Interview: How to Run an Objectivist Salon

Navigator: Perhaps you could begin by telling us something of the history of the New Intellectual Forum. Who started it, and when?

Enright: In 1985, a listing in The Objectivist Forum led me to contact Mike McCarthy of the Chicagoland Objectivist Principles Organization (COPO). My husband John and I began going to meetings of COPO at Mike’s apartment, where we met many Objectivists and libertarians. But because so many of the participants were interested only in libertarianism, the discussions tended to revolve around economics and politics. Attempts to move onto topics of ethics, esthetics, epistemology, or metaphysics disintegrated into arguments over the justification for the Objectivist point of view on these topics. This got boring. So, in 1987, I called up a number of the more clearly Objectivist participants and asked them if they wanted to start a discussion group that would presume a certain level of understanding and agreement with Rand’s ideas, and would build discussions from there. At first, the get-togethers were strictly by invitation only, because we were concerned about maintaining the level of the discussion. But we relaxed after a few years, when we saw that the participation of those who were not as Objectivist as the core group posed no problem. I think that our topics and the fact that the majority of the participants discussed matters using Rand’s ideas as a take-off point set the tone of the discussions. Also, I moderated the discussions, and politely discouraged getting off-topic.

Navigator: Could you sketch very quickly what a Forum evening is like now?

Enright: The purpose of the evening is to present ideas, information, and knowledge, often new identifications in Objectivism or other related areas. Our members share information about new fields of interest or findings, examining the theories and ideas of all kinds of thinkers in the culture. Typically, someone begins the discussion by giving a short talk on a topic of interest. In practice, this can range from throwing out a few questions for discussion to reading a paper. I try to discourage the latter, however, as it usually does not lead to the most interesting and lively discussions. To this extent, the New Intellectual Forum is pretty much what any Objectivist discussion group will be.

Where NIF may differ is that we have tried to surround the core discussion with some practices that, we feel, create the sense of an intellectuals’ and artists’ salon. And we believe that has contributed to the Forum’s success.

We get together once a month on Saturday night. Those who wish meet for dinner at a designated restaurant and then adjourn to a member’s home for the meeting. The remainder of the group goes directly to the meeting. About fifteen people usually show up for dinner, and twenty to twenty-five for the meeting, but we’ve had as few as twelve and as many as thirty-five. We always have a hostess or moderator or both to insure that the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, and also to see that the discussion proceeds respectfully and remains on topic for the formal part of the evening. And we always show our appreciation to the presenter by clapping. Members are expected to bring something: a snack or dessert for the refreshment table, or maybe fresh flowers. About half bring something to any particular meeting. And the hostess insures that the table and tableware are pleasing.

Navigator: How important is this “salon” ideal, in your eyes?

Enright: I believe it is fundamental to the organization’s success. Ideas are the heart of NIF, but our attitude towards ideas—and each other—is no less important. All participants are treated with civility and respect, regardless of their level of knowledge and their agreement with Rand’s philosophy. Someone may vigorously disagree with another’s remarks, but no one tries to shoot down the person’s points and no one, ever, says or implies any criticism of anyone’s character because of his ideas. I have dropped out of Objectivist discussion groups because I couldn’t tolerate the intolerance!

However, I don’t want to give the impression that we are merely civil to each other, in a cold, impersonal way—there is a warm, fun atmosphere to every meeting. We’re interested in each other, eager to see one another and talk about personal events and achievements, as well as ideas. We have a lot of people who know the philosophy in depth and first-hand, but are not out to impress each other. When they disagree with someone, they don’t recite chapter and verse, but really try to explain why they think the person is wrong. At NIF, everyone’s ideas are examined according to facts and reasoning, and no one is ever “tested” on his knowledge of Objectivism and “accepted” or received opinions.

The discussions tend to be exploratory rather than adversarial and we don’t all come to one conclusion. As one member put it, “you feel like you have allies in finding truth—that our first loyalty is to the truth.” We also have a great appreciation of the variety of personalities among us, and the wide range of points of view, which can be especially helpful to finding the truth. As David Axel said: “It’s a club for individualism where individuals matter.”

A relaxed atmosphere is another part of the “salon” ideal. Although we have set topics and the presenter has an idea of where he wants to go, we don’t have a highly structured agenda.

Then, too, humor is used liberally during formal and informal discussions, but it is never sarcastic, put-down humor and rarely ironical. Rather, it tends to be silly, light-hearted, irreverent, and congenial; it adds an element of fun to the discussion that puts people at ease and keeps the tone of discussion friendly. Actually, John’s skill in the use of humor set the tone for its use from the beginning.

Navigator: What sorts of topics are discussed at NIF, and what have been some of the most popular topics?

Enright: Well, we’ve discussed the foundations of mathematics, the nature of beauty, hypnosis, Montessori education, and poetry, to name a few topics. But we especially like controversial topics. In preparation for this interview, I asked the group to recall some outstanding lectures and a few of those mentioned were: “The Ethics of Rational Risk,” “Children’s Rights,” “The Logic of Rhetoric,” “The Literary Art of Atlas Shrugged,” “Deontological and Consequentialist Ethics,” “The Right to Privacy,” and “A Rugged Challenge for Unrugged Individualism.” Of course, that’s a very partial list.

Navigator: Does the Forum insist that talks be accessible to those unfamiliar with the subject? Or would it allow a speaker to focus on a topic that is principally of interest to, say, professional philosophers?

Enright: We encourage presenters to frame their talks in a way accessible to the intelligent Objectivist layman, but no, we have no special restrictions and we have in fact had discussions principally of interest to professional philosophers. We’ve been told that the typically high level of discussion is intimidating to some people, especially those new to the philosophy. But the respectful and friendly way everyone is treated counterbalances that. And the level of a topic, quite frankly, does not greatly affect the number of people who attend, because they’re a lively bunch, always willing to learn something new. However, if people find the discussion completely beyond them, there is a chance to seek out other fare. After the formal presentation or discussion, we break for refreshments and members may or may not return to the principal discussion. They may remain in another room to discuss other matters of interest with those who wish to remain there too.

Navigator: Is there a formal or informal framework of belief that attendees are expected to have? Specifically, is Objectivism presumed to be the standard of discussion?

Enright: Yes. Objectivism’s basic principles are the taking-off point and the standard for our discussions. At the same time, we have gotten into some lengthy discussions of Objectivism’s ideas, and we frequently bring up and think over Ayn Rand’s fundamental premises to see whether they accurately conceptualize the issue at hand. But people are not coming in order to challenge Objectivism across the board.

Navigator: Many people have difficulty speaking in public. What percentage of the regular membership, would you estimate, has given a talk? And does the Forum ever invite nonmembers to speak?

Enright: Unfortunately, it’s true that people are reluctant to speak in public. As a result only about one-quarter of our members have been presenters. Nevertheless, we rely on volunteers for future presentations and we rarely have trouble filling future spots.

A practice I have developed helps find and encourage people to lead a session: When I hear people talking enthusiastically about a subject or issue, I suggest it would make a good topic; when they say they don’t know enough to give a talk, I urge them just to lead the discussion with a few questions.

We rarely use speakers outside the membership, although we’ve had David Kelley, Bob Bidinotto, Murray Franck, and Dario Fernandez-Morera come to talk. And we don’t rely on audiotapes or videotapes. We may discuss tapes that most of us have heard or seen prior to the evening. But our members really seem to enjoy the live give-and-take with each other, which is also one of the reasons they seem to prefer short talks.

Navigator: What would you say to people who are interested in starting a group but do not feel confident about lecturing on Objectivism?

Enright: That they don’t need to! People are more interested in discussing issues than in hearing someone else talk. In fact, we have found that, as often as not, a meeting that begins with someone’s posing a few questions will end up being among the more interesting.

Navigator: You’ve said Forum discussions have a moderator to keep things on track. Is this just to keep the group from wandering? Or does it include curbing someone who brings an obsession to the topic?

