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The Code of the Creator

The Code of the Creator

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Published by Sherrie G
This essay, by David Kelley, was originally published as the ninth and final essay in "The Literary Art of Ayn Rand" (2000, Atlas Society). "It first appeared as the companion of Stephen Cox’s talk at the 50th anniversary celebration of "The Fountainhead," held in New York in 1993. This is a fitting conclusion for this volume because it brings us back to the ultimate source of Rand’s lasting cultural impact: her distinctive moral sense. Kelley illuminates the central role of productive achievement and creation in Rand’s thought, and shows how The Fountainhead offers a “complete . . . expression of the moral sense and sensibility that has drawn so many people to Objectivism.”
Kelley contrasts Rand’s individualist ethos with the Classical and Christian ethical perspectives. He also distinguishes Rand’s view from the bourgeois ethos epitomized by Benjamin Franklin. He highlights independence—especially independence of mind—along with egoism and achievement as distinctive leitmotifs of Rand’s ethical individualism, helping us to better understand the ideology that Rand integrated into her writing via the methods so ably discussed in the other essays of this volume.
This essay, by David Kelley, was originally published as the ninth and final essay in "The Literary Art of Ayn Rand" (2000, Atlas Society). "It first appeared as the companion of Stephen Cox’s talk at the 50th anniversary celebration of "The Fountainhead," held in New York in 1993. This is a fitting conclusion for this volume because it brings us back to the ultimate source of Rand’s lasting cultural impact: her distinctive moral sense. Kelley illuminates the central role of productive achievement and creation in Rand’s thought, and shows how The Fountainhead offers a “complete . . . expression of the moral sense and sensibility that has drawn so many people to Objectivism.”
Kelley contrasts Rand’s individualist ethos with the Classical and Christian ethical perspectives. He also distinguishes Rand’s view from the bourgeois ethos epitomized by Benjamin Franklin. He highlights independence—especially independence of mind—along with egoism and achievement as distinctive leitmotifs of Rand’s ethical individualism, helping us to better understand the ideology that Rand integrated into her writing via the methods so ably discussed in the other essays of this volume.

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Published by: Sherrie G on May 21, 2013
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The Code of the Creator
 David Kelley
I
have spent a good deal of my professional career studying the philosophy of Objectivism, including the Objectivist ethics, as a system of principles. Thatsystem was laid out most fully, with the greatest breadth and rigor, in
 AtlasShrugged 
and in Ayn Rand’s later philosophical essays. From this standpoint,it is a natural temptation to look back on
The Fountainhead 
as merely a firstattempt, a preliminary sketch of the system.As I thought about
The Fountainhead 
on the occasion of its fiftiethanniversary, however, and as I reread the book for the first time in manyyears, I tried to put my knowledge of Rand’s later work to one side. I tried toapproach the novel as a naive reader, the kind of reader who might havebought the book in 1943, curious to see what this new novel of ideas was allabout; the kind of reader that I myself was at the age of sixteen, when I firstpicked up the book, having heard vague reports that it had something to dowith individualism, atheism, sex, and other things that were on my mind at thetime.What struck me when I approached
The Fountainhead 
in this waywas how complete it was, how perfect an expression of the moral sense andsensibility that has drawn so many people to Objectivism. To explain what Imean by this, I need to begin by saying a few words about the concept of amoral sense.
Moral Sense
A moral sense is the whole constellation of values, ideals, and moral rules andprinciples, that govern our evaluations of ourselves and others. Our moralsense determines the content of our judgments about what is proper or im-proper, what is fair or unfair, what is deserving of praise or blame—on the job,in family life, in politics, or any other realm of action. It determines the contentof our conception of a good person, of a hero or a saint, an ideal to be emu-lated. It determines the content of such emotions as anger, pride, remorse,
 
 244
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
Confessions
, or Milton’s epic poem
Paradise Lost 
. 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.
1
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
new
moral sense and to convey it with enough clar-ity, enough breadth, enough detail, for us to grasp it
as
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.
The Fountainhead 
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
 
 245
The Code of the Creator 
moral sense of 
The Fountainhead,
the moral sense which I am going to callthe code of the creator, and the way this new moral sense relates to theconventional ethos. I want to show how you get here from there.Ayn Rand sometimes wrote as if conventional ethics were defined bya single outlook antithetical to hers: the morality of altruism. I think the truth issomewhat more complex than that. Our conventional ethos, the moral sensedominant when
The Fountainhead 
was published and still dominant today, ismade of various strands that emerged from different sources historically, andare concerned with different aspects of human life and experience. I amgoing to spend some time at the outset describing what I think are the threemost important of these strands, what I will call the religious, the aristocratic,and the bourgeois ethics. Then we will return to
The Fountainhead 
, and seehow it relates to each of them.
The Conventional Ethos
 Achilles and Jesus
As a point of departure in describing the conventional ethos, let us considerthe seven cardinal virtues of medieval Christianity: moderation, courage, wis-dom, justice, faith, hope, and charity. The first four virtues on this list—mod-eration, courage, wisdom, and justice—are derived from the Greeks; they arethe four virtues described in Plato’s
 Republic
, and the Greek conception of them can be traced back to Homer. Faith, hope, and charity, by contrast, arethe theological virtues derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition, specificallyfrom the New Testament of the Bible.This is not a consistent list of virtues, despite the heroic efforts of medieval philosophers to reconcile them. For example, wisdom is a virtue of reason, the ability to integrate one’s experience coherently and arrive at sound judgments. It is flatly inconsistent with the Christian concept of faith as a kindof intellectual humility, the willingness to believe without demanding reasonsor the evidence of the senses. Again, justice is the virtue of giving each manhis due; it is based on the concept of the earned, and presupposes the willing-ness to pass judgment on others. It contradicts the Christian emphasis onmercy, and the doctrine “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” which are ele-ments of the virtue charity. Even in the case of moderation, there is a differ-ence to be noted. Moderation for the Greeks meant self-discipline, the strengthof the soldier who forgoes comfort and indulgence for the sake of glory. It didnot involve the asceticism practiced by many Christians, who took a muchmore hostile view of the pleasures of the flesh.But the most important difference between the Greek and Christian

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