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Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism and Humanism

The Religion and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), encompassed her ideas of rationalism, individualism, and capitalism within a dystopian United States.

Ayn Rand fled Bolshevik-controlled Russia in 1926 to live where her ideas could breathe and thrive: in America. Her philosophy slowly took shape in the form of novels: We the Living (1936), Anthem (1938), and The Fountainhead (1943.)

Frustrated with her intellectual climate, novelist and lay philosopher Ayn Rand (1905–82) collected ideas from a variety of philosophers and cobbled them into a unique view that she named Objectivism. By the mid-forties, she had given her philosophy a name: objectivism. Objectivism so impassioned Rand that she ultimately gave her talent over to it. With the completion of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, she had metamorphosed from writer to philosopher. Her subsequent work focused upon creating the “new intellectuals” through objectivism.

'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand (ISBN 451191145) Rand expounded on this personal worldview in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand defends Aristotle’s ideas that reality exists objectively and authoritatively, that the laws of logic guide our understanding, and that consciousness is the seat of humans’ ability to know. She defends the rationalist ideas that morality is objective and that conscious rationality bestows special moral significance. And she also defends the classical liberal idea that each person is obligated to respect every person’s right to pursue her interests, so long as those pursuits do not interfere with another person’s right to do so. Rand then argues that the only sociopolitical system consistent with these ideas is laissez-faire capitalism, that is, a free market economy.

One controversial implication is what Rand calls “the virtue of selfishness.” Since each person is intrinsically valuable, one’s primary moral obligation is to pursue one’s own interests. This pursuit is limited only by the recognition that others are also valuable, and thus no one has the right to deceive or coerce others. Selfish interests cannot conflict because it cannot be in our interests to have something to which we have no right. Although some goods may result from collective action, such goods never justify the use of force.

Many would deny that Ayn Rand was a humanist, for many have seen only the political side of her philosophy or heard only the most sensational remarks she has made. But Rand’s objectivism begs a higher level of understanding, a more holistic interpretation, which focuses not on the eccentricities of its founder but on its basic tenets. Objectivism, with humans its center and reason its instrument, in fact, rings of humanism.

Humanism is a broad term which has been applied to several disciplines—science, ethics, psychology—and no two people are likely to agree on any one interpretation. I will refer to a small number of unifying characteristics for the sake of this argument.

  • First of all, humanism is primarily concerned with humans—their self-actualization, fulfillment, and happiness on this Earth, in this life. Distinct from all other species on Earth, humans strive constantly to improve their lot herehence the term self-actualization—not simply to reproduce and exist. Humanism acknowledges humankind’s intelligence and creativity, placing the power of humans’ “destiny” in their own hands. And while humanism does not aggrandize human beings—they are but tiny specks in a small galaxy within a vast universe—they are seen as their own means and ends.
  • Humanism holds human intelligence sacrosanct; the ability to reason sets humans apart from all other life on Earth. Humanism is committed to this ability and to its nurturance and evolution. Curiosity has driven humankind to wonder about its surroundings, to ask “why” of all it experiences; humanism rewards this. Khoren Arisian, an ethics leader, recognized this distinction of humanism in his essay, “Ethics and Humanist Imagination,” when he wrote: “If Existentialism yields a timeless mood and mysticism yields a timeless psychology, then Humanism yields a timeless imagination, a universal sensibility.” It is their timeless imagination that will keep humans in search of the truth.
  • Finally, humanism abhors supernatural beliefs. Humanism sees dogma as a danger in that it tempts people to passively accept tenets without critical examination. Religion—in any form, a primitive and unscientific venture—is to be avoided. Furthermore, humanism teaches that human beings are accountable only to themselves, not to any supposed higher being. Humanity’s savior, if there could be such a thing, would be humans themselves.

'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand (ISBN 451191153) On all these points, Rand’s objectivism agrees with humanism: her view of humans and their position in the cosmos, her upholding of reason as the course humankind must take, and her opinion of religion as the course humans must obviate.

