Objectivism v. Existentialism


NickOtani

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Dr. Hazel E. Barnes, Ph.D is best known for translating Jean-Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness." She also wrote several books about him and existentialism. In one of her books, "An Existentialist Ethics," published in 1969, she has a chapter called "Egoistic Humanism: Ayn Rand's Objectivism," which compares Sartre's existentialism with Rand's Objectivism. Although the chapter is much too long to copy word for word and post here, I will try to paraphrase the gist of that article in my own words and then respond with my own views:

Sartre's existentialism would seem the very opposite of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Not only is existentialism thought of as very subjective, not objective, but Sartre and de Beauvoir were Marxist socialists as opposed to Rand's conservative capitalistism. In "For the New Intellectual," Rand wrote, "The majority of those who posture as intellectuals today are frightened zombies, posturing in a vacuum of their own making, who admit their abdication from the realm of the intellect by embracing such doctrines as Existentialism and Zen Buddhism." Leaving aside the differences between Existentialism and Zen Buddhism, there are common elements as well as differences between the philosophies of Rand and Sartre. Both Rand and Sartre are atheistic and egoistic. They are individualistic. They are humanistic. They are both opposed to forces which would dehumanize man, forces which would objectify him. Both Rand and Sartre would agree that man needs ethics. And, they would agree that choice is a way of making one's self. The "I" speech from Rand's "Anthem" could have been written by Sartre. It emphasizes individualism, independence, and freedom of choice. So, what is the big difference which would make Rand speak disparagingly about the existentialists? What makes Rand a capitalist and Sartre a Marxist?

To Rand, man's potential is a path already forged. He just has to choose to take that path. It is like the embryo of the oak tree which is already in the acorn. The choice is to become a strong or weak oak tree. Sartre would rather see man as facing an open field where the path must be forged by him, that being a man means deciding what a man will be. Any hint of a pre-existing path that may be better than another is a threat to man's freedom and responsibility. It keeps morality descriptive rather than allowing it to be prescriptive. It keeps us from moving from "is" to "ought." Where's the challenge, after all, in just determining the best path and taking it? What happens when the field is open or all paths are the same or there is not enough information to weigh to determine the best pre-existing path? Existentialism allows for man to create his own best path, even if it may go too far in ignoring facts of survival with which we all must deal.

Rand is a systematic philosopher in the tradition of Plato and Aristotle. She believes in an essence prior to existence, that existence is identity. The existentialist, however, opposes system-building and believes existence preceeds essence. Rand does say that man becomes, but his task is to become rational. His essence is Reason. Sartre, on-the-other-hand, would say man is a being who is what he is not and is not what he is. His essence is freedom itself to become what he will. He makes the definition, itself, of what he will have been.

Is this existentialists' denial of pre-existing, external paths what Rand characterizes as "a vacuum of their own making..." "..their abdication from the realm of the intellect."? The Sartrian existentialist would say Rand is leaning on crutches, relying on safety nets, not having the courage to face life without guidelines. They would say she is substituting Reason for God.

In "Atlas Shrugged," Rand's fictional character explains objective Reason:

Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precidence over that act of perceiving it, which is thinking--that the mind is one's only judge of values and one's only guide of action--that reason is an absolute that permits no compromise.

According to Rand, this conforms to reality, the ultimate standard, and she defines reality thus:

Reality is that which exists; the unreal does not exist; the unreal is merely that negation of existence which is the content of a human consciousness when it attempts to abandon reason.  Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man's only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth.

The very next paragraph explains that this reason belongs to each individual person.

The most depraved sentence you can now utter is to ask:  Whose reason?  The answer is: Yours.  No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. ...It is only your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider.  Your mind is your only judge of truth--and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal.

Well, not only are some people better able to reason than others, but some people have more information with which to reason than others. It's fine to make reality the court of final appeal, but it can be exactly that reality which is in question.

Further, when the questions are about values, the disagreements seem much less capable of being resolved by reason and that which we perceive as reality. However, Rand defines 'value' as that which man acts to gain and/or keep and 'virtue' as the action by which one gains and keeps it. She is willing to say, as she does in the opening essay in "The Virtue of Selfishness," that "man chooses his values," but she goes on to classify these choosen values as rational or irrational.

So, if I decide today that some goal is in my self-interest and pursue that goal with all my reasoning ability, what if I change my mind? Was my former goal the objective and rational one, or is it my present goal? Whose reason is most objective and rational, and when are they thus? But then, I'm not suppose to be depraved and ask such questions. Rand brow beats me with arguments from intimidation.