Enright: Well, I usually function as the moderator, so let me speak from that perspective. I do try to keep things on topic. But I don’t wield a gavel, and at times the discussion has wandered pretty far: I try to judge audience interest in the wandering by the amount of participation.

As for the second part of your question: We have never really had a problem with such people dominating our discussions, for several reasons. In the beginning, membership was by invitation only and thus we were able to weed out those not seriously interested in Objectivism. Secondly, if someone brings up issues or points of view too far afield from the discussion, for whatever reason, they are politely asked to defer their points until later, and they may take them up at the end of the formal presentation, or privately with those who wish. The judgment of the moderator, both ideologically and socially, is very important in this respect.

Navigator: Let’s talk about your membership if we may. How large is it and how can it be characterized?

Enright: The mailing list has fifty names. About ten people have been attending for ten years, and another ten have been with us for five years. The remainder are relatively new. The membership is about two-to-one male; 25 percent married or “attached,” many never married, some divorced. Many are serious intellectuals and pursue ideas as a major avocation, though they are also serious about using the ideas. But many members are very bright people who do little philosophical reading or writing, yet want to know how to employ the ideas in their lives. The discussions give both groups a lot to chew on.

Navigator: How do you find the names of potential new members, and how do you recruit them?

Enright: The first members were people I met at COPO; later on, regular members began inviting friends and acquaintances. At that stage, we got two or three new people a year. But about three years ago, our member Timothy Shell created a Web site and it has been our most effective means of recruiting new people. It offers information and pictures, a message center, and a link to the IOS Web site, among other things. I get several inquiries a month from the site and, since its inception, we’ve been adding seven to ten members a year.

As for turning new people into regulars: They come to us eager to find others with an interest in Rand’s ideas, and a friendly forum in which to discuss them. We give them such a forum. Newcomers are welcomed and are introduced to the other participants, invited to partake freely of the food and drink, and included in the discussion. Someone engages new people in conversation and makes them feel included. After participating in a few meetings, newcomers are asked whether they would like to give a presentation themselves. In all, I’d say that 25 percent of the people who attend in a year are new members, and, of them, half become regulars.

Navigator: Do you have a problem with drop-outs?

Enright: Not really. About two or three people leave every year, usually due to moving or life changes, such as the birth of a child. Very few people quit the club over ideological disagreements, even though we regularly have in-depth philosophical discussions.

Navigator: Doubtless there is more to running a salon than scheduling a series of lectures, so let’s discuss what it takes to make such an organization go. How many members would you say a club must have to start; and how do you retain new members?

Enright: If the people are intellectually serious and interested, I don’t think you need a minimum number. And as for retaining new members: Our experience shows that the most effective way is to offer lively, interesting, and reasonable discussions, held in a friendly atmosphere.

Navigator: What are some of the practical tasks that people must keep in mind when starting a group?

Enright: Well, running the group is not cost-free, so we charge members an annual fee of $20 per individual, $30 per couple, which covers mailing and refreshment costs, such as hot and cold soft drinks and paper goods.

Then you need a place to meet. For more than half of the past ten years, the meetings were usually held at Lynn and Richard Latimer’s house. Their generosity in offering the use of their home and Lynn’s graciousness as a hostess and her skill as a decorative artist created a lovely and special setting for our meetings, which I believe fostered conviviality. In recent years, the meetings have mostly been at my house because Lynn has been busy taking care of her elderly parents. You also have to decide on a time: We find that meeting on a Saturday night allows the members to stay as late as they (or the host) would like, and that this facilitates many more possible discussions and many more opportunities for people to get to know one another.

And then you have to keep people informed about forthcoming meetings. I have maintained a mailing list and been a center for information. Every month, I send out notices specifying the restaurant, times, meeting place, topic, and other items of importance and interest.

Navigator: Some groups meet at restaurants, so that no one has to be talked into hosting the event. What is your experience with public meeting places?

Enright: We think that meeting at a home rather than a restaurant is a crucial element. The home is less formal and more comfortable. The several rooms in a home allow participants to mingle more freely than in other settings. If a participant becomes bored or unable to follow the discussion, he or she can quietly and gracefully leave the room and retire to the refreshment table for a rest or to mix with other group members, thereby keeping all entertained without disrupting the main discussion. Finally, meeting at a home keeps the costs down for students and others on a budget.

Navigator: How many “key” people does a club need and how can it persuade people to take up the main chores?

Enright: We haven’t really faced this problem, because I have done a good deal of the organizing over the years, with major help from Lynn Latimer and others off and on. But I do think you need at least one person who has an executive bent, that is, someone who can figure out what needs to be done, how to organize people and ask them to do things, and can follow through-someone who is regularly going to get the jobs done: sending out notices, recruiting presenters, and so forth. It has to be someone for whom these activities come easily, because running the club is “extracurricular.” Of course, the club could try to parcel out parts of the task to a number of people: however, that arrangement would probably still need a person to oversee it, unless the people were particularly good at coordination. For many years when my children were young, I sent out the notices and arranged for the speakers, but the meetings were usually held at the Latimers’ house.

How to retain such people? On the one hand, a good club is its own reward, especially for people who really enjoy the company of others with similar interests and a taste for discussion. Knowing that others are getting a lot out of what you’re doing can be inspiring, too. Still, it’s important for the other members to be supportive of the executive’s and hostess’s efforts: volunteering to help with problems, working for and at the meetings, and expressing their pleasure and gratitude for the work done by the organizers. Our club has given presents and plaques of appreciation to the hostesses and organizers.

Navigator: If your group needed to convince members to take on some major roles, what would you mention to demonstrate “It’s worth it”?

Enright: I would rely on their own experience. That is, I would just go and ask people who I know really value the club, assuming they were also people who had the talents needed for the particular roles. Perhaps I would need to explain to them why I was asking them to do something, or give them some advice about how to get the job done—but their own enjoyment of the club would be the most persuasive argument possible.

However, to start a club and make it run successfully, you need at least one person who thinks such an endeavor will be valuable, and who can create the right atmosphere: Only after that is done will participants be convinced by experience. One thing I’m attempting to do with this interview is to communicate how enjoyable and successful a club can be, to people who have not yet had the experience. Anyone in search of more information can reach me at 773-233-8684 or, or visit our Web site at

Navigator: Have you seen signs of an Objectivist community emerging from the Forum?

Enright: Absolutely! Many participants go on to become close personal friends. In fact, the friendships, networking, and encouragement that we have afforded to each other over the years have been quite energizing to our members. The journal Objectivity was born from these relationships, and many members have turned their NIF presentations into articles or lectures at the IOS summer seminar. I believe Objectivists need a lot more organizations like NIF to serve their social and emotional as well as intellectual needs. In the long run, this kind of activity will expand the presence of Objectivism in the culture.

Navigator: At the 1997 IOS Summer Seminar, Bob Bidinotto spoke about what Objectivism can learn from religion. Are there holiday-like occasions that the Forum celebrates regularly? If so, what are they?

Enright: We have parties at least twice a year: an anniversary barbecue or picnic, which is usually held close to the Fourth of July—although last year we had our anniversary party in the fall, at Montrose harbor on Lake Michigan, where we had a gorgeous view of downtown Chicago. The other event is a Christmas party (or Solstice Supper to those who really detest religion). There, we play a delightful present-guessing game that teaches the members a lot about each other. I would be happy to explain the game to anyone who is interested.

Navigator: By way of closing: What would you say to those thinking of starting a club?

Enright: I have eagerly looked forward to the Forum’s get-togethers every month for the last ten years: the presentations have ranged from at least interesting to fascinating, usually full of delightful information, and the discussions have been invariably stimulating. It has been an opportunity to stretch my intellectual muscles once a month. It’s a great place to learn about other, utterly unique points of view and have my mind changed-for the better. So, my comment to Navigator’s readers: If you want something like this in your life, make it!

This interview was conducted for Navigator by IOS editorial director Roger Donway. All photos courtesy of Marsha Enright.

