Peikoff's UNDERSTANDING OBJECTIVISM - in print!


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I noted this on Amazon (and Barnes & Noble), maybe already discussed here, but a search found no mention of the book).

UNDERSTANDING OBJECTIVISM: A GUIDE TO AYN RAND'S PHILOSOPHY OF OBJECTIVISM, edited by Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D. To be published March 6, 2012, 400 pages, NAL Trade. $18.00 ($12.11 pre-order at Amazon).

the brief description states, "Based on a series of lectures by Dr. Leonard Peikoff," but, curiously, Peikoff is not listed as the author. Usually, a book even if it is composed of selected material from an author or lecturer, lists that person as the author of the book, not the editor! The picture of the mock-up of the proposed book cover also does not credit Peikoff as "author."

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I noted this on Amazon (and Barnes & Noble), maybe already discussed here, but a search found no mention of the book).

UNDERSTANDING OBJECTIVISM: A GUIDE TO AYN RAND'S PHILOSOPHY OF OBJECTIVISM, edited by Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D. To be published March 6, 2012, 400 pages, NAL Trade. $18.00 ($12.11 pre-order at Amazon).

the brief description states, "Based on a series of lectures by Dr. Leonard Peikoff," but, curiously, Peikoff is not listed as the author. Usually, a book even if it is composed of selected material from an author or lecturer, lists that person as the author of the book, not the editor! The picture of the mock-up of the proposed book cover also does not credit Peikoff as "author."

Gee, not based on Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand or "a series of lectures" by Nathaniel Branden? How about the non-fiction books by Rand? Of course, it couldn't be based on OPAR, could it? If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, if it stinks like . . .

--Brant

save your money--there will be no other warning

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Understanding Objectivism looks likely to be a good contribution. I have not heard the lectures, but I’ve heard much praise of them through the years. Looking forward to reading this book.

I'll bet you a coke that DK will deliver a summa. Even if it is posthumous.

In addition to the books Roger mentioned in #5, I would draw attention to the four titles Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living; Anthem; Fountainhead; and Atlas Shrugged. Each is of lasting value and will sell on and on through the years. Then too, there are the two books by Tara Smith on Rand's theory of value and the ethical virtues. Lastly, I would add the two volumes recently issued from the Ayn Rand Society. Solid scholarship on Rand's philosophy continues to be created all around us.

And let's not neglect the old contributions: HB's The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts and DK's The Evidence of the Senses (which Roger did note). Both remain good contributions.

It may be of some interest to mention here that LP's lecture course Understanding Objectivism will be issued as a book this fall.

. . .

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The original lecture series, Understanding Objectivism (still available as a set of very expensive CDs from the ARI Bookstore - but without, of course, Edith Packer's lecture, excised from the lecture set after her husband, George Reisman, was shown the door at ARI) was given prior to Barbara Branden's book on Rand, which was postulated by Bidinotto as causing, or contributing to, Peikoff's adoption of purging "undesirables" from the movement. Incidentally, I don't buy the argument that Barbara's book pushed him over the edge. He had a number of sycophants (i.e., Schwartz and Binswanger) who probably encouraged him (if their later statements and actions are any indication) to follow that destructive course.

Peikoff, in the first lecture of the series, and in comments made to questioners, included in the recordings, appeared to be moving away from the rigid doctrinaire stance he later embraced. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if those original proto-"tolerationist" tendencies are included in the published book.

I don't know what to make of Peikoff not being listed as the author and the editor listed instead. Perhaps Berliner made so many revisions to the original content of the lecture series that Peikoff was unwilling to be listed as the author of this book. I guess we will soon find out.

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I noted this on Amazon (and Barnes & Noble), maybe already discussed here, but a search found no mention of the book).

UNDERSTANDING OBJECTIVISM: A GUIDE TO AYN RAND'S PHILOSOPHY OF OBJECTIVISM, edited by Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D. To be published March 6, 2012, 400 pages, NAL Trade. $18.00 ($12.11 pre-order at Amazon).

the brief description states, "Based on a series of lectures by Dr. Leonard Peikoff," but, curiously, Peikoff is not listed as the author. Usually, a book even if it is composed of selected material from an author or lecturer, lists that person as the author of the book, not the editor! The picture of the mock-up of the proposed book cover also does not credit Peikoff as "author."

