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New Ideal - Reason | Individualism | Capitalism

Atlas Shrugged on the Role of the Mind in Man’s Existence, Part 1

To live as a man is to exercise one’s power of thought and choice.

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Ayn Rand described the theme of Atlas Shrugged as “the role of the mind in man’s existence,” and my aim in this essay is to call attention to what the novel has to say about this role.1 The novel operates on a grand, social-political scale dramatizing not only the mind’s role in an individual human life, but also in society as a whole.2 As the story of “the mind on strike” (738),3 it conveys this role by depicting what happens to a society when “the men of the mind” withdraw.4 What the novel shows about society at large, however, follows from what it shows about individual men; and, in the present essay, I will focus on the role of the mind in an individual life.5

Since Atlas’s plot centers around the “men of the mind,” it is necessary to comment briefly at the outset about what distinguishes these men from others. The phrase itself implies that the mind plays a central role in the lives of some people that it does not play in the lives of others, and this might be taken to suggest that the mind is somehow the exclusive province of a select few—a view that has loomed large in the history of thought. I will say more about what the mind (or reason or intellect) is on Rand’s view shortly, but we can begin by identifying it as the faculty responsible for thinking and epitomized in such uniquely human achievements as science, mathematics, philosophy, and (Rand would insist) industry. Plato and a train of subsequent thinkers, noticing that most people do not devote their lives to science or philosophy, and thinking that they lack the native intelligence required to do so, concluded that reason could figure in the lives of most people only (or primarily) through their relations to their intellectual superiors—usually relations of obedience or subjugation. The Platonic view is a metaphysical elitism, on which innate differences between men divide them into castes of rulers and ruled; it is incompatible with the political freedom that Atlas Shrugged vigorously defends and is precisely what the American Founders denied when they declared that “All men are created equal.” Despite attempts of some hostile reviewers to attribute this sort of elitism to Atlas Shrugged, the novel could not be clearer in rejecting it.6

While many of the heroes are unusually intelligent, others, though exceptional in many respects, are not portrayed as being endowed with any special native intelligence. Think of the young mother in the valley (784) or the truck driver who doesn’t want to remain one (721), or of Owen Kellogg, the young engineer who goes on strike in the first chapter (25)—he is portrayed as unusually competent but not in any way that implies a special innate intelligence. Even Dagny does not have the sort of genius characteristic of Rearden and Francisco, and they themselves lack the sort of brilliance personified by Galt, who Rearden describes as “the sort of mind that’s born once in a century” (290). Moreover, such characters as Eddie and Cherryl, who represent the best among average men, are shown as having deep similarities with the strikers that make them too qualify as “men of the mind.” Cherryl for example is likened to a scientist when Jim complains that her “constant asking of a why for everything” amounts to treating him “as if [he] were a scientific object in a laboratory” (882). Think also of the many characters, often unnamed, whose competence or effort gives them a bond with the heroes: the cigarette vender with whom Dagny sometimes chats in the terminal (61, 353, 382); the people responsible for the “clean white curtain,” fresh vegetables, and expert steering of a bus that lift Eddie’s spirits when he sees them en route to the Taggart Building early in the first chapter (4); and so forth. Since, as we’ll see, Rand sees all forms of competence as of a piece and attributes them to the minds of individuals, it is clear that these characters all have minds in the sense that matters to Rand’s theme.

What the positive characters share is not a certain degree of intelligence, but the commitment to using such intelligence as they do possess.7 Similarly, the villains are not portrayed as lacking intelligence—indeed Stadler is a genius; rather their evil consists in a choice to subvert their minds.8 The consistent position of the novel is that, though there are differences in degrees of intelligence, we all possess the faculty of reason, and it can and should play the same role in each of our lives. What unites the men of the mind, is not genius, but “an unbreached rationality”—“not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute” (1059).

The novel’s primary message with regard to the differences in the degrees of men’s intelligence is: first, that each man, in proportion to the degree of his intelligence and his consistency in employing it, benefits himself and all the people with whom he interacts; and, second, that the dominant moral code (which is rooted in a failure or refusal to recognize the role of the mind in man’s existence) damns each of us in this same proportion. The strike depicted in the novel is the refusal by the men of the mind to submit to this injustice any longer. Every man who is committed to the fullest use of his mind is a “man of the mind,” but the title applies most dramatically to those men of rare intelligence who are mankind’s greatest benefactors and have been its greatest victims, and these are the men who Galt makes it his special mission to remove from society, though he recruits others to his cause along the way.9

Because Atlas’s heroes have powerful intellects and exercise them consistently, they epitomize the function of a mind. But the mind of any individual can and should play the same role in his life, regardless of the degree of his intelligence.


Before we can say anything substantive about the mind’s role, we must first get clearer on what the mind or reason is. We have said already that it is the faculty that is responsible for thinking and that distinguishes us from other animals. Like people, animals—at least many of them—are conscious. In particular, they have the faculty of sense-perception, by means of which they are aware of the objects in their immediate environment. Some animals have memory, which enables them to learn about these objects, making use of information from past encounters with an object to better deal with it in the present. By associating perceptibly similar objects, these animals can also apply material learned about one object or situation to others that are perceptibly like it, and so they are able to master such basic skills as hunting. But such skills represent the upper limit of consciousness for the (nonhuman) animals, whereas human knowledge extends far further.10 Man is able to acquire vast sums of knowledge about categories of objects which are not perceptibly similar, and which may not be perceptible at all. For example, he can grasp laws of motion that apply alike to apples, planets, and molecules. From the human perspective, the world is not, as it is for an animal, a succession of objects and situations that are more or less reminiscent of one another. Instead, we are aware of the world conceptually. A concept is a unit of thought, of the sort normally represented in speech by a single word, that applies to a whole category of objects that have a common nature and act accordingly. Concepts enable man to grasp causal connections that are inaccessible to animals and so to achieve an understanding of the world. Reason, since the birth of philosophy in ancient Greece, has been identified as the faculty that enables this distinctly human perspective.

