Thursday, March 13, 2008

Check It Out: Check-Your-Premises

The ARCHNblog welcomes an interesting new voice in the firmament: Henry Scuoteguazza's Check Your Premises blog. What differentiates Henry's blog is his stated intent to think critically about Objectivism, whilst still being an Objectivist. (He also thinks critically with Objectivism too). This is especially noteworthy given the efforts of Rand and her followers to quash internal criticism of her philosophy, or to evade such criticism via obscure jargon and word games. A shame and an irony, as this tradition of criticism is an essential part of our Western tradition of freedom. We like the cut of Scuoteguazza's jib with comments like his review of Jonathan Haidt's "The Happiness Hypothesis":

Why do I have a post on Haidt's book? Because I believe Objectivists would benefit from his observations even if you ultimately disagree with him. The Objectivist literature is quiet on how our evolution as a species affects how we think and feel. Rand did say we are rational animals but I believe the animal part of this formulation was shed and/or buried in the emphasis on reason.

Also he links to us, showing that he is clearly a man of quality and distinction. We look forward to reading more.


Renee Katz said...

How the Hell did Ayn Rand and her followers try to "squash" criticism? Was there an Objectivist crime ring, or am I missing something?

Daniel Barnes said...

Like this, apparently.

Renee Katz said...

Well, they let Mr. Hackley go in the end, they didn't burn him or anything, so I don't see how they effectively squashed criticism. . .

Henry Scuoteguazza said...

I appreciate getting the exposure on ARCHN. I’ve been considering whether to change the subtitle of my blog just to “Thinking critically about Objectivism.” The “thinking with” part is really covered by a couple of other blogs with which I’m involved. Rather than shamelessly plugging them here I’ll refer anyone interested to my blog roll on Check Your Premises.

I believe Rand and most of her fans make the same mistake of other “isms.” They latch onto a kernel (or kernels) of truth then claim these kernels represent the whole truth. Ken Wilber, one of my favorite writers, likes to say that no one is so brilliant that they’re 100% wrong. I like to reverse it and say no one is so brilliant that they’re 100% right. In Rand’s case I think she didn’t have the patience or temperament to think through the nuances, implications and potential weaknesses of her positions. I like to describe my position as Objective-BUT-ism, meaning I agree with a certain premise or conclusion BUT with a caveat or a modification. I’m going to post some examples on my blog this weekend.

Renee asks: “How the Hell did Ayn Rand and her followers try to ‘squash criticism?” I might use a different word. Perhaps “discourage through intimidation” is more accurate. How? By implying that if you disagree you’re not only wrong but an immoral, whim worshipping subjectivist. Over the years I’ve met people who were on the periphery of Rand’s inner circle. Their style of “reasoning” and use of intimidation to “prove” their points are eerily similar to Barbara Branden’s description in The Passion of Ayn Rand of what happened during the inner circle days. Coincidence? I think not! To borrow Richard Dawkins terminology, the Randian meme of argumentation self-replicated among the true believers. I also witnessed this approach in person at some of Rand’s Ford Hall Forum Q&As. As Mr. T would say, “I pity the fool” who asked the “wrong” question. ;-)

Or, for a more recent example, just visit discussion forums or blogs of the more doctrinaire Randians. There is at least one that I know of where you have to sign a loyalty oath in order to be allowed in. If that doesn’t discourage independent thinking I don’t know what does!

In essence, I feel reality is lot more complicated than Rand lets on and therefore her philosophy needs to be more nuanced. The final result of asking these questions might end up with conclusions that Rand and her followers would not label “Objectivism.” So be it. I prefer to take the approach Anthony Flew recommends: follow where the evidence leads you.

Anyway, thanks again for referring to my blog. I hope visitors will find my posts (past, present and future) thought-provoking. ARCHN is on my daily list of blogs to check.

JayCross said...


Well said. I love the looks of your blog so far and am finding that we see eye-to-eye on many things.

When I was a little younger (17 or so, I'm 21 now) I assumed most Objectivists were pretty much like me. I figured they would love coming to a site like this and debating people with opposite views, because what drew me to Objectivism was the seemingly huge influence on critical thinking. Sadly, I am learning that this isn't always the case. Many Objectivists are the same as non-Objectivists; they are content to let someone who seems astute enough render an opinion for them without really thinking it through.
It's was actually kind of saddening to learn this, but it's quite true.

Anyway, moral of the story: your blog is a welcome addition. It's nice to see an Objectivist whose brain isn't hermetically sealed inside quotes from Atlas Shrugged.