Friday, July 25, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 18

Conclusion. In Reason in Religion, the naturalist philosopher George Santayana sought to show how religion could be the “embodiment of reason.” At the conclusion of the work, he presented a view of religion that is both eminently fair and nuanced, distinguishing with great sensitivity the good from the bad:

The preceding analysis of religion, although it is illustrated mainly by Christianity, may enable us in a general way to distinguish the rational goal of all religious life. In no sphere is the contrast clearer between wisdom and folly; in none, perhaps, has there been so much of both. It was a prodigious delusion to imagine that work could be done by magic; and the desperate appeal which human weakness has made to prayer, to castigations, to miscellaneous fantastic acts, in the hope of thereby bending nature to greater sympathy with human necessities, is a pathetic spectacle.…

No less useless and retarding has been the effort to give religion the function of science. Mythology, in excogitating hidden dramatic causes for natural phenomena, or in attributing events to the human values which they might prevent or secure, has profoundly perverted and confused the intellect; it has delayed and embarrassed the discovery of natural forces, at the same time fostering presumptions which, on being exploded, tended to plunge men, by revulsion, into an artificial despair….

Through the dense cloud of false thought and bad habit in which religion thus wrapped the world, some rays broke through from the beginning; for mythology and magic expressed life and sought to express its conditions. Human needs and human ideals went forth in these forms to solicit and to conquer the world; and since these imaginative methods, for their very ineptitude, rode somewhat lightly over particular issues and envisaged rather distant goods, it was possible through them to give aspiration and reflection greater scope than the meaner exigencies of life would have permitted. Where custom ruled morals and a narrow empiricism bounded the field of knowledge, it was partly a blessing that imagination should be given an illegitimate sway. Without misunderstanding, there might have been no understanding at all; without confidence in supernatural support, the heart might never have uttered its own oracles. So that in close association with superstition and fable we find piety and spirituality entering the world.

Rational religion has these two phases: piety, or loyalty to necessary conditions, and spirituality, or devotion to ideal ends. These simple sanctities make the core of all the others. Piety drinks at the deep, elemental sources of power and order: it studies nature, honours the past, appropriates and continues its mission. Spirituality uses the strength thus acquired, remodelling all it receives, and looking to the future and the ideal. True religion is entirely human and political, as was that of the ancient Hebrews, Romans, and Greeks. Supernatural machinery is either symbolic of natural conditions and moral aims or else is worthless.


Now my primary argument against the hostility toward religion manifested in Objectivism and other brands of uncompromising or intolerant atheism is that it clouds the understanding. Disbelief in God becomes bigotry against all forms of theism and most adherents of religion. It introduces into the intellect a pernicious astigmatism which causes the individual to see far more of the bad than the good side of religion. Religion, when seen through this astigmatism, becomes a kind of bogeyman. A form of unbelief that began in rationality terminates in a kind of prejudice and dogmatism that is contrary to the scientific spirit. Atheism soon becomes a kind of obverse religion. In its zeal, it adopts some of the most extreme views found in the rubbish heap of outmoded scientific theories, such as physicalism, determinism, and a dogmatic form of Darwinism that would turn natural selection into the sole principle behind the evolution of human life.

While Rand and her apologists managed to avoid the absurdities of the materialistic atheists, this did not prevent them from stumbling into other absurdities, the worst of which is Rand’s ideal man, who experiences “no inner conflicts” and whose “consciousness is in perfect harmony.” The ideal man was the object of Rand’s religious worship. Her fictional heroes were her gods, the principle objects of whatever piety existed in her.

