In logico-experimental theories principles are nothing but abstract propositions summarizing the traits common to many different facts. The principles depend on the facts, not the facts on the principles. They are governed by the facts, not the facts by them. They are accepted hypothetically only so long and so far as they are in agreement with the facts; and they are rejected as soon as there is disagreement.
But scattered through non-logico-experimental theories one finds principles that are accepted a priori, independently of experience, dictating to experience. They do not depend on the facts; the facts depend on them. They govern the facts; they are not governed by them. They are accepted without regard to the facts, which must of necessity accord with the inferences deducible from the principles; and if they seem to disagree, one argument after another is tried until one is found that successfully re-establishes the accord, which can never under any circumstance fail.
Pareto goes on to note that proponents of non-logico-experimental theories “are so sure of the principles with which they start that they do not even take the trouble to inquire whether their implications are in accord with experience. Accord there must be, and experience as the subordinate cannot, must not, be allowed to talk back to its superior.” [§57-58]
Although Rand and her disciples rarely claim that their philosophy has a veto power over experience, they act as if it did. As we have noted on this blog on innumerable occasions, many of Rand’s most critical doctrines are presented without so much as a jot of relevant evidence to back them up. Rand would have us believe that human beings are the products of their premises; that “reason” is the only “valid” means to knowledge; that man's “emotional and cognitive mechanisms” are blank at birth: we are to believe all these things (and many more such things) on Rand’s say-so alone, in the absence of evidence, as if on faith! And yet these claims, we are told by Rand’s apologists, are founded on “reason.”
Whether founded on “reason” or no, they are clearly not founded on Pareto’s logico-experimental methodology. What, then, is the methodology Rand uses to defend her principles? Pareto suggests that there are two main non-logico-experimental methods that individuals resort to: the theological and the metaphysical. Since Rand had no use for God or theology, she opted for the metaphysical method. Santayana once described metaphysics as “an attempt to determine matters of fact by means of logical or moral or rhetorical constructions.” That it is a fairly apt description of Rand’s customary mode of procedure (though Rand tends to be far more moral and rhetorical than logical). Pareto further notes that metaphysical “arguments” rely “on the lack of exactness in everyday language to mask their defects in logic and carry conviction.” Also a very apt description of the typical Objectivist “argument”! Consider what Rand has to say about “man’s rights” and note the “lack of exactness” and the verbal character of the “reasoning”:
The source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. [That’s all very wonderful, but what is it supposed to mean! What particularly facts or set of facts is it supposed to accord with?] Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. [What on earth is this “proper” survival, and how are we supposed to distinguish it from non-proper forms of survival?] If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. [But men have been living on earth for centuries without these rights, so why does he need them now?] If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. [If Nature forbids man to be irrational, why does man need a “right to live as a rational being”? If Nature forbids the irrational, why not simply let Nature take its course and be done with all this ineffectual patter about rights?]
This “argument,” if it can even be called such, makes no appeal to logic or fact but merely to various sentiments, which it both swathes and tickles. To the extent that any specific meaning can be teased out of it at all, it is full of absurdities. If, for example, Rand’s contention about rights having their “source” in the law of identity means that such rights can be deduced or inferred from said law, then it is easily refutable: to go from A is A to a theory of man’s rights is to commit a palpable non sequitur. Rand’s inclusion of her favorite tautology is merely a device to suggest an aura of logic without actually providing any real logic (such as a train of valid reasoning). And when later she declares that “Nature forbids the irrational,” she unwittingly undercuts the very raison d’être of her theory rights. Rights are formulated by men precisely because there are no other non-human forces (such as Rand’s “nature”) to regulate social interaction. If there were such forces, rights would be superfluous.
The purpose of criticizing Rand’s verbiage on rights is not to refute her theory, but merely to show the weakness of the reasons she presents in its behalf. How could someone as intelligent as Rand present such fatuous reasons for defending a theory she obviously regarded as vitally important? And why can’t her followers, who are taught to regard “rationality” as the highest virtue, perceive the logical and empirical vacuity of Rand’s various "arguments" for rights? In order to answer these questions, we must make use of Pareto’s theory of residues and derivations, which will be the focus of the next “Objectivism and Politics” post.