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Guyau

A Companion to Ayn Rand

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Yes, back to the thread's topic. One of my chief beefs with the book is the ongoing intellectual dishonesty and attempts to evade acknowledging Rand's errors or to reframe them as someone else's problem of failure to understand. A good case in point is Binswanger's put-down of Michelle Kamhi and Lou Torres in regard to Rand's views on architecture as a form of art. Binswanger presents what I take to be the correct position on art, but only after failing to note that Rand herself had it wrong and blatantly contradictory in "Art and Cognition." We've been over this numerous times here on OL, but Binswanger with a golden chance to set the record straight rewrites it instead.

REB

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Rand's main problem with art and esthetics is it's not philosophy, much less Objectivism. She said some interesting things, things worth thinking about, as she usually did about that and everything else. Esthetics is an interesting profession--and not hers. The esthetics of this and the art of that--of architecture; of just about any human endeavor including The Art of War. That's something but incomplete. It leaves one circling the whole ball of wax about what art is when it is complete unto itself. Every building has architecture but very little architecture is art, if it is art. Utility is contra art. We live in houses, not paintings. The best architecture combines utility with art but the result is not art, not even Wright's Fallingwater. What to call it then? Great architecture. Paintings are unto themselves. Music is unto itself. Novels and poetry too. Sculpture. Greatness is optional. Crap too. Crap takes all the art out of "the art of," but not art.

I don't think I can take this further.

--Brant

oops--sorry Stephen (so this is what shame feels like--a bummer?)

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I mentioned earlier that “CAR brings Rand's thought on an issue into full context, with citations, of whatever she wrote anywhere.” I spoke too soon. That merit applies by and large to CAR, but not always. I’ll give an example in a moment. I mentioned also earlier that CAR “takes up or tries to preempt a lot of the serious criticisms that have been made of Rand’s thought.” I see now that the ways in which that is sometimes done in this book should count as demerits. I’ll give an example in which text of Rand and of Branden that gives rise to tension in an area is not shown nor even mentioned, though one pole of the tension is summarily denied. This omission is fortunately taken up in an endnote of a later chapter of the book, but there not portrayed as a tension unresolved in Rand's philosophy as she left it. In another area of philosophy, text of Rand’s with tension is displayed, but CAR takes no notice of the tension and indeed misinterprets the text.

These sorts of defects seem to be exceptions, rather than the rule for CAR. Readers long-steeped in Rand’s writings naturally tend, like me and most readers here, to not mention specifically the successes in representation on straightforward views of Rand in secondary literature such as CAR. For that is settled old pavement to such readers (although CAR’s pointing out of interconnections within Rand’s works, as well as connections and contrasts with other thinkers, adds some interest in such smooth, well-trod areas). That understood, I say infidelity to the tensions and full richness of a thinker is a flaw for this sort of work, and it also makes Rand’s views a bit less complex and intellectually honest and a bit less interesting than they are.

First, the tension-case I take for misinterpretation by CAR of Rand’s text: Allan Gotthelf writes (or perhaps this is a supplementation by Greg Salmieri) as follows. “Love and the less intense forms of affection are selfish, according to Rand, in that the person one loves is valuable to one because he fulfills (a survival-based) psychological need and produces a great deal of pleasure. It should be clear that this explanation does not imply that what one really values is one’s own pleasure or the satisfaction of one’s psychological needs, rather than the person one loves. What Rand’s theory is meant to explain is the specific need a person has for certain other people and the reason why he takes such pleasure in their company. These factors make those specific people valuable to him, and thereby make their welfare a part of his self-interest. ‘The practical implementation of friendship, affection and love consists of incorporating the welfare (the rational welfare) of the person involved into one’s own hierarchy of values, then acting accordingly’. (‘The Ethics of Emergencies’ VOS 53)” (89)

No. Rand’s talk of incorporation into the hierarchy of one’s values is here, as ever, talk of instrumental value, existential or psychological. She expresses her purely instrumentalist, purely egoistic model of right positive relations to others, the well-acquainted and the stranger, in places in both Atlas and Fountainhead. That she has relationships and behaviors of protagonists at odds with such a theory is only a tension in her own full view of good human relationships. It is a failure of the model she sets forth in theoretical analysis. Her model does indeed not imply that one does not really value loved ones. But the theory, the analysis, her pure egoism and the way she conceives of the end-in-itself of persons, leaves the value of loved ones in one’s life as purely instrumental ultimately to one’s self, one’s needs and pleasures.