Theists have God. Aristotle had an Umoved Mover. Nietsche had his Superman. Rand has John Galt. Is John Galt enough to anchor her philosophy? Sartre admits there are no absolutes. There is no anchor, but, perhaps, that is his anchor.

Some people think Rand engages in naive, wishful thinking. She says that if businessmen lived in a perfectly laissez-faire society and followed pure self-interest, there would never arise conflict among them. Does it not seem like she yearned for the days when black was black and white was white, where there were no shades of gray? In Rand's world, since there can be no compromise between good and evil, everything is 'either/or' and one side is right and the other is wrong. Is life really so simple?

I can understand not compromising with, say, a mugger or an obvious psychotic who wants to chop off my arm. It would be absurd to offer him a few fingers instead. There are lines where 'either/or' is justified.

And, existentialists would not disagree with this in the area of Being. Even if, after several examinations of an object, there is something left over, a transphenomenality of Being, a table is still a table, even if it could be something else also. Stating that one never knows absolutely is not to deny all knowledge. We can have certainty about many specific things even if absolute certainty is lacking. However, are values and morals subject to the same rational appraisal as tables? It would be nice if they were. The existentialist confronts freedom in anguish. He must reflect on it, not just choose to think or not to think. Some things, like what Hitler did, are, (according to my philosophy) obviously wrong. A mugger or an obvious psychotic who wants to chop off my arm is, (again, according to NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism) wrong, but there are shades of gray and places where standards are still needed, where we may have to create them and take responsibility for them. God has not been deposed so that nature or reason can take His place. According to atheistic existentialism, we have to take His place.

Rand's portrait of a "second-hander," a Peter Keating type character from "The Fountainhead," is much like Sartre's inauthentic person. He lives for others rather than himself. He has no self. He is an object shaped by others. Sartre also describes a man who lives in bad faith, who is deluded. He may think, on one level, he is happy, but he is decieving himself. His values are not his own.

Rand blames the doctrine of altruism for pushing the men of integrity down, making them feel guilty about being successful, calling them selfish.

Peter Keating, however, is not what we normally think of as an altruist. Keating is not trying to win the approval of others for their benefit. He is a self-seeker. He just goes the wrong way. Rand's use of terminology sometimes differs from conventional usage.

Rand also embraces the term "selfish." To her, it's a compliment. And, we understand this as living for ourselves. It would not be conducive to a flourishing survival to determine what is not in one's rational self-interest and pursue it to avoid being selfish. However, very few people actually do that. Would they even be seccessful, since it would then be in their interest to avoid that which is in their interest?

It does get complicated, however, when Rand talks about sacrificing her own life to save a loved one and justifies that as a selfish act, because her interest would be the interest of someone else. On page 1013 of "Atlas Shrugged" John Galt cautions Dagney Taggert not to let his opponents know what they mean to each other. If Dagney were to be tortured to pressure Galt, then he would rather commit suicide, thus taking away her value as a barganing chip and not living by their standards. So, he would rather die than be responsible for the suffering of another. The distinction between altruism and selfishness seems to merge.

Both Rand and Sartre stress treating others as ends and not as means. Rand stresses the being an end but recognizes the 'hands off' policy regarding others, so that they can be ends as well. It's the old libertarian ideal of doing whatever one wants with the only condition of allowing others also to do what they want. For Rand, this leads directly to laissez-faire capitalism. People deal with each other on a mutually voluntary basis only, exchanging value for value. All forms of physical force are not tolerated.

I don't think Sartre's Marxism is an extension of his existentialism. One can be an existentialist like Sartre and still disagree with his political and economic views. That's the difference between systematic philosophies and non-systematic philosophies. Rand requires that we accept all of her views as a whole, but this is not a requirement with Sartre.

Sartre sees some of Rand's views as a bit cold, seeing humans as valuable because they are productive, not because they are simply human. Sartre would be a little more pro-active in curing the ills of society. He might support, for example, affirmative action to offset the historical injustices of racism. To Rand, this would be racist. She would allow business owners to discriminate on the grounds that it is their right to hire and fire who they want and serve who they want. We would perhaps hope that bigots will lose business by some natural unwillingness of rational people to patronize those businesses, that the invisible hand of economic law will regulate things justly. In some communities, this is fantasy.

According to Objectivism, one need not go to the assistance of someone in trouble. One may do so if one wants, but he or she would not be condemned for pulling the shades to avoid seeing someone raped or mugged outside one's window. One has no obligation to help.

