Roger Bissell

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Blog Entries posted by Roger Bissell

  1. Roger Bissell
    To Phil and whomever else it may concern:
    Isn't there something deeply contradictory about the mission of trying to "fix the world" by converting it to a philosophy whose founder celebrated one's prime focus being not on saving others from their folly, but on pursuing one's own self-development and self-fulfillment?
    When Rand was told she was obligated to write a new novel, she rebelled against the altruism of it -- then wondered: What if all the creative, productive people in the world went on strike? She wrote Atlas Shrugged, not to convert people to her way of thinking and living, but to be a rational individual, creating and producing something of value that ~she~ wanted to see come into being.
    If others bought Rand's novel and liked it, then good -- she would make money, too! :-) But she was not ~obligated~ to them to make them something they would like -- nor to ~herself~ (and her philosophy) to make something that would "convert" them to her way of thinking and living.
    And isn't it deeply contradictory to try to create and multiply ~organizations~ of individualists? A bit like herding cats, no? :-) Trying to create the Objectivist equivalent of "churches" and "religious communities" is doomed to frustration and defeat. Objectivists, and people who should be Objectivists, are not susceptible to the mystical, altruistic, and collectivistic values that draw most people to religious organizations.
    If you ~must~ focus on creating new Objectivists, do it one person at a time, individual to individual -- and carve out plenty of time for your own personal enjoyment and rejuvenation. It's much more effective ~showing~ what Objectivist makes possible in a person's happiness and achievement, than ~preaching~ it.
    That's why Atlas Shrugged has "converted" far more people to rational individualism than all the lectures and essays by Peikoff, Branden, Kelley, et al combined. It ~shows~ people how to live as a rational, productive human being -- as opposed to an Atilla or a Witch Doctor.
    If your "thing," your best productive fulfillment, is to be a missionary to others, "spreading the word" -- rather than ~creating~ your own original words, artworks, bridges, children, crops, clean floors, etc. -- then God bless you, go for it. But don't do it thinking you are somehow ~obligated~ to spread Objectivism.
    You do not exist for Objectivism. Objectivism exists for ~you~. Objectivism is, and was only ~intended~ to be, a tool for living life and being happy, not a weapon for bashing the heads of others -- nor for chaining yourself to a life of spitting into the wind of mysticism-altruism-collectivism.
  2. Roger Bissell
    There seems to be a strong tendency among Objectivist thinkers not to take such intellectual risks—certainly not in print. Peikoff, in his 1996 lecture "Knowledge as a Unity," sheds some light on the reasoning behind this reticence:
    Peikoff seems to be saying not just that he’s not going to write on something that he hasn’t thought out properly (which is fine), but that he never will write on it (implying that he may never get around to thinking it out properly). In the meantime, people who want to keep up with the developments in his thinking have no option but to pay for lectures (live or recorded), where they listen to him expound non-properly-thought-out ideas.
    Of course, the recordings are “for eternity,” too, but audio lecture material is considerably harder to examine and critique than hard copy. Perhaps that’s the point of sharing one’s theoretical speculations in recorded lectures, rather than committing them to print.
  3. Roger Bissell
    An Open Letter to Phil Coates and the Other Denizens of Objectivist Living:
    For the past couple of days, I've been reading and re-reading the latest iteration over in the Living Room section of: "let's show our asses by bashing Phil for preaching to us about how to be better Objectivists." (Oh, I'm sorry -- it's not bashing, since it's all true, Phil deserves it, blah-blah-blah.)
    I've managed to get a lot done in the past two days, just by "biting my tongue" each time I've had the impulse to jump in and make the odds a bit more even. (It helped to realize that the odds were just ~too~ odd.)
    Anyway, I just re-read the Rules of Engagement, as it were, and here are the first two posting guidelines Michael and Kat laid down for us, many moons ago:
    It seems that because Phil got overly preachy (in some folks' minds), this was regarded as ~so~ obnoxious/offensive as to justify all manner of abusive, personally insulting remarks. (Ummm, sorry, I forgot. It's not really being abusive, if Phil deserves it, and it's OK to insult someone who has insulted you, even if inadvertently. So goes the mantra around here, anyway.)
    Then Phil responded, first by pointing out a plethora (apparently a more acceptable term than "shitstorm"? though that seems to fall into a category our moderator/site owner has allowed to be used without censure, even when applied to people rather than behaviors) of fallacies people used in bashing him -- then by himself lapsing into four-letter words and personal attacks. And yes, it ~is~ "predictable." But what the frack do you expect, Michael, when a bunch of bullies poke sticks at a dog when it takes a crap on the ballfield? That it won't eventually try to bite back?
    (As for what's truly "predictable," I already have a sealed envelope listing several things Jonathan will do in commenting on this blog post (if he deigns to comment at all): including calling me "pathetic" and a "hypocrite," accuse me of "not paying attention," "evading," and the list goes on. Oh...wait...I gave it away. Well, Jonathan is welcome to be creative and come up with some other insults -- or to express his disdain by saying nothing at all...)
    <sigh> So, much for standards. Two wrongs apparently ~do~ make a right, even a second wrong that is piled ~much~ higher and deeper than the first. (I'd call the massive assault on Phil a "dog-pile," except that conflicts with the earlier metaphor of the schoolboys gang-poking the dog for leaving a pile in their play area.) I guess the only way for anyone to be banned, or even ~officially~ disciplined, around here is either (1) to be caught engaging in clearly deliberate, massive plagiarism or (2) to be caught using the word "cun... Oops, almost used it! (Whew, that was a close one.)
    Anyway, on the premise that Phil really means well and that he really does have valuable constructive things to offer us, let alone the world -- and not just admonishments and preaching about how not to slip into depravity and undermine THE EVENTUAL TRIUMPH OF OBJECTIVISM -- I offer this modest, humble suggestion.
    Remember, Phil, in The Fountainhead, where the young fellow is looking out over Roark's Monadnock development and says (or thinks?): "Don't work for my happiness, my brothers; show me yours; show me that it is possible; show me your achievement; and the knowledge will give me courage for mine." Pretty inspirational, right? Well, why not put it to work in ~your own~ life?
    Try this: write that book you've been threatening to write. Pour a year or two of your heart and soul, your blood, sweat, and tears, into it. Publish it, which doesn't cost a lot these days. Then announce its availability to OL members. Even better, get a well-respected, prolific thinker and writer on OL to praise your book's merits and to recommend others buy it. Then, if you are unable to interest any of the OL'ers who have been prodding you to write your book--if no one on the site is willing to put his money where his mouth and professed ideals are, then and, I would say, ~only~ then will you be entitled to refer to people on OL as "degenerate Objectivists." Whether or not you would do so, and whether or not you would continue to spend time on OL, and for what purpose, would be your concern.
    But Phil, I think that your original use of the term "degenerate Objectivist" was way over the top, certainly premature, considering what you wanted to accomplish. Your point was well taken (in my opinion), that there is an AWFUL lot of uninformed criticism and mis-application of Objectivism on OL, and that more careful study of the available Rand and post-Rand material would go a long way to eliminating the ignorant crap we have to wade through. But you expressed it in such a negative and condescending way that the response you received was inevitable -- though even less excusable than what you did to provoke it.
    One of the things I learned in Al-Anon, and try to apply as consistently as I can, is to realize that other people's misbehaviors and defaults is not my responsibility, but theirs. I did not ~cause~ it, and I cannot ~control~ it or ~cure~ it. What I can control is ~my own~ behavior. When I manage to turn my focus away from those who have angered or disappointed me, to stop trying to change or improve them, and focus instead on ~my~ values and what ~I~ want to accomplish in life, I get ~so much more~ done. And I feel ~a lot~ happier!
    Case in point: the past two days--instead of jumping into the general fray on your thread in the Living Room, I outlined the career manual I'm writing to offer along with my CDs on a flyer I'm going to mail out to all the universities in the country; and I outlined the logic-and-dialectics guidebook, which is my ~next~ writing project. I confess that this spurt in productivity and movement toward my goals was aided, in large part, by the salutary effects of hanging out with two very positive, constructive Objectivists--something that seems to be in rather short supply on OL. (It didn't used to be that way.)
    I'm saying that, not because I've accomplished anything fantastic and monumental in the past several days, but because I've moved toward my happiness, rather than letting the shortcomings of others drag me down. In other words, to let you know that I'm taking my own advice -- in hopes that you will see that it ~is~ practical and desirable advice to follow, and that you will avail yourself of it, too!
    Best wishes, Phil!
  4. Roger Bissell
    I think most of us are realistic and level-headed enough to acknowledge that the great world religions are not completely devoid of worth for guiding one’s actions in life. Like any other body of ideas, a religion must be carefully examined and weighed, keeping the pro-life elements and discarding the rest. For a person to do otherwise, living in a significantly religious culture as we do, is to risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
    That is why I found two essays in the most recent issues of The New Individualist to be very helpful and encouraging.
    In them, I learned that: even when there is no iota of the supernatural involved in a particular social or political issue, conspiracy theorists can behave as dogmatically and rationalistically as the staunchest religious fundamentalists—-and even when a particular social or political issue has arisen due to theistic influence and supernatural associations, secular people can reframe that issue and approach it with as great a sense of sacredness and spirituality as the staunchest religious fundamentalists.
    That is the two-pronged message I came away with, upon reading the excellent pieces by Robert Bidinotto (“It’s a Conspiracy,” November 2006) and Edward Hudgins (“Secular Spirituality,” December 2006).
    It is clear from Robert’s article that conspiracy theories reek of the Primacy of Consciousness, the idea (devoid of any evidence to support it) that some conscious being is acting behind the scenes to direct a state of affairs. His alternative explanation, that the “Invisible Hand” and the Law of Unintended Consequences are the complex causal factors at work, is well-stated and a much-needed antidote to the widespread virus of “conspiratorialism.”
    What is less clear, but which Ed nicely explains, is that the sacred and the spiritual, the emotionally elevating and the deeply fulfilling, have no necessary connection to the disembodied, unearthly elements of world religions, but instead derive ultimately from our very earthly, human powers of reason, self-awareness, and goal-directedness. We regard as holy—-and we worship—-that which we and others can and should be, and we celebrate the achievement of those potentials by ourselves and others.
    I hope these two essays are reprinted some day as part of a book on how and how not to incorporate aspects of spiritualism into a rational, secular outlook.
    Roger E. Bissell
    Orange , California
    [The above Letter to the Editor was published in early 2007 in The New Individualist.]