Rand, following in the philosophical tradition of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, held that reason functions by processing the information we acquire about the world in sense-perception into a new and more powerful form of consciousness, which remains grounded in perception.11 Thus Galt defines reason as “the faculty that perceives, identifies, and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.”12 He elaborates:

All thinking is a process of identification and integration. Man perceives a blob of color; by integrating the evidence of his sight and his touch, he learns to identify it as a solid object; he learns to identify the object as a table; he learns that the table is made of wood; he learns that the wood consists of cells, that the cells consist of molecules, that the molecules consist of atoms. All through this process, the work of his mind consists of answers to a single question: What is it? (1016–17)

We identify, for example, a particular man, by subsuming him and his characteristics under concepts such as “man,” “animal,” “rational,” “virtue,” “inventor,” “genius,” and so forth. And in forming a concept we integrate our knowledge about many objects into a single, unitary awareness of them.13 This makes it possible to think, for example, about animals in general—or, more widely, about entities or actions as such, or even about existence as a whole.

Increasingly abstract concepts enable a grasp of increasingly complex causal connections, ranging over greater expanses of time. Thus, an animal, without any concepts, might be able to learn that eating a berry will satiate its hunger, but only a man can learn that planting bushes will result in a crop of berries months into the future, or that by irrigating a field, he can make it possible for berries to grow on what would otherwise be barren land. Moreover, he can go on to learn that his ability to produce berries in this manner and to benefit from the harvest depends on political freedom, which cannot be defended except on the basis of a whole philosophy.

Whereas the functioning of our sense organs is automatic, the formation and use of concepts are (to a large extent at least) under our conscious control, and this imposes a responsibility on us. Galt makes this point when describing the development of a human consciousness:

the day when [a child] grasps that he is not a passive recipient of the sensations of any given moment, that his senses do not provide him with automatic knowledge in separate snatches independent of context, but only with the material of knowledge, which his mind must learn to integrate—the day when he grasps that his senses cannot deceive him, that physical objects cannot act without causes, that his organs of perception are physical and have no volition, no power to invent or to distort, that the evidence they give him is an absolute, but his mind must learn to understand it, his mind must discover the nature, the causes, the full context of his sensory material, his mind must identify the things that he perceives—that is the day of his birth as a thinker and scientist. (1041)

Unlike the senses, then, reason is a faculty that man must self-consciously exercise and learn how to exercise. Man must discover the laws of logic, and then adhere to them by choice. It is only by doing this that he manages to attain his distinctive form of awareness—a point Galt captures by describing man as a “being of volitional consciousness.” As Rand makes the point in her nonfiction, man must choose to engage in the process of thinking, which is “not a passive state of registering random impressions” but

an actively sustained process of identifying one’s impressions in conceptual terms, of integrating every event and every observation into a conceptual context, of grasping relationships, differences, similarities in one’s perceptual material and of abstracting them into new concepts, of drawing inferences, of making deductions, of reaching conclusions, of asking new questions and discovering new answers and expanding one’s knowledge into an ever-growing sum.14

The heroes of Atlas Shrugged are constantly engaged in this process. We can observe it in detail in the cases of Dagny and Rearden, the only major heroes whose thoughts are often narrated, and sometimes in the cases of Cherryl Taggart and Eddie Willers.15 The novel also depicts a variety of people who do not engage in this activity. The simplest examples are minor characters like the residents of Starnesville. Consider the woman who “looked on without reaction” as a local child threw a rock at Rearden’s windshield:

She had stood there silently, watching, without interest or purpose, like a chemical compound on a photographic plate, absorbing visual shapes because they were there to be absorbed, but unable ever to form any estimate of the objects of her vision. (286)16

The woman can be taken as a symbol of mental passivity. Her senses function, but her mind does not; and so she forms no estimate of what she sees. She is likened to a photographic plate rather than to an animal (which also sees without thinking) because for animals this form of consciousness is complete and sufficient: they have automatic desires which lead them to act on what they perceive in the ways necessary to secure their survival. As we will see in greater detail later, this is not true in the case of man, and so the woman’s mental passivity renders her passive existentially as well, and reduces her to a subanimal state.

Significantly, the woman is described not merely as failing to form any estimate of what she sees, but as being unable to do so. This may be true in the sense that, after a lifetime of mental passivity, she lacks the context necessary to make meaningful evaluations of what she sees, but she is not (on Rand’s view) literally unable to think. In his speech, Galt says that “in every hour and every issue” one has a “basic moral choice” between “thinking and nonthinking,” and Rand elaborates on this choice in her nonfiction:

In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.17

There is, then, a fundamental alternative between the states Rand calls “focus” and “drift.” The heroes are people who characteristically focus their minds and have developed a clarity-seeking psychology to which focus comes easily and drift is unnatural. The woman in Starnesville represents a different sort of psychology, habituated to drift, to which focus would be unnatural.

There is a third alternative in addition to focus and drift. Galt describes it as

that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.” (1017)

Following Rand in her nonfiction, we can call this act “evasion.”18 Atlas Shrugged’s most dramatic portrayals of it involve Jim Taggart, who “jerks his head to stop” his thoughts when he feels as if they are “slipping down a dangerous blind alley, the end of which he must never permit himself to see” (866). Indeed, his first words in the novel are “Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me” (7). They are addressed in irritation to Eddie Willers, who has come to discuss an important issue on the railroad, but they may as well be addressed to reality as such.

Some evasion is required to maintain a state of drift over an extended period of time—and certainly over a lifetime: one cannot avoid periodically noticing signs that greater attention is called for, so one must evade these signs in order to remain in drift.19 The residents of Starnesville for example have ample evidence that a better life existed there in the past and exists elsewhere in the present, and they must push this out of their minds in order to continue in their thoughtless, stagnant routine. Nevertheless, there is a difference between these characters who are perpetually adrift (evading as necessary to maintain it), and characters, like Taggart, whose perpetual mental state is one of evasion. The following descriptions would not apply to the residents of Starnesville:

This was the way he had lived all his life—keeping his eyes stubbornly, safely on the immediate pavement before him, craftily avoiding the sight of his road, of corners, of distances, of pinnacles. (867)

. . . danger to him was a signal to shut off his sight, suspend his judgment and pursue an unaltered course on the unstated premise that the danger would remain unreal by the sovereign power of his wish not to see it—like a fog-horn within him, blowing not to sound a warning, but to summon the fog. (868)20

Here we see a mind habituated to evasion, and it is such people who are the villains in Atlas Shrugged. They are people who do not merely fail to use their minds, but who live their lives on the principle of subverting them.

