Tetrads

2009-04-04

The primary thesis of my book-in-progress The Tao of Roark is that human beings have four primary capacities or powers: thought, choice, action, and feeling. The text as it is emerging really is a spinning-out of that thesis -- variations on a theme by Ayn Rand, if you will.

As with any advanced theme-and-variations (oh, say, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini), sometimes the variations can sound quite distant from the original theme. The Tao of Roark is no exception. Even I am not even quite sure where this philosophical exploration is taking me, because I keep finding new integrations and connections. Recently, spurred by reading my friend Nicholas Dykes' book Old Nick's Guide to Happiness and also Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, I have been thinking about the application of thought, choice, action, and especially feeling to three primary areas of life: what we might call the factual, the social, and the personal.

One of my friend Nick's great insights is that in order to live a consistent and happy life, I need to recognize the same rights and capacities in others that I realize in myself. It simply will not do to assert my own right to self-fulfillment if I do not simultaneously recognize that right in others. In an evocative image, Nick likens this natural duality to a tuning fork, in which the two sides of the fork (my rights and your rights) grow out of the same root.

I see this as related to Smith's notion of sympathy or fellow-feeling. Yes, I have the capacity to perceive, experience, feel; but so do you! If I am to rightly honor the human capacity to feel, I need to respect your perceptions and experiences and feelings. This perhaps seems far from the Randian notion of "judge, and be prepared to be judged"; but consider Roark's interactions with Steven Mallory in The Fountainhead, in which Roark illustrates that he can be quite finely attuned to the feelings of a fellow human being. (Similar considerations apply to respecting others' capacities for thought and choice and action.)

Not that strict coherence with The Fountainhead or Rand's philosophy is the purpose of The Tao of Roark -- these are variations on a theme by Ayn Rand, not a literal performance of the original on period instruments. And that's probably why I'm so enjoying the challenge of writing of this book.


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