critically examining them in light of their own experiences in the world and using their best effort to evaluate them rationally, they are simply dogmatists and they are not really Objectivists.

Because benevolence allows us to maximize the benefits of interactions with other good people and because most of the value of people is the result of their having good ideas, benevolence and toleration are closely tied together. If the society one lives in is good enough that benevolence is a major virtue, then it is good enough that tolerance is a major virtue. Each attains its status as a major virtue because approaching people and ideas with such a principled attitude enables one to acquire the greatest value from others and from their ideas. Neither should be held as virtue simply as wishful thinking. How great a virtue each is is dependent upon how good the people around us are and how good their ideas are.

But, if we did live in a world in which few people were of value to us and in which few of their ideas were of value, then we probably should become hermits. In America today, that would be a very sad choice, because many people, while not at all perfect, do offer us a very great value by virtue of how they live their lives and by virtue of the ideas they develop and contribute to us with little more effort on our part but that we examine them carefully. In historical terms, we live in a wonderful time with many good people and a proliferation of ideas, many of which have and continue to greatly enhance our understanding of our universe. This is not the time to be stingy with benevolence and toleration!