Tuesday, May 15, 2012
On "Atlas Shrugged": Oddly Nietzschean in its prescription for present-day morality, Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) contended that man's only moral obligation (in this life) was to rationality, and not to other people. And similar to Nietzsche, Rand's philosophy (objectivism) has been attacked as both anti-academic and literary, without any serious grounding in empirical thought. Regarding her philosophy, she stated, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Of course, pragmatists like William James shouted "Damn all absolutes!," which itself was a kind of absolute. But like Nietzsche, Rand believed that it behooved man to focus on this life (as opposed to the afterlife), because modern industrial (democratic) society demanded a great deal of responsibility from man. With Christian morality being geared so heavily toward the afterlife, Nietzsche and Rand wondered if Western civilization could ever overcome itself and move beyond metaphysical thinking. In fact, John Galt (the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged) was essentially Rand's version of Nietzsche's "Overman" (Übermensch).
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
On Jane Addams and Hull House: When Jane Addams co-founded Hull House in 1889 on Chicago's Near West Side, she intended to reduce the ethnoracial isolation of the city's growing immigrant population. Addams was a firm believer in the philosophy of pragmatism, which cherished America's growing pluralistic culture, and which emphasized practical solutions to societal problems. In effect, she viewed urban immigrants as a valuable asset to American society, especially if they acquired a basic understanding of Christianity and English. Just as the upper class cannot exist without first building on the lower and middle classes, Addams understood the American democratic tradition to be a reciprocal relationship among the social classes. Since immigrants generally belonged to the lower classes, she strove to offer them opportunities for socioeconomic advancement through her efforts at Hull House. And even at the turn of the twentieth century, Addams felt that for all of its economic and technological achievements, American democracy had seldom made definitive headway at improving the social affairs of its immigrants. Her philosophy was part of larger shifting trends in modern liberalism, which increasingly saw the government as a potential tool for backstopping the nation's poor and underprivileged.