Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rand's Style of Argument 1: Epistemology

Guest blogger Neil Parille from Objectiblog takes a two-part look at Rand's typical standards of argument.

Ayn Rand’s two most important philosophic works in essay form are her “The Objectivist Ethics” and the essays on concepts that form the "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology." In their critiques of these works, Gary Merrill and Michael Huemer have drawn attention to an important technique in Rand’s argumentation. Rand defends her position using as a background the supposedly failed attempts of previous philosophers, arguing that the credibility of her position is advanced because their positions are so blatantly false (if not pure evil). To the extent that Rand fails to accurately describe these opposing views, her case for Objectivism becomes that much less credible. (Some of what I say is indebted to the discussions of Merrill and Huemer.)

Rand begins her discussion in ITOE with a review of various philosophical traditions on the question of universals with an overview of five schools: extreme realism, moderate realism, nominalism, extreme nominalism and conceptualism. (p. 2.) We are, however, given only two philosophers (Plato and Aristotle) who hold any of these positions (extreme realism and moderate realism). Not a single representative is given for the nominalist, extreme nominalist and conceptualist schools. This makes it difficult for the reader to determine the accuracy of Rand’s description. It might be the case that they were wrestling with problems or encountered difficulties which Rand’s theory also has. Her readers will never know.

Rand returns to these schools later with slightly more elaboration. Rand says the following about nominalists and conceptualists: “The nominalist and conceptualist schools regard concepts as subjective, i.e., as products of man’s consciousness, unrelated to the facts of reality, as mere ‘names’ or notions arbitrarily assigned to arbitrary groupings of concretes on the ground of vague, inexplicable resemblances.” (p. 53.) This is interesting because Rand’s position that only particulars exist is (in the view of many commentators) a version of nominalism or conceptualism. Is it really the case that all nominalists and conceptualists consider concepts “unrelated to the facts of reality”? Is there not a single significant thinker in this tradition who considered concepts objective? Doing a bit of reading lately in John Dewey (who probably falls in conceptualist camp), I came across the following from his Nature and Experience: “Meaning is objective and universal . . . . It requires the discipline of ordered and deliberate experimentation to teach us that some meanings, as delightful or horrendous as they are, are meanings communally developed in the process of communal festivity or control, and do not represent the polities, and ways and means of nature apart from social control . . . the truth in classical philosophy in assigning objectivity to meanings, essences, ideas remains unassailable.” (Nature and Experience, pp. 188-89.) Maybe Dewey and the like are mistaken, but it hardly seems fair to imply that their motivation is the destruction of the human mind without some evidence.

Even if the various positions with respect to universals are sufficiently well known as to justify Rand’s cursory discussion, there is much in ITOE that calls out for explanation. Merrill points to an example which has became somewhat famous: “As an illustration, observe what Bertrand Russell was able to perpetrate because people thought they ‘kinda knew’ the meaning of the concept of ‘number’ . . . .” (pp. 50-51.) Because of Rand’s unwillingness to provide a citation or elaboration concerning what Russell perpetrated, even her point gets lost.

There are many other jabs in ITOE which are almost as egregious. Rand occasionally objects to “Linguistic Analysis,” without much of a description of this diverse movement. (pp. 47-48, 50 and 77.) She does, at least, name Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory of family resemblance as an example of what is supposedly wrong with it. (p. 78.)

Curiously, Kant does not loom large in ITOE, or at least not in the way one would expect. Since Kant was the most evil man in history and universals the most important problem in philosophy, one might expect that Rand would discuss Kant’s theory of universals. When Rand does get around to discussing Kant, she attacks him for inspiring pragmatists, logical positivists and Linguistic Analysts (“mini-Kantians”). Her two sources for Kant are herself (a quotation from For the New Intellectual) and a quote from the now obscure Kantian Henry Mansel. (pp. 77, 80-81.)

What David Gordon says of Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels is even more true of ITOE: it is “the history of philosophy with the arguments left out.”


JayCross said...

I will have to dig them up, but the quotes from Dewey that I've seen were pretty anti-mind. One of them specifically called skills and knowledge a "waste of time." Not a man I want to listen to on epistemological matters, based on that.

But again, I will have to get the exact quotes.

PhysicistDave said...


Dewey was, to put it diplomatically, an extremely confused thinker.

He started out as an Hegelian idealist, and ended up as, sort of, a Communist pragmatist.

I use "sort of" advisedly. Dewey’s most coherent writings had to do with advocating social-democracy and an occupation-oriented approach to education -- "occupation-oriented" does not mean quite what it seems to mean, either: he had a sort of pseudo-Marxist, historicist approach to epistemology. I’m not a Dewey expert, but I have tried to read some of his stuff and have read a fair amount about him.

Even Dewey's admirers don't find him the easiest author to understand (see, e.g., Kliebard’s “Struggle for the American Curriculum”).

But this actually strengthens Neil’s point: as his quote from Dewey shows, even a guy as confused as John Dewey was not confused on the point that Rand claimed everyone was confused on!

If even Dewey managed to get this right, maybe quite a few philosophers got it right.


Anonymous said...


That quote does seem to indicate understanding. I just find it hard to square with what Dewey (and his followers) actually practiced and advocated.

PhysicistDave said...


You know, a lot of human beings are lacking in consistency -- obviously including John Dewey.

What primarily interests me about Objectivists is how a philosophy which claims to be pro-reason, pro-science, etc. could turn into an intensely anti-scientific cult (Rand's comment about actually existing infinity which we discussed earlier is a rather minor example of that -- it's where contemporary Objectivists have gone with all this that is profoundly weird).

I think understanding the bizarre structure and functioning of contemporary Objectivism is very enlightening for understanding the strangely inconsistent and bizarre ways in which human beings can, alas, behave.

Objectivism is, in a way, very similar to Marxism -- even in that both started as philosophies claiming to respect human life but ended in advocating the mass murder of millions (fortunately, contemporary Objectivists lack the power to actually carry out the mass murder they so enthusiastically endorse!).


Anonymous said...


I think you might be a bit harsh on Objectivism. I don't know to what extent Harriman's ideas are main stream within the ARI (altough they appear to have the support of Peikoff).

