Of course anyone who's not a True Believer this is L. Ron Hubbard territory. We've already noted a recent example of this bizarre overestimation of Rand here. More recently, we spotted another example here, in a review at the Fun With Gravity blog of the New Criterion piece we linked to ourselves. The author, one mtnrunner2, seemed to think the following:
One would be challenged to find the historical sources for the following selected ideas that Rand originated:- The sanction of the victim, i.e. the idea that only the moral permission of oppressed producers makes their exploitation possible
- The observation that Kant regarded the mind as ineffective precisely because it has an identifiable nature, which is in fact the source of the mind's efficacy for the living organism
- The derivation of the concept of moral value from the nature and requirements of life
- The idea that concept formation involves the retention of similarities and the dropping of specific measurements
- The idea of art as a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's "metaphysical value judgments"
- Her presentation of the axiomatic concepts underlying philosophy
- The insight that focusing the mind, not choosing, is the essence of free will
- The definition of "value" as that which one actually acts to gain and/or keep (not merely what one claims to value)
Um...actually its not very "challenging" at all to debunk this. I did so in comments, which I now reproduce here.
The problem is that Rand's ideas are both good and original in the sense of the old joke: those that are good are not original and those that are original are not good. With that in mind, let's take up your challenge, point by point:
1)The sanction of the victim, i.e. the idea that only the moral permission of oppressed producers makes their exploitation possible
One of the recurring problems with philosophy in general, and Objectivism in particular, is verbalism: a fondness for high-sounding gobbledygook that appears impressive, but is actually either empty, or merely masks a commonplace. So let's unpack what you're trying to say here, which seems to be simply that people who produce things, and are oppressed, shouldn't put up with it. Now, there are any number of people who have said this sort of thing, from Spartacus to Karl Marx. How you can think this is some sort of historically unique insight on Rand's part is quite remarkable. So this is hardly original. Rand does add a twist, however, in that in her novels the "oppressed" are businessmen, architects, and inventors. Is this twist any good? Are they seriously"oppressed"? Well, speaking as a businessman myself, While I sometimes feel oppressed by many things, including the government. But even in that case, in a democratic society I can lobby politicians, vote, and change things. Further, most businessmen I know enjoy a as much if not more freedom than government officials or the workers they employ. Thus considering myself very much more "oppressed" than others seems to be either a rhetorical fantasy or a species of self pity, neither of which seems much of an argument. So, Not Original, and Not particularly Good.
2) The observation that Kant regarded the mind as ineffective precisely because it has an identifiable nature, which is in fact the source of the mind's efficacy for the living organism
This is a bad piece of gobbledygook. I will attempt to translate: Kant didn't believe man's brain worked, hence he was an irrationalist. Now this is potentially a wide debate, as Kant is a controversial figure, so I'll just note that this view, even if it is Good, which is doubtful, it is certainly Not Original to Rand.
3) The derivation of the concept of moral value from the nature and requirements of life
Actually, Rand produced no such "derivation" - if you mean logically, that is, and of course this is the only "derivation" that matters. If you think she did, please produce it, with formally labelled premises and conclusion. Or, produce your own version of what you think she was "deriving". I don't think you will succeed. So the issue here is not the quality or originality of Rand's insight, but simply its non-existence.
4)The idea that concept formation involves the retention of similarities and the dropping of specific measurements
Well, let's break this down. "Concept formation" is aimed at solving the so-called problem of universals, which in itself can be summarised in a non-gobbledygook way as the problem of why different things are similar. As such we immediately see why "the retention of similarities" is of no help whatsoever in this - it is about as good as saying things are similar because they have similarities. As for measurement omission, this is for once is Original. Here Merlin Jetton explains why it is Not Good.
5) The idea of art as a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's "metaphysical value judgments"
Again, let's strip away the pretentious verbiage and see what this theory actually amounts to. "Selective recreation of reality" seems to simply mean an artist chooses a subject. Not exactly an amazing insight. But why does he choose it? Because of his "metaphysical value judgements", apparently. Once again, this seems to be padded with verbiage like "metaphysical" in an effort to make it sound more intellectual. We might just as well say "value judgements" or even "values". So we then see Rand's theory as: an artist chooses a subject according to his values. So a gloomy artist will choose gloomy subjects, and recreate them in a gloomy way, a happy artist will choose happy subjects and recreate them in a happy way, etc etc. Childish as it sounds, that's all this amazing theory predicts. Not exactly Original, certainly Not Good.
6) Her presentation of the axiomatic concepts underlying philosophy
It is true that Rand's axiomatic concepts are original. What is lacking is arguments as to why they are good. They are in fact so vague that they can fit just about anything you like. For example, Bertrand Russell presented "Existence exists" to one of the British Idealists - I think F H Bradley - and he had no difficulty accepting it. So: Not Good, at least as a refutation of what Objectivism opposes.
7) The insight that focusing the mind, not choosing, is the essence of free will
Funnily enough, one has to choose to focus the mind, creating something of a problem for this "insight." Not Good.
8) The definition of "value" as that which one actually acts to gain and/or keep (not merely what one claims to value)
Let's see. I pull out Von Mises' "Human Action" and what do I find?: "It is customary to say that acting man has a scale of wants or values in his mind when he arranges his actions. On the basis of such a scale he satisfies what is of higher value...and leaves unsatisfied what is of lower value..."(p94) So not only can we find it in Mises for starters, please note the phrase "It is customary...". In other words, it's merely a commonplace observation. So, Not Original in the least.
So in summary, it is quite easy to answer your challenge. I know that wild claims regarding Rand's brilliance and originality are widely promulgated by her followers, such as the Institute that bears her name. But what is remarkable to a non-Objectivist such as myself is how uncritically you've accepted them. Hopefully my passing comments will give you some pause for thought.
And how did mtnrunner2 react to someone actually taking up his awesome "challenge" ? He simply asked me not to post there again.
Hat tip: Neil Parille