The Literary Art of Ayn Rand
guilt, respect, and admiration—the so-called moral emotions, so-called be-cause they presuppose the use of ethical concepts such as good and bad, rightand wrong, worthy and unworthy.Particular aspects of a moral sense can be formulated explicitly asprinciples. And in theory, it would be possible to express the whole content of a moral sense explicitly, in language. But this would be an enormous under-taking because of the enormous complexity and comprehensiveness of a moralsense. The normative concepts involved are extremely abstract. They areintegrated in complex ways into moral rules and principles, hierarchies of values and virtues. They are tied to reality, and thus gain their meaning, fromcountless experiences in our own lives, from the stories of moral heroes andvillains we learn in childhood, from the daily rain of moral pronouncementsissuing from the pulpit, from the media, from movies and books.This is why art, and specifically literature, has always been the pri-mary means of conveying a moral sense. One can learn a great deal about theconventional moral sense of ancient Greece, its dominant ethos, by readingPlato and Aristotle, but it is Homer who gives us the full sense, the personalreality, of that ethos. In the same way, the Christian ethos is best conveyedthrough Augustine’s highly personalized
, or Milton’s epic poem
. Ayn Rand herself observed that normative abstractions. . .are almost impossible to communicate without the assistance of art. An exhaustive philosophical treatise defining moral values, witha long list of virtues to be practiced, will not do it; it will not conveywhat an ideal man would be like and how he would act: no mind candeal with so immense a sum of abstractions
. . . .
There is no way tointegrate such a sum without projecting an actual human figure—anintegrated concretization that illuminates the theory and makes it in-telligible.
If it is difficult to convey a conventional moral sense, an outlook thatis widely accepted within a given society, think how much more difficult it is topropose a fundamentally
moral sense and to convey it with enough clar-ity, enough breadth, enough detail, for us to grasp it
a moral sense—that is,as a distinctive way of thinking, feeling, and acting, across the whole range of a human life. This is what Ayn Rand accomplished as a philosopher and anovelist.
is her first full presentation of this moral sense.A reader who approaches the book from the standpoint of the con-ventional ethos in our own society would be struck by how fully Rand en-gages that ethos, how deeply she challenges it, how radically she transformsit. At least, that’s what struck me on rereading the novel, and I know that it iswhat bowled me over at the age of sixteen. So here I want to discuss the