Man, Morality, and Purpose

DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming to know the exact identity of man and who or what he is or why he is here.  Likewise, I am not trying to impose an arbitrary of Morality onto my readers, but only through reason am I trying to show what I have gathered through my experience and reading and what I believe.  I am trying to show how I view man and how I view morality and what I view as most important about both.  I am not a great mind like that of Socrates or Plato or Epictetus, but these among others are the philosophers I admire and the men who have gotten closest to what I believe is the ideal image of man through their own reason. These are the man I am attempting to emulate.  

Man: The Myth, the Legend, the Mystery.

What is man?  What is Morality?  What is Virtue?  Who is John Galt?

For the last several days I have been devouring Atlas Shrugged, which is what I believe one of the greatest philosophical works of our time.  Contrary to what philosophical works have looked like in the past (like the works of Socrates and Aristotle and even modern philosophers such as Locke and Hegel), this novel takes the form of a story.  It is a fiction, and seems like it is meant for entertainment, but it raises questions that few, if any, have ever succeeded in answering for themselves.

These questions are those above:  What is man? Morality? Virtue? All of these questions in the book are characterized by one:  Who is John Galt?

I have not read far enough into Ayn Rand’s stellar novel to find out, but I have come to realize what some of the answers to these questions are.

What is man?:

Man is a creature, whether created by God or by chance is up to other men to argue.  But he is a logical being, one who is more than a simple animal.  Man has the ability to shape landscapes and build skyscrapers, but also the power to level nations and kill his own brothers.  Man is a creature of purpose.  What is that purpose?  Rand seems to believe that the purpose of man is self-betterment, self-reliance, and selfishness almost.  I do not completely agree.  Man is meant to better himself and is meant to rely on himself rather than hope that others will pick up the slack for him.  Man is meant to work hard to improve himself.  He is not meant to be selfish, but to help his fellow man in the right way.  He is to help his fellow man in justice.

What is Morality?  What makes something moral?

Morality is one of the most debated issues of our time.  To begin with, let’s dispel a few rumors about it.

  1. Morality can NOT be relative.  This means that what’s not okay for me is also not okay for you.  Some people believe that no truth can be found and no objective morality can be outlined.  If that were true, than it would be okay to murder and steal and oppress and there would be no need of government to protect such rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Moral Relativism causes a decay of society, resulting in an eventual savagery that simply leaves those who have a moral code of   selflessness and charity and pacifism (the high-minded) at the mercy of the low-minded savages who oppress and loot and murder because it’s easier than working hard. Thus, there must be a set law of morality that applies to all men and also allows other men to carry out justice when a man does something immoral to them.
  2. Morality is not only a religious idea or a an abstract concept invented by a church or a certain faith.  It is a philosophical idea and it is very real.  People’s sense of morality has been present since the beginning of time.  Man has always seen, to some degree, what is good and right, and what is evil and wrong.  For example, faiths that use God to explain morality, especially those which refer to the bible, use the quote, “The law of God is written on the heart of every man,” to show how man can “feel” right and wrong.

So, what makes a thing moral?

Something is moral if it follows this set universal moral code.  If a man harms another man, something which he has no right to do, the harmed man has the right to defend himself and/or carry out justice.  That is morality.  If a man works hard and through his own ingenuity, intelligence, and hard work makes a fortune in a certain industry, he deserves to keep what he has earned.  That is morality.  That is justice.  Morality does go farther than justice, as we see in what people call virtue.  To express morality in finite terms, man has created certain virtues.

But what are they and what is virtue?

Virtue is simply the practicing of morality.  It is the practice of the virtues which man has defined in order to express morality in worldly terms.  The Virtues, in my opinion, include justice first and foremost, discipline (prudence and temperance), fortitude, charity, and trust or faith.  Many religious organizations also like to consider hope a virtue.  I myself believe that hope can be a virtue, but it can also be a vice.  A man who hopes to gain a better life for himself and his family but takes no action to do so is not practicing a virtue but rather I would say he is committing a grave sin.  In contrast, a man who hopes to do the same yet lets that hope fuel his actions and drive him to that goal and eventually attain it is practicing a virtue.  In the religious sense, most religions regard hope as the virtue of trusting in God’s word (or the gods’ word) that he will bring salvation or reward them for their good works.

Justice is the most important of virtues, and by it all others are carried out.  Only when a man does justice to himself and those around him can one say he has discipline, fortitude, charity, and trust.  By being just, a man exercises discipline in doing what is right, fortitude in refusing to the wrong thing even though it might be easier, charity to himself and his neighbor by giving what is due and not holding back for selfish reasons, and trusting that what he is doing is truly the right thing.

Charity is one of the virtues that sticks out to most as a possible contradiction to justice, but it is not.  One who has more is not obligated to give to those who have little, but to help them in the BEST way is charitable and good.  That does not mean giving them a handout.  It does not mean giving them a check every month that they know they can rely on.  That is not justice because the man giving the check is taking from what he has earned and using it to perpetuate another man’s laziness and reliance on others for his bread.  Instead, one should live by the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”  Teaching men to do justice to themselves and to earn their own share rather than take it as a handout is thus the more charitable thing to do.  Those who cannot help themselves, however, are a different story.  Those who physically or mentally are incapable of earning their own must rely on the charity and good will of others and it is not wrong for them to do so, and thus it is not wrong for someone to give them a handout.  Those who are too stubborn and simply will not help themselves because they do not want to (not because of any physical or mental handicap) don’t deserve to receive handouts and in my opinion must learn the hard way that if you don’t earn it you don’t get it.

The purpose of man is not to be selfish and cruel to those around him.  It is also not to be overly charitable and give everything he has to those who don’t deserve it or truly need it.  A man’s purpose is self-betterment and self-reliance, and through these he is meant to lead others to the same.  He is meant to lead by example and show others the ways of morality and virtue.  Not only will this be good for society as a whole, but it will also be good for the individual because there will be more honest, honorable, MORAL people with which he can do business and socialize with.  Man’s purpose is to improve his own life and that of those of around him, whether directly or indirectly.  There will always be dissenters and immoral people in the world. We cannot change that.  But the moral man rises above and finds a purpose to everything he does and he does it virtuously.  He does it with justice.

Man’s purpose is, finally, to find and have purpose.  A man who wanders aimlessly through life wastes it.

“A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder – waif, a nothing, a no man.” – Thomas Carlyle

“The man without purpose drifts at the mercy of random feelings and is capable of any evil, because he is out of control of his own life.” – Ayn Rand

“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.” – Leo Rosten

“Efforts and Courage are not enough without Purpose and Direction.” – John F. Kennedy

“The Soul which has no fixed purpose in life is lost; to be everywhere is to be nowhere.” – Michel de Montaigne

“To the person with firm purpose, all men and things are servants.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



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