Roger Bissell

Who Qualifies as being an Objectivist? (2005)

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Who Qualifies as being an Objectivist

by Roger E. Bissell

Who qualifies as being an Objectivist? I think that’s a legitimate question, but I also think that it’s too easy to pick one’s own pet list of views that can qualify one as being or not being an Objectivist. (E.g., Rand’s views on a woman President, on homosexuality, on anarchism vs. limited government in politics, on survival vs. flourishing in ethics, etc.) Nathaniel Branden has pointed out (correctly, in my opinion, as evidenced by comments Rand made in her journals) that Rand held a “minimalist” view of the Objectivist metaphysics. Well, I think that what qualifies a person as “Objectivist” should also be termed most generally and succinctly. Apparently Rand agreed with this, also.

For instance, in “About the Author” in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged, Rand said “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Do you agree with that? Then you agree with Rand’s written statement of the essence of her philosophy. Wouldn’t that mean that you are, in essence, an Objectivist?

Or, at the sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Rand presented the essence of her philosophy “while standing on one foot.” She said: “1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality (‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed’ or ‘Wishing won’t make it so.’) 2. Epistemology: Reason (‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.’ 3. Ethics: Self-Interest (‘Man is an end in himself.’) 4. Politics: Capitalism (‘Give me liberty or give me death.’)” Do you agree with these principles? Then you agree with Rand’s verbal statement of the essence of her philosophy. Wouldn’t that mean that you are, in essence, an Objectivist?

Later, in 1962, in her column “Introducing Objectivism,” Rand gave “the briefest summary” of her philosophy: “1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears. 2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival. 3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. 4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.” Do you agree with Rand’s summary of her philosophy? If so, aren’t you an Objectivist?

Finally, in “Brief Summary” (1971), Rand said: “If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest [e.g., capitalism and egoism] follows. This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.” Do you agree with this statement about the supremacy and consistent application of reason? Then you agree with Rand on the essence of Objectivism. Are you then an Objectivist?

Now, note: not one of the preceding summaries or essential statements mentioned the issue of free will vs. determinism, nor the idea that reason is volitional, in the sense of “could have done otherwise.” Yet, even if you answered “yes” to all of the foregoing litmus tests for being an Objectivist, you would still, in the minds of many Rand followers, not qualify as being an Objectivist, if you also accepted the doctrine of determinism, the doctrine that implies that one could not have done otherwise than one did in a given situation.

Unlike many Objectivists, I maintain that rationality includes volition, in the sense of the self-aware monitoring and directing of one's mental processes, while also maintaining that, in any given situation, one could not have done otherwise than one did in that situation. In addition to me, numerous supporters of the essence of Rand’s philosophy also hold some variant of this view, sometimes known as “soft determinism” or “compatibilism.” Is the standard Objectivist view of free will correct, or, instead, is free will or volition compatible with determinism, as I and others argue that it is? I think the jury is still out on this question, and that any attempt to limit Objectivism to those holding the view that volition and determinism are incompatible is premature at best. For this reason, I am not comfortable subscribing to the statement on the Objectivist Metaphysics offered by The Objectivist Center and posted on this site.

As I have argued elsewhere, what is implied by basic Objectivist metaphysical premises is “self-determinism,” the view that one’s actions (including one's act of focusing one’s awareness) are determined by one's values/desires/ideas. For short, I call it “value-determinism.” And although it does not qualify as “free will” in the sense of “could have done otherwise,” that is not valid, anyway. But it does qualify as “free will” in the sense of one’s being the originator of that action, absent environmental duress and physical or medical impairment. One’s capacity to will to do something is free of control by anything other than one’s own values. Conditional free will is thus compatible with determinism of a kind that does not require predeterminism or fatalism, and that does not preclude knowledge and correction of error.

To conclude: in nearly every thumbnail sketch of Objectivism given before volition was elevated in the 1970s to its presented quasi-mystical status (of categorical freedom of choice, rather than conditional freedom of choice) I found absolutely nothing to disagree with. In Rand’s very sparse, minimalist framework of her philosophy, there are five or six very simple tenets: objective reality, reason, rational self-interest, life as the standard of value, man's rights, and laissez-faire capitalism. And I disagree with none of these principles – though, as noted, I certainly do disagree with what are some of the implications of those ideas.

And speaking just for myself, I want Rand's system of ideas to be consistent and true, and I have been working hard for over 35 years to make it so for my own guidance in living. The fact that others disagree with me, at times bitterly, is disheartening, but that’s life. I’m not in this to please others. I’m in it for my own happiness, and I’ve managed to achieve it, even as an Objectivist, at times!