Now to my case in which a CAR rugged-over tension eventually gets some attention, though not squarely. Onkar Ghate writes: “The choice to ‘think or not’ is not man’s only choice, according to Rand: it is his primary choice. This choice sets a mind’s regulating goal. Sub-choices then arise to the extent that there is such a goal, and are the means of implementing it. . . . As Branden puts this point: ‘The primary choice to focus, to set one’s mind to the purpose of cognitive integration . . . is the highest regulator in the mental system; it is subject to man’s direct, volitional control. In relation to it, all other choices and decisions are sub-regulators’. (TO 5(2) 23)”

Why does Dr. Ghate make that first statement about Rand’s view, the statement before the colon? He does not say, but I’ll say. It’s because in 1957 Rand had written: “That which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character” (AS 1017). I repeat: “your only freedom.” The text Ghate quotes from Branden is from the latter’s 1966 “The Objectivist Theory of Volition.” I repeat from Branden there: “direct, volitional control.” He says also there that the choice to focus “is a first cause in a man’s consciousness. On the psychological level, this choice is causally irreducible.” Rand’s “your only freedom” had not been dropped as of 1966, and it remained as if it were the only really free choice that human beings have, which is in considerable tension with the depictions of the protagonists in her fiction as well as with the experience of every reader.

In Jason Rheins’ contribution “The Primacy of Existence,” there is a short and superb summary of the Objectivist view of free will. To that section is attached endnote 46, in which Prof. Rheins remarks that it could be inferred from Branden’s expression of Rand’s position that she regarded “the primary choice of whether or not to think (i.e., be in a state of ‘focus’) as the only absolutely free choice, with all other choices being more or less determined by the primary choices [think or not, focus or not].” Rheins neglects to note Rand’s own 1957 statement to the same effect. He acknowledges that such statements have been given various interpretations, and his own is that in the Rand/Branden view secondary choices are also free, but would not be free were the standing primary choice not free. That is an interesting interpretation, and I encourage the reader to read the note in full. But I think that as presented this interpretation transmutes a real tension in Rand’s thought, likewise Branden’s thought, into merely poor expression.

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1 hour ago, Guyau said:

First, the tension-case I take for misinterpretation by CAR of Rand’s text: Allan Gotthelf writes (or perhaps this is a supplementation by Greg Salmieri) as follows. “Love and the less intense forms of affection are selfish, according to Rand, in that the person one loves is valuable to one because he fulfills (a survival-based) psychological need and produces a great deal of pleasure. It should be clear that this explanation does not imply that what one really values is one’s own pleasure or the satisfaction of one’s psychological needs, rather than the person one loves. What Rand’s theory is meant to explain is the specific need a person has for certain other people and the reason why he takes such pleasure in their company. These factors make those specific people valuable to him, and thereby make their welfare a part of his self-interest. ‘The practical implementation of friendship, affection and love consists of incorporating the welfare (the rational welfare) of the person involved into one’s own hierarchy of values, then acting accordingly’. (‘The Ethics of Emergencies’ VOS 53)” (89)

No. Rand’s talk of incorporation into the hierarchy of one’s values is here, as ever, talk of instrumental value, existential or psychological.

Salmieri addresses the same topic on page 135, but doesn't stray from Rand's instrumentalist view. He cites Rand: "One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves." He comments: "This joy is not a response to any service rendered; but it is self-interested, in that it depends on and is conditioned by the loved one's place in the self-supporting constellation of values that is one's life. Moreover, because what one values (and takes joy in) is the loved one's "mere existence," actions taken to promote his welfare needn't have any ulterior motive to qualify as egoistic." 

I don't find it odd to talk about the "mere existence" of a stranger. I do find it odd to talk about the "mere existence" of a loved one.

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Well, I'd suppose the identity of loved one becomes a conceptual-emotional 'part' of one's self, consciousness/soul. "Mere" existence, the simple knowing that a someone always special to one lives (or has lived) as end in themself and although living somewhere else and perhaps never to be met again, gives one (almost) enough selfish pleasure and inspiration. Whoever is valued had to be first of objective value in themselves which goes on.

