Objectivism FAQ App


Recommended Posts

Hi OL,

I'm creating an Objectivism frequently asked questions app, a simple resource for people new to Objectivism. I'm trying to make it as comprehensive as possible, so that new people can get a handle on the basics of the philosophy, find out where to go to discuss ideas, etc. There's online resources similar to this, but I haven't found them particularly useful. (As an example, the answer to "Does Objectivism support Libertarianism?" doesn't explain the most important aspect of the question: why Objectivism rejects Libertarianism.)

So I thought I would post on some Oist forums to see which recurring questions you guys often see/hear about the philosophy. Is there anything in particular you'd like to see addressed?

Thanks for any suggestions :smile:

(PS: Answers will not be coming from me- they'll come from AR, LP, and other online resources that reflect Oist viewpoints. Credit will be given where it's due, and users will be able to submit feedback if they feel an answer does not truly represent an Oist position.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

mdegges wrote:

So I thought I would post on some Oist forums to see which recurring questions you guys often see/hear about the philosophy. Is there anything in particular you'd like to see addressed?

end quote

Most recently, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s response to an interviewer about why he rejects Ayn Rand’s philosophy but he loves her books, especially “Atlas Shrugged,” is a question that keeps coming up. Ryan rejects Rand’s atheism (and rational self interest,) and he prefers the philosophy of Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas who reintroduced the world to Aristotle.

Peter Taylor

Notes:

“I am an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one. This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion. I must also mention that I do respect religion in its philosophical aspects, in the sense that it represents an early form of philosophy.”

[Ayn Rand, Letters of Ayn Rand, March 20, 1965]

“They claim that they perceive a mode of being superior to your existence on this earth. The mystics of spirit call it ‘another dimension,’ which consists of denying dimensions. The mystics of muscle call it ‘the future,’ which consists of denying the present. To exist is to possess identity. What identity are they able to give to their superior realm? They keep telling you what it is not, but never tell you what it is. All their identifications consist of negating: God is that which no human mind can know, they say — and proceed to demand that you consider it knowledge — God is non-man, heaven is non-earth, soul is non-body, virtue is non-profit, A is non-A, perception is non-sensory, knowledge is non-reason. Their definitions are not acts of defining, but of wiping out.”

[Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

From a 1964 interview in Playboy magazine:

Playboy: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?

Rand: Qua religion, no — in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy.

[Ayn Rand, Playboy magazine]

“Do you believe in God, Andrei?”

“No.”

“Neither do I. But that’s a favorite question of mine. An upside-down question, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if I asked people whether they believed in life, they’d never understand what I meant. It’s a bad question. It can mean so much that it really means nothing. So I ask them if they believe in God. And if they say they do — then, I know they don’t believe in life.”

“Why?”

“Because, you see, God — whatever anyone chooses to call God — is one’s highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own.”

"I do not call myself an "Atheist" as an identification of my metaphysical position; I call myself an "*Objectivist*". But I do use the term "Atheist" in the appropriate context, such as, for instance, in answer to the queries of religionists or of those who spread verbal confusion by claiming that "a belief in natural laws is belief in God," etc. ((The Letters of Ayn Rand, pg 577))

Link to post
Share on other sites

I thought of a few more less obvious, not fundamental, questions while playing Tetris just now.

Objectivism’s contextualism.

George H. Smith wrote on page 77 of "WHY ATHEISM?":

A contextual theory of knowledge, in my judgment, must strike a delicate balance between relativism and absolutism. And this is precisely why we should retain the traditional view that knowledge is justified *and* true belief. Justification is relative, whereas truth is absolute. That is to say, what counts as adequate justification for a belief may be relative to the available evidence and one’s context of knowledge, whereas the truth of a belief is absolute. A proposition either corresponds to a fact or it does not, and this matter has nothing to do with the relative justification for a belief . . . ."

end quote

If we could only speak to Ayn Rand today. What would she change in her philosophy? It would be great if Ayn Rand revisited all of her works and within her PRESENT context make her writings *justified* and *true*.

What Ayn Rand considered to be a part of her philosophy may differ from what the Ayn Rand Institute, or The Atlas Society ( formerly called The Objectivist Center) consider a part of her philosophy.

Here are some of Ayn Rand’s more questionable positions.

Women as Presidents (or political leaders in general)

In the January 1968 issue of *McCall's* magazine, Rand wrote, "A woman cannot reasonably want to be a commander-in-chief." A year later in January 1969, Rand wrote an article entitled "About a Woman President" for *The Objectivist* (which appeared in the December 1968 issue and was later reprinted in her anthology, *The Voice of Reason* (1988). In that article, she again stated, "I do not think that a rational woman can want to be president." [*The Voice of Reason*, p. 267] She also stated that being president "for a rational woman would be an unbearable situation," adding, "And if she is not rational, she is unfit for the presidency or for any important position, anyway." [ibid., p. 269]

end quote

I think that Rand's views on this issue also qualify as a part of her philosophy, since what she regards as "rational" and "not rational" are a part of it. Again, however, it is the position of ARI that Rand's views on a woman president are NOT part of her philosophy.

