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Michael Stuart Kelly

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I received an email from Dennis Hardin and he provided me with a very interesting observation. It concerns a recently released book, Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz.

Here is the pertinent part of Dennis's email (provided with his permission, of course):

I came across an interesting quote from Ayn Rand in Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, just published by Lexington Books.

Interview with Garth Ancier of “Focus on Youth,” 1976:

Ancier: Miss Rand, is there anything more to say about your philosophy that you haven’t said already?

AR: I’m glad you are not that acquainted with my philosophy, because if you were, you would know that I haven’t nearly said everything yet. I do have a complete philosophical system, but the elaboration of a system is a job that no philosopher can finish in his lifetime. There is an awful lot of work yet to be done.

Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed

Edited by Marlene Podriske and Peter Schwartz

P. 239

Here is the relevant passage from Peikoff's "Fact and Value":

"... Kelley states that Ayn Rand’s philosophy, though magnificent, 'is not a closed system.' Yes, it is. Philosophy, as Ayn Rand often observed, deals only with the kinds of issues available to men in any era; it does not change with the growth of human knowledge, since it is the base and precondition of that growth. Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system—its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch—is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author..."

The key word here is "system"--Rand is explicitly stating that no thinker can possibly finish a new philosophical system in a single lifetime. Peikoff clearly wants to distinguish "new implications, applications [and] integrations" from elaborations on Objectivism as a total "system." But Rand is explicitly stating that her system, as such, would in no way be "closed" when she died. I would think that we can now put that matter to rest, once and for all.

In the quote, Rand said her philosophical system was complete, but not finished.

Hmmmmmm...

:)

I'll take that to mean that the basic principles of the basic categories are complete, but there are other categories and other principles yet to be explored, in addition to Peikoff's "new implications, applications [and] integrations."

Sounds pretty open to me.

I'll even take that to mean that if other principles become discovered that adhere to the fundamental axioms (including verification by direct observation), but show her principles to be incomplete or too broad in scope, they should be altered to become aligned with the fundaments.

Thanks for the observation, Dennis.

Michael

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Developing a closed system to encompass open ended concepts sounds like an exercise in futility.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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How interesting that Rand herself didn't consider her philosophy a closed system. But then, how can any philosophy be "closed?" Maybe I don't understand, but wouldn't that mean that no other knowledge can ever be discovered, EVER??

Look, as far as I can tell, Peikoff is an insecure little minion who's terrified of having to act/think on his own. In his own words, he admitted that it took him 30 to 40 years to understand Rand's philosophy completely, and that was with studying with Rand herself all those years. Hell, I'm no brain, but even I could understand a philosophy in a shorter time if I had a daily tutor for several decades.

This who argument of close v. open is ridiculous and speaks volume about Peikoff. Rand had a lot to offer. Pity all she had left at the end to take over is Peikoff.

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Michael shows his simple and straighforward brand of kung fu that makes bad boys cry in the playground:

"I'll take that to mean that the basic principles of the basic categories are complete, but there are other categories and other principles yet to be explored, in addition to Peikoff's "new implications, applications [and] integrations."

Sounds pretty open to me.

I'll even take that to mean that if other principles become discovered that adhere to the fundamental axioms (including verification by direct observation), but show her principles to be incomplete or too broad in scope, they should be altered to become aligned with the fundaments."

I think that second part is going to get under the gun, though I thoroughly agree... This thread topic is interesting...how did this Rand interview quote get overlooked during all the closed/open hoopla? Swept under the rug, maybe...Of course now someone is going to tell us all what she really meant. Sigh.

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This who argument of close v. open is ridiculous and speaks volume about Peikoff. Rand had a lot to offer. Pity all she had left at the end to take over is Peikoff.

There are first rate second rate people and second rate second rate people. L.P. is among the latter. A mediocrity posing as something else.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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LP's work is not all bad. But it always comes down to the NB quote... "Poor Leonard."

The ARI is so much less than it could be. If I want mausoleums, I know where they are without travelling that far.

Their media relations are horrible. In the end, the most proactive thing they could come up with was what is little more than an ongoing high school writing contest.

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This who argument of close v. open is ridiculous and speaks volume about Peikoff. Rand had a lot to offer. Pity all she had left at the end to take over is Peikoff.

There are first rate second rate people and second rate second rate people. L.P. is among the latter. A mediocrity posing as something else.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Baal; Tell us what you really think.