The problem that I see with ARI Objectivism is that Peikoff has too prominent a role. I think that may be more tied to his status as Rand's legal heir than anything else.

JayCross said...

Dave, I posed this question in an older post, and I'm really curious what your thoughts are. It may have been such an old post that you stopped checking comments on it, so I'll post again here.

You've stated that you think Harriman is a hack but don't want to pay tons of money for lectures and courses. Fair enough. But as a physicist, what do you think of this free, quick web article on the failures of high school physics courses?


Anonymous said...

Jay: "But as a physicist, what do you think of this free, quick web article on the failures of high school physics courses?"

I don't know the book, nor the general quality of American education, so I can't comment on them, but it's of course very well possible that these leave much to desire. More detailed criticisms about specific books can be found on Bill Bennetta's site: http://www.textbookleague.org/
And Harriman? Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.

PhysicistDave said...

Neil wrote:
>The problem that I see with ARI Objectivism is that Peikoff has too prominent a role. I think that may be more tied to his status as Rand's legal heir than anything else.

Well, yes and no.

Peikoff is clearly a senile old goofball (and I’m being polite). But, he would have no influence at all among Objectivists if all of them just ignored him and refrained from treating his ideas with respect and parroting those ideas.

And, some of the most monstrously evil stuff to come out of official Objectivism – such as the insistence on murdering as many Muslims as possible – seems to originate not simply with Peikoff. There seem to be quite a few enthusiastic would-be murderers.

You notice, by the way, that when I’ve brought up that subject, we don’t have hordes of Objectivists jumping in here to assure us that of course they themselves do not want to commit mass murder.

And, as various discussions here have shown, Rand herself certainly held a number of indefensible ideas relating to science, theology, etc.

Now, if Objectivists could just all agree that Rand was an ordinary human being who wrote some powerful novels and shot off her mouth on everything under the sun, we could view her the same way we do Vonnegut, Heinlein, etc. – simply interesting folks who had some good, provocative things to say, as well as some horribly confused ideas.

But she herself started the cult (the “Collective” and all that) and insisted in print that she was indeed starting a “movement” (Objectivism, the “New Intellectuals,” etc.). I think that means that she herself, and her “philosophy,” such as it is, have to be held somewhat responsible for what has happened. No doubt that Peikoff has made the whole thing much worse. But the whole mess stank badly enough even before the split with Branden in the late ‘60s.

Again, as I’ve said before, all she really did was warm over various old philosophical views, usually without attribution – Aristotelian eudaemonism, Lockean empiricism, classical natural rights theory, Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics, etc. The metaphysics was rather old, outdated stuff, but the other components I’ve mentioned are, in my judgment, fairly sound. Rip those components out of their “Objectivist” cultish context, criticize them intelligently and try to bring them up to date (as Greg, Daniel and many others are trying to do), and perhaps some good can come of this.

But should Rand and “Objectivism” be held innocent of Peikoff’s oh-so-many sins?

No, I think the historical record is way too clear on that. As I and others have shown all too explicitly, the rot goes back to Rand, both in explicit ideas and in the cultish behavior.

All the best,


Anonymous said...


I agree with much of what you say. I would add, however, that I don't think Rand would put up with her followers defending Franklin Roosevelt or claiming that unless you vote for Hillary Clinton, you "don't understand Objectivism."

To the extent that Objectivism has within it the possibility of evolving in a more reasonable direction, Peikoff is the main guy standing in the way.

Rand was a bit more circumspect on certain scientific questions (such as evolution) than her followers.

JayCross said...

such as the insistence on murdering as many Muslims as possible

That is absolutely libelous and untrue. You may be able to produce isolated forum posts from nutjobs who say that, but I challenge you to post one actual essay or publication stating this. The ones I've seen promote breaking the link between Islam and state, but that's hardly the same thing.

Neil Parille said...

"such as the insistence on murdering as many Muslims as possible."

Maybe a bit of hyperbole, but many Objectivists have called for the use of nukes against Islamic countries. Millions will die if that happens.

PhysicistDave said...

Jay wrote to me:
> But as a physicist, what do you think of this free, quick web article [by David Harriman] on the failures of high school physics courses?

Yeah, Jay, I did miss your earlier post to me.

Textbooks written for American public schools are indeed a disaster. I agree with dragonfly that the Textbook League provides some good (and disheartening) information on the subject. This is an urgent practical issue for me since I am a homeschooling parent.

Harriman’s complaints about the politically-correct, disjointed nature of present-day American textbooks are fair. The best high-school physics text of the last forty years that I know of is PSSC physics – they really tried hard to do it right.

PSSC physics is no longer in print.

Unfortunately, if you go to Lisa vanDamme’s site, you’ll find that Harriman’s approach to teaching physics fits in with the anti-conceptual, anti-intellectual, progressivist, developmentalist approach that Lisa herself advocates. As Lisa summarizes Harriman’s approach (http://www.vandammeacademy.com/store/default.htm ):

>Unfortunately, 99% of science curricula teach science completely out of order. They teach the most complex, abstract discoveries in the field—like Newton’s Laws or the nature of atoms—without first presenting the evidence and simpler discoveries they need to really understand them. In effect, they teach calculus before arithmetic!
>He teaches the essential principles of science, step-by-step, in the historical order in which they were discovered. For each new principle, he presents the observations and prior knowledge from which the principle was induced. Induction is the heart of the process of scientific discovery: it is the method of observing reality and, when one has sufficient evidence, generalizing into a scientific theory.
>In Fundamentals of Physical Science, Mr. Harriman starts from the earliest discoveries in Ancient Greece and leads you step-by-step through the discoveries of dozens of scientists, showing you how they induced the laws of mechanics, the nature of electricity and magnetism, and the atomic theory of matter. The result is an easily understandable, utterly fascinating account of the fundamentals of physical science.

This sounds very nice, until you think about it. Since physicists did not learn about protons and neutrons, the atomic nucleus, etc. until the twentieth century, this means you don’t get to hear about the structure of the atom until the very, very end of your two-and-a-half thousand year sojourn through history!

This is not good. (Lisa, and Harriman and Peikoff, are also wrong about induction, but that is a separate issue.)