Although she disliked religion, Rand nonetheless appreciated religious emotion. She recognized its importance. Yet one must question the objects to which she addressed these emotions. Consider Santayana’s view of the rational elements of religion. He identifies piety, which he describes as “ loyalty to necessary conditions,” as one of the two phases of rational religion. Santayana’s piety, then, his religious emotions, are focused on the sources of his being: on nature, the past, his innate talents and abilities, and his “mission” in life—the goals to which his organism are naturally directed. In short, Santayana’s piety is focused on things that are real. Rand’s piety, on the other hand, is focused on a figment: on her ideal man as portrayed in such extravagant works of fiction as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

By remaining friendly to religion, Santayana was able to recognize those aspects of religion that could enrich his naturalist philosophy. In the essay “Ultimate Religion,” Santayana outlined his basic method, which involved, as he put it, an “examination of conscience” in which he found “a sort of secret or private philosophy perhaps more philosophical than [my public philosophy]: and while I set up no gods, not even Spinoza’s infinite Deus sive Natura, I do consider on what subjects and to what end we might consult those gods, if we found that they existed: and surely the aspiration that would prompt us, in that case, to worship gods, would be our truest heart-bond and our ultimate religion.”

In other words, theology, for Santayana, becomes a Socratic exercise in determining what we really value. If a God or gods did exist, what kind of ideals would they represent? What kind of ideals would they wish us to pursue? Those theists who look to theology to provide matters of fact about an existing God or gods, and those atheists who are hell-bent on denying the factual claims of dogmatic theists, have both missed the point. Theology is not about facts, it is about ideals and plumbing the depths of the human heart. But it requires a true naturalist who harbors no animus against religion or religious believers to understand and appreciate the extent to which religion, when surveyed rationally and without rancor, can enrich one’s existence and deepen one’s philosophy.

19 comments:

Damien said...

greg,

Obviously like all ideologues, (including religious fundamentalists) objectivist ideologues tend to ignore things that contradict their view of the world. They simply ignore all of religions positive influence and focus only on the negative.

A Communists Or socialists is another example of an ideologue, they tend to ignore all the positive things capitalism has been responsible for, and focus on and and greatly exaggerate its few flaws. They also ignore the utter failure of socialist states like Cuba or they make them out to be some kind of utopia.

As for Rand, her desire to create a man with no inner conflicts is about as plausible as creation science. I think it was you who said that our inner conflicts are caused by competing desires and not our philosophies. Beyond that, even if it could be achieved why would it be a good thing in and of itself. What about a blood thirsty, sadomasochistic, serial killer with no inner conflicts? What would Rand or Piekoff or some other objectivist think of that, especially if he targeted them.

Michael H said...

What about a blood thirsty, sadomasochistic, serial killer with no inner conflicts?

Michael Prescott's essay on Rand's fixation with Edward Hickman addresses this, I think.

Except for the part about if she was the target.

Damien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damien said...

Michael H,

Thank you, I forgot about that disturbing essay.

Anonymous said...

"Now my primary argument against the hostility toward religion manifested in Objectivism and other brands of uncompromising or intolerant atheism is that it clouds the understanding. Disbelief in God becomes bigotry against all forms of theism and most adherents of religion. It introduces into the intellect a pernicious astigmatism which causes the individual to see far more of the bad than the good side of religion."

Are you sure you understand the militant atheist's position? I've seen two arguments in regards to religion's "good side."

1. Spirituality, morality, communal experiences, etc. are not exclusive to religion, so this isn't a tradeoff situation (like freedom vs. security, say) where one has to tolerate the bad to obtain the good. What does religion offer that philosophy, art, and science can't?

2. Atheists (and most everyone, I would think) find it unethical to promote a belief system predicated on falsehoods. The good side of religion, then, is irrelevant. Ends don't justify means. Religion reduces crime in the underclass? Find another way. It's narrow-minded and "contrary to the scientific spirit" to suggest it can't be done.


"In other words, theology, for Santayana, becomes a Socratic exercise in determining what we really value."

Islam stresses submission to Allah. Christianity, obedience to the God's Word. Adherents are literally indoctrinated into the faith, usually at an uncritical age. Theology is strongly asserted to be objective and absolute, and to reject it--the most egregious sin one can commit--is punishable by eternal torment. Theology is only amenable to conscious revision if you have sufficient stature to claim divine authority and can make an argument from, er, theology.

I'm sorry, but to spin that as a kind of Socratic criticism is just blatant sophistry. At any rate, a more accurate word to use here would be "storybuilding" or "metaphor" though of course then you're no longer talking about religion (which is exactly my point. You're equivocating).