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ginny,

Oh, I didn't say ~original~. But there are things that don't suck. He has his moments in teaching technical philosophy (there's some video out there if you look about), and he has some moments in his writing. I'm just saying it's not all just a rotten heap. From the stylistic standpoint, the prose flow standpoint, I can't stand reading the man because he's so stiff; he's not someone that makes you want to cozy up. It's his personality that I don't care for, he just doesn't come across as one who is "enrolling," and such. He ended up with the estate for very obvious reasons (the woman scorned dept.). NB should've had it, and if he had chose to keep it (who knows), it would've been an entirely different shooting match. LP is basically a curator, and not even that good of one, it appears.

r

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I'm with you, Rich. Probably the best thing I ever did was take his Philosophy of Grammar course. I didn't mean it's all a dung-heap. Just that Peikoff does have so many bad points. Most problematic for me is how he's messed up young kids who look up to him. Also, he's responsible for sooo many rifts and arguments ... okay, I'll stop. I'll give him credit. A little credit. Is that enough?

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I'm trying to be nice. Yes, that's sufficient. ;)

rde

I still can't stand that guy

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I had always assumed that Peikoff’s effort to “close” Objectivism was entirely his own idea--his own pathetic, deranged attempt to assert territorial supremacy--but a passage in Anne Heller’s recent biography suggests that Ayn Rand, in the lonely bitterness of her later years, may have given him some marginal basis for thinking this was consistent with her own wishes.

According to Heller, when Harry Binswanger started the Objectivist Forum in 1980, Ayn Rand provided him with some assistance but refrained from giving the magazine her full endorsement. In a letter to readers published in the first issue, she stated explicitly that she could not say with assurance that the content would be consistent with Objectivism. By way of explanation, she said: “…Objectivism is the name I have given to my philosophy—therefore, anyone using the name for some hodgepodge of his own, without my knowledge or consent, is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain.” Heller adds: “She and her philosophy had become a unit.” (Ayn Rand and the World She Made, p. 407)

This comment of Rand’s reflected an attitude of extreme protectiveness toward Objectivism that probably manifested itself in their conversations, giving Peikoff pretext for attempting to close “official” Objectivism following her death. While she was alive, there was obviously every reason to deny anyone else the authority to speak for her. (She had once given Nathaniel Branden blanket authority to do so and lived to regret it, no doubt underscoring her bitterness. Please note: I am emphatically not faulting Branden here, just acknowledging an obvious fact of history.) That context changed when she died. For Peikoff to try to close the philosophy posthumously made no sense whatever except as a futile power play, the self-appointed successor’s clever smokescreen to conceal the fact that Objectivism’s only legitimate chairperson was no longer here to serve that role.

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The mistake -- and I blame Kelley for this and Peikoff for accepting his language -- is to use either the term closed or open: It's closed in some respects and open in others.

Don't oversimplify by trying to use one adjective.

Kelley: "Oism is -open- in respects A, B, and C. Let the fresh winds blow."

Peikoff: "I disagree fundamentally you immoral monster. Oism is -closed- in respects D, E, and F. Don't try to tear down greatness."

Edited by Philip Coates

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Phil,

Could you briefly explain which aspects of Objectivism you consider open, and which ones you consider closed?

David Harriman's book The Logical Leap illustrates the closed-system doctrine in action. Peikoff's gave proof for propositions a lick and a promise in OPAR. In what I've read so far, Harriman adds hardly anything to that extremely sketchy account of Peikovian proof.

Robert Campbell

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According to Heller, when Harry Binswanger started the Objectivist Forum in 1980, Ayn Rand provided him with some assistance but refrained from giving the magazine her full endorsement. In a letter to readers published in the first issue, she stated explicitly that she could not say with assurance that the content would be consistent with Objectivism. By way of explanation, she said: "…Objectivism is the name I have given to my philosophy—therefore, anyone using the name for some hodgepodge of his own, without my knowledge or consent, is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain." Heller adds: "She and her philosophy had become a unit." (Ayn Rand and the World She Made, p. 407)

Dennis,

Rand's Objectivist Forum letter is often quoted by ARIans marking their turf. Diana Hsieh is among those who have used it.

This formulation of "my way or the highway" was not new in 1980. Rand's answer about saints, from Ford Hall Forum 1971, already asserts that contaminating Objectivism by making a "mixture" with alien premises will produce nothing but contradictions.

Robert Campbell

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If Objectivism was Ayn Rand's philosophy, it automatically became dogmatic absolutely when she died and therefore should have been buried with her, not subject to a book by Leonard Peikoff which apparently misrepresented parts of it.

