The Atlas Society’s Research Workshop met online Thursday, November 19, to discuss the role of emotions in making personal decisions. 

Objectivism is a philosophy that advocates making decisions based on the use of reason to identify facts objectively. The universal values and virtues of the Objectivist ethics are objectivism bw emotions ethics ayn randidentified by such a method. 

They are derived based on human nature and the observed facts of humans generally, and they apply to humans generally.

However, we don’t live our lives as abstract archetypes of the human. Within the range of similarity we share with other people, we are idiosyncratic, unique, ourselves. To give just one example: we have to choose not just a career in the abstract, but the work that is best for us. It is not that just any human-appropriate work will suit our tastes and talents.

Moreover, we don’t live as robots that only follow cold, mathematical logic exclusively. We are emotional, and experience our connection to values most profoundly through our emotions. Humans don’t function well if our emotions aren’t functioning well. We seek to live and to be happy.

The assigned reading for the session was Ayn Rand’s essay “Art and Moral Treason,” printed in The Romantic Manifesto. In that essay, Rand criticizes people who don’t pursue the values that make them happy, i.e. that move them emotionally, as art does. So the question for discussion was: what are the respective roles of reason and emotion in making choices about one’s artistic tastes, one’s career, one’s friends and lovers, etc.? Should one make those choices based, basically in emotion?

The discussion revolved around two viewpoints. One, presented in a written comment by John Yokela, argued for a new interpretation of emotion and pleasure, and viewed value-selection as basically affective or based in desire. One should do what makes one happy, full stop.

The other, argued in the discussion by Alexander R. Cohen and William R Thomas, held that emotions are ultimately responses based on what we choose to value, and that while our emotions suggest to us what values we should attend to, deciding about values and action is properly done through conscious reasoning. We should learn from our emotions, and achieve a thriving and happy life by making sound choices based ultimately in the facts about oneself and the world.

This discussion was part of The Atlas Society’s ongoing work developing Objectivism as a growing body of philosophical thought based in the essential insights of Ayn Rand, and encouraging a community of scholars extending and enriching the philosophy.

Those interested in taking part in the workshop should contact its manager, William Thomas: wthomas[at]atlassociety.org