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Merlin, I submit that Greg does stray from Rand in his reducing her emphasis on the importance of the instrumentality to one’s joy of another person’s fineness. He is attempting to soften Rand’s view that thoroughgoing instrumentality is required for legitimatization of the value to one of others by his stress that it is not necessarily some utilitarian instrumentality that is at play, only instrumentality to one’s joy. Rand repeatedly stated and underscored the (psychologically inauthentic) purely instrumentalist view in the valuation of fine others; this she did in order to consistently maintain her purely egoistic theory of legitimate valuation. In such text as you quote here composed by Greg, she would always stress the principle “It is only for your own selfish pleasure that this can be a fully right appreciation.”

 

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Stephen,

Maybe you are correct, or we have attached different meanings to "instrumentalism." I was also rather baffled about what Saliermi wrote that I quoted. A bit later in the same paragraph, he writes, "Each item in this hierarchy is valued neither in itself nor as mere means, but as a contributing member of the whole that is one's life; and it is to be valued in proportion to this whole" (p. 136). 

It still seems that "valued in proportion to this whole" could be instrumental or not so. My valuing a loved one seems to me partly instrumental in that the beloved contributes to my life materially and spiritually. On the other hand, that I appreciate (value) the achievements of, say, Steve Jobs, despite my not owning any Apple products, is not instrumental. In some way I value his (past) "mere existence."
 

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Merlin, what you quote from Greg now is pure Greg and other other Objectivist types, but it is not Ayn Rand. When it comes to the right way of valuations in the interpersonal, any "contributing member" had better be purely instrumental, purely means to one's enjoyment or survival, or the way of right valuation being championed is not the way of Rand.

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"Instrumentalism".

At first glance it lends cold design - pre-calculated utility - to those others who are parts of one's life, and to all relations with people in general. On the face of it, it means one would hardly bother to grant someone any time or attention if there were no instantly forseeable, 'selfish' pay-off. Is this rational selfishness? There is a lot implicit here, like the fact that those of high personal value to you also selfishly value you, also for their spiritual/mental/emotional survival and enjoyment. You are "instrumental" to them - and would take much pleasure from the fact. Whether that exchange is equitable or not in kind and degree, is hardly possible to calculate except in retrospect, and why should one if it's not glaringly uneven?

And at minimum, I doubt the object of Rand's egoism is to cut off oneself from those unpredictable moments of simple interaction one discovers with random individuals which are pleasing as ends in themselves, and instrumental to one's sense of wellbeing. Naturally, any one could become a future source of greater value. All are other human beings who can potentially fit into one's value and knowledge system, as we do in theirs (if implicitly). Heh, "instrumentalism" - I can go with it.  

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On 3/19/2016 at 6:50 AM, Neil Parille said:

I posted a review here: http://www.amazon.com/Companion-Rand-Blackwell-Companions-Philosophy/product-reviews/1405186844/ref=cm_cr_dp_synop?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=recent#R11LLMOWBYXZ48

As I think Robert indicated, Salmieri/Gotthelf seemed to require all the contributors to cite at least one non-orthodox source.  I'm sure that had to hurt Harry Binswanger. 

 

-NP

??

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I doubt it was taken down in the first place. There seem to be multiple listings on Amazon because of confusion of authors and "Blackwell". It is hard to find your particular review. You might want to repost it more generously.

I never bought or read the book. Conceivably it could be worth the price if the work of one outstanding author but it appears from the "Look Inside" that it's all all over the place in subject matter and the quality has to fluctuate. This backdoor intro to the life and work of Ayn Rand--bits and pieces--I have no need for. One reviewer states he's been into Rand since 1974 and is therefore able to pass judgment on the judgment passed by Salmeiri (sp) on what should be and shouldn't be considered about the Brandens. Sorry, but I ace him by 11 years and I'm a first-hander, direct experiencer. I have no need to experience the equivalent of fingernails across the blackboard when it comes to Rand and Objectivism and the Brandens.

This is a good review, BTW, from what I can tell.

I'm waiting for the next bio of Rand. I didn't finish Heller and Burns for what they wrote after the early years ran into what I know so I'll do all three almost at the same time with the same critical eye. I'll reread, at least in part, "Passion" too, but likely not Nathaniel's memoir as it's in a different category of consideration--an atomistic one.

--Brant

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