"Those theists who look to theology to provide matters of fact about an existing God or gods, and those atheists who are hell-bent on denying the factual claims of dogmatic theists, have both missed the point"

Militant atheists take issue with religion because it places tradition, authority, and magical thinking above evidence-based reasoning and critical debate. Factual inaccuracy is part of the larger criticism, not the sole objection.


"But it requires a true naturalist who harbors no animus against religion or religious believers to understand and appreciate the extent to which religion, when surveyed rationally and without rancor, can enrich one’s existence and deepen one’s philosophy."

It requires a true naturalist who harbors no bias in favor of religion and human cognition to understand that ultimately religion only needs to favor religion in order to propigate. That it's existed for so long does not mean that it's necessary and benign to the human condition. (How has the evolution debate enriched society, or intrinsicist arguments about when life begins?)

Religion needs to be subject to criticism and analysis, and since neither society nor the faithful are willing to do that, it's up to the atheists.

-- Ian.

Darren said...

You said:

"Although she disliked religion, Rand nonetheless appreciated religious emotion. She recognized its importance. "

Can you provide a source for this assertion?

gregnyquist said...

Ian: "Are you sure you understand the militant atheist's position?"

Yes. And your comment illustrates what I have written rather well—though perhaps not as you intended it to. What you write is so intemperately hostile to religion that you even miss the point of the post. "Theology is strongly asserted to be objective and absolute," you write, "and to reject it--the most egregious sin one can commit--is punishable by eternal torment." But what does this have to do with my post? Where in my post do I support using theology in this way? I wrote "Those theists who look to theology to provide matters of fact about an existing God or gods ... have ...missed the point." Such a viewpoint is obviously contrary to that of religious extremists who wish to cram dogmatic theologies down everyone's throat. Nor is there any spin in suggesting that theology should be interpreted psychologically, as a mythical expression of human ideals: that is what it often amounts to, even in the hands of believers. And what can possibly wrong in merely imagining what values a god might hold? It could prove a very useful psychological scheme for gaining insights into human nature. But such insights are hermetically sealed from the militant atheist, whose prejudices against religion are so strong that he can't even allow the clear-eyed and unprejudiced naturalist to view religious devices as literature and myth.

Is it equivocating to view religion as myth, because religion as myth is no longer religion? But that's to share the assumptions of those take religion as literal truth. I don't see any compelling reason to take it that way. Nor does this involve equivocating unless I were to declare that religious claims about matters of fact were true because they were myths. But that is not what I am saying.

Is it unethical to promote a belief system predicated on falsehoods? Why should it be unethical? People are going to believe untrue things, anyway. So why not try to get them to believe untrue things that have some utility in them and have been vetted by tradition? Sure, it would be nice if everyone could be content with believing in true things, but people aren't like that, are they? And why must we be like Plato and banish the poets simply because they tell lies?

"What does religion offer that philosophy, art, and science can't?" But this is just the sort of question that the militant atheist has trouble answering. He can't answer it because his passion against religion blinds him to the good side of religion. This makes it impossible for him to incorporate this good element into his larger, naturalist philosophy. The broad-minded, philosophical naturalist can well do without the vices of religion; but he can't, nor should he, do without the virtues of religion. His naturalism will be a poor, insipid thing if its bereft of piety and spirituality. So why not look to religion to see how its experiments in these vital elements have proceeded? Why not determine where religion has failed and succeeded in developing piety and spirituality, and from these lessons develop piety and spirituality within one's naturalism? How could any non-believer in the empirical claims of religion possibly object to such a procedure except for a wanton bigotry of just the sort that afflicts the religious zealot?

gregnyquist said...

Darren: "You said:

"'Although she disliked religion, Rand nonetheless appreciated religious emotion. She recognized its importance.'

"Can you provide a source for this assertion?"

The most explicit source is a letter Rand wrote, I believe in the forties, stating that, while she wasn't religious, she did like religious emotion. This view is reflected in several passages in The Fountainhead. For example, when someone says to Roark "You're a profoundly religious man—in your own way," Roark replies "That's true." (p. 328)

Michael H said...

Religion needs to be subject to criticism and analysis, and since neither society nor the faithful are willing to do that, it's up to the atheists.

