Joy and Reason and Meaning

The phrase "joy and reason and meaning" has its origin in Ayn Rand's description of Monadnock Valley at the beginning of part four of The Fountainhead. However, in line with the mission of the Monadnock Review, my understanding of this concept is broader than Rand's. Here is how I unpack it:


One could interpret joy as requiring "man-worship" or a heroic sense of life. For me, joy is the word that best captures the kind of positive, constructive, humanistic approach to life, art, and the pursuit of wisdom that the Monadnock Review seeks to encourage. However, holding joy as an ideal does not imply that one refuses to acknowledge painful facts or experiences (in the sense of Nietzsche's interpretation of Apollonian art). While I value acts and creations that are pleasing to the senses and to the mind, the capacity for joy is but the most positive realization of the capacity for feeling and emotion, and one must nurture that more fundamental capacity in order to be capable of the greatest joy. The acts and creations that I value exhibit an openness to the emotional experience of life. At its best, that experience is positive, but being open to experience means not shrinking from the negative, either.


One could interpret reason as requiring an explicitly rational view of man and the universe. For me, reason means that an act or creation is clear, intelligible, integrated, open to the fundamental human power of understanding ourselves and the world. However, the power of understanding includes perception, imagination, and introspection as well as conceptual thought. As Jacob Bronowski wrote in his poem The Abacus and the Rose, we must "reject the feud of eye and intellect"; reason's hand, far from being cold and clammy, provides the touch that enables both light and heat, both thought and passion, both deep understanding and deep emotion. Joy and reason go hand in hand.


What, then, of meaning? One could interpret meaning as requiring an explicitly philosophical approach to life and art, as being found only in the loftiest abstractions or most cosmic goals. For me, meaning is a combination of the human powers of choice and action: one finds meaning in the self-directed achievement of that which one has chosen as good or important. But the good and the important are not mere abstractions: they may be as particular as the smile of a friend, the scent of a flower, the sense of a phrase. Individualism extends that far; and meaning is found not merely in the cosmic and the universal, but also most directly in the concrete, the particular, and the deeply personal.

Together, joy and reason and meaning capture the essence of what Rand once described as a philosophy for living on earth. It is such a humanistic philosophy (which is by no means afraid to range far beyond Rand's own ideas) that the Monadnock Review strives to realize, practically and enjoyably, on the web.