Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism stresses the virtue of productivity — the ability of human beings to create the goods and services necessary for survival on earth. Hank Rearden is the embodiment of this virtue. In his early teens, Rearden pushed himself to herculean efforts in the ore mines, refusing to acknowledge pain and exhaustion as legitimate grounds to stop working. Later, he bought the mines and worked virtually 20-hour days to build a vast, steel-producing empire. Through 10 years of prodigious effort, he created a new metal alloy far superior to steel. His productivity is legendary, even among the other industrial giants in the valley. Andrew Stockton, owner of the country’s best foundry, says that Rearden would put him out of business if he ever joined the strike and entered the valley: “‘But boy! I’d work for him as a cinder sweeper. He’d blast through this valley like a rocket. He’d triple everybody’s production.'”
Productivity is the adaptation of nature to man’s survival needs. It involves the creation of goods and services that human life requires. Because nothing is given to man on earth — and all must be created — productivity is a major moral virtue. The mind is the source of all wealth, the means by which man creates economic value and reshapes the physical environment. Consequently, productivity is an expression of the principle of mind-body integration, the ability of the mind to create material abundance for the purpose of enjoying life on earth. But Hank Rearden holds, through much of the story, a mistaken premise that prevents him from recognizing his own moral greatness. He believes the theory that mind and body are split. This viewpoint is known as the mind-body dichotomy — the belief that the mind or soul belongs to a “higher” world superior to this one, and that earth is ruled by the “low” instincts of the body. Rearden’s liberation from this way of thinking transforms his character.
Because Rearden initially regards the body as base or ignoble, he devalues all of its activities. He initially berates both Dagny and himself for their passionate lovemaking. He also says to her, in the context of discussing the unlimited potential of Rearden Metal, “We’re a couple of blackguards, aren’t we? We haven’t any spiritual goals or qualities. All we’re after is material things. That’s all we care for.” Early in the story, he isn’t able to recognize the great virtue that his productivity or his relationship with Dagny represents.
Rearden’s friendship with Francisco teaches him that material production is an intellectual process and a sublime virtue. His relationship with Dagny teaches him that sex involves the expression of an individual’s deepest beliefs and values; he is attracted to her because she represents the same values of rationality and industrial productivity that he cherishes. Only when Rearden throws off the idea that the body and its concerns are low is he able to recognize his own superlative value.