I have always regarded myself an Objectivist in terms of the methodology and the minimalist set of basic principles that I accepted when I first became acquainted with Objectivism. Most orthodox Objectivists, and some non-Objectivists in the Randian milieu, however, when they hear my position on the free will issue, deny that this is really a legitimate alternative view of free will, or that it is enough to qualify me as an Objectivist. Some have suggested I instead refer to myself as a Neo-Objectivist, others as a "Bissellist," yet others as "working within the Objectivist tradition." Still others have suggested the term "Randian" (with all the irony that implies). Jokingly, I sometimes call myself a "Kleenex Objectivist." (See my post in the humor folder.)

The real irony is that, even if I were accepted as an Objectivist, my philosophizing would not be accepted as part of Objectivism--even if it were compatible with Objectivism! I don't know how any ARI intellectual with a shred of self-esteem can swallow this notion, that the philosophizing of an Objectivist philosopher is nonetheless not Objectivism. I certainly can't. That is why I am completely opposed to the "Closed System" approach of ARI. Their attitude is more appropriate to the care and feeding of hothouse flowers than to a living, growing philosophy. Perhaps that is why they are so hesitant to publish anything other than 30 year old lectures and all the miscellanous items that Rand never intended for publication.

No, I am too independent for that. I will continue to regard myself as a rational individualist and as a neo-Randian, in the same sense that some contemporary philosophers regard themselves as neo-Aristotelians--not accepting all of Aristotle's (or Rand's) doctrines, but essentially in agreement with them.

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Roger, I am in agreement with the main thrust of your post: that is, that Objectivism is not (or should not be) a closed system, and that agreement with its essentials – which I take to be (essentially) those outlined in Rand’s 1962 column which you quote above – entitles one to be considered an Objectivist.

But what makes the problem very tricky indeed is the question of what Rand believed to be logically entailed by her outline of essentials. For instance, although she might allow us to disagree with her about a woman president, and still consider us Objectivists, she would certainly not agree that the denial of volition is allowable; after all, she wrote that “Volition is an axiom of consciousness” – and, clearly, she meant volition as she had explained it. Nor would she grant that anarchism is allowed ; she would insist that it enshrines the initiation of force politically. And I am convinced that if questioned, she would have added to her outline the following: that Existence exists and Consciousness exists

(It is not clear to what, if any extent, she considered such issues as her theory of sex, (am I an Objectivist if I do not think that man is defined by his relationship to existence, woman by her relationship to man?), or art (am I an Objectivist if I love the work of Manet?),etc, to be logically entailed by what she had named as Objectivism’s essentials.)

I think that in considering what is essential to Objectivism, one has to deal with – not necessarily accept – what Rand clearly intended to be its essentials.

Your thoughts?

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Barbara, you wrote:

what makes the problem very tricky indeed is the question of what Rand believed to be logically entailed by her outline of essentials. For instance, although she might allow us to disagree with her about a woman president, and still consider us Objectivists, she would certainly not agree that the denial of volition is allowable; after all, she wrote that “Volition is an axiom of consciousness” – and, clearly, she meant volition as she had explained it.

I'm not sure where Rand said what you quoted her as saying. I do know that she said man's consciousness is volitional in Galt's Speech, "The Objectivist Ethics," etc.

I also know that Peikoff in OPAR says in one place that volition is a corollary of consciousness,but in another place that it is an axiom. It's not clear whether he's really talking about axioms (propositions) or axiomatic concepts, but he's clearly confused. (He makes the same error in re causality and validity of the senses, calling them both axioms and corollaries. As he defines "axiom" and "corollary," they cannot be both. Hence some really confusing verbiage for folks to puzzle over.

Insofar as it exists, volition is an attribute of human consciousness. We can state this as a proposition, but that does not make it an axiom of metaphysics, as far as I can tell. Metaphysics identifies what is true of all existence, of Being qua Being, as Aristotle put it. And as Peikoff pointed out in OPAR, existence and identity are everywhere, but consciousness is only here and there. So, neither the fact that man is conscious nor the fact that man has volition can be axioms of metaphysics.

However, insofar as it is unique and essential to human consciousness and the gaining of knowledge, it is a starting point, and thus an axiom, of epistemology. I believe Ron Merrill said this in his Objectivity essay on axioms. He also said that consciousness (i.e., that man is conscious) is an axiom of epistemology, and he included in this that the senses are valid (which I think should be a separate axiom of epistemology).

