Friday, November 13, 2009

The Complement of Atlas Shrugged

Over at Shtetl-Optimised, Scott Aaronson hits on a key problem with critically approaching Rand's meisterwerk - and indeed, Rand's philosophy as a whole:
"...how does one review a book that seeks, among other things, to define the standards by which all books should be reviewed?"
His solution is to examine what isn't in Atlas Shrugged - what he calls the novel's complement- and identifies ten striking omissions that throw the novel's failings into sharp relief. While some of the points have been made before, others are box-fresh. It's an outstanding post.

The cultic side of Objectivism has been blamed on individual personalities such as Rand and her young lover/protege Nathaniel Branden. But its persistence beyond these two is, I think, primarily due to the marking-your-own-homework hermeticism that Aaronson nails in the sentence above. This hermeticism is sustained by Objectivism's largely-overlooked reliance on its own language (Rand is widely yet mistakenly credited with writing "clearly and precisely") and its almost-entirely-overlooked reliance on its own version of logic (the actual workings of which we await to be revealed). Thus much of Objectivism - perhaps even most of it - is devoted to blunting the tools by which it might be described and critically evaluated.

4 comments:

Mark Plus said...

Rand's neglect of recent physics seems even stranger considering that around the time she began Atlas, she had also interviewed some of the physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, including Oppenheimer, for a screenplay she planned to write about the first atomic bombs (later shelved). She did have some ability to acquire the fundamentals on technical subjects and use them in her fiction, ranging from architecture to railroads to steel making. Why didn't she do that with nuclear physics as well, given the important roles played by three physicists in her novel?

gregnyquist said...

Mark Plus: "Rand's neglect of recent physics seems even stranger considering that around the time she began Atlas, she had also interviewed some of the physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, including Oppenheimer."

Well, maybe it's strange. But perhaps it's simply an unfortunate result of Rand's attachment to Aristotle's metaphysics, in which logic is regarded as an ontological principle, part of the structure of the world. That a view that is very difficult to square with quantum mechanics.

Xtra Laj said...

Sometimes, I wonder what it was like to live in the early half of the 20th century. So many philosophies floating around and the world is in a period of rapid change unlike any seen before. Grappling with all of it without falling into various kinds of superstition must have been next to impossible.

Onar ├ům said...

It is true that Objectivists have their own language, which they insist on using even to people who are not aware of the special definitions. In my view this is not a very smart strategy, and I fix this problem in my forthcoming book "the religious atheists" where I explain in lay terms why the current usages of the terms "objective", "absolute", "certain" etc. are wrong and lead to horrible philosophical errors.