Evasion is, in Galt’s words, “an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality” (1018), and it is a thesis of Atlas Shrugged’s that the psychology of an evader is centered around a fundamental antipathy for existence as such, and for all the values that make human existence possible. The psychology of evil will not be my focus in the present essay, but it is necessary to mention it here, because it is not only minor negative characters like the passive residents of Starnesville, but also villains like Jim Taggart who serve as contrasts by which the role played by the mind in the lives of the heroes is brought out. While the passive characters represent the mere absence of mental functioning, the villains represent its antithesis.21

As a final topic connected with drift and evasion, it will be instructive to say a few words about an epistemological doctrine that is an expression and rationalization of the psychology of passive men and evaders. The doctrine is “mysticism,” which Rand defines as follows:

Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one’s senses and of reason. Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as “instinct,” “intuition,” “revelation,” of any form of “just knowing.”22

Mysticism is the source of the “Morality of Death” against which Galt calls the strike, and he discusses it at some length in his speech (1027).23 I mention it here because this doctrine is diametrically opposed to Atlas Shrugged’s position on the role of the mind, and we will have occasion to note the contrast in connection with the aspects of the mind’s role that we will focus on in the remaining sections of this essay.

For the present, we can use the contrast to help sum up what we have already seen about Rand’s conception of the mind. Man’s means of knowledge is reason, and there can be no such thing as “just knowing,” because reason does not function automatically; rather, knowledge is something that must be achieved by integrating our sensory material to form progressively wider concepts, by identifying what we observe in conceptual terms, and integrating these observations into an ever-growing conceptual awareness of reality. This is what it means for a man to be conscious, and reason is man’s means of consciousness.

What, then, is its role in man’s existence? We can begin our answer with an observation Rand makes in her nonfiction: “Consciousness—for those living organisms which possess it—is the basic means of survival. For man, the basic means of survival is reason.”24


Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions—and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth. (410)

The words are Francisco’s. In her nonfiction, Rand describes production as “the application of reason to the problem of survival,” explaining that “The action required to sustain human life is primarily intellectual: everything man needs has to be discovered by his mind and produced by his effort.”25 This point is a central theme in Atlas Shrugged: its philosophical speeches underscore, and the progression of its plot dramatizes, the many ways in which our lives depend on technologies and how these technologies are produced and sustained by thought.

At their first meeting, looking out on a stormy night from a formal party with “summer flowers and half-naked women,” Francisco says to Rearden: “It’s a terrible night for any animal caught unprotected on that plain. . . . This is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man.” He describes Rearden as “saving” his guests “from the storm.” The truth and significance of Francisco’s remark becomes increasingly clear as the men of the mind withdraw from society. Dr. Stadler finds it too cold to work in the laboratories of the State Science Institute, which lack oil for heat during the winter following Wyatt’s disappearance (339). The next winter, when the rest of the Colorado industrialists have gone, people do “not care to remember that there had been a time when snowstorms did not sweep, unresisted, down unlighted roads and upon the roofs of unheated houses, did not stop the movement of trains, did not leave a wake of corpses counted by the hundreds” (496). “The last of the trucks made by Lawrence Hammond” and “the best of the airplanes once made by Dwight Sanders” are lost in vain attempts to fight the storm. Earlier in the novel, Dagny describes such machines as “alive,”

because they are the physical shape of the action of a living power—of the mind that had been able to grasp the whole of this complexity, to set its purpose, to give it form. . . . They are alive, she thought, but their soul operates them by remote control. Their soul is in every man who has the capacity to equal this achievement. Should the soul vanish from the earth, the motors would stop, because that is the power which keeps them going. (246)

With Sanders and Hammond gone, the motors stop—the machines die; and so do the people whose lives depend on them.

When nature is more hospitable, as it is the following year in Minnesota, when they have “a bumper crop,” it is only through reason that men are able to take advantage of it (923). Agriculture itself and all the tools it requires are products of reason, and this particular crop only exists because of the ingenuity of the farmers who found a way to plant their wheat despite such obstacles as the deteriorating state of their equipment. The crop could not have been harvested if not for the foresight of Rearden, who recognizing the situation, turned his full attention to providing metal on credit to the manufacturers of farm equipment, who then sold it to the farmers on the same terms. Before the harvest can feed the nation (or profit the farmers and their suppliers), it needs to be transported to market, and this too requires technology and the intelligence to use it. In this case, despite a heroic effort by Dagny and Eddie, the harvest rots due to the irrationality of the bureaucrats who control the nation’s railroads.

Unlike animals who survive by repeating patterns of behavior that are innate or learned passively in childhood, in order to survive man must initiate and sustain a process of thought. And the result of this process is a sort of survival that is not possible for animals. Each new discovery enables us to live longer and better—a point made eloquently by Wyatt:

“I add an extra span of time to [my customers’] lives with every gallon of my oil that they burn. And since they’re men like me, they keep inventing faster ways to make the things they make—so every one of them grants me an added minute, hour or day with the bread I buy from them, with the clothes, the lumber, the metal”—he glanced at Galt—“an added year with every month of electricity I purchase.” (722)

Earlier in the novel Rearden speaks in similar terms of “what [Galt’s] motor would have meant if built”:

about ten years added to the life of every person in this country—If you consider how many things it would have made easier and cheaper to produce, how many hours of human labor it would have released for other work, and how much more anyone’s work would have brought him. (290)

Even the poorest among modern Americans now take for granted a standard of living and a longevity that was not possible to anyone prior to the Industrial Revolution. Throughout most of its history most of mankind was engaged in the sort of back- and spirit-breaking labor illustrated in the novel by the people of Starnesville. The passive woman there, discussed earlier, has “stooped shoulders” and “shuffling movements” that give her the “the mark of senility” at the age of thirty-seven. Dagny and Rearden wonder how she could have “come to such a state.” The answer is implied by the following paragraphs:

The last thing they saw, as they left the town, was a billboard. A design was still visible on its peeling strips, imprinted in the dead gray that had once been color. It advertised a washing machine.

In a distant field, beyond the town, they saw the figure of a man moving slowly, contorted by the ugliness of a physical effort beyond the proper use of a human body: he was pushing a plow by hand. (286)

Our conception of what it is like to be thirty-seven—or any other age—is colored by the availability of labor-saving technologies that are products of the mind. They vanish when it does, leaving man to labor “from sunrise to sunset at the shafts of a hand-plow for a bowl of rice” (1052) and woman to sit “with her shriveled face and pendulous breasts . . . grinding meal in a bowl, hour after hour, century by century” (1049).

