To John Hospers [Letter 461]

Item Reference Code: 141_HO3_007_001

Date(s) of creation

March 5, 1961


John Hospers


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36 East 36th St.
New York 16, N.Y.

March 5, 1961

Dear John:

I have given a great deal of thought to your note about the issue of “Roark and happiness”, which I answered in my letter of December 28, and to your answer to me (your letter of January 4, 1961). I am unable to reconcile your note and your letter with each other, with our past conversations, with the fact that you have read THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED, or with any epistemological principles known to me.

I believe you, when you say, in your letter of January 4: “I don’t want to play any games at all, but only to pursue important ideas. I want to pursue the ideas so badly that I am willing to endure abuse if need be in order to forward the course of the ideas.” If I understand your meaning correctly, I admire you for this attitude; I consider it the most important of all moral premises. And I am answering your letter in full detail, because I believe you. But here is the tragic position in which we find ourselves: I am the last person on earth who would ever make anyone endure abuse as the price for the pursuit of ideas. If you regard my letter (of December 28) as abusive, I, on my part, regard your note on “Roark and happiness” as the most shocking, painful and insulting response I have ever received to any of my books (painful, because I did and do value your intellectual response). It is, therefore, obvious that an enormous epistemological difference exists between us and that our lines of communication do not work at all. If so, I cannot solve the problem alone: you will have to help me.

I believe that when you answered my letter, you had forgotten the actual content of your note on “Roark and happiness.” So I am enclosing a photostat of it (for the sake of full accuracy) as well as a photostat of page 1 of your letter of January 4. Please check your note with my letter of December 28 and yours of January 4, then tell me how to reconcile the three.

I shall list the questions that bewilder me and I shall ask you to explain them to me specifically, in objectively clear terms.

1. Re: first sentence of paragraph 2 of your letter. You write that you were asking me, not telling me (and later you refer to your note on “Roark and happiness” as a “letter of inquiry” intended to ask me certain questions). How am I to reconcile that with the fact that your note does not contain a single sentence in the form of a question (nor a single question mark)?

2. Re: second sentence of paragraph 2 of your letter. If you were interested in “the limits of egoism” as I conceive them—my views on egoism are defined, discussed, presented and illustrated in THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED. Egoism is the basic theme

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of both novels—and in both I state explicitly what I consider evil in the idea of “serving others”, and why. How am I to reconcile that with paragraphs 1 and 6 of your note?

3. Re: fourth and fifth sentences of paragraph 2 of your letter. If you were merely making the observation that “people who are always worrying about their own internal states are unhappy people,” what does this have to do with Roark? How am I to read that intention into paragraphs 1 and 6 of your note?

4. Re: third sentence of paragraph 2 of your letter. The traditional concepts of an “egoist” are represented in THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Peter Keating and Ellsworth Toohey. (Keating is the unthinking, parasitical, “range-of-the-moment” secondhander—Toohey is the “Machiavellian schemer” or power-luster.) The relation of these two types to Roark is made amply clear. The theme of THE FOUNTAINHEAD is: to demonstrate in what fundamental sense and manner Roark is an egoist, while Keating and Toohey are actually selfless—and why the traditional concepts of egoism are destroying the world. I have stated explicitly (both in THE FOUNTAINHEAD and in ATLAS SHRUGGED) that a man’s self is his consciousness and that the center and motor of his consciousness is his mind. I have discussed, illustrated and proved this point from every relevant aspect known to me. How am I to reconcile that with paragraph 6 of your note, particularly with the words: “some center of their lives, which is NOT THEMSELVES”? Since you rejected, without stating your reasons, the total of my view of what is man’s self—how could I tell what meaning you were assigning to the words “self” and “selfish” in your note? This leads me to a very important epistemological issue, in the next point—

5. Re: paragraphs 1 and 3 of your letter. You express astonishment and/or indignation at what you regard as my distortion of your views. My answer to that is contained in the paragraph above. Since, in your note, you rejected all of my definitions of the concepts under discussion (such as “self,” “selfish,” “happiness,” “personal reward”), I had to infer your definitions from the content of your note. By my understanding of the meaning of the concepts involved, Roark and a social worker are diametrical opposites who can never be equated morally or psychologically, not in any manner whatsoever. Since you did equate them, it could be done only in the way you did it, i.e. by taking “concern with one’s inner problems and conflicts” as the definition of an “egoist”; it is the only meaning given to the term in your note. And further: the reasoning, statements and propositions by which you equate Roark with a social worker apply to Stalin as well and as fully; if that reasoning is sufficient for regarding a social worker as (a) happy or (b) in any way a worthy human being, it is sufficient for regarding Stalin in the same manner.