  5. Roger Bissell
    [An earlier version of the following material was published sometime about 2005 on the Rebirth of Reason web site.]
    Who qualifies as being an Objectivist? I think that’s a legitimate question, but I also think that it’s too easy to pick one’s own pet list of views that can qualify one as being or not being an Objectivist. (E.g., Rand’s views on a woman President, on homosexuality, on anarchism vs. limited government in politics, on survival vs. flourishing in ethics, etc.)
    Nathaniel Branden has pointed out (correctly, in my opinion, as evidenced by comments Rand made in her journals) that Rand held a “minimalist” view of the Objectivist metaphysics. Well, I think that what qualifies a person as “Objectivist” should also be termed most generally and succinctly. Apparently Rand agreed with this, also.
    For instance, in “About the Author” in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged, Rand said “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
    Do you agree with that? Then you agree with Rand’s written statement of the essence of her philosophy. Wouldn’t that mean that you are, in essence, an Objectivist?
    Or, at the sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Rand presented the essence of her philosophy “while standing on one foot.” She said: “1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality (‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed’ or ‘Wishing won’t make it so.’) 2. Epistemology: Reason (‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.’ 3. Ethics: Self-Interest (‘Man is an end in himself.’) 4. Politics: Capitalism (‘Give me liberty or give me death.’)”
    Do you agree with these principles? Then you agree with Rand’s verbal statement of the essence of her philosophy. Wouldn’t that mean that you are, in essence, an Objectivist?
    Later, in 1962, in her Los Angeles Times column “Introducing Objectivism,” Rand gave “the briefest summary” of her philosophy: “1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears. 2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival. 3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. 4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.”
    Do you agree with Rand’s summary of her philosophy? If so, aren’t you an Objectivist?
    Finally, in 1971, in “Brief Summary,” which appeared in the last issue of The Objectivist, Rand said: “If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest [e.g., capitalism and egoism] follows. This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.”
    Do you agree with this statement about the supremacy and consistent application of reason? Then you agree with Rand on the essence of Objectivism. Are you then an Objectivist?
    Now, note: not one of the preceding summaries or essential statements mentioned the issue of free will vs. determinism, nor the idea that reason is volitional, in the sense of “could have done otherwise.” Yet, even if you answered “yes” to all of the foregoing litmus tests for being an Objectivist, you would still, in the minds of many Rand followers, not qualify as being an Objectivist, if you also accepted the doctrine of determinism, the doctrine that implies that one could not have done otherwise than one did in a given situation.
    Unlike many Objectivists, I maintain that rationality includes volition, in the sense of the self-aware monitoring and directing of one's mental processes, while also maintaining that, in any given situation, one could not have done otherwise than one did in that situation. In addition to me, numerous supporters of the essence of Rand’s philosophy also hold some variant of this view, sometimes known as “soft determinism” or “compatibilism.”
    Is the standard Objectivist view of free will correct, or, instead, is free will or volition compatible with determinism, as I and others argue that it is? I think the jury is still out on this question, and that any attempt to limit Objectivism to those holding the view that volition and determinism are incompatible is premature at best. For this reason, I am not comfortable subscribing to the statement on the Objectivist Metaphysics offered by The Objectivist Center and posted on this site.
    As I have argued elsewhere, what is implied by basic Objectivist metaphysical premises is “self-determinism,” the view that one’s actions (including one's act of focusing one’s awareness) are determined by one's values/desires/ideas. For short, I call it “value-determinism.” And although it does not qualify as “free will” in the sense of “could have done otherwise,” that is not valid, anyway. But it does qualify as “free will” in the sense of one’s being the originator of that action, absent environmental duress and physical or medical impairment. One’s capacity to will to do something is free of control by anything other than one’s own values. Conditional free will is thus compatible with determinism of a kind that does not require predeterminism or fatalism, and that does not preclude knowledge and correction of error.
    To conclude: in nearly every thumbnail sketch of Objectivism given before volition was elevated in the 1970s to its presented quasi-mystical status (of categorical freedom of choice, rather than conditional freedom of choice) I found absolutely nothing to disagree with. In Rand’s very sparse, minimalist framework of her philosophy, there are five or six very simple tenets: objective reality, reason, rational self-interest, life as the standard of value, man's rights, and laissez-faire capitalism. And I disagree with none of these principles – though, as noted, I certainly do disagree with what are some of the implications of those ideas.
    And speaking just for myself, I want Rand's system of ideas to be consistent and true, and I have been working hard for over 35 years to make it so for my own guidance in living. The fact that others disagree with me, at times bitterly, is disheartening, but that’s life. I’m not in this to please others. I’m in it for my own happiness, and I’ve managed to achieve it, even as an Objectivist, at times!
    I have always regarded myself an Objectivist in terms of the methodology and the minimalist set of basic principles that I accepted when I first became acquainted with Objectivism. Most orthodox Objectivists, and some non-Objectivists in the Randian milieu, however, when they hear my position on the free will issue, deny that this is really a legitimate alternative view of free will, or that it is enough to qualify me as an Objectivist. Some have suggested I instead refer to myself as a Neo-Objectivist, others as a "Bissellist," yet others as "working within the Objectivist tradition." Still others have suggested the term "Randian" (with all the irony that implies). Jokingly, I sometimes call myself a "Kleenex Objectivist." (See my blog post by that name.)
    The real irony is that, even if I were accepted as an Objectivist by the mainstream folks in the Ayn Rand Institute or The Atlas Society, my philosophizing would not be accepted as part of Objectivism--even if it were compatible with Objectivism! I don't know how any ARI intellectual with a shred of self-esteem can swallow this notion, that the philosophizing of an Objectivist philosopher is nonetheless not Objectivism. I certainly can't.
    That is why I am completely opposed to the "Closed System" approach of ARI. Their attitude is more appropriate to the care and feeding of hothouse flowers than to a living, growing philosophy. Perhaps that is why they are so hesitant to publish anything other than 30 year old lectures and all the miscellanous items that Rand never intended for publication.
    No, I am too independent for that. I will continue to regard myself as an Independent Objectivist, a rational individualist. Or a Neo-Randian, in the same sense that some contemporary philosophers regard themselves as Neo-Aristotelians--not accepting all of Aristotle's (or Rand's) doctrines, but essentially in agreement with them.
  6. Roger Bissell
    I thought I would share some thoughts about the intense, personal nature of the condemnations that Objectivists dish out, especially toward certain prominent people “in and around” the Movement.
    First of all, who are the two people most roundly denounced by Objectivists, and what do they have in common?
    As to the first question, my best guess is: Immanuel Kant, who supposedly stands for the opposite of everything essential to Objectivism, and, of course, Nathaniel Branden, the co-founder, with Barbara Branden, of the Objectivist movement.
    As to the second, Kant and Branden have both been enormously prolific. Whatever errors they made, or might have made (Fred Seddon's book on the history of philosophy in relation to Rand and Objectivism is pretty eye-opening with respect to Kant), you have to admit that they didn't let a lot of grass grow under their feet.
    In other words, both Kant and Branden have been intellectually productive to an extremely high degree. (The only Objectivist or Libertarian I know who has been more prolific than Nathaniel is Tibor Machan, and he is NOT one of NB's critics, certainly not one of the bashers.)
    Now, we could try to rest content with the idea that this is all a matter of “movement dynamics.” Every intellectual movement has to have a Lucifer, an enemy to demonize, in order to stir up and rally the troops in support of their values (aka the projects of the leaders). It’s just archetypical of movements that they need a devil to hate and to denounce, as an example of what is absolutely evil and wrong.
    In other words, whether you label Kant as the original “nihilist” or a “moral cannibal,” and whether you label Branden as an “Existentialist” or a “spiritual rapist,” it is clear that the point is: these guys are EVIL, and you do not want to be like them. Instead, you want to do all you can to marginalize and diminish their influence in the world. The health and success of your movement demands no less.
    Surely there is some of this factor present in the current animus toward the Brandens and David Kelley et al. But I think it would be a big mistake to say that is all there is to it. Instead, I think it would be instructive to compare Kant and Branden to their Objectivist critics. In particular, I think the most revealing question to ask is: who among them (the critics) has produced more than a tiny fraction of IK's or NB's intellectual output?
    Ayn Rand wrote numerous essays, but she couldn’t hold a candle in sheer volume and systematic rigor to Kant. He was wrong as hell, but he cranked out a system and offered it to public scrutiny. Rand by contrast wrote a couple of overviews (of her system in Galt’s speech and of the history of philosophy in her essay “For the New Intellectual”), but nothing on a large scale.
    Branden’s and Peikoff’s lectures on Objectivism were good first and second attempts to systematize Objectivism, but Rand herself did philosophy more like an author of short stories than a novelist! Yet, she took it upon herself to scathingly denounce Kant as "the most evil man in history." Surely it takes a bit more to support this claim than a swipe here and there in her epistemology and ethics writings, yet that is all she gave us. Even Peikoff, a historian of philosophy, focused more in his Ominous Parallels book on the (supposed) consequences of Kant (Nazism) than Kant himself.
    Usually, it is pointed out that destruction can be done rather quickly and easily, but that creative, positive work and thought takes much more time and effort. Well, if there is a monumentally evil system out there that is destroying the world, shouldn’t Rand have put all most of her efforts into making sure that a monumentally good system was erected to oppose it? Perhaps it is still “earlier than we think”…
    As for Branden’s critics and enemies among the orthodox Objectivists, you could cite their lecture courses, but in my book, talk is cheap. Who among Branden’s critics has been willing and able to put himself on the line with book after book, putting his ideas out there so that the general public – and not just the devoted few who will shell out money for the lecture courses live or recorded – will be able to pore over and criticize those ideas and find them wanting? Objectivism's "aural tradition" is ideally designed to hide a "multitude of sins." Such as?
    What I am suggesting is that "certain people" have an unwillingness to be vulnerable, to take chances, to expose their ideas to the public – and that this fear of being vulnerable, in turn, is due to the fear of being shown to be in error, the fear of being ridiculed, and the fear of losing face among those in one's relatively small, relatively private circle.
    "Certain people" thus as a result feel so chagrined by their own relative lack of productivity and confidence at exposing their ideas to the public, that they distract themselves and others from this paucity of output by lashing out at those who have produced. For instance, a certain blog-mistress repeatedly begs her readers' indulgence, that she will soon, very soon, turn her focus back to positive, productive philosophy, as soon as she gets her condemnations of David Kelley, the Brandens, &c. off her chest. But her chest apparently keeps piling up with more and more to say about these evil, “anti-Objectivist” people! As a result, we are still waiting for the constructive stuff. And I think we will continue to wait, so long as the Brandens and Kelley refuse to dry up and blow away.