Dr. Barnes concludes her chapter with the following two paragraphs:

Objectivist Man is both an ideal and a reality.  He represents only one of the possibilities for the human species.  Existentialism rejects Objectivism because it ignores the two sources of existentialist despair instead of seeking some way to overcome them.  Objectivism hides the fact that to be free to become what one chooses means also that one must choose what one feels one ought to become.  Objectivism tries to evade the knowledge that to exist means not only to be-in-the-world but to-be-with-others.  John Galt said in his radio speech that men have secretly hated the doctrines of altruism and of living for others.  Existentialists, too, confess to a horror at the knowledge that one must face these unchoosen responsibilities.  But it refuses to evade them.  Rand attacks those who say that we can have no absolute certainty.  Existentialists, too, oppose those who use the inadequacy of knowledge to defend irresponsible action or to refuse to engage themselves.  But existentialism never seeks to clothe its commitment with the false certainty of authoritative guarantee.

To the existentialist, Objectivism appears to be based on wish-fulfillment.  Barbara Branden's biographical sketch of Ayn Rand treats as significant Rand's early decision to create a life which would resemble the world of the operetta rather than the given reality of the Sopviet Union in the early twenties.  And we are told that while Rand loves the theater, she does not care for tragedy.  Joy and happiness are possible in this life, and I think they are legitimate goals.  I do not think one can win them legitimately by denying the essence of the tragic vision.  The cross, like the hemlock, is an ambivalent symbol, one which reminds us of the failures of the majority at the same time that it speaks to us of the heroic self-transcendence in self-fulfillment on the part of a few.  We may feel as Rand does, and as I do, that the cross as a symbol of self-sacrifice is not an adequate measure of human aspiration.  I do not think we will improve things by replacing it with the dollar sign.  That is all too good an emblem for Objectivism, suggesting that happiness is for those who have the wherewithal to pay and in the currency set by those who are in power.  Existentialism seeks something less subject to the arbitrary whims of the market.

Okay, my response to all this is to say there are valuable things in both existentialism and Objectivism, but both have problems in their pure forms. Pure Objectivism has a problem with freedom, but existentialism has a problem with facts, with laws of nature which do pre-exist us and are external to us. There is an essence to humanness such that an Asian in asia is no more or less human than an American in Spokane. Rand would recognize this and realize, as did Locke and Jefferson, that it follows from this that all men have natural rights to pursue life and happiness. Reason does not reach all situations, as was pointed out in the essay above, so man must have some freedom to forge his own paths. The parameters inwhich he is free to do this, however, must be generalizable, objective. NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism combines existentialism and Objectivism such that the strengths of both philosophies are augmented and the weaknesses of each are off-set.

bis bald,

Nick

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The major differences between Rand and Sartre apear to be in the area of Metaphysics and Epistemology. I donot consider Sartre's Marxism as relevant because as you pointed out it does not necessarily follow from his philosophy and it does not seem that he based his political views from his philosphical ideas. But because Rand founded her entire philosophy on Metaphysics (A is A), then I do not believe that any conclusional similarities between Rand and Sartre can be considered significant. Just because they came to similar conclusions does not mean that they came via the same argument which is very important to consider. As you point out Sartre was not systematic while Rand clearly was. Rand was systematic because that is rational, ethical theory must be formed on a foundation of metaphysics and epistemology, while Sartre's ethically theory is not that clear. Objectivism holds that A is A, while Existentialism holds that A is what you experience it to be. In Objectivism existence trumps consciousness as consciousness is the recognition of reality and dealing with it. In Existentialism consciousness trumps existence and is dependent on feelings and dealing with your experiences.

Also it is not clear how you have incorporated Existentialism into your Neo-Objectivist theory.

I have some other specific questions on your post above that I will put in following post.

Dustan

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Sartre and de Beauvoir were Marxist socialists as opposed to Rand's conservative capitalistism.  

This may be a little nit picking but Rand was not a conservative capitalist, but a lassez-faire capitalist.

From The Ayn Rand Lexicon p.95:

Objectivist are not "conservatives". We are radicals for capitalism; we are fighting for that philosophical base which capitalism did not have and without which it was doomed to perish....

Politics is based on three other philosophical disciplines; metaphysics, epistemology and ethics-- on a theory of man's nature and of man's relationship to existence. It is not only on such a base that one can formulate a consistent political theory and achieve it in practice. When, however, men attempt to rush into politics without such a base, the result is that embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality which is loosely designated today as "conservatism."...

[Choose Your Issues.:TON, Jan. 1962, I.]

Dustan

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To Rand, man's potential is a path already forged.  He just has to choose to take that path.  It is like the embryo of the oak tree which is already in the acorn.  The choice is to become a strong or weak oak tree.  Sartre would rather see man as facing an open field where the path must be forged by him, that being a man means deciding what a man will be.  Any hint of a pre-existing path that may be better than another is a threat to man's freedom and responsibility.  It keeps morality descriptive rather than allowing it to be prescriptive.