Learning does not need to, and should not, recapitulate history. Most of our best understanding about chemistry, astronomy, etc. hinges on the structure of the atom. You can’t learn any modern chemistry until you have learned about the nucleus.

To follow Harriman’s recommended approach is to stunt children’s intellectual development.

Now, I can’t teach quantum field theory to a six-year-old.

But I can and have explained to six-year-olds that this dude Einstein figured out that space (and time) is curved and that what we think of as gravity is just particles following the straightest paths they can through that curved spacetime.

Do kids “get it” completely? No, to really get it, you need to understand the proportionality between the Einstein tensor and the stress-energy tensor and how you form the Einstein tensor from the contracted Riemann tensor (i.e., the Ricci tensor) and so on.

And, no, I cannot teach that to six-year-olds.

But the idea that space is curved, that it does not have the simple flat geometry that one would think, is not really much harder to grasp than the idea that the earth is spinning around on its axis, revolving around the sun, etc. even though it seems to be at rest.

This is how learning works. You first get an inkling of what is out there to learn, that whets your appetite, and eventually you actually get down to real, solid learning.

Harriman does not want any of that.

Of course, Harriman would not want kids to learn about Einstein anyway, since Harriman believes he has proved that Einstein is wrong!

For a basic idea of the approach to teaching physics I am recommending, and how radically it differs from Harriman’s, see George Gamow’s wonderful classic “Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland.”

Science, modern science such as evolution, galaxies, the Big Bang, etc. should be an integral part of children’s education from kindergarten. We should not hold off on science until children have been “properly” indoctrinated into the dominant pre-scientific/anti-scientific worldview. (For a beautiful example of how this really can be done, see Jennifer Morgan’s wonderful “The Universe Tells Her Story” trilogy. I have reviews of all three volumes on amazon, starting with “Born with a Bang.”)

Are some of Harriman’s criticisms of current physics textbooks valid? Yes. Is Harriman’s recommended cure any better than the disease? No, I doubt that it is.

All the best,


Anonymous said...


There is this article in Capitalism Magazine by Craig Biddle. You can read at your leisure here How to Solve America's Terrorism Problem in 5 Easy Steps, although I do believe that you have already read it.

Essentially the wartime strategy that Craig Biddle espouses is to kill as many civilians as is possible. He states that the United States should attack mosques and madrassas as well as residences when they are most likely to be occupied. He recommends this as a way to kill civilian personal. He takes into account that innocent children would be killed by the attack, but he dismisses it as none of the United States' concern.

He continues by wishing to use the events that he recommends that the United States cause in Iran to intimidate people in other states. I will quote him to illustrate

Craig Biddle
we will be watching you from way up in the sky—higher even than Allah, by means of technology He cannot fathom—and if we see anything that we so much as feel might conceivably pose even a remote threat either to America or to our allies, we will annihilate it and everything in its proximity without further warning."
Italics mine, bold was his italics.

These are the words of a blowhard. If you are going to kill someone, it costs you absolutely nothing to be polite, so the snide remark about watching them higher than Allah isn't even necessary. It is also very odd wording for an Objectivist. I noticed he used the word 'feel' rather than 'know' or even 'think'. It makes me think that he believes that the lives of middle easterners should be subject to the tiniest whims of the government officials in the United States. Rather odd for an Objectivist to be endorsing whim worship.

He then goes on to recommend that we seize oil fields in Saudi Arabia to pay for all of this. I guess in his calculus middle easterners should die so that western oil companies can make a few dollars more than they already make drilling for oil in Saudi Arabia. Americans too, even if it was possible to engineer the seizing of an enormously complicated asset such as a series of oil wells in 24 hours, with no technical difficulties. (and I contend that it is impossible, that he has figured as much, and just wants a reason to kill Saudi Arabians), The oil wells would have to guarded. The oil companies cannot hire enough people to do this, the wells couldn't be guarded from the air, and people would try to kill the occupiers.

I don't even like his title. Waging absolute war against a country with 68 million people to kill, and then seizing very capital intensive equipment in rather short period of time in a different country is not 'easy'.

But wait there is more, on the same website we have a guest editorial by Thomas Sowell. His piece is called Terrorists and Banning Torture.

In his piece he asks this question
Thomas Sowell
If a captured terrorist knows where a nuclear bomb has been planted in some American city, and when it is timed to go off, are millions of Americans to be allowed to be incinerated because we have become too squeamish to get that information out of him by whatever means are necessary?

and also makes this remark immediate following

Also by Thomas Sowell
What a price to pay for moral exhibitionism or political grandstanding!

Now Thomas Sowell is not an Objectivist, but his editorial was published in Capitalism Magazine, and was read by the editors. There is even an asterisk for a point Sowell makes that the editors found disagreeable. They were right about the asterisk, but were wrong about the correctness of the rest of the piece.

To expose what is wrong with it, I would ask this question in response to Sowell's, (and by implication the question posed by Capitalism Magazine's editorial board, there was no asterisk by it).

Why would you suppose that mere torture will make the nuclear terrorist talk? The bomb will go off in a finite amount of time, after which his information will be stale anyway (and the prison he is being held in maybe non-existent). Any man can stand adversity for a finite period for the hope of eternal glory, whether in Heaven as a martyr or on Earth as the first nuclear terrorist, especially if it is part of the job description. Why not arrest his minor children and/or his wife? Why not torture them? United States government officials could rape his wife right in front of him, and also cut off the fingers of his children one by one. If the kids run out of fingers, they can start on the toes, why not? To stop there would be mere moral exhibitionism or even political grandstanding. Should that not work, the wife and kids can be killed by some painful looking method, and more distant relations can be picked up. Repeat as often as needed.*

*If you know what's wrong with doing that, you probably know what's wrong with torture in general, and I apologize for having you read that.

I didn't produce posts from nutjobs ala randzapper. These posts were the fruits of very careful decisions either by Objectivists, or the editors of Objectivist publications. I'm sure they are proud of their work.

PhysicistDave said...


I’m not sure it is hyperbole. Perhaps I should have phrased it “kill as many Muslims as possible until they all agree to stop being Muslims.” I fear that boils down to the same thing.