    That, I think, is a key factor in all this. When the big Split happened in 1968, two important things were supposed to result, neither of which did.
    One, Nathaniel Branden, being utterly parasitic intellectually upon Ayn Rand, don’t you know, was supposed to wither away into intellectual impotence and disappear. Twenty books, many lectures, and a flourishing therapy practice later, he’s still going strong. (He and Tibor are neck and neck in competition for the title of Energizer Bunny of non-orthodox Objectivism. :-)
    Two, once the oh-so-pernicious, thought-deadening influence of the evil Brandens was removed from the daily lives of the Loyalist Randian Objectivists, their intellectual energies were supposed to have been liberated, with shelf-fulls of books to result. Yet, over 35 years later, Leonard Peikoff (now 72 years of age) has written two books, Harry Binswanger one, Peter Schwartz one, etc. (I’m not counting the edited volumes of Rand’s journals, letters, marginalia, Q&A, &c, nor the edited anthologies of other people’s essays. It’s all good stuff to have and read, but it’s not what we’re focusing on here.)
    What is the net effect of these two factors? The relatively unproductive Randian Loyalists are faced with the spectacle of their (supposed) moral inferior, Nathaniel Branden, producing rings around them and not even breathing hard. This has to be maddening. It is almost as if the benevolent universe has slipped a cog, or something.
    But what has slipped a cog is their own intellectual self-confidence and, as a result, intellectual productivity. They have been free from any evil, controlling, Brandenesque influences, and the evil Brandens have been excommunicated for nearly 40 years now, but the “good guys” continue to be relatively unproductive, and the “bad guys” still refuse to curl up and die.
    The on-going disconnect between what was supposed to happen and what really has happened – especially in terms of their own productivity – is such a threat to them, that it cannot be tolerated any longer. It must be wiped out. The world must be set to right, and this can only be done by eradicating the source of the “contradiction” – and especially the standing reproach to their own lack of productivity. Hence, the intense, personal nature of the hatred being shoveled at the Brandens and anyone who associates with them. Hence, the ongoing feverish efforts to shovel their and Kelley’s intellectual efforts down the Memory Hole.
    Let’s try a thought experiment for a moment. Suppose we analogize between Howard Roark and the Loyalists on the one hand – and Ellsworth Toohey and Nathaniel Branden on the other. Let’s suppose that Branden and his “Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” is the same kind of monstrous, anti-life stuff as the criticisms of Roark that emanated from Toohey and his crowd.
    How did Roark deal with Toohey’s antagonism? He ignored it! (“I don’t think of you.”) What did he do, instead? He produced!
    Is this what we see the Branden bashers doing? No, instead they claim to be incensed with Branden’s supposedly vicious criticisms of Rand, and they have taken it upon themselves to cut him down in any way they can. And not surprisingly, this significantly cuts deeply into their available time for doing positive, constructive philosophy.
    Since the parallel to Roark and Toohey doesn’t seem to fit too well in the direction that favors the Loyalists, suppose we reverse the analogy. Branden, like Roark, has been the target of bitter denunciation for decades, but has this distracted and slowed him down one bit? Not at all. He’s as productive as ever, having recently finished a novel and a screen play, on top of the 20 books he’s already written. Not bad for a 75 year old guy! Like Roark and his vision of architecture, Branden has stayed independent and true to his own vision of how psychology should be done. He has stayed open to new ideas and has continued to “think outside the box.”
    This has to be all the more maddening to those who must live with the fact that, thanks to the dominant notion that Objectivism is a “closed system,” they may earn the title “Objectivist philosopher,” but none of their philosophizing (except what was approved of by Rand before she died in 1982) will ever be called part of Objectivism! Talk about intellectual emasculation!
    Further, any intellectual creativity by an orthodox Objectivist (or by anyone offering it to them for consideration) has to be looked upon with suspicion, if not outright immediate rejection, since Rand is not around to officially endorse it. Instead, orthodox Objectivist intellectuals (of the closed school) are on safe ground only when they rehash (“chew”) Rand’s ideas.
    After you’ve heard or read so much of that stuff, well…you want something new, creative, and original! But you won’t get it from the orthodox Objectivists. Or, if you do, it will only be in a lecture. They seem to cower in trepidation at the thought of actually putting original thoughts in print. (How I long for even one of them to prove me wrong!)
    So far, I’ve concentrated on the relatively “pretty” side of the phenomenon of Branden bashing. (Oh, really? <shudder>) Now for the ugly side…
    In order to gain (or retain) acceptance by the orthodox Objectivists, you have to bend over backwards to prove your acceptability. Especially if you once collaborated with the Brandens and/or TOC, you must furnish more than mere assurances that you have “seen the light.” Instead, as part of your rite of passage, you must “come out” as "realizing" just how evil and “anti-Objectivist” the Brandens and Kelley and their supporters are.
    And what is your reward, if you do it well enough? Well, perhaps, in gratitude, the orthodox holders of the institutional moneybags just might grant you some scholarship or fellowship money to support your efforts in positive philosophy – if you can remember what they were supposed to be, or if you can pump up enough enthusiasm for something that just doesn’t generate the kind of adrenalin that Branden-bashing provides. (Scathing denunciation is kind of like Krispy Kreme donuts. It’s not a bit good for you, but it’s so hard to stop once you’ve started. If denunciation were donuts, some Objectivists would weigh 300 pounds!)
    But I think there’s more at work here than simply compulsive negativity in the service of becoming accepted by one’s new gang. I think that there is actually a competition for “more moral than thou” among the orthodox, and that it amounts to a drive for status – perhaps even to be King (or Queen) of Objectivism some day.
    The stakes are very high for status-seekers. If you are not willing to pronounce moral judgment, you cannot hope to sit on the throne. But if you are willing to be very intense and personal in your denunciations, you just might have a shot at it.
    These two motives – attacking those whose productivity is a reproach to your own lack of it, and attacking those whose enemies may reward you with money and/or power – may work separately in people. But there are probably some who operate by both motives. And it is those people who are the greatest ultimate threat to the health and longevity of Objectivism.
    We can weed out tinges of such motives in our own psyches, as well we should if we catch a whiff of them. But all we can do is “fix” ourselves. We cannot fix these wounded souls who are scrambling for power over Ayn Rand’s legacy, and who are trying to destroy those who “don’t think of them.”
    I’ll close this piece by repeating something I learned from Branden recently.
    He was asked what future he sees in Objectivism. He said that the future is not in rehashing Rand’s ideas, but in creative, original application of what you learn from her to your own field. He said that if you have insights and discoveries to contribute, you must write books and get your ideas – your ideas – out there. Then, what you will have accomplished is not necessarily the furthering of the philosophy of Objectivism, but something far more important: your own fulfillment and happiness as a human being.
    I agree. If there is to be a future for the human race, that is what active intellectuals must do, not spend their time and energy in struggles for dominance over a miniscule group of people, in defense of a closed system of thought.
    [An earlier version of these comments was originally posted here on OL on September 6, 2006.]
  7. Roger Bissell
    In 1999, Peter Lang Publishing Group put out Tibor Machan's fine little book on Ayn Rand, and it was my privilege and pleasure not only to get to preview the book and offer pre-publication comments, but also to write a blurb for the event of the book's publication. Here is the text of that blurb:
    The designation of me as being anything more than a musician was not my idea, but I kind of liked it. :-)
  8. Roger Bissell
    Given my standing disagreements with some of the views traditionally attached to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, why do I continue to regard myself and refer to myself as an Objectivist? Isn’t this a bit sycophantic and cultish of me, to cling to the label, when it is obvious that I’m off on some tangents that neither of the two main Objectivist organizations approves of? Isn’t it unreasonable for me to regard my ideas as Objectivist, even though some of them have gained little or no traction from mainstream Objectivist intellectuals?
    Well, I am an independent thinker, who uses Aristotle's and Ayn Rand's most general frameworks and methodologies as my starting point and method of operation. My resulting views are not immune to criticism (but neither are theirs!), so I proceed by checking my premises, trying to be sure my views correspond (reduce) to reality and cohere (integrate) with one another, and double-checking my conclusions. I consider myself an Aristotelian because I agree with his essential philosophy, just as I consider myself an Objectivist (or Randian) because I agree with Rand's essential philosophy. I am no more a sycophant toward Rand than I am (or she was) toward Aristotle.
    In fact, you might (as do I) think that it would be perfectly fine for me to regard myself as an Objectivist, since Rand has given several prominent statements of the essence of her philosophy, each of which I agree with in toto and unreservedly. Still, that is not good enough for some, especially because I disagree with the Objectivist (categorical) version of free will, even though it is not included in any of those definitive statements of what Objectivism is!
    In that light, here's something to ponder: no doubt, some of Aristotle's original followers, were they alive today, would dearly love to pitch out the whole lot of the Objectivists who identify themselves as Aristotelian, being in agreement with Aristotle's essential philosophy (while disagreeing with him on various very well known Aristotelian views, such as his politics, his Unmoved Mover, etc.). Would they be right? Are Objectivists out of line in claiming to identify with the basic Aristotelian world-view? Or would the overly zealous, knee-jerk purist Aristotelians be out of line in being so overly restrictive and jealous of competitors?
    My way of cutting through all this silly squabbling and turf-protecting is this: of all the philosophies out there, which one do my views come closest to? For nearly four decades now, there has not been even a close second to Objectivism. Yet, despite the fact that I agree with the great bulk of Rand's views, I am certainly not a Randian/Peikoffian Objectivist. Nor am I a Kelleyite Objectivist (as I'm sure he's relieved to know, if he cares). Nor am I a Brandenian or Machanian Objectivist—or Neo-Objectivist, as they sometimes style themselves.
    I think it's perfectly fine to qualify "Objectivism" in all of these ways, but since I don't have enough of a name or body of work to justify attaching my own name to it, I suppose the best label for me is "Independent Objectivist"—with no insult intended to, nor endorsement implied from, other Independent Objectivists. And that is where I will leave it.
    [An earlier version of these comments was posted December 13, 2005 on the SOLO Passion web site.]
  9. Roger Bissell
    In his 2000 essay of this name, first published on the web site of The Daily Objectivist, and later republished on his own web site, Nathaniel Branden wrote:
    That says it very well.
