Obviously, no writer within the last three thousand years can claim to write only from his own thinking and it is important to recognize what the sources of thought are because:
1) The ideas or inferences may have a very specific context which cannot be forgotten.
2) Knowing the source will often provide useful validation for many things that merit discussion, not to mention being fair to the original author.
3) The comprehensive presentation of a set of ideas might only be found in the original writing.
Because of these considerations, here are the writers most important to me:
Aristotle – the giant of Western Civilization.
Ayn Rand – Popular novelist and a once-in-a-millennium thinker.
Viktor Frankl – Distinguished founder of the “Third School of Viennese Psychotherapy.”
There are also a number of other great thinkers, which tend to be more specialized or whose application is not as fundamental as the previous writers.
In most discussions, I will provide citations which will guide the reader to the books and works under discussion, as well as additional useful works for study.
For myself, I believe that there are a number of ideas original to me that have arisen over the course of 50 years of reading and thinking. I will leave it to the readers to decide whether my ideas are actually good or not.
My ideas will be revealed in the course of my writing, along with those of many others, such as psychologists, additional philosophers, economists, scientists, politicians, and so forth. Aristotle can also be handled, for the most part, within my narrative without extended discussion, even though his writing were so broad and seminal in Western culture, because his ideas have already been largely assimilated into our culture. The two writers in my sources which remain to be considered are Ayn Rand and Viktor Frankl. Their works serve as Rosetta Stones in my current enterprise and they are not well-known by most people, so deserve detailed examination.
What Frankl has to say is extremely important, but I think his work should be addressed somewhat later as philosophic discussion prior to presentation of his concepts dramatically enriches them with a new, broad, and far-reaching context. That context is provided by the last source remaining to be considered, to wit, Ayn Rand.
Rand’s philosophic work is so profound, broad, and fundamental that it is largely unknown to the general public and even to educated persons. This is so much the case that she merits a very detailed discussion of her ideas for my context. I have very specific reasons for characterizing her work as great. Here are a few of her contributions:
A) Metaphysics and metaphysical analysis. Her identification of true primaries and definitions within philosophy is unrivaled by all other writers except Aristotle.
B) A new theory of concepts which can scarcely overemphasized in its importance. Such work must easily be the highlight of a philosophic millennium.
C) Her work on meta-ethics and ethical definitions is groundbreaking. She has also been a trenchant critic of modern contemporary schools of ethics and morality.
D) Her discussion of the philosophic foundations of politics is one of the most important themes of the 20th and 21st centuries.
E) In esthetics, her discussion of a theory of literary art is, again, unique and very suggestive of still more vistas of knowledge.
Rand’s ideas are profound and seminal. However, over time, I found that while I agreed with her well over ninety percent of the time, perhaps even ninety-nine percent of the time, there still remained two aspects of her thinking that I found to be problems for me, and also for other honest people of good will.
First, there we a number of questions that seemed to bedevil many people who studied her philosophy earnestly. Some of these questions could sound silly, nonsensical, or even dishonest, but I determined that the questions reflected a certain underlying element or elements that needed to be addressed.
Take, for example, that Rand’s philosophy arises, she says, in part by a decision to live and that such a decision is an expression of human free will. Some have asked the serious question as to why someone should not simply choose to die? Would they never choose death if their will was free?
Another question seems more results oriented. Integrity is a revered virtue in Rand’s ethical philosophy. This would often give rise to the question or questions like “How does integrity develop?” or “Why is the lack of integrity so widespread?”
Still another question is why should a rational person not kill another person, if they thought they could successfully get away with it and the results are very positive? A number of such questions occur to students and critics of Rand’s philosophy and are answered with varying degrees of effectiveness.
The second area I found problematic is that there was a perceived notion that Rand’s philosophy did not give sufficient weight to the dynamics of emotions, including both joy and sadness. When one looks at her writings carefully, however, one will note that the characters of her books reflect a joy in existence and in each another.
Rand was certainly aware of how important these positive emotions are. However, she did not treat them to very much presentation or greatly elaborate on them in regard other aspects of her non-fiction writing. Indeed, a concern with emotion was often identified with “whim-worshippers.” A whim-worshipper is an emotionalist who believes that emotions are tools of cognition, rather than a reflection of what we think. Whim-worshippers rightly have a very bad reputation in Randian philosphy, but distaste for such persons, is not in itself a serious attempt to address emotions within ethics.
Furthermore, people new to her point of view had easily gotten the impression that she was or is a ruthless or uncaring person due to her dramatic style in literature and her given focus in philosophic writing. Of course devoted students of Rand’s philosophy and art know that Rand was a passionate lover of human life, and could hardly be termed unfeeling.
The above considerations led me on a search for a better understanding of man’s ethical and psychological context. During this search, I encountered Viktor Frankl’s incredible book “Man’s Search For Meaning.” His presentation of the concept of moral meaning I found to be truly the missing element in Rand’s treatment of ethics. Although Doctor Frankl had a different overall worldview and his point of view on this topic was as a psychotherapist, the considerations he brought up have a massive set of broad and deep philosophic implications. I do not believe that even he realized how crucially important his work is, although he knew it to be quite important.
What I am doing in my writing is largely the effort to integrate Frankl’s concepts about meaning with Rand’s ethical context. I believe that such an integration will flesh out Rand’s ethics, while giving Frankl’s understanding vastly greater intellectual rigor. From it also much additional discovery follows from application of this integrated view.
I will begin to greatly amplify and add to what I have said above in ensuing posts. If I am right in what I am saying, I am convinced that the resulting ethical and psychological knowledge will heal many hurting people and help many more find their potentials within their own lives and within a culture of reason, meaning, and joy. May it be so. I hope you will help me get there.