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  • Writer's pictureKurt Keefner

"For the Love of Wisdom"

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

I have decided to write another book, tentatively titled For the Love of Wisdom. It is going to be the sum of all my thinking about improving human life and the incredible power of ideas. I project that it will take 3 – 5 years to write, and it will have to wait until I straighten out issues in my personal life such as my job and finances. But I will make it happen. I am only 60 years old and have great genes as far as longevity goes, so I will have time.

To some extent I build on the foundations that were laid by Ayn Rand. I agree with much of what she has to say, but there are significant things I disagree with, too, or at least things where I think she was only partially correct. I do not regard myself as building “open Objectivism” or “neo-Objectivism” or “Objectivism 2.0” or any of the other names people have given to the kind of thing I am attempting to create. As much as it pains me to say it, I cannot in all honesty say that I am an Objectivist anymore, although I suppose you could apply the cute but accurate label “Objectivish” to me. Interestingly, I think if Rand and I could engage in a long and open discussion, we might have been able to resolve many of our differences, some of which are perhaps more superficial than fundamental. In any case, I want my essays to be mine, not hers, despite the debt I owe her.

Some of the essays are more or less written. Some are only sketched. Some are published on my website, and some are not. Here is a preview.

The foundational essay is called “One Person, Indivisible.” It concerns a theory I call personal holism, according to which a human being is in no sense a mind, soul, or brain + a body, but rather is a unitary person. What follows from this is the power of self-integration and connection to one’s physicality, emotions, intuitions, and sexuality, as well as a direct encounter with the objective world and the other people in it. This essay has been written, but not published.

“One Person, Indivisible” is a hub that has several spokes. One very important spoke has to do with what I call robust reason. Reason, as it is typically thought of, comprises the senses, concepts, and verbal and mathematical logic, all manipulated dispassionately. Robust reason, integrates "traditional" reason with and nurtures the use of our other faculties, such as intuition, the felt sense, the subconscious generally, empathy, and emotions, engaging in a dialogue between our various thoughts, feelings, and impressions on a topic. Using everything you’ve got can unleash enormous cognitive power as well as creating a tremendous feeling of wholeness that complements personal holism. There is a version of this essay on my website here.

Another spoke has to do with the experience of presence. The tentative title of my essay about presence is “Being There.” Presence is the assertion of one’s existence that comes from the use of one’s free will. The molecules of one’s partial awareness coalesce into a whole, self-aware, and centered person. The presence of one’s self is met and reaffirmed by the presence of the world, which resists change by mere wish. Presence can be focused or diffuse, determined or serene, but it always involves sensitivity to the world, one’s self, and one’s faculties (which brings us back to holism and robust reason). I have a lot of notes on this topic, but no draft. However, I shared a key passage on Facebook. I may develop my thinking about free will to the point where I can write an essay on the subject.

Related to the concept of robust reason as a means of cognition are commonsense and wisdom, which will be the subjects of an as yet untitled essay. Commonsense and wisdom involve practical, middle-level abstractions and ideas time-tested and preserved. They are an adjunct to philosophical reasoning, which can be too complex and time consuming to use in dealing with everyday situations. I will examine the psychological and epistemological aspects of the these forms of knowing with a particular eye toward oral versus literate thinking. I only have notes on this essay, but I do have a book review on my website that touches on this style of reasoning.

Next comes my version of ethics. I agree with Ayn Rand that man’s life should be the standard of value and that happiness is each individual’s proper purpose. She anchored this in a fundamental choice to live, i.e. to continue existing. This choice, as an end in itself, cannot be further justified. Unfortunately, this still leaves something of an is-ought gap. Some people are going to choose other ultimate values, for just one example, being macho, and there really isn’t anything we can say to them. Furthermore, Rand's analysis might conceivably lead some vulnerable people to believe that life is meaningless or should be lived hedonistically, despite her arguments to the contrary.

I believe there is a solution. I would echo Rand’s dictum that “Existence is Identity” and say that the existence of life consists of life-sustaining activities as its identity. The choice to live is the choice to engage in these activities. Furthermore, these activities reflect “natural values,” that is, inborn and pre-reflective needs and desires for things like food, security, love, intellectual stimulation, mastery of skills, etc. In other words, there is no is-ought gap because we are born valuing beings. These values are our human nature, our ultimate horizon, and cannot be meaningfully questioned. Meta-ethical problems arise only, but not always, when we reach a conceptual level of cognition and become detached from our foundations or when we get off-track due to mistaken thinking or bad experiences. Reason can help here, but not just by arguing us into the right path from the outside. I would argue that the role of reason is not to justify natural valuing, but to straighten out mistaken thinking and integrate values, helping them find their proper ends, all from the inside. To some extent the use of reason in ethics is therapeutic, not argumentative. The choice to live is ultimately not a choice in the normal sense at all, but an affirmation of what was already there. Once again, there is a connection to personal holism and robust reason via the idea of natural values.

I’m not sure how much I want to write about politics and aesthetics. My view of politics is that there is such a thing as individual rights, but that they are not some kind of quasi-mystical aura surrounding people but rather more like rules in the society game. (I am not saying that Rand is engaging in quasi-mysticism but some proponents of individual rights seem to). I would also consider the idea of who has a right to govern and set limits on things such as immigration. I would test version of rights against some hard cases.

My view of aesthetics is that Ayn Rand’s definition of art, while it points in the right direction, is a bit off the mark, and I might offer my own.

I think the final essay will be about the importance of what I call chosen wonder in human life. There is an essay on this topic on my website here.

Obviously, I am not going to cover every issue in philosophy in a single book, but I believe that I can paint in broad strokes my views on many major topics as they affect human life. This will be the culmination of my life’s work, and I firmly believe it can have a positive impact on people’s lives.


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