Rishabh's Reviews > The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
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Sep 06, 07


This work serves as a fantastic introduction to Rand's inane philosophy - Objectivism (more about this in bit). Extremely gripping and never trite, The Fountainhead is a heady mixture of Rand's simplistic psychological and philosophical insights. The characters are, without exception, fascinating: Howard Roark - the unconventional architect who lives for and in his work, Dominique Francon - the yet more unconventional and passionate lover, Peter Keating - the seeker after all that is conventional, and hence (in Rand's mind) worthless, and (my favorite) Ellsworth Toohey - the Evil, brilliant, and power-hungry schemer. These (and other) well-etched characters, paradigms of what they stand for, become Rand's vehicles for expressing her take on the nature of the ideal man, the purpose and summum bonum of life, and other such important things that Rand seems singularly unqualified to expound on. Her story-telling skills and style of writing are undoubtedly distinguished; however, philosophy is not Ms.Rand's forte. In any case, this book was an interesting, thought-provoking read, even if one perusal of it was adequate for me to become all-round mocker of Objectivism.

Now to the philosophy behind this work. Ms.Rand seems to deify rationality without offering a reasonable explanation. Why are individuality and rationality the greatest and most glorious things? Ms.Rand says so; perhaps it "feels right" to her. Why, and based on what proof or rigor, does no god exist (Objectivism is an atheistic philosophy)? Ms.Rand says so; perhaps she conducted all kinds of scientific experiments and came up with the definitive answer to this quintessential philosophical problem. Just like in the case of her denunciation of homosexuality: "Because it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises, but there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality. Therefore I regard it as immoral... Morally it is immoral, and more than that, if you want my really sincere opinion, it is disgusting." Such sophistication of reasoning and opinion would do George Bush proud. To cut this potentially loong tirade short, I have no respect for Ayn Rand's pseudo-rational philosophy. While I like a few ideas here and there - her support of Capitalism and the individual's rights -, on the whole, I think it's a wannabe rational but actually shallow philosophy that, from the viewpoint of rational content, might as well be consigned to flames.
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Bruce I couldn't resist briefly answering your comment, Rishabh, as I was perusing all the reviews of The Fountainhead. Your criticism is much more specific than most.

First, Rand is an Aristotelian. It was Aristotle who defined man as a rational animal, and held man's sole means of attaining knowledge is his rational faculty. And Rand did very precisely define rationality as the faculty that conceptualizes data provided by the senses (see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). Rationality is so important because knowledge is the most necessary thing for human survival. Animals have instincts to survive; man has his rationality. Individualism is a corollary to reason because human beings can only think individually.

Her reason for not believing in God is that there is no evidence, which, from a scientific standpoint, is true. Even most Christians agree with this. I think she misapprehended the premises of religion, but, based on her understanding that religion requires a faith which is opposed to reason, her position logically follows.

Finally, her view of homosexuality is hardly something to judge her philosophy by. She never published that opinion; it is I believe anecdotal in nature,or perhaps from a lecture. I think her understanding of homosexuality is mistaken, too.

I hope this clarifies things a little.


Rishabh Thanks for a well-considered opinion, Bruce. I'll attempt a response here, but with a disclosure - I read this book and wrote this review 7-8 years back (high school)... My memory of this book and Rand's philosophy is hazy, so point out errors in my impressions of the same.

I believe in the value of both rationalism and individualism. It is Rand's extreme, almost fanatic glorification of these, to the exclusion of the immense influences of society and culture on man's nature, that I found unthinking. I'm basing this on the impressions I have of the messed-up personality of Howard Roark (and, for that matter, his girl whose name I've forgotten) who is help up as an exemplar of Objectivism.

Rand's philosophy, if I remember correctly, is too absolute to be tenable. Sweeping statements like reality existing independent of consciousness, the rejection of everything supernatural (including any and all conceptions of god/gods - I concede that the Biblical god, and indeed almost every popular conception of a god, is antithetical to rational belief), etc. are mindless positions commenting on things that are beyond verification as we know it. A more rational position would be nonbelieving but agnostic of rationally unverifiable phenomena; there is a thin but significant line between claiming that something is untrue and claiming that something is highly improbable.

Hume's work, among others, undermines our belief in facts by showing the arbitrariness of induction, one of the most important rational methods at our disposal. The rational method remains the best we can do, and therefore a healthy respect for it is justified, but to claim the nonexistence of anything that our current rational methods cannot allow of is irresponsible.

I included her view on homosexuality partly for dramatic effect (who can resist?) and partly to showcase her seemingly arbitrary judgments on morality.









Bruce Thanks for your reply, Rishabh. I didn't notice that your review was that old, but your memory is impressive! I'm glad to see you value rationality and individualism, and your comment on Rand glorifying these to the exclusion of other important influences is a view many people have of her philosophy. Rationality is, of course, just one aspect of our nature, but it seems invaluable as a check on the others -- emotions, intuition, etc. And, as you (and Hume) say, it's the best we can do.

Hume is one of the many writers on my reading list. I've only read about him so far.

To bad we can't meet in a pub over there and discuss these things further!

Take care,

Bruce


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