Previous comments here in post #15: http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1653&pid=144766&st=0entry144766

Though I misidentified the author as Robert Mayhew.

REB

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The original lecture series, Understanding Objectivism (still available as a set of very expensive CDs from the ARI Bookstore - but without, of course, Edith Packer's lecture, excised from the lecture set after her husband, George Reisman, was shown the door at ARI) was given prior to Barbara Branden's book on Rand, which was postulated by Bidinotto as causing, or contributing to, Peikoff's adoption of purging "undesirables" from the movement. Incidentally, I don't buy the argument that Barbara's book pushed him over the edge. He had a number of sycophants (i.e., Schwartz and Binswanger) who probably encouraged him (if their later statements and actions are any indication) to follow that destructive course.

I wouldn't be surprised to find that Barbara's book pushed ~Schwartz and Binswanger~ over the edge, and they in turn pushed ~Peikoff~ over the edge. It probably didn't take much pushing, though, since Barbara (and then Nathaniel) revealed the (to Leonard) unthinkable fact of the Rand-Branden Affair. Imagine poor Leonard's deep chagrin when it was later revealed that the Branden's ~weren't~ lying about this, and that the evidence in Rand's own journals had lain (pardon the expression) unexposed (pardon the expression) for years.

Kelley's behavior, which "justified" their purging him, was the same courting of, or dealing with, libertarians that ARI folks have been doing publicly, though in low-key fashion, in more recent years. Kelley had to go, because he was flouting the official line, as laid down and canonized in Schwartz's hack-job on libertarianism, published in The Intellectual Activist back in the 1980s.

Peikoff, in the first lecture of the series, and in comments made to questioners, included in the recordings, appeared to be moving away from the rigid doctrinaire stance he later embraced. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if those original proto-"tolerationist" tendencies are included in the published book.

I don't know what to make of Peikoff not being listed as the author and the editor listed instead. Perhaps Berliner made so many revisions to the original content of the lecture series that Peikoff was unwilling to be listed as the author of this book. I guess we will soon find out.

Again, IMO, Peikoff is rather generously allowing the next echelon of Objectivist writers to go on record with some of the post-Randian Objectivist breakthrough ideas -- such as the (unofficial?) Objectivist theory of induction and the (unofficial?) Objectivist theory of the proper balance between reason and emotion and avoidance of rationalism and empiricism.

I welcome this book, as I did Harriman's presentation of Peikoff's induction lectures. It's long overdue, and there is a lot more that should be released from its auditory confinement.

REB

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

Apparently, Leonard woke-up and decided that he, indeed, wanted the credit as author of this (finally!) forthcoming in-print book version of his Understanding Objectivism lecture series that he originally presented orally some thirty-plus years’ ago, and which has only been available in highly expensive tape or CD format..

The cover for this book, shown on its Amazon page (see the link below), has been changed to rightly credit the book to Dr. Peikoff as the author and Dr. Berliner as editor ( previously, the book cover shown prominently listed Berliner, but Peikoff's role was relegated to "based upon " Peikoff's lecture series).

http://www.amazon.co...8808802&sr=1-1r .

It’s not a good idea for the orthos to slight Lenny.

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Apparently, Leonard woke-up and decided that he, indeed, wanted the credit as author of this (finally!) forthcoming in-print book version of his Understanding Objectivism lecture series that he originally presented orally some thirty-plus years’ ago, and which has only been available in highly expensive tape or CD format..

The cover for this book, shown on its Amazon page (see the link below), has been changed to rightly credit the book to Dr. Peikoff as the author and Dr. Berliner as editor ( previously, the book cover shown prominently listed Berliner, but Peikoff's role was relegated to "based upon " Peikoff's lecture series).

http://www.amazon.co...8808802&sr=1-1r .

It’s not a good idea for the orthos to slight Lenny.

Jerry, I don't think "the orthos" were "slight[ing] Lenny." It was probably an unintentional oversight. Berliner was always listed as editor, not author.

