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Honoring Ayn Rand: Contribution to Aristotle's Concept

Honoring Ayn Rand: Contribution to Aristotle's Concept

Michelle Fram-Cohen

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August 20, 2010

December 2004 --  Ayn Rand acknowledged Aristotle as the only philosopher to whom she was indebted, the father of logic who defined "the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man's consciousness." Rand agreed with Aristotle that man's life should be guided by reason and that the purpose of man's life is happiness. She agreed that happiness depended on objective, external conditions rather than on a subjective, internal disposition.

Rand's definition of happiness as "non-contradictory joy," the joy of achieving one's values by following reason, corresponds to Aristotle's definition of happiness (or eudæmonia in ancient Greek): "The life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the happiest."

Nevertheless, Ayn Rand contributed two major manifestations of happiness to Aristotle's conception of eudæmonia: productive work and romantic love. Whereas Aristotle upheld the attainment of knowledge as an end in itself, and philosophical reasoning as the noblest activity possible to man, Ayn Rand upheld the application of knowledge to science, technology, and business as the goal of acquiring knowledge, with productive activity as the noblest activity possible to man. According to Aristotle, "the activity of philosophic wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of virtuous activities," which means that "the philosopher will more than any other be happy." Ayn Rand could shed the Platonic vestige of Aristotle's view of knowledge because she witnessed the achievements of the Industrial Revolution and observed that an innovative motor represented "the power of an incomparable mind given shape in a net of wires." Rand identified the spiritual source of material production, elevating industry and technology to a moral ideal.

Second to productive work among the manifestations of happiness, according to Rand, is romantic love, man's "response to his own highest values in the person of another—an integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire." Romantic love is absent in Aristotle's discussion of eudæmonia, leaving friendship as the highest form of interpersonal happiness, possible between "men who are good, and alike in virtue." The reason can be attributed to Aristotle's historical context as well. Women in ancient Greece were not educated and could not provide the type of intellectual companionship that was the foundation of friendship. Rand not only witnessed the emancipation of women, legally and psychologically, but was herself an example of this emancipation: a woman of outstanding intellect. Rand identified the intellectual equality of men and women, which made interpersonal happiness possible between the sexes. Furthermore, she upheld the role of sex as the complement of love, describing love as "the profound, exalted, life-long passion that unites [one's] mind and body in the sexual act."

By adding material production and romantic love as ingredients of happiness, Rand anchored Aristotle's concept of eudæmonia in the physical world, uniting mind and body and shedding Aristotle's Platonic vestiges.

Michelle Fram Cohen, a native of Israel, has lived in the United States since 1981. She holds an M.A. in comparative literature and works as a computer programmer and a freelance translator and writer. Her writings have been published in Navigator, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and Full Context.

This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.