In addition to being needed to create and sustain technology, intelligence is required for its use, if it is to be beneficial rather than harmful. This point is illustrated by the explosion in the Winston Tunnel (584–608), and by Project X, which, in the hands of a drunken Cuffy Meigs, destroys everything within a hundred-mile radius, including the Taggart Bridge (1132).26 Mulligan, who predicts the destruction of the bridge, elaborates on this theme:

Consider the physical risks of complex machinery in the hands of blind fools and fear-crazed cowards. Just think of their railroads—you’d be taking a chance on some such horror as that Winston tunnel incident every time you stepped aboard a train—and there will be more incidents of that kind, coming faster and faster. They’ll reach the stage where no day will pass without a major wreck. . . . And the same will be happening in every other industry, wherever machines are used—the machines which they thought could replace our minds. Plane crashes, oil tank explosions, blast-furnace break-outs, high-tension wire electrocutions, subway cave-ins and trestle collapses—they’ll see them all. The very machines that had made their life so safe, will now make it a continuous peril. (805–6)

Just as technology is a product of the mind that depends on it for its sustenance and use, so too is wealth. To maintain a fortune over time, one must invest it wisely, as the stories of the Starnes heirs, Lee Hunsacker, and others illustrate (313–24). And the fortune itself only has value in a world populated by productive men with products for sale. Francisco explains:

When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor—your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. (410)

The point is illustrated in the action of the novel. Mr. Thompson summarizes the result of Galt’s withdrawal of the mind when he observes that “people are starving and giving up, the economy is falling to pieces, nobody is producing any longer” (1089). When, in an effort to entice Galt to solve the problem, he offers Galt a “a billion dollars—a cool, neat billion dollars,” Galt points out that the money will not buy him anything in a world lacking producers—in a world without the mind.

Just as technology and wealth are products of the mind, which can neither be sustained nor be of any benefit in its absence, so too, though in a less obvious way, are natural resources. These are not man-made in the normal sense of that term, but their value is produced, and is a product of reason. Oil, for example, is not created by man, and would continue to exist if men were to vanish entirely or if they stopped using their minds. But intelligence is needed to find oil, to extract it from the earth, and to refine it. In the novel we see that Wyatt is able to do this—and to do it in new and innovative ways—whereas the drudges at the State Science Institute are not (248–49, 343, 519, 720–23). More importantly, though, intelligence is needed to discover oil’s uses and to implement them. It is of no use to an animal, and is only of use to men like Jim Taggart because there are other men who know how to put it to use powering and lubricating machines that he does not understand. Without the minds of such men, Dagny observes, the oil would “become primeval ooze again” (246). The same point applies to the static electricity in the air, which due to Galt’s genius, replaces oil as a source of power for the residents of the valley. The point applies even to the wild berries picked by a primitive hunter-gatherer, as Rand points out:

Man could not survive even as an herbivorous creature by picking fruit and berries at random. He has no instinct to tell him which plants are beneficial to him and which are a deadly poison. He can learn it only by conscious experimentation or by the observation of other living creatures who do not touch poisonous plants—a procedure which, in either case, is a process of thought.27

Galt makes this same point more succinctly in Atlas Shrugged, when he says that man “cannot obtain his food without a knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it” (1012).

We can appreciate, now, why Francisco describes the mind as the “root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth” (410). All goods, from gold, to land, to food, to oil, to technology, are created by applying reason to the problem of survival, in the way that is most obvious in the case of sophisticated technologies, and they cease to be useful and, in most cases, even to exist unless reason is constantly employed to maintain and utilize them.

The recognition that we need reason to produce, maintain, and utilize the goods necessary for survival dates back at least to ancient Greece, but the form in which this view is presented in Atlas Shrugged is both strikingly modern and distinctive to Rand. To see how, it is instructive to begin by considering briefly some of what the Greeks had to say on this issue.28 Plato recounts the myth that Prometheus bestowed mankind with “vocational wisdom,” after his brother Epimetheus neglected to provide us with a means of survival.29 And Aristotle, in the first book of his Politics, details the role in human survival of such vocations as hunting, agriculture, animal husbandry, and household management. The word I’m translating “vocation” here is technê (the root of our word technology); it amounts to knowledge of how to produce something.30

The Greeks saw a significant divide between the sort of reasoning involved in the vocations and the “theoretical” reasoning involved in the sciences (including, especially, philosophy and mathematics).31 The sciences were more intellectually demanding but their discoveries seemed not to make any significant contribution to production. Instead, they were experienced as containing their own reward in the form of a sense of exercising one’s mind to the utmost, which the philosophers regarded as an end in itself—something that has value intrinsically, quite apart from its relation to the rest of life.

By contrast, little intellectual satisfaction was to be found in the vocations, which, though they did require some thinking, were more labor intensive than any job in the modern world. It is significant in this connection that the Greeks did not see the vocations as involving the discovery of new methods of production. What Prometheus handed down to man were complete (or nearly complete) bodies of knowledge, which needed only to be applied, and this application consisted largely in tedious (and often excruciating) manual labor. Thus, while theoretical reasoning was engaged in for its own sake, the vocations were practiced only for the material rewards they yielded (and indeed, they were most often practiced by slaves, who had no choice in the matter).

We have here a dichotomy between theoretical reasoning, which is seen as useless but intrinsically valuable, and productive reasoning, which is valued only for its effects. Theoretical reason, which is reason in the fullest sense, aims at truth, whereas productive reason, which is barely reason at all, aims at profit or sustenance. Thus the alleged impracticality of theoretical reasoning came to be seen as ennobling it, and the utility of productive reason as debasing it.

This attitude, which persists to this day, is represented in Atlas Shrugged by a number of characters. Among these is the bum who Dagny encounters in a slum diner:

Man’s only talent is an ignoble cunning for satisfying the needs of his body. No intelligence is required for that. Don’t believe the stories about man’s mind, his spirit, his ideals, his sense of unlimited ambition. . . . Spirit? There’s no spirit involved in manufacturing or in sex. Yet these are man’s only concerns. Matter—that’s all men know or care about. As witness our great industries—the only accomplishment of our alleged civilization—built by vulgar materialists with the aims, the interests and the moral sense of hogs. It doesn’t take any morality to turn out a ten-ton truck on an assembly line. (177)

Morality, he thinks, is “judgment to distinguish right and wrong, vision to see the truth, courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price” all traits associated with scientists and philosophers, but not with practitioners of vocations.