    I certainly ~have~ challenged some of Rand's positions, but ~never~ on the basis of anything other than widely known facts and/or more basic views Rand herself firmly espoused.
    Some examples:
    1. Rand claimed in the first chapter of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology that babies are incapable of perception. Most reasonably alert parents of newborns know this is not so. She also claimed in "Art and Cognition" (chapter 4 of The Romantic Manifesto) that we adults are like babies in being aware of musical tones as "sensations" (uncritically accepting this usage of the term from Helmholtz' famous book, On the Sensations of Tone, which obviously described a form of awareness that fits her own definition of "perception"). I challenged this in my essay, "Music and Perceptual Cognition," which was published in 1999, in the very first issue of Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
    2. Rand argued in "Art and Cognition" that architecture is a form of art, that art re-creates reality, but that architecture does not re-create reality. Come again? Logically, if you accept any ~two~ of these positions, you ~must~ reject the third. I accept her basic premise (art re-creates reality), and I also have argued contra Rand at length (in my JARS essay "Art as Microcosm") that architecture re-creates reality, so I have no qualms with accepting architecture as a form of art. Yet, Rand must have had some serious misgivings, since she (reportedly) told Harry Binswanger to omit the entry for "architecture" from The Ayn Rand Lexicon. (Astonishingly, architecture was ~still~ stealthily ~included~ as a form of art in the Lexicon's entry for "visual art." Naughty Harry!)
    3. Although it is not fully clear what Rand's position was toward late-term abortion, it seems obvious that the orthodox position is that up until birth, it's deuces wild (i.e., abortion-on-demand, without legal restriction). Since I hold that there is no essential difference between newborn infants and third-trimester fetuses (the latter begin perceiving in the womb around the 26th week of pregnancy, and they are usually viable, i.e., separable from the mother's body, by that point also), I also hold that any right to life possessed by a newborn and protectable by law also attached to a third-trimester fetus. In her essay "Man's Rights," Rand says that "rights" means the right to take every action necessary for the survival of a rational being. Newborns, being avid perceivers with the presumed ability to integrate those percepts into concepts, are thus already engaged in a process of "reason," by Rand's own definition, and are thus rational beings. (Note that the definition does not say: the act of integrating what you once perceived days or months earlier. It says: the act of perceiving and integrating. Once you are perceiving, and have the ability to integrate ~even at some later point~, you are engaging in reason!) Since fetuses are also perceiving in the womb, they too are engaging in reason. And if newborn premature babies are recognized as having the same right to life as full-term newborn babies, then fetuses ~even better developed~ than the preemies logically ought to be recognized as having the same right to life as the preemies. (If the mother's life is in jeopardy from carrying the fetus to term ~and~ from early induced labor, then it is certainly her choice to abort, however grisly the procedure may be to some.) These views were published in Reason magazine in September 1981 and republished in the 25th anniversary compilation, Free Minds and Free Markets. I have had no reason to revise or repudiate them since. I believe that a few Objectivists and Libertarians have found themselves in agreement with my reasoning, but it's ~still~ a minority opinion. (Nor do Fundamentalist Christians and Right-to-Lifers seem very happy with what must to them seem to be a one-third-of-a-loaf argument.) But that deters me not. I believe it to be the only position consistent with more basic Objectivist principles and the known medical and neurological facts.
    4. Finally, I'll just state for the record that I disagree with the (apparent) orthodox view that free will is the quasi-Kantian ~categorical~ freedom to have chosen other than one did in a given situation, PERIOD, and instead that free will is the ~conditional~ freedom to have chosen other than one did in a given situation IF ONE HAD WANTED TO DO SO MORE THAN ONE WANTED TO DO WHAT ONE DID. This applies across the board, to choices by whim and to choices from extended rational deliberation. It is an axiom of human life. We CANNOT do other than that which we most want to do. (Please email anything you think might count as a counter-example to me at rebissell(AT)aol(DOT)com. I will be delighted to extend to it my tender analytical mercies. ;) ) I also argue that this "conditional free will" aka "value determinism" position is more in accord with Rand's basic premises than the Peikoffian argument for quasi-Kantian, categorical free will, and my argument will be published soon (perhaps in 2012) in JARS and republished at a later date in Volume 2 of my True Alternatives volumes.
    That should suffice to show that I really ~do~ regard myself as an Objectivist, as Nathaniel characterizes it in the above quotation. I am challenging some of Rand's conclusions, while also ~basing~ those challenges on the logical and factual incompatibility of those conclusions with her more basic premises (which I accept). I may be incorrect in one or more (or all) of my challenges, and people are welcome to put them to rational test. But ~dis-establishing~ ANY of her erroneous claims is NOT a ~rejection~ of Objectivism, but instead a ~purging of error~ from it. Unlike Peikoff, I do not see the entire edifice of her philosophy as a one-piece structure that will collapse if any one piece of it, however cherished, is rejected -- so long as the ~basic~, ~foundational~ parts of the structure remain intact and, in fact, are the basis for any challenges to the more derivative parts of that structure.
    Roger Bissell, Objectivist
    July 9, 2011
  10. Roger Bissell
    Even apart from its 2009 brouhaha with on-again/off-again renegade speaker Lindsay Perigo, The Atlas Society has had diminishing value for me in the past few years. While I certainly appreciate TAS's hard work for the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged) -- and while I fervently hope that the Atlas Shrugged Part 1 movie is as much of a blockbuster as it can and ought to be -- on the intellectual side, I think TAS is becoming irrelevant.
    Not that I’m even faintly considering going over to “The Dark Side” and join the Ayn Rand Institute. In my opinion, both TAS and ARI think too much “in the box,” instead of fostering development of new ideas.
    I wish I were wrong about this, but I am not encouraged by what I have seen in the Advanced and Graduate Seminars in the past few years. In this, at least (and probably, at most), Diana Hsieh was right.
    But as far as I can tell (from their publications and books), ARI is only providing training in Objectivist methodology, not encouraging new ideas that can be considered Objectivist. And for my money, who wants to be certified as a methodically trained “Objectivist philosopher,” when your own best, most creative ideas, even if they are compatible with Objectivism, are not allowed to be recognized as part of closed-system Objectivism?
    Can there be any more pitiful creature than an “Objectivist philosopher” whose own original, valid philosophizing cannot be considered part of Objectivism? Hello!? Virtue of independence, anyone?
    For that matter, isn't it outrageous that David Kelley’s ideas on the virtue of benevolence are not readily acknowledged as being part of the Objectivist Ethics? I am no ethical theorist, but I can give a simple, straightforward argument, right out of “The Ethics of Emergencies,” that proves benevolence is an aspect of integrity. I can give a knock-down argument, in Rand’s own words, for when and why we should help others, complete with quoted “should’s.”
    But why should I have to do this -- and why are the closed-system Randroids unable and/or unwilling to do this themselves? Because they’re thinking in the box and upholding the letter of Rand’s writings, instead of their obvious, clear meaning. And people who think inside the box ethically are not a good bet to ally oneself with intellectually. Which is why I am not inclined to emulate Ms. Hsieh’s pilgrimage to The Dark Side.
    On the other hand, people who think inside the box epistemologically are not a good bet to ally oneself with intellectually either. This is why I am spending more and more of my time developing and preparing my ideas for publication, with the help of a very small group of independent “Objectivists” (or whatever they are!), and to them I am eternally grateful for their encouragement and support.
    My ideas will be disseminated and have an impact on the culture, and they will do so with or without the help (or aggravation and hindrance) of the intellectually sclerotic Movement leaders. And eventually, with or without the help of said Movement leaders, I expect that my ideas will be considered part of Objectivism, or at least consistent with Objectivism.
    Not, however, with the moribund cul de sac of the closed-system so cherished by the in-group on the West Coast, but with the East Coast’s ideal of Objectivism as an open-system, Objectivism as it can and ought to be.
    [i leave it to future generations whether to call my version of Rand’s philosophy “Bissellian Objectivism” or “Extrinsic Superjectivism.” ;) (This latter is a playful way of acknowledging Objectivism to be synonymous with the rejection of Intrinsicism and Subjectivism.)]
  11. Roger Bissell
    Is it true that all Objectivism stopped being created as of Rand's death?
    In the preface of Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991, henceforth OPAR), its author, Leonard Peikoff, wrote:
    We can only speculate about what OPAR would have been like, had Peikoff set aside "Ominous Parallels" and written OPAR while Rand was still alive and could guide and endorse it (as she did "Ominous Parallels"). But it still remains that, as Rand wrote in 1976 about Peikoff's lecture course on "The Philosophy of Objectivism":
    Peikoff's main changes in his revision of the lectures were to make some of the arguments more precise and the examples more vivid. But he also substantially changed the logical order of the presentation, and he included new integrations as well.
    We can only presume that Rand would have approved of most of the changes Peikoff made between the lectures and OPAR. But since I think there are obvious flaws in the book which were also in the lectures (which Rand approved), I'm not sure that it would have made all that much difference had she been able to take part in "birthing" OPAR.
    Anyway, no, OPAR is not "official Objectivism." It is "the definitive statement of Ayn Rand's philosophy—as interpreted by her best student and chosen heir." That is about as good as it is going to get.
    For anyone else, it must be truly emasculating, to be recognized as an Objectivist philosopher, but for one's work to fall into the no-man's-land of not being Objectivist philosophy—but merely philosophy by an Objectivist philosopher and inspired by or derived from Objectivism.
    How peculiar, and how sad. But that is the logical implication of Objectivism as a "Closed System."
  12. Roger Bissell
    There has been much debate over whether the label "Objectivism" is legitimately applied only to those writings by Rand and those she authorized by others, or more broadly to any thinker whose philosophy is more similar to Rand's viewpoint than to that of any other philosopher. In other words, some claim that there is an ambiguity in how "Objectivism" is used, while others deny this claim, of course.
    Unfortunately for those who subscribe to the Purist Proper Name Theory, there is an ambiguity in the name "Objectivism", and most people do use "Objectivism" the same way they use "Kleenex" or "Xerox." In fact, if we like, we can call this interpretation the Kleenex Proper Name Theory.
    Some might even see more than a passing similarity between Kleenex and Objectivism. Consider the fact that all tissues are frequently referred to generically as "Kleenexes", and even though they are quite similar, still there are some noticeable differences between at least some of the different brands of tissue. Some tissues (LP tissues?) are more harsh than Kleenex, while others (DK tissues?) are more flimsy and less durable than authentic Kleenexes, though comforting to the skin. Yet, we call them all "Kleenexes" (unless we subscribe to the Purist Proper Name Theory).