Rand was an outspoken proponent of humankind; in her philosophy and in her fiction, she portrayed humans as survivors, idealists, and heroes. The Randian hero is cooperative and aids others not simply because he or she learned to through socialization but because these characteristics are incorporated into a personal value system, a matter of personal integrity. Rand explains in The Virtue of Selfishness: For instance, if one’s friend is starving, it is not a sacrifice, but an act of integrity to give him money for food rather than buy some insignificant gadget for oneself, because his welfare is important in the scale of one’s personal values. If the gadget means more than the friend’s suffering, one had no business pretending to be his friend. Rand continues by arguing that survival, as well, is a matter of personal values: “If one values human life, one cannot value its destroyers.” Humanism, in the Randian society, would not only be taught but would be integrated into the very value system of the individual.

Rand considered herself a student of Aristotle—the only philosopher she credited for her formulation of objectivism- owing the very name of her philosophy to his quest for objective reality. Humans are gifted with reason, which enables them to understand their external world and, at the same time, their own consciousnesses. Rand saw reason as humankind’s only true knowledge and, therefore, as something which must be cultivated. According to Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness: For man, the basic means of survival is reason …. A process of thought is not automatic nor instinctive nor involuntary-nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results.

Religion, and the belief in some higher being to whom humans are obligated, is the antithesis of objectivism; it is in direct opposition to humankind’s ability to reason through critical analysis. Religion teaches people to place the direction of their lives in the hands of an unseen other, to follow ancient dogma without question, and to belittle themselves in the process. “Death is the ultimate goal and standard of value,” Rand writes of religion.

“Resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates.” Religious people, forsaking themselves, live for the day when they will be reunited with their God in death; the Randian person lives the life he or she has. Humanism and objectivism seem bound by the same thread: humankind and its survival, progress, and fulfillment on this Earth. Ayn Rand may not have been a humanist per se, but the scope of her philosophy is undeniably humanistic.

Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Rand’s philosophy continues to spark controversy, especially among those who argue that some “social goods” cannot be achieved by individuals and that unacceptable economic inequalities result from unregulated trade. Though not all capitalists would call themselves Objectivists, many cite Rand as a formative influence, including economist Walter Williams (b. 1936) and politician Ron Paul (b. 1935).

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100 Best Business Books of All Time

Following years of reading, appraising, and retailing business books, 800-CEO-READ creator Jack Covert, ex-president Todd Sattersten, and present general manager Sally Haldorson have selected and appraised the one hundred greatest business titles of all time—the ones that dispense the biggest payoff for today’s occupied readers. It’s a great list, and in the vein of all lists, bound by argument and long-windedness about what is and isn’t contained in this list. Each book gets a couple of pages of outline handling.

Best Business Books on Improving Your Life

Best Business Books on Leadership

Best Business Books on Strategy

Best Business Books on Sales and Marketing

Best Business Books on Economics and Metrics

Best Business Books on Management

Best Business Biographies

Best Business Books on Entrepreneurship

Best Narratives of Fortune and Failure

Best Business Books on Innovation and Creativity

Best Books on Big Ideas About the Future of Business

Best Business Books on Management and Leadership Lessons

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Vincent van Gogh’s First Sunday Sermon

Vincent van Gogh: Christian Missionary, Evangelist, and Visionary Painter

Vincent van Gogh Christian Missionary, Evangelist, and Visionary Painter It is difficult to comprehend the disastrous undertones of Vincent van Gogh’s lifespan and to attach the power and beauty of his work with his lethal decline into insanity and suicide. The eldest son of devout Christian parents, Van Gogh sensed a sense of familial responsibility to what he supposed were their hopes for his life.

First-time readers of Van Gogh’s letters are frequently registered by the fact that their originator possessed a keen spiritual kindliness from his earliest days— undeniably, that his initial occupational predispositions were concerning the life of missionary and evangelist.

Painting did not become his main enthusiasm until, at age 27, his discharge from the missionary society, under whose patronages he had labored, obligated him to seek another means of expression for his spiritual zeal.