Please re-read your note and see whether it can be intelligible without the implicit definition which you now repudiate.

This is an example of my conflict with modern philosophy: I am incapable of switching the definitions of my concepts to fit each separate occasion and of letting them mean one thing when I use them, but another when Bertrand Russell uses them, and a third when you

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use them. I am incapable of reading a paper such as your note, by the method of dropping or forgetting all definitions and then, without reference or commitment to any definition, using wide, fundamental concepts, such as “egoist,” in some special, narrow sense, while simultaneously regarding this usage as “non-definitional.” What is more, I do not believe that anybody can do it—and I know that the sole result of such an attempt is the sort of breakdown of communication in which you and I are now entangled.

6. Re: last paragraph of your note. Please tell me what I am to think of the following sentence: “Now whether one calls such people egoists I don’t much care—certainly they are not egoists in any traditional sense.” But I do care, and I have written four books with over 1,000,000 words to prove why one should care and what disasters are now destroying the world as a result of the general confusion over the meaning of “egoism”. Yet you write the above sentence to me—and you want me to regard modern epistemology as a discipline aimed at achieving linguistic precision. Please tell me how to reconcile these two facts.

7. Re: first and second sentences of paragraph 3 of your letter. Please do go through my whole letter—please read it as carefully as I am reading yours—please check every paragraph against your note, then answer every paragraph in which you find a distortion—and prove to me, in objective terms, that I am guilty of context-dropping, if you can. I have never been guilty of it, and I do not take such accusations lightly. You seem to imply that your accusation is clear and that I will let it go at that. It is not and I will not. I do not allow my statements to be dismissed, ignored and brushed aside in this manner.

I answered your note by keeping in mind its entire content, every single sentence and every single implication, on the one hand—and the total content of my two novels on the other. Please match this; please bear in mind the total context of the issues discussed in your note—then accuse me of context-dropping, if you find that you can. Do you remember the slogan: “When you say that, smile”? Well, my slogan is: “When you accuse me, prove it.”

8. Re: paragraph 4 of your letter. Please tell me how to reconcile this with paragraph 1, page 2 of my letter to you. Didn’t you know that I was referring to the morality presented in ATLAS SHRUGGED and to Galt’s speech? Did I or did I not make clear in Galt’s speech what I mean by “life” as the standard of morality?

9. On page 2 of your letter (which I did not photostat, but hope you remember) you quote Russell as saying: “If you try to live the life of a pig, your suppressed potentialities will make you miserable.” I can fully agree with this sentence, if you take it to mean that man has a certain nature and must live up to it. But if you believe that, how am I to reconcile it with your defense of altruists? I have demonstrated, both in THE FOUNTAINHEAD and in ATLAS SHRUGGED, that altruists (all those who find “great happiness in serving the interests of others”) are destroyers of and traitors to man’s nature,

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and, therefore, why I regard them as subhuman (or, I might say, as lower than pigs). If you do not agree with my view of man’s nature, yet do not attempt to refute my arguments, but proceed to assert their exact opposite, what alternative have I but to conclude that you are ignoring my views and my arguments?

10. On page 2 of your letter, you say: “…if a person deliberately pursues happiness all his life he is not likely to achieve it. Roark was not pursuing happiness, he was pursuing perfection in his chosen work.” Here I literally do not know what you mean. Since happiness is an emotional response to something (and, therefore, an effect, not a cause), how can one pursue happiness except by pursuing that which will make one happy? In Roark’s case, perfection in his chosen work is what made him happy (this is not the way I would formulate it, but I will accept your formulation for this context). Now please tell me concretely and specifically what it is that Roark would do if he werepursuing happiness”, as you understand it? (This is, perhaps, the most important question in my present letter. I suspect that it holds a clue to our epistemological differences. So please do not answer it abstractly or in generalities; please answer it concretely, specifically and literally.)

You write: “It is always important to distinguish happiness as a motive from happiness as a result.” I differentiate “happiness as a standard of value” from “happiness as a purpose.” But I do not know what an “incidental” or unsought-for happiness would be, psychologically, epistemologically or existentially. You write: “Roark was happy, but he didn’t spend his life trying to be happy. Surely you agree with this? Or if you don’t, I would appreciate hearing your reasons.” I neither agree nor disagree. I literally do not understand what you mean. I would say: Roark was happy because he spent his life achieving the things (the values) that would make him happy, or: enacting the causes of which his happiness would be the result. And—I would add—he succeeded, because his values were rational; happiness cannot be achieved by indulging random whims or by pursuing irrational values (values which might be right for a pig, but not for a man). Therefore, I would say that Roark’s goal in life was the achievement of his own happiness. But you seem to think in some totally different terms. So please tell me concretely and specifically what you have in mind when you project a person who “spends his life trying to be happy.” Surely you do not mean a whim-worshipper or whim-pursuer?

