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Scott Ryan, who styles himself as a "somewhat sympathetic critic" of Rand and Objectivism, wrote this very interesting and helpful essay a few years ago and had it published in Peter Saint-Andre's Monadnock Review. The essay is posted at this location:

Scott Ryan on The Rational Temper: Brand Blanshard and What Objectivists Can Learn from Him

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Roger,

I moved this topic to the present "Objectivism in Dark Places" forum from the "About Objectivism" forum, which is more about discussing what Objectivsm is rather than what it isn't. As Scott Ryan is usually considered a harsh critic of Objectivism, I think this is the proper place for him. I intend to do a full discussion of his book, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality over time in this forum.

To get people used to the change, I left a link in the old forum, but I will eventually remove the link.

Michael

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Roger,

I moved this topic to the present "Objectivism in Dark Places" forum from the "About Objectivism" forum, which is more about discussing what Objectivsm is rather than what it isn't. As Scott Ryan is usually considered a harsh critic of Objectivism, I think this is the proper place for him. I intend to do a full discussion of his book, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality over time in this forum.

To get people used to the change, I left a link in the old forum, but I will eventually remove the link.

Michael

Michael,

I have found it curious that there has been so little response by Objectivists to the arguments raised in this book (or, perhaps I have just missed the relevant critiques?). In contrast, for example, there were published critical reviews of Robbins' "without A Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System." Ryan's book is a much more serious attempt to refute Rand's philosophy.

Mr. Ryan has written a rather detailed critical examination of the main tenants of Objectivism, particularly, its epistemology and metaphysics. His critique is written from what I would call the "rationalist-idealist" philosophy of Brand Blanshard. Interestingly, some of Blanshard's books were approvingly reviewed by Nathaniel Branden in The Objectivist Newsletter in 1963 and by Leonard Peikoff in two of his taped lecture courses.

I do not feel that many knowledgeable Objectivists would agree with Ryan, but they would find his arguments worth considering and an interesting intellectual exercise.

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Jerry,

I'm not sure why Ryan has drawn so little attention.

I'll put his book on my to-read list.

Robert Campbell

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The book could be a bit shorter, have footnotes at the bottom of the page and a couple other minor points, but it's very good.

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I moved this topic to the present "Objectivism in Dark Places" forum from the "About Objectivism" forum, which is more about discussing what Objectivsm is rather than what it isn't. As Scott Ryan is usually considered a harsh critic of Objectivism, I think this is the proper place for him. I intend to do a full discussion of his book, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality over time in this forum.

Michael, please give me a head's up when you get ready to discuss Ryan's book. I think it's worth a close look, and not with a hostile attitude (as I've seen some critique him), but just trying to find out where his errors are (if any, though I'm convinced he has some).

I'm particularly keen on getting into this, because in chapter 6 he spends 4 pages discussing a 37-year old essay of mine on the Liar Paradox.

REB

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Roger,

If anyone does not have Scott Ryan's book and wants to read the first 11 pages without charge, he can do so at the book's webpage.

Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand's Epistemology

by Scott Ryan

ScottRyan.jpg

A full 2002 html Wayback version is available.

It should be noted that Ryan and Nyquist are friendly comrades in arms against Rand, but they disagree greatly with each other on many fundamental issues. Here is Nyquist's review: AYN RAND VERSUS THE IDEALIST. I just now tried to find Ryan's comment on Nyquist's review, but apparently Ryan has no active home page left on the Internet. I wonder what happened... I had to take recourse to the Wayback Machine. Here is the comment I was looking for. I am giving it below and I added bold to two phrases.

Greg Nyquist, author of Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature (which criticizes Rand from a philosophical vantage point almost the diametrical opposite of my own), reviewed the e-text online some time ago. You can read his full review here. (That page will open in a new browser window.) He disagrees with almost everything I say but nevertheless graciously concludes: 'Mr. Ryan, despite the limitations of his technical argumentation and the false ideals behind much of his criticism, clearly gets the best of Rand in his essay. His philosophy, if nothing else, at least has the merit of an intelligence tempered by humanity; whereas Rand's is all heat and no light, a blind rage against facts it refuses to acknowledge, let alone comprehend.'

I cannot construe the phrases "a philosophical vantage point almost the diametrical opposite of my own" and "he disagrees with almost everything I say" to mean anything but direct intellectual opposition. Either that or words mean nothing to Ryan, and I do not believe that. So intellectual opposition being the case, the only real point Ryan has in commone with Nyquist—the only real reason they are intellectually united—is hatred of Ayn Rand and what she stands for. Can anyone think of anything different on a fundamental level? I can't.

