“Rewriting Reality”

  • Philosophy: Who Needs It
    Unable to determine what they can or cannot change, some men attempt to “rewrite reality,” i.e., to alter the nature of the metaphysically given. Some dream of a universe in which man experiences nothing but happiness — no pain, no frustration, no illness — and wonder why they lose the desire to improve their life on earth. Some feel that they would be brave, honest, ambitious in a world where everyone automatically shared these virtues — but not in the world as it is. Some dread the thought of eventual death — and never undertake the task of living.
  • Leonard Peikoff

    By the “metaphysically given,” we mean any fact inherent in reality as such, apart from human action (whether mental or physical) — as against “man-made facts,” i.e., objects, institutions, practices, or rules of conduct that are of human origin . . .

    As soon as you say about a metaphysically given fact: “it is“ — just that much — the whole Objectivist metaphysics is implicit. If the fact is, it is what it is (the law of identity); it is what it is independent of consciousness, of anyone’s or everyone’s desires, hopes, fears (the primacy of existence); and it is lawful, inherent in the identities of the relevant entities (the law of causality). Given the circumstances involved, such a fact is necessary; it had to be; any alternative would have entailed a contradiction. In short, once you say about a metaphysical fact: “it is,” that means that, within the relevant circumstances, it is immutable, inexorable, inescapable, absolute. “Absolute” in this context means necessitated by the nature of existence and, therefore, unchangeable by human (or any other) agency . . . .

    The attempt to alter the nature of the metaphysically given is described by Ayn Rand as the fallacy of “rewriting reality.” Those who commit it regard metaphysical facts as non-absolute and, therefore, feel free to imagine an alternative to them. In effect, they regard the universe as though it were merely a first draft of reality, which anyone may decide at will to rewrite.

    A common example is provided by those who condemn life on earth because man is capable of failure, frustration, pain, and who yearn instead for a world in which man knows nothing but happiness. But if the possibility of failure exists, it necessarily exists (it is inherent in the fact that achieving a value depends on a specific course of action, and that man is neither omniscient nor omnipotent in regard to such action). Anyone who holds the full context — who keeps in mind the identity of all the relevant entities — would be unable even to imagine an alternative to the facts as they are; the contradictions involved in such a projection would obliterate it. The rewriters, however, do not keep identity in mind; they specialize in out-of-context pining for a “heaven” that is the antonym of the metaphysically given.