11. You write: “The question I wanted to ask you in the previous note is this: Roark had tremendous ability at architecture, and was (incidentally) happy in pursuing it. Now here is a person, let’s say, who has no ability at architecture but has great ability at something else, say medical research into tropical diseases, which often has to be performed in uncomfortable and disease-ridden tropical conditions. What would you say about this activity? What would you say about this activity if its prime motivation is to alleviate the sufferings of others? Would you condemn it on that account?”

I will refer you to Roark’s speech, specifically to: page 737, paragraph 2—page 738, paragraphs 2,3,4,5,6,7,9—page 740, para-

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graphs 2,3,6—page 741, paragraphs 1,2,3. I will also refer you to Galt’s speech: page 1021, paragraph 1 (last part of this paragraph)—page 1031, paragraphs 2,3,4,5,6. I assume that you know that these two speeches are the summations of what is demonstrated and illustrated by all the events of both novels.

Now as to the first part of your paragraph: surely you do not mean that a man is born with an innate ability for a specific profession, as specific as “medical research into tropical diseases”? If this were true, it would necessarily mean the possession of innate ideas. The choice of a profession is not innate: it is determined by a man’s premises, by the interests he acquires and develops. (His brain capacity or the potential degree of his intelligence is probably innate, but not the specific use to which his intelligence will be put.) Now, if a man’s premises lead him to choose medical research as his career, and if he has to work in uncomfortable disease-ridden tropical conditions, I would regard it as virtuous and heroic (but no more virtuous or heroic than the work of an industrialist in a luxurious office). My standard of moral judgment is a man’s devotion to his career, to the creative, productive activity of his mind—not the degree of physical danger and of comfort or discomfort incidental to the pursuit of his career. (For instance, I would not regard a mountain-climbing explorer or a deep-sea diver as morally superior to a philosopher or a mathematician.) But if a man’s prime motivation for such activity is “to alleviate the sufferings of others”—I would certainly condemn it as irrational and evil. If suffering is undesirable, what can justify the desire to alleviate the suffering of others at the price of one’s own suffering? What can such a desire mean, logically and psychologically, but an enormous lack of self-esteem? (We are not discussing here the desire to save a person one loves, but the dedication to the service of others as a primary, lifelong goal.)

12. I observe that in your note, paragraph 1, you list “students” first among the recipients of “altruistic” service—and I wonder whether you regard your own profession as altruistic by its very nature. If you do, I want to state that this is a grave error. Teaching is one of the most crucial, responsible and important professions—since it consists of communicating knowledge and guiding the intellectual development of men. The objective purpose of teaching is the spread and communication of the right ideas, of intellectual values, which means: the creation of a culture. Students are the immediate and direct beneficiaries of a teacher’s work, but they are not his goal, and the benefits they gain from him are not the purpose of his life. In an exchange society, in any trade of goods or services, there are direct beneficiaries, but they are not the motivation of the traders. For instance, a doctor’s patients are the beneficiaries of his work, but his goal is not to save their specific lives; his goal is the conquest of disease. In the same way, your students are your beneficiaries, but your purpose (as a rational teacher) is the spread of knowledge. Please re-read Roark’s courtroom speech if this point is not clear to you.

The relationship between one’s work and the beneficiaries of one’s work is illustrated in THE FOUNTAINHEAD by the respective attitudes of Roark and of Keating toward their clients. Roark did not want his clients to suffer in the houses he built, he wanted them to

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benefit from his work, but their benefit, welfare, needs or desires were not his primary motive. It is Keating who placed the welfare of his clients first and regarded himself as their servant in the only way it can be done: by sacrificing his judgment and his values to their wishes.

Now observe the dangerous “package deal” and contradiction in your list of the beneficiaries of altruism (paragraph 1 of your note): “students, clients, the underprivileged, victims of disease and disaster.” Students and clients are not objects of charity—the underprivileged and the victims of disease (in this context) and disaster are. What is the principle of differentiation? Whether the “benefactor” is engaged in trade or in charity, whether he has a selfish, personal goal and reward or not, whether he serves a legitimate, rational need or a default, a lack, a flaw. It is the issue of “zero-worship” in Galt’s speech, which, I believe, you understand.

