Ayn Rand? Henry F. Cope? Josiah Stamp? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an expression attributed to the influential and controversial novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand:
- You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.
- We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality.
A student would like to use Rand’s words as a quotation for the high school yearbook, but the editors have asked for a proper source. This request for exact citations has been made to all the students as part of a longstanding yearbook tradition extolling accuracy. The saying has remained elusive despite the careful examination of multiple books and essays by Rand. Would you please explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: In 1961 Ayn Rand spoke at a symposium titled “Ethics in Our Time” held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The paper Rand delivered contained a passage that partially matched the saying under examination. The semantics were similar, but the wording was distinct. For example, the phrase “evade reality” was employed instead of “avoiding reality”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
He is free to make the wrong choice, but not free to succeed with it. He is free to evade reality, he is free to unfocus his mind and stumble blindly down any road he pleases, but not free to avoid the abyss he refuses to see. Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every “is” implies an “ought.” Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction.
Perhaps the modern saying attributed to Rand was based on a paraphrase or summary of the text above. Alternatively, future researchers might someday locate a superior match.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- Website: Ayn Rand Lexicon, Article title: The Objectivist Ethics, Article author: Ayn Rand, Article description: “Paper delivered by Ayn Rand at the University of Wisconsin Symposium on ‘Ethics in Our Time’ in Madison, Wisconsin, on February 9, 1961”, Website description: Compilation of key statements from Ayn Rand (and from a few other authorized Objectivist texts). (Accessed aynrandlexicon.com on April 29, 2015) link ↩