There are two problems with this view of non-logical conduct.
- It is not clear, and certainly cannot be assumed a priori, that non-logical conduct in all instances is “bad.”
- A society based solely on logical conduct and “reason” simply is not possible.
In this post, I will examine the first of these two problems.
Despite Rand’s vehement denial, it simply isn’t true that “reason” (i.e., consciously deliberated reasoning which applies logical reasonings to facts) can be the only guide to one’s life. Reason tends to break down and falter whenever it is facing any issue of great complexity and uncertain outcomes. Few things are quite so complicated as the social order. To believe that one can, through “reason,” construct a rational social order is to commit what F. A. Hayek called “the fatal conceit.” Civilization itself is the product of “non-logical” conduct. Nor does can it be otherwise. As Hayek notes:
We flatter ourselves undeservedly if we represent human civilization as entirely the product of conscious reason or as the product of human design, or when we assume that it is necessarily in our power deliberately to re-create or to maintain what we have built without knowing what we are doing…. Many of the greatest things man has achieved are the result not of consciously directed thought, and still less the product of a deliberately coordinated effort of many individuals, but of a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully understand. They are greater than any individual precisely because they result from the combination of knowledge more extensive than a single mind can master….
[The] belief that processes which are consciously directed are necessarily superior to any spontaneous process is an unfounded superstition…. [The] spontaneous interplay of social forces sometimes solves problems which no individual mind could consciously solve, or perhaps even perceives, and if they thereby create an ordered structure which increases the power of the individuals without having been designed by any one of them, they are superior to conscious action… Insofar as such processes are capable of producing a useful order which could not have been produced by conscious direction, any attempt to make them subject to such direction would necessarily mean that we restrict what social activity can achieve to the inferior capacity of the individual mind….
It may prove to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations. It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand, yet on which the advance and even the preservation of civilization depend. Historically this has been achieved by the influence of the various religious creeds and by traditions and superstitions which made men submit to those forces by an appeal to his emotions rather than his reason. The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man has come to regard all these beliefs as superstitions and refuses to accept or to submit to anything which he does not rationally understand. The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the powers of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would thus become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them. This may well prove a hurdle which man will repeatedly reach, only to be thrown back into barbarism. [The Counter-Revolution of Science, 149-163]
Hayek’s discussion is rather abstract, so we might do well to flesh it out a bit. His focus is primarily on those who believe that all institutions ought to be based on “reason” (i.e., “conscious direction”). He believes that the desire to found the institutions of society entirely on “reason” is incompatible with freedom. “Those who believe that all useful institutions are deliberate contrivances [of reason] and who cannot conceive of anything serving a human purpose that has not be consciously designed [i.e., not product of logical conduct] are almost of necessity enemies of freedom.” [Constitution of Liberty, 61]
Now while Rand is not an enemy of freedom, her belief in the “supremacy” of reason leads her to a kind of social constructivism that is more compatible with the social views of the political left. Rand’s constructivism arises mostly clearly in remarks she made about common law:
Common law is good in the way witchdoctors were once good: some of their discoveries were a primitive form of medicine, and to that extent they achieved something. But once a science of medicine is established, you don’t return to witchdoctors. Similarly, common law established—by tradition or inertia—some proper principles (and some dreadful ones). But once a civilization grasps the concept of law, and particularly of a constitution, common law becomes unnecessary (p. 44). [because "reason" provides a better guide than established usage.]
In other words, Rand is admitting that in the past there was some real utility in non-logical conduct, but now that “rational” law has been (or ought to be) established, we can do away with Hayek’s spontaneous formations and found everything on “reason.” But if this is true, why stop with the law? Why not found economic policy on “reason.” Yes, I know, Objectivists believe that a rational economic policy entails laissez-faire. But that is a minority opinion among those believing in the supremacy of reason, most of whom are interventionists or socialists of one stripe or another. Before World War II, many intellectuals were convinced that “reason” supported socialism, because a system of production consciously directed and planned by experts seemed more “rational” then the “anarchy” of the market. Yet the fact remains that the so-called “blind” forces of the market do a much more efficient job of coordinating the factors of production than conscious reasoning on the part of a central planner ever could. An economy is far too complex to be governed by “reason.” Non-logical conduct therefore has an important place and society, and the prejudice against it is simply that: a prejudice.