Monday, December 10, 2007

The Literature of Orthodox Objectivism

Guest blogger Neil Parille from Objectiblog tots up the books advancing Objectivism beyond Ayn Rand's original works.

In 1967, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism became complete. In that year, Rand published her collection of essays entitled Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (it was published by Mentor with Leonard Peikoff’s essay in 1979). By that time, she had written The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and published her important articles “The Objectivist Ethics” and “The Nature of Government.”

Considering the revolutionary nature of Objectivism and the pure evil and evident absurdity of non-Objectivist thought, one might assume that Objectivists would rush into print with defenses and elaborations of Objectivism. Best I can tell, the number of books actually advancing Objectivism is quite small. (I exclude books written by non-ARI Objectivists).

1. Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels (1982)
2. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1993)
3. David Kelley, The Evidence of the Senses (1988)
4. Harry Binswanger, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts (his doctoral thesis, published by the ARI press)
5. Tara Smith, Viable Values (2000)
6. Tara Smith, Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics (2006)

Even if I’ve forgotten a book or two, this is hardly an impressive list. Granted there is a fair amount of literature produced by Objectivists, but much of it is general discussions of Rand or material unrelated to Objectivism per se. I would put in this list Allan Gotthelf’s 2000 book On Ayn Rand (a 100 page synopsis of Rand’s thought) and Andrew Bernstein’s The Capitalist Manifesto, a defense of capitalism. One prolific Objectivist is Robert Mayhew, who has edited collections about We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Rand’s “marginalia,” Rand’s answers to questions posed at lectures or interviews, and a book on Rand’s testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities on the movie “Song of Russia” (Ayn Rand and Song of Russia).

While Objectivists are short on writing books, they are long on producing taped lectures. Quite often one will hear Objectivists recommend Leonard Peikoff’s tape courses, such as Objectivism Through Induction, to those who raise issues about Objectivism. I haven’t listened to this course, but it’s unreasonable to expect critics to spend $270.00 to purchase the CDs. (One can purchase slickly produced courses from The Teaching Company for much less.) If this course is so great, why doesn’t Peikoff publish transcripts of it?

For years we have heard that Peikoff will be publishing a book on his DIM Hypothesis, David Harriman a book on physics applying Peikoff’s theory of induction, and Harry Binswanger on consciousness. If these books see the light of day and are reasonably priced, I will be among the first purchasers.

34 comments:

lila beta said...

If these books see the light of day and are reasonably priced, I will be among the first purchasers.

for the entertainment value?

Jay said...

I will buy them too. However, I do think Tara Smith's books are excellent additions to Objectivist literature.

Jay said...

Also, from Craig Biddle's website:

Book in Progress

The book I’m currently writing, which is tentatively titled “Good Thinking: The Science of Being Selfish,” is about the principles of rational thinking and the fallacies that are violations of those principles. Whereas Loving Life demonstrates that being moral consists in being selfish, “Good Thinking” shows what being selfish means in the realm of cognition; it is about how to use one’s mind in the service of one’s life, liberty, and happiness.

Neil Parille said...

Jay,

But Biddle is a popularizer.

Kelly said...

I like that Biddle's book has the word science in it. Sounds, uh, scientific. I've read a few of Biddle's articles on CapMag, and really, there not very good. It seems like Objectivist writers are just re-writing the same crappy articles over and over and over. We get it. Enough already. Uncle.

Kelly

Robert Campbell said...

Neil,

A couple of thoughts here.

First, the Kelley book was published in 1986, before he was in danger of expulsion from ARI. The Binswanger monongraph came out in 1990, though how heavily Dr. Binswanger had revised his 1970s doctoral dissertation remains a matter for conjecture.

Second, having recently made a close study of one of the lectures in Objectivism through Induction (Lecture 11, on "the arbitrary"), I am convinced that publishing an edited transcript would merely serve to further persuade persons not affiliated with the Leonard Peikoff Institute that Dr. Peikoff cannot argue cogently for many of the positions that he takes. In fact, a reasonably straight transcript of Lecture 11 would persuade a lot of people that Dr. Peikoff has flipped his lid.

Robert Campbell

Jay said...

Robert,

I was once very interested in Objectivism through Induction but it was pretty expensive when I last looked. Did it cost you a lot?

Daniel Barnes said...

Robert:
>In fact, a reasonably straight transcript of Lecture 11 would persuade a lot of people that Dr. Peikoff has flipped his lid.

Yes. This habit of sticking to audio only releases I call the FB/EC strategy - Fleece Believers/Evade Critics...;-)

dragonfly said...