In addition to his official duties at the school, Van Gogh ostensibly felt a strong responsibility to comprise himself with the local church congregations. Armed with the self-confidence that regularly comes with practice, he started to teach and to give a sermon, and the letters to his brother Theo are abounding with biblical citation and insinuation. In a heart rendering letter to Theo, Vincent wrote,

It certainly is a strange phenomenon that all artists, poets, musicians, painters, are unfortunate in material things- the happy ones as well-what you said lately about Guy de Maupassant is fresh proof of it. That brings up again the eternal question: Is the whole life visible to us, or isn’t it rather that this side of death we see only one hemisphere? Painters-to take them alone-dead and buried speak to the next generation or to several succeeding generations through their work. Is that all, or is there more to come? Perhaps death is not the hardest thing in a painter’s life. For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoning is that we cannot get to a star while we are alive, any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, gravel, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion, just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

Vincent’s conception of an “almost smiling” death reflected his fervent faith in rebirth and immortality—an idea that found early articulation in his sermon: “there is not death and no sorrow that is not mixed with hope—no despair—there is only a constantly being born again.” Vincent sought an identification with his father, and chose the profession of his father, a profession in which he could bring God close to mankind. He just wanted to be active in the profession of his father. He went to live with his uncle in Amsterdam, with the purpose of learning Latin and Greek and to prepare for the State examination. In the intervening time, he became anti-social due to all of his piousness. He composed sermons, went to church six or seven times on Sundays, and even visited the synagogue.

Insofar as it was probable to become a missionary in a very short time at the Borinage in Brussels, he decided to go there. But now, at a time when he had tumbled deeper than ever before into the well of self-absorption, he found in it a new treasure: he began to draw again, and now with his whole soul.

  • “You know that I go to the Methodist Chapel … every Monday night. Last night I spoke a few words on the subject ‘Nothing pleaseth me but in Jesus Christ, and in Him everything pleaseth me.'”
  • “Last Monday I was again at Richmond, and my subject was “He has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poorest but whoever wants to preach the Gospel must carry it in his own heart first. Oh! may I find it, for it is only the word spoken in earnestness and from the fullness of the heart that can bear fruit.”
  • “It is a delightful thought that in the future wherever I go, I shall preach the Gospel; to do that well, one must have the Gospel in one’s heart. May the Lord give it to me.”
  • “How difficult life must be if not strengthened and comforted by faith.”
  • “Theo, woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel- if I did not aim at that and possess faith and hope in Christ, it would be bad for me indeed; but now I have some courage.”

Vincent van Gogh’s First Sunday Sermon: 29-Oct-1876: “I Am a Stranger on the Earth”

Vincent Van Gogh's First Sunday Sermon Psalm 119:19: I am a stranger on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from me. It is an old belief and it is a good belief, that our life is a pilgrim’s progress—that we are strangers on the earth, but that though this be so, yet we are not alone for our Father is with us. We are pilgrims, our life is a long walk or journey from earth to Heaven.

The beginning of this life is this: there is only one who remembereth no more her sorrow and her anguish for joy that a man is horn into the world. She is our Mother. The end of our pilgrimage is the entering in Our Father’s house, where are many mansions, where He has gone before us to prepare a place for us. The end of this life is what we call death—it is an hour in which words are spoken, things are seen and felt, that are kept in the secret chambers of the hearts of those who stand by, —it is so that all of us have such things in our hearts or forebodings of such things. There is sorrow in the hour when a man is born into the world, but also joy, deep and unspeakable, thankfulness so great that it reaches the highest heavens. Yes the Angels of God, they smile, they hope and they rejoice when a man is born in the world. There is sorrow in the hour of death, but there is also joy unspeakable when it is the hour of death of one who has fought a good fight. There is one who has said: I am the resurrection and the life, if any man believe in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live. There was an apostle who heard a voice from heaven saying: Blessed are they that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labour and their works follow them. There is joy when a man is born in the world, but there is greater joy when a spirit has passed through great tribulation, when an angel is born in Heaven. Sorrow is better than joy—and even in mirth the heart is sad—and it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasts, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. Our nature is sorrowful, but for those who have learnt and are learning to look at Jesus Christ there is always reason to rejoice. It is a good word that of St. Paul: as being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, there is no death or sorrow that is not mixed with hope—no despair—there is only a constantly being born again, a constantly going from darkness into light. They do not mourn as those who have no hope—Christian Faith makes life to evergreen life.