I don't think that Rand held that man's path is already forged. She believed in free will and that men could take any path they chose, nor did she believe in forcing anyone into a path they didnot want to go. She just held that a path which is rationaly selfish is the best morally.

It keeps us from moving from "is" to "ought."  Where's the challenge, after all, in just determining the best path and taking it?  

This is very challenging. You must use your mind to determine what is rational and what is best, instead of unconsciously going through the motions. You must think critically and for yourself.

What happens when the field is open or all paths are the same or there is not enough information to weigh to determine the best pre-existing path?  Existentialism allows for man to create his own best path, even if it may go too far in ignoring facts of survival with which we all must deal.

Then you must make the best decision possible and then amend that decision as more information becomes available. Objectivism does not hold that you must be infallible.

And as to the last sentence, please explain how a path could be best if it may go too far in ignoring facts of survival. If a person ignores (blanksout) the facts of survival and leads himself towards his own destruction then how can this be best. Also what is that persons motivation in blanking out the facts of survival?

Dustan

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Rand is a systematic philosopher in the tradition of Plato and Aristotle.  She believes in an essence prior to existence, that existence is identity.  The existentialist, however, opposes system-building and believes existence preceeds essence.  Rand does say that man becomes, but his task is to become rational.  His essence is Reason.  Sartre, on-the-other-hand, would say man is a being who is what he is not and is not what he is.  His essence is freedom itself to become what he will.  He makes the definition, itself, of what he will have been.

Rand did say the existence is identity. But not that essence is prior to existence. She said that existence is first. For Plato and Aristotle existence is a metaphysical term, while in Objectivism essence is a epistemological term.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon p. 120 Definitions.

Let us note, at this point, the radical difference between Aristotle's view of concepts and the Objectivist view. particularly in regard to the issue of essential characteristics.

It is Aristotle who first formulated the principles of correct definition. It is Aristotle who identified the fact that only concretes exist. But Aristotle held that definitions refer to metaphysical essences, which exist in concretes as a special element or formative power, and he held that the process of concept-fromation depends on a kind of direct intuition by which man's mind grasp these essences and forms concepts accordingly.

Aristotle regards "essences" as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological.

Objectivism holds that the essence of a concept is that fundamental characteristic(s) of it units on which the greatest numbers of other characteristics depend, and which distinguishes these units from all other existents within the field of a man's knowledge. Thus the essence of a concept is determinded contexually and may be altered with the growth of man's knowledge. The metaphysical referent of man's concepts is not a special, seperate metaphysical essence, but the total of the facts of a givin group of existents he designates as essential. An essential characteristic is factual, in the sense that it does exist, does determine other characteristics and does not distinguish a group of existents from all others; it is epitemological in the sense that the classification of "essential characteristic" is a device of man's method of cognition-- a means of classifying, condensing and intergrating and ever-growing body of knowledge.

[ibid., 68]

This is the difference between the two. Existentialist want to be free to create their own definitions in contrast to reality, while Objectivism realizes the facts of existence and define a term by its characteristics.

Dustan

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Is this existentialists' denial of pre-existing, external paths what Rand characterizes as "a vacuum of their own making..." "..their abdication from the realm of the intellect."?  The Sartrian existentialist would say Rand is leaning on crutches, relying on safety nets, not having the courage to face life without guidelines.  They would say she is substituting Reason for God.

Isn't that the point of ethics. To recognize guidelines for moral living. Earlier you said that Rand and Sartre agreed that man needs ethics.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon p.315:

What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions--the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all-- and why?

["The Obejctivist Ethics", VOS, 2;pb 13.]

Rand is not replacing God with Reason, but refuting theist and alltruism with reason.

Dustan

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Well' date=' not only are some people better able to reason than others, but some people have more information with which to reason than others. It's fine to make reality the court of final appeal, but it can be exactly that reality which is in question.[/quote']

Life isn't necessarily a competition. As long as someone reasons to the best of their ability that is enough. Even if some one is not the best rationalizer, what should they do instead?

Further' date=' when the questions are about values, the disagreements seem much less capable of being resolved by reason and that which we perceive as reality. However, Rand defines 'value' as that which man acts to gain and/or keep and 'virtue' as the action by which one gains and keeps it. She is willing to say, as she does in the opening essay in "The Virtue of Selfishness," that "man chooses his values," but she goes on to classify these choosen values as rational or irrational.

