Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What Is Love? 2—Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand characters have never heard any question that could not be answered exhaustively in an extemporaneous three or four hour monologue. Ayn Rand herself, on the other hand, writing about the philosophy behind her characters, could be reasonably succinct.

[Writing note: After typing that paragraph I went back and changed ‘extemporaneous’ to ‘off-the-cuff.’ But then I thought, screw it: I use big words. Somewhere out there in the world there must be a cool girl who likes six syllable words…]

Here is Ayn Rand writing in an essay titled, “Philosophy and Sense of Life,” in her book, “The Romantic Manifesto.”

Hey, Ayn Rand, what is love?

There are two aspects of man’s existence which are the special province and expression of his sense of life: love and art.

I am referring to romantic love, in the serious meaning of that term—as distinguished from the superficial infatuations of those whose sense of life is devoid of any consistent values, i.e., of any lasting emotions other than fear. Love is a response of values. It is with a person’s sense of life that one falls in love—with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul—the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one’s own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one’s own basic values in the person of another. It is not a matter of professed convictions (though these are not irrelevant); it is a matter of much more profound, conscious and subconscious harmony.

Many errors and tragic disillusionments are possible in this process of emotional recognition, since a sense of life, by itself, is not a reliable cognitive guide. And if there are degrees of evil, then one of the most evil consequences of mysticism—in terms of human suffering—is the belief that love is a matter of “the heart,” not the mind, that love is an emotion independent of reason, that love is blind and impervious to the power of philosophy. Love is the expression of philosophy—of a subconscious philosophical sum—and, perhaps, no other aspect of human existence needs the conscious power of philosophy quite so desperately. When that power is called upon to verify and support an emotional appraisal, when love is a conscious integration of reason and emotion, of mind and values, then—and only then—it is the greatest reward of man’s life.

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