Well, Ian, the atheists have an uphill battle on their hands. Pew Research recently released the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of over 35,000 Americans. The link goes to the summary findings.

What were those findings? 92% of the respondents reported a belief in God, and nearly 83% reported an affiliation with a particular religion, while those identifying themselves as ‘atheist’ were represented by a miniscule 1.6% of respondents. And of the 1.6% who identified themselves as atheists, a full 22% claimed to believe in God!

The claim that religious beliefs lead to intolerance are directly contradicted by the findings as well. Of those who had identified themselves as affiliated with a particular faith, 70% affirmed the statement that “many religions can lead to eternal life”, while 68% agreed with the statement, “There is more than one way to interpret the teachings of my religion”. Even more interesting is that these two questions were supported by more than half of those who identified themselves as Evangelicals. If “theology is strongly asserted to be objective and absolute”, the congregations aren’t paying much attention.

Spending a little time reviewing this data is pretty revealing – Americans consider their religion very important to their lives, but are much more tolerant than Dawkins or Dennett would like everyone to believe.

Another thing the atheists need to consider are some observations from E.J. Schumacher’s article The Slenderest Knowledge, available at the consciousness page at the WIE website. (Email registration required). The title of the article is a reference to Thomas Aquinas’ remark that, "The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things."

To accept anything as true means to incur the risk of error. If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt, I minimize the risk of error, but at the same time I maximize the risk of missing out on what may be the subtlest, most important and most rewarding things in life.

After many centuries of theological imperialism, we have now had three centuries of "scientific imperialism," and the result is a degree of bewilderment and disorientation, particularly among the young, which can at any moment lead to the collapse of our civilization.

It may conceivably be possible to live without churches; but it is not possible to live without religion, that is, without systematic work to keep in contact with, and develop toward, higher levels than those of "ordinary life" with all its pleasure or pain, sensation, gratification, refinement or crudity—whatever it may be. The modern experiment to live without religion has failed, and once we have understood this, we know what our "postmodern" tasks really are.


Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Now the first position I make is that natural religion supplies still all the facts which are disguised under the dogma of popular creeds.”

I suspect that Santayana would have agreed, though he and Emerson may have had very different views as to the nature of reality. I’d add that the first step in eliminating dogmatic theologies involves embracing the positive aspects of faith, and to stop pretending that there aren’t any.

Darren said...

Greg,

Without opening The Fountainhead to check that quote, I can already see a problem with your interpretation. When the man told Roark that he was "profoundly religious," he also said "in your own way." Given the type of character Howard Roark was and given the fact that he agreed with the man, I think that's context enough to know that the statement was not an "appreciation" of religious emotion.

But in this case, we don't have to interpret anything. Ayn Rand explained exactly what she meant in the quote you picked in her introduction to the 25th anniversary edition to The Fountainhead. There, Ayn Rand wrote:

[quote]

The same meaning and considerations were intended and are applicable to another passage of the book, a brief dialogue between Roark and Hopton Stoddard, which may be misunderstood if taken out of context:
" 'You're a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark—in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.'
" 'That's true,' said Roark."
In the context of that scene, however, the meaning is clear: it is Roark's profound dedication to values, to the highest and best, to the ideal, that Stoddard is referring to (see his explanation of the nature of the proposed temple). The erection of the Stoddard Temple and the subsequent trial state the issue explicitly."

[end quote]

And in order to give her a better context, Ayn Rand also wrote (immediately above the quote above):

[quote]

The possibly misleading sentence is in Roark's speech: "From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man—the function of his reasoning mind."

This could be misinterpreted to mean an endorsement of religion or religious ideas. I remember hesitating over that sentence, when I wrote it, and deciding that Roark's and my atheism, as well as the overall spirit of the book, were so clearly established that no one would misunderstand it, particularly since I said that religious abstractions are the product of man's mind, not of supernatural revelation.

But an issue of this sort should not be left to implications. What I was referring to was not religion as such, but a special category of abstractions, the most exalted one, which, for centuries, had been the near-monopoly of religion: ethics—not the particular content of religious ethics, but the abstraction "ethics," the realm of values, man's code of good and evil, with the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur, which pertain to the realm of man's values, but which religion has arrogated to itself.