So, what I want to acknowledge is this: without man's being conscious, there is no knowledge; without man's basic form of awareness, perception, being valid, there is no knowledge; and without the power to regulate his consciousness and check for errors in his conclusion, there is no knowledge. The last of these is my understanding of what volition is; if we want to engage our minds and check our thoughts for error, we are free to do so. Does that qualify me as an advocate of volition? Even though I also hold that we must (i.e., are determined to) do what we most want to do -- which, on a given occasion, may in fact not be to engage our minds and correct errors, etc.? This is what I get from reading John Locke, who argued that it is absurd to say the will is free, but that human beings are free.

It may just be that I will have to toss the term "Lockean Objectivist" into the ring, as a counter-weight to "Randian Objectivist." His explanation of human freedom to act and think being conditional makes more sense to me than anything I have read by Peikoff or Binswanger or Kelley or NB. And these are bright guys, so it's not like they haven't tried! (I'm not saying Locke agrees with Rand on everything other than free will. Just that several of his ideas make more sense to me than what Rand et al have said, and that his view of freedom to act and think is one of them. And it is consistent with the rest of her philosophy.

An Open System Objectivism would at least entertain these various challenges from Locke, without writing them off as non-Objectivist. (All I hear from the main Objectivists about Locke is either that he is so eclectic that he's not worth considering, or they misinterpret him as being a proto-Randian in re volition. He is neither!

Either Rand's say-so forever forecloses what is Objectivist, or there has to be some wiggle room for considering that some of the corollary ideas could be understood in a way that makes more sense and still agrees with our experience.

Here's a comparison that might be helpful. When I first read Mortimer Adler's works, I viewed him as, like Rand, an Aristotelian who was saying what Aristotle said better and clearer than Aristotle, and correcting his mistakes. They both agreed with Aristotle's foundational ideas, including his view of an independent reality, reason for knowing it, etc., but at certain points they diverged from his line of reasoning. Does that make them not Aristotelians? Of course not. If he were alive, they would tell him, "I agree with your starting points, your basic premises, so I'm in your camp, but I disagree with this argument and the things that follow from it, so I'm suggesting this correction in your philosophy." If he didn't see their point, they would argue and probably be kicked out of his school of philosophy over it.

But since Aristotle's dead, what happens if various of his followers disagree about an implication from his foundations that he did not satisfactorily address himself? Does one group get to define the other group out of the school of philosophy? That's what ARI and their mentality want to do in re Objectivism. Or do they schism into rival sub-schools of Aristotelianism? That's what TOC has done in re Objectivism. Since I don't have a "gang," and I don't have a major reputation, what exactly am I? Do I have to start my own obscure little cult? (a la Bissellianism?) Can I hyphenate my philosophical allegiance? (a la Lockean-Objectivist?)

I'm not asking permission, because I'll do what I think is best. But I'd like some clarification from you or anyone who can take a fresh, non-dogmatic, non-authoritarian look at all this.

Oh, and thanks for your thoughtful remarks. You really do think carefully and deeply about things.

Best,

REB

P.S. -- It may amuse or interest you to know that some people are now referring to me as a "confused volitionist," since I argue that humans are governed by final causation and teleological determinism, and are conditionally free (to act and think) if that's what they most want to do. Would that make me a confused Objectivist? :lol:

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Names. What are they for?

To identify a person or thing in the sense of setting it off from other persons or things. Nothing more.

I know what Objectivism is in the strict ARI sense (i.e., what Rand wrote), but what on earth is an Objectivist in the strict sense? Molds of fictional people? Those who memorize the literature? Members of one organization or another? Sincerely, I can't even begin to imagine.

It's like trying to strictly define a Christian, Jew, Deist, Muslim or Buddhist. You can only do it in general terms, never in specific ones. Each category uses a specific set of literature as its base and the members are identified only because their reference is that literature. They are not called a different name because they differ with parts of the literature.

Like it or not, the Objectivist philosophy is being used to confront religion much more than philosophy. Most people who argue about the name don't even see that fact, but it is true.

That is why it is sort of weird for me to see words like "Aristotelian." I can tell you what a Christian is, but I don't know one single person who practices the philosophy of Aristotle in the place of a religion. Nor even the philosophy of Kant. When I hear "Kantian," I imagine a person who studies a great deal of Kant and accepts many of his ideas, but his own day-to-day living is not structured according to Kant.

Also, I don't know of many art works and legends based on philosophy (can you imagine a Kantian hero?) - but there are oodles in religion and they exist in Objectivism.