I have Ryan's book, but it has been on the back burner for reading for a while. I addition to being based on the ideas of Brand Blanshard, it also draws heavily on Robbins's Without a Prayer. Here is something I wrote on another thread in March 2006.

Lastly there is Scott Ryan and his book, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality (2003. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press). This looks like it is an important critical contribution of Objectivist epistemology and a fertile source of issues that need to be discussed and strengthened. Ryan uses the writings of Brand Blanshard as his philosophical basis, so this is not just a Rand-bash. The long detailed threads on the different Objectivist Internet forums about epistemology, and even works like The Evidence of the Senses by David Kelley, show that the Objectivist position is far from settled. Thus a book like this should be welcome. (I will do a critique after I read it.)

On flipping through the book, however, I read the following quite by accident:

However, an acquaintance of mine (who was associated with the Objectivist movements during the early 1970's) lost his first wife to suicide because of her belief that, by Objectivist standards, she was a flawed specimen of humanity who did not deserve to live (or in Randian terms, had not "earned the right" to hold herself as her own "highest value" by "achieving" her own "moral perfection".) And she was not the only Objectivist or ex-Objectivist to commit or attempt suicide. (p. 378)

For all that I hold sacred, I had to burst out laughing. Of course, I feel deeply for the person who lost his wife and I do not wish to make light of his loss, but to insinuate that Objectivism is a philosophy that leads to suicide goes way over the fence, even for normal Rand haters. People in all walks of life commit suicide. Their problem is psychological, not philosophical, and to treat a woman's death by suicide as an attempt to degrade a philosophy does her memory dishonor.

Still, I remember seeing that Ryan was invited once to give a lecture at a TOC seminar. Now you can't find The Pumpkinhead online (a rather unfunny parody of The Fountainhead), but Factism can still be found. I am not against lampoons when they are done with talent and the urge is to be funny (like with Michael Prescott, although some people disagree with me). I don't like them when they drip with sarcasm, which is how Ryan's humor strikes me. The point is that this guy put a lot of effort into his book, but he also does not seek to merely address the issues where he has disagreement. He wishes to debunk the entire Objectivist philosophy. Even the title of his book is insulting. This leads me to believe that his book will contain many weak thoughts that were "forced" beside some strong ones. Thus to get any value out of it, I am preparing myself to wade through a bunch of baseless observations.

For those interested, below are some of Scott Ryan's online essays dealing with matters of concern to Objectivists. I did not include his humorous pieces because, like I mentioned above, I found them lame on judging them as humor qua humor. They are juvenile mocking and nothing else. (They definitely are not in the same ballpark as good parodies like Michael Prescott's Reversalism: A Philosophy for Living It Up, for instance.)

By Scott Ryan:

The Rational Temper: Brand Blanshard and What Objectivists Can Learn From Him

The Dark Side of Rand

A Foolish Inconsistency: Rand, Emerson, and "Philosophical Detection" (Wayback Machine)

Michael

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I moved this topic to the present "Objectivism in Dark Places" forum from the "About Objectivism" forum, which is more about discussing what Objectivsm is rather than what it isn't. As Scott Ryan is usually considered a harsh critic of Objectivism, I think this is the proper place for him. I intend to do a full discussion of his book, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality over time in this forum.

Michael, please give me a head's up when you get ready to discuss Ryan's book. I think it's worth a close look, and not with a hostile attitude (as I've seen some critique him), but just trying to find out where his errors are (if any, though I'm convinced he has some).

I'm particularly keen on getting into this, because in chapter 6 he spends 4 pages discussing a 37-year old essay of mine on the Liar Paradox.

REB

I think that a discussion of this book would be quite worthwhile. Perhaps in bites of size a chapter or less.

Alfonso

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If anyone does not have Scott Ryan's book and wants to read it online without charge, he can do so at the book's webpage:

url="http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0595267335"

This is a vast overstatement. The url includes only through page 11.

I haven't read the book and am not anxious do so. (If MSK wants to lend me his copy, I'll pay the postage.) I had some encounters with Ryan on an e-forum many years ago. The following are my recollections. His modus operandum was to take something Ayn Rand wrote, then misconstrue it, take it the worst possible way, or mangle it until it was no longer recognizable as her position. He believed in real, external universals ala Plato. An oft-used term was "concrete universal", e.g. the number 2.

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Merlin,

Sorry, I did not check that link. I will change my text above. It was advertised somewhere as being complete so I only tested the first couple of pages to see if it was working.

