This is a question that Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto spent years researching and studying. Unlike Rand and her disciples, Pareto did not attempt to reach conclusions on this matter based on feeble rationalizations grounded in over-generalized knowledge of the relevant facts. Instead, after sifting through thousands of actual theories, he came to several startling conclusions. As he explained in The Mind and Society:
Our detailed examination of one theory or another has … led to our perceiving that theories in the concrete may be divided into at least two elements, one of which is much more stable than the other. We say, accordingly, that in concrete theories, which we shall designate c, there are, besides factual data, principal elements (or parts), a substantial element (part), which we shall designate as a, and a contingent element (part), on the whole fairly variable, which we shall designate as b.
The element a directly corresponds to non-logical conduct; it is the expression of certain sentiments. The element b is the manifestation of the need of logic that the human being feels. It also partially corresponds to sentiments, to non-logical conduct, but it clothes them with logical or pseudo-logical reasonings. The element a is the principle existing in the mind of the human being; the element b is the explanation … of that principle, the inference … that he draws from it.
There is, for example, a principle, or if you prefer, a sentiment, in virtue of which certain numbers are deemed worthy of veneration: it is the chief element, a … But the human being is not satisfied with merely associating sentiments of veneration with numbers; he also wants to “explain” how that comes about, to “demonstrate” that in doing what he does he is prompted by force of logic. So the element b enters in, and we get various “explanations,” various “demonstrations,” as to why certain numbers are sacred. There is in the human being a sentiment that restrains him from discarding old beliefs all at once. That is the element a … But he feels called upon to justify, explain, demonstrate his attitude, and an element b enters in, which in one way or another saves the letter of his beliefs while altering them in substance.
The principle element in the situation, the element a, is evidently the one to which the human being is most strongly attached and which he exerts himself to justify. That element therefore is the more important to us in our quest for the social equilibrium.
But the element b, though secondary, also has its effect upon [society]. Sometimes the effect may be so insignificant as to be accounted equivalent to zero—as when the perfection of the number 6 is ascribed to its being the sum of its aliquots. But the effect may also be very considerable, as when the Inquisition burned people guilty of some slip in their theological calculations. [§798–§801]
The element a Pareto calls “residues”; the element b he calls “derivations.” The “residues” are the constant element in beliefs. Pareto, during his years of intensive research, noticed patterns in beliefs and theories that held over time. For example, he noticed that various culture-systems believed that water (and blood for that matter) could be used for “purification” from sins and other transgressions. Christians have “baptism,” pagans have “lustral water,” and many sects indulge in various purification rites involving liquids. It appears that many human beings have a vague feeling that water (or blood) somehow cleanses moral as well as material pollutants. This is the constant element, the underlying residue of purification rites involving liquids. The variable element consists of the theories (such as baptism) used to “explain” or rationalize the residue. These theories are the derivations.
Pareto’s theory of residues and derivations only applies to non-scientific or “extra-empirical” theories: that is, to theories that are non-empirical and/or non-rational.
Now let’s bring this back to the previous "Objectivism and Politics" post where I discussed some reasons Rand gave on behalf of her theory of rights. I identified in that post two types of non-logico-experimental theories (that is, theories not based on experience and experiment): the theological and the metaphysical. All such theories are derivations: they are rationalizations of sentiments, of underlying residues. As Rand’s theory of rights is clearly metaphysical (in Pareto's sense of the word), this would mean it must be classified as a derivation. Indeed, most of Rand’s philosophy is a mere derivation from various sentiments. This very fact explains some of the anomalies that the critic finds in studying Objectivism. It explains, for example, why someone like Rand, who initiates a philosophical movement which makes so much virtuous noise on behalf of logic, “reason,” rationality and reality should offer arguments for her doctrines that are so lacking in any of these elements. It is not its accord with logic or fact that makes Rand’s philosophy seem so brilliant and irrefragible to its exponents, but its accord with their sentiments. Of course, Objectivists aren’t consciously aware of this. They unwittingly mistake this accord of sentiment for an accord of logic and fact. In making this mistake, they are hardly unique, as the history of scholastic and Cartesian philosophy clearly demonstrates. In my next post, we will see how advocates of another famous ethical philosophy unwittingly suffer from the same ideological syndrome.