Monday, February 12, 2007

Hoisted from Comments: Nyquist Replies to a Critic

...even though that critic, one Mr John Donohue, has point-blank refused to read "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature"! Only in Objectivism...;-) Still, we're used to that by now. Extract from this thread.

Nyquist:
Mr. Donohue has objected to the following description of Rand's metaphysics, which he regards as a twisted misstatement of Rand's position:

"Although acknowledging that realism cannot be proved, she (Rand) did believe it could be validated through the use of several axioms."

I'm rather surprised that Mr. Donahue should object to this. The distinction between proof and validation in regards to the Objectivist axioms is taken straight from Peikoff. In Objectivism, these axioms don't prove anything, but are regarded as the basis of proof. But they are said to validate certain notions, such as causality and "contradictions don't exist in reality."

Mr. Donahue: "You claim that Objectivists deduce facts of reality from the axioms (wrong) and claim the axioms as being 'mere tautology.'"

Well of course Rand does deduce facts of reality from her axioms. Causality and the view that "contradictions don't exist in reality" are both assertions about matters of fact that are deduced from the axioms. As for the claim of tautology, I don't see how that one can be evaded either, since a tautology is defined as a statement that's true no matter what the actual truth values of the predicate and subject are: in other words, its truth-value is independent of the way things are. "A is A" and "Existence exists" are clearly tautological statements.

Mr. Donahue: "Deluded that you have gotten her in the corner, you simply assert that Rand has rationalized her system around her personal 'mess' and that explains everything."

No, this is a mischaracterization of why I have charged Rand with rationalization. This is an important point that bears greater scrutiny. My charge of rationalization is not made lightly. It is based on three very well supported premises:

1. Rand's view of man, particularly her conceptualization of her so-called ideal man, is largely based on notions about man and the human condition that don't square with reality.

2. From evidence compiled from Rand's letters, journals, and life, she appears to have been relunctant to face up to the empirical challenges to her ideal man theory--so much so that it would not be exaggeration to claim that she evaded important facts about human nature.

3. It is obvious from Rand's life that she was a very brilliant woman who could have easily understood the important facts about human nature which she refused to accept.

Now the only way I can see my way to explaining these three premises is by assuming that Rand was guilty of rationalization. The only other possible explanation is that Rand was lying, and don't regard that as very plausible.

To sum up: if those three premises (and they're well supported by the facts) then Rand's theory of human nature is almost certainly the product of rationalization.

3 comments:

Neil Parille said...

As far as Rand's theory of human nature being a "rationalization" I will throw a couple of examples into the mix -

1. Rand became an atheist early on because she said that the existence of God would place limits on man.

2. She said in her Q&A that it is possible for someone to increase his IQ from 100 to 150.

gregnyquist said...

Neil: "Rand became an atheist early on because she said that the existence of God would place limits on man."

Yes, an apt example. Note: she didn't decide primarily on the facts, but on what she took to be the consequence of the facts on her view of man--a clear case of rationalizing. Whether God exists is a question of fact: and such questions are best solved by consulting the relevant evidence. Whether God's existence accords with Rand's view of man is not a very good way of settling the issue.

Daniel Barnes said...

Neil:
>She said in her Q&A that it is possible for someone to increase his IQ from 100 to 150.

Only 150? It is surely the essence of an anti-life philosophy to insist on putting such arbitrary limits on man's ability..;-)