[end quote]

I'd still like to see the letter that would back up your assertion, but I don't think it exists. I can't find it, at least. I think you're mistaken about Ayn Rand's position.

Anonymous said...

What you write is so intemperately hostile to religion that you even miss the point of the post. "Theology is strongly asserted to be objective and absolute," you write, "and to reject it--the most egregious sin one can commit--is punishable by eternal torment." But what does this have to do with my post? Where in my post do I support using theology in this way?

Hostile language aside, I was pointing out what theology is in practice, and how its mainstream usage is at odds--essentially opposite--to your fringe definition.
You're equivocating between two different views of theology, implying that yours is the majority that atheists rail against. It's not. The theology you've identified with religion is not theistic, nor is it exclusive to religion, nor is it necessarily rejected by atheists. All you've put forward is a straw man, and a definition that could just as easily be applied to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I can only imagine what a wise wizard like Gandalf would think about that.

From the intemperately hostile Richard Dawkins:

"Let's remind ourselves of the terminology. A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation. In many theistic belief systems, the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds, and knows when we do them (or even think of doing them)... Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a nonsupernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings... Pantheism is sexed-up atheism."

Another bit:

"Ursula Goodenough's lyrical book, The Sacred Depths of Nature, is sold as a religious book, is endorsed by theologians on the back cover, and its chapters are liberally laced with prayers and devotional meditations. Yet, by the book's own account, Dr Goodenough does not believe in any sort of supreme being, does not believe in any sort of life after death; on any normal understanding of the English language, she is no more religious than I am. She shares with other atheist scientists a feeling of awe at the majesty of the universe and the intricate complexity of life. Indeed, the jacket copy of her book--the message that science does not 'point to an existence that is bleak, devoid of meaning, pointless...' but on the contrary 'can be a wellspring of solace and hope'--would have been equally suitable for my own Unweaving the Rainbow, or Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. If that is religion, then I am a deeply religious man. But it isn't. As far as I can tell, my 'atheistic' views are identical to Ursula Goodenough's 'religious' ones. One of us is misusing the English language, and I don't think it's me."

-- Ian.

gregnyquist said...

Darren,

I think you're misinterpreting the phrase "religious emotion" to mean endorsement of religion. But that's not my point at all. Of course Rand is not endorsing religion. What's she's doing is taking the emotions religious people experience toward God and redirecting it toward something else. When Rand writes about the "emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur" she's writing about religious emotions, which she then separates from religion and directs toward her highest values.

Now when pointing this out, I am not criticizing Rand. I disagree with the object of Rand's religious-like emotions. But I regard Rand's incorporation of such emotions as a positive thing, something she can be praised for. Indeed, it is an important source of whatever merit Rand has a philosopher. If Rand is still read and appreciated 100 years from now as a philosopher (rather than just as a novelist), it will not be for her technical philosopher (which was always rather shoddy and has become increasingly dated), but for her ability to project a philosophy that has a vision of things. This is something that only a handful of philosophers have managed to pull off, so it's no mean feat. Now I don't happen to agree with Rand's vision: I think it's in many respects profoundly mistaken. But it's only her ability to project a vision that makes her worth the trouble of criticizing.

gregnyquist said...

Ian: "Hostile language aside, I was pointing out what theology is in practice, and how its mainstream usage is at odds--essentially opposite--to your fringe definition."

In that case, you simply missed the point of my post—which I find rather remarkable, since the overall tone of the post is hardly friendly to traditional religion and I make it quite clear I am not endorsing or apologizing for any kind of theology that pretends to discover matters of fact. Nor was I providing a fringe definition for theology. I am not defining theology, but simply showing how it can be used as a kind of literary exercise to help us understand what we really value. And I am certainly not implying that mine is the majority view. I was criticizing militant atheists for merely being too uptight about religion to understand both its good and bad sides, and for taking religious theology too seriously.