    Also, all said, I would rather have some kind of tissue (AR, LP, DK, SOLO, NB) for the purpose of blowing my nose than, say, a paper towel or a cloth towel or a piece of paper (John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Plato, Descartes, etc.). Yuk. Arrrgh.
    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make a few Xerox copies of this and mail them to friends who don't have PCs. :-)
    [This was originally posted October 4, 2005 to the SOLO HQ internet discussion group.]
  13. Roger Bissell
    It is often derisively stated that the survey of Western civilization that Ayn Rand presents in her title essay of her book For the New Intellectual is seriously flawed and disrespectable because of her sweeping use of two quite negative metaphors to characterize the views she opposes. I'm speaking, of course, of Attila and the Witch Doctor, or what she also calls "the mystics of the muscle" and the "mystics of the mind."
    Because of the simplicity of this model, it is viewed not as elegant and illuminating, but as simplistic and misleading -- and is taken as evidence that Rand is not a "serious" philosopher or historian. Yet, a very serious philosopher, Stephen C. Pepper, used in his classic World Hypotheses (1942) just such a set of labels for two very similar groups of what he calls "inadequate world hypotheses."
    On the one hand are the "animists," who see consciousness (one or many spirits) as running the universe, and who maintain their view as infallible and impose it with authoritarian methods -- and on the other are the "mystics," who regard consciousness (viz., an overwhelming, vivid emotion) as determining what is/is not real, and who maintain their view as indubitable and advocate it in dogmatic fashion.
    Pepper also refers to these views as "animistic spiritualism" and "mystical intuitionism," respectively, and he even (in Rand-like fashion) points out that the animists and mystics (authoritarian mystics of the muscle and dogmatic mystics of the mind) have historically tried to join hands and brush aside their differences and contradictions, but that their alliances eventually break down, as "each group has tried to clean the other out."
    Great stuff from Pepper -- well worth reading for this and many other reasons. (Jeff Riggenbach has recently said good things about him in an essay in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and I have made some applications of Pepper's ideas in a forthcoming JARS essay, as well as in another essay that has not yet been placed.)
    The bottom line of all this is that, despite specific inaccuracies on this or that philosophers, Rand's vision, her grand sweeping view of the trend of human history, is right on the money. Her view of things is not an embarrassingly unscholarly aberration, but a well-established academic perspective, expressed in her own inimitable style. I treasure this essay, despite its flaws.
    [This was originally posted August 15, 2001 to the Atlantis internet discussion group.]
  14. Roger Bissell
    Without suggesting that a preference for one group or the other would in any way compromise my own intellectual independence and honesty, some might reasonably wonder which, if either, of the two main Objectivist organizations I am more comfortable with. Am I more “at home” with The Ayn Rand Society (ARI) or The Objectivist Center (TOC—now The Atlas Society/TAS)? Does either of these groups, more than the other, provide an outlet for my work or an encouraging forum for my ideas?
    Well, over the past 20 years, I have been more deeply involved with TOC/TAS than with ARI, though with neither of them very closely during the past five years or so. More importantly, I have supported both of them financially and morally in the past, and I buy products from both of them, and I cheer when either of them does good work and boo when they fall noticeably short of what I'd like to see them do.
    On the one hand, my wife Becky and I have attended a number of ARI events, and I have participated in several of the discussions, which have appeared in the videos marketed by Second Renaissance. I have studied a number of Peikoff's lecture courses, including Philosophy of Education, Principles of Grammar, DIM Hypothesis, Objectivism through Induction, Induction in Physics and Philosophy, Objectivism the State of the Art, Understanding Objectivism, Integration in Epistemology and Ethics, Judging and Feeling Without Being Moralistic, Writing: a Mini-Course, The Art of Thinking, Introduction to Logic, two series on History of Philosophy, and the 1976 Objectivism lectures. I have transcribed and studied carefully at least half a dozen of these courses. I also have heard several of Harry Binswanger's lecture series, several of Pat Corvini’s lecture series, and assorted lectures by Lisa Van Damm and Stephen Siek. And I have read Peikoff's and Binswanger's works, as well as many essays in the various Objectivist periodicals. I stopped subscribing to The Intellectual Activist in the mid-1990s, but I started up again under Tracinski’s editorship; and I subscribe to The Objective Standard. I’ve also been a contributor to the Ayn Rand Society of the American Philosophical Association and have read numerous of their papers as well as the ARS anthology on meta-ethics. Last but not least, I have read the four volumes of ARI-affiliated essays on Rand’s novels. ARI's work is very important to me, though not without some qualification.
    On the other hand, I have attended four TOC Advanced Seminars, a TOC Graduate Seminar, and two joint seminars of The Atlas Society (formerly TOC) and Free Minds, and I have presented on aesthetics, philosophy of mind, music, and politics to four of them. Three of my presentations were later published in expanded form in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and more of them are slated for future issues. One of them, a revised version of my interpretation of Rand’s aesthetics views, was to have been a monograph for TOC, with commentaries by Michelle Marder Kamhi and John Hospers, but TOC unexpectedly pulled the plug due to funding problems. I have read Kelley's works, including his book on the virtue of benevolence (which I agree with) and a BETA version of his and Will Thomas's Logical Structure of Objectivism, as well as various other lectures by Kelley on epistemology. I also participated in a cyberseminar on propositions during the 1996-97 academic year sponsored by TOC. TOC's work is very important to me, though not without some qualification.
    I really couldn't say whether the TOC leaders regard me as an Objectivist, or as some odd sort of fellow-traveler working within “the Objectivist tradition.” I think it's likely the ARI leaders regard me (if they regard me at all) as some sort of "anti-Objectivist," a term that seems to have been pioneered by Diana Hsieh, a recent convert from the Kelley/TOC faction to the Peikoff/ARI group. (I also heard from one friend that Harry Binswanger told her in an email that he thought I was “crazy.” Heh, yup, crazy old Anti-Objectivist Roger Bissell, that’s me!)
    But if you want to know where I truly feel at home, it is with people who want to explore ideas and take a chance on questioning their cherished beliefs, as well as with those who believe that it is more likely one will discover truth when one calmly and carefully considers more than one perspective on an issue. For that reason, I truly feel at home—with encouragement and an outlet for my work—with Chris Sciabarra and Bob Campbell at the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. And I say that without qualification.
    So, am I a TOC-ist? Am I an ARI-ist? Neither. I'm a critical supporter of each—and an enthusiastic supporter of JARS and the dialectics writings of Chris Sciabarra, as well as the psychology writings of Nathaniel Branden (with some reservations regarding his positions on "anomalous perception" and mind and body as "manifestations of an underlying reality"). Though Chris and Nathaniel have generously sent kudos my way in the past, they have not offered nor have I sought their endorsement of my overall perspective. As I said, I'm an Independent Objectivist. I’m quite happy with that label—curiously, a lot happier than others seem to be that I am using it.
    [An earlier version of these comments was posted December 13, 2005 on the SOLO Passion web site.]
  15. Roger Bissell
    One of my views that frequently raising eyebrows among Objectivists, and raising questions as to my bone fides as an Objectivist, is my view on free will or “volitional consciousness.” Some have gone so far as to accuse me of campaigning against free will. This is not accurate. I just don’t hold the same view of free will that they do (or think they do).
    What I argue for is conditional free will—the view that you could have done otherwise than you did in a given situation, IF you had WANTED to. This is in contrast to the standard Objectivist concept of free will, which is really more of a Kantian outlook, and which I have characterized as categorical free will—the view that you could have done otherwise than you did in a given situation, period, i.e., EVEN IF you HADN'T wanted to.
    In this respect, I am no more against free will than Ayn Rand was against necessity in morality. In regard to ethical necessity, she said, "Reality confronts man with a great many ‘musts,’ but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic necessity is: ‘You must, if—’ and the ‘if’ stands for man’s choice: ‘—if you want to achieve a certain goal.’ ” (“Causality versus Duty,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 118-119)
    Similarly, in regard to free will, I say: Reality confronts man with a great many “cans,” but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic freedom (of will) is: “You can, if—” and the “if” stands for man’s desires: “—if you want to achieve a certain goal more than you want to achieve some other goal” (i.e., if you value a certain thing more than you value another thing). I think that, in order to remain consistent with her Aristotelian, anti-Kantian outlook, Rand ought to have defined free will as I have, as conditional free will—not as Peikoff (in Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand) and others have, as categorical free will.
    I realize that it’s standard practice in Objectivist circles to refer to Kant as a destroyer of reality, reason, morality, you name it, and that the effect of his theory of categorical necessity was to destroy moral responsibility (“Causality versus Duty,” p. 121). Well, I think a case could be made that Rand’s categorical freedom has a similar effect.
    Specifically, if as Peikoff says (Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 60), there is no reason or explanation for focusing, one just focuses or not for no reason, then it must be clear that all of one’s actions (to the extent they flow from one’s focusing) become arbitrary. The inescapable implication is that categorical free will a la Peikoff (and Rand?) destroys the possibility of moral justification.
    In the interest of dialogue and mutual exploration—i.e., sincere truth-seeking—I would gladly set aside such judgments so that some reasoned intellectual discussion could take place. But that presupposes people who are willing to be objective (whether or not they are card-carrying Objectivists)—i.e., people are more interested in discovering truth than being right and defeating their opponents.
    So, if someone wants to delve into this issue with me, whether in a public discussion forum or in private email, I am all for it. But I refuse to engage in rhetorically heated debates, particularly not with people who have already amply demonstrated that their chief goal and pleasure in life is to distort the views and tear down the character of others. Life is too short for that.
  16. Roger Bissell
    In my opinion, the best thing an intellectual can do to better the human race is to figure out what he or she really, really, really wants to accomplish in life–then figure out how to do it–then do it! Repeat, as needed. Then you will be truly happy, and your genuine happiness is the very best thing you can do to further mankind.
    This is my advice not only philosophers, but also to normal people. :-)
    Similarly, my favorite psychologist and the first systematic presenter of Objectivism told a group several years ago that the best way one can further the Objectivist philosophy is to identify what you most passionately want to put your effort into, then think about it as clearly as you can, then do it as vigorously as you can.
    I think Nathaniel Branden and I are on the same page about this. I'm certainly comfortable with that page, anyway. It has stood me in good stead, as I watch not only our country, but also the Objectivist movement, staggering around in a lack of clear direction and guidance. Whatever I personally do with my remaining days on earth will be to enjoy my life by doing the things I enjoy most–not just hedonistically, but by the standard of what seems to me to be the most rational and productive use of my time. (The good is agent-relative!)
