Monday, October 11, 2010

Ayn Rand and Henry David Thoreau

Did Ayn Rand derive the title of her book The Fountainhead from the following quote from Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience?  I am trying to track down the answer and whether one exists.  If she had read Civil Disobedience before writing the Fountainhead, it seems quite possible.

"They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird  up their loins once more and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountainhead."


Doug Plumb said...

Was Rand a materialist or a rationalist ?

I don't really understand that quote.

Doug Plumb said...

BTW: I never read the Fountainhead. I can't put that quote into context.

Anonymous said...

You might get a laugh out of this British magazine diatribe against Ayn Rand, I did. But there is some interesting background info about her philosophical influences.

Then there's this website that claims Thoreau's Civil Disobedience was of major significance in political philosophy. I imagine Ayn Rand would have been well aware of such events and ideas of the times.

It appears from this last website that Ayn Rand is a prominent "minarchist" as was Thoreau, von Mises, Hayek, Friedman and others.

Hope this helps. -jetstream

Harry Binswanger said...

Actually, no. Rand originally titled the book, "Second Hand Lives." Her editor, Archibald Ogden of Bobbs Merrill, pointed out that that title featured the negative, the "second-handers," like Peter Keating. Impressed with this criticism, Rand came up with the title "The Prime Movers" (based on Aristotle) to denote the first-handed thinkers and innovators who, like the book's hero Howard Roark, move civilization forward. But then someone at Bobbs Merrill (I think in the marketing department) said that would sound like the book was about truckers (!).

So Rand went to a Thesaurus, and the best term she could find was "Fountainhead." (This information is available from the Archives of the Ayn Rand Institute.)

Mitchell Langbert said...

Doug--Rand was an atheist and a follower of Aristotle. Her emphasis on egoism is entirely Aristotelian. She added a bit too much of Spencer for my taste. Her emphasis on Roark as superman is also somewhat Nietzschean, which is probably related to Spencer as well.

As an Aristotelian she emphasizes rationality very heavily. She would not agree with Kant that the moral world is separate from the phenomenal world. She would see one substance, not two, in other words.

Doug Plumb said...

I am a platonic thinker rather than an Aristotolean, I liked Atlas Shrugged because of its political message. Kant explains how there are two ways of looking at the world, going from the particular to the universal and visa versa.

I believe that Thoreau & Rand are both Aristotleans, where they go from universal to the particular.

I'm exactly sure what the materialist conception of the world is but I am wondering if the materialist conception falls in line with Thoreau & Rand. Rand says A is A and I suppose this is a motto of the materialists or realists.

Schopenhauer is critical of Kant and is said to pick up where Kant leaves off in some ways. Would Schopenhauer clear this up in "The World As Will & Representation" ?

Whats the best counter to Kant ?

Mitchell Langbert said...

Hey Doug. Rand was an Aristotelian but Thoreau a Platonist. His mentor, Emerson, was famous as a popularizer of Kant. Their philosophy, "Transcendentalism" derives its name from Kantian terminology ("transcendental" categories). I am not a big fan of Kant and got into an argument at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies with the head, Oskar Gruenwald, about that. There are many anti-Kantian arguments largely because his system fails. If you read Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, you see his point, that Kant leads to nihilism because its cannot explain reality. There is a huge literature on particularity. I read Jonathan Dancy's book earlier this year and highly recommend it even though it is very technical. There are many parts, the key parts, that are lucid and you see why universal laws cannot be applied in ethical thinking. Also, if you send me an e-mail I'll send you a paper I've been working on that I wrote an attack on Kant in. It hasn't been published. My e-mail is

Anonymous said...

Just popping in to say nice site.

Francisco Guarderas said...

Everyone is familiar with Thoreau's quote: "rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth". In Galts speech at the end of Atlas Shrugged, Rand writes while speaking about honesty as a fundamental virtue: "honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud..."

I like to think that Ayn Rand took some valuable ideas from other thinkers and refined them through her filter of objectivity and rationality. This parallel seems to be alluding to Thoreau.