I'm always amazed when Objectivists in an argument refer to one of those Peikoff tapes. Do they really think that a non-believer will blindly pay hundreds of dollars and try to find a passage somewhere after 20 minutes or so to hear an argument? Tapes are typically a medium for cults, to reinforce the message for the believing members, but not to be taken seriously as a reference.

Daniel: "For years we have heard that Peikoff will be publishing a book on his DIM Hypothesis, David Harriman a book on physics applying Peikoff’s theory of induction, and Harry Binswanger on consciousness."

How long shall we have to wait? As long as we had to wait for the Ominous Parallels, the book that has been "forthcoming" for many, many years? It reminds me of that man in Huxley's Point counter Point, who was also supposedly writing some important book, but was in fact only endlessly "busy" making preparations. I think those people must be aware that they're sticking their neck out; within the safe environment of their cult they may have the illusion that they have written a great argument, but when it is available for outsiders, the comments might be less complimentary. That may have a paralyzing effect...

(I just see that Daniel has made the same point...)

Jay said...

I agree that the emphasis on tapes over books is a bit sketchy. However, having written a book (albeit a rather short one) I can tell you it is an incredibly demanding task.

It took my buddy and I about 4 months to write a comedic 85 page book on Internet scams. To write something like Ominous Parallels with serious philosophical integration and analysis would probably take years, so I am inclined to believe authors who take their time.

(Shameless plug: If you're looking to understand how Internet scams work at the innermost levels, www.yourfuturein.com is a good place to start!)

Ellen Stuttle said...

Jay wrote:

"To write something like Ominous Parallels with serious philosophical integration and analysis would probably take years,"

...especially if one has Ayn Rand reading, criticizing and wanting re-writes on each successive draft. ;-)

Ellen

Robert Campbell said...

Jay,

I received a transcript of one lecture in the Objectivism through Induction series from a colleague who knew that I was interested in what Dr. Peikoff had to say about the arbitrary. I haven't listened to any of the other lectures, and am unlikely to do that unless I get involved in further research on Dr. Peikoff's work and can justify plunking down over $200 for the privilege.

Nearly a third of Lecture 11 is taken up with a series of blistering Peikovian rants against anyone who has taught any subject in the humanities, at any level, in the United States, since around 1965. This isn't the only reason why I think he's flipped his lid--some of the arguments he offers in defense of his claims about "the arbitrary" are remarkably bad--but it sure contributes to the overall impression.

Dragonfly,

Two installments from David Harriman's book have already appeared in the new Leonard Peikoff Institute magazine, The Objective Standard. I wouldn't want to predict a completion date from such evidence (Leonard Peikoff was publishing early versions of some parts of The Ominous Parallels as far back as 1968) but at least I take it to mean that Mr. Harriman is hard at work on his book.

I am less optimistic that either Dr. Binswanger's book about consciousness or Dr. Peikoff's book about the DIM hypothesis will actually materialize. Dr. Peikoff, in particular, has announced and then abandoned book projects in the past. He is also a 74-year-old man with a bad heart.

I actually would like to see all three books published, and promptly--because I do not think that they will do anything to boost the reputations of Mr. Harriman, Dr. Binswanger, or Dr. Peikoff outside of the Ayn Rand Institute. Unfortunately, on some level all three of these authors probably sense that.

Robert Campbell

Neil Parille said...

I'm surprised there isn't more criticism of the ARI by ARIans concerning the prices of the taped lecture series. And it doesn't even seem that you can download them and listen on your MP3 player.

dragonfly said...

Well, if you are a believer and you've payed so much for those lectures, you'll be inclined to think they must be wonderful and that you've become one of the initiates. Any critical thoughts you might have will be suppressed. Just as many people will be convinced that wine from an expensive bottle does taste better, even if someone has put some cheap wine in that bottle. So from Peikoff's viewpoint it is a clever strategy.

Neil Parille said...

DF,

Yes, but a $22 (plus I imagine shipping) for a 90 minute Q&A with Harry Binswanger?

Robert,

I wonder though what Binswanger, Peikoff and Harriman think of the non-ARI world. And these people are very tone-deaf. Peikoff actually thought that Rand's marginalia and her private diaries would make her look good (not to mention his choice of Valliant).

Robert Campbell said...

Neil,

The ARIans are frequently, but not invariably, clueless about non-ARIan opinion.

It's been reported that Harry Binswanger was opposed to Mr. Valliant's book project, on the grounds that it would make Ayn Rand look bad. If so, Dr. Binswanger got at least one thing right.

In a passage from one of his lectures quoted by Roger Bissell over at ObjectivistLiving, Dr. Peikoff admitted that he would never commit to print what he had just said in lecture. Of course, Dr. Peikoff's fear of what will happen when his views are widely available in black and white may not be primarily directed at non-ARIans.