The novel’s most significant exponent of the distinction between theoretical and productive reasoning is Robert Stadler.32 We can see this in his responses to the two most significant technological achievements in the novel, Rearden Metal and Galt’s motor. He calls the first “an excellent piece of smelting” which he regards as of negligible value when compared to the State Science Institute, “the last center of science left on earth, and the whole future of human knowledge” (190). Notice that Rearden Metal is a significant scientific achievement, which gives the lie to Stadler’s claim that the State Science Institute is the last center of science. Stadler does not count Rearden’s laboratories as centers of science precisely because they have a productive purpose. And in describing the metal as a “piece of smelting” he treats it as though it were a mere application of the ancient vocation of blacksmithing.33 The new discovery involved in Galt’s motor is too profound for Stadler to ignore or minimize, but consider what he says in response to it:

He arrived at some new concept of energy. He discarded all our standard assumptions, according to which his motor would have been impossible. He formulated a new premise of his own and he solved the secret of converting static energy into kinetic power. Do you know what that means? Do you realize what a feat of pure, abstract science he had to perform before he could make his motor? . . . Did you say you found this in the research laboratory of a plain, commercial motor factory? . . . A man with the genius of a great scientist, who chose to be a commercial inventor? I find it outrageous. He wanted a motor, and he quietly performed a major revolution in the science of energy, just as a means to an end, and he didn’t bother to publish his findings, but went right on making his motor. (355–56)

Stadler, enraptured by Galt’s “pure, abstract science,” is offended that Galt saw it as a means to a productive end. “Why,” Stadler asks, “did he want to waste his mind on practical appliances?”

This question and Dagny’s involuntary reply, “Perhaps because he liked living on this earth,” go to the heart of Stadler’s thematic role in the novel. Through the character, Rand draws out an implication of the dichotomy between theoretical and productive reasoning. If reason, in its highest functions, is useless and its value is entirely disconnected from the rest of life, then the mind—and the man of the mind—is not at home in the world. This implication was explicitly embraced by Plato, who portrayed philosophers as longing to be separated from their bodies in death.34 His thesis was in part motivated by the significant mystical elements in his conception of reason; but even Aristotle, who had no patience for mysticism and was this-worldly in orientation, found it difficult to account for the place of reason in the world.35 Stadler, the pure theoretical scientist who looks down on productive reasoning, is portrayed, like Plato’s philosophers, as a man who does not belong on Earth. But the reason that he does not belong is, on Rand’s view, not because he is a scientist as such, but because he represents a mistaken view of the role of science, and of the mind generally, in man’s existence.

Atlas Shrugged portrays and celebrates reason as a single, unitary faculty. The differences between so-called “productive” and “theoretical” reasoning are differences in degree rather than in kind. Knowledge as such has survival-promoting applications, and because of this, even the most abstract science or mathematics qualifies as productive, even when the scientist himself does not yet know of a specific application for it. Thus theoretical reasoning differs from the deliberations of a blacksmith only in the immediacy of its use in the production of material values. Though the productive consequences of scientific discoveries may be less immediate, they are ultimately greater. This point is not unique to Rand: it has found other defenders in the modern world, most famously Francis Bacon, who is reputed to have said “knowledge is power.”36 There is, however, another aspect to Rand’s integrative view of reason which is uniquely hers: she ascribes to production the features long recognized as noble in abstract science, and in so doing she reconceives the nature of this nobility.

Recall the traits that the bum in the diner thought could not be found in the modern world: “vision to see the truth, courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price.” Notice what reason Rearden gives in the very next scene for his refusal to sell the rights to his Metal at any price or to be intimidated by any threat into taking it off the market: “You see, it’s because Rearden Metal is good” (182).37 He and Dagny have the vision to see the truth about the metal, and the courage to act upon this truth, when the whole world is against them. In showing us how this vision and courage is necessary to produce the John Galt Line, Atlas Shrugged shows us that it is necessary for production as such.

In contrast to Stadler, Rearden is portrayed as the man who does belong on Earth—the man, Dagny thinks, “to whom the Earth belongs”—and, in his creation of Rearden Metal, we see at once the scientist dedicated to truth, and the industrialist out to make a profit by putting this truth to life-sustaining work.

Two hundred tons of metal which was to be harder than steel, running liquid at a temperature of four thousand degrees, had the power to annihilate every wall of the structure and every one of the men who worked by the stream. But every inch of its course, every pound of its pressure and the content of every molecule within it, were controlled and made by a conscious intention that had worked upon it for ten years. . . .

—the nights spent in the workshop of his home, over sheets of paper which he filled with formulas, then tore up in angry failure—. . .

—the meals, interrupted and abandoned at the sudden flash of a new thought, a thought to be pursued at once, to be tried, to be tested, to be worked on for months, and to be discarded as another failure—

—the moments snatched from conferences, from contracts, from the duties of running the best steel mills in the country, snatched almost guiltily, as for a secret love—

—the one thought held immovably across a span of ten years, under everything he did and everything he saw, the thought held in his mind when he looked at the buildings of a city, at the track of a railroad, at the light in the windows of a distant farmhouse, at the knife in the hands of a beautiful woman cutting a piece of fruit at a banquet, the thought of a metal alloy that would do more than steel had ever done, a metal that would be to steel what steel had been to iron—

—the acts of self-racking when he discarded a hope or a sample, not permitting himself to know that he was tired, not giving himself time to feel, driving himself through the wringing torture of: “not good enough . . . still not good enough . . .” and going on with no motor save the conviction that it could be done. (29–30)

Here we see the nobility of a reason that is at home in the world—a powerful, intense reason that isn’t the luxury of aristocrat philosophers fed by slave labor (or of a State Science Institute funded with money taxed from the productive), but a reason which is itself productive, and on a grand scale.

The scale is important: Rearden is as different as can be from the “household managers” Aristotle describes—functionaries who oversee muscular drudges in the performance of a stagnant routine. He is an innovator, who, through the work of his mind, opens up new worlds of life-sustaining possibility:

To take the pounding violence of sixteen motors, she thought, the thrust of seven thousand tons of steel and freight, to withstand it, grip it and swing it around a curve, was the impossible feat performed by two strips of metal no wider than her arm. What made it possible? What power had given to an unseen arrangement of molecules the power on which their lives depended and the lives of all the men who waited for the eighty boxcars? She saw a man’s face and hands in the glow of a laboratory oven, over the white liquid of a sample of metal. (245)

As an inventor, and so a scientist, Rearden exemplifies the productive character of the very functions of the mind that the Greeks thought were inherently impractical; and Galt does this on an even greater scale. It is in such dramatic cases of technological innovation that the error of the Greek view is most readily apparent (which is why it was not apparent to the Greeks who did not yet have any such examples to draw on).