That whole business of trying to limit the name of "Objectivist" is an attempt at intimidation. Nothing more. I even smell fear in that attempt.

I am an Objectivist. Most everybody on this site is an Objectivist. Some people don't want me or them to use that name.

Well, I'll speak for myself. I intend to become completely successful with the general audience in the works I am writing. I will identify myself an Objectivist in my works when pertinent to the subject. Let the self-proclaimed pseudo-owners of that name try to stop me.

They can't.

Michael

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Who Qualifies as Being an Objectivist?

I would answer the question by first relating the following story…

About 35 years or so ago, I had the good fortune to be in a discussion group that met monthly-12 to 20 people at various times. We would meet at a member’s home on a Saturday evening. We would pick a topic, and each would take his/her turn offering ideas. More often than not, we would find ourselves deep in a discussion, only to see the light of the day breaking through the window! The host/hostess would often prepare breakfast before the group went their separate ways.

I moved away, things changed, and I didn’t keep in contact with these incredible people. After 20 years of deep regret, I finally located one of my old friends (and the one who introduced me to Rand), and we were once again together. Things had changed, but we rekindled the friendship. He died a short year later.

In the past thirty-five years, I’ve had many friends; mostly friendships that were a mile wide, and an inch deep. If you find yourself in the company of someone who consciously holds the very basic tenants of Ayn Rand’s philosophy…. Then hold them dear! Put up with their foolishness! Allow room for their mistakes in thought and in deed! For they are precious and rare as gold.

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Ted,

Your post struck a strangely poignant chord in my soul. I don't know who you are, but I can identify with you in a manner most cannot.

I lived in Brazil for over three decades after having read all of Rand's books (including some other Objectivist authors at the time like Nathaniel Branden and others). In Brazil, there are not many people who even know who Rand is, much less agree or disagree with her. (It is mostly a Catholic country, with some African deity stuff in the background and a growing Protestant movement.)

I had no contact with the Objectivist world at that time except as a book customer. The few Objectivists I had met were unbearably arrogant and I still needed to figure out how to play the trombone and compose music well (which was my first love) - so I avoided them.

I exposed myself publicly as an Objectivist on the old SoloHQ at the beginning of the year. I called myself part of a "silent contingency." Now you appear with a two decade gap - and even personally knew Rand at that!

Your little post is already a treasure to me, Ted, and I really, really hope you stay around. I have oodles of things I want to talk about with you. (Don't be put off by my enthusiasm - I tend to gush at times.)

On this site, you are an Objectivist, if that is what you want to call yourself. We all are. I'm trying to put a reality check on all the free-wheeling condemnation and repudiation I have seen flying all over the place.

Please accept a very warm welcome from Kat and me. I don't speak for the others, but I am sure that most (if not all) heartily welcome you too.

Michael

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Who qualifies as being an objectivist?

Jeesh... people really do need to feel like they are part of a group. Why must everything be made into an exclusive club? That's a rhetorical question, the answer is obvious.

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After my post I saw yours... it's great to hear words from another person who appears to be "alive."

Names. What are they for?

To identify a person or thing in the sense of setting it off from other persons or things. Nothing more.

I know what Objectivism is in the strict ARI sense (i.e., what Rand wrote), but what on earth is an Objectivist in the strict sense? Molds of fictional people? Those who memorize the literature? Members of one organization or another? Sincerely, I can't even begin to imagine.

It's like trying to strictly define a Christian, Jew, Deist, Muslim or Buddhist. You can only do it in general terms, never in specific ones. Each category uses a specific set of literature as its base and the members are identified only because their reference is that literature. They are not called a different name because they differ with parts of the literature.

Like it or not, the Objectivist philosophy is being used to confront religion much more than philosophy. Most people who argue about the name don't even see that fact, but it is true.

That is why it is sort of weird for me to see words like "Aristotelian." I can tell you what a Christian is, but I don't know one single person who practices the philosophy of Aristotle in the place of a religion. Nor even the philosophy of Kant. When I hear "Kantian," I imagine a person who studies a great deal of Kant and accepts many of his ideas, but his own day-to-day living is not structured according to Kant.

Also, I don't know of many art works and legends based on philosophy (can you imagine a Kantian hero?) - but there are oodles in religion and they exist in Objectivism.

That whole business of trying to limit the name of "Objectivist" is an attempt at intimidation. Nothing more. I even smell fear in that attempt.

I am an Objectivist. Most everybody on this site is an Objectivist. Some people don't want me or them to use that name.