And a minor point: the original lecture course was presented in 1983, slightly less than 30 years ago.

I only recently listened to the course, and I found it quite enjoyable, though I'm disappointed that Edith Packer's (no doubt) excellent essay was not included. (Not to say she and George Reisman aren't better off, having been purged from ARI.)

REB

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I only recently listened to the course, and I found it quite enjoyable, though I'm disappointed that Edith Packer's (no doubt) excellent essay was not included. (Not to say she and George Reisman aren't better off, having been purged from ARI.)

REB

I attended Peikoff’s UO lectures in 1983, and lecture #11 was a joint presentation by Peikoff and Edith Packer. Peikoff frequently chimed in with his comments either endorsing Packer’s statements or asking questions. He freely admitted to a total ignorance of psychology and this was painfully evident throughout.

The lecture was intended to be about psychological aspects of judging moral character, but didn’t really accomplish that in any fundamental sense. From a psychological perspective, Packer simply emphasized what not to do, and that’s entirely understandable. Psychology is at a stage which is far too primitive for scientifically validating most moral judgments. (I do not regard this as an argument against making moral judgments.)

Even so, much of what Packer had to say was of value. She talked a lot about the importance of examining and changing what she called “core evaluations”—essential premises adopted in childhood which may or may not be valid but continue to influence a person’s actions in the present. She took an approach which was clearly a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. She emphasized the importance of evaluating actions as opposed to emotions—not holding people responsible for their psychological problems, but only for actions they take to reinforce their problems now. In other words, present behavior, not past mistakes. Obvious examples would be destructive, addictive behaviors such as alcoholism or promiscuity. A less obvious example might be a tendency to retreat into a fantasy world as opposed to taking responsibility for your life.

She talked about the common error of focusing on the negative in evaluating people—i.e., looking for flaws (such as a liking for modern art) and then totally rejecting the person on that basis. While recognizing that emotions are not tools of cognition, she endorsed using emotions as a way of deciding if another person is a potential friend. Emotions can provide instantaneous information about another person’s potential value to us. Subsequently, that mutuality and compatibility has to be made into a process of explicit, conscious discovery. Emotions alone are not an adequate guide. And different standards of mutuality will apply depending on the level of friendship involved.

Based on one particular comment Packer made, it isn’t all that surprising that Packer was eventually banished to Objectivist Siberia. Remember Peikoff’s infamous statement (in “Fact and Value”) that socialism is an “inherently dishonest” idea? Packer warned against rationalism in moral judgment, and gave the example of deducing all sorts of negative conclusions about a person based on concrete statements. One example she gave was the statement that ‘socialism is the only just economic system.’ The rationalist, says Packer, never considers that the person may be persuaded to his point of view by reason and logic. Rather, he will latch onto one statement and decide ‘this person is out.’

The rationalist’s malevolent outlook prompts him to look for the flaw that confirms his suspicions that others are corrupt. Because, according to Packer, he comes from a position of self-doubt, the rationalist does not want to introspect and attempt to figure out where the person is coming from. He is on the look-out for the one statement that will serve as a tip-off for his dogmatic leap to snap judgment.

According to my notes, Peikoff was strangely silent at that point in the discussion. I tend to doubt we will see this in the book version.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Understanding Objectivism, the book, is now available at your local bookstore. I bought a copy of it last night at Barnes & Noble. I can't wait to read it.

Because virtues are more important than flaws, as Nathaniel Branden used to say, it is important to me to state very clearly that I think these lectures and this book represent the very best of Leonard Peikoff. I have been very critical of Peikoff here on OL, so I want to emphasize this point. When Peikoff is at his best, he can be a wonderful teacher with a singular gift for clarity. The man has so much to offer in terms of his knowledge and understanding of the Objectivist philosophy. It is a tragic shame that, in the years since he offered this course in 1983, he seems to have taken Objectivism in the opposite direction this course seemed to portend.

The book is a long one: 383 pages. The original course was 12 lectures but the book only provides transcripts of 11 lectures. The omitted lecture is briefly described in my previous post, so I will not repeat that here.