I do not know how you regard your own role as a teacher, but I would say this: if you regard yourself as an intellectual guide, like Hugh Akston, it is certainly proper, moral and “selfish” in my definition of the word; in such case, your prime concern is the truth of what you teach, not the happiness of your students. If you regard yourself as a selfless servant of your students’ interests, it is a moral insult to them and to yourself, which can have many subtle and disastrous psychological consequences for both.

13. You write: “If someone is good only at safe-cracking, I would not recommend safe-cracking as a career on that account. I was only trying to generalize your example of Roark. Was it his ability at architecture, plus his actualization of that ability, that counts as a value? or is it more than this (as it would surely seem to be, since not just ANY ability, or the actualization of it, counts as a value)?”

By my understanding of this question, the whole of THE FOUNTAINHEAD and of ATLAS SHRUGGED would have to be restated to answer it. If these books are not clear enough, what should I add to make my answer clear? I will refer you to Galt’s speech, specifically to the passage from: page 1018, paragraph 6 to page 1021, paragraph 1 (inclusive). This is a detailed statement of what counts as a value in Roark, in Galt, or in any virtuous man. If this is not enough, you will have to tell me what issue or aspect is omitted; you will also have to tell me whether this is sufficient to differentiate between Roark and Galt, on one hand—and a dictator, a safe-cracker, an altruist and a social-worker, on the other.

The last question, on page 3 of your letter, is: “How much like Roark must someone be in order to be worthy of admiration, and in what respects?” My answer is: Exactly like Roark, in all the basic moral principles involved—as different from Roark as one pleases, in all the concrete, specific applications which basic principles allow and which are innumerable: in the choice of profession, in degree of ability, in degree of success (which is not fully up to the individual alone), etc. And if you want

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me to state briefly how one achieves a moral stature equal to Roark’s, I will answer: by a total, absolute, unreserved, unbreached, unbreachable commitment to rationality (as defined in Galt’s speech), that is: to the fullest use of one’s reason at all times and in all issues, to the fullest perception of reality within one’s power and to the constant expansion of that power. (Which means: by never allowing one’s mind to go out of focus in one’s waking hours—or: by never acting, speaking or making decisions while one’s mind is unfocused.) All of Roark’s virtues are the consequences of this one basic virtue.

14. You write: “You see, I agree with you that “feeling” is no criterion; just because someone FEELS so-and-so about something, doesn’t make it a value. Agreed. But why do you try to make an enemy of me by saddling me with a view which I reject with all my head and heart? Surely you are aware that I do not, and have never, accepted this nonsense about ‘feeling justifies all.’ If I had accepted it, I would surely have said so in my comments on Branden’s lectures dealing with this subject. Yet here I most enthusiastically agreed with him. Why then do you still think I accept it?”

This is precisely one of the contradictions that bewilder me, and it is I who should ask you to explain it, not the other way around. Yes, I did think that you were opposed to the idea of “feeling as criterion”—but how am I to reconcile this with the last paragraph of your note, in which you state that a “consuming passion” is more important than the choice of the object of that passion?

15. In both ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD—but particularly in THE FOUNTAINHEAD (in the history of Katie Halsey)—I have presented my views on the social worker, including the reasons for my views. How am I to reconcile this with the fact that it is specifically the social worker whom you insist on equating with Roark (both morally and psychologically) throughout your note? (See paragraphs 5 & 6 of your note.)

If you do not agree with my views, please state your specific objections. If my views are not clear to you, please formulate the questions that puzzle you. I am unable to translate assertions into questions.

16. You write: “What I did not expect was to have my views distorted out of all recognition and then be plied with insults into the bargain. For I am sure that you do not want to play that kind of game with me. I can play such games, and have acquired some experience at it in dealing with certain of my colleagues;”

I have never played such “games”—an Objectivist epistemology (which demands precise definitions) would make it impossible for me and would give me no motive to do it—and I was not doing it in my letter to you. That letter represented my full, actual and

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honest understanding of your note. But since you say that you can and do play such games—how can you be certain that you were not doing it in that note to me?

I am not asserting that you were doing it intentionally; I am merely raising it as a psychological question and possibility. I am certain of nothing in regard to your epistemology, at present. But I do know that in situations of this kind, there is only one way to demonstrate objectively the sincerity of your devotion to the pursuit of ideas and truth: by answering all my questions, and all of the points I made in my letter of December 28, as conscientiously as I answered yours—and by proving your accusations or withdrawing them.

I know that I did make an effort to understand you, and I did make an effort to make my position clear (as witness the length and precision of my letters to you)—and now it is your turn to make an effort and to explain your note fully.