Here is the complete 2002 version on Wayback (html). I think it was revised for the present print version, but I imagine it is essentially the same.

ScottRyan1.jpg

(Scott Ryan back then.)

ScottRyan2.jpg

(Scott Ryan with shorter hair.)

For the sake of being complete, selected excerpts can be found on the Google Books version.

EDIT: For some reason, the above Wayback link does not include Chapter 13 - The Tale of the Self-Preceding Man. But there is an abridged earlier version on Wayback: Summary and Conclusion: The Tale of the Self-Preceding Man. In that summary, Ryan links to two other essays. From a quick skim, it looks like they were incorporated in the final version: Man Qua Man: The Illusory Standard of the "Objectivist Ethics" and Those Pesky Subhumans: Rand on Who Does and Doesn't Deserve to Live. You can get most of the final version of the chapter in the Google Books link above, but some pages are left out at random.

That's enough for free. If you want more, buy the book like I did. :)

Michael

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MSK,

Thanks for the other link. I've bookmarked it.

A read a little. I agree with some of what he says, but a lot more not. I believe his writing could be much clearer. He regularly mixes ideas into a hodge-podge and "reads into" Rand's words ideas that aren't there. Another pattern is if Rand believed X, she had to believe Y, but she rejected Y. Reading his book is a double chore -- detecting his errors and Rand's errors at the same time.

Regarding my prior post, it now seems "specific universal" is the term rather than "concrete universal." It's a very confusing term. What could be a "nonspecific universal"? Being or existence?

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Wolf,

When I started OL, one of the ideas I had was to address serious criticisms of Objectivism. My thinking is as follows: a religious person (as one example) will read Objectivist literature and be appalled by the atheism. So if he gets his hands on a serious critique of the philosophy like Ryan's book, he is inclined to favor the arguments in it. He doesn't know enough to weigh the arguments properly since he stopped reading Objectivist literature. He takes Ryan's word for the Objectivist side. When he looks to see if Ryan was rebutted, all he sees is nastiness, not serious arguments. So he thinks Objectivists can't answer these points (like good cultists) and heaves a sigh of relief at (to him) avoiding a huge waste of time and being misled.

The standard Objectivist reaction has been to dismiss serious critics as Rand-haters or attack their core beliefs without addressing their criticisms. For instance, two critiques by prominent Objectivist writers I know of dismiss Robbins's Without a Prayer outright because he believes the Holy Bible was drawn from divine inspiration. They insinuate that since they discussed his "premise," they do not have to address his criticisms. Yet I have read most of that book and some of those criticisms need to be discussed in depth by Objectivists. They are damn good. (And some are not.) This head-in-the-sand attitude by Objectivists has allowed such critiques to become very solid authorities.

I planted several seeds to proceed with the project of getting Objectivist heads out of the sand, one of which was opening the "Objectivism in Dark Places" section. With this thread, you are now seeing a seedling sprout up.

Michael

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I planted several seeds to proceed with the project of getting Objectivist heads out of the sand, one of which was opening the "Objectivism in Dark Places" section. With this thread, you are now seeing a seedling sprout up.

Makes sense. Thanks for explaining it. I wish there was more I could contribute, so failing the task of scholarship, I will send money. Please spend it on something personal. Back in a couple weeks or so.

W.

Confirmation number: 4EE45245V2877380E

Edited by Wolf DeVoon

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"Why are we reading this stuff?" Well, I can think of several reasons. Here are a few:

1) Unlike many other critiques of Rand, who often selectively distort her philosophy or erect a straw man to easily knock down, Scott Ryan's book (for the most part) takes Objectivism seriously. As he states in several references in the book, he is an admirer of the rationalist/idealist philosophy of Brand Blanshard, (by no means a "lightweight" in 20th century philosophy). and also demonstrates familiarity with many other contemporary philosophers who have dealt with the same issues in epistemology that Rand discusses.

2) At first blush, an Objectivist might say that someone arguing from a rationalist, not to say idealist, position would have no credible or worthwhile criticisms about the foundations of Objectivism. Well, think again. Or as Rand would, "Check your premises."

3) This is not to say that Ryan's argument are all well-founded, much less correct. But he does bring forth arguments and challenges that many Objectivists have not considered or even run in to. Some Objectivists (and I am not accusing anyone) have accepted many/most/all of what Rand has said as so logical and well-stated as to be irrefutable that all challenges must be nonsense and not worthy of examination.