Foundations Study Guide: Montessori Education

Revised August 1997

Formerly a psychotherapist, Marsha Enright, co-founded the Council Oak Montessori School (elementary level) in 1990, of which she is the president and administrator. Another cofounder of the school and its corporate secretary, Doris Cox, currently teaches middle school children at Council Oak.

The education of the human child is of profound importance to anyone dedicated to achieving “the best within us,” but especially to those who have, or wish to have, children of their own, and to those who are or wish to become teachers. What are the child’s nature and needs? How are they different from those of an adult? How can we best foster the child’s development so as to help him maximize his potential for productivity and happiness in life? Current research validates Montessori’s ideas. We believe that, on the whole, the philosophy of the child developed by Italian physician and teacher Maria Montessori, is most consistent with the Objectivist view of human nature, needs, and values.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori, the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, became a doctor in 1896. Her first post was in the university’s Psychiatric Clinic.

In that age, retarded children were considered a medical problem, rather than an educational one, and were often kept in hospitals for the insane. Montessori’s visits with children in Roman insane asylums prompted her to study the works of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838) and Edouard Seguin (1812-1880), two French-born pioneers in education for the mentally deficient. She went on to read all the major works on educational theory of the previous two centuries.

In 1899, Montessori became director of the State Orthophrenic School, where her work with the retarded was so successful that the majority of her students were able to pass the state education exams. While other people exclaimed over this phenomenal success, Montessori pondered its implication for normal children. If the mentally deficient could do as well on the exams as normal children, in what poor state must those normal children be! This reflection led her to devote her life to education.

Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in 1907, applying to children of normal intelligence the methods and materials she had developed for deficient children. She also spent a great deal of time observing and meditating on what children did with her materials—what brought out their best learning and their greatest enthusiasm.

As a result of Montessori’s achievements at the Casa dei Bambini, her method spread rapidly. By 1915, over 100 Montessori schools had opened in America, and many more had opened in the rest of the world. In Switzerland, one of the most important 20th-century theorists in child development—Jean Piaget (1896-1980)—was heavily influenced by Montessori and her method. Piaget was director of the modified Montessori school in Geneva, where he did some of the observations for his first book, Language and Thought of the Child, and served as head of the Swiss Montessori society.

Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work, by E.M. Standing, is an interesting historical account told from the viewpoint of a devoted follower. A more recent and objective biography is Rita Kramer’s Maria Montessori.

The Montessori Method

Maria Montessori’s own works constitute the best source of information concerning her theories and methods. The Montessori Method, the first overview of her educational techniques, remains the best in many respects. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook goes into the details of her philosophy, materials, and methods. The Discovery of the Child is a later detailed summarization of Montessori’s philosophy and method of teaching, with much discussion of the child’s nature and the best means of approaching the child with work. The Secret of Childhood is a history of what—and how—Montessori learned about the unique nature of children, the problems that can arise when the child’s nature is not properly nurtured, and the repercussions that proper and improper nurturing of the child have on society. This work is especially recommended for parents.

According to Maria Montessori, “A child’s work is to create the person she will become.” To carry out this self-construction, children have innate mental powers, but they must be free to use these powers. For this reason, a Montessori classroom provides freedom while maintaining an environment that encourages a sense of order and self-discipline. “Freedom in a structured environment” is the Montessori dictum that names this arrangement.

Like all thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition, Montessori recognized that the senses must be educated first in the development of the intellect. Consequently, she created a vast array of special learning materials from which concepts could be abstracted and through which they could be concretized. In recognition of the independent nature of the developing intellect, these materials are self-correcting—that is, from their use, the child discovers for himself whether he has the right answer. This feature of her materials encourages the child to be concerned with facts and truth, rather than with what adults say is right or wrong.

Also basic to Montessori’s philosophy is her belief in the “sensitive periods” of a child’s development: periods when the child seeks certain stimuli with immense intensity, and, consequently, can most easily master a particular learning skill. The teacher’s role is to recognize the sensitive periods in individual children and put the children in touch with the appropriate materials.

Montessori also identified stages of growth—which she called “Planes of Development”—that occur in approximately six-year intervals and that are further subdivided into two three-year segments. These planes of development are the basis for the three-year age groupings found in Montessori schools: ages 3 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 12, and 12 to 18.

From birth to age six, children are sensorial explorers, studying every aspect of their environment, language, and culture. Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind provides a detailed discussion of how the child’s mind and needs develop during this period.

From age six to twelve, children become reasoning explorers. They develop new powers of abstraction and imagination, using and applying their knowledge to further discover and expand their world. During this time, it is still essential that the child carry out activities in order to integrate acting and thinking. It is his own effort that gives him independence, and his own experience that brings him answers as to how and why things function as they do. Montessori’s The Montessori Elementary Materials discusses the materials and curriculum to be used for children during this period.

From Childhood to Adolescence, also by Montessori, outlines the changes children undergo in mentality and outlook as they grow from childhood to adolescence, and the nature and needs of the adolescent child. She also proposes a radical concept of schooling for the adolescent.

Valuable secondary works on the Montessori method include Elizabeth Hainstock’s Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years, and Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years. Both give an abbreviated view of the philosophy and the method, as well as detailed instructions on how to make and use the materials. Paula Lilliard’s 1972 work, Montessori: A Modern Approach, reviews the history and nature of the Montessori philosophy, discussing how “current” it is in addressing modern educational concerns and what it has to offer the contemporary family.

Throughout her writing, Montessori combines keen observations and insights with a heroic view of the importance of the child’s work in self- development—work by which each man creates the best within him. Many writers and critics dislike Montessori’s romantic rhetoric, and admittedly her phraseology tends to the mystical. Nevertheless, we find her language refreshing and inspiring. As the following sentence illustrates, she always keeps in mind the glory and grandeur of human development:

“Humanity shows itself in all its intellectual splendor during this tender age as the sun shows itself at the dawn, and the flower in the first unfolding of the petals; and we must respect religiously, reverently, these first indications of individuality.”

The Montessori method always places its principles and activities in the broad context of the importance of human life and development, intelligence and free will. Indeed, one of the cornerstones of the Montessori method is the presentation of knowledge as an integrated whole, emphasizing conceptual relationships between different branches of learning, and the placement of knowledge in its historical context.

Dewey Versus Montessori

In American academic circles, Montessori is little known, except as a name from the past, and textbooks on educational theory therefore tend to discuss her method only in an historical context. Much of this learned ignorance can be traced to The Montessori System Examined, a small but highly influential book published in 1914 by Professor William Heard Kilpatrick. In his time, Kilpatrick was one of the most popular professors at Columbia University’s Teachers College, an institution with far-ranging influence among educational theorists and one of the main redoubts for John Dewey’s Progressive method of education.

Dewey and Montessori approached education from philosophically and psychologically different perspectives. Dewey’s concern was with fostering the imagination and the development of social relationships. He believed in developing the intellect late in childhood, for fear that it might stifle other aspects of development. By contrast, Montessori believed that development of the intellect was the only means by which the imagination and proper social relationships could arise. Her method focused on the early stimulation and sharpening of the senses, the development of independence in motor tasks and the care of the self, and the child’s naturally high motivation to learn about the world as a means of gaining mastery over himself and his environment.

Thus, behind Kilpatrick’s criticism of Montessori’s educational method lay a great deal of antagonism towards Montessori’s philosophy and psychology. Kilpatrick dismissed Montessori’s sensorial materials because they were based on what he considered to be an outdated theory of the faculties of the mind (Dewey was greatly influenced by early Behaviorism) and a too-early development of the intellect. Kilpatrick also criticized Montessori’s materials as too restrictive: because they have a definite outcome, he felt, they restrict the child’s imagination. Following Dewey’s collectivist view of man, and his central focus on the social development of the child, Kilpatrick also disliked Montessori’s decidedly individualistic view of the child.