    None of us is morally obligated to "further Mankind," let alone to "save" it from its folly. We are only morally obligated (by a rational standard of value and morality, which of course must be chosen) to be happy, and to do so by means of being rational and productive.
    If that takes one, given one's interests and talents, into the areas of politics, philosophy, etc., then one's exercise of rational productivity will involve promoting reason and freedom. But it really has to be: to each his/her own.
    Does this mean, then, that I didn’t take up trombone playing in order to be an altruist? Damn straight! But I don’t think that putting my focus on playing trombone is somehow shortchanging my children by not spending time and energy trying to figure out how to make the world a better place. Nice way to trivialize my choice to focus fundamentally on pursuing my own rational self-interest.
    In a division of labor economy, everyone benefits when each person puts his energies to use in the activities that best combine his abilities and interests. Kind of an Adam Smithian karma dripping off of each self-interestedly rational, productive individual onto everyone else. Does anyone have a problem with that?
    But why is everyone's benefitting from reason and freedom the reason why it is good for everyone to be rational and free? The justification for these things is not collectivist and pragmatic. It is individualistic and moral. The spill-over benefits are a secondary consequence, not the reason why these things are good. Unless you're an altruist-collectivist, of course.
    There seems to be a fundamental rift between people who think that order, salvation, benefits, etc. should be imposed from the top down vs. those who prefer a trickle-up approach. I really, really, really am confident that society, i.e., individual human beings–and most importantly, my children–will be better off if I do what rationally, productively makes me better off in the way that best utilizes my talents and interests, rather than what someone else thinks I "should" do or what "would be a shame/crime/etc" if I didn't do it. Even if I'm not producing a new, rational, complete epistemology–or leading a movement promoting a consistent, pointed defense of liberty–or producing a piece of art that awakens thousands/millions to a new way of looking at life and happiness.
    Would anyone want to judge negatively a person who didn’t want to pursue such ends as those, if he really didn't have the talent or interest in doing so? Would anyone want to judge negatively a person who didn't want to pursue such ends, even if he did have the talent/interest to do it, if he didn't see pursuing them as being in his rational self-interest?
    And for that matter, how does anyone know that I am not working the best I can, in my own way, to doing one or more of those things, precisely because they are the best use of my talent/interest? And I stress: in my own way. Aren't we all individualists here? And I don't mean subjectivists. I mean rational individualists.
    And why would anyone think that I would not, if the situation demanded it, put down my trombone and "rise up and take arms" to defend liberty, in the edge-of-the-cliff way the Founding Fathers had to do? No, I do not think they were suckers or fools! Nor do I think they were cynically defending their economic interests under the cover of principled support of individual rights.
    Contra the socialist historians (who thought the Founding Fathers were the equivalent of fascists), there is no contradiction between their idealism (defense of rights and liberty) and their "materialism," i.e., their desire to protect their property against further predation by the Crown. But they were not on constant red alert. They set aside their personal projects when the situation called for it, and they put the fortunes and reputations and lives on the line. So would I, if we were at that point. But we're not. (Are we?)
    As Rand answered the question "What can one do?", we don't all have to be theoreticians of or front-line warriors for reason and freedom. But what we must do is speak out, in whatever forum we can reasonably do so. Again, Rand said, "Choose your battles," which means prioritize your efforts for reason and freedom, just as you prioritize your actions toward your other values. And since we are all individuals, not products of some rationalistic cookie-cutter, just how each of us carries out that fight is very individualistic. People would do much better to focus on their own efforts to achieve reason, freedom, and happiness, than to spend their time obsessing over and judging others.
    I look at "improving the lot of Mankind" a lot the way I look at "cleaning up the environment." Some people really do succeed in devising social or intellectual systems that help to make life better for a lot of people, and some people come up with good ideas for making large improvements in the environment. But other people, again following the division of labor, prefer to improve society one person at a time, or to clean up the environment one mile of littered highway at a time. I'm not foreclosing on the possibility that I may someday come up with some major boon to my fellow human beings, but doing so is not why I'm alive and why I think and create and work and produce.
    If lightning struck, and I found myself forced into or inspired into such a situation, I would do it, but I would do it like I do everything else that I find in my rational self-interest: so that I can be happy. That is the thing I think it is fundamentally most important for me to do for my children and my "fellow man," to be a good example of rational productiveness aimed primarily at my own personal happiness.
    Now, I realize that there are ways in which I can help promote my philosophical and political ideals indirectly, such as through contributions, referrals, etc. to those who are directly laboring in those particular vineyards. Whether through the desire for my help to give moral support for what yet needs to be done, or to express gratitude for what already has been done, it very well may be in my rational self-interest to get out my checkbook and put my money where my ideals are.
    For instance, suppose for the sake of argument that anyone reading this believes that Rand’s philosophy is the “best hope of mankind,” and that Chris Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical and Total Freedom, and editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, has done more than any of the Objectivist groups to promote understanding and insight into Rand’s philosophy. If so, then I would like to encourage them to donate or contribute to Chris, to help him through his ongoing financial and medical problems, in which he finds himself through no fault of his own.
    Benevolent assistance to someone as noble and great as Chris should probably find a place in the value hierarchy of any rational individualist who has been paying attention to the trajectories of the various elements within the Libertarian and Objectivist movements. I have personally put my money where my values are. I encourage others to do the same for Chris, if they agree.
  17. Roger Bissell
    There are many ways of distinguishing between the two main factions in the Objectivist movement, which are, of course, the pro-Brandenians and the anti-Brandenians. For instance, you can look at who gravitates to the two main institutions that promote Objectivism: TOC tends to attract pro-Brandenians, while ARI seems to be totally comprised of anti-Brandenians. (This is not the official stance of either organization, but the Brandens have appeared at a number of functions of the former, while being entirely omitted from those of the latter.)
    However, my favorite way of distinguishing between the two factions was suggested to me by the following comment by James Valliant on another thread (The Critics of the Passion of the Critics of Ayn Rand's Critics, or some such overly windy nonsense).
    Valliant wrote (of Barbara Branden's book about Ayn Rand):
    Now ~that~ is pure anti-Brandenian punctuation.
    Pro-Brandenian punctuation, on the other hand, would require re-writing the above quote thusly:
    See? It's subtle, so you might have missed it. If you want to deny the truth of a pro-Brandenian claim (such as that Barbara Branden loved Ayn Rand), you put the word "love" in quote marks. If you want to deny the truth of an anti-Brandenian claim (such as that Barbara Branden had enmity toward Ayn Rand), you put the word "enmity" in quote marks.
    Now, I'm sorry not to have had a real pro-Brandenian example to offer, but this approach to punctuation seems to be used largely (if not exclusively) by anti-Brandenians and ARI partisans. I will, however, continue to keep my eyes open for the tell-tale sign of Objectivist punctuation among the pro-Brandenians and TOC partisans. It would be a real shame if they were unable to be truly objective in their use of quote marks.
    If you want a general guideline: basically, to employ Objectivist punctuation in the way that Mr. Valliant and so many others do -- whether pro- or anti-Brandenian -- you simply pick whatever you're trying to deny the truth of, and you put it in quote marks. This is a direct parallel to the Objectivist approach to humor, of ridiculing whatever you want to deny metaphysical significance to. Some might even claim that Objectivist punctuation is really a very crude form of humor, as evidenced by those who laugh when they see it being used in an attack on someone they dislike.
    Here is another example, which shows that Objectivist punctuation is used for more than simply registering one's support or opposition to the Brandens. This example is taken from a comment in an Objectivist blog discussion by one L.S. (who seems at times to be channeling Leonard Peikoff, and at other times to be lapsing into near-hysteria at criticisms of Rand and ARI), who wrote of Bill Dwyer's critique of Peter Schwartz:
    Now, if we could call this pro-Schwartzian, then an anti-Schwartzian re-writing might go like this:
    See how Objectivist punctuation works? If it still seems a bit unnatural to you, pick any raging (or tepid) controversy you are interested in, then make a comment about someone representing the side you disagree with. Be sure to refer to their "arguments" or their "logic" or their "decency," whatever positive attribute or action they might believe to pertain to themselves. But be prepared for payback in regards to your own "rationality" or "good character."
    If you would like to share these thoughts with someone not on this web site, by all means, feel free to quote me. :-)
    [First posted on September 27, 2005]
  18. Roger Bissell
    Maybe it's just laziness!
    Seriously, hostile commentary and personal attacks are a lot easier than rolling up one's sleeves and trying to fight productively for reason and freedom. If your internet posts help you to clarify your own thoughts, or to enjoy some fellowship, or to be playful, or as a brief diversion from your real work and relationships, that's great.
    But when I see how many posts are sent up each day by some people, I wonder if they have considered whether this is the most rational and productive use of their time? Not a question -- just a suggestion for occasional reflection and self-monitoring, so as not to be too deeply ensnared in the potentially hypnotic pull of online discussion that all too often turns into verbal combat.
    I personally have had to seriously limit my online discussion time in the past couple of years, after realizing how deeply it drained my available time for getting done things I really want to do. As a result, I have accomplished some things that are VERY important to me, including my CD project, my family history book, and a very difficult relocation from California to Tennessee.
    Time yet again to recalibrate, pick new goals, and plan how to accomplish them...
  19. Roger Bissell
    As defined by Ayn Rand, the fallacy of the frozen abstraction is a fallacy "which consists of substituting some one particular concrete for the wider abstract class to which it belongs." ("Collectivized Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, New York: Signet, 1964, p. 81.) In other words, this fallacy entails the refusal to include certain members of a class in the wider class to which they belong, and instead limiting the class to one or a select few of its members.
    This fallacy is singularly well-suited for propagating subtle (and not-so-subtle) untruths, particularly in the realm of normative (i.e., value) considerations. In committing the frozen abstraction fallacy, a given speaker substitutes his view of what a given thing ideally should be, for the wider class of what that thing has been, is, and can or should or will be. He then defines his concept of that thing so as to exclude all non-ideal, imperfect, or bad (evil and/or harmful) examples of that thing from the concept.
    Perhaps the most fascinating historical example of this fallacy is Plato's theory of the nature of abstract ideas (Forms) themselves. Plato maintained that abstractions, or abstract ideas, actually exist apart from the concrete things in which they appear to be embodied and from the mind which seems to discover them. Abstract ideas, or Forms, exist in another, transcendental realm, separate from the world of our experience. They serve as models or patterns for the actual world and are somehow present in it. The world of our experience is merely the pale, imperfect reflection or "image" of the realities in the realm of the Forms.