We are pilgrims on the earth and strangers—we come from afar and we are going far. -The journey of our life goes from the loving breast of our Mother on earth to the arms of our Father in heaven. Everything on earth changes—we have no abiding city here—it is the experience of everybody. That it is God’s will that we should part with what is dearest on earth—we ourselves change in many respects, we are not what we once were, we shall not remain what we are now. From infancy we grow up to boys and girls—young men and women—and if God spares us and helps us, to husbands and wives, Fathers and Mothers in our turn, and then, slowly but surely the face that once had the early dew of morning, gets its wrinkles, the eyes that once beamed with youth and gladness speak of a sincere deep and earnest sadness, though they may keep the fire of Faith, Hope and Charity—though they may beam with God’s spirit. The hair turns grey or we lose it-ah-indeed we only pass through the earth, we only pass through life, we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The world passes and all its glory. Let our later days be nearer to Thee, and therefore better than these.

Yet we may not live on casually hour by hour—no we have a strife to strive and a fight to fight. What is it we must do: we must love God with all our strength, with all our might, with all our soul, we must love our neighbours as ourselves. These two commandments we must keep, and if we follow after these, if we are devoted to this, we are not alone, for our Father in Heaven is with us, helps us and guides us, gives us strength day by day, hour by hour, and so we can do all things through Christ who gives us might. We are strangers on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from us. Open Thou our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. Teach us to do Thy will and influence our hearts that the love of Christ may constrain us and that we may be brought to do what we must do to be saved.

On the road from earth to Heaven
Do Thou guide us with Thine eye;
We are weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold us with Thy powerful hand.

Our life, we might compare it with a journey, we go from the place where we were born to a far-off haven. Our earlier life might be compared to sailing on a river, but very soon the waves become higher, the wind more violent, we are at sea almost before we are aware of it—and the prayer from the heart ariseth to God: Protect me 0 God, for my bark is so small and Thy sea is so great. The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, its tides and its depths; it has its pearls too. The heart that seeks for God and for a Godly life has more storms than any other. Let us see how a Psalmist describes a storm at sea. He must have felt the storm in his heart to describe it so. We read in the io7th Psalm: They that go down to the sea in ships that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth and raiseth up a stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to Heaven, they go down again to the depth, their soul melteth in them because of their trouble. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He bringeth them into their desired haven.

Do we not feel this sometimes on the sea of our lives?

Does not every one of you feel with me the storms of life or their forebodings or their recollections?

And now let us read a description of another storm at sea in the New Testament, as we find it in the VIth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John in the i7th to the 21st verse. “And the disciples entered into a ship and went over the sea towards Capernaum. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea and drawing nigh unto the ship and they were afraid. Then they willingly received Him into the ship and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” You who have experienced the great storms of life, you over whom all the waves and all the billows of the Lord have gone—have you not heard, when your heart failed for fear, the beloved well-known voice with something in its tone that reminded you of the voice that charmed your childhood—the voice of Him whose name is Saviour and Prince of Peace, saying as it were to you personally, mind to you personally: “It is I, be not afraid.” Fear not. Let not your heart be troubled. And we whose lives have been calm up till now, calm in comparison of what others have felt—let us not fear the storms of life, amidst the high waves of the sea and under the grey clouds of the sky we shall see Him approaching, for whom we have so often longed and watched, Him we need so—and we shall hear His voice: It is I, be not afraid. And if after an hour or season of anguish or distress or great difficulty or pain or sorrow we hear Him ask us: “Dost thou love me?” Then let us say: Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee. And let us keep that heart full of the love of Christ and may from thence issue a life which the love of Christ constraineth, Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee; when we look back on our past we feel sometimes as if we did love Thee, for whatsoever we have loved, we loved in Thy name.

Have we not often felt as a widow and an orphan—in joy and prosperity as well and even more than under grief—because of the thought of Thee.

Truly our soul waiteth for Thee more than they that watch for the morning, our eyes are up unto Thee, 0 Thou who dwellest in Heaven. In our days too there can be such a thing as seeking the Lord.