Montessori Today

In the United States, the views of Dewey and Kilpatrick prevailed, and the name of Montessori was largely forgotten for several decades. Fortunately for recent generations of American children, a dissatisfied American mother, Nancy Rambusch, rediscovered Montessori in Europe during the 1950s. Rambusch began the “second-wave” Montessori schools in the United States, lectured widely on the Montessori method, and helped found the American Montessori Society. Over the past forty years, grass-roots interest has spurred a phenomenal growth of Montessori schools in America, but the movement is not generally recognized or promoted in university education departments.

The Montessori Controversy and Montessori Schools in America, both by John Chattin-McNichols, discuss research on the relationship of the method to historical and current educational theories; and controversies that have arisen between the Montessori movement and academic theorists, and also within the Montessori movement.

Interestingly, Montessori Schools in America includes Beatrice Hessen’s article on the Montessori method, originally published in The Objectivist. As this Study Guide indicates, a link between Objectivism and the Montessori method of education is a promising connection for both movements.   Montessori’s methods encourage children to be at home in a free society, such as Objectivists would like to establish. Respect for the person, property, and ideas of others are primary values in the Montessori classroom, as are respectful cooperation and personal responsibility. Children are required to care for the materials they use and the environment of the classroom; they are encouraged to work on projects cooperatively, but only when they wish to do so. At a deeper level, Objectivism’s epistemological and ethical ideas offer a rich theoretical soil in which Montessori’s methods can thrive and perhaps even develop further.

Montessori Training

In the United States at present, training for teachers is offered through the Association Montessori Internationale/USA, an arm of Maria Montessori’s original training organization; and through the American Montessori Society, founded by Nancy Rambusch. Many independent organizations also offer training. The North American Montessori Teachers Association is a center of research and information. Further information can be obtained from these organizations at the following addresses:

410 Alexander
Rochester, NY 14607
(716) 461-5920

American Montessori Society
281 Park Ave. South, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010-6102

11424 Bellflower Rd. NE
Cleveland, OH 44106


Many of the titles in this listing are available at If you use this link, or the search box below, then IOS will earn a commission from on each book purchased.

John Chattin-McNicholsThe Montessori Controversy. Albany, N.Y.: Delmar Publishers, 1992.

John P. Chattin-McNichols, edMontessori Schools in America: Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives. Lexington, Mass.: Ginn Custom Publishing, 1981, 1983.

Elizabeth G. Hainstock. Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years. New York: New American Library, 1968.

Elizabeth G. HainstockTeaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years. New York: Random House, 1971.

William Heard KilpatrickThe Montessori System Examined. American Education Series, No. 2. Salem, N.H.: Ayer Company Pubs., 1972. Reprint of 1914 Houghton Mifflin ed.

Rita Kramer. Maria Montessori: A Biography. New York: Capricorn Books, 1976.

Paula Lilliard. Montessori: A Modern Approach. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Maria Montessori. The Montessori Method, rev. ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1964.

Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook. Edited by E.C. Orem. New York: Schocken, 1965.

Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1967.

Maria Montessori. The Child in the Family. New York: Avon Books, 1956.

Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.

Maria Montessori. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longmans Ltd., 1936.

Maria Montessori. The Montessori Elementary Material. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

Maria Montessori. From Childhood to Adolescence. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

Jean Piaget. Language and Thought of The Child. New York: New American Library, 1955.

E.M. Standing. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Mentor Books, 1962.

Copyright © 1992 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.–48-Foundations_Study_Guide_Montessori_Education.aspx

Why Man Needs Approval

Originally published in Objectivity, Volume 1, Number 2.

In Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, Ken Danagger asks Dagny Taggart:

“And if you met those great men in heaven, . . . what would you want to say to them?”
“Just . . . just hello, I guess.”
“That’s not all,” said Danagger. “There’s something you’d want to hear from them . . . you’d want them to look at you and say, Well done.”
She dropped her head and nodded silently. . . . (Rand 1957, 735)

In this passage, Dagny shows an intense desire to be recognized and appreciated by heroes. She was not the sort of character who desired false praise or approval of others in place of self-approval. She did desire a deserved approval, a recognition of her and her achievements.


In this essay, I shall argue that it is a part of man’s nature, of his animal as well as his rational nature, to desire positive responses from others. The desire to be liked by others, to have pleasant day-to-day interactions with other people, and to enjoy positive feedback on many levels of social interaction is a need of man’s conceptual and perceptual nature. It is a vital factor in human development. A person cannot experience the most happiness possible in life if this deep need is left unfulfilled.

Aristotle posed the question: Why does a happy and self-sufficient man need friends? His answer was an early forerunner of the view elaborated here: A good man gets pleasure from contemplation of the good, a friend is another self, and “we can contemplate our neighbors better than ourselves and their actions better than our own.” Therefore, the supremely happy man will need good friends because “his purpose is to contemplate worthy actions and actions that are his own, and the actions of a good man who is his friend have both these qualities” (Aristotle 1941, EN.9.9.1169b30-1170a4).

I. Concretizing the Self

Ayn Rand spent much of her career defending and explaining man’s unique form of consciousness — reason. She explored such issues as how the ability to reason distinguishes man from the other animals, how reason works, and why man needs freedom to use his reason. She explained a number of man’s most interesting and unique characteristics as being caused by his possession of reason.

Rand argued that man produces and needs art because his conceptual consciousness has a special need to concretize its basic grasp of reality (Rand 1975, 17-20). Nathaniel Branden, an associate of Rand’s, argued that man needs romantic love because, unlike introspective awareness, love enables man to perceive his self in the world (Branden 1969, 184-88, 195-98). These theories propose that art and love derive specifically from the need to integrate the abstract and the concrete, the conceptual and the perceptual. Man is a rational animal and, as such, has cognitive needs resulting from his animal nature in combination with his rational faculty.

Abstractions themselves exist only in man’s mind — everything else in reality is concrete. One of man’s fundamental cognitive needs is to concretize his ideas and values, to grasp what they mean in reality. Rand surmised that the function of words is to give abstractions concrete forms (Rand 1990, 10). Man cannot think without finding particular forms for his thought. I would further argue that only the faculty of abstraction, of reason, can handle abstractions directly. Man’s other cognitive faculties, such as perception, memory, and eidetic imagination, function by using perceptual, concrete forms in conjunction with abstractions. Memories or fantasies always use a perceptual mental image — be it visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, or kinesthetic — to mentally anchor abstractions, to give them concrete form (Koestler 1964; Hadamard 1954).

These cognitive facts make sense in light of the evolution of man’s cognitive hierarchy. All living things are organized hierarchically, the higher forms always subsuming the lower form’s organization within them. (Aristotle discerned this general pattern; see, e.g., De An. 2.2.413a20-415b7, 3.9-3.13.) In the organization of consciousness, this means that at each phylogenetic level, animals possess within them the general cognitive abilities of the lower levels. The phylogenetic classification schemes used in biology reflect increasing modes of awareness — from rudimentary sensations to elaborate ones, to perception of entities and the faculty of memory, etc. (Green 1987, 20-23, 169-81). Of all his cognitive faculties, only the rational level of man’s consciousness is distinctively human, but this level must work with the sensory and perceptual levels of cognition for knowledge to be produced. Reason must find concrete forms for its product to be used by memory, imagination, and perception.

This is true of all of man’s mental contents, whether they be factual or evaluative. Man needs to objectify his values as well as his knowledge. One can be immediately, perceptually aware of objects and persons in external reality, but cannot be so aware of one’s own self and one’s own long-range, deepest-held values. To a great extent, art fulfills the need to concretize one’s greatest values. Rand’s esthetic theory outlines how this occurs. She followed Aristotle’s idea that art is what might be and ought to be: “Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to the artist’s metaphysical value judgment’s (Rand 1975, 19).