So, if I decide today that some goal is in my self-interest and pursue that goal with all my reasoning ability, what if I change my mind? Was my former goal the objective and rational one, or is it my present goal? Whose reason is most objective and rational, and when are they thus? But then, I'm not suppose to be depraved and ask such questions. Rand brow beats me with arguments from intimidation.[/quote']

Both would be rational if you used the knowledge you had at the time of the decisions. And it does not matter whose reason is most rational. Each person must use his own mind to make their own rational decisions and in the end reality will validate if that decisions was the best or not, this is how we learn.

Theists have God. Aristotle had an Umoved Mover. Nietsche had his Superman. Rand has John Galt. Is John Galt enough to anchor her philosophy? Sartre admits there are no absolutes. There is no anchor' date=' but, perhaps, that is his anchor.[/quote']

I think that John Galt is Ayn's ideal not her anchor. I would say that rationality is the anchor of Objectivism.

Some people think Rand engages in naive' date=' wishful thinking. She says that if businessmen lived in a perfectly laissez-faire society and followed pure self-interest, there would never arise conflict among them. Does it not seem like she yearned for the days when black was black and white was white, where there were no shades of gray? In Rand's world, since there can be no compromise between good and evil, everything is 'either/or' and one side is right and the other is wrong. Is life really so simple? [/quote']

This is where I stray from some of the people on this board. I believe that black is black and white is white. And I don't believe that that is a simple idea. It is rather simple to lable a complex situation as grey and inbetween, but takes alot thinking and analyzing to truely discover whether the situation is black or white, especially if it is right in the middle. The line between black and white is not always clear and is rather thin but to lable everything close to the line as grey is lazy.

However' date=' are values and morals subject to the same rational appraisal as tables? It would be nice if they were.[/quote']

Why not, especially if it would be nice?

Rand also embraces the term "selfish." To her' date=' it's a compliment. And, we understand this as living for ourselves. It would not be conducive to a flourishing survival to determine what is not in one's rational self-interest and pursue it to avoid being selfish. However, very few people actually do that. Would they even be seccessful, since it would then be in their interest to avoid that which is in their interest? [/quote']

I am a little confused here with what you are trying to point out.

It does get complicated' date=' however, when Rand talks about sacrificing her own life to save a loved one and justifies that as a selfish act, because her interest would be the interest of someone else. On page 1013 of "Atlas Shrugged" John Galt cautions Dagney Taggert not to let his opponents know what they mean to each other. If Dagney were to be tortured to pressure Galt, then he would rather commit suicide, thus taking away her value as a barganing chip and not living by their standards. So, he would rather die than be responsible for the suffering of another. The distinction between altruism and selfishness seems to merge.[/quote']

I think you may have misunderstood Galt's motivation. It is not that he would rather die than be responsible for the suffering of another, but that he would rather die than see that which he so highly values destroyed and tortured. And Objectivism has no problem with one person's self interest being a value to someone esle. In a common business transaction one person's interest is also anothers. It is not a win/lose situation, with out coercion interactions should be win/win.

Both Rand and Sartre stress treating others as ends and not as means. Rand stresses the being an end but recognizes the 'hands off' policy regarding others' date=' so that they can be ends as well. It's the old libertarian ideal of doing whatever one wants with the only condition of allowing others also to do what they want.

I don't think that Ayn Rand would have advocated letting everyone do what they wanted. That seems like hedonism and anarchism.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon on Libertarianism p.253:

For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many time before. I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called "hippies of the right", who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchsim. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concretebound, contex-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs.

["Brief Summary" TO, Sept. 1971, 1.]

According to Objectivism' date=' one need not go to the assistance of someone in trouble. One may do so if one wants, but he or she would not be condemned for pulling the shades to avoid seeing someone raped or mugged outside one's window. One has no obligation to help.[/quote']

Isn't it rational and in ones selfinterest to get a mugger or rappist off the streets?

Reason does not reach all situations' date=' as was pointed out in the essay above, so man must have some freedom to forge his own paths.[/quote']

How does reason not reach all situations? Reason is man's only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowlege-- and therefore, the rejection of reason means that man should act regardless of and/or in contradiciton to the facts of reality. ) Reason must reach all situations, because reason is how we deal with reality.

Dustan

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(Nick)Dustan, where would you be without the The Ayn Rand Lexicon? Don’t you think you lean on it a little too much? If you left it at home and got into a discussion with me on the road, would you be able to paraphrase what Rand said or have original thoughts of your own?

(Dustan)The major differences between Rand and Sartre apear to be in the area of Metaphysics and Epistemology. I donot consider Sartre's Marxism as relevant because as you pointed out it does not necessarily follow from his philosophy and it does not seem that he based his political views from his philosphical ideas.