    Regarding these Forms (abstractions), Plato seemed torn between two quite different views. On the one hand, he felt that there must be Forms for all general terms. There must be Forms to serve as the model for every different kind of thing. There must be a perfect, ideal exemplar for each of the different types of thing existing in this imperfect, actual world.
    On the other hand, it was very disturbing to Plato to entertain the possibility that there might very well be Forms for such "vile and paltry" things as hair, mud, dirt, etc. These are undesirable--non-ideal, in an ethical or esthetic sense--as well as being merely imperfect, as are all material existents (non-ideal in a metaphysical sense). From this, Plato concludes (in a non sequitur) that "ideal" models of the undesirable could not possibly exist. This latter view seems to be the one that prevails in Plato's writings. It is the one that exemplifies the fallacy of the frozen abstraction.
    It is ironic, in this connection, that Rand, Peikoff, and others selectively deny the label "entity" to things such as clouds, rivers, and piles of dirt. E.g., Rand, in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (2nd ed.) said that, whereas a mountain was an entity, a pile of dirt would not be an entity, unless it had glue poured into it so that it was welded together and that there were actions possible to it as a whole. (pp. 268, 273).
    But as Rand herself said shortly thereafter (p. 277), materials (including dirt, let it be noted) do not belong to "a separate metaphysical category, because materials cannot exist except in the form of entities of some kind, nor can entities exist without materials. That is, physical entities." Matter is "what all physical entities have in common," and "the things which we call physical entities are all made of some kind of material. But you can't consider one without the other."
    Thus, glued-welded or not, a pile of dirt must be an entity. It may not have all of the same actions (as a mountain?!) possible to it, but surely some actions are possible to it.
    As Aristotle said--and as Rand, Peikoff, Kelley, and every sane person, Objectivist or otherwise, concurs--there is no such thing as an attribute apart from an entity that has that attribute. There is no cloud that does not have a shape, no river that does not have a length, no pile of sand that does not have a color. Ergo, these are all entities, and Rand et al, in denying that they are, are guilty of the fallacy of the frozen abstraction.
    Shades of Socrates!
  20. Roger Bissell
    It is rather surprising to hear a psychologist like Stephen Pinker say (How the Mind Works, 1997] that religion and philosophy are "fascinating but biologically functionless activities." Isn't it obvious that we need religion and/or philosophy?
    Even if the answers they provide are wrong, we need some kind of plausible answers to the "holistic," orientational questions about life. That is an unavoidable consequence of the fact that humans require not just perception but concepts for successful living. We see beyond the here and now, and we need guidelines, a mental framework, a model to steer us--for better or worse--through our day to day decisions and actions. People without such a view of the world are, in a very important way, maladapted--adrift without a rudder and in danger of crashing.
    Granted, having such a philosophy of life, correct or not, is not guarantee that one will not end up on the rocks, anway. But the odds are in favor of people who at least try to understand the world they live in and who at least think they know its basic nature. Bewildered, disoriented creatures are, to repeat, maladapted.
    Philosophy is not a luxury, but a necessity--even in the form of its protean ancestor, religion. Philosophy is a quintessentially human adaptation--not for solving specific life problems, but for solving the "holistic" problem of determining what kind of life to live.
    Yet, presumably since their fundamental problems have resisted consensus solution for 2500 years, Pinker suspects that these philosophy and religion are at least partly "the application of mental tools to problems they were not designed to solve" (p. 525) Perhaps they weren't, but why couldn't these mental tools be "exapted" to solving those problems anyway?
    Pinker suggests that they are not "sufficiently similar to the mundane survival challenges of our ancestors" (p. 525), and that is why people have pondered the nature of subjective experience, the self, free will, meaning, knowledge, and morality for millenia "but have made no progress in solving them." Our minds are well suited to perceiving objects and motion and to discovering causal laws in parts of the universe, but their very excellence at meeting those challenges may have compromised them for dealing with the "peculiarly holistic" kinds of problems as the nature of sentience and will.
    If this were indeed an inherent limitation of our kind of consciousness, then Pinker would be right: we should rejoice at all that our minds make possible and let go of the perennial, insoluble conundrums. But such a surrender is not warranted by a mere hypothesis born of frustration and impatience--and the facts argue against it, as well.
    The vast increase in research into brain function and conscious processes in just the past few decades has led to numerous discoveries and insights, and the writings of researchers and philosophers such as Roger Sperry, Edward Pols, Antonio Damasio, Jerome Kagan, Fred Dretske, Henry B. Veatch, and Panayot Butchvarov increasingly point the way to a non-dualistic, non-reductionist, naturalistic understanding of the self and the will, and of the other basic issues as well. Pinker's own impressive work is a prime exhibit in support of this more optimistic scenario.
    Especially considering how long religion's supernaturalist premises and theocratic controls over society have impeded scientific discovery, two and a half millenia is not nearly as long a time as it may seem. (What could we measure it against, anyway?) Moreover, as just noted, it is not true that there has been no progress in solving these problems.
    It may well be that the standing problems of mankind simply require a lot more hard work, and that science and philosophy must pool their efforts in order to solve them. This assumption has gotten us a long way already, and there is no good reason not to continue confidently down that road.
  21. Roger Bissell
    Consider these two valid deductive inferences:
    All cows are fish (false)
    All fish are flying creatures (false)
    So, all cows are flying creatures (false)
    All cows are fish (false)
    All fish are four-legged (false)
    So, all cows are four legged (true)
    Doesn't this show us that deduction carried out with false premises is just another case of garbage-in, garbage-out?
    The truths and falsities produced by inference from false premises are not necessary truths or falsities, but just accidental. Hardly more worthy of status than the ocean washing up rocks or shells that to our eyes and minds spell "A is A" or "A is not-A" on the shore.
    We take "all cows are four legged" as true, because we know it inductively, from observation plus the insight that it is in the essential nature of cows that they are all four-legged--while it is not an inductive truth that all cows are brown, just because all the cows we've seen to date may have been brown, because color is not essential to their nature. (And we know this inductively from the black swan controversy <g>).
    But a person slinging out the second syllogism above is not entitled to regard the conclusion as deductively true, even though he would already likely be entitled to regard it as inductively true.
    And that's the real lesson of deduction. Unless you know your premises to be true and your inference to be valid, your conclusions really do not have epistemic status at all. They are just verbal junk. Unless you already know by some other means the conclusions reached deductively with false premises, you simply don't know them!
  22. Roger Bissell
    Exercising undue caution against over-application of the Law of Contradiction, Leonard Peikoff, in Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, managed to mangle the application of the concepts of "axiom" and "corollary" to not just one, but two issues: volition and validity of the senses.
    In his discussion of causality (p. 15), Peikoff defines "corollary" as: "a self-evident implication of already established knowledge," and he clearly states that: "A corollary of an axiom is not itself an axiom." Makes sense, and couldn't be clearer, right?
    However, in discussing volition, Peikoff first says: "The principle of volition is a philosophic axiom, with all the features this involves" (p. 70). Then, one page later, he blatantly contradicts himself: "Volition, accordingly, is not an independent philosophic principle, but a corollary of the axiom of consciousness."
    Similarly, in discussing validity of the senses, Peikoff first says: "The validity of the senses is an axiom" (p. 39). Then, two paragraphs later, on the same page (!), he writes: "The validity of the senses is not an independent axiom; it is a corollary of the fact of consciousness." (Another booboo here is referring to validity of the senses as a corollary of a fact. Corollaries are implications not of facts, but of recognitions of facts, i.e., propositions, whether axiomatic or less general.)
    Now, Rand was Peikoff's role model in many things, and it is possible that he took to heart her mangling of the discussion of architecture in "Art and Cognition" (The Romantic Manifesto, chapter 4)--thinking that if her example of applied logic was acceptable, then calling things "axioms" and "not-axioms" within mere paragraphs was acceptable, too. But in epistemology, as in ethics, two wrongs don't make a right.
  23. Roger Bissell
    Rand says in her aesthetics writings in The Romantic Manifesto that art concretizes metaphysics and performs the psychological and epistemological function of allowing us to directly grasp that metaphysics. What is the deepest significance, then, of the fact that Rand portrays in her novels a deeply chaotic and turbulent world?
    The explanation is found not in Rand's aesthetics, however, but in her metaphysics—-specifically, in her "metaphysical view of man's nature," a given view being defined by answers to certain metaphysical questions. The answers to one such question—-does man have the power of choice or not?—-are, respectively, the Volition Premise and the Determinism Premise. The answers to another—-is the universe knowable or not?—-are the Intelligible Universe Premise and the Unintelligible Universe Premise. The answers to another—-can man achieve his goals in life or not?—-are the Benevolent Universe Premise and the Malevolent Universe premise.
    Since both critics and supporters of Rand frequently misunderstand this last pair of premises, a brief digression seems in order.
    One can begin, as many people do, with the anthropomorphic assumption that the universe is (or is inhabited by) a superior Being that cares one way or the other whether human beings are happy or miserable. One thus has a choice between seeing the universe as actually benevolent or malevolent in a personal, psychological sense.
    Or, one can adopt instead the more open-ended, naturalistic view that the universe is, in fact, so constituted that one either can or cannot achieve happiness. As Leonard Peikoff observes Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 342), there is a sense of "benevolent"—-viz., "auspicious to human life"—-which does apply to the universe. He points out that "if a man does recognize and adhere to reality, then he can achieve his values in reality; he can and, other things being equal, he will."
    Although Peikoff does not say so, there is an obvious parallel between this view of the universe's benevolence and Rand's discussion of morality ("Causality vs. Duty," Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 118–19). Just as the "demands" of reality are not "categorical imperatives" but "conditional imperatives," so too is the "benevolence" of the universe not "categorical benevolence" but "conditional benevolence." If you adopt an objective attitude of respect for the facts of reality, and if you enact the causes necessary to produce particular desired effects, then you will be able to achieve your values in reality. (Perhaps an unpublished essay, "Causality vs. Blessedness," is lurking somewhere among the archives of the Rand estate!)
