There are Objectivists who sincerely believe that Rand could not possibly be guilty of empirical irresponsibility, because that would go against her epistemological principles, particularly her insistence that “man’s mind” was in contact with reality. But such objections are nothing to the purpose. Rand can talk about connecting concepts to reality as much as she likes; the question is not what she claims to do, but what she actually does. And too often, she proceeds far too carelessly when making claims about matters of fact. Below is a list of thirty-one assertions made by Rand (and two by Peikoff) which are not supported by sufficient evidence:
- “Man is a being of self-made soul.”
- Human beings have no innate tendencies.
- Emotions are automatized value judgments.
- “Emotions are not tools of cognition”.
- The conscious mind “programs” the subconscious mind.
- “If your subconscious is programmed by chance, its output will have a corresponding character.”
- A “ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection” yielding a “conceptual identification of your inner states” allows one to discover the sources of one’s emotions.
- “An emotion that clashes with your reason is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.”
- “Man’s values control his subconscious emotional mechanism that functions like a computer adding up his desires, his experiences, his fulfillments and frustrations.”
- “Reason is man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowledge.”
- “Logic is man’s method of cognition” (Peikoff, ITOE)
- “The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism.” (Peikoff, OP)
- “To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem.”
- “There has never been a philosophy, a theory or a doctrine that attacked (or “limited”) reason, which did not also preach submission to the power of some authority.”
- None of the traditional theories of concepts regards concepts as objective
- “Definitions preserve ... the logical order of their hierarchical interdependence.”
- “Words without definitions are not language but inarticulate sounds.”
- “The process of forming, integrating and using concepts is not an automatic, but a volitional process.”
- An animal cannot perform a process of abstraction.
- “The process of forming a concept is not complete until its constituent units have been integrated into a single mental unit by means of a specific word.”
- “The battle of human history is fought and determined by those who are predominantly consistent, those who … are committed to and motivated by their chosen psycho-epistemology and its corollary view of existence.”
- “Only three brief periods of history were culturally dominated by a philosophy of reason: ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the nineteenth century.”
- The assault on man’s conceptual faculty has been accelerating since Kant, widening the breach between man’s mind and reality.
- “[Intellectual appeasement] is an attempt to apologize for his intellectual concerns and to escape from the loneliness of a thinker by professing that his thinking is dedicated to some social-altruistic goal.”
- “Tribalism is … a logical consequence of modern philosophy.”
- “Self-esteem is reliance on one’s power to think.”
- “Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love.”
- “Humility is not a recognition of one’s failings, but a rejection of morality.”
- “Man’s survival requires that those who think be free of the interference of those who don’t.”
- “All the evils, abuses, and iniquities, popularly ascribed to businessmen and to capitalism, were not caused by an unregulated economy or by a free market, but by government intervention into the economy.”
- “A ‘mixed economy’ is a society in the process of committing suicide.”
Three warnings before we commence. First, many of these statements could be interpreted analytically, so that they become irrefutable. For example, Rand apologists could arbitrarily declare that any human being who is not "a being of self-made soul" is not a man. But while this procedure allows Rand’s statements to evade empirical refutation, they have the disadvantage of rendering those statements into propositions about how Rand uses words, rather than propositions about reality.
All the statements listed above, if they are to be taken seriously as accurate descriptions of reality, must be empirically testable. This consideration leads to my second warning, which has to do with the indistinct terms in which many of Rand’s statements are couched. Despite (or perhaps because) of Rand’s mania for definitions, Rand frequently makes use of vague words and expressions, which leave her ample opportunity to use ambiguity to equivocate to whatever conclusions she wishes. This egregious procedure leads to endless quarrels about Rand’s meaning, with Rand’s apologists constantly complaining that her critics are intentionally distorting her message. Yet all these issues stem from Rand herself. If a philosopher doesn’t wish to be misunderstood, he should stop using vague terms. And nothing could be more to the purpose, if a philosopher wishes to be understood, then carefully framing his contentions in clear, distinct, empirically testable propositions.
One final warning: the primary contention at issue in this series is not whether the thirty-one statements listed above are false (many of them are, but some of them may have an element of truth in them), but that Rand fails to provide sufficient evidence for them. This point is the decisive one, yet it’s entirely lost on far too many Objectivists, as the recent Anthemgate fiasco has illustrated in spades. It’s as if they simply don’t care about empirical responsibility. This is, I suspect, partially a legacy of Rand’s own empirical irresponsibility. It is not always what Rand said, but how she acted, that has proved most influential.