(Nick)I think he tried to tie his philosophical views to his Marxism, but it wasn’t effective. His Marxism was just passing out flyers on the street, but his book, Being and Nothingness, his short stories, like “The Wall,” and his essays on atheistic existentialism resonate in the world of philosophy.

(Dustan)But because Rand founded her entire philosophy on Metaphysics (A is A), then I do not believe that any conclusional similarities between Rand and Sartre can be considered significant. Just because they came to similar conclusions does not mean that they came via the same argument which is very important to consider. As you point out Sartre was not systematic while Rand clearly was. Rand was systematic because that is rational, ethical theory must be formed on a foundation of metaphysics and epistemology, while Sartre's ethically theory is not that clear. Objectivism holds that A is A, while Existentialism holds that A is what you experience it to be. In Objectivism existence trumps consciousness as consciousness is the recognition of reality and dealing with it. In Existentialism consciousness trumps existence and is dependent on feelings and dealing with your experiences.

(Nick)First, I don’t see how anything follows from A is A. I don’t see how causation is a corollary. Second, existentialism recognizes A is sometimes in the process of becoming, not some static identity independent of human perception. The foundations of systematic structures may crumble when one needs them the most. Perhaps there is some value in learning to stand on one’s own to feet rather than subjugating one’s self to a pre-existing system.

(Dustan)Also it is not clear how you have incorporated Existentialism into your Neo-Objectivist theory.

(Nick)I’ve indicated that I think we are free within generalizable parameters. It’s the existentialism which provides the freedom, but the objectivism provides the essentialism which pre-exists man, the human nature which doesn’t change from location to location and time to time. Yes, this is only a brief statement. I explain and defend my theory a variety of articles and posts which can be found on my website and board. I don’t include everything about my philosophy every time I post.

(Dustan)This may be a little nit picking but Rand was not a conservative capitalist, but a lassez-faire capitalist.

(Nick)Yes, I realize she referred to Objectivists as radicals for capitalism. I should not have referred to her as a conservative capitalist. I’ll try to be more careful n the future.

(Dustan)I don't think that Rand held that man's path is already forged. She believed in free will and that men could take any path they chose, nor did she believe in forcing anyone into a path they didnot want to go. She just held that a path which is rationaly selfish is the best morally.

(Nick)Lots of people say they believe in free-will. Religious people believe that if they don’t follow a certain path, they will be condemned to Hell, but they are still free. Rand believes that realty is objective and controlled by cause and effect, yet she still says man is free. Just saying it doesn’t meet a burden of proof proving it to be true. Objectivism has a problem with freedom. The answer to this problem is in existentialism, which distinguishes between subjects and objects, between things with fixed natures and things which are free to participate in working on their natures. Now, I do think rational egoism can be justified in situations where consequences can be weighed, but there are situations were reason doesn’t reach, here we forge paths rather than choosing pre-existing ones.

(Dustan)This is very challenging. You must use your mind to determine what is rational and what is best, instead of unconsciously going through the motions. You must think critically and for yourself.

Then you must make the best decision possible and then amend that decision as more information becomes available. Objectivism does not hold that you must be infallible.

(Nick)Rationality does not always apply. We do things sometimes for no reason. We make baseless choices. These are the truly free choices. Yes, we do agonize over the decisions, not just reflexively making them. But it is not choosing alternatives already laid out for us. It is making our own alternatives, giving our own lives meaning.

(Dustan)And as to the last sentence, please explain how a path could be best if it may go too far in ignoring facts of survival. If a person ignores (blanksout) the facts of survival and leads himself towards his own destruction then how can this be best. Also what is that persons motivation in blanking out the facts of survival?

(Nick)I never said a path could be best if it ignores facts of survival. I was criticizing existentialism.

(Dustan)I don't think that Rand held that man's path is already forged. She believed in free will and that men could take any path they chose, nor did she believe in forcing anyone into a path they didnot want to go. She just held that a path which is rationaly selfish is the best morally.

(Nick)I agree that rational egoism can go a long way, but there is a problem with freedom if realty is objective and controlled entirely by cause and effect, unless it can be argued that humans can be first causes. I think existentialism does this, but Rand, with her immutable laws of logic and physics, makes freedom a problem.

(Dustan)Rand did say the existence is identity. But not that essence is prior to existence. She said that existence is first. For Plato and Aristotle existence is a metaphysical term, while in Objectivism essence is a epistemological term.

(Nick)I don’t think jumping back and forth from epistemology to metaphysics clarifies anything. It is not the case that something is true on one level while false on another. Rand is clearly an essentialist, not an existentialist. She believes humans have a fixed nature, an essence, and not that humans participate in creating their own nature, as one does who thinks existence is prior to essence.