--Brant

I'm thinking of calling my philosophy "Misrectionism."

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Dennis,

Rand's Objectivist Forum letter is often quoted by ARIans marking their turf. Diana Hsieh is among those who have used it.

This formulation of "my way or the highway" was not new in 1980. Rand's answer about saints, from Ford Hall Forum 1971, already asserts that contaminating Objectivism by making a "mixture" with alien premises will produce nothing but contradictions.

Robert Campbell

Robert,

I am not surprised that True Believers like Comrade Sonia have used that quote from Rand to support their case, oblivious to the radical change in context following her death. Another relevant quotation dating back to the April, 1965 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter says the following:

...In the future, when Objectivism has become an intellectual and cultural movement on a wider scale, when a variety of authors have written books dealing with some aspect of the Objectivist philosophy--it could be appropriate for those in agreement to describe themselves as "Objectivists." But at present, when the name is so intimately and exclusively associated with Miss Rand and me, it is not. At present, a person who is in agreement with our philosophy should describe himself, not as an Objectivist, but as a student or supporter of Objectivism. In any context where he is presenting his philosophical ideas, he should make it clear that he is discussing Objectivism as he understands it, and that he speaks for no one but himself.

Nathaniel Branden, "A Message To Our Readers"

Following their break in 1968, Branden explicitly disavowed that viewpoint on one of his Seminar recordings, stating that he had "changed his mind," and that anyone who had studied the philosophy carefully and was in substantial agreement with it could reasonably call himself an "Objectivist."

Even so, the merit of Branden's original quote consists precisely in his acknowledgement that, at some future point, the existing context will change.

There is nothing in what Branden says--or, for that matter, in what Rand said in 1980--to justify Peikoff's misguided effort to permanently "close" the Objectivist system.

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As far as the terms “closed” vs “open” are concerned, I think the respective meanings of the two descriptions is fairly clear and that only one of them should properly apply.

The term “closed” could be used to characterize the stereotype of the Middle Ages as a "Dark Age" due to the efforts of the leaders of the Christian Church to place the word of religious authorities over rational inquiry. (I say “stereotype” because current historical research seems to have questioned the extent to which this actualy occurred.) The term “closed” means that scientific knowledge is limited to what the authorities say is true. The term “open” means that human minds are free to conduct whatever investigation is required to insure that what we “know” adheres to objective reality. It means that, consistent with scientific method and rational inquiry, we will direct the light of reason wherever we need to in a relentless pursuit of the truth. It does not mean that everything is up for grabs or that we are free to play it “deuces wild.” It means we will be “open” to new evidence and build on the knowledge we have gained—including axiomatic knowledge and strict epistemelogical rules.

“Closed” means that the authorities have all the answers. Don’t confuse us with facts. (If you should ever happen to be confused, don't stress. Just log on to www.LeonardPeikoff.com.)

The same basic alternative—closed vs open—applies to the entire realm of scientific knowledge as well as specialized fields such as philosophy. Only one of those two adjectives—“open”—is consistent with a rational, objective approach to human knowledge. Certainty is not synonymous with “closed.”

If scientific inquiry ever led to a rejection of a fundamental tenet of Objectivism—such as the Objectivist theory of concepts—then we would need to acknowledge that we were departing from Rand’s theory of Objectivism. At this stage of our knowledge, however, [iMHO] there simply is no basis for such a conclusion.

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I'm hesitant to call myself an "open Objectivist" even though I have some disagreements with ARI. Open Objectivism begs the question, "Open to what?" Are there any philosophic tenets that are necessary to calling oneself an Objectivist? I feel that to be an Objectivist, one must hold certain essential positions, most obviously, a view of metaphysics that rests on the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-contradiction. A is A, and will always be A. In this sense, the concrete principles of Objectivism are not "open." I think this quote by Ayn Rand is relevant:

[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an “open mind.” This is a very ambiguous term—as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having “a wide open mind.” That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices—and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear.

Source: “Philosophical Detection,”

Philosophy: Who Needs It, 21

This may seem paradoxical, but I'm closer to ARI in terms of abstract philosophy yet closer to TAS in terms of practical application. I don't quite take the view of Andrew Joseph Galambos on intellectual property rights, but I do believe that a fully integrated philosophy belongs to the person who created it.