The book does not have an index, unfortunately, but it does have helpful Q & A sections following several of the chapters. The great virtue of the book is summarized in the very last paragraph (pages 382-383).

Philosophy, and particularly Objectivism, is supposed to be an aid in life; and if it's chewed and concretized, that's how it functions. And that's the main reason I wanted to give this course on understanding Objectivism. Objectivism should help you to enjoy life. It should help to make you glad that you're alive. And that is my sincere wish for you. Don't make Objectivism into a hairshirt, a constant source of guilt, repression, condemnation, and gloom. Make it a means of your rational self-interest in the full sense. Let it make you happier, not more miserable, because that is its purpose. And I wish you success in attaining it. I hope this course has been of some help in this regard.

I first heard this course shortly following Ayn Rand's death. I remember coming away from these lectures with the exact sentiment expressed in that quotation. I was naïve enough to believe that it would not be long before Peikoff reconciled with Nathaniel Branden, and the entire Objectivist movement would begin to flourish in a way it could not while Ayn Rand was alive. Needless to say, I could not have been more wrong.

An observer could easily speculate that Peikoff’s shock and dismay upon discovering the long suppressed story of the love affair between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden may have created an insurmountable breach. The bitterness of his attacks on Branden often seem to carry the emotional intensity of a jilted romantic rival. Whatever the reason, Peikoff chose to mount his own personal crusade against Nathaniel Branden in the name of the defense of Ayn Rand's name, and his whole approach to the philosophy took on a distinct flavor of moral reprobation. Objectivism largely became—from his private perspective--the hairshirt he had warned his students not to wear.

Who knows? Perhaps this book will help to undo some of the incalculable damage this man has done as the official spokesman for Objectivism during the (almost) 30 years since these lectures were first presented.

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Understanding Objectivism, the book, is now available at your local bookstore. I bought a copy of it last night at Barnes & Noble. I can't wait to read it.

Because virtues are more important than flaws, as Nathaniel Branden used to say, it is important to me to state very clearly that I think these lectures and this book represent the very best of Leonard Peikoff. I have been very critical of Peikoff here on OL, so I want to emphasize this point. When Peikoff is at his best, he can be a wonderful teacher with a singular gift for clarity. The man has so much to offer in terms of his knowledge and understanding of the Objectivist philosophy. It is a tragic shame that, in the years since he offered this course in 1983, he seems to have taken Objectivism in the opposite direction this course seemed to portend.

The book is a long one: 383 pages. The original course was 12 lectures but the book only provides transcripts of 11 lectures. The omitted lecture is briefly described in my previous post, so I will not repeat that here.

The book does not have an index, unfortunately, but it does have helpful Q & A sections following several of the chapters. The great virtue of the book is summarized in the very last paragraph (pages 382-383).

Philosophy, and particularly Objectivism, is supposed to be an aid in life; and if it's chewed and concretized, that's how it functions. And that's the main reason I wanted to give this course on understanding Objectivism. Objectivism should help you to enjoy life. It should help to make you glad that you're alive. And that is my sincere wish for you. Don't make Objectivism into a hairshirt, a constant source of guilt, repression, condemnation, and gloom. Make it a means of your rational self-interest in the full sense. Let it make you happier, not more miserable, because that is its purpose. And I wish you success in attaining it. I hope this course has been of some help in this regard.

I first heard this course shortly following Ayn Rand's death. I remember coming away from these lectures with the exact sentiment expressed in that quotation. I was naïve enough to believe that it would not be long before Peikoff reconciled with Nathaniel Branden, and the entire Objectivist movement would begin to flourish in a way it could not while Ayn Rand was alive. Needless to say, I could not have been more wrong.

An observer could easily speculate that Peikoff’s shock and dismay upon discovering the long suppressed story of the love affair between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden may have created an insurmountable breach. The bitterness of his attacks on Branden often seem to carry the emotional intensity of a jilted romantic rival. Whatever the reason, Peikoff chose to mount his own personal crusade against Nathaniel Branden in the name of the defense of Ayn Rand's name, and his whole approach to the philosophy took on a distinct flavor of moral reprobation. Objectivism largely became—from his private perspective--the hairshirt he had warned his students not to wear.

Who knows? Perhaps this book will help to undo some of the incalculable damage this man has done as the official spokesman for Objectivism during the (almost) 30 years since these lectures were first presented.

I suspect bitterness towards Rand herself. Didn't he state somewhere that he thought Rand didn't like him (that much?), but that he had too much invested in Objectivism to turn his back on (the movement?) it?

--Brant

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I suspect bitterness towards Rand herself. Didn't he state somewhere that he thought Rand didn't like him (that much?), but that he had too much invested in Objectivism to turn his back on (the movement?) it?

--Brant

Oh, definitely--I'd be willing to bet he harbors enormous repressed resentment against her which he would never acknowledge, least of all to himself. No doubt his bitterness grew each time she banished him to Objectivist Siberia for saying something she despised. But the coup de grace had to be the discovery of the Branden love affair. He must have been crushed. That was the moment when he knew, once and for all, that he would always be Salieri to Branden's Mozart.

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I suspect bitterness towards Rand herself. Didn't he state somewhere that he thought Rand didn't like him (that much?), but that he had too much invested in Objectivism to turn his back on (the movement?) it?

--Brant

Oh, definitely--I'd be willing to bet he harbors enormous repressed resentment against her which he would never acknowledge, least of all to himself. No doubt his bitterness grew each time she banished him to Objectivist Siberia for saying something she despised. But the coup de grace had to be the discovery of the Branden love affair. He must have been crushed. That was the moment when he knew, once and for all, that he would always be Salieri to Branden's Mozart.

Correct Dennis. And he would have the Francisco and Rearden acceptance of Galt front and center to humiliate him even further.

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  • 1 month later...

My understanding of Objectivism has always incorporated the five traditional branches of philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics. Have you ever noticed that, in OPAR, Peikoff does not go directly from the last topic on epistemology to the subject of ethics? Chapters 2 through 5 all deal with epistemology (sense perception & volition, concept-formation, objectivity and reason). But the discussion of ethics begins, not with Chapter 6, but with Chapter 7 (The Good). Chapter 6 is on Man.

In Understanding Objectivism, Peikoff clarifies what appears to be an Objectivist innovation: an intermediate branch between epistemology and ethics—the metaphysical nature of man.

Peikoff states:

Now that we’ve finished metaphysics and epistemology, we turn to what topic? Does ethics come next? No, it does not. There is an area of philosophy that comes at this point, that rests on metaphysics and epistemology and prepares the ground for ethics and politics as kind of the link between the two, and it itself is not pure metaphysics in the sense of the nature of reality, nor is it epistemology. It’s the first application of those very broad abstract subjects to something specific that will then pave the way to ethics. . .What is the . . .general name of this subject matter? [This} is the metaphysical or essential nature of man.

Peikoff makes clear that this is not metaethics. This intermediate branch introduces and elaborates two basic principles: Reason as man’s means of survival, and the integration of mind and body.

Peikoff seems to be making something explicit here that was merely implied in OPAR. I suppose Peikoff may have discussed this in his lectures on “The Philosophy of Objectivism,” but I honestly don’t recall this “intermediate branch” of philosophy ever being mentioned before.

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BTW, the above quote is found on page 158 in the chapter on “The Hierarchy of Objectivism.”

Incidentally, the discussion related to the philosophical hierarchy is one of the most fascinating topics in the book. One interesting aspect of the hierarchy is how it underscores three separate (but related) aspects of reason. Reason shows up in three separate branches: (1) epistemology (“reason as man’s only means of knowledge”); (2) the metaphysical nature of man (“reason as man’s means of survival”), and (3) ethics (“rationality as the primary virtue”).

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  • 4 months later...

I got the book from the city library. I read about 100 pages tonight. It is not difficult; and it is not a big book. First of all, the leading between lines is spacious. Also, much of the "text" consists of strawman arguments put up by "volunteers" who attempt to deliver concise statements on some aspect of Objectivism, as examples of how people think in their heads when saying to themselves what Objectivism is. (For example, what is honesty?) Then, Leonard Peikoff shows what is wrong with their thinking. The first several were prepared for him or by him. Later, he says that he has no idea what his volunteers are going to say in their attempt to derive political rights from the law of identity. But he found the errors in their thinking.