Since none of these countries has tried to do anything to the US (yeah, Saddam was a murderous thug, but he never did anything to the US – it was the US that twice launched wars against him!), and since prominent Objectivists have, as you say, indeed called for nuking Iran, it is hard to see what would satisfy them except for the literal extermination of all Muslims from the face of the earth.

The official Objectivist leaders appear to literally be genocidal madmen. They have, as you indicate, actually been more explicit about this publicly than, I believe, even the most famous mass murderers of the twentieth century was.

These are not sane people.

All the best,


P.S. wells’ post just popped up as I was getting ready to post this. He makes my point all too well. I find Tom Sowell especially saddening – I met Sowell many years ago, a polite, decent man. It’s so sad how ideology can pervert normal human decency.

JayCross said...

I don't think we should be needlessly killing civilians. However, I do agree 100% with the idea that civilian deaths are the responsibility of the government(s) who necessitated this whole mess.

Should we try not to harm civilians if we don't need to? Of course. Should be hold our fire against legitimate targets if it means civilians will die? No way. You also have to consider how many more civilians will die under corrupt, terror-enabling, totalitarian regimes.

Anonymous said...


War is a moral dilemma, basically you are doing some evil act to prevent something else that is also evil. (In this case killing people and sending people to die to prevent other people from being killed). Here is an essay that more learned than I, and also useful. It might even teach you Machiavelli to boot.

What this must mean is that one should only go to war to prevent other violence. You should not go to war, (meaning you should not kill people), for economic advantage, religious dogma, or territorial gain. Since the United States government works for the people of the United States of America they should prioritize preventing violence to Americans, The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should prioritize preventing violence against Iranians, The State of Israel should prevent violence against Israelis, ect, ect, ect.

America may have to imprison or execute Iranian spies. The Iranians might have to fund roadside bombs, the Israelis might have to shoot Palestinian terrorists.
This does not mean that foreigners should be considered to have no worth. America should not torture said Iranian spies, Iran should not behead people, Israel should not shoot peaceful demonstrators. People are individuals and thus deserve all rights implied by being such. And by waging war you are doing evil. You might have to wage war, but you should never call evil by the name of good.

PhysicistDave said...

Jay wrote:
>However, I do agree 100% with the idea that civilian deaths are the responsibility of the government(s) who necessitated this whole mess.

Jay, the government that "necessitated this whole mess" is located on the Potomac River between the states of Virginia and Maryland.

No government in the Mideast has ever had the power, the need, or the desire to attack America or to seriously interfere with our domestic life (of course, one Mideastern country has interfered enormously with our political life, and has actively spied on the US, but we won't go there).

Iran and Iraq have not created any mess involving the USA. This has been solely and completely the decision of the US government, from way back when the US gov overthrew Mossadegh and re-installed the Shah to Gulf Wars I and II.

I am no admirer of Mossadegh or the current Iranian regime or Saddam Hussein, but none of them created this whole mess. Only one government on earth did that, the government in Washington, D.C.

I have seen no one seriously dispute those clear facts of history, though lots of people get very personally abusive when they hear them.

If I were the current leadership in Tehran, given the behavior of the United States in recent years, I would be absolutely frantic to get nuclear weapons. I would be moving a lot faster than they seem to be moving. Under the non-proliferation treaty, Iran has a perfect right to do that, just as Britain the US, and France did decades ago, provided that Iran formally withdraws from the treaty a short time before actually building the bombs.

Any Iranian leader who was not pursuing this would be grotesquely negligent.

If the US mends its ways, perhaps something can be worked out with Iran and we can limit further nuclear proliferation.

But let's be totally honest: the US involvement in the Mideast is 100 % the choice of the US government. Deaths due to that involvement are completely the responsibility of the US government and of those American citizens who have chosen to support the repeated violations of international law by the US government.

People who advocate intentionally murdering innocent civilians in pursuit of the bizarre policies of the US government are genocidal maniacs. Even G. W. Bush has not done that, but some prominent Objectivist leaders have.

Reality exists -- pretending that mass murder by the US government is different than mass murder by the Soviet, German, Chinese, or Japanese governments does not change reality.


JayCross said...

While I realize a hierarchy exists, let me state that I do not recognize any "Objectivist leader." I take no one's loyalty oath. I speak only for myself.

That said, I don't think you can rationally advocate Iran getting nuclear weapons. Their leadership is run by patently irrational religious fundamentalists with stated intentions to destroy us. Now, have we meddled in Middle-Eastern affairs? Certainly. Do I agree with all or even most of this meddling? No, I do not.

I also don't think nuking Iran is necessary. What IS necessary is a clearly defined goal justfied on the grounds of American self-interest. This doesn't mean "intentionally murdering millions of citizens." My personal recommendation is issuing an ultimatum to cease all sponsorship of terror groups. If the government in question fails to comply, simply dismantle their facilities and chain of command. Repeat as necessary until those who take power renounce the support and aid of terrorism.

I disagree with any Objectivist need to harm civilians, to the extent that exists.

PhysicistDave said...


I hope I’ve made clear that, given that no one owns the word “Objectivist,” of course there are people, perhaps yourself, who call themselves “Objectivist” but who are not members of the mainstream cult.

That being said, there is a mainstream cult, founded by and going back to Rand herself, and I have to use some words to refer to the leadership of that cult – it’s hard to avoid the word “Objectivist” when referring to them! Given that Rand founded the cult and chose the word “Objectivist,” I think that is eminently reasonable.

I do advocate Iran getting nuclear weapons if that is the only way the Iranian people can defend themselves. That is not my preference, though: I hope something else can be worked out, and I think it can be if the United States ever gets sane leadership (on that, I have my doubts).

You wrote:
>My personal recommendation is issuing an ultimatum [to Iran] to cease all sponsorship of terror groups. If the government in question fails to comply, simply dismantle their facilities and chain of command.

I have not heard of any terror group sponsored by Iran that threatens the United States. They have supported various groups that threaten Israel, but that is not my nor America’s problem. Indeed, by standards accepted throughout most of the world, the Israeli government is deemed a terrorist group: I also do not see why that should be my or America’s problem. Let the Israelis and Arabs work out their problems as they wish without bringing us into it.