What is it we ask of God—is it a great thing? Yes, it is a great thing, peace for the ground of our heart, rest for our soul—give us that one thing and then we want not much more, then we can do without many things, then can we suffer great things for Thy name’s sake. We want to know that we are Thine and that Thou art ours, we want to be Thine—to be Christians—we want a Father, a Father’s love and a Father’s approval. May the experience of life make our eye single and fix it on Thee. May we grow better as we go on in life. We have spoken of the storms on the journey of life, but now let us speak of the calms and joys of Christian life. And yet, my dear friends, let us rather cling to the seasons of difficulty and work and sorrow, for the calms are often treacherous. The heart has its storms, has its seasons of drooping but also its calms and even its times of exaltation. There is a time of sighing and of praying, but there is also a time of answer to prayer. Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.

The heart that is fainting
May grow full to overflowing
And they that behold it
Shall wonder and know not
That God at its fountains
Far off has been raining.

My peace I leave with you—we saw how there is peace even in the storm. Thanks be to God, who has given us to be born and to live in a Christian country. Has any one of us forgotten the golden hours of our early days at home, and since we left that home—for many of us have had to leave that home and to earn their living and to make their way in the world. Has He not brought us thus far, have we lacked anything, Lord we believe help Thou our unbelief. I still feel the rapture, the thrill of joy I felt when for the first time I cast a deep look in the lives of my Parents, when I felt by instinct how much they were Christians. And I still feel that feeling of eternal youth and enthusiasm wherewith I went to God, saying: “I will be a Christian too.” Are we what we dreamt we should be? No, but still the sorrows of life, the multitude of things of daily life and of daily duties, so much more numerous than we expected, the tossing to and fro in the world, they have covered it over, but it is not dead, it sleepeth. The old eternal faith and love of Christ, it may sleep in us but it is not dead and God can revive it in us. But though to be born again to eternal life, to the life of Faith, Hope and Charity, —and to an evergreen life—to the life of a Christian and a Christian workman, be a gift of God, a work of God—and of God alone, yet let us put the hand to the plough on the field of our heart, let us cast out our net once more—let us try once more. God knows the intention of the spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves, for He made us and not we ourselves. He knows of what things we have need. He knows what is good for us. May He give us His blessing on the seed of His word, that He has sown in our hearts. God helping us, we shall get through life. With every temptation he will give a way to escape.

Father we pray Thee not that Thou shouldest take us out of the world, but we pray Thee to keep us from evil. Give us neither poverty nor riches, feed us with bread convenient for us. And let Thy songs be our delight in the houses of our pilgrimage. God of our Fathers be our God: may their people be our people, their faith our faith. We are strangers on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from us, but may the love of Christ constrain us. Entreat us not to leave Thee or refrain from following after Thee. Thy people shall be our people. Thou shalt be our God.

Our life is a pilgrim’s progress. I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendour of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand. He has been walking for a good long while already and he is very tired. And now he meets a woman, or figure in black, that makes one think of St. Paul’s word: As being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. That Angel of God has been placed there to encourage the pilgrims and to answer their questions and the pilgrim asks her: Does the road go uphill then all the way?”

And the answer is: “Yes to the very end.”

And he asks again: “And will the journey take all day long?”

And the answer is: “From morn till night my friend.”

And the pilgrim goes on sorrowful yet always rejoicing—sorrowful because it is so far off and the road so long. Hopeful as he looks up to the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening glow and he thinks of two old sayings that he heard long ago—the one is:

“Much strife must be striven
Much suffering must be suffered
Much prayer must be prayed
And then the end will be peace.”

And the other is

“The water comes up to the lips
But higher comes it not.”

And he says: I shall be more and more tired but also nearer and nearer to Thee. Has not man a strife on earth? But there is a consolation from God in this life. An Angel of God comforting man—that is the Angel of Charity. Let us not forget her. And when each of us goes back to the daily things and daily duties let us not forget that things are not what they seem, that God by the things of daily life teacheth us higher things, that our life is a pilgrim’s progress, and that we are strangers on the earth, but that we have a God and father who preserveth strangers, —and that we are all brethren.

Amen.

And now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us forever more.

Amen.

Reading: Psalm XCI.