Robert Campbell

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil and Robert,

We've had a discussion like this before (on OL) about Leonard Peikoff's choosing Valliant to publish the diaries.

As "tone-deaf" as Leonard can be where AR is concerned -- vide, his praising to the skies in his memoir her analysis of the streaker at the Academy Awards -- I suspect that he had at least some uneasy intimations re the diaries and that that's why he took advantage of Valliant's writing (on Casey Fahy's website) a critique of the Brandens' respective books and he allowed Valliant to use the diaries. He was faced with certain options: Burn them, which I think he couldn't have brought himself to do; sit on them, not letting them see the light of possibly critical day, while he's still alive (in which case he'd risk their being published without what he'd consider proper "exegesis"), publish them himself under ARI auspices, which I think he'd not have wanted to do, approach one of the non-ARI publishers with whom he's worked, asking them to publish the diaries, which again I think he'd not have wanted to do (especially since the whole thing of the affair is probably an embarrassment to him: he'd apparently denied there was such an affair until he had to admit there was; plus, he has to have felt not trusted by her, with her never telling him). IMO, Valliant provided him with the best solution from his standpoint: a way to get them published, at arm's length, and with the best-possible trappings of explication and context attempting to make AR look good.

Ellen

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

I agree that Peikoff was in a bit of a quandry, but why not wait until an ARI-approved biographer (such as Milgram) gives the approved view of the affair and diaries?

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate a copy of Valliant's pre-PARC internet essay, but if he mentioned that the surprise party was an attack on Rand's "autonomy," I assume that Peikoff thought that things like that made the Brandens look bad.

Peikoff really seems to believe that Rand walked on water, and that exposure to a bit of Objectivism will convince anyone that the Brandens are pure evil simply because they disagree with this or that aspect of Objectivism.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil wrote:

I agree that Peikoff was in a bit of a quandry, but why not wait until an ARI-approved biographer (such as Milgram) gives the approved view of the affair and diaries?

Because that would give ARI sanction to lengthy discussion of the Unmentionable Ones.

Speaking of the anticipated Milgram biography, is there any indication you've heard that the affair will be discussed? (I've heard indications that it won't be, but I don't know anything reliable.)

Ellen

Neil Parille said...

I haven't heard anything about the biography, except what's on the internet:

"I am currently writing a study of the life of Ayn Rand up to 1957 (i.e., from her birth in St. Petersburg, Russia, to the publication of her final novel, Atlas Shrugged); my project, which is based on access to primary sources, presents her vision of the human ideal—the individual, rational mind in triumphant action—as the integrating principle of her public and private life."

PARC II, as Dan said.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil,

A couple other points re your wondering "why not wait until an ARI-approved biographer (such as Milgram) gives the approved view of the affair and diaries?"

The book Milgram is working on traces Rand's life only up through 1957 and the publication of Atlas Shrugged. Thus it won't include anything about the NBI era, or about the split. even if it so much as mentions the affair (which started in 1955).

And something which occurred to me last night re your having wondered why Leonard Peikoff hadn't tried to get the diaries published as a stand-alone volume by one of the trade publishing houses he uses: What would you see as the sales angle? The approach Peikoff would want would be one trying to paint Rand as saintliness betrayed (O'ist style saintliness) and Branden as diabolical, but would a major trade publishing house acceed to such an approach? I'd venture to say, unless a strange rash of gullibility has infested publishing circles since I was actively involved there, that the average world-savy editor reading those diaries would form a whole different impression of Rand from the one Leonard would want perceived and would see the major sales appeal as the non-flattering light cast on Rand herself. But Leonard wouldn't want a sales pitch featuring anything negative about Rand... Impasse, so it seems to me.

Ellen

Jay said...

I have a question.

I realize the Branden split is a big conversation starter around here, but how is it at all relevant to her philosophy? A screwed up personal life is irrelevant to evaluating one's ideas.

Ellen Stuttle said...

I have a non-answer. If stuff about the split and all that doesn't interest you, just skip posts talking about it. Some of us find the subject interesting. Maybe I in particular find it especially interesting since I knew (in some cases, still know) most of the people involved.

Ellen

Anonymous said...

I asked UK Objectvisits to write a book after they asserted that the UK was doomed to either fascism or religion. I mean an Ominous Parallels for the UK, who wouldn't want ot read that?
I was particularly interested in a time line for either of these.
Answer that came back was none.
Perhaps Objectivists in the UK just aren't up to the job?

