Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Objectivist Double Standard

Here's an interesting quote from Brandon Byrd over at the ortho-Objectivist site Noodlefood. We'll have more to say about Brandon's post "Getting Ayn Rand Wrong" when we have a moment. Suffice to say for now it is a perfect example of what I will dub The Objectivist Double Standard. That is, any criticism of Ayn Rand's philosophy is dismissed as careless and dishonest, and due to mere "personal biases" on the part of the critic, who "attribute all sorts of nonsense to Rand without actually considering what she has to say."

Yet when it comes to assessing other philosophers' work it would be hard to find more biased, careless and dishonest critics than Rand and her acolyte Leonard Peikoff who, regrettably, has followed in her footsteps all too closely in this as in all else. Rand's quote-free laziness and low intellectual standards should equally attract the ire of Objectivists - who after all claim to "take ideas seriously". Yet instead these glaring faults are either never mentioned (as in this post) or cheerfully and rather incredibly rationalised as her brilliant ability to "think in essentials". This is the ODS in action.


Byrd: I don't know what it is about Ayn Rand that makes many philosophers think they can get away with saying whatever they damn well please about her without having studied her work carefully and honestly. I suspect that the real explanation has less to do with Rand and more to do with personal biases on the part of her critics. But whatever the cause, the phenomenon is nevertheless real. It isn't just that many philosophers dislike Rand. We philosophers are an opinionated bunch; we dislike all sorts of things. Rather it's that many philosophers will attribute all sorts of nonsense to Rand without actually considering what she has to say.


Let's see now. Rand condemned Kant "the most evil man in history." Yet despite the slagging he gets throughout her oeuvre, how many times does she actually quote him in all her published works?

(In passing: who is the most quoted philosopher in Rand's works?)

9 comments:

Neil Parille said...

Dan,

I think Byrd has a point that occasionally one does find a professional philosopher who comments on Rand in a rather unfair manner. The first philosophical critique of Rand (by William O'Neil) had its problems in this respect.

But why doesn't Byrd mention Michael Huemer's critique of Rand's ethics which you posted here or various other criticisms of Rand by those who know what they are talking about?

I believe Rand quoted Kant all of one time.

Incidentally, it appears that Byrd hasn't gotten the word that the Austrians are no longer in the good graces of (at least some) Orthodox Objectivists.

Herbsewell said...

Good Lord, I actually came to this site expecting some actual arguments that would need to be addressed in Objectivism. Instead, I get a cesspool or ad hominems, purposefully distorted understanding of Objectivst productions, and overall poor writing. I've looked very hard for some hard-hitting arguments on this site, but I really haven't found any.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Herb
>Good Lord, I actually came to this site expecting some actual arguments that would need to be addressed in Objectivism.

OK, what arguments do you consider need to be addressed in Objectivism that you feel this site is lacking?

Anonymous said...

The philosopher most quoted in Rand's works is Ayn Rand, as she frequently quotes from her own prior writings, usually Atlas Shrugged. If you meant someone other than herself, I would be curious to know who you had in mind. Maybe Nietzsche?

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>The philosopher most quoted in Rand's works is Ayn Rand...

Kee-errect, Anon!

Maybe I should give a prize for this one...;-)

Cassandra said...

ARCHN: This makes the point ... about the critic's dishonesty.
Herbsewell-ad hominems: Haven't been here long and often enough to assess the situation but both point to postmodernism. If that's the case, this was my last visit. There's no reasoning with an anti-reasonist.
Must admit there was a moment when I thought valid criticism was uttered in this blog.

HerbSewell said...

Hi Daniel
>OK, what arguments do you consider need to be addressed in Objectivism that you feel this site is lacking?

Any.

Behemoth said...

Daniel's original post is right on the mark. Objectivists are fond of saying that they are not accepted in academia due to the irrationality of the modern academic establishment, but the consistently poor standards of Objectivist scholarship are more directly to blame. The central point of this blog (and the original ARCHN book) is (obviously) that Rand's conclusions are at odds with human nature; ample citations, particularly in the "Cognitive Revolution & Objectivism" series, are provided as evidence. Rand's statements about human nature are provided without empirical backing.

Likewise, her criticisms of other philosophers consistently misunderstand the ideas of those whom she criticizes, and often even misunderstand the problems they're trying to solve (the "problem of universals" comes to mind). Thanks for pointing out the stark contrast between her shoddy scholarship and the standards by which her acolytes attempt to hold criticisms of Objectivism.

Cavewight said...

That is an example of the very double standard referred to in the first post.

Upon reading Ayn Rand, I also get a "cesspool of ad hominems, purposefully distorted understanding of" other philosophies, and "overall poor writing," at least in the philosophical sense.

Interesting...



Herbsewell said...

Good Lord, I actually came to this site expecting some actual arguments that would need to be addressed in Objectivism. Instead, I get a cesspool or ad hominems, purposefully distorted understanding of Objectivst productions, and overall poor writing. I've looked very hard for some hard-hitting arguments on this site, but I really haven't found any.