It took decades of collectivist philosophy to bring this country to its present state. And it is only the right philosophy that can save us. Ideas take time to spread, but we will only have to wait decades—because reason and reality are on our side. (Letters of Ayn Rand, 596)We find Rand in this passage making two very broad assumptions:
- That’s Rand’s own philosophy represents “reason and reality.”
- That rational ideas (that is, ideas based on “reason and reality”) spread quicker than non-rational ideas—presumably because most human beings prefer “reason” to "non-reason."
In the previous Objectivism and Politics post, I showed how rationality can be compromised by lack of specific knowledge. In the next series of posts, I intend to explore the influence of the non-rational in politics. I will begin by explicating a category of action identified by Vilfredo Pareto: non-logical conduct. James Burnham, in The Machiavellians, describes the distinction between logical and non-logical conduct as follows:
A man’s conduct (that is, human action) is “logical” under the following circumstances: when his action is motivated by a deliberately held goal or purpose; when that goal is possible; when the steps or means he takes to reach the goal are in fact appropriate for reaching it…
If … any one or more of the conditions for logical conduct are not present, then the actions are non-logical.
Actions may, for instance, have no deliberate (i.e., conscious) motivation at all. This would be true of all or almost all of the behavior of animals; and Pareto, in spite of the prejudice of rationalists, believes it to be true of a surprising percentage of human actions [a view that is now receiving empirical support from cognitive science]. Taboos and other superstitious acts, which are by no means confined to primitive peoples, are obvious examples, as are many rituals, sports, courtesies. Human beings simply do things, without any [conscious] purpose at all; it is natural for them to be active, whether or not there is any consciously understood point in the activity.
Very common, also, are cases where the purpose or goal is impossible. The goal may be transcendant—that is, located outside of the real spatio-temporal world of life and history… On the other hand, the goal, if not impossible in strict logic, may nevertheless be impossible for all practical purposes, granted the nature of the real world…
Finally, action is non-logical when the means taken to reach the goal are in fact inappropriate to that purpose. If … the carpenter tried to pound his nails with a sponge, then his means would be inappropriate, no matter how suitable he might himself think them. So, too, if … a democratic electorate believed that by voting a change of parties in power they might be guaranteed an era of endless prosperity.
Everyone knows that a certain amount of human conduct is non-logical. Pareto’s stress is on the enormous scope of the non-logical—his book lists many thousands of examples, and each of these could suggest a thousand more of the same kind… Pareto not only shows that non-logical conduct is predominant; his crucial point is that the conduct which has a bearing on social and political structure … is above all the arena of the non-logical. What happens to society, whether it progresses or decays, is free or despotic, happy or miserable, poor or prosperous, is only to the slightest degree influenced by the deliberate, rational purposes held by human beings. [193-196]
There exists a tendency in Objectivism to deny or belittle non-logical conduct. Rand tended to believe that human conduct is logically derived from an individual’s “premises.” This, in any case, is the implicit reasoning behind Rand’s view that human beings are the product of their premises. It is also behind her view that capitalism is incompatible with altruism and mysticism. She even went so far as to imply that non-logical conduct is impossible: “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible,” she characteristically wrote; “they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society.” It is difficult to take this statement altogether seriously; but it does betray the drift of Rand's sentiments, which is clearly opposed to the whole idea of non-logical conduct.
Pareto has some interesting comments on those who either deny non-logical conduct or regard it, as Rand apparently did, as scandalous:
In certain writers the part played by non-logical actions is suppressed altogether, or rather, is regarded merely as the exceptional part, the “bad” part. Logic alone is a means to human progress. It is synonymous with “good,” just as all that is not logical is synonymous with “evil.” But let us not be led astray by the word “logic.” Belief in logic has nothing to do with logico-experimental science; and the worship of Reason may stand on par with any other religious cult, fetishism not excepted…
In the eyes [of these cultists] every blessing doth from “reason” flow, every ill from “superstition.” Holbach sees the source of all human woe in error; and that belief has endured as one of the dogmas of the humanitarian religion, holiest of holies, of which our present-day “intellectuals” form the priesthood. All these [cultists] fail to notice that their worship of “Reason,” “Truth,” “Progress,” and other similar entities is, like all cults, to be classed with non-logical actions. [The Mind and Society, §300, §303-304]
Pareto’s remarks on this subject are helpful in several respects. They remind us that Rand is not the first philosopher to sing the praises of that vague, cognitively empty philosophical abstraction known as “reason”; and they also remind us that Rand’s very commitment to “reason” is itself non-logical, based, not on Pareto’s logico-experimental method (i.e., science), nor even on the pragmatic, trial-and-error reasoning of everyday life, but merely on Rand's own sentiments and wishful thinking and on her insufficiently detailed knowledge of "things in general."