Search Menu

Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

But what can you do when you have to deal with people?

This question is uttered on many occasions by Dr. Stadler, first in Part One, Chapter VII. The question demonstrates his and the looters’ belief that people are generally irrational and must be dealt with in a manipulative or repressive manner. Stadler believes most people are incapable of rational thought and must be told what is best for them. He believes they will support pure thought only if it is government-sanctioned, and this is why he has supported the creation of the State Science Institute. As the story progresses, this view of people becomes a justification for the increasing power of the government and its adoption of brute force. The question is also stated by Dr. Floyd Ferris at the unveiling of Project X. While coercing Stadler to deliver his speech praising the monstrous machine, Ferris reminds him that at a time of hysteria, riots, and mass violence, the people must be kept in line by any means necessary. He underscores his message by quoting the question Stadler himself is known for asking.

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

Francisco says this to Dagny in Part One, Chapter VII, when she challenges him for squandering his talent as a worthless playboy. Dagny asks him how he can be such a paradox, how a man as capable, brilliant, and accomplished as he is can also choose to be a worthless playboy. It does not seem possible that he can be both, and yet he seems to be. In asking her to check her premises, Francisco suggests that it is indeed not possible. He cannot be both things at once, because contradictions cannot exist. A thing is what it is, not something else entirely. Therefore, there must be another answer that Dagny has not seen yet. Hugh Akston (who had been Francisco’s teacher) says something similar to Dagny when she meets him at the diner where he works as a short-order cook. He tells her this in response to her disbelief over why a famous philosopher would choose to work in a diner, or why a motor with the power to revolutionize industry would be abandoned in ruins. He urges her to look beyond her assumptions in the search for an answer that could make sense.

John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains—and he withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures.

Francisco says this to Dagny in Part Two, Chapter V, after they discover the words “Who is John Galt?” scratched into a table at a restaurant. She says there are so many stories about him, and Francisco tells her that all the stories are true. Metaphorically speaking, they are, and Francisco’s Prometheus story is especially apt. Prometheus was a figure from Greek mythology. He was a titan who stole fire from the gods and brought it to men to improve their lives. In return, he was chained to a rock and tortured. Vultures ate his liver each day, only to have it grow back at night to be eaten again. In Francisco’s comment, Prometheus (personified by Galt) represents the great industrialists who have provided men with prosperity and improved their lives with their inventions and products, but have received only condemnation and government interference in return. These men, led by Galt, have disappeared and taken their prosperity-generating minds (the “fire” they had provided) with them. They will no longer allow themselves to receive torture as payment for their talents, and they will only return their talents to the world when they are no longer punished for bringing them.

I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

This is the oath the thinkers recite when they join the strike and come to live in the valley; we first encounter this oath in Part Three, Chapter I. No one may stay until he or she is willing to take the oath freely. Dagny first encounters it as an inscription on the building where Galt’s motor is kept. The words are so powerful that the sound of Galt reciting them opens the locks of the building’s door. When Dagny sees the inscription, she tells Galt this is already the code she lives by, but she does not think his way is the right way to practice the code. He tells her they will have to see which one of them is right. Later, when it is clear that Galt’s way was right, Dagny solemnly recites the oath to Francisco in the Taggart Terminal just before they rescue Galt from the looters, in Part Three, Chapter IX. The striker’s code presents Rand’s belief in egoism, or the doctrine of rational self-interest. Rand believes that individuals have an inalienable right to pursue their own happiness based on their own values and that they must be free to pursue their own self-interest as they choose. Under this code, people have no obligations to each other beyond the obligation to respect the freedom and rights of other self-interested people.

Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.

This passage is part of the radio broadcast delivered by John Galt to the people of America in Part Three, Chapter VII. The man he refers to is the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, whose work had a profound influence on Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. The concept that A is A was put forth in Aristotle’s Law of Identity, where he held that everything that exists has a specific nature and a single identity. A can only be A; it cannot also be B. For Galt (embodying Rand’s philosophy), this means that things exist: they are what they are regardless of the nature of the observer. Even if a person wants A to be something else or believes it should be something else, it is still A. The work of a person’s consciousness is to perceive reality in its objective sense, to identify and recognize it as what it is, not to invent an alternate reality. Galt and the thinkers he represents are rational and perceive the reality that is, while the looters try, through denial, coercion, and manipulation, to assert an alternate reality that cannot be.

More Help

Previous Next