Well, I'll speak for myself. I intend to become completely successful with the general audience in the works I am writing. I will identify myself an Objectivist in my works when pertinent to the subject. Let the self-proclaimed pseudo-owners of that name try to stop me.

They can't.

Michael

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Michael, thanks for your note.

I think the article you pointed to would make more sense if I knew more about the terminology being used. I suppose that for someone familiar with the subject, the references to TOC, etc, would make sense. The article wasn't written well for people as unfamiliar with the subject as I am. For someone like me, who is not familiar with the vocabulary, it seems like there is an objectivist “movement” rumbling, among hierarchy-loving intellectuals. But what do I know I’m completely ignorant to the subject if you have not guessed that already – this is just my first reaction.

I did think it was funny that the article referenced the use of quoted words.

My putting the word “alive” in quotes was not intentional, and was not informed by a membership in one school or another.

I posted the way I did because after reading your post, my immediate reaction was that you seemed to be “with it,” or “alive,” whereas many people strike me as walking dead. Don’t ask me why!

escott,

Hi.

Welcome to OL.

I see you quoted me. I am having a bit of trouble discerning what you mean, though. I think this might be due to punctuation.

Roger Bissell wrote a nice little thing on Objectivist punctuation.

Which school are you?

:D

Michael

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escott,

The article was tongue-in-cheek.

I am delighted you are interested in learning about Objectivism. From your spirit so far, you are my kind of people.

Yes, there are a lot of really up-tight people in this little subculture. They usually use quotes (which they call scare quotes for some reason I haven't been able to fathom yet) around a word or phrase to denote sarcasm, not emphasis. Roger did a wonderful job of lampooning this practice.

Anyway, make yourself at home.

Michael

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Ok, let me take the tests Roger offers to determine if you are a Real Objectivist:

For instance, in “About the Author” in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged, Rand said

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute

Well, I can agree with that, except for the "heroic". Do you have to fight evil and dangerous dragons to be an Objectivist? (No doubt many Objectivists would agree.) And if it means something else, it is only confusing and unnecessary in this context. Next one.

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality (‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed’ or ‘Wishing won’t make it so.’) 2. Epistemology: Reason (‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.’ 3. Ethics: Self-Interest (‘Man is an end in himself.’) 4. Politics: Capitalism (‘Give me liberty or give me death.’)

Again I can agree, although I think "give me liberty or give me death" shouldn't be taken too literally, as full liberty is not realizable in this world, and I still prefer to live even in less than ideal circumstances (as probably every Objectivist would do). Next one.

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears. 2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival. 3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. 4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Again I can agree with most of this. I've only some doubts about point 4. I have strong doubts that a complete laissez-faire capitalism can be realized in reality; I think it is as likely as having a society without crime. Further I'm not really sure it is the best solution (the problem is that the practical implications are not so clear-cut as here is suggested). However, I agree that we should strive as much as possible to go into that direction as we're now far too much away in the other direction, but I think we'll never attain that pure state or even get close to it, so in that regard my doubts are rather theoretical. Last one:

If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest [e.g., capitalism and egoism] follows. This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.

And here I disagree! This is the crucial point, it is Rand's siren voice: "do you like my principles? I can prove them!" and it is also her Achilles' heel: she can't prove them.

When I discovered Rand's writings (somewhere in the sixties, the time of the new left etc.), I had the feeling: finally some rational voice instead of all the nonsense that was the fashion at the time. I was decidely against anything of the "left", but the conservative "right" was hardly an alternative. What I discovered (apart from the fascinating novels) was the existence of libertarianism of which Rand was at the time the foremost representative (even if she vigorously denied it herself). At least she was far more attractive than the Rothbard crowd, who had in my opinion far too much sympathy for the left, and whose anarchism I found unrealistic. I subscribed to the Objectivist and read all the previous issues of the Objectivist and of the Objectivist Newsletter. What struck me was how sharp and to the point she (and NB) was when it came to practical issues concerning politics and ethics. I wasn't really interested in the more philosophical articles - it looked all rather simplistic to me with the endless repetitions of "A is A", "a thing is itself" and such banalities, so I didn't bother with that.

What did bother me later was Peikoff's "Ominous Parallels", in which he presumed to attack modern science on philosophical grounds. I had never read something similar in Rand's works, but I couldn't (and still can't) imagine that she would have let it stand if she'd disagreed with it. I suspect she felt she was on thin ice here, and therefore chose to use Peikoff as a proxy.