I would also point out that most of the bad things done in the name of a specific theology are adventitiuos to that theology; that is, they are not caused by the theology per se, but by the underlying psychological states which the theology attempts to justify and rationalize. You will not stop the bad things by refuting theology, since there are plenty of other rationalizations at hand which will serve just as well.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

I disagree on multiple fronts, but bottom line, you're misrepresenting the views of militant atheists (or at least the new atheists).

Consider this bit from The Four Horsemen:

-------------------------
[Sam Harris] Right. You raise this issue though, of whether or not we would wish the churches emptied on Sundays. And I think you were uncertain whether you would, and I think I would agree. I would want a different church. I would want a different ritual, motivated by different ideas but I think there's a place for the sacred in our lives, but under some construal it doesn't presuppose any bullshit. But there's a usefulness to seeking profundity as a matter of our attention, and our neglect of this area, I think, as atheists, at times makes even our craziest opponents seem wiser than we are. [snip]

[Richard Dawkins] I think you've made that point and we've accepted it, Sam. I mean, going back to the thing about whether we'd like to see churches empty, I think I would like to see churches empty. What I wouldn't like to see, however, is ignorance of the Bible.

[Christopher Hitchens] No.

[RD] Because you cannot understand literature without knowing the Bible. You can't understand art, you can't understand music. There are all sorts of things you can't understand, for historical reasons. But those historical reasons you can't wipe out, they're there. And so even if you don't actually go to church and pray, you've got to understand what it meant to people to pray and why they did it, and what these verses in the Bible mean and what this …

[SH] But is it only that? Just the retrospective and historical appreciation of our of our ancestors’ ignorance?

[RD] You can more than just appreciate it, you can lose yourself in it, just as you could lose yourself in a work of fiction without actually believing that the characters are real.

[Daniel Dennett] But you're sure you wanna see the churches empty? You can't imagine a variety of churches, maybe by their … like it's an extremely denatured church. A church which has ritual and loyalty, and common cause and purpose, and even …

[SH] and music.

[DD] music.

[RD] yes, yes, yes

[DD] And they sing the songs and they do the rituals, but where the irrationality has simply been long without.

[RD] oh, okay. So you go to those places for funerals and weddings

[RD] and you have beautiful poetry and music,

[DD] and also perhaps for …

[RD] group solidarity meetings.

[DD] group solidarity to create some project which is hard to get off the ground otherwise.

-------------------------

Does that sound like they haven't considered the good side of religion? Christopher Hitchens says in another place that "if he could make one change, and only one, [it] would be to distinguish the numinous from the supernatural." That's the same distinction you're making, no?


-- Ian.

Darren said...

Greg,

I understand that you're not saying that Ayn Rand endorsed religion, but your statements leave the reader to believe something that's not true. You said:

"Rand nonetheless appreciated religious emotion. She recognized its importance."

You can choose to label those emotions (grandeur, reverence, etc.) as "religious emotions." If you're going to use that label in writing and ascribe it to someone else, though, it's up to you to explain what you mean. Otherwise, someone who reads what you wrote is going to think you mean something that you don't. When someone reads what you wrote, they're going to think that Ayn Rand said something to the effect that she "appreciated religious emotion" and that she "recognized its importance." But that's just not true. She never said anything of the kind.

And on top of that, if she really did mean what you say, she could have just said it like you. And not in some fiction quotes to be interpreted by other people, but explicitly so that people knew what she meant. She wrote a lot of non-fiction and gave lots of speeches and interviews, so all she had to do was say, "Hi, I'm Ayn Rand, and I appreciate religious emotion and recognize its importance." But she didn't.

It's fine if you don't care for Objectivism or Ayn Rand, but I think distinguishing fact from opinion is still something that should matter more to you. Even putting an "I think she" is enough to fix it. Either just prove that she said what you say, or say that it is your opinion.

Daniel Barnes said...

Darren:
>When someone reads what you wrote, they're going to think that Ayn Rand said something to the effect that she "appreciated religious emotion" and that she "recognized its importance." But that's just not true. She never said anything of the kind.

Hi Darren,

Well, it just so happens that it's you who are in the wrong here.