Art essentializes the way in which man should look at the world, rendering concretely the essence of the deepest values of the artistic creator. Here we need to lay aside the thorny question of what architecture and music might re-create. Consider some arts that Rand examined in her writings on esthetics: fiction, painting, sculpture, and dance (ibid., 44-50, 66-70). Rand proposed that these various arts give man the experience of using his senses conceptually; they essentialize the experience of the sense. “The visual arts . . . do not deal with the sensory field of awareness as such, but with the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness” (ibid., 47). Painting does so with vision, sculpture with touch and vision, and dance with body movement. These arts show men how their reason should direct the way in which they perceive the world, these arts show them to what to pay attention. Fiction, which includes novels, stories, movies, and plays, concretize abstractions by using words to (re)create specific people and events.

In any artwork, the artist’s values dictate what parts of reality are represented and in what way. What he selects to show in the work effectively tells the viewer “this is what’s important about the world, this is what you should notice about life.” The difference between the voluptuous beauty of a Vargas girl and the perfectly rendered decay of an Ivan Albright woman illustrates this effect.

The cognitive and motivational purpose of art is to make the potential seem real. Thus one experiences concretely and is moved to pursue what one loves (or, in the case of Naturalistic art, be justified in not striving for great things in life). Rand called this the “psychoepistemology of art. ” Art integrates into a real, concrete thing (the artwork) the deepest, most essential values which a man holds, so that he may feel as if he perceives them existing, and thus be moved to act toward them.

Those values most important to man are, on the whole, very abstract — self-esteem, success, honor, justice, to name a few. They are not easily nor quickly obtained, and, even when they are, they are not always easily recognized. For example, a businesswoman may not realize that her business is successful or that it is failing. The amount of money coming in, alone, is not a sure measure of success. The businesswoman needs to know her costs, including those for materials, labor, and overhead, to weigh against sales in order to calculate success or failure. Recognizing success sometimes requires a complex process of abstraction; it is not necessarily self-evident.

This is generally true of man’s greatest values. It is a long, arduous process to recognize, plan for, and achieve one’s highest values. Art enables man to experience important values as if they were here and now, as if the essentials were concretely before him. This gives man the experience of their actual existence. It is both thrilling to experience their existence, and inspiring. One walks away from a positive artistic experience feeling “that’s what life should be like” — and feeling motivated to achieve it.

Rand’s favorite metaphor for art was “fuel for the spirit.” Seventeen thousand years ago, the cavemen of Lascaux needed this fuel and painted elaborate and beautiful scenes of the hunt to energize them for their work; modern men need this experience no less.

However, the experience of art is not interactive. It is a one-way process, from the artwork to one’s consciousness. The viewer either “gets it” or does not. Furthermore, although works of art can mirror a person’s essential values, art does not reflect an individual, particular self (except the self of the creator).

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand used the metaphor of a mirror to communicate, exquisitely, an occasion of love — Dagny Taggart and John Galt in reflection of each other:

It was not the pressure of a hand that made her tremble, but the instantaneous sum of its meaning, the knowledge that it was his hand. . . . It contained her pride in herself and that it should be she whom he had chosen as his mirror, that it should be her body which was now giving him the sum of his existence, as his body was giving her the sum of hers. (Rand 1957, 956-57)

In an explication of the psychology of romantic love, Branden also turns to the mirror metaphor. He contends that one’s need of love is a consequence of one’s rational nature; it derives from a need to objectify one’s deepest values of self. Men want their souls to be psychologically “visible” — understood and valued — by others as a means of objectification (Branden 1969, 184-88; cf., Sartre 1966, 344-47).

Man’s highest value, his own self, is something he can never perceptually experience as an integrated, whole, and concrete thing. He can only focus on some one specific aspect of his self at any one time. The rest of his self can only be grasped by him abstractly, by reflecting on and integrating all he knows about himself into an imagined picture. He cannot experience himself concretely as a whole person — a personality — as he can experience others. He cannot see the facial expressions or body movements he makes nor hear the tone of his voice as he could perceive these things about another person.

“Normally man experiences himself as a process — in that consciousness itself is a process, an activity, and the contents of man’s mind are a shifting flow of perceptions, thoughts, and emotions . . . the sum total of which can never be held in focal awareness at any one time; that sum is experienced, but not perceived as such” (Branden 1969, 185-86). Only the understanding and reactions of another consciousness can give him concrete, specific, and timely feedback about himself. Others can experience his personality concretely, and, through their reactions and appreciation, give to him a concrete, immediate experience of himself (see also Nozick 1981, 464-65).

A man gets enjoyment from the appreciation of others through verbal expressions and, especially, through the actions and emotional reactions of others. Men seem to be tuned into the emotional reactions of others (Hoffman 1981, 74-79). On occasion men can experience these reactions viscerally — in their guts. Another’s response seems to be able to affect emotions very directly. It appears that certain facial expressions, tones of voice, and body postures can themselves induce pleasure and pain.

Man does not have automatic knowledge of what is the right food to eat, but foods that are good for him generally taste and smell good, and foods that are not good, even though not deadly, have ill effects from which he learns soon enough (Ornstein and Sobel 1989; Binswanger 1990, 129-34, 202). Man’s nature determines what foods are of value to him, and his mind and body function so as to discriminate what is good or bad through pleasure and pain. More generally, man does not have automatic knowledge of what to value, but man’s actual needs are set by his nature.

Man needs some social interaction. For any individual, social facility is an objective strategic value. Moreover, given the right people, sociability can be a pleasure. Rand’s fictional characters — the virtuous ones — strike one with their independence and devotion to productive work. Yet it is with just these characters that Rand is able to convey so well, in a scene in The Fountainhead, the feel of genuine sociability. After work Roark, Mallory, Dominique, and Mike

…sat together in Mallory’s shack. . . . They did not speak about their work. Mallory told outrageous stories and Dominique laughed like a child. They talked about nothing in particular, sentences that had meaning only in the sound of the voices, in the warm gaiety, in the ease of complete relaxation. They were simply four people who liked being there together. (Rand 1943, 357-58)

Society is a human value. Since the mind is an individual function, independence is also a value. Flourishing requires social interaction and independence. Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead, is an independent man who thinks for himself. He is fundamentally indifferent toward the beliefs and feelings of others when determining the truth of a matter. He always aims at discerning the truth, and he never disregards it. This does not mean that he has no feeling for others, nor that he finds no pleasure in being liked by others. Roark’s friend, Gail Wynand, speaking to Roark:

“Howard, this is what I wanted. To have you here with me.”

“I know.”

[later] “I’m glad you admit that you have friends.”

“I even admit that I love them.” (ibid., 655, 660)

II. Animal Company

Enjoyment of interactions with other sentient beings is not confined to the human species. Branden began to isolate the principle of psychological visibility, so pervasive in human life, while playing with his dog, Muttnik. In his own pleasure with the play, Branden noticed an element of self-awareness. Muttnik understood and responded appropriately to the Branden’s false boxing. She was understanding the man’s intentions and returning them (Branden 1969, 184-85).

Branden explained his enjoyment as consequent to self-objectification. I have always wondered, though, why Muttnik wanted to play with Branden. The dog had no rational consciousness striving for objectification of its abstract nature. The dog would not be subject to the need for psychological visibility, at least not as the need has been articulated by Branden.

However, the higher animals do have a grasp of reality above mere sensation or stimulus-response (Koestler 1967, 3-18; Green 1987, 313-18; Binswanger 1990, 7-15, 30-36). They have generalizing and processing abilities, at the perceptual level, that take them far beyond mere response to stimulus (Prosser 1986, 433-35). They have a rather sophisticated perceptual grasp of events, causal relations, and emotions. Pigeons in experiment have exhibited the ability to visually generalize; they were able to recognize any one of forty — two typographic forms of the letter A. Dog’s apprehensions of causal relations are impressive; one dog is reported to have run down two stories of a building after having seen a piece of meat thrown out a window (Walker 1983, 255, 292).