(Dustan)This is the difference between the two. Existentialist want to be free to create their own definitions in contrast to reality, while Objectivism realizes the facts of existence and define a term by its characteristics.

(Nick)Pre-existing characteristics which man must discover, not create. This threatens freedom.

(Dustan)Isn't that the point of ethics. To recognize guidelines for moral living. Earlier you said that Rand and Sartre agreed that man needs ethics.

(Nick)Basically, Objectivism is a lot like Realism in that it is assumed that reality exists independent of the perceiver. It is discovered rather than created, and it exists pretty much as it is perceived, but reason is also a tool which we use to integrate facts of our perception. According to Rand, A is A, and the law of causation is a corollary. She doesn't recognize all the problems with perception that more rigorous philosophers talk about, and she doesn't see that an immovable, objective reality conflicts with the idea of freedom for human beings. If we all have common essences and reality is not something we can control, then we are slaves to it or like pieces of clay shaped and molded by external forces beyond our control. Behaviorists and other determinists love to make this point, that freedom is only an illusion. Existentialism, however, sees reality as more of a human creation, at least we participate in making ourselves and our reality. It's not just external to us and beyond our control, forcing us to be what we are. We have freedom, but with freedom comes responsibility. We can't just blame things that happen to us on an external reality beyond our control. We can't just be victims. Since we create ourselves and our reality, we also bring about that which happens to us. In psychology, if the behaviorist is the objectivist (Of course Rand, herself, rejected Skinner as she rejected anyone who didn't agree entirely with her.), then the humanist would be the existentialist or subjectivist.

Now, my philosophy is Neo-Objectivism. I try to combine the best of Objectivism with the best of Existentialism to keep the best of two worlds while off-setting the weaknesses of each. Too much objectivism clashes with freedom, but too much subjectivism ignores facts of survival which are pretty much objective. I believe there is an essence of humanness such that humans long ago and humans in other parts of the world are substantially the same as I. There is some natural law which is universal, so that we can have an objective morality based on human survival. However, we also have freedom within those objective parameters. We couldn't have morality if we didn't have this freedom, but unbounded freedom also eliminates the need for prescription. So, there are certain facts about reality and human existence which are objective, universal, as true for one person as for another, but we also have freedom within those objective parameters to forge our own paths, to create ourselves and reality.

Rand would disapprove of me big time. She has said that Existentialism is a philosophy for barefoot savages. She doesn't like anyone tampering with her system. It's all or nothing. Well, I respect her originality and individualism, but I can't be original and my own individual if I am just her blind follower. I still respect many aspects of her philosophy, but I think my version is better.

Writings on my website and messageboard go into further detail of my philosophy, comparing and contrasting it with others and continuing to explain and defend it.

bis bald,

Nick

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(Nick)Dustan, where would you be without the The Ayn Rand Lexicon? Don’t you think you lean on it a little too much? If you left it at home and got into a discussion with me on the road, would you be able to paraphrase what Rand said or have original thoughts of your own?

Nick I am not attacking you personally. When I discuss a topic I want to be clear as possible and make sure I have a understanding of the ideas of the philosophers that are being discussed. There were alot of times in your post that I didn't think that you were not doing Ayn Rand justice, so I let her words defend herself.

Dustan

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(Nick)First, I don’t see how anything follows from A is A.

Then this is the root of were I disagree with you, everything else follows from this.

As for the issue of freedom. I would bet that we both agree on the level of freedom that man has to make choices and to act. I don't believe that man's actions can be broken down into natural effects that follow from natural causes (nor do I think that is what objectivism breaks down to), but rather that man's actions are conscious effects that follow from the world that he is confronted with. Thinking is not automatic, to think and how to think is where man's freedom lies. Also man is a creative being, so not all choices are prechoosen paths to be taken (nor do I think that i what objectivis is saying), by the act of thinking man can create ideas and choice never concieved before (I think that all of Ayn's heros do this). Also I don't think I have ever heard an Objectivist say that they have no control over the world. Objectivism does reject behavorism. To use a baseball metaphor, a batter has no choice as to who the pitcher is or what pitch the pitcher will throw or where it will be thrown, but the batter must make the conscious choice of whether to bat or not and whether to swing or not. By swinging and hitting the ball and running the bases, the batter changes the game.

Dustan

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(Dustan)Nick I am not attacking you personally. When I discuss a topic I want to be clear as possible and make sure I have a understanding of the ideas of the philosophers that are being discussed. There were alot of times in your post that I didn't think that you were not doing Ayn Rand justice, so I let her words defend herself.