For example, let's take "Man-Worship" from the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

Rand: "Just as religion has pre-empted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man’s reach. “Exaltation” is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. “Worship” means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man. “Reverence” means the emotion of a sacred respect, to be experienced on one’s knees. “Sacred” means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth. Etc.

But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man’s dedication to a moral ideal. (DB emphasis) Yet apart from the man-degrading aspects introduced by religion, that emotional realm is left unidentified, without concepts, words or recognition.

It is this highest level of man’s emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man."(DB emphasis)

OK? There's the proof you demanded, plain as day, that Rand's attitude is just what Greg said it was. So I'm afraid you will have to admit you were off base with that one.

Now, I have a question for you. Do you apply the same critical standards whenever Ayn Rand makes this or that claim about a thinker? If so, do you know for example what passage in Bertrand Russell Rand is referring to when she says (in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology p 50-51) "observe what Bertrand Russell was able to perpetrate because people thought they 'kinda knew' the meaning of the concept number..." Do you think Russell ever said this? Do you know? Or did you just take it on trust because Rand said it?

I suggest if you don't know whether such a passage exists or not, you surely should apply the same critical standards to Rand as you do with anyone else. You may be surprised at what you find.

Darren said...

You're still taking her out of context. Yes, she identified that those emotions are commonly tied to religion, and if you stop right there it could seem like she's saying what Greg said. But if you read the entire thing,

1.) Those emotions do exist, even though there is no supernatural world, and
2.) We need to get to a point where those emotions are directed toward man, not God.

I don't know if an indepth discussion on the proper role and use of adjectives is required here, so I'll just say that they're usually used to add some type of additional information about the subject. For example, when I point to a car and say "blue car," I'm not just identifying the object as a car, I'm also saying that it is blue. When Greg says that Ayn Rand appreciated "religious emotion," he's not just pointing at the emotions in question. He's also saying that they are of a religious nature, and then saying that Ayn Rand appreciated *that.* Not just the emotion, but some religious aspect of them. And that's simply not true.

Ayn Rand could have identified those same emotions without any reference to God. Like she said, those emotions *do* exist in reality, and they are tied to "man's dedication to the moral ideal." That's the emotions she's referring to, without any regard to religion. But since religion has had a monopoly on the field of ethics for so long, she felt it necessary or useful (I assume, I'm not her) to write about how those emotions are commonly tied to religion. But that's more of a historical note, not an identification of the nature of those emotions.

And it's the identification that's important. Greg may use the phrase "religious emotion" to identify those emotions, but how can anybody else know that? Most people who read what he wrote are going to think that Ayn Rand actually said what he attributed to her, and she simply did not.

But that aside, I think Greg and you should take another look at Ayn Rand wrote about emotions. She considered them as effects caused by your values and facts in reality. For example, I value my wife immensely, so when I see her succeed I am very happy. And if she tells me that someone did her wrong, I am very angry. The emotions I feel are effects, and the causes are my values and the facts relevent to them. To say that Ayn Rand expressed the importance of certain emotions (the effects) without reference to the *cause* of those emotions seems to go against this. To her, it wasn't important just that you felt happy; you also needed to feel happiness for rational reasons. Context is essential.

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As to your question about whether I apply the same critical standards about claims Ayn Rand made about a thinker, the answer is: Yes. I don't take anything Ayn Rand says on faith alone. To me, her writing has been incredibly helpful advice, not an alternative to my own thinking. And that's how she wanted it, too. She's written a lot about other writers and philosophers that I haven't verified, so I don't accept them as truths that I've discovered on my own. For example, Ayn Rand was a huge critic of Kant, but since I've never read him I don't make the same claims about him that she did. It doesn't mean that I'm agnostic on the subject of Kant because I do trust Ayn Rand quite a bit, but I'm not qualified to participate in debates about him. So, I stay out.

When you ask if I apply the same critical standards about her claims, are you asking if I jump on Ayn Rand statements like I did to Greg? No, but I've never read anything from her that I knew was false. That's the only reason I responded to this specific statement by Greg: It's false, and I don't think it's fair to make false statements like that. Criticize Ayn Rand and Objectivism all you want, but just be honest about it. I'm open to any facts you may have about her, but based on this conversation I think we have a different view on what constitutes a fact and what doesn't.

gregnyquist said...