Atlas Shrugged also shows us how the same intransigent devotion to truth epitomized by science is present in all productive work, from running a railroad or a steel mill to mining coal or investing in the stock market. We see its presence even in such mundane tasks as toasting bread or cooking a hamburger when they are performed well (176–77, 328). It is true, of course, that all of these productive endeavors require some manual labor (though nothing like the backbreaking labor with which most of mankind was occupied prior to the Industrial Revolution); but an important theme of Atlas is that this labor is not what is primarily responsible for the product, because it is the mind that creates the context in which the physical labor can be of value. Galt explains:

When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing.

The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.

Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. The man who does no more than physical labor, consumes the material value-equivalent of his own contribution to the process of production, and leaves no further value, neither for himself nor others. But the man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor—the man who discovers new knowledge—is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. (1064)

Galt’s position here (and Francisco’s in the passage quoted at the beginning of this section) is presented in explicit opposition to the view that wealth is essentially the product of physical labor, with its corollary that industrialists grow rich by “exploiting” their workers. This position, which was most prominently defended by Marx, is simply a twist on the Greek marginalization of productive reasoning applied (preposterously) to an industrial society. The twist is that, where the Greeks had exalted theoretical reasoning and disdained manual labor, Marx exalted toil and dismissed as empty the theorizing that the Greeks saw as an end in itself. He regarded men’s thoughts as effects of their economic circumstances and activity, describing them as “the efflux of their material behavior” and “ideological reflexes” that are “echoes of life-processes.”38 Galt aptly dubs this position “mysticism of muscle,” because it views knowledge not as something that must be achieved through a process of self-directed reasoning, but as something that arises in us passively as a byproduct of manual labor, which we somehow just know how to perform. Lee Hunsacker speaks for this view when he says:

Any enlightened person knows that man is made by the material factors of his background, and that a man’s mind is shaped by his tools of production. But people wouldn’t wait for the laws of economic determinism to operate upon us. We never had a motor factory before. We had to let the tools condition our minds, didn’t we? (320)39

It is because tools cannot condition a mind that the factory closes; and in the absence of a mind competent to understand its nature and value, Galt’s motor, the greatest of all tools, rusts while the mindless residents of Starnesville sink into a life of true toil. This is only one of the many episodes in the novel that dramatize the falsehood of the mysticism of muscle. One further example will suffice, both to convey this point and to underscore the mind’s role as the productive faculty. Consider how Rand describes the relay room in the Taggart Terminal, and Dagny’s thoughts concerning it, after the interlocker system has failed:

Through the open door of the relay room, she saw the tower men standing grimly idle—the men whose jobs had never permitted a moment’s relaxation—standing by the long rows that looked like vertical copper pleats, like shelves of books and as much of a monument to human intelligence. The pull of one of the small levers, which protruded like bookmarks from the shelves, threw thousands of electric circuits into motion, made thousands of contacts and broke as many others, set dozens of switches to clear a chosen course and dozens of signals to light it, with no error left possible, no chance, no contradiction—an enormous complexity of thought condensed into one movement of a human hand to set and insure the course of a train, that hundreds of trains might safely rush by, that thousands of tons of metal and lives might pass in speeding streaks a breath away from one another, protected by nothing but a thought, the thought of the man who devised the levers. But they—she looked at the face of her signal engineer—they believed that that muscular contraction of a hand was the only thing required to move the traffic—and now the tower men stood idle—and on the great panels in front of the tower director, the red and green lights, which had flashed announcing the progress of trains at a distance of miles, were now so many glass beads—like the glass beads for which another breed of savages had once sold the Island of Manhattan. (951–52)

Without the interlocker, the trains must be directed manually, by an army of men with lanterns, following written orders, a process that “will take hours to do what used to take minutes” (953). In response to the signal master’s surprise, Dagny says:

“Yes, brother! Now why should you be shocked? Man is only muscles, isn’t he? We’re going back—back to where there were no interlocking systems, no semaphores, no electricity—back to the time when train signals were not steel and wire, but men holding lanterns. Physical men, serving as lampposts. You’ve advocated it long enough—you got what you wanted. Oh, you thought that your tools would determine your ideas? But it happens to be the other way around—and now you’re going to see the kind of tools your ideas have determined!”

But even to go back took an act of intelligence—she thought, feeling the paradox of her own position, as she looked at the lethargy of the faces around her. (952)

Continue to Part 2 here.

Reprinted from the English Language edition of Essays on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” edited by Robert Mayhew and originally published by Lexington Books, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., Lanham, MD, USA. Copyright © by the author. Published in the English language by arrangement with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, reprinting, or on any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

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  1. Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967), 1, and “Basic Principles of Literature,” in The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (New York: Signet, 1975), 81. In some contexts, she gave a fuller statement of the theme: “the role of the mind in man’s existence and, as a corollary, the presentation of a new code of ethics—the morality of rational self-interest” (“Is Atlas Shrugging,” in Capitalism, 15, and For the New Intellectual [New York: Signet, 1963], 88). I discuss how the novel demonstrates a new moral philosophy in my essay “Discovering Atlantis” in this volume.
  2. As Allan Gotthelf has pointed out to me, this broader focus is reflected in Rand’s statement of the theme as the role of the mind “in man’s existence” rather than “in man’s life.”
  3. Rand identifies this as the “plot-theme” of the novel in her lectures on fiction (reprinted, in an edited form, in The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, Tore Boeckmann ed. [New York: Plume, 2000], 18). The concept of “plot-theme,” a term coined by Rand, is explained in “Basic Principles of Literature” (Romantic Manifesto, 84) and Art of Fiction, 17. For an illuminating analysis, see also Tore Boeckmann, “The Fountainhead as a Romantic Novel,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2007), especially 123ff.
  4. In this respect Atlas Shrugged is anticipated by Anthem, which dramatizes the “meaning of the concept ‘I’” by showing a world in which it has been eradicated and the steps by which a lone genius recaptures it. In Rand’s view, the “I” or “ego” and the “mind” are the same thing (see especially Atlas Shrugged, 1057). For discussion of Anthem from this point of view, see my “Prometheus’ Discovery: Anthem on Individualism and the Meaning of the Concept ‘I’,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005).
  5. As Rand wrote in another connection: “A great deal may be learned about society by studying man; but this process cannot be reversed: nothing can be learned about man by studying society—by studying the inter-relationships of entities one has never identified or defined.” (“What Is Capitalism?,” in Capitalism, 15.)
  6. See Michael S. Berliner, “The Atlas Shrugged Reviews,” and Leonard Peikoff, “Reply to Whittaker Chambers,” in the present volume.
  7. In a letter to John Hospers, Rand expresses uncertainty as to whether there even are innate degrees of raw intelligence. See Michael S. Berliner, ed., Letters of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1995), 539.
  8. It is, however, a thesis of Atlas that one can permanently destroy one’s mind through long and consistent misuse. This is the state of people like James Taggart who Galt refers to as “teachers of the Morality of Death” and who he says “will never know who is John Galt.”
  9. Galt describes this mission as follows:

    I went out to become a flame-spotter. I made it my job to watch for those bright flares in the growing night of savagery, which were the men of ability, the men of the mind—to watch their course, their struggle and their agony—and to pull them out, when I knew that they had seen enough. (746)

    The men Galt has in mind here are those like Rearden, Wyatt, and Dagny, and we get several indications in the novel that Galt, Francisco, and Ragnar have lists of such “future strikers” (795, 804, cf. 579, 758). But not all strikers were targeted in this manner. There are indications that when Rearden strikes, he takes with him much of his staff (most notably his secretary, Gwen Ives), though none of these people had been specifically sought out by Galt or Francisco (1000). These people and presumably many others were invited to join the strike, whereas some equally virtuous people were not, because the strikers happened to know of them. A third, intermediate, category of striker comprises those, like Owen Kellogg and Dick McNamara, who Galt targets in order to undermine Taggart Transcontinental. These men, though likely not of sufficient stature to be on Galt’s initial list of potential strikers, acquire special significance because of Dagny’s reliance on them.

  10. Henceforth, I will use “animal” to refer only to animals other than man.
  11. This tradition should be distinguished from both the rationalist tradition (exemplified by Plato and Descartes), which holds that we have some knowledge entirely independent of the senses, and the empiricist tradition (exemplified by Locke and Hume), which held that all knowledge derives from the senses and retains an essentially sensory character, as well as from the Kantian tradition which is a synthesis of these two and maintains that the objects we know are constructed by the mind out of sensory material in accordance with innate structuring principles.
  12. Rand repeated this definition, speaking in her own voice, in her 1960 talk “Faith and Force” (reprinted in Philosophy: Who Needs It [New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1982; Signet paperback edition, 1984]). In later writings, she dropped the word “perceives,” defining reason as “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” (See especially “The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism [New York: New American Library, 1964].). Most likely the change was made because it came to Rand’s attention that the initial formulation could be taken to mean that there is reasoning involved in the process of sense-perception itself, a view that she rejected. For further discussion of this issue see my chapter “The Objectivist Epistemology” in Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri, eds., Ayn Rand: A Companion to Her Works and Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, forthcoming).
  13. Rand presents her theory of concepts in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Further exposition and elaboration can be found in Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1991), chapters 3–5, my “Objectivist Epistemology,” and Allan Gotthelf’s unpublished paper “Ayn Rand on Concepts: Another Approach to Abstraction and Essence.”
  14. “Objectivist Ethics,” 22.
  15. I discuss Rearden and Dagny’s developing thinking in some detail in my other contribution to this volume, “Discovering Atlantis.” Cherryl’s thought is narrated across part III, chapter IV; see especially pp. 873–83 and 900–8. We see Eddie’s thoughts in the novel’s opening scene (3–7) and he expresses them throughout the novel in his conversations with Galt and with Dagny.
  16. Similar characters include the storekeeper in Woodstock, with whom Dagny deals during her stay there (610), and the members of Cherryl Taggart’s family (on which, see 261). None of these characters seek to improve their lots in life, because doing so would require conceiving of an alternative to the status quo, and that would require a sort of mental exertion that, after a lifetime of passivity, would be unnatural to them (and perhaps impossible).
  17. “Objectivist Ethics,” 22.
  18. See, for example, “Objectivist Ethics,” 20, “The ‘Conflicts’ of Men’s Interests” (in Virtue of Selfishness), 59, “Philosophy and Sense of Life” (in Romantic Manifesto), 26, and “Our Cultural Value Deprivation” (in The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, Leonard Peikoff ed. [New York: New American Library, 1989; paperback edition, Meridian, 1990]), 102. For further discussion, see Peikoff, Objectivism, 61.
  19. There is helpful discussion of this point in Harry Binswanger’s lectures on Free Will from the 1999 Second Renaissance Conference in Lake Tahoe (recording of which are available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore).
  20. Such fog imagery occurs also in connection with Lillian Rearden, in whose eyes Hank sees “not the look of understanding, but of a furious refusal to understand—as if she wanted to turn the violence of her emotion into a fog screen, as if she hoped not that it would blind her to reality, but that her blindness would make reality cease to exist” (538).
  21. On the psychology of evil, see Onkar Ghate’s discussion of the chapter “Anti-Life” in his essay “The Part and Chapter Headings of Atlas Shrugged,” also in the present volume (40–41, 49–50) and Tara Smith’s discussion of “The Death Premise” in her essay “No Tribute to Caesar: Good or Evil in Atlas Shrugged” in the present volume (280–87).
  22. “Faith and Force,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It, 85.
  23. See especially 1027 and 1034–46. For discussion, see Allan Gotthelf’s “Galt’s Speech in Five Sentences (and Forty Questions)” in the present volume (381).
  24. “Objectivist Ethics,” 22–23.
  25. Capitalism, 17.
  26. It is worth noticing that an area over nine times the size would have been destroyed if Rearden had not heroically withheld Rearden Metal from the State Science Institute, when it requested it for Project X (360, 432–38). As built, the device is able to “produce rays to cover . . . the entire countryside within a radius of one hundred miles.” Floyd Ferris and his goons had “the technical knowledge to build generators with a range of two and three hundred miles—but due to the fact that we were unable to obtain in time a sufficient quantity of a highly heat-resistant metal, such as Rearden Metal, we had to be satisfied with our present equipment and radius of control” (822–23). When initially asked to sell the Metal for use in the secret project, Rearden gives as one of his reasons for refusing: that “I created that Metal” and “It is my moral responsibility to know for what purpose I permit it to be used” (365). This is just the sort of responsibility defaulted on by Stadler, who does not object to his discoveries being used to create Project X. Rand discusses the responsibility of scientists in this connection in her essay “To Young Scientists,” in Voice of Reason.