The facial expressions, body positions, and vocalizations attending some emotions seem to be common to a number of animals, particularly mammals. The wolf and the chimpanzee are favorite illustrations in psychology texts. The dog’s grasp of human intentions appears to entail an interspecific grasp of emotions. Even though we look very different from dogs, they are able to read our faces. They can sometimes grasp the meaning of our facial expressions and body postures. Apparently, they are able to match them with their own experience of emotions and to anticipate concomitant behavior. Dogs accomplish these things with only a perceptual, automatic level of consciousness. This suggests that the perceptual, automatic faculties of human consciousness may afford a similar ability.

Dogs not only enjoy playful interaction with humans but actively seek it. They are not the only animals to do so. Dolphins are known for their playfulness and friendliness. There are reports from “dolphin encounter” centers in Florida that male dolphins are sometimes attracted to and pursue human females in the water. Considering the differences in dolphin and human anatomy, it seems remarkable that the dolphins can sort out the women; probably through scent (Chicago Tribune, March 1989).

Many of the higher-order animals, given the proper circumstances, seek and enjoy positive interactions with members of other species. The gorilla Koko who kept a kitten, the killer whales at Sea World who swim by their trainers to be petted, the dogs and cats in the same household who become buddies, are but a few examples. The ability of animals, including humans, to recognize emotions and intentions across species argues for a specific biologically built-in means of emotional recognition.

Animals whose nature requires them to live in a cooperative group for their well-being tend to have more advanced communication skills than other species. Concomitantly, they are more sensitive and responsive to members of other species, and they have more need of interaction (Dunbar 1988, 179-81).

The extent to which a particular type of animal depends on a social group for survival goes hand-in-hand with its sensitivity to the emotions and actions of other group members (Hoffman 1981, 79). The dog’s emotional sensitivity is a major source of its appeal to humans; it is more popular as a pet than the cat. By emotional sensitivity, I mean the great amount of attention which the dog pays to the emotions and emotional reactions of other animals, especially humans, the amount of pleasure or pain which others’ emotions illicit in the dog, and the swift and direct effect the emotional reactions of others can have on a dog’s actions. The dog is also very emotionally expressive, which makes its reactions to things relatively easy to grasp.

The cat is seen as more aloof and independent in its character and not so much in need of interaction. When we come home, the cat runs to see us, purrs, and rubs against us. It may follow us around and may jump upon us for petting when we sit down. In those behaviors, the cat expresses its gladness to see us. But the cat’s face does not express subtle changes of emotion the way the eyebrows, eyes, and tongue of the dog do. The cat responds most to our touching, petting, and scratching of it, not to our words of interest or praise. Unlike the dog, the cat is only slightly responsive to our praise. Scoldings or anger might send a cat fleeing, but, unlike the dog, its body does not show that it feels guilty or crestfallen at our disapproval.

In the wild, the dog’s survival depends on a complex series of orchestrated group actions for the hunt. Wild dogs live in packs. The cat, with the exception of the lion, is a lone hunter and normally lives alone or with a family. The relative ease with which the dog is controlled by human voice and language is probably a reflection of the use of voice to control and direct social relationships and actions in the pack.

Higher orders of intelligence in animals covary roughly with the amount of complex group interaction in the species (Dunbar 1988, 181-82; Plotkin 1988, 156-59). The need for interaction is a result of the activities necessary for the growth of a complex intelligence. The need for interaction is a fusion of the cognitive with the motivational for survival purposes; cognitive development is advanced during the pursuit of pleasurable interactions.

III. Interaction in Development

In the 1950’s, Rene Spitz found that infants raised in orphanages sometimes developed marasmus (from the Greek, to waste away). These children were well-cared for physically, but, because help was short, they lacked human interaction. No one had time to cuddle them, play with them, talk to them. Consequently, many of these infants became very withdrawn, silent, and unresponsive. They sucked their thumbs in their cribs, rocked themselves, and did not eat well. They did not thrive. Some died. The antidote to marasmus was human interaction — positive feedback (Bowlby 1965). The rise in foster homes was, in large part, due to the recognition of the marasmus syndrome.

Similar problems have been reported for rhesus monkeys raised in isolation. Infant monkeys in a laboratory were allowed to view others but were prevented from physically interacting with them. When not merely withdrawn and sickly, these babies were autistic, rocking continuously for comfort and fearing interaction greatly. They often became self-mutilating. The addition of a soft cloth-on-wire mother greatly ameliorated the marasmus, although those raised by cloth mothers were not free of problems, since their isolation prevented them from learning many important skills. These infants spent most of their time clinging to the cloth mother even when milk was available from a plain wire mother. A cloth mother who rocked was preferred over the static cloth one and seemed to reduce the number of monkeys who rocked themselves obsessively (Harlow 1959).

The greater normality of the cloth-raised monkeys implies that pleasurable tactile interactions are important to the development of the mind of the infant rhesus monkey. Abnormalities such as marasmus among infant humans imply a similar need for physical contact. Touch is the first and most immediate sense through which positive feedback is needed, recognized, and delivered. It remains a very important avenue of feedback throughout life. It offers the most concrete evidence of the existence and response of others (Montague 1971, 51-182, 272-92).

The pleasure that an adult and an infant each derive from interaction with the other helps to motivate both for the goal of helping the infant develop. The very appearance, sounds, and activities of babies — those pesky, needful little creatures — gives so much pleasure to adults. I think this is nature’s way of insuring that we shall take care of them. The adult emotional reaction to babies seems to be interspecific. Adult animals often seem to recognize the young of other species and treat them accordingly (often, more tolerantly). Dogs put up with the shenanigans and abuse of children when they would not from adults. I have a cat who will tolerate pulling, rough petting, jumping on, and so forth from babies, kittens, and puppies, but begins to whack these selfsame individuals for the same behavior after they pass through puberty. In-built perceptual recognition processes of certain kinds of facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures, and movements — some causing pleasure, others pain — work to enable adult animals to recognize the young and to treat them accordingly. Niko Tinbergen contended that the smallness of the fledgling’s body and the roundness of its head elicit positive emotions from adult birds for the fledgling (Walker 1983, 213; on primates, see Alley 1986).

Humans certainly possess such in-built recognition and response processes for the young and between the young and adults. Two-week-old infants prefer to look at pictures of faces over those of other objects. The human face is one of the most compelling attractors of infant attention during the first four months (Wood 1989, 63).

Infants are able to smile within the first few weeks (Schultz 1976, 27-29). Parents try to make the infant smile; they enjoy it immensely without really knowing why. Intuitively, they act to cause the infant to smile and reward the infant’s smile by demonstrating pleasure when it appears. The smile of the infant evokes the smile of the mother, which in turn increases the intensity of the pleasure evoked by the smiling, in a positive feedback loop (Pines 1987, 21, 23). Smiling affords an opportunity for awareness of the other’s feelings and consciousness during interpersonal interaction. Between five and eleven months, one of the most effective elicitors of infant smiling and laughter is peek-a-boo (Schultz 1976, 30-31).

Infants enjoy interaction not only with caretakers but with other infants. Watching the little ones in their play, we observe

…smiles, interest in each other and in the other’s actions, . . . and actions directed apparently towards the other. . . . The infants seem attracted by perceptual similarities, sensing that the other is like oneself. . . . The other is distinct, yet like oneself, and I suggest that we can infer that the child becomes more aware of being himself or herself through this similarity and differentiation from the other similar person.” (Pines 1987, 33)

When being held satisfactorily by a caretaker, the wakeful infant begins to look around. He looks mostly at the holder’s face. What does he see? “Ordinarily, what the baby sees is himself. . . . A mother is looking at the baby and what she looks like is related to what she sees there” (ibid., 25). The face of the good mother is a mirror. It is thought that adult needs

…for kissing, smiling, and physical caring or lovemaking have their origins in the shared gaze, touch, holding, and vocal “conversations” of infant and mother. The response of each partner to the other is required for a sense of well being. Failures of mirroring in infancy leading to false self problems make it difficult to re-create the mirroring experience in adult sexual life. Without a capacity for mutual mirroring, exchange is severely hampered. (Scharff 1982, 24)

Infants respond pleasurably to the human voice. Mothers quickly learn which tones are most soothing. The very fact that infants spend so much time practicing speech sounds and trying to talk to adults and each other implies that listening to speech and speaking are inherently pleasurable. Conversely, parents find certain tones of voice, such as those of whining, crying, and infant screaming, to be painful. These sounds quickly move them to action. I think some of these tones in themselves induce pain, which, in turn, motivates us to do something about their source. The desire to do something about a crying child is not only in regard to our own children. Many people wish they could do something about an unrelated, whining or screaming child who is in the same restaurant as they! Marvin Minsky suggests that the urgency aroused in us may be due to a connection of the specific arousal mechanism to remnants of the mechanism that ensured we would cry as infants (Minsky 1985, 171).