In recent years I discovered the existence of Objectivist forums on the Internet and the phenomenon of the Randroid. When I saw how bad often the arguments were in those discussions, I decided to look a bit more closely at Rand's theoretical arguments. I had always had my doubts, but it was then that I discovered how big the holes in her arguments really were. Here whole theoretical construction turned out to be a house of cards that would fall down at the slightest touch of logical reasoning. Her insight in practical issues was in general excellent, her basic starting points too (see above), but the whole theory connecting both was nothing but a magician's trick - it may look very convincing, but it's all fake. What she in fact does is to construct an enormous rationalization of her viewpoints.

That is the reason that Objectivism as a closed system is doomed - it will never be accepted by a mainstream of intellectuals, as the errors are just too obvious; it will only be of historical interest. I searched for criticisms of Objectivism on the Internet and found (apart from the obvious collectivist antagonists) many critics who found the same errors that I had found, so it's clear to me that any rigorous examination of her theory will be fatal. This may also be the reason of the extreme antagonism of many Objectivists against people who raise doubts about some points (in forums usually resulting in banning the opponents), as there is no real rational defense, and therefore it becomes a faith that you have to accept without compromise and that has to be strenuously defended against those evil people. And it is the people who are close to Objectivism but who don't accept it uncritically, who are the most dangerous in this respect, so they are the biggest enemy.

My conclusion is that we should look for the good points in Rand's ideas and see how we can use them. We will not be able to prove them, but we can try to develop an argument why we should pursue them as our goals. That way we have a better chance to succeed than by using bad quasi-exact arguments that easily can be shot down.

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Dragonfly,

I am a bit concerned about how you post will impact newcomers like escott. But not too concerned.

The size of your post showed that you have been bothered about these issues for a long time. I have learned to respect this, even when I disagree with it, because when I learned Objectivism, I swallowed it whole, became a flaming Randroid, then got hurt bad in life from my blindness.

We disagree on some of your issues, but still, I don't want to go into one of those long, complicated Popperian-type discussions of what constitutes proof and so forth. Leave it to say that my position is the following: adopting metaphysical/epistemological axioms is more of an act of starting from a position of the validity of your hardware (brain and existence at large) than anything else. It is equivalent to saying "my experience is valid and I can trust it." (Not complete and not perfect. Just a starting point.)

I also have a much higher view of the fundamentals of Objectivism than you do, but this comes from a different focus. Instead of saying that Objectivism is WRONG when I find it wanting, I say that it is INCOMPLETE.

What it gets right, it gets very right.

I have already argued in other places about the evolution of the human senses. According to the traditional five senses we now have (and more, if gravity is considered as sensory input), concept formation and emotional life are founded on evidence according to the limitations of these senses. Should smell evolve to the stage of a canine, for example, our whole story changes. Presumably integration would still be valid, but what would be integrated would be highly different than what we now know.

One emotional reaction, at least, would change: nausea. Notice that a horrible smell makes a human being vomit. A canine smells it, then smells it again just to make sure, then moves on.

A good example of a different sense is the autistic person who has one of his senses highly accelerated. He is literally inputting more information than his brain can process by traditional means. That makes him see the world differently and act strange by normal standards. Objectivism has no provision for this kind of mental phenomenon (other than saying that it is abnormal), nor the implication of what something like that could mean for humanity.

There are several areas where I find Objectivism lacking - but I usually find a portion of it firm in those places.

In some instances, I disagree with the traditionally stated Objectivist view, but agree with the implications. An example is Rand's claim that all emotions are programmable by the conscious mind. Although that statement seems to be false, it is only the word "all" that is false. Many emotions actually can be so programmed. Others, like sudden fear or being startled, for instance, cannot. Thus this is another area where I find Objectivism incomplete. A study of emotions that cannot be programmed by the conscious mind is certainly a valid concern for Objectivist study.

I am really getting into the amygdala these days...

There are those who argue that this kind of thinking is betraying Objectivism. I strongly believe that this is amplifying the philosophical principles and adding new ones.

I do not find universal truth to be a subset of Objectivism or Rand. It is the other way around. Objectivism is a subset of universal truth, to the extent that it is true. Mankind is still learning what all the universal truths are, so Objectivism, by definition of the class it belongs to, is incomplete. If universal truths are incomplete, then Objectivism has to be.

Anyway, every time you get comfortable, another little sucker always pops up.

This could turn into a really long discussion, so my message to newcomers is this:

You are NOT studying INCORRECT information when you study Objectivism. There is a hell of a lot of GOOD STUFF to learn before you start getting to where it is incomplete. Your study will be well worth it.

Do you hear me, escott?

Michael

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I am a bit concerned about how you post will impact newcomers like escott. But not too concerned.

Why should you be concerned at all? Either the theory is good enough to withstand criticisms, and in that case these can only lead to a better understanding (instead of just uncritically accepting ideas while they're held by "authorities"), or the theory is not good enough, and in that case we wouldn't want to evade that fact, would we? Shouldn't we rock the boat?

I also have a much higher view of the fundamentals of Objectivism than you do, but this comes from a different focus. Instead of saying that Objectivism is WRONG when I find it wanting, I say that it is INCOMPLETE.

But what are in your view the fundamentals of Objectivism? As you can see in my previous post, I'm in agreement with nearly all the fundamentals quoted by Roger. What I object against is the idea that she can prove it all, for example her pretension that she can derive "ought" from "is" and her so-called "proof" that leading a productive life is the only rational behavior. It is this naive idea that there can exist a simple consistent system derived from a single principle (“If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest [e.g., capitalism and egoism] follows", which will automatically generate all the right answers.

Particularly ludicrous is the idea that Objectivism has anything to say about science. In fact Rand herself said: "Cosmology" has to be thrown out of philosophy I couldn't agree more! Alas, Rand didn't always practice what she preached, and it certainly hasn't stopped Peikoff and other Objectivists in telling us what is "wrong" with modern science. Those cobblers should stick to their lasts!

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Dragonfly,

I am sitting in my desk, looking at the wall and --- V E R Y --- S L O W L Y --- intoning:

I will not discuss what "prove" means...

I will not discuss what "prove" means...

I will not discuss what "prove" means...

I will not discuss what "prove" means...

I will not discuss what "prove" means...

This is one hell of a good mantra. I highly recommend it.

:D

(btw - We agree on much. )

Michael

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Here is an interesting thought on the terminology. I posted this on RoR today.

In the English language, there is a custom of a word having more than one definition. It is possible for Objectivism to be a proper noun meaning only what was written and sanctioned by Rand. It is also possible for it to mean a school of philosophical thought founded by Rand.

If a person calls himself an Objectivist, he could be referring to either definition. USA law does not recognize patenting a name for a school of thought like it does for a company, say like Xerox. Even in the case of trademark protection for Xerox, this word has become a synonym for photocopy.

The march of time and history will probably end up making Objectivism mean predominantly the second definition, if the same thing happens here that has always happened with words for schools of thought. Despite attempts to the contrary, I seriously doubt humanity will cut the proper noun purists an exception.

Even if we accept the idea of a proper noun, we can go even further , using Rand's own definitions. Here's an interesting quote from ITOE, 2nd Edition, p. 11:

(Proper names are used in order to identify and include particular entities in a conceptual method of cognition. Observe that even proper names, in advanced civilizations, follow the definitional principles of genus and differentia: e.g., John Smith, with "Smith" serving as genus and "John" as differentia—or New York, U.S.A.)

Thus using this system, we can arrive at Objectivism (only what Rand wrote and endorsed), ARI Objectivism, TOC Objectivism, etc., where Objectivism would be the genus and the school of thought developing on it would be the differentia. Some people use neo-Objectivism in this manner, except they usually include ARI Objectivism in the term "Objectivism."

I like my little formulation here, as it meets the requirements of both proper name and school of thought.

Michael

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I personally consider Objectivism open. If one wants to be specific and say things like, "According to Ayn Rand's Objectivism", "TOC's Objectivism", "ARI's Objectivism" or even MSK's, Roger's or anyone's Objectivism for that matter, they can. (btw-MSK's Objectivism includes Kat's Objectivism :) ) Although it may help clarify the differences and individual interpretations, I tend to think it is a bit cumbersome.

Looking at it as a school of thought is a very good way to see it. If someone wants to call themself an Objectivist, it does not necessarily mean they are in agreement with every other Objectivist on everything, just basically that they are on the same page. It pretty much goes without saying that Objectivism is Ayn Rand's philosophy, and how others interpret and apply it is their own choice. It is up to the individual to decide whether they subscribe to the ideas and wishes to be called Objectivist, not for other to decide for them.

Kat

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Here is a nice little quote from David Kelley, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, p. 92:

Objectivism is first and foremost a philosophy. Anyone who subscribes to the philosophy is an Objectivist, and anyone who works to realize its intellectual, political, or cultural potential is a part of the Objectivist movement—regardless of his relationship or personal history with any particular individual or group.