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John Stuart Mill on Limitations to Individual Freedom

John Stuart Mill, English political philosopher and economist

The English political philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill stated that individual freedoms should only be limited to prevent harm to others. Mill wrote, “Over one’s mind and over one’s body the individual is sovereign.”

Philosopher and statesman John Stuart Mill (1806-73) published On Liberty in 1859 as part of his theory of utilitarianism. While Mill’s later Utilitarianism (1861-63) states that the right thing to do is what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people, On Liberty delineates the appropriate limitations of a government in enforcing this principle. Mill argues that politics is necessarily a struggle between liberty (maximizing personal freedom) and authority (maximizing safety). Too much emphasis upon the former produces anarchy, while too much of the latter results in tyranny. The balance between these two extremes is struck by following the harm principle: liberty to pursue one’s own happiness is a fundamental good for all human beings and can only be infringed upon if the exercise of one’s liberty harms other persons.

'On Liberty' by John Stuart Mill (ISBN 0486421309) A state is not justified in making paternalistic laws that restrict citizens’ freedoms for their own good. For example, while the state can ban drink driving because it harms others, it should not outlaw alcohol simply because the drug might harm its user. If the state is to err, it should do so on the side of liberty rather than authority. Mill argues that three types of liberty should always be protected by a just state:

  1. freedom of consciousness, including beliefs and speech
  2. freedom of tastes and pursuits
  3. the freedom to unite for any noninjurious purpose.

On Liberty is one of the most important treatises in the history of political philosophy. The harm principle is a cornerstone of liberal democracy and continues to be used by both lawmakers and political theorists.

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Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry Men

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry MenChakravarti Rajagopalachari was the Governor General of India from 1948 to 1950 and one of the principal leaders in India’s fight for independence from the British. Widely known as Rajaji, Rajagopalachari joined Mahatma Gandhi in the anti-British movement in 1919. An enthusiastic supporter of his Satyagraha passive resistance tactic, Rajagopalachari was imprisoned five times in the years leading to India’s freedom. He departed briefly with the pro-independence Congress party of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1942, saying it took unjust advantage of Britain’s fixation with World War II. In 1959, he left the dominant Congress party for good and coordinated his own Swatantra Party founded on the notions of free enterprise and reduced state control.

Rajagopalachari’s daughter Lakshmi wedded Gandhi’s son, Devadas, in an inter-caste marriage which caused both parents some concern. So close did Rajagopalachari and Gandhi become that, until Gandhi picked the young Jawarharlal Nehru as his successor, Rajagopalachari was regarded broadly as his political heir apparent.

Rajagopalachari had an enormously refined intelligence, astoundingly widely versed in both Indian and Western culture. He was a superb craftsman of English prose. Among his many writings, one might single out his Tamil versions, translated into English, of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Because of the Rajagopalachari’s questioning spirit, Gandhi referred to Rajaji as his “conscience-keeper” on the eve of his 21-day fast in May 1933.

Rajagopalachari as Madras State Chief Minister

As Madras State Chief Minister between 1952 and 1954, Rajagopalachari launched an unusual new educational scheme in 1953. He called it the “Modified System of Elementary Education” and reduced schooling for elementary school students to three hours per day with students expected to learn the family vocation at home during the remainder of the day. The plan came in for sharp criticism and evoked strong protests from the Dravidian parties. Scholar Thanjai Nalankilli writes,

Madras State Chief Minister Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) brought forth a new educational scheme in 1953. According to this scheme, students went to school only for half-a-day and the rest of the day they learned what their parents did. It came as a shock to many non-Brahmin leaders. There were disproportionately far too many Brahmins in white-collar jobs from clerks to chief executive officers to judges to teachers to professors. In contrast there were far more farmers and low-wage blue-collar workers among non-Brahmin castes. According to Rajaji’s scheme, most non-Brahmin students would learn such skills as farming, barbering, laundering, shoemaking and other low-wage skills for half-a-day while most Brahmin students would spend half the day on “white collar skills” leading to higher paying white collar jobs which were already dominated by Brahmins for years. Non-Brahmin leaders feared that this would perpetuate the status qua, thus benefiting the Brahmin caste. (Rajaji was a Brahmin.) Some of the critics called the new education scheme “caste-based education” (in Tamil they called it kula vazhi kalvi thittam orkulaththozhil kalvi thittam or kula kalvi thittam). Many non-Brahmin leaders believed that only a full-day education would bring more non-Brahmins into higher-level jobs and uplift their lives. Opposition to Rajaji’s caste-based education scheme grew. Many non-Brahmin leaders and organizations vocally opposed it. Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) played active roles in the opposition.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari at All India Radio Madras

