Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Best Living Philosopher Reviews ARCHN

"Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" and the ARCHNblog have their critics. Some have the decided advantage of having read the book. Some have not, but following in the footsteps of Ayn Rand herself do not see this as much of a obstacle to voicing a strong opinion. A recent critic, Elliot Temple, happily falls into the former category. He has reviewed the book here at his blog, and has also posted it in various Objectivist-friendly corners of the internet. While his review is somewhat lengthy and more than somewhat unfavourable both to the book and to us personally, we are happy to link to it here and let readers make up their own minds as to its merits.

All we would note is that Temple is a rare and interesting bird in the Objectivist aviary in that he is both a fan of Objectivism and Karl Popper's Critical Rationalism, two philosophies that are ostensibly opposed. We also advise readers in advance that Temple bills himself as "the best living philosopher", so perhaps we should be flattered to get his attention.


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of myths about Rand and Popper. These arose not only by usual misunderstanding but were maliciously spread. For example, Marxists in the 1960s promoted the idea that Popper was a positivist when in fact he was highly critical of positivism.

Temple is trying to improve both Objectivism and Popperian epistemology. They have much in common but the misunderstandings on both sides have prevented these connections being made:

This is good constructive stuff.

Daniel Barnes said...

I and others have noted the similarity between Popper's explicit epistemology and the underlying skeptical implications of Rand's theories. However these implications are vague, crude, and overlaid with aggressive rhetoric from Rand denouncing these selfsame implications and anything less than absolute shining certainty in everything one said and did. There was no need for a conspiracy of philosophic opponents to propagate such misunderstandings as Rand was engaged full time in propagating them herself. Hence the facts of Popper's true position will be of little surprise to Critical Rationalists. But I doubt the same will be said of the implications of Rand's epistemology and Objectivists. To test this claim, you can always take CR to an Objectivist forum and see how you get on.

In short, I can see what's in it for Objectivism, but what's the upside for Popper?

Daniel Barnes said...

Meanwhile, following in Rand's profoundly proto-skeptical epistemological framework, Objectivists gone on to produce many notable, thoughtful works on the problem of induction as well as criticising, and improving, Rand's epistemology in general. me think...

Oh, wait. There is at least one book after all. It's called "The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics" by one David Harriman. Let's see what's on the back cover. "Inspired by and expanding on a series of lectures by Leonard Peikoff, David Harriman presents a fascinating answer to the problem of induction - that is, the epistemological question of how we know the truth of inductive generalisaions....Refuting the skepticism that is epidemic in the contemporary philosophy of science, Harriman offers demonstrable evidence of the power of reason. He then argues philosophy itself is an inductive science..."

Crikey. Clearly opponents of Objectivism have infiltrated the publishing house and written a blurb giving a drastically false impression of Rand's true position on Objectivism's one and only published contribution to the problem of induction so far. Is there no end to their perfidy?

Even worse, here's how an opponent - obviously again seeking to misrepresent Rand's epistemology -opened his review of "The Logical Leap":

"Induction is the formation of general knowledge from particular evidence. It is induction if you burn your hand once and thereafter always know better than to put your hand in fire again. Induction is the basis of all science and technology. In fact, every piece of factual knowledge you have about types of things or how things act ultimately derives from induction. "

Oh, wait. That was actually William Thomas of The Atlas Society's review.

Will the lies never end?

Daniel Barnes said...

Humour aside, I suppose there is Kelley, but I don't really see how his approach is much more interesting, or Popperian, than Harriman.

Bryan M. White said...

Slightly off the topic here, but I was rereading Atlas Shrugged not long ago and I was struck by a certain confusion in Rand's literary premises, a confusion that I think ties into Greg's main thesis here and in his book.

Rand writes her fiction on (as she understands it) the Romantic premise of a stylized presentation of reality, which often means stylized down to metaphysical and natural level, things which an artist can control in a work, but which people can not control in their lives. Thus you get heroes who are all beautiful with flawless physiques and paunch villians in various stages of physical deterioation. The characters recogize Galt's greatness ON SIGHT, every sleeps with all the right people, everything happens exactly when and as it should, yada yada yada.

Now from a literary standpoint you can argue that this in Rand's fantasy and Heaven knows she has her reasons for writing it this way. From a philosophical standpoint, however, she's presenting this as a model, as a guide for life in the real world, and that's where the problem comes in, because things aren't always so clear cut and convienent out here.

The whole thing is resting on a huge play on the concept of "ought." On the one hand you have the fact that an artist OUGHT to shape their work into a form which pleases them, and on the other hand you have the idea of how people OUGHT to live their real lives. It seems like both of these things are being treated as one in the same. Perhaps (and it's a very dubious perhaps at that), Rand expected people to take her fiction with a grain of salt as a fantasy and not as a LITERAL guide. Again, this is doubtful in light of the evidence. And regardless, people HAVE taken it that way. The end result is a package all tied up in a bow, "You should live your life like Atlas Shrugged."

Bryan M. White said...

In others word, you have the idea that an artist should use their imagination to shape reality to suit their whims being put into the service of a philosophy that explicitly rejects that very thing.

Bryan M. White said...

philosophy or her fiction, let me say that I understand that the main underlying message of both her non fiction and her fiction is the idea of approaching reality with eyes wide open, with reason and the mind, not just in the endless speeches the characters make but in the plot and action as well. And that's cool. I get that. The problem is that she showcases this by displaying characters who are playing an EXTREMELY rigged game. Then, on the one hand, she strongly implies that people are inadequate or flawed if they don't measure up to her heroes and then in the same breath she turns around and defends the rigging on artistic grounds!!!! For instance, both Galt and Dagny perfectly access and fall in love with one another at first sight. They're struck with the powerful forces of erotic attaction and spiritual admiration all at once. This is a fine romantic notion, but it tells us little about how admiration and attraction actually happen. (Somehow I doubt that if someone invented a static electric motor in real life that anyone would just recognize him on the street with a god-like glow eminating from him -- regardless of how proper their premises are.) At a glance, one in inclined to regard it just as that, a romantic notion. But as it goes and on and these points are hammered over and over, it begins to dawn on you, "My God she's actually serious about this. She's actually drawing philosophical conclusions out of this crap." I could say, for example, as other have said, what if our REAL Galt just happened to look like Danny Devito? Right off Objectivists would be shaking their heads. They consider that sort of thing impossible. The Danny Devitos of this world have little Danny Devito souls and they're easily recognized both inward and outwardly. John Galts, on the other hand, are specimens of perfection both mentally and physically. Sure they are. Just like in Atlas Shrugged, right?.

Sure they are. Just like in Atlas Shrugged, right?

Bryan M. White said...

(Okay, one last one ;D )

And this is precisely where Rand doesn't really understand authors she admires like Victor hugo, and why her take on Romanticism is so appallingly superficial. Quasimodo holding Esmerelda above the tower and shouting "sanctuary" is a sublime sight because Quasimodo is the hero we don't expect, because he IS a deformed and savage hunchback. One could compellingly argure that Quasimodo isn't any more "realistic" that Galt, but the fact remains that Hugo's fantasy is far more interesting and even inspiring and has far more depth to it. The game ISN'T rigged for Quasimodo. Far from it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Bryan,

For a philosophy founded on fiction, Objectivism sure makes a lot of claims about reality.

Interestingly, the role of imagination is scarcely mentioned by Rand. Yet it is one of our greatest human qualities, and surely one of hers.

Anonymous said...

maybe she was trying too hard, to make up for casting a ginger in the previous one

Samson Corwell said...

In response to Bryan M. White:
I like Kant's formula that an 'ought' implies a 'can'. There can be no 'ought' if you are actually incapable of doing it. In some sense it can be applied to Rand's desire that people need to be as flawless as her characters.

Bryan M. White said...

Ha, yes. "Ought" most certainly implies a "can." Or it should, at least. Or the person saying otherwise should stuff it ;D

Raven said...