Michael

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This is from the "Who is an Objectivist?" talk at the 2006 Summer Seminar by Will Thomas of the Atlas Society/Objectivist Center.

"An Objectivist is anyone whose essential philosophy is logically consistent with a philosophical system essentially derived from philosophical positions Ayn Rand approved and whose method is essentially characterized by methods deriving from Rand."

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Here is something I've been wondering. (not sure if I'm presenting it correctly)

Is this attitude that is shown by Rand (and I guess Peikoff et al) considered normal within the world of philosophy?

That is, that an originator of a philosophy is somehow the sole owner and arbitor of their philosophy, and can determine who does/does not speak for their philosophy?

This sort of attitude show by Rand ("Objectivism is what I wrote, and a select few others I approved), and later Peikoff ("Objectivism is only what Rand wrote, no one else counts") to me seems strange.

Like others, I feel that Objectivism should be open. And I've read a few items by certain people that they feel that Objectivism is incomplete and that it must be expanded/filled out, which I think is also true.

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My understanding is that is Peikoff's position. I think it was Branden's position when he was at NBI. Someone want to disagree?

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The thing is, Objectivism is wide-open whether the owners like it or not.

They can only control book rights, in the end. It's a losing battle, because why the hey would you do anything to repress book sales, when that is from where your income source comes?

Leonard P. is far from stuck on stupid. I'm sure he understands the limits of ownership.

rde

On the other hand, amazon and used book stores get it done nice for less...

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Or, at the sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Rand presented the essence of her philosophy “while standing on one foot.” She said: “1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality (‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed’ or ‘Wishing won’t make it so.’) 2. Epistemology: Reason (‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.’ 3. Ethics: Self-Interest (‘Man is an end in himself.’) 4. Politics: Capitalism (‘Give me liberty or give me death.’)” Do you agree with these principles? Then you agree with Rand’s verbal statement of the essence of her philosophy. Wouldn’t that mean that you are, in essence, an Objectivist?

Greetings! Guess it's time to dive into things...

I'm a mathematician. I work in air traffic control research and development as an engineer. I understand equations, and I play with physics for - yes - fun. Suffice it to say that one of my simpler forays into physics was teaching myself the basics of orbital motion. Rocket science. It really isn't all that difficult. I program computers for fun and profit, and know how to make machines do my bidding. My business card actually says "Mathemagician".

I'm not a philosopher. I never have been and never will be. I've read philosophical writings in the past, including most everything written by Ayn Rand. I've read things ranging from Plato and Aristotle, Locke, Marx, and others. By the above definition I'd qualify as an Objectivist. By my understanding of "orthodox" criteria, I'm not. I consider myself to be Objectivist oriented. Rand's work gave me a foundation for thinking that I found nowhere else. Even when I disagree with her (Ralph Waldo Emerson *is* good), she's a shining light for me and has been since I first discovered her around 15 years ago.

I know I won't get the words quite right, so if you gentle reader won't worry too much about perfect wording I won't worry if you can't properly compile an operating system kernel from source. (I won't worry too much if that last sentence made no sense to you either.)

Philosophy and philosophers should provide a guiding light for people. I don't want to be "spoon fed" ideas to be accepted without critical thought. I'll admit however I don't have the time, ability, and background to quickly and properly analyze a situation and develop a well reasoned response. Still, even the ideas from Rand receive the same consideration as words from Marx. It's easier for the non-philosopher to judge an existing idea than to develop new ideas without a good basis for doing so.

To me, Objectivist philosophers today should be providing that guiding light. Mostly I don't see it happening, at least in the general public. Take any issue in the news today. What does it mean? Is it good? Is it bad? What are its component "blacks and whites" of the issue? What are the short and long term implications of various actions and inactions? Tell me what you think and I'll consider your ideas.

What happens is that I figure it out myself in an otherwise empty environment, based mostly on those elements of Objectivism above. Then I act on my conclusions, sometimes erroneously. I'm not a philosopher, and I do much better writing code and algorithms than I do working out philosophical solutions. Maybe I hope to find some answers here...

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Why should you be concerned at all? Either the theory is good enough to withstand criticisms, and in that case these can only lead to a better understanding (instead of just uncritically accepting ideas while they're held by "authorities"), or the theory is not good enough, and in that case we wouldn't want to evade that fact, would we? Shouldn't we rock the boat?

Dragonfly, he should be concerned because people with little knowledge about a philosophy can be turned away from it if they see criticism of it. The shortcoming is in the person being turned away, not the philosophy in this case, and the philosophy will have lost a potential subscriber to a criticism it could have withstood.

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