The Season for Reason
by Ari Armstrong, December 12, 2005
"Merry Christmas," one of my atheist friends warmly wished.
Another of my atheist friends points out that December 25 also commemorates the birth of Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientific genius of all time. Now, it seems, Newton was actually born on January 4, 1643, not December 25, 1642. But December 25 is not the actual birth date of Jesus, either; it is instead based on a season of pagan celebration. So I suppose "Merry Mithras Day" would also fit. Even as the Christians stole the holiday from pagan idolators, so non-Christians adapt Christmas to their their own beliefs and values. For me, Christmas is a time to celebrate friends and family and to appreciate the productiveness that allows us to exchange gifts, stay toasty warm while it's snowing outside, eat lots of great food, and enjoy the dazzling electric lights. So Merry Christmas, Mr. Edison. Productivity, of course, is the application of reason to the creation of human values. As Ayn Rand writes, Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses... Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man -- in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life... Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work -- pride is the result... The virtue of Productiveness is the recognition of the fact that productive work is the process by which man's mind sustains his life... Productive work is the road of man's unlimited achievement and calls upon the highest attributes of his character: his creative ability, his ambitiousness, his self-assertiveness, his refusal to bear uncontested disasters, his dedication to the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values. (Virtue of Selfishness, pages 20, 25, and 26) This view of reason entails a constellation of ideas and values. People have free will -- the ability to think rationally, or not, and the ability to build their moral character, or not. Consciousness is real and open to introspection. The mind is capable of integrating the information of the senses to understand reality. By applying the mind to physical labor, people are able manipulate reality according to natural laws. Moral principles are required to uphold the supreme value of human life. This view, the Objectivist view as Rand described it, holds that there is an objective reality that people can perceive and understand, this is the only reality, and living successfully in this reality requires an objective morality. (Craig Biddle discusses the ethics of this view in his book, Loving Life.) The Objectivist view faces two main competitors: the religious view and the subjectivist view. (My discussion of this point is based loosely on Leonard Peikoff's discussion of DIM -- disintegration, integration, misintegration -- though of course Peikoff has much greater mastery of the subject than I do and so any shortcoming on my part should not be attributed to him. Peikoff and other Objectivists also discuss this issue elsewhere. By the way, Peikoff's "Christmas Should be More Commercial" is a classic.) The religious view holds that there is some supernatural realm that is the basis of "true" knowledge and morality. Religion holds that we can know about this super-reality only through some direct connection to the divine. We can know about "real" reality only through some ineffable means of knowledge, not grounded in the physical senses. Religion counsels us, not to rely solely on reason to integrate and understand the information about the natural world available to us through the senses, but to seek some "higher" understanding based on the other world. Morality comes from this supernatural world....
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