At about four months, the infant begins to pay more attention to objects and events in her physical surroundings. She begins to reach. During this phase, a caretaker is likely to follow the infant’s flow of attention and say something in babytalk about that at which the infant looks. At around ten months, the infant begins to use gesture and vocalization to attract attention or to demand service; she begins to coordinate people and events. By thirteen months, she coordinates vocalization with pointing. She looks sequentially from her partner in interaction to the object of communication. Soon after, speech emerges (Wood 1989, 63).

Speech does not emerge simply from hearing it. There must be interaction. A boy with normal hearing but with deaf parents was exposed to television every day so that he would learn English. By age three, he had become fluent in the sign language of his parents and their associates. He neither understood nor spoke English (Muskowitz 1978, 94-94B).

For the infant, hearing the speech of significant others plays an important role in the acquisition of both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. When a deaf child tries to grasp what others are communicating, the demands on the child’s cognitive skills become formidable. The deaf child must try to watch both the speaker and what she is speaking about — the child’s attention is divided, and information is lost along the way. Those interacting with the deaf child naturally respond by attempting to direct the child’s attention to what the speaker believes is relevant to the communication; this does not work very well and creates new problems. Since deafness is an impediment to the child’s communicative competence, it becomes an impediment to intellectual competence (Wood 1989).

For all children, an elementary understanding of social interaction is attained somewhat differently than an elementary understanding of physical processes. Persons and animals afford types of interaction nonexistent in the inanimate world.

“Most significantly, there is the ability of persons intentionally to coordinate their actions, thoughts, and perspectives with one another. Persons do not simply react to one another, but do so consciously, purposefully, with mutual intent. This intentional coordination makes possible forms of communication and reciprocal exchanges unimaginable in the inanimate world.” (Damen 1981, 158)

One might think that social cognition would be more difficult than physical cognition. People, unlike inanimate objects, can move themselves. The movement of everyday inanimate objects is predictable from cognizance of their everyday physical situation; the behavior of people is only loosely predictable from their social circumstances. Yet, as Martin Hoffman has observed, development of social cognition evidently does not lag behind development of physical cognition. Young children grasp the nature of human action apace with or ahead of their grasp of the nature of the inanimate world (Hoffman 1981, 69-71).

Hoffman draws attention to some characteristics of social interaction that may facilitate social cognition. The continuous feedback which people give each other compensates for the complexity of behavior by allowing partners in interaction to easily correct interpretations of their observations. The fact that people, broadly speaking, are built in the same way, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, also facilitates comprehension of the actions and reactions of others (ibid., 72-74).

Another aid to elementary social comprehension is the vicarious, or empathic, arousal of feelings. These avail through involuntary, minimally cognitive mechanisms. As one person looks at another, in a swift, subconsciously directed way, he compares the other’s words, facial expressions, body language, and voice quality to his own past experiences and calls forth those which match the other’s present expressions. When calling forth memories, he recalls feelings and thereby has a rough sense of what the other is expressing and feeling more quickly than conscious analysis would allow (ibid., 74-80).

Profound effects of empathy and social interaction on human life are illustrated well by the research discussed by James Lynch (1977). A psychologist and researcher on the psychosomatic aspects of man’s life, Lynch has compiled an impressive amount of evidence for the existence of a biological need of companionship for health and well-being. He documents evidence of the relationship between grief, loss, and loneliness and sudden death, disease, and heart attacks.

At the University of Oklahoma Medical School, Dr. Stewart Wolf examined 65 patients who had documented myocardial infarctions and 65 matched control subjects who were physically healthy. All 130 of these individuals were interviewed monthly and given a battery of psychological tests to determine their levels of depression and social frustration. Predictions were then made after a series of interviews as to which 10 subjects would most likely have a recurrent heart attack and die — the prediction being based solely on the level of depression and social frustration, without any knowledge of who, in fact, had even had a heart attack. All 10 patients selected by purely psychological criteria were among the first 23 who died within the four-year period after these predictions were made. (Lynch 1977, 61-62)

Martin Seligman has also garnered clinical evidence about helplessness, grief, loss, and sudden death in humans. He recounts, in addition, numerous examples of experimentally created situations in which animals were helpless to escape shock and pain and the adverse effects on the animals later cognitive abilities and health. For example, wild rats which had been squeezed until they stopped struggling, drowned within 30 minutes of being placed in a water tank from which there was no escape, unlike rats not squeezed, which swam for 60 hours before drowning (Seligman 1975, 59). Upon autopsy, the squeezed rats appeared to have had a heart attack; blood was pooled centrally, congesting the heart. The rats not squeezed appeared to have died of exhaustion (after the 60-hour swim); blood was pooled in extremities.

This phenomenon parallels the heart attacks and sudden death seen in humans experiencing loss, especially sudden loss, of loved ones. Lynch (1977) reports case after case of the death of individuals relatively soon after that of a wife, husband, child, brother, or sister.

Loneliness and lack of companionship can affect health. “Death rate from coronary heart disease for 40-year-old divorced males . . . is 2.5 times greater than for married males of the same age” (Lynch 1977, 87). A patient was in a coma; for medical reasons, every muscle in his body had been completely paralyzed by the drug d-tubocurarine.” In spite of his acute condition, the heart rate change in the comatose man when the nurse comforted him was striking” (ibid., 91). Hospital staff have found that the incidence of a second heart attack is highest when the patient is moved from the intensive care unit to the regular ward — unless the same nurses and doctors follow the patient to the regular ward and continue caring for him.

The emotional lives of men and animals are powerfully influenced by perception. The rat dies from its perception of its helplessness. If a person feels extremely helpless, the presence of others, especially someone he loves and who loves and values him, reassures him in a direct, concrete, perceptual way that his needs will be looked after. Thereby his feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are relieved. We are built such that the mere verbal reassurance and abstract knowledge that someone cares for us and will look after our interests is not sufficient to completely, subconsciously, emotionally convince us that we are not helpless. The personal presence and tactile contact of another seems essential to make the injured person feel better and — in many cases — to survive.

We are constituted so as to be in tune to the feelings of others and to be very responsive to those feelings. It is our nature to be a social animal.

IV. Sensitivity and Independence

Human intelligence evidently evolved among social animals. The existence of the social group with its network of interaction and feedback seems to have provided the right conditions within which the intelligence of the apes and man might develop (Cheney and Seyfarth 1985; Clementson-Mohr 1982, 63-64, 67). Individual human intelligence certainly develops only with social interaction. Man is born with very little in the way of immediately usable skills and must learn a tremendous amount. The survival value of many of the things humans (and other animals) must learn is not directly experienced by the young, but motivation to learn is essential to development. Positive feedback from adults helps provide motivation for the young to acquire knowledge and practice the skills necessary for adult survival and happiness.

Maria Montessori argued that the mastery of skills in itself was highly pleasurable for children, but she also recognized that the guidance of the child by the adult is essential for the child to learn properly. Her educational system, using the structured environment with directresses instead of teachers, was a means by which to maximize the child’s exercise and feeling of independence while guiding his learning.

