15 June 2005

Foundations of heroism

Whether you’ve been reading my previous posts or not, you must’ve figured out that to be a hero you need to give your life to something bigger than yourself: Either display an act of courage and save lives, which is the physical deed; or experience something superhuman and then come back with a message and share it with others, which is the spiritual deed. Then, according to a third philosophy based on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, there’s the intellectual hero, fortified with the power of reason, ready to conquer the world.

Heroes seem to understand that something is missing from their consciousness. They struggle with it until they find what it is, claim it, and then share it… even if it leads to a tragic end for them. I’m sure many of us have experienced this in our lives; and this thought made me wonder if there is a hero hidden within all of us. Are we not all heroes in some way or the other?

Dr Andrew Bernstein, an Objectivist in his own right, doesn’t believe so. In fact, he proposes a quick reality check for us: “What, the first question must be, is the distinguishing essence of heroism? What characteristics must one possess to qualify as a hero?” In his essay “The Philosophical Foundations of Heroism” he presents, what I believe to be, one of the best studies of heroism.

Barring a few references to Hillary and Bill Clinton, even Hamlet, which I found rather foolish, the essay is really good. However, Dr Bernstein may have overemphasised the Randian presentation of an intellectual hero as a moral genius. Yes, moral character is an integral part of heroism; and so is intellect. But, I believe, one could be an intellectual hero without possessing any moral character whatsoever.

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