Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ayn Rand's Playboy Interview: Emotions

By Diana Hsieh

As I mentioned last Saturday, Ayn Rand's 1964 Playboy interview contains some gems that I'd like to highlight in Modern Paleo's Saturday blogging on Objectivism. Here's another segment on the relationship between reason and emotion:

PLAYBOY: Should one ignore emotions altogether, rule them out of one's life entirely?

RAND: Of course not. One should merely keep them in their place. An emotion is an automatic response, an automatic effect of man's value premises. An effect, not a cause. There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man's reason and his emotions -- provided he observes their proper relationship. A rational man knows -- or makes it a point to discover -- the source of his emotions, the basic premises from which they come; if his premises are wrong, he corrects them. He never acts on emotions for which he cannot account, the meaning of which he does not understand. In appraising a situation, he knows why he reacts as he does and whether he is right. He has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated, his consciousness is in perfect harmony. His emotions are not his enemies, they are his means of enjoying life. But they are not his guide; the guide is his mind. This relationship cannot be reversed, however. If a man takes his emotions as the cause and his mind as their passive effect, if he is guided by his emotions and uses his mind only to rationalize or justify them somehow -- then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction -- his own and that of others.
Ayn Rand discussed her views of emotions in various other sources, including in Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged. For now, I'd like to offer her warning to people who fail to think explicitly about their own philosophy, as eplained in the title essay in Philosophy: Who Needs It:
Your subconscious is like a computer--more complex a computer than men can build--and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don't reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance--and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions--which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn't, you don't.

Many people, particularly today, claim that man cannot live by logic alone, that there's the emotional element of his nature to consider, and that they rely on the guidance of their emotions. The joke is on ... on them: man's values and emotions are determined by his fundamental view of life. The ultimate programmer of his subconscious is philosophy--the science which, according to the emotionalists, is impotent to affect or penetrate the murky mysteries of their feelings.

The quality of a computer's output is determined by the quality of its input. If your subconscious is programmed by chance, its output will have a corresponding character. You have probably heard the computer operators' eloquent term "gigo"--which means: "Garbage in, garbage out." The same formula applies to the relationship between a man's thinking and his emotions.

A man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose printouts he cannot read. He does not know whether its programming is true or false, right or wrong, whether it's set to lead him to success or destruction, whether it serves his goals or those of some evil, unknowable power. He is blind on two fronts: blind to the world around him and to his own inner world, unable to grasp reality or his own motives, and he is in chronic terror of both. Emotions are not tools of cognition. The men who are not interested in philosophy need it most urgently: they are most helplessly in its power.
To draw a paleo analogy: just because that muffin tastes sweet doesn't mean that it's healthy... and just because some action feels right doesn't mean that it's truly beneficial for you or others.

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