And, as that example suggests, the meaning of “terrorist” is in the eye of the beholder. When the US was supporting the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, the Soviets considered them terrorists and we considered them freedom fighters. When they succeeded in kicking the Soviets out and decided to do to the US government what they had done to the Soviets – i.e., kick the US out of the Mideast – suddenly they changed from being “freedom fighters” to “terrorists.” Same guys, same goals – kicking non-Muslim outside military forces out of the Mideast. But now they’re “terrorists.”

Since al-Qaeda did murder a bunch of innocent Americans, despite the severe provocation by the US government, they are criminals and if we can get them, fine.

But Iran has actually pursued a remarkably peaceful attitude towards the United States despite horrible actions by the US against Iran. Again, I have seen no evidence that Iran is supporting terrorist groups aimed at the US.

If the groups supported by Iran are not threatening the US, there is no need nor reason for the US to issue an ultimatum to Iran. Indeed, such an ultimatum would constitute an act of war and would, under international law, justify Iranian attacks against American targets.

Perhaps, I am missing something. Do you actually know of any terrorist group backed by Iran that is targeting innocent Americans? Or by ‘terrorist group” do you just mean the “freedom fighters” who, e.g., fought the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

If Iran is really trying to attack the US, the US is obviously entitled to defend itself. But the sort of ultimatum you suggest, if Iran is not actually threatening the US, would be an illegal act of war by the US, like so many illegal acts of war by the US government during the last two centuries.

The US government sort of specializes in this sort of thing, you know: the invasion of Mexico in the 1840s that Polk blamed on the Mexicans, the Tonkin Gulf incident, Saddam’s fake WMDs, “Remember the Maine!”, the conquest of the Phillippines under cover of suppressing a “rebellion,” etc. For most of its history, the foreign policy of the US government has consisted largely of lying. (Not that its domestic policy is any better – lying is one of the things governments do best.)

Given the recent and long-term record of the US government of initiating wars by lying, a rational person would hold the US government guilty in its actions abroad unless there is proof to the contrary. Over a million Americans, and an uncounted number of non-Americans, have died because of military actions chosen by the US government.

Enough have died.

Incidentally, as you might gather, this is another complaint I have about Objectivists – while they often are clear enough about the lies and injustices committed by the US government domestically, they all too commonly turn an utterly blind eye to the US government’s lies and atrocities abroad. It’s the same government you know: if it lies at home, it probably lies abroad too.


PhysicistDave said...


You wrote:
> I think you might be a bit harsh on Objectivism. I don't know to what extent Harriman's ideas are main stream within the ARI (altough they appear to have the support of Peikoff).

Well, that’s why I ran a test with Diana Hsieh and her pals on her blog. As you noticed, she immediately set up, as I expected she would, procedural rules to protect Peikoff and Harriman against being exposed as frauds.

I actually don’t think too many ARI folks care about this one way or the other, just as I doubt that too many really care one way or another about genocide against Muslims. What they do seem to care about is anyone’s attacking the Objectivist hierarchy, of course starting with Rand herself.

You also wrote:
> The problem that I see with ARI Objectivism is that Peikoff has too prominent a role. I think that may be more tied to his status as Rand's legal heir than anything else.

Well, the cult goes back to Rand herself – the “Collective” and all that. She herself tried to portray her ideas as almost completely original, even though you and I know that this is simply not true. She made remarkably goofy ex cathedra pronouncements on everything from how the existence of God would be an insult to humans to the possibility of actually existing infinity. And she admitted that she had failed to educate herself on matters, such as evolution, that were obviously highly germane to her philosophic views.

No, I think that Peikoff is truly the intellectual heir of Ayn Rand in all his many facets.

She did write better than Peikoff, though, a lot better.

I think the main point on which you and I disagree is that I simply think that Objectivism is a warmed-over potpourri of philosophical ideas from the past few centuries used as bait to create a religious cult. It’s not a philosophy at all. I’m curious to hear if you differ with me on this – do you think any of her significant ideas in philosophy was original with her? Do you really think she created a novel integrated philosophy as she claimed rather than just using old philosophical ideas as bait for a cult?


Neil Parille said...


I would need to know more about Rand's life and the politics of the Objectivist movement to answer this question with certitude, but I'll say the following: Rand came to the US with a degree in philosophy. She turned her attention to fiction writing and probably didn't read much philosophy. In the 1950s and 60s she kept updated on philosophy by the Brandens and Peikoff and was never seriously challenged on her ideas or her knowledge of intellectual history. The whole movement went to her head. As Ellen Stuttle once said, Rand may have bordered on delusional. She believed that no one helped her in the US, that she didn't make any changes in the first to second edition of We the Living, her only debt was to Aristotle and ultimately that Objectivism wasn't a cult. If she is the most rational person on earth, then the devotion "the Collective" gave her couldn't be irrational. After all, she refuted all the arguments for God's existence by age 14.

As far as evolution goes, Rand did sense (as I think I have shown) that there was a certain tension with evolutionary theory and her ideas. However, she probably thought that they could be reconciled.

So my conclusion is that Rand, for whatever her flaws, didn't start out to create a cult

Also, I think Rand was original in her advocacy of rational selfishness and the moral foundation of capitalism. (I imagine, however, that you could find same precedence for that if you looked hard enough.)

PhysicistDave said...


Thanks for you informative response -- seems that you are actually a bit more critical of Rand than I am. It also seems that you have looked into her life more carefully than I, so perhaps your criticism is justified.

By and large, your comments fit my own knowledge, but I have two points of disagreement or, at least, questions.

Do you think she really believed that she had made no changes at all to “We the Living”? I had thought she acknowledged minor changes but denied changes in substance. I know most people think she did make changes in substance, but this seems the sort of issue on which reasonable people could disagree. I could imagine that, from her perspective, she merely “clarified” the previous edition. When I learn something new in math, it almost always seems to me that I am simply “clarifying” what I already knew: math tends to have that feel – I think Plato made the point that learning math feels like simply uncovering what you “really” already know.

