Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rand and Empirical Responsibility 10

“To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem.” It is not surprising that neither Rand nor any of her followers ever tried to provide evidence for this statement. Taken literally, the statement is palpably false. For it suggests anyone who does in fact "live" must hold reason, purpose, and self-esteem as his ruling values. Do Objectivists really believe that? Probably not. Here we have an example of Objectivists refusing to face up to the empirical implications of one of Rand's assertions.

“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.” Given that Rand was not exactly very well read and had huge gaps in her knowledge, how could she know whether this assertion is true? As a matter of fact, it is not true. Even worse, Rand was probably should have known it not to be true, since she read two writers who attacked (or ridiculed the pretensions of) "reason" and authority: namely, Friedrich Nietzsche and H. L. Mencken. And if there be any doubts on the score of these two radical individualists, one need only add Vilfredo Pareto to the list, who remained, even in his late anti-ideological phase, a radical libertarian at heart who explicitly attacked "reason" in his sociological treatise, The Mind and Society.

None of the traditional theories of concepts regards concepts as objective. Rand never made any serious attempt to demonstrate this assertion. In fact, it's not even clear that she understood any of the "traditional" theories of concepts, or that she deeply read and studied any of the philosophers espousing them. Her interpretations of Hume and Kant are so distorted and eccentric (see Seddon and Walsh for more info) that, in the absence of clear, exhaustive, documented evidence, she is not to be trusted on such issues.


Curious Reader said...

The linked essays are very good.

Between yourself and those essays it seems fairly clear to me that Objectivists, in typical randroid fashion have latched onto a concept they hardly understand and now stand firmly against exactly what it doesn't mean.

Those essays basically imply that FAR from being the "rebuttal" to Kant, Rand is frimly one of his philisophical decendants.

To have seen how Kant has been set up by Rand so ameturishly as the bad guy and her arguements against ideas he never said and didn't believe make it easy to see why she has been dismissed by acedemics.

Her critiques really do make her seem like little more than a watered down Neitzche who wants to both have Kants knowledge and defintive morality while at the same time getting to keep Neitzche's master/slave morality views and conclusions and a smattering of equally poorly understood ubersmench theory.

Far from her own view as the rebutal to Kant she is merely a fence straddler half way between Kant and Neitzche and not understanding either of their arguments well enough to know why that position is untenable.

Michael Prescott said...

"To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem."

When pressed, an Objectivist would almost certainly say that by "to live," Rand means "to live the life proper to man," as opposed to simple survival.

Of course this makes the statement a tautology: "To live the life proper to man, man must hold the values that make it possible to live the life proper to man."

And since her conception of the life proper to man, and of the values required for it, is purely her own opinion, her ethics boils down to subjectivism.

Xtra Laj said...


Objectivists either as a result of ignorance or incompetence, fail to deal with hard empirical questions. They just don't see how imprecise Rand's statements were and that the real epistemic difficulties are often experimental and practical, not philosophical and logical. Objectivists are only good at finding counterexamples when they are analyzing other people's arguments. Nothing special about that, but definitely not an exemplar of rationality.