Retailing at US$18, the paperback book is cheaply made, lacking chapter headers at the tops of the pages. As noted above, it has no index.

I have several pages of notes so far.

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Michael,

Please favor us with more detailed comments on this thread, when you have the time.

The DIM Hypothesis must have been a higher-priority project than Understanding Objectivism. Same publisher. But there's a detailed index that's well above average in quality, typos are very rare, and it's being sold in a spiffy hardback edition.

Robert Campbell

PS. Still no chapter headers in the DIM volume. You can't win 'em all.

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Robert, what follows is less than formal. If I had any status within the Objectivist intellectual community, I would submit a critique to the JARS. (I have some academic publications in my CV now, and so some citations: Robert Mundell, for instance, footnoted an article I wrote.) Also, I am only in the first read. Something like this demands and deserves closer focus and integration. With all of that as my CYA (oops, I mean, that is, "a caveat"), let me note:

I am not sure if the title should be "(Mis)understanding Objectivism" or "Understanding Peikoffism." Page 170, the Q&A for Lecture 5. About Peikoff's list of 20 key items, arranged hierarchically, a student asks: "If metaphysics comes first in the branches of philosophy, then why do the first ten items go back and forth between metaphysics and epistemology?" (The list is presented and discussed on pp. 150-166.) Peikoff says: "Because metaphysics does not come first. Metaphysics and epistemology are simultaneous -- what exists and how we know it are the foundation that starts together. ... The two are completely intertwined."

On that basis, the three fundamental axioms of Objectivism are (page 166 and again page 224):

  • Existence. (Existence exists)
  • Consciousness. (Consciousness as the faculty of perceiving existence.)
  • Identity. (A is A, with corollaries "The Primacy of Existence" and "Free will and volitional consciousness." pp 166-167)

It was a surprise to me after all these years, but I am open to new learning. I do predict that this will cause even more rifts with the Objectivist community. He also says later that these three cannot be arranged in a hierarchy of their own. The desire for a single root axiom - A is A - is an example of the fallacy of monism applied to Objectivism. (Page 224)

Here on MSK's OL, I raised the question of natural rights. Yaron Brook told us via Amy Peikoff's podcast about Paul Ryan that Objectivism is not a natural rights philosophy. I appreciate the discussion here, but I am sure that many who consider themselves Objectivists would disagree, pointing to Ayn Rand's essay "Man's Rights." Discussing the errors of intrinsicisim, Peikoff creates a scenario in which you are swimming in the ocean and you come upon a desert island and the owner will not let you come up. In that case, says Peikoff, when it is a matter of your life or his right, then "it's finished as the end of rights; the context is gone, and you kill him before he kills you." (page189)

That raises disturbing questions about the virtue of selfishness in a society based on man's rights. Do you abandon ethics and rights by degrees based on some gradient of emergenciness? (When I rented this apartment sight unseen, their advertising stated that they have a common recreation room and exercise facility. They do not. I could sue, I suppose, though it is not worth it, but can I go to their offices and strike someone because the context is unsettled (not yet gone) and rights are in question (not finished) and sanctity of contract (not my life) is in jeopardy?

Perhaps "man's rights" are not "intrinsic" to humans. Again, I am not sure that this is Objectivism as Ayn Rand expressed it.

("Man's" rights raises an admittedly minor point: Peikoff never gets past gender. Man... man... man... He never says "human" or "people" or "your" or "one's." I understand the grammatical rule and his age and Rand's own insistence on following the rule, though, obviously she was aware of the nuances in gender. I just found it odd now, anachronistic. And I attribute it also to Peikoff's having absorbed Ayn Rand's wordings so thoroughly that he cannot think past them, at least in this area, which he probably does not perceive, being an old man himself.)

Certainly, I did gain some insights from reading this. For instance, as I said above**, much of the first third consists of people reading strawman statements, and Peikoff exposing their errors. On that basis, in later chapters on Intrinsicism, Empiricism, and Rationalism, Peikoff does identify errors in argument that we all know from others - and I confess, myself; and I trust that I am not alone.

Intrinsicism holds certain concretes or absolutes as immutable principles. NIOF is one, but among Objectivists "do not sanction evil" is easy to meet. A rigid conformity to the most extreme form of this - striking your boss for a political opinion you must not sanction - is anti-life. (page 187) Rationalism is perhaps even more common: the rationalist seeks to argue polemics by accepting the premises and then demonstrating a contradiction in the opponent's statements. (Lecture 7, page 238; Lecture 8, 242-243) They do not look to facts.

The empiricist is the opposite of this. Peikoff says broadly that the error is more common among female Objectivists though it is not determined by gender, but easy enough to find with men, also. No number of examples is enough. Maybe the government should not control the oil industry, but what about healthcare, and so on are there not exceptions to these tidy little rules? (pp 247-253).

But this is ultimately unsatisfactory. Demonstrations by negation are not assertions. Peikoff denounces errors well enough, perhaps. Where he extends (or changes) Objectivism, as with the hierarchy of metaphysics and epistemology, or the nature of political rights, he does not provide a strong case, but only passes over his claims.

His summaries of other people's philosophies is always suspect. Based on what I learned in freshman philosophy, he is very good with Leibnitz; and Peikoff admits several times to being a rationalist before coming to understand something objectively. But his other sketches are little more than parodies. His presentation of subjectivism (before and after page 172) is wholly unsatisfactory. Subjectivism is not based on an irrational desire to substitute emotions for perceptions. Regardless of how we feel about our perceptions, we nonetheless perceive differently. Rather than attempt to solve that, Peikoff defeats a straw man. Overall, he invests over half the book setting up opponents of his own invention. Even after his students fail to integrate Objectivism in the opening chapters, four more chapters (pages 171 to 307) expose the errors in Instrinsicism, Subjectivism, Rationalism, and Empiricism.

I have about 100 pages left to read.

**

Also, much of the "text" consists of strawman arguments put up by "volunteers" who attempt to deliver concise statements on some aspect of Objectivism, as examples of how people think in their heads when saying to themselves what Objectivism is. (For example, what is honesty?) Then, Leonard Peikoff shows what is wrong with their thinking. The first several were prepared for him or by him. Later, he says that he has no idea what his volunteers are going to say in their attempt to derive political rights from the law of identity. But he found the errors in their thinking.
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Here on MSK's OL, I raised the question of natural rights. Yaron Brook told us via Amy Peikoff's podcast about Paul Ryan that Objectivism is not a natural rights philosophy. I appreciate the discussion here, but I am sure that many who consider themselves Objectivists would disagree, pointing to Ayn Rand's essay "Man's Rights." Discussing the errors of intrinsicisim, Peikoff creates a scenario in which you are swimming in the ocean and you come upon a desert island and the owner will not let you come up. In that case, says Peikoff, when it is a matter of your life or his right, then "it's finished as the end of rights; the context is gone, and you kill him before he kills you." (page189)

That raises disturbing questions about the virtue of selfishness in a society based on man's rights. Do you abandon ethics and rights by degrees based on some gradient of emergenciness? (When I rented this apartment sight unseen, their advertising stated that they have a common recreation room and exercise facility. They do not. I could sue, I suppose, though it is not worth it, but can I go to their offices and strike someone because the context is unsettled (not yet gone) and rights are in question (not finished) and sanctity of contract (not my life) is in jeopardy?

Perhaps "man's rights" are not "intrinsic" to humans. Again, I am not sure that this is Objectivism as Ayn Rand expressed it.

Michael, rights are ~not~ intrinsic, any more than morality is. It's a truism in Objectivism that honesty is not an a-contextual absolute, that when the Nazis are knocking on your door looking for Jews you have secreted under the floorboards in your living room, you are ~not~ obliged to "tell the truth."

The purpose of morality, which includes rights as a moral principle, is to enable you to live, not to sacrifice and die.