On the rational selfishness and capitalism question, I imagine she may have been the first person to use the phrase “rational selfishness” for her ethical views. But those views do seem to me to be simply Aristotelian eudaemonism, which of course is a very old and well-known philosophical position. After all, Aristotle, and some other Greek schools such as the Epicureans, were as firm as Rand that ethics was about addressing your own well-being and were also clearly advocates of reason. It would, I think, be hard to make a case that Epicurus was an “altruist.” And wasn’t the whole “natural rights”/”natural law” tradition based on the idea of an environment that would conduce to human flourishing?

I just don’t see any novelty in Rand here at all except in emphasis, style, and, above all else, marketing. Back in the ‘60s, the title “The Virtue of Selfishness” was certainly an eye-catcher!

By the way, I too doubt that Rand planned the cult thing from the get-go. I’m sure it just grew, but I would note that as the cult grew so too did her claims to be not simply a novelist but also a groundbreaking philosopher. So, I think it fair to say that the philosophical grandiosity served as bait for the cult, although I doubt she realized that consciously when it was happening.

I hope it is clear that I don’t hate Rand: I liked the novels and enjoyed the essays – they made me think about things and certainly got my blood flowing! My critical remarks are simply meant to point out that the lady was not God, that she did sometimes make a fool of herself (as most people sometimes do), and that the adulation she now receives from most of her worshippers is bizarre beyond words.

If she were simply viewed as almost everyone views Vonnegut, Nietzsche, Heinlein, Sartre, etc – i.e., as a human being who said some interesting stuff worth critical discussion – I would feel no need to focus on her shortcomings.

One does wonder if this is how Christianity got started. Was the man from Nazareth simply a regular guy trying to express his views on the current scene but his followers deified him?

To me, this is the most interesting thing about Objectivism – not Rand herself but rather what one can learn about human nature by observing the Objectivists. If it’s not true that Rand = Jesus, it comes close to being true that Objectivists = Christians.

All the best,


Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil Parille wrote:

So my conclusion is that Rand, for whatever her flaws, didn't start out to create a cult

I haven't had time to read this thread yet; I started with Neil's quoted post and the one just above it. If the suggestion is being floated that Rand was deliberately trying to start a cult, I say positively not. Neil reports my having described her as bordering on delusion. I think she was that, but attempting to create a cult? No. Furthermore, she got rid of the whole NBI thing upon her writing off Nathaniel. The lecture courses and such by-tape activities as occurred afterward (until LP set up ARI after Rand's death -- my bet is that she would have mightily disapproved) were a pale echo of the NBI set-up, near as I have second-hand knowledge of that (I arrived in NYC after the break). By the post-break years she was mostly in a state of estrangement from the world and showed increasingly little interest. She'd reportedly often expressed irritation with her own followers. That cult dynamics developed I think is causally related to her characteristics, her inability to brook any disagreement; but it isn't that she was every trying to produce a cult.


Ellen Stuttle said...

Procedural question:

Can you edit a post after it appears?

"bordering on delusion" in my post above should have been:

"bordering on delusional"


Ellen Stuttle said...

PhysicistDave asks of Neil:

Do you think she really believed that she had made no changes at all to “We the Living”? I had thought she acknowledged minor changes but denied changes in substance.

Taking the liberty of answering, I think Neil meant no changes of substance. Certainly she didn't deny making any changes; she stated in the Preface to the 2nd edition that she'd made minor changes for clarity of wording.


Neil Parille said...


Yes, Rand denied making any changes of substance in her book. Most people who have looked into this consider a small number of the changes substantial.

I haven't compared the two versions, but I have read pro and con and conclude that at least a couple of the changes are quite important.

While many ARIans are quite dogmatic, I have noticed that some keep their praise of Rand within semi-reasonable bounds. I think there are certain "perks" to being associated with the ARI and its writers and lecturers know what is expected of them. That's somewhat speculative.

Jesus probably had a very high view of himself as God's agent. See Ben Witherington's The Christology of Jesus.

PhysicistDave said...


I think you and I (and probably Neil) agree on the points in your two recent posts.

I'm a little bit inclined to be charitable on the "We the Living" issue, simply because "substantive" is open to interpretation and, I think, thereby open to truly unintentional distortion

And I'm sure you're right on the cult thing. My point is simply that her increasingly grandiose claims probably were fed by the needs created within her by the cult, even though she probably did not realize it.

And, of course, the main point is that she had an obligation to see what was happening with the cult and stop it. Of course, "there but for the grace of God..." -- power corrupts, even the minor power she achieved within the cult (and that power probably did not seem so minor to Frank and Barbara, considering what it did to their lives).

Where I may differ with you and Neil is on why the cult continued after the break with the Brandens and even after her death.

It seems to me that the very structure of her system of thinking lends itself to cultism. Almost all Objectivists whom I’ve observed often seem to spend more time asking themselves whether an idea is truly “Objectivist” than whether it is truly true. Rand’s comments, for example, about how people should ask themselves what would John Galt or Howard Roark do clearly encourage that kind of behavior.

For all the Objectivist I’ve been able to observe at any length, Rand has become a kind of “superego” looking over their thinking process. I certainly felt this myself when reading her stuff as a teenager.

To be sure, I just did not care. If Rand-as-superego disapproved of my thinking process, but I was right, so much the worse for Rand!

But I’ve never, ever heard, even a single time, any Objectivist make a statement such as my preceding sentence.

I think that she did encourage that mode of behavior and that this, more than Peikoff’s senility, explains all the Objectivists we can so readily study today.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

All the best,


Ellen Stuttle said...

A note on the issue of Rand in regard to evolution:

I've noticed a lot of what I'd call anachronistic criticism in speculations about Rand's lack of informing herself about evolutionary theory.

Some chronological points to keep in mind:

Rand formulated her Objectivist Ethics while she was writing Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. This was almost twenty years before "sociobiology," now more often called "evolutionary psychology," was introduced to the populace at large. Wilson's Sociobiology was published in 1975, Dawkins' The Selfish Gene in 1976. By that time, Rand was not in the best of health, having had an operation for lung cancer; her husband was in severe decline and required nursing; Rand was in a generally withdrawn-from-the-world frame; and who was around even to bring up to her the issues posed by these works? Harry Binswanger?