Hello there, everyone. I'm a long-time reader of this blog, but to this date I had never gathered the time or strength to actually leave a comment (yeah, I'm admitting I'm basically a lurker). The thing is, Mr. White's comments in this post really made me realize something about Rand and Objectivism that had bugged me off for a long time. I think it is a sound theory, though I'm very sure it could be argued with better words than mine. It is a random thought about Objectivist aesthetics.

One of the longest-lived accusations rammed agianst Rand and her ideas, specially in the field of the ad-hominems, is that she was a Nazi. I'm well aware that she was politically very far away from the Nazis, but every time I read something from or about her, I've always had the old tinge of familiarity, the "wait, this thing rings a bell...". (There's also that old comment from Alan Moore describing Objectivism as "middle-class white supremacism") And I think now I know why. The thing is, there IS a striking similarity between Rand and Nacional-Socialism, and that's because they share the same aesthetical principles: Romanticism.

There is a remarkable and well-studied relation between Romanticism and nationalism, derived from Romanticism's rejection of modern values and its exaltation of the mythical past. (In fact, I found very ironic that, on aesthetic grounds, Rand chose Romanticism as the basis of her philosophy, considering how Romanticism originated as a rejection and reaction of the growing positivist and rationalist tendencies in European intellectuality during the late XVIII/ early XIX. However, it is also comprehensible, considering that, withot Romanticism, she lacked the heroic vision of man and life she wanted to adopt. A damned if you do kind of situation, if you ask me). Nazism is, politically and aesthetically, a movement of rejection to the trends in then-Weimar Republic. Rejection of democracy, rejection of capitalism, rejection of communism; embrace of myth, and that includes the myth of Germany, thus the ultranationalism they professed. Objectivism is rejection as well: rejection of the mediocre, socialist, irrational world of its time (Let´s point out that these "rejections" are based on the perceptions of reality of their creators, and in the end say more about their own nature as human beings than about the world itself), in favour of a true, joyful life as rational, productive Men. Thus they both end presenting an idealized version of their perfect model for a human being(the Aryan/ the entrepeneur) against its natural opposite or nemesis (the Slav or Jewish untermensch/ the looter). The irony is that such different ideologies end up related because of such an issue, because the thing is that the same inability to understand intellectually the most complex of Romantic motifs and its exaltation of the sublime pervades both ideologies. Taking in both cases only the skin-deep feature of Romantic aesthetics, they both end up with a very distorted and corrupted Romanticism. The Nazis tried to create an amoral Romanticism, and Rand tried to create a Romanticism in which its implied philosophy was rejected in favor of hers (that's without trying to debate that attempt to create a philosophy focused on its practical uses...based on what's basically an idealized, streamlined vision of the world). The results are there for us to see.

And that's why, I think, every time I see a Randian cover with its Promethean motifs, the only thing I can think is "My goodness. That's so Nazi."

Lloyd Flack said...

Or so communist! Look at art under communism.

Same problems in all three cases. Art has to serve a vision that excludes many subjects from art. They all want the heroic or at least they want nothing negative or uncomfortable.

Raven said...

Exactly! In fact, I think Rand created this kind of weird Romantic hybrid between both totalitarianisms, mixing the Nazi's cult of heroism, with the Soviet's fondness of utopianism. Something understandable: after all, Rand spent her formative years in Russia, and as much as she despised Bolsheviks, she got more than one idea from them. In fact, there are enough parallelisms between Marxism and Objectivism, and Rand's particular writing style and socialist realism to make you wince. It is almost as if she tried to hard to deliberately distance herself from it that she ended up in square one again.

Samson Corwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samson Corwell said...

In reply to Raven:
Yes, it's hard to not detect some sense of smugness when you read Rand's work. Even [some] Objectivists have rejected Rand's aesthetics as screwy. Though I'm not an Objectivist myself, I've been studying it with a deal of interest and I think that Aristotelianism is well worth something, all its expanding the label "collectivist" beyond its proper definition aside.

Anonymous said...

Raven: "as much as she despised Bolsheviks, she got more than one idea from them. In fact, there are enough parallelisms between Marxism and Objectivism, and Rand's particular writing style and socialist realism to make you wince."

I agree. Rand's philosophy is almost Marxism-in-negative, reversing who the heroes and villains are.

- Chris