    The (conditional) benevolence of the universe, it can now be seen, is just another aspect of the turbulent, dynamic, chaotic processes that Rand and others see in the world around us. Just as (Rand has observed) knowledge is both possible and non-automatic, so too, more generally, are achievement and happiness. Knowledge, in particular, may be gained, but only with the right attitude, the right method, and the requisite effort. Specifically, one must have a respect for facts, employ logic in validating one's conclusions, and use whatever ingenuity and persistence it takes in order to pry those facts loose from a world which does not (usually) hand us ready-made intellectual contents on a silver platter.
    No one said it would be easy! Not knowledge—-and not achievement or happiness either. The world is a messy, turbulent place, and it takes effort to grasp and retain one's fulfillment, whether cognitive, existential, or emotional. It is possible, because the universe is (conditionally) benevolent-—that's the Benevolent Universe Premise—-but it's not automatic, because the universe is turbulent and requires effort from those who want to survive.
    Rand has written of the anti-effort mentality, the attitude of resentment toward the Law of Causality, and especially the fact that survival is not automatic and requires effort. Although these insights have been driven home time and again in the descriptions of her characters in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, however, they unfortunately were not included in her catalog of metaphysical value-judgments.
    The time is ripe for us to amend that catalog by adding (for want of better names) the Pro-Effort (Turbulent Universe) Premise and the Anti-Effort (Placid Universe) Premise. It seems undeniable that some sort of acknowledgment of the fundamental importance of the non-automatic-achievement parallel to the Benevolent Universe Premise is in order.
  24. Roger Bissell
    Few works with the level of scholarship evidenced in historian and political theorist Chris Sciabarra's book about Ayn Rand's philosophy (Penn State Press, 1995) have generated such a visceral, polarized response: scathing hostility and scorn on the one extreme and glowing, enthusiastic praise on the other. What has set everyone on their ears--with either delight or outrage--is his claim that the methodology by which Rand developed her philosophy is the "dialectic."
    Dialectics, he says, is a methodological orientation that is committed to seeing things as integrated unities, to context-keeping, to focusing on structural interrelationships and historical developments, to analysis and rejection of false dichotomies, and to fundamental understanding and change.
    It is interesting (and sad) to note that, despite the overwhelming evidence and logic Sciabarra offers in his book, certain Objectivists have spoken out in rather caustic terms against his perspective. They vehemently resist identifying Rand's philosophic method with dialectics, mainly it seems because of their acceptance of the traditional assumption that dialectical method is equivalent to Hegelianism or Marxism. Rand is not Marxist, therefore (they attempt to reason), her method could not be dialectical.
    Sciabarra, however, firmly lays to rest both this assumption and the false conclusion drawn from it. He points out that even Hegel referred in laudatory manner to Aristotle as the "Father of Dialectic" and that Rand herself said that the only intellectual debt she would acknowledge was to Aristotle: "Rand was profoundly correct to view her own system as the heir to Aristotelianism. Ultimately, it might be said that her debt to Aristotle concerns both the form and the content of her thought." (p. 19).
    In addition, Sciabarra shows just how thoroughly entrenched the dialectical method was in Russian culture--especially in her textbooks and in the minds of her professors--at the time Rand went to college. This argues convincingly for the strong likelihood that Rand absorbed the dialectical methodology from her milieu, even while emphatically rejecting the various religious and Marxist conclusions others derived with it. By this many-faceted approach, Sciabarra has offered "the best explanation yet published for the origins of Rand's unique approach to philosophic and social analysis." (p. 19)
    In this connection, it must be noted that certain Objectivists often voice another nagging concern (and, unfortunately, not always in a calm, civil manner), namely, that linking Rand and Objectivism in any way, even methodologically, with thinkers she so despised as Marx and Hegel, will ultimately cause serious harm to the Objectivist movement and philosophy. But as Rand herself was fond of saying about allegedly fragile situations, "A boat that cannot stand rocking, had better be rocked fast and hard." Surely this dictum applies no less to her own system of ideas. Contra those with a vested interest in the pristine isolation of Objectivism from rigorous academic scrutiny, the truth will out, and in no small part through Sciabarra's efforts.
    Indeed, while Sciabarra's methodological insights place Rand's development and that of her philosophy much more clearly in historical perspective, these revelations, he stresses, need not in any way tarnish her reputation as a staunch anti-Marxist nor lessen her originality and importance as a thinker. They simply identify the fact that "Rand's use of dialectical method was as essential to her historic formulation of Objectivist principles, as was her original synthesis in the realm of content." (p. 20) And although neither the various parts of its content, nor the use of dialectical method, is peculiar to Objectivism, when the method and content are considered together, they constitute Objectivism's fundamental distinguishing (i.e., defining) characteristic. It is their integration into a new system of thought that is unique, Sciabarra says, and therefore worthy of serious, deep study by scholars.
    As Sciabarra observes: "Objectivism is a seamless conjunction of method and content--of a dialectical method and a realist-egoist-individualist-libertarian content." (p. 381) This unique synthesis, linking "a multilevel, dialectical analysis to a libertarian Rand's most important contribution to twentieth-century radical social theory." (pp. 319, 381) And, this reviewer would like to add, with Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical, as well as Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY, 1995) and Total Freedom (Penn State Press, 2000), now under his belt, Chris Matthew Sciabarra has emerged as one of the most provocative, and enjoyable, writers on the history of ideas of the twentieth century.
  25. Roger Bissell
    It is undeniable that many important discoveries and advances in human history have been made by those who “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Progress, in other words, is often rooted in the past accumulated knowledge and technology of mankind, as freshly viewed or modified by innovative individuals.
    Ayn Rand, who acknowledged a considerable intellectual debt to Aristotle, the greatest thinker of Antiquity, was herself a visionary genius—and her philosophy, Objectivism, while true to any of Aristotle’s most fundamental insights, is nonetheless a revolutionary philosophy, both in terms of its methodology and its substantive premises and conclusions.
    Objectivism deeply challenges the central ideas of Western civilization, and it offers a clear, radical alternative, appropriate to life on earth as a rational, creative, productive, independent, free individual. In this respect, Objectivists view Rand’s philosophy as Aristotelianism extended and deepened, corrected and improved—in many respects, Aristotelianism “as it can and ought to be.”
    Rand has been gone now for nearly 30 years, and it has fallen to her followers to pick up the torch and continue the quest to find powerful and original solutions to intractable, perennial problems in philosophy, to be veritable “dynamos” of creative, new philosophical ideas and insights, as Rand was before us. Objectivist thinkers can do much better than they have to date.
    Certain philosophical issues have remained resistant to this day to the best attempts of leading Objectivist intellectuals and others to resolve them. Among them are the mind-body problem and the problem of free will vs. determinism in metaphysics. Other philosophical issues long regarded by mainstream philosophers as being resolved, must be readdressed, if Aristotle’s most important contribution, logic, is not to be fatally undermined. One of these is the problem of Existential Import in logic.
    Progress has not been as great as it could be on these substantive issues, because there has not been adequate development of Objectivism on the methodological side. First and foremost, therefore, there needs to be a revitalization or rejuvenation of the Objectivist methodology and, as a consequence, the resurgence of Objectivism as an engine of important new substantive insights and conclusions. In other words, Objectivist intellectuals need to clarify and expand upon some of Ayn Rand’s most important methodological insights, and to apply them to perennially persistent problems in the history of philosophy.
    The pathway to this revitalization of Objectivism will be greatly illuminated by two important ideas from the field of logic and two valuable ideas, virtually undeveloped, from Rand’s own writing in the mid-1960s. The ideas from logic are the Law of Excluded Middle and standard propositional form. The undeveloped ideas from Rand are the dual-aspect nature of the objective and the unit-perspective as applied to human conceptual functioning.
    Properly applied, these ideas in combination can have a profound effect on the further development of Objectivism. They provide a new, more powerful methodology with which to work on difficult philosophical problems, and they lead to novel, clarifying solutions. They also enable us to see a new, more powerful unity in the structure of Objectivist philosophy.
    Rand gave considerable effort to ferreting out and refuting the false dichotomies in philosophy. She uncovered their shared false premises and identified the true alternative that points to a third view on a given problem. This method of using trichotomies depends for its validity on one’s having found three positions that are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of the possibilities.
    As valuable and path-breaking as Rand’s use of this methodology has been, however, it is a limited and somewhat flawed methodology. It leaves out important alternatives that must be identified for the sake of logical rigor and completeness, as well as to be true to the facts of history and human experience.
    A new, more exacting, thorough, fruitful methodology is proposed, one based on the tetrachotomy, i.e., the four alternatives produced by the conjunction of two specific applications of Aristotle’s Law of Excluded Middle. Possible solutions are more clearly outlined for such nagging conundrums as the mind-body problem and the freewill-determinism problem, as well as ethical and political issues such as sacrifice vs. self-interest, conservatism vs. liberalism, and fascism vs. socialism.
    Another by-product of the discovery of this new methodology is the realization that Rand’s trichotomy itself is an incomplete statement of the distinction between the objective, the intrinsic, and the subjective. The objective is, in fact, a dual-aspect phenomenon, as Rand herself stated without elaboration in her mid-1960s writings. This realization, along with other results from use of tetrachotomies, leads to a new perspective on introspection and the mind-body and free will-determinism problems.
    Finally, Rand’s seminal identification of the unit-perspective in concept-formation has been allowed, to a large extent, to lie fallow. This has left the entire field of logic above concepts—namely, proposition theory and syllogistic theory—dangling without a firm connection to the Objectivist theory of concepts. With the aid of the standard, but very powerful pedagogical device known as “Standard Propositional Form,” it can clearly be seen that Rand’s unit-perspective provides the basis to tie all of logic firmly together.
    Further, this one crucial insight helps to resolve the issue of the Existential Import of propositions about non-existent things. This re-establishes Aristotle’s Square of Opposition on an unshakeable basis, immune from the attempts to eviscerate it by modern logicians. Rand’s unit-perspective is also useful in clarifying some of Rand’s own murkier utterances such as “Existence exists” and “Existence is identity.”
    Again, the goal of such “revisionist” philosophizing about Objectivism is to provide constructive criticism of her methodology and the constrictive effect it has had on her substantive philosophizing, and to point out to others some pathways to follow in making more effective use of her best insights, while transcending the limitations of her own approved version of the implications of those insights.
    The end result, if such insights were to be taken to heart by Objectivist intellectuals, would be a fulfillment of the promise of Objectivism as a potent intellectual framework for generating new ideas about rational individualism, about thinking and producing in ways that enhance human life, in both the intellectual and the personal-social spheres of our lives—as well as a healthy serving of new perspectives on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, on which Objectivist and others can “chew” for a good while to come.