  27. David Harriman, ed. Journals of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1997), 252. The passage is from a nonfiction treatise The Moral Basis of Individualism, which Rand worked on in the period between The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, but never completed.
  28. My treatment of the Greeks here owes a great deal to Leonard Peikoff’s explanation (in an unpublished lecture on the importance of historical knowledge to philosophy) of Rand’s comment that she could not have formulated her philosophy prior to the Industrial Revolution. See his briefer discussion of this issue in Objectivism, 195–96.
  29. Protagoras 321d. Significantly, allusions to Prometheus figure prominently in Rand’s work. Francisco describes Galt as “Prometheus who changed his mind” (517) and Equality 7-2521, the hero of Anthem, renames himself Prometheus at the end of the novella (Fiftieth anniversary paperback edition [New York: Signet, 1995], 115). The mythological Prometheus represents reason and is supposed to have stolen fire for man from the gods and to have been punished for this by being bound to a mountain where he was pecked at by birds of prey. Similarly, Galt and the hero of Anthem are paragons of reason who make a new form of energy available to mankind and suffer for having done so. But in Rand’s version, unlike the myth, the suffering is caused by mankind itself; and, instead of submitting to it, the heroes (to paraphrase Francisco) withdraw their fire until the day when men withdraw their vultures (517). This point was called to my attention by Jason Rheins, who observed that Steve Ingalls, the hero of Rand’s 1939 play “Think Twice” (posthumously published in Leonard Peikoff, ed., The Early Ayn Rand: A Selection from Her Unpublished Fiction, revised version [New York: Signet, 2005]), also creates and withdraws a new form of energy and so can be seen as a third instance of Rand’s reconceiving the Prometheus myth. Rheins elaborates: “All the central protagonist-heroes in works that Rand conceived of and finished after starting The Fountainhead fit the Prometheus model. Rand sees in the Prometheus myth and many others an implicit recognition of society’s hostility against (the men of) the mind—an identification made by Roark [Fountainhead, 678], whose destruction of the Cortland housing project is a similar revolt against self-sacrifice. Rand’s ‘New Prometheus’ archetype not only emphasizes the life-giving power of reason, as some other versions of the myth had done, but also epitomizes the moral revolution of rational egoism that liberates the mind from the code of self-sacrifice.”
  30. In Nicomachean Ethics VI 4, Aristotle defines a technê as a “productive state involving true reason.”
  31. For completeness, it is worth mentioning a third category of reasoning, which both Aristotle and Plato discuss: the practical reasoning by which we make decisions about how to conduct our lives. Plato, especially, stresses the role of this sort of reasoning in making material possessions of value to us (Euthydemus 278e-282a, Meno 87e-88b, cf. Apology 30b), and thinks that it is closely related to (or perhaps identical with) theoretical reasoning, which he regards as quite distinct from the sort involved in producing food. Aristotle treats theoretical, practical, and productive reasoning as fully distinct categories (see especially Nicomachean Ethics VI).
  32. See Galt’s reference to Stadler in his speech, 1066.
  33. Similarly Lillian refers to it as “a new kind of tin” (37).
  34. See especially the Phaedo.
  35. This difficulty gives rise to a number of often-remarked-on tensions in his corpus. He is frequently tentative when discussing issues bearing on the relation of mind to life and nature; and his identification, in Nicomachean Ethics Book X, of the life centered around theoretical contemplation as the highest good, has seemed to many commentators to be out of tune with the loving attention paid in the rest of the treatise to a constellation of virtues and values that are associated with civic life and would seem to be relegated to a merely instrumental role in the life Aristotle ultimately advocates as best.
  36. Rand often quoted approvingly Bacon’s other famous dictum, that “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” (Novum Organum Book 1, aphorism 3 [Spedding, trans.]), and once gave it as a one-sentence summation of her metaphysics (see “Introducing Objectivism,” in Voice of Reason, 3, “Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” in Voice of Reason, 18, For the New Intellectual, 15, “The Metaphysical vs. the Man-Made,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It, 25; cf. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd. ed. [New York: Meridian, 1990], 82, and “The Stimulus and the Response,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It, 202.)
  37. Francisco, in Rearden’s office, makes a similar point, describing the dedication to the good that is inherent in the way Rearden runs his business and makes his Mills constitute a “material” expression of the “abstract principle” of “moral action” (451).
  38. For an especially clear statement of Marx’s position on this issue (from which I draw my quotes) see “Premises of the Materialist Method,” in The Materialist Conception of History (in David McLellan, ed. Karl Marx: Selected Writings, 2nd ed. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], see especially 180–81).
  39. Rand regarded Marxism as a form of mysticism in its methodology as well. See For the New Intellectual, 33–34, “The Left: Old and New” (in Return of the Primitive [New York: Meridian, 1999]), 169, and “To Dream the Non-Commercial Dream” (in Voice of Reason), 246. Marxism is based on so-called “dialectical logic,” which is different from and allegedly superior to traditional Aristotelian logic in two respects: first it views thought as inherently social, whereas Aristotelian logic views it as individualistic; second, it views contradictions between premises as a necessary stage in reasoning from which we progress to new conclusions by “transcending” the contradiction. Aristotle and Rand, by contrast, maintained that contradictions arise only from missteps in one’s reasoning that must be corrected by “checking your premises,” so as to discover and reject the false ones. Rand interpreted appeals to dialectical reasoning as attempts to lull people into abandoning their minds and submitting to authority, and illustrated this with the characters of Simon Pritchett and Floyd Ferris (132–33, 542).
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Gregory Salmieri

Gregory Salmieri, PhD in philosophy, is a senior scholar of philosophy in the Salem Center for Policy at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. He holds the Brigham Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism and is the director of the center’s Program for Objectivity in Thought, Action, and Enterprise. He is co-editor of A Companion to Ayn Rand and Foundations of a Free Society and has published and lectured on epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophies of Aristotle and Ayn Rand.

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