At the time when Rand was writing Atlas, she was not out-of-line with the thinking of the intelligensia of the day in not viewing evolution as of much relevance to human behavior. The reigning approach to human behavior was a radical environmentalism: Behaviorism's founder John Watson claimed you could condition any child to grow up to be beggar-man, thief, poet, philosopher, whatever. The prevailing view in anthropology was that of cultural determinism; the idea was that humans had evolved biologically to a certain point and then, with the appearance of culture, culture took over as prime determinant. Sociology was largely Marxist in slant, again radically environmental.

In short, where Rand differed from prevailing views wasn't in her disregard of evolutionary factors as behavioral determinants but instead in her objection to determinism period. She wasn't out of synch in being an extreme environmentalist; her difference was in not being a determinist environmentalist.


PhysicistDave said...


Witherington is a fundamentalist, out of touch with mainstream scholarship, and therefore extremely unreliable. (I’m tempted to call him a liar, but it is possible that he has actually succeeded in bamboozling himself.)

Try looking up Robert M. Price's or Richard Carrier’s books, or essays on the web, for much more balanced and scholarly appraisals of Jesus.

The bottom line is that we know nothing at all about Jesus, not even whether he existed at all. Most scholars, rightly I think, treat the assumption that he existed as a reasonable starting point for investigation; however, a number of serious writers (look up Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells) have made interesting cases that he was completely mythical.

By the way, the strongest argument for this “mythicist” position is that honest, serious scholars who try to perceive the “real” Jesus end up with radically contradictory pictures, as if they were writing about completely separate human beings. It’s as if someone claimed that a biography of Ayn Rand and a biography of Golda Meir really referred to the same person!

As I’ve said before, one of my lifelong interests is the origins and psychopathology of religions, so I’ve read a fair amount on the Jesus issue (though I’m certainly no scholar on the subject). My interest in Objectivism is part of that same fascination, since Objectivism obviously stems from the same psychological/sociological phenomena as does religion. Traditional supernatural religions are slowly dying, but I think we will see more of naturalist "religions," such as Objectivism in the future (another example is Scientology). There have already been numerous attempts to create semi-cults (e.g., Deepak Chopra) by lying about quantum mechanics. (As a physicist, I’m tempted to think that I should gain fame and fortune by doing a good job of building a cult around quantum mechanics – I think I could actually do it!)

One of the things that also does fascinate me is why people like you, Ellen, Daniel, and Greg, although clearly not part of the cult at all, take Objectivism seriously on an intellectual level. To me, that’s like seriously arguing with creationists. I figured out long ago that creationists should not be argued with but merely studied as an interesting example of human psychopathology. Richard Dawkins’ comments on the subject helped me realize this.

And Dawkins’ comments seem to me equally applicable to Objectivists. These guys are not sane, honest, normal people. But they certainly make interesting specimens.

All the best,


Ellen Stuttle said...

Physicist Dave wrote:

Where I may differ with you and Neil is on why the cult continued after the break with the Brandens and even after her death.

It seems to me that the very structure of her system of thinking lends itself to cultism.

I agree with that. See something I posted on the art thread about why so few creative people stayed around the O'ist world. The system of thought does instill a kind of self-examining which lends to cult dynamics. Indeed, I've often said that if NBI and "the Brandens" (primarily Nathaniel) had been of themselves the source of the cult dynamics, then why would those dynamics have continued after the split? I agree that the system endemically lends to cultism. My point about her getting rid of the NBI apparatus, and not wanting a further replica, after the split was just as evidence that she wasn't deliberately trying to be a cult-leader; it wasn't her intention. I think that she never saw that her whole way of presenting ideas led to cultish results.

I also agree with you that the idolatarizing feedback strengthened her own grandiose self-image.

It's a question interesting to speculate about, what would have become of her post-Atlas if not for Nathaniel's having written her a fan letter, hence the rest of the history?

My belief is that she'd have disappeared into a depressed obscurity and we'd never have had anything nearly like Objectivism as such, that she wouldn't have ended up naming and fleshing out her views. Maybe she'd have recovered enough to write another novel, maybe the one she'd sketched.

I think it took the combination of her and Nathaniel for what occurred -- Objectivism's being put "on the map" -- to occur.

I did have a great Thanksgiving. Thanks for the good wishes. ;-)


PS: Re We the Living, some of the changes are pretty big to pass as not substantive, I think.

Ellen Stuttle said...


One of the things that also does fascinate me is why people like you, Ellen, Daniel, and Greg, although clearly not part of the cult at all, take Objectivism seriously on an intellectual level.

Why I take it seriously is because it's tantalizingly like what I think would be an actually viable philosophy. And I do think there's a huge crisis in human history now with the need for a viable secular ethics. I don't think Dawkins and the evol. psychologists can properly address that problem.

Please don't ask me to elaborate just now. ;-) I have to scoot and get something done besides writing posts. ;-) Just answering your question re myself, briefly.


Neil Parille said...


Say what you want about Witherington he isn't a fundamentalist in either the narrow (premillenial dispensationalist) or in the broad sense (inerrantist).

In fact, he uses critical methodology and arrives at moderately conservative conclusions. If you read the book I mentioned, you will see that he doesn't even rely on John's Gospel, apparently believing that it isn't a primary historical source. He would be booted out of most fundamentalist churches.

Getting back to Objectivism, I'm not sure to what extent it is a cult. It may have some cult-like tendencies, but I suspect that there are a fair number of people associated with ARIanism who question whether Rand annointed Peikoff her "intellectual heir," whether it's a sin to refer to Rand by just her last name, among other things. For every Objectivist who has praised Valliant's nutty book, there are probably several who have kept silent.

The ARI has substantial resources and there is a strong incentive for the more independent ones to "go along to get along." As I've said, I don't know enough about the inner workings of the ARI to come to a firm conclusion.

BTW, I do consider Objectivists to be sane, honest and normal people.

PhysicistDave said...


I think I see your point, but, needless to say, I'm interested to see you elaborate on it.

Incidentally I don’t think that Dawkins or the ev psych people actually think that they have an answer to all of the problems of ethics or philosophy or human life in general. Partly, this is because of the very nature of evolution: evolution tends to throw up what the late Steve Gould dubbed “spandrels”: aspect of an organism’s form or function that are simply incidental to some feature that was actually selected for by evolution. A lot of people have suggested that music may be a spandrel, and the human ability to do quantum physics or molecular biology is surely a spandrel.

