If you hold the wrong ideas on any fundamental philosophic issue, that will undercut or destroy the benevolent universe premise . . . . For example, any departure in metaphysics from the view that this world in which we live is reality, the full, final, absolute reality—any such departure will necessarily undercut a man’s confidence in his ability to deal with the world, and thus will inject the malevolent-universe element. The same applies in epistemology: if you conclude in any form that reason is not valid, then man has no tool of achieving values; so defeat and tragedy are unavoidable. This is true also of ethics. If men hold values incompatible with life—such as self-sacrifice and altruism—obviously they can’t achieve such values; they will soon come to feel that evil is potent, whereas they are doomed to misery, suffering, failure. It is irrational codes of ethics above all else that feed the malevolent-universe attitude in people and lead to the syndrome eloquently expressed by the philosopher Schopenhauer: “Whatever one may say, the happiest moment of the happy man is the moment of his falling asleep, and the unhappiest moment of the unhappy that of his waking. Human life must be some kind of mistake.” [Peikoff, Lectures on Objectivism]By linking the MUP with metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical errors, Rand and her disciples have a powerful tool by which to flog those with differing aesthetic tastes. It turns out (by implication at least) that if you enjoy "malevolent" art (and for Rand, most art is malevolent) you are guilty of holding vicious philosophical premises (probably the result of not focusing your mind). There are any number of problems with the Objectivist conception of a malevolent sense of life. In the first place, how does Rand and Peikoff know that this malevolence stems from non-Objectivist philosophy? What compelling evidence do they have? Peikoff provides Schopenhauer as an example; but Schopenhauer did not believe that "reason" is invalid, nor was he an advocate of "altruism." Schopenhauer's metaphysics, by all accounts, seems to have been derived from his pessimism, rather than the other way (i.e., his metaphysics is merely a rationalization of his pessimism). The conviction that "man, by his very nature, is helpless and doomed" is actually not held by very many people. It's a view that most often comes to people when in despair or in a bad mood. It is not a normal way of looking at things. Human beings are hardwired to hope for better things down the road. There is no compelling evidence that pessimism stems from Plato and Kant. A more common attitude among mankind is what might be called the tragic sense of life. But this is entirely different complex of beliefs, attitudes, and insights than is encaspulated in Rand's malevolent sense of life. Those differences I will elucidate in my next post.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Rand and Aesthetics 4
Malevolent sense of life. For Objectivists, a malevolent sense of life stems from an acceptance of the malevolent universe premise (MUP), which Rand defined as "the theory that man, by his very nature, is helpless and doomed—that success, happiness, achievement are impossible to him—that emergencies, disasters, catastrophes are the norm of his life and that his primary goal is to combat them." Objectivism contends that the MUP ultimatly derives from mistaken (perhaps even evil) philosophical premises: