A Visit from the Muse

2001-05-30

I love it when the muse comes to visit. Recently I wrote or finished writing a dialogue entitled Why Is John Galt?, a short paper comparing Abelard and Rand, and essays on sense of life and the meaning of pre-history.

"Why Is John Galt?" is my first experiment with dialogue form, even though I wrote about philosophical dialogue in an earlier journal entry. It was fun to write this short dialogue, and dialogue form is definitely something I would like to experiment with some more. In my earlier journal entry I talked about my "mythical dissertation" being a dialogue. The kind of thing I adumbrate there would enable me to consider an issue from a number of angles, with full attention to the subtleties involved (and without having to come down hard as holding one position or another). One reason I feel that this would be congenial for me is that over time I find myself more and more ambivalent on many topics: my objectivist background tends to push me toward absolutist solutions and general principles, but my experience of life tends to pull me more towards seeing the value of the personal or subjective. There is, I feel, a dialectic here, and philosophical dialogue is uniquely suited for exploring such territory.

I also want to fully explore the ideas I merely outline in my little essay on pre-history. I envision that piece as the introduction to a long essay (which will include my previously-published thoughts on the Enlightenment) entitled Ayn Rand and the Ascent of Man. My sense is that Rand held something of a theory-practice dichotomy, and that she was in large measure a philosophical determinist in her valuation of various epochs of human history. So we get these broad-brush value judgments from Rand concerning, let's say, the value of classical civilization vs. medieval civilization. I would say that medieval times were fairly inimical to human flourishing, so I'm not here to celebrate the Dark Ages. However, looking just at philosophical premises obscures the fact that there was a lot of bad in classical times (slavery, imperialism, subjugation of women, a bias against practical pursuits) just as there were good things that came after the collapse of classical civilization (I'm thinking particularly about some life-enhancing inventions such as three-field rotation, a workable horse-drawn plow, water mills and wind mills, eyeglasses, and the like, all of which were invented in Christian Europe before the year 1200). If we take Rand seriously regarding the practical requirements of human living, we can't discount such improvements, and we need to dig deeper regarding their causes. Could it be that "bad" medieval times involved to some extent a freeing up of creative energies that were stifled during "good" classical times (when, for example, a working steam engine was created but abandoned as a mere toy)? I observe these facts and I can't help but wonder. And that wonder, backed up by suitable facts and reasoning, will be transmuted into the longer essay I plan to write.

Well, I probably won't get a chance to work out these ideas in depth for at least six months, but I'm already looking forward to doing so!


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