Darren: "You're still taking her out of context."

This is ironic charge. I went back and reread my post to see if Darren has a point in his criticism, and for the life of me, I can't see it. If an intelligent person reads the entire post, I don't see how an intelligent person could come out with kind of interpretation that Darren insists putting on the phrase "religious emotion." It is quite obvious from the context established by (among other things) the reference to Santayana, that when I was writing about "religious emotions," that I was talking about emotions associated with religion—not just emotions exclusively caused by specific, theology-based religions. Darren writes: "When Greg says that Ayn Rand appreciated 'religious emotion,' he's not just pointing at the emotions in question. He's also saying that they are of a religious nature, and then saying that Ayn Rand appreciated that." Darren is clearly guilty of over-parsing here. On an issue like this, Objectivists and their sympathizers would do well to have greater appreciation of Rand's notion of unit economy. Words are significant because their meanings are loose. Were language more precise, it could not fulfill its function of reducing human perspectives to a human scale. The problem I faced when writing this post was to find an expression for all those emotions that are commonly associated with religion, like "exaltation," "reverence," "worship," "sacred," "sublime," "piety," "spiritual," etc. I don't see what expression I could have possibly used to satisfy Darren's prickly conscience on this score, short of going into a long and stylisticly awkward disquisition on how Rand didn't approve of the source of these emotions within religion, but since all this is implied in the context of the post anyway, I used the expression "religious emotion" instead, assuming that my readers would be intelligent enough to figure out what I meant by it (and if they are not intelligent enough to figure it out, they're probably not intelligent to interpret the post as a whole, so they would be of no concern to me, one way or the other).

Even more curious is the following: "when I point to a car and say 'blue car,' I'm not just identifying the object as a car, I'm also saying that it is blue."

But this too is intolerable vague and can easily be misinterpreted by the unintelligent or the malicious. If his car is blue, is that the same as saying that the car is of a blue nature? And what, really, does it mean to say that a car is blue? Are the tires blue? Are the hubcaps blue? Is the engine blue? Yet despite the ambiguity of the expression, everyone knows what is meant: it's the exterior body of the car that is blue. Meaning doesn't reside in words alone: it resides within a much larger tacit interpretive-paradigm. Rand and her apologists are frequently guilty of ignoring this larger paradigm in order to misinterpret some philosopher or intellectual they disagree with. If you have any doubts on this score, simply read Rand's published marginalia, wherein we find her over and over again flagranting misinterpreting what she reads so that she can condemn the author. When confronted with this kind of behavior, one begins to wonder whether Rand and her apologists are even capable of reading any text they disagree with, since they always seem to be getting it wrong and missing the point.

We'll be covering more of this sort of thing in future posts. It's one of the major problems with Objectivism, this inability to understand anyone who disagrees with them.

Daniel Barnes said...

Darren:
> Greg may use the phrase "religious emotion" to identify those emotions, but how can anybody else know that? Most people who read what he wrote are going to think that Ayn Rand actually said what he attributed to her, and she simply did not.

Darren, I think you are being somewhat pedantic here. If Greg calls "religious emotion" what Rand calls emotions normally related to religion, then there is nothing misleading about this. Especially, if you look at the context, as Greg has elsewhere on this site described Rand's "militant atheism." So I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill here.

>When you ask if I apply the same critical standards about her claims, are you asking if I jump on Ayn Rand statements like I did to Greg? No, but I've never read anything from her that I knew was false.

Do you think that Russell quote exists, Darren? I don't. I don't know of anyone who's ever sourced it, and Rand does not reference it.

But leaving apparently invented quotes aside, here's one of many examples of a key false claim by Rand. From the ITOE:

Rand: "The truth or falsehood of all of man’s conclusions, inferences, thought and knowledge rests on the truth or falsehood of his definitions."

Whoops. It turns out there is no way of logically deciding a definition as being "true" or "false." Dictionaries merely record conventional meanings. So therefore Rand's above assertion is false.

So I suggest your trust in Rand may be somewhat misplaced.