4) I personally feel that reading Ryan's book (which is much better thought out than Robbins' "Without A Prayer") has exposed me to criticisms of Objectivist positions that forced me to think further and to reexamine what I thought I had already "knew." I have found this exercise to be worthwhile. I will not hold you in suspense: for the most part, I think that Rand and Objectivism holds up quite well to Ryan's critique. But he does show positions that may need to be strengthened, re-stated, or elaborated.

But I want to address another issue that MSK referenced- Ryan's concern (pp.376-380) that certain pronouncements of Rand could lead some people to judge themselves so harshly for failing to perfectly exemplify Objectivist ethical principles in their own lives that they subsequently become so depressed as to seriously consider suicide.

This particular danger has also been addressed by Nathaniel Branden (e.g., "Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand") and by Barbara Branden, in her biography of Rand (pp 387-388).

While I think that this level of extreme judgmentalism towards one's self-perceived personal "failures," is a misapplication of Objectivist pronouncements (I could cite chapter and verse, if necessary), I do think that such misinterpretations may be more widespread than we would readily acknowledge. I cannot immediately recall the reference (possibly in Sciabarra's "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical"), but it has been pointed out that Objectivist writings have not adequately addressed the issue of "moral redemption." I agree.

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Merlin,

I would very much recommend reading the book.

First, there is little written on Rand from a "critical" perspective (from either Objectivists or non-Objectivists) so if you want to see what potential problems there are for Objectivism, this is one of the few written sources (and it is much better than Robbins' book).

Second, he does point to some problems. For example, the relationship between words and concepts in Rand's thought is unclear.

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But I want to address another issue that MSK referenced- Ryan's concern (pp.376-380) that certain pronouncements of Rand could lead some people to judge themselves so harshly for failing to perfectly exemplify Objectivist ethical principles in their own lives that they subsequently become so depressed as to seriously consider suicide.

This particular danger has also been addressed by Nathaniel Branden (e.g., "Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand") and by Barbara Branden, in her biography of Rand (pp 387-388).

While I think that this level of extreme judgmentalism towards one's self-perceived personal "failures," is a misapplication of Objectivist pronouncements (I could cite chapter and verse, if necessary), I do think that such misinterpretations may be more widespread than we would readily acknowledge. I cannot immediately recall the reference (possibly in Sciabarra's "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical"), but it has been pointed out that Objectivist writings have not adequately addressed the issue of "moral redemption." I agree.

Although I agree in regard to the potential hazard of developing "extreme judgmentalism towards one's self-perceived personal 'failures,'" a warning about accepting Ryan's description of the particular case he cites. Angst over not being a "good enough" Objectivist was involved, but there were also other factors. Ryan's account (at least if what he says in the book is like what he said on some elists) is a uni-dimensional portrait of a more-complicated situation.

Ellen

___

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Ellen,

You once posted about this at the end of 2006:

As it happens, I know some case details about the particular person Scott was talking about. Significantly more was involved in her emotional difficulties than Objectivism. Likewise with a couple other cases some of the details of which I know wherein an Objectivist or ex-Objectivist committed suicide. I'd say it's obvious that there has to be more than angst over not being a worthy Objectivist operative if someone is so distressed as to commit suicide. To blame Objectivism for the suicides does, as Michael says, go "way over the fence."

Michael

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Although Scott Ryan mentions a specific incident regarding an un-named woman who he states committed suicide because she felt that she had irredeemably failed to live up to Objectivist ethical standards' I mentioned it because this is not the first time that that allegation has been made.

As I stated, both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden have also commented upon the emotional distress that some people have experienced by attempting and failing (-at least, in their minds) to attain Objectivist-defined "moral perfection." As I recall, both of the Brandens described this problem as an inaccurate interpretation of Rand. However, both of them also admit that there are elements in her description of how one attains moral perfection or succumbs to moral errors that could lead an impressionable reader to become highly depressed or even suicidal if he or she decides that they have irredeemably failed to meet the Objectivist standards.

In general, I think that those who ascribe to the ARIan/Peikovian interpretation are more in danger of possibly succumbing to this malady. But really any of Rand's readers could potentially be "seduced by the Darkside" and become seriously depressed. This could have been prevented, if Rand, or other "authorities" in Objectivism had addressed the issue of "moral redemption."

I find this a curious omission. Many writers in the "self-help" movement and in the clinical psychology profession often devote a lot of effort to helping people resolve their errors, take corrective action, and move on. Outside of Nathaniel Branden's books, there does not appear to be much written from an Objectivist viewpoint that could be relevant to this issue.

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Jerry,

Without any kind of pretension of scale, I have written about self-forgiveness in the addiction section and about forgiveness in general here on OL. (If you like, I will try to dig up some links.) I believe strongly in moral redemption and I put my money where my mouth was here on OL as regards the plagiarism issue. It was one hell of a learning experience (and I sincerely believe that individual will morally redeem himself in the future), but I learned—or I should say reinforced what I learned in addiction recovery—that there are no easy roads to (1) self-forgiveness and (2) forgiving others.

One of the beautiful parts about Nathaniel Branden's work is that if a person prepares his psychological base with healthy self-esteem and develops a strong commitment to reason (part of the goals of his treatment), I see no problem at all with the person's capacity to easily redeem himself morally for any serious wrong he may have committed.

There are prices and there are prices that must be paid depending on the gravity of the damage, but if the three main components for moral redemption are present, in my book the person has earned my respect on a minimum level: (1) genuine regret for what he did, (2) commitment to never doing that again, and (3) adoption of a better manner of thinking about his problems.

The real hard part is that these need to be demonstrated in action, not just words—just like moral lapses were expressed in deeds and talk. That takes time. Moral redemption cannot happen from one minute to the next. It is a slow process.

You can hear a standard phrase at NA meetings that illustrate this. It goes something along these lines: "I used drugs for 12 years and I have been clean for only two weeks. What do I want, a medal with a write-up in the papers?" They say this about being clean one year, two years, three years and even longer. Usually they are referring to attacks of self-doubt or other serious problems they have to deal with where they used to escape by using drugs.

The same goes for commitment to a new moral code after being bad. I just takes time to settle, for the person to believe in himself to not mess up anymore, and for people to believe in the sincerity of his new behavior. In a very real sense, it is a growth process.

Michael

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MSK:

~ Only in reading THIS thread have I ever heard of Scott Ryan and his book. 'Thought-Provoking' it certainly seems; I SHALL do what I can to check it out...thoroughly. Until I've finished however, I have a bone to pick with you re what you find to be the satisfying-criteria for the idea of self-(or other-) regarded 'Redemption.' (Yes, interestingly, not a subject in O'ist canons; one of several of what NB calls 'gaps'.)

~ I'm not that familiar with AA, but, if I recall, one of their tenets/criteria (re seriousness in joining) implies something about 'making up for' (er, Recompense) any/all probs one caused resulting...directly, at least...from intoxication. In other words: Recompense for problem-causing to others. --- Yes, where death has directly occurred raises a prob even in defining what 'recompense' should rationally mean, ntl...The prob (for the one-at-'fault') remains as to what one accepts as being 'Redemptive' (by self or others)...enough.

2Bcont

LLAP

J:D

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MSK:

~ I notice that you didn't discuss this aspect (recompense, or attempts thereupon) in your analysis of 'redemption.' I notice this only because, I only started thinking about the subject after seeing an interview with Harrison Ford a (ok: l-o-n-g) while ago about the then-upcoming movie RETURN OF THE JEDI...and Darth's supposed (and controversied) 'Redemption'...and found personal concerns of mine, relevent. (Harrison had said therein, in an obliquely intriguing way: "George believes in redemption.")

~ As to any accepting that Darth/Anakin was 'redeemed' in saving his son Luke after...Ishtar knows what he'd done in the past for which 'this-makes-up-for-it' is another controversy; be such as it may, the idea stands as worth considering:

-->WHAT should the criteria be for acceptance of reaching 'redemption' for past faults?

2Bcont

LLAP

J:D

Edited by John Dailey

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MSK:

~ Methinks Attempts-at-'Recompensing'-those-done-'wrong' is a NECESSARY criteria to add to your list; I stress the word 'attempts.'

~ Without such, 'redemption' is a wishful-thinking delusion held by any who accept it as otherwise applicable.

~ Sorry for the 'hi-jack'; let's return to our regularly scheduled thread-subject: the pithy critique (aren't they all everywhere? <_< ) of Rand and O'ism by, in THIS particular sub-forum...Scott Ryan. --- (Mewonders: Who's next in line?)

LLAP

J:D

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John,

In my experience with AA and NA, they take to heart steps 8 and 9 in a very objective manner:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

They tell you in the meetings to keep your sobiety, not making amends, in first place. There is a reason these steps are later and not earlier. (They suggest you do them in order over a good amount of time.)

The emphasis is on reality, including psychological reality. And the word you hear over and over is "balance."

For me it was great advice.

Michael

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