Rajagopalachari was not an easy political collaborator, so merciless were the moral demands he made both on himself and others; he was no less commanding of his children. He was a man of slight build, always perfectly garbed. In later years, he softened, and his instinctive, aristocratic charm and straightforwardness of manner shone through. His was a far more Indian-based career than those of Gandhi or Nehru. His education was wholly home-based. His first journey outside India was, remarkably, as late as 1962, to visit President John F. Kennedy.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari on the Judgement of Angry Men

When one carefully studies the career of Rajagopalachari, one vividly realises that there is a very thin line between success and failure in life. From 1941 to 1946, C. R. was one of the most unpopular figures in the political life of the country. In 1942, many of his colleagues cursed him, because his utterances peered them like arrows. The more he tried to placate the Muslim League and the British, the more he hurt his comrades.

For several years, C.R. ploughed a narrow furrow. During that period he was heckled at meetings, bitterly criticised in the press and once or twice mud and tar were thrown at him. Some angry men even questioned his motives. But undaunted, he faced public wrath with equanimity and patience.

In 1941, he passed through Allahabad and I casually met him in a train. I told him that his speeches and statements were being greatly resented by the public. He replied, “It does not mean that they are right and I am wrong. It only shows, they are angry and I am not. The judgement of angry men is not so sound as those who are not angry.” I could not pursue the argument further. He looked meditative and was lost in thought.

Source: Unknown

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Human Conscience is an Unending Stream of Continuous Thought

William James and his concept of Stream of Consciousness

Although the concept of the mind possessing a streaming consciousness can be found in early Buddhist texts, the first modern approach to the phenomenon was put forward by William James (1842-1910), one of the United States’ first recognized psychologists in his 1,200-word masterwork The Principles of Psychology in 1899.

In this book, James speaks of consciousness as being “unbroken” and states that there are no “gaps,” or as he liked to say no “intrusive alien substances,” that come along to distinguish or break up one period of consciousness from the next. For consciousness to be interrupted by gaps or intrusions, James thought, is like “expecting the eye to feel a gap of silence because it does not hear, or the ear to feel a gap of darkness because it does not see. So much,” he said, “for the gaps that are unfelt.”

Consciousness, rather than being “chopped up,” was likened instead by James to a river or stream, a process that is ever-flowing even in the event of a sudden interruption, such as an explosion or losing one’s footing and falling over. These sorts of things-a clap of thunder or the sound of a gunshot—are about as disconnected from our present thoughts as “a joint in bamboo is a break in the wood.” The thunder clap is as intrinsically a part of our continuing, unbroken consciousness as the joint is a part of the bamboo in which it grows. James believed that our cognitive experiences overlap one another and are linked by what he called “fringes,” subconscious tabs, which act as clasps that are necessary in binding our conscious thoughts together, and prevent us from living in a chaotic inner world of random, unrelated experiences.

James’s theory influenced literature and became a narrative device to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings that pass through an individual’s mind. James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) is one of the best-known examples of the stream of consciousness technique. William James wrote in Principles of Psychology (1890) that, “The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks.”

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Pythagoras’s Philosophy of Vegetarianism

Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism (c. 1618-30) by Peter Paul Rubens

Vegetarianism is a conscious decision not to eat meat and other animal products.

Vegetarianism is the principled refusal to eat meat. The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BCE), who required members of his philosophical society to abstain from eating meat, is often viewed as the first important vegetarian. Before the word “vegetarian” was coined in the 1840s, non meat-eaters were often called “Pythagoreans.”