(Nick)Yes, I don't want to be overly sensitive. I don't think you are attacking me personally. I am glad to have your interest in my posts and the challenge to make me explain myself better. I'll just have to demonstrate, though, that I know enough about Rand's views that i don't need to have them quoted to me a lot. Perhaps I can accoplsh that after we've had the chance to talk further.

(Dustan)Then this is the root of were I disagree with you, everything else follows from this. (A is A)

(Nick)If this is going to be a significant clash between us, one of us should support our position and build a case. Here is my reasoning:

I recognize the value of the principle of identity in logical arguments. If modus ponens is to hold, an entity has to maintain its identity throughout the argument. (If

A, then B, and A, therefore B) doesn’t hold if A changes to not A in the middle of the argument. However, (A is A) is not an argument, itself, for anything else. It is a tautology. It tells us that a tree is a tree, but it doesn’t tell us if it is raining outside. It does not logically imply (If A, then B.)

One might say that entities are of a specific kind, and that that determines what they do or what they ought to do. A is A, man is man, and certain things are required for the proper survival of man qua man. This is stuffing what one wants into what A is. It doesn’t tell us what kind of entity man is. It doesn’t support causation. And, causation is not necessarily the law of identity applied to action. These proposals are not established by logical argument.

I’d like you, Dustan, to accept a burden to prove, logically, that causation is implied by the law of identity and that everything else from Rand’s philosophy follows directly from A is A.

(Dustan)As for the issue of freedom. I would bet that we both agree on the level of freedom that man has to make choices and to act. I don't believe that man's actions can be broken down into natural effects that follow from natural causes (nor do I think that is what objectivism breaks down to), but rather that man's actions are conscious effects that follow from the world that he is confronted with. Thinking is not automatic, to think and how to think is where man's freedom lies. Also man is a creative being, so not all choices are prechoosen paths to be taken (nor do I think that i what objectivis is saying), by the act of thinking man can create ideas and choice never concieved before (I think that all of Ayn's heros do this). Also I don't think I have ever heard an Objectivist say that they have no control over the world. Objectivism does reject behavorism. To use a baseball metaphor, a batter has no choice as to who the pitcher is or what pitch the pitcher will throw or where it will be thrown, but the batter must make the conscious choice of whether to bat or not and whether to swing or not. By swinging and hitting the ball and running the bases, the batter changes the game.

(Nick)I agree that man is free, but I have to explain that freedom, not just state that it is the case. I am aware that Objectivism claims freedom and rejects determinism. However, I don’t think it adequately explains this freedom within the rigid system of an objective reality controlled by cause and effect and laws of logic.

If things are caused, Dustan, they are not free. If there are reasons for actions, those actions are not independent, not first causes which can cause things to happen without having been caused to cause them. In mechanical toys, springs get wound and material things push against other things which force them to move. They do not move independently. They do not cause themselves, of their own free-will, to move. Many people adopt this mechanistic view for the entire universe, to include us. We are just complex, wind-up toys, controlled either by God or other causes on into infinity.

I’ve been arguing with people who present me with a two pronged fork; either actions are determined, in which case they cannot be free, or they are random, in which case they are also not free, not directed by a will. They tell me this exhausts all possibilities.

I try to argue that the mechanistic model is useful but hard to prove with certainty. There are countless factors which may account for some actions, and it is not practicable to put our fingers on all of them all the time. That’s what needs to be done to prove causation with certainty. Otherwise, we are just assuming, having faith. Saying that something is caused because it happened is arguing in a circle, employing a tautology. It does not prove causation.

In the existential model, which is no less certain than the mechanistic model, there is room for humans to be first causes. There is distinction between things in themselves, the objects bound by their natures, and the things for themselves, the subjects. Humans are the subjects, different in kind, not just degree, from other things living or not. And, humans can make baseless choices about that which promotes and protects their flourishing survival. Sometimes they have to. Reason does not always reach all areas of possibility. There is the unknown. We cannot always weigh options before taking risks. We reflect on our choices and choose; even if it is a choice not to choose. As Sartre said, “We are forced to be free.”

I also point to Chomsky’s creativity principle to support man’s ability to create meaningful sentences which have never before been constructed. Mankind’s creativity and resourcefulness is evidence of freedom. We have industrial revolutions and changing technology. This is not observed in the environments of other animals or insects. And, the volitional manipulation of symbols in a structured form is not, except maybe in a few apes, observable in other animals or insects. This manipulation of symbols in a structured form is man’s reasoning ability, evidence of conceptual thinking, which must be volitionally nurtured, and the creativity principle is evidence of freedom, that human behavior is not necessarily bound entirely by interaction of internal genes with external stimuli.

Bis bald,

Nick

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