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

I suspect that Peikoff felt that someone had to respond to "the Brandens," even if badly. From now on, if somebody asks about the Brandens or Rand's eccentric personality, an ARIan can respond "that was debunked by a prosecutor based on Rand's own diaries."

Jay,

That ARIans believe (or claim to believe) that a book as shoddy as PARC constiutes a refutation of "the Brandens" says a lot about the movement. That's why I find it intersting.

Daniel Barnes said...

I love "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics."

I also love "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

For the same reasons.

Jay said...

Maybe I in particular find it especially interesting since I knew (in some cases, still know) most of the people involved.

Fair enough. I did not know that.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "I realize the Branden split is a big conversation starter around here, but how is it at all relevant to her philosophy? A screwed up personal life is irrelevant to evaluating one's ideas."

Actually, I am not sure this is always true. Rand claimed to practice what she preached, and if practicing what she preached led to a screwed up personal life, it's not entirely without relevance.

I should also add that the Branden-Rand split probably did more damage to Objectivism than any intellectual refutation of Rand's view ever did. The simple fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, ad hominem attacks work. There are compelling reasons why this is so. If you examine Rand's works, what you find is a lot of controversial assertions about matters of fact that are not backed either with fact or even logic. The best one gets from Rand, in the evidence department, is a few vague arguments. Those who become orthodox Objectivists do so because they take Rand as an authority, as a philosopher with special insight into reality. There is nothing essentially wrong with this. Most of our non-tacit knowledge comes from other people—from teachers, scientists, philosophers, etc. The division of labor necessary for advanced civilizations means that we have to gain some of our knowledge from various "authorities." But how do we choose which authorities to trust and which to reject? I think here we have the source of the power ad hominem arguments. The experience of mankind, which may even be encoded in our DNA, is not to trust people with screwed-up personal lives.

Daniel Barnes said...

Additionally, Jay, the other issue is that its perfectly fair to criticise Rand's personal relations with others, precisely because she claimed her ethics was such an important part of her thought. Now, if she wrote only on the genetic composition of fruitflies or the authorship of Jacobean plays or even just Objectivist epistemology then we would rightly think bringing in her personal behaviour as evidence against her theories as spurious. But of course ethics is about personal behaviour, so in this respect it is perfectly reasonable to examine Rand and her followers' behaviour in this light, to make sure they practice what they preach, and whether this gospel is in fact workable in its foremost adherents' lives.

Further, it could be argued that as Rand makes such inordinate claims for the total integration of all the elements of her system, that one part (eg ethics) cannot be dispensed with without the destruction of the rest, and her goal of projecting the "ideal man" in her philosophy, that it follows that the personal character of Rand herself becomes far more critical to her system of thought than perhaps any other philosopher. Thus the possible invalidity of Objectivism due to Rand's personal behaviour, often attributed as an unfair tactic of Rand's critics, is in fact an argument of Objectivism's own devising. They can't have it both ways: she can't be the One True Objectivist in word and deed, giving us a new "science" of ethics on the one hand and have her personal life isolated from her theories.

Once you understand this problem, which I'll call the vulnerability of total integration, you understand why nut-gone books like "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" get written.

Neil Parille said...

Jay,

I've written a lengthy critique of Valliant's book on Objectivistliving.com, but I don't think I've discussed the split or the affair per se there or here.

For what it's worth, I think there is plenty of blame to go around (at least as far as Mr. Branden and Rand are concerned).

As Dan and Greg note, the experience of Objectivists (and not just Rand and Branden) in living their higher morality doesn't appear to be a success. What does that tell you about Objectivist ethics?

Jay said...

From what I've read, Rand "got permission" from her husband to have a sexual affair with Branden. I think that's retarded. If you're married with someone why are you sleeping with someone else? I think the question is more "What does that say about Rand's marraige?" than "What does that say about the Objectivist ethics?"

Jay said...

Greg,

Fair points, but I would add that Rand is not the only successful writer with a screwed up personal life. In fact, many of the great writers throughout history have been messed up in one way or another. Drug problems, insanity, binge drinking, romantic trainwrecks, etc.

See Edgar Allen Poe and Hemingway as just two examples.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "Fair points, but I would add that Rand is not the only successful writer with a screwed up personal life."

Yes, that is true. The larger point I was trying to make is that, while have a screwed up personal life doesn't prove that one's ideas are screwed up as well, it should arouse suspicions, particularly where there's an absence of evidence and desire to have open and fair discussion with one's critics.

I would also add that there are moral philosophers and social thinkers who led fairly regular, and sometimes even admirable, lives. Among philosophers we could include Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Hume, Adam Smith, Kant, Mill, Nietzche, W. James, Santayana, Blanshard.

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