Because Rand's views on homosexuality and on a female president are so out of step with contemporary enlightened thinking, Objectivist organizations are in denial about them. Rather than admit that she was wrong, they prefer to deny that her views on these subjects are part of her philosophy, thereby conveying the impression that Objectivism is a cult of personality in which the founder's philosophy must be seen as infallible.

Some more examples? air pollution.

In her article, "The Left: Old and New" in *The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution*, Rand wrote:

As far as the issue of actual pollution is concerned, it is primarily a scientific, not a political, problem. In regard to the political principle involved: if a man creates a physical danger or harm to others, which extends beyond the line of his own property, such as unsanitary conditions or even loud noise, and if this is *proved*, the law can and does hold him responsible. If the condition is collective, such as in an overcrowded city, appropriate and *objective* laws can be defined, protecting the rights of all those involved -- as was done in the case of oil rights, air-space rights, etc." [p. 89]

end quote

Based on this statement, I would say that air pollution is addressed by her philosophy only insofar as pollution can be seen as infringing on individual rights. And I think Rand is right. To the Ayn Rand cultists who read her incorrectly, and say, “You can do anything on your property that you want,” I would respond with:

So drunk and rowdy, disorderly conduct, nude bathing and fornication are all just peachy as long as you do them in your own front or back yard? Amped up speakers blasting rock and roll? We are assuming here that there is no “neighborhood agreement that the landowner signed, so, does anything go? Not on this planet. Not anywhere. You need to talk your theories over with a realtor, a surveyor, the county commissioners, and the local sheriff. I suggest Objectivists buy and own property. Build on in. Live on it. Your perspective might change from the doctrinaire and philosophic, to the actual.

We have inherited a lot of English Common Law into the concept of property rights under the U.S. Constitution. Is there such a thing as a "Right to a View?" From English common law we get, the “Coming to the Nuisance” doctrine which provides a partial remedy to the problem I will call the “Right to a View.”

Here is a quote about "Coming to the Nuisance," discussed in, “The Antidote for Zoning: Bringing Objectivity to the Land Development Process” by David Wilens:

"Coming to the Nuisance" means exactly what it sounds like: if a property owner is using his property so as to cause a nuisance to another property owner, then the property owner who was the earlier to start his particular use is the one who has the right to continue his use . . . . Because the right to property means the right to use it indefinitely, it follows that, once a property owner has started using his property in a particular fashion, he has the right to stop others from interfering with that particular use. This is the rationale behind the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine's requirement that, when uses of two properties conflict with each other, the use which has priority is the one started first, and the owner has the right to stop others from interfering with this prior use (the "first in time, first in right" rule).

Since the right to property necessarily implies the right to use it indefinitely, and since the right to use property indefinitely implies the first in time, first in right rule, it follows that respecting property rights ultimately means respecting the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine too. The two are inseparable.

end quote

If I buy land with a view, mdegges, I will keep the land and I will keep the view. Laws like Adverse Possession and Coming to the Nuisance are old, tried and true prescriptions for living life on earth, in a community. An altruist would side with anyone but themselves. An altruist would tell someone learn to live with the intolerable. I am not an altruist. If I have a view of the bay no one can build a high rise blocking my view.

cigarette smoking

I don’t have any quotes from her. Some of Ayn Rand’s characters smoked. She glamorized it in her book, “Atlas Shrugged.” I would say that whether or not Objectivism considers it rational to smoke depends on the context of a person's life and on the degree to which he or she engages in the practice, and that smoking is bad decision, health wise. All action involves risk from driving a car to taking an elevator. A few years ago, a high school writing contest involving Atlas Shrugged was stopped because of parent’s concern about the book’s glamorization of smoking.

Beethoven's sense of life and how music does or does not convey a rational sense of life? I wonder about that. I have no quotes. Rand is on record as stating that, unlike the visual arts, an objective esthetics of music has yet to be rationally demonstrated. Some East Indian citizens proved to her satisfaction that though she disliked classical Indian music it was as complex as Western Classical Music and founded on similar mathematical principles.

Homosexuality.

During a Q&A session following a lecture in 1971, a questioner said to Rand that she "read somewhere that you consider all forms of homosexuality immoral." The questioner then asked, "If this is so, why?"

Rand answered:

Because it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises, but there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality. Therefore I regard it as immoral. But I do not believe that the government has the right to prohibit it. It is the privilege of any individual to use his sex life in whichever way he wants it. That's his legal right, provided he is not forcing it on anyone. And therefore the idea that it's proper among consenting adults is the proper formulation legally. Morally it is immoral, and more than that, if you want my really sincere opinion, it is disgusting.

end quote

A Fan of Rand, Bill Dwyer once wrote:

Since Rand labeled homosexuality "immoral" - and since ethics is a branch of Objectivism - I think it is reasonable to infer that her views on that subject *are* a part of her philosophy, although the current position of both ARI and TOC is that Objectivism does NOT regard homosexuality as immoral.

end quote

Sorry about this letter being such an esoteric mish mash, but I hope it helps. I am thinking about the less obvious questions about Objectivism.

Peter Taylor

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now