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I'm hesitant to call myself an "open Objectivist" even though I have some disagreements with ARI. Open Objectivism begs the question, "Open to what?" Are there any philosophic tenets that are necessary to calling oneself an Objectivist? I feel that to be an Objectivist, one must hold certain essential positions, most obviously, a view of metaphysics that rests on the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-contradiction. A is A, and will always be A. In this sense, the concrete principles of Objectivism are not "open." I think this quote by Ayn Rand is relevant:

[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an “open mind.” This is a very ambiguous term—as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having “a wide open mind.” That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices—and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear.

Source: “Philosophical Detection,”

Philosophy: Who Needs It, 21

This may seem paradoxical, but I'm closer to ARI in terms of abstract philosophy yet closer to TAS in terms of practical application. I don't quite take the view of Andrew Joseph Galambos on intellectual property rights, but I do believe that a fully integrated philosophy belongs to the person who created it.

John,

My question would be: where is it open? Areas where new data is streaming in are more likely to need revision than areas that are relatively static. Cognitive science is one area where new data is streaming in.

Jim

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I'm hesitant to call myself an "open Objectivist" even though I have some disagreements with ARI. Open Objectivism begs the question, "Open to what?" Are there any philosophic tenets that are necessary to calling oneself an Objectivist? I feel that to be an Objectivist, one must hold certain essential positions, most obviously, a view of metaphysics that rests on the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-contradiction. A is A, and will always be A. In this sense, the concrete principles of Objectivism are not "open." I think this quote by Ayn Rand is relevant:

[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an “open mind.” This is a very ambiguous term—as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having “a wide open mind.” That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices—and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear.

Source: “Philosophical Detection,”

Philosophy: Who Needs It, 21

This may seem paradoxical, but I'm closer to ARI in terms of abstract philosophy yet closer to TAS in terms of practical application. I don't quite take the view of Andrew Joseph Galambos on intellectual property rights, but I do believe that a fully integrated philosophy belongs to the person who created it.

There is a radical difference between having an “open mind” in the sense that Ayn Rand described and taking the viewpoint that Objectivism is an “open system.” In his monograph—Truth and Toleration (later revised as “The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand”), David Kelley carefully outlined certain key points of the Objectivist philosophy which are fundamental—e.g., reality as an objective absolute, reason as man’s only tool of knowledge, the ethical principle of rational self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism, among others. Rand’s view of objectivity (vs subjectivism and intrinsicism) would also be included. You might want to read Kelley’s essay for a full analysis of those fundamental tenets, which I think was thoroughly valid and accurate. Those who advocate the view that Objectivism is an “open system” do not regard such fundamental principles (not limited to the above) as in doubt.

The view that Objectivism is “open” simply means that we must be free to think independently about the more detailed aspects of Objectivism (e.g., Objectivist epistemology) and to further extend the Objectivist system as needed until it can reasonably be considered as complete. It means that we do not believe in treating the works of Ayn Rand as dogma.

No one could reasonably call himself an Objectivist and, for instance, claim to have an open mind about the existence of objective reality. We are entitled to have an open mind only in those areas of human knowledge where the existing evidence is inconclusive.

The advocates of “open” Objectivism simply believe that there is more philosophical work to be done Someone who claimed to have an open mind about everything has no genuine convictions. Such generalized agnosticism has nothing whatever to do with treating Objectivism as an open system.

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My question would be: where is it open?

Jim,

How about the issue of tabula rasa? Programming all of your emotions by conscious will? Including human nature as a formal branch of philosophy? Theory of induction? The intrinsicist-emotionalist evasion oversimplifications? Pre-moral choice to live?

That's just for starters. I can think of a hell of a lot more.

I would hate to think that Objectivism will ultimately sink as a philosophy because some of the glaring warts like the above have to be swallowed in the manner Rand and Rand-endorsed folks presented them in order to keep the philosophy "closed."

Michael

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My question would be: where is it open?

Jim,

How about the issue of tabula rasa? Programming all of your emotions by conscious will? Including human nature as a formal branch of philosophy? Theory of induction? The intrinsicist-emotionalist evasion oversimplifications? Pre-moral choice to live?

That's just for starters. I can think of a hell of a lot more.

I would hate to think that Objectivism will ultimately sink as a philosophy because some of the glaring warts like the above have to be swallowed in the manner Rand and Rand-endorsed folks presented them in order to keep the philosophy "closed."

Michael

Michael,

Those are all good areas to work on. I'd say in general you can't really separate philosophy from psychology and biology except for division of labor purposes. I also won't accept an top down authority to say this is in or this is out. Reality is the final arbiter.

My concern is that people be clear about what they oppose and why, to understand how the Objectivist system fits together rather than bringing objections in isolation to try to score skeptical debating points.

Jim

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