My understanding of rights is that they apply to environments in which survival alternatives are available that do not require initiating force against another. That's the vast majority of situations in which humans find themselves. Let's call these situations in which people can co-exist without initiating force "viable social contexts" or simply "social contexts." In such a context, you are morally obliged to respect each person as an end in himself, someone you must deal with through persuasion and trade.

On the other hand, if a situation arises where there is ~no~ non-coercive survival alternative -- such as Peikoff's desert island scenario, where the newcomer is denied access to his only means of survival -- then neither is there any moral obligation to refrain from initiating force. This may sound alarming, but most people who trot out horror scenarios conveniently forget that starving people often refuse to beg or seek work, instead thinking that if someone doesn't give them food on a silver platter, then they are entitled to take it by force. Most people in dire straits have numerous survival alternatives open to them that they simply are too dignified or stubborn to avail themselves of.

This has been lampooned and ridiculed as "disappearing rights" by some of the people in the Objectivist movement, including some who have posted here. But it's simply the recognition that rights, like morality in general, being a means of man's survival, is thus ~contextually dependent~ upon his having the ~possibility of survival~ by employing those means. Rights and morality are ~not~ intrinsic, out of context absolutes that you ~must~ obey, even if there is no way you can obey them and survive.

In general, you ~can~ be morally obligated to be honest and rights-respecting, if being dishonest or force-initiating isnot the only action open to you that is sufficient for your survival. In other words, you can only be morally obligated to refrain from actions that are not a necessary condition of your survival. (And even then, only if you did not deliberately or negligently paint yourself into that corner.)

REB

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Roger, I understand all of that and this not the place to argue that topic. I mention it in the context of the review because unlike honesty - which Peikoff does explore in some detail - this desert island scenario appears out of nowhere and without further explanation or any grounding in Objectivism in a book that is supposed to be about understanding Objectivism. The example that Dr. Peikoff offered is flawed. We do know of real life situations like this. In imperial Rome, hapless people where thrown into the arena to fight each other. The specifics might be less important than I make them, but I point to Stuart Hayashi's essay here on OL, "The Argument from Arbitrary Metaphysics."

The man who will not share his island did not put you in the water. If he sees you, should he kill you first? Suppose Peikoff's example had been that? You have an island and you see a shipwreck and one sole survivor swims over. Your island might well support the two of you, and you might well benefit from his company and his sharing the burdens of survival, but are you under any obligation? You have a rifle. Do you kill him before he gets close to shore? Does Peikoff say that all rights are out the door then? Why or why not? I do not mean for you to answer for him, only to show that his example was not thought through.

If you are going to toss out other conditions like people who are hungry can beg, then I say, you can swim to another island. These unreal scenarios have no resolution. Really, I am not arguing the case, I only note that this verbal toss-out is but one of several problems with this book.

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Robert, what follows is less than formal. If I had any status within the Objectivist intellectual community, I would submit a critique to the JARS.

Michael,

You shouldn't worry about status. You don't have to be an academic to publish in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and the "Objectivist intellectual community" is a long way from a unitary entity. (Otherwise, JARS authors would be speaking in front of ARI groups, ARIans would be publishing in JARS, and all the other things that aren't happening.)

You may not know that Doug Rasmussen has long complained that "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" is more Leibnizian than Aristotelian. I suspect that Leonard Peikoff has long had an affinity for Leibniz, as he clearly does for Spinoza (who gets much more favorable treatment in the DIM volume than he once received in the history of philosophy lectures).

Robert Campbell

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Robert, thanks for the encouragement. I finished the book. I need to read it through again.

The book opens and closes with a problem we all know from personal experience: Objectivism versus the world. Does life have to be one long argument against everyone else's wrong ideas? Are we condemned to live among dishonest and foolish people? Peikoff offers another straw man:

"... the fact is, since you're in a very small intellectual minority, if you're an Objectivist, you're going to quickly conclude that people in general are rotten and that life is miserable." (page 351)

His answer may not be satisfying, as he offers no pollyanna reply. By a string of examples, he suggests that a reasonable person, an Objectivist, must navigate a dreary swamp of depressing nonsense. The best you can hope for is good friends - a good spouse - and the knowledge that the purpose of Objectivism is to make you happier. Unfortunately, like much else here, the specifics are missing.

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