What is wrong with eating meat? Vegetarians have offered various criticisms for the practice, contending that eating meat is cruel (often, from the twentieth century onward, citing the methods of industrial meat production), unethical (often citing recent work in practical ethics, particularly by Peter Singer), unhealthy (often citing the fact that vegetarians tend to be less obese and less likely to die from ischemic heart disease), unnatural (often claiming, wrongly, that prehistoric humans subsisted on a vegetarian diet), environmentally unfriendly (often citing the relative inefficiency of meat production), and in conflict with the tenets of religious faith (sometimes citing reincarnation, as with the ancient Pythagoreans and several modern Hindu sects).

There are also different degrees of vegetarianism: for example, ovo vegetarians will eat eggs, lacto vegetarians will eat milk, and ovolacto vegetarians will eat eggs and milk, whereas vegans forego all products derived from animals and fruitarians furthermore forego all plant foods that involve killing the plant, eating only fruits, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarianism is typically associated with a similar refusal to use products derived from animals, such as leather and wool.

The modern vegetarian movement is dated to 1847, when the Vegetarian Society was founded in Great Britain. In Western countries, vegetarianism has been increasing since the 1960s, and due to continuing and intensifying ethical and environmental concerns, it is likely to flourish in the future.

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Philosophical Hedonism

Philosophical Hedonism

Philosophical Hedonism holds that human actions should be motivated by the pursuit of pleasure.

How should we live? We pursue education so that we can get a career, so we can make money, so we can buy things, so we can … what? Presumably, we do not want a career or money just to have a career or money, but in order to be happy. The idea that the morally good or “right” motivation for acting is the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain is called hedonism.

Hedonism can be traced to the sixth-century BCE Indian philosophy Carvaka, but its most influential form was in the ancient Greek teachings of Aristippus of Cyrene (c. 435–356 BCE) and Epicurus (341–270 BCE). Epicurus said in a letter to Meneoceus, “[We] do everything for the sake of being free of pain and mental distress.”

Regarding pleasure as the only valuable pursuit, hedonism sets itself apart from other widely accepted moral views, such as that a person has moral duties to do certain things regardless of whether they make them happy (deontology) and that a person has obligations to do whatever God commands, irrespective of the impact on their own welfare (divine command theory).

However, philosophical hedonism should be distinguished from the mere pursuit of pleasure. While some accuse hedonists of advocating a life of debauchery, philosophical hedonists reject this characterization. Epicurus argued that while every pleasure is good, “it does not follow that every pleasure is a choice worthy without qualification.” He extolled traditional virtues of self-sufficiency, prudence, and even a healthy diet, since they too contribute to a lifetime of happiness. Though hedonism was rejected by many influential moral philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant), it continues to play an influential role in contemporary moral and political thought.

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Objectivism: Ayn Rand’s Novel Philosophy

The Religion and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Frustrated with her intellectual climate, novelist and lay philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-82) collected ideas from a variety of philosophers and cobbled them into a unique view that she named Objectivism. She expounded on this personal worldview in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand defends Aristotle’s ideas that reality exists objectively and authoritatively, that the laws of logic guide our understanding, and that consciousness is the seat of humans’ ability to know. She defends the rationalist ideas that morality is objective and that conscious rationality bestows special moral significance. And she also defends the classical liberal idea that each person is obligated to respect every person’s right to pursue her interests, so long as those pursuits do not interfere with another person’s right to do so. Rand then argues that the only sociopolitical system consistent with these ideas is laissez-faire capitalism, that is, a free market economy.

One controversial implication is what Rand calls “the virtue of selfishness.” Since each person is intrinsically valuable, one’s primary moral obligation is to pursue one’s own interests. This pursuit is limited only by the recognition that others are also valuable, and thus no one has the right to deceive or coerce others. Selfish interests cannot conflict because it cannot be in our interests to have something to which we have no right. Although some goods may result from collective action, such goods never justify the use of force.

Rand’s philosophy continues to spark controversy, especially among those who argue that some “social goods” cannot be achieved by individuals and that unacceptable economic inequalities result from unregulated trade. Though not all capitalists would call themselves Objectivists, many cite Rand as a formative influence, including economist Walter Williams (b. 1936) and politician Ron Paul (b. 1935).

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), encompassed her ideas of rationalism, individualism, and capitalism within a dystopian United States.

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