And partly it’s due just to the division of labor – it is not a biologist’s job to explain Federal Reserve policy (although perhaps he could explain why Al Greenspan abandoned so many of his views – e.g., on the gold standard – after he became an alpha male!).

What they do think is that any approach to philosophy, the humanities, or social science that completely ignores the facts of human evolution is likely to be seriously deficient. I think they are correct there, though it varies from field to field: evolution is obviously more relevant to psychology than to economics (I’m with the Austrians in thinking that economics starts from such basic, obvious empirical premises as to be close to being a priori) and is also more relevant to ethics and epistemology than to metaphysics.

Of course sometimes the ev psych people (even the endearing Steve Pinker) do go overboard: Jerry Fodor, a philosopher very sympathetic with ev psych, has a nice book, “The Mind Doesn’t Work that Way” taking the ev psych guys and gals to task for being a bit too much like Objectivists – too willing to settle for a priori reasoning without empirical evidence.

Perhaps where I agree with you is that I think many of the philosophical traditions Rand drew upon – Aristotelian eudaemonism, natural rights theory, Lockean empiricism, etc. – are basically right, and, if informed by knowledge of modern science and recent work in philosophy, would lead to an adequate philosophy. I even think there is a great deal to be said for Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics, though it is fundamentally wrong in some respects (the matter-form or substance-accident approach does not fit real well with the mechanistic picture of the natural world produced by natural science).

Rand failed to bring about this synthesis, of course, and, I’m not sure that anyone who did bring it about would deserve to be called a great philosopher. For example, I think I could do it if it ever struck my fancy, and I’m not trying to brag: I think lots of people could do it. I don’t think it is very hard. I think it is essentially a job for a bright reporter: take the philosophical traditions I’ve mentioned, show how modern science has corrected, expanded, and tied together those traditions, and be honest about all the questions that remain unanswered (the nature of consciousness, the issue of free will, the question of determinism in the natural world, everything having to do with quantum mechanics, etc.). One philosopher who has tried to do some of this is Bruce Aune, though I do not think he has written much on ethics.

So, yeah, lots of the ideas Rand filched from earlier philosophers are the core of what would be needed in an adequate philosophy, but it seems to me that quite a few of us already have that philosophy – none of us has taken the time to write it up in a book because we figure that other intelligent, honest people will figure it out as we did by learning science, economics, etc. I myself think the biggest problem is kids’ being lied to by adults (on issues of politics, religion, etc.) which makes it harder to learn basic truths, as well as our entire educational system (public, private, and even most homeschoolers) systematically restricting kids’ acquiring of basic knowledge in science, economics, history, etc.

The main job is simply to clear the intellectual rubble (religion, political commitments, etc.) and get established knowledge to the kids.

To me, that’s more education and journalism than philosophy.

I expect that you will bring a somewhat different perspective to this issue.

All the best,


PhysicistDave said...


You and I probably have different definitions of “fundamentalist": to me, a fundie is one who believes the Virgin Birth really happened, and that Jesus really walked on water, pulled off the loaves and fishes thing, and physically rose from the dead on the third day. My understanding is that Witherington believes those things. If he does not believe any of them, I am in error about him.

Incidentally, I have a very empirical approach to my definition of “fundamentalism” and cult-like behavior. I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church (I refused to join or be baptized myself) where people were proud to call themselves “fundamentalists,” even though they were not dogmatic about whether the seven days in Genesis were literally seven days, etc. In my experience, the set of fundamentalists is almost without members if you restrict it to means people who really, truly believe that every single word in the Bible is literally true: for example, I’ve never met a Christian who thought that the parables of Jesus had to be literally true – obviously, they are allegorical. Some Christians do give lip service to this ultra-literalism, but if asked about the parables they acknowledge the obvious truth. Even the hard-core fundies, in my experience, tend to resort to weasel words such as “properly understood,” “properly interpreted,” etc. when pushed hard enough.

You wrote:
>For every Objectivist who has praised Valliant's nutty book, there are probably several who have kept silent.
>The ARI has substantial resources and there is a strong incentive for the more independent ones to "go along to get along."

That is precisely what I mean by “cultist.” If you talk to real cultists, as is my hobby, this is exactly what you see. People will tell you that it is “really hard” to believe in some idiotic doctrine but that they’re still trying. Become good enough friends with the cultists, something I’ve managed to do, and they’ll confess that they don’t really believe all of it but don’t want to say so out loud for fear of hurting the faith of the weaker sheep in the cult (and of course because they’d be kicked out).

Just like the Objectivists.

The main difference I see between the other cultists I’ve known and the Objectivists I’ve known is that the other cultists tend to be nicer people than the Objectivists and that they tend not to let the cult destroy their lives in the way so many Objectivists have.

To be honest, I don’t care that Objectivists wreck their lives: I think they deserve it and I find it amusing – evolution in action. (I am gratified that Objectivists do not seem to be all that good at having babies – maybe this cult will die out as the Shakers did.)

You also wrote:
>BTW, I do consider Objectivists to be sane, honest and normal people.

Well, I’ve run into a lot of liars among them. And the fact that so few Objectivists are willing to denounce the genocidal maniacs among their leaders that you and I and others have cited, does tell me that these folks are not even close to being sane people. I honestly am glad that none of my neighbors is an Objectivist.

I think you have a higher tolerance for lying and insanity than I do. My tolerance for lying is unusually low.

All the best,


gregnyquist said...

physicistDave: "One of the things that also does fascinate me is why people like you, Ellen, Daniel, and Greg, although clearly not part of the cult at all, take Objectivism seriously on an intellectual level. To me, that’s like seriously arguing with creationists. I figured out long ago that creationists should not be argued with but merely studied as an interesting example of human psychopathology."

Here it is important to distinguish between ideas and those who hold them. It is the ideas we are taking seriously, not necessarily everyone who advocates them. Many of the people at ARI are difficult to take seriously, and the orthodox Objectivism, viewed as an intellectual movement, is impossible to take seriously.

I see orthodox Objectivism as a sort of bunnyhole which some people, usually young people without much experience of life, fall into. One