Man was not born to be Robinson Crusoe. The experience of those in accidental or enforced isolation suggests that social interaction is important for good cognitive functioning during the adult, as well as the infant, period of life. It is a common experience of those in isolation to experience sensory disorientation and to either forget how to speak or to speak to themselves and fantasize extensively about conversations with others. The eighteenth-century word for those left in isolation a long time was maroon, meaning “to run wild, having reverted to a state of nature” (OED). To this day, maroon implies a kind of wild-eyed, disoriented, or unusually slow-to-comprehend-the-obvious type of person. In Treasure Island, such a character is found stranded on the island and is called “a maroon.” Bugs Bunny frequently applies this epithet to those he thinks are not with it.

Humans are not entirely capable of fully independent judgment until adolescence. Their extreme sensitivity to the opinions and judgments of others during adolescence is partly a result of their need to formulate independent abstract judgments about the world, combined with their knowledge that they are not very sure of their reasoning processes. This makes adolescents simultaneously feel the need of approval more urgently than in other periods of life and be more susceptible to perversion of their proper development by means of approval.

Lack of positive feedback or the presence of terrible negative feedback in childhood can not only cause marasmus in infants but, apparently, can cripple a person’s cognitive capabilities in regard to his relationships to other people. We all know about the cases of abused and neglected children who grow up to be criminals or lead lives filled with failure and despondency. But what of those neglected and abused children who grow up to achieve great and unusual triumphs? Unfortunately, they often bear the scars of their early emotional deprivation. Such people often grow up to be unable to think rationally about their relations with others because their need for positive feedback has been so greatly frustrated. The longing for approval, understanding, and love can be felt as superceding all other things.

I remember an extremely intelligent young man, an honor student about to go to graduate school. He had endured an early life of horrid beatings, of legs broken by his father, of physical neglect, institutionalization, and abusive foster care. At seventeen his adoptive family told him they did not want him back after he was discharged from the army, and he was on his own. In the face of all this, he managed not only to provide for his basic necessities but to put himself through college and be at the top of his class. However, he suffered endless bouts of self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, and depression. Just at the point in his life at which he had achieved so much, he was rejected by his first love. He committed suicide.

I think that however brilliant he was in intellectual matters, his frustrated need for love and approval was so great that he could not reason correctly about the importance of that rejection in terms of his whole life. The rejection took on dimensions of importance that made life seem unbearable and not worth living. His case is far from unique.

Sensitivity to others differs dramatically among people. We vary as much in our natural, temperamental sensitivity to others as we do in every physical respect of our bodies. There are remarkable variations in the structure and functioning of our physical organs and in our biochemistries (Williams 1971, 24-65). These individual differences underlie variations in patterns of breathing and sleep and variations in responses to narcotics (ibid., 144-70). They carry over, also, to physiologically-affected psychological characteristics (ibid., 69-71, 82-85). Individual temperamental differences are more easily seen in other animals because they are not subject to self-conscious control of personality. For example, some individual dogs are very responsive to us, making them more suitable as pets; some are naturally grouchy or indifferent to human interaction.

Human infants are born with distinctively different temperaments (Kagan 1984, 64-70). Some neonates are very aware of people and facial expressions, tones of voice, and gestures while others barely pay attention to others and their feelings at all. (Some autism may be the result of a lack of the normal human ability to recognize and respond to other humans.) Some are placid and easily pleased, some are very active, and some are extremely irritable and cranky.

It is widely thought that women tend to be more sensitive to other people. Girls are culturally encouraged to develop their sensitivity to people. There is another possible factor though. In early childhood, females generally develop more quickly than males; they respond more to voice and develop language more quickly than males. Perceptual abilities that aid communication and interaction with other people are favored in female development; they develop quickly. People tend to do what they do best. Is it so surprising, then, that women so frequently work and excel at activities consisting of interpersonal interaction? — teacher, nurse, psychologist, counselor, child caretaker, etc. Male infants develop more rapidly in visual-spatial abilities. They apparently tend to overtake females in overall mental ability. I have wondered whether female sensitivity to people lets girls use feedback and learning from others better early in life but then stunts their cognitive growth later by making them too sensitive to the feelings of others.

Rand’s fictional character, Howard Roark, is introduced as a young person very, naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. He is not a person who notices others, who pays attention to the presence of others, much less their feelings. “People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. . . . Howard Roark saw no one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked there naked without concern” (Rand 1943, 10-11). But he is very sensitive to inanimate visual-spatial relationships. “He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. . . . He tried to consider it. But he forgot. He was looking at the granite” (ibid.,9). Roark’s attention and interest is riveted to the look of the world, to the things of inanimate nature that he can rearrange for building. His architectural greatness and his visual-spatial orientation go hand-in-hand.

Another sympathetic character, Dominique Francon, is quite sensitive to people, to their feelings and reactions. Her independent mind leads her to hide from the world so as not to have to experience the pain of feedback from others. She, too, is sensitive to the visual-spatial but most especially to what the visual-spatial creations of men express about them. Roark tends to react to the look of things directly, to the landscape and how he can make it look. Dominique is obsessed with the man behind the work and the greatness — or puniness — it implies.

I think it is unfortunate that so many readers try to exactly emulate Roark’s natural emotional state in regard to other people, to imitate his temperamental proclivities. For many readers of The Fountainhead, Roark serves as a model for character building and personality change. However, it is sometimes difficult to separate what is essentially good and universally necessary for good character and happiness from those aspects of Roark’s personality which are individual characteristics. Some aspects of his personality are not necessarily tied to what makes him a morally great person but perhaps to what makes him a great dramatic character. Rand made him naturally, dispositionally unaware of others in order to dramatize his nature and his conflict with others. The premier antagonist, Ellsworth Toohey, asks of Roark:

“Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? . . . No one will hear us.” Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you” (ibid., 413).

Fine drama.

An important part of Roark’s development in the novel is his learning to understand other people, their characters and motivations. A large part of Dominique’s development consists in her realization that men do not have to be horrible. In the beginning, she is revolted by those around her. In part because of her natural social sensitivity, she feels personally violated by the feelings, wants, and demands of the shabby people surrounding her. She cultivates indifference and coldness. Dominique is saved not by intellectual independence nor by the suppression of feeling but by her discovery that Howard Roark is possible.

The contrast between Dominique’s and Roark’s personalities illustrates an important psychological and ethical distinction. In evaluating oneself and others, one must be aware of natural individual levels of sensitivity to others and not confuse it with lack of independence in judgment. One should not presume that any concern for the feelings and thoughts of others or any desire to be liked by others must spring from lack of independence, debased motives, weakness of character, or “social metaphysics.”

Branden defined social metaphysics as “the psychological syndrome that characterizes a person who holds the minds of other men, not objective reality, as his ultimate psycho-epistemological frame of reference” (Branden 1969, 167). He argued that social metaphysics arises when a person has not adequately developed his rational faculty but feels that he must depend on the judgment of someone. While I think his account is essentially correct, I want to emphasize the role of our animal need of positive feedback in the development of social metaphysics. Human development is such a long, complex, and arduous task that there are many opportunities for our animal need of positive feedback to distort cognitive development. Our animal need of approval certainly comes first in our lives, before the development of reason or even rudimentary concepts, so, in a way, it is not surprising that it can get us off-course in our struggle for independent judgment.

One must not let sensitivity to others cloud or sway judgment. One must not repress sensitivity altogether; a basic need would be unfulfilled; frustration would follow. One needs to learn how to be aware of the facts, all the facts, including the facts of one’s emotional life. We need to recognize our need for positive feedback from others and cultivate its proper fulfillment, pursuing good relationships with those genuinely deserving of our love and admiration.

It is right to enjoy interacting pleasantly with the cashier at the grocery store if she is treating one well. It is right to want to be friendly. It is right to enjoy the love of our natural families, even if they do not share many of our philosophical values but do have other significant values in common with us.

Our natural biological families, in some ways, can offer very good feedback because they are biologically, perceptually, emotionally, temperamentally like us. By the same token, strife with them can be particularly painful, sometimes devastating.

Desiring the positive regard and positive reactions of others is a part of our rational and our animal nature. We should channel and integrate those desires for our own highest happiness.


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Copyright © 1991 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.