It is a great shame that I have had little or no time to write about Objectivism over the past few months, as the ongoing McCaskey Objectischism represents a singularly critical moment in the movement's history - one that has been easily foreseeable for a long time now, and one that is, I think, potentially far more damaging in the long run than the Reisman, Kelley, and even Branden schisms.
Why do I think this? After all, aren't ridiculously overwrought schisms a weirdly normal feature of life in the Objectivist microverse? And why would McCaskey , a relatively low-key figure in the movement compared to the aforementioned, be the flashpoint for a more damaging contretemps than say David Kelley, or even the Brandens?
The reason is simple. With the Brandens, the break was obviously highly personal; a adulterous affair between aging guru and young acolyte that was bound to turn ugly. With Kelley and Reisman it was more political; these breaks were really about power struggles within the Ayn Rand Institute that in the classic Objectivist fashion were merely post-rationalised into pseudo-philosophical disagreements. The McCaskey schism has some features of the latter two in that it ostensibly revolves around the ARI's - and Leonard Peikoff's - penchant for intellectual authoritarianism. But the McCaskey affair is different because this time the source of the conflict really is a philosophical problem, instead of just a political or personal conflict in drag.
The problem in question is the well-known problem of induction. Perhaps the most important problem in epistemology, it is also one that, in her own words, Rand never even began to think about. Thus for once Rand's legion of Little Sir Echoes have little or nothing to dutifully recite; for once, they have to formulate an original response to an important problem working by implication from Rand's work, rather than resorting to the usual pull quotes from Galt's speech. Even worse, the problem of induction is a clearcut logical one, and is thus subject to a set of objective rules, rather like mathematics. This makes it more difficult for Objectivism's usual verbalist legerdemain to function, though of course true believers would - and do - happily accept 1+1=5 if Rand says so in a suitably inspirational way. Further, it is problem that goes to the heart of epistemological certainty, a much touted brand differentiator for Rand's philosophy. It is after all the problem made famous by Objectivist hate-figure David Hume, and which inspired Rand's arch-enemy, Immanuel Kant. Surely Rand's philosophy must contain some kind of riposte. Finally, it has been a massively debated problem for the last 100 years, with almost every conceivable angle covered ad nauseum. If Objectivism is such a strikingly original philosophy in every respect, as its followers insist, then we could reasonably expect a strikingly original answer here.
Sadly, original thinking is basically antithetical to Objectivist culture. This, along with the poverty of Rand's own style of argument meant that Objectivism's long promised answer to this famous philosophical problem would inevitably be an intellectual embarrassment. The signs were obvious for years, as Objectivists talked up Leonard Peikoff's supposedly revolutionary solution whilst Peikoff himself refused to actually publish it, opting instead to bury it somewhere in vast, outrageously expensive audio tape lectures only available from the Ayn Rand Institute. After a while, there was the threatened book; but that too never emerged. Finally Peikoff's solution - and it almost certainly will be Peikoff's handiwork at root - has timidly appeared under the auspices of Peikoff's colleague, David Harriman, in the new The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics.
Yet clearly even after all this time, and his convoluted path to publishing, the only thing that's clear is that Peikoff has almost no confidence in his own solution; The McCaskey Objectischism is all about his hysterical overreaction to a mild-mannered, basically favourable critique on Amazon by long time ARI board member and fundraiser John McCaskey, with Peikoff simply pulling rank to shut down any and all such criticism. Since then it has spiralled out of control, resulting in defections from previously ARI-loyal publications such as the Objective Standard as well as numerous rank and file supporters. Neil Parille will detail when we post his latest update here at the ARCHNblog in a day or two. We here at the ARCHNblog will also review the book at some point, although at first glance it does look really, really terrible - a compendium of the most tired, old hat, long-debunked pro-inductive fallacies with a central argument that appears to be nothing more than "assume induction!", all varnished in leaden Objectivese just to add to its delights. If there's any idea that can't be found in say, Anthony O'Hear from 30 years ago I will be very surprised. In fact if there's anything even as modern as that I will be even more surprised. But that will have to wait for now.
While there are no doubt underlying personality clashes and long standing enmities behind the scenes which will play out over time, for once the primary driver of the schism is a genuine philosophical problem - one that Objectivism has long been on a collision course with. And far from triumphantly flattening the dreaded Hume, this culmination of decades-long endeavour from Rand's vaunted New Intellectuals has crumpled like a wet paper bag on first contact. To make matters worse, Peikoff's telling sense of intellectual insecurity has driven to him to a desperate authoritarianism, which in turn has only maximised the debacle and created deep rifts within the movement. In short, Objectivism seems to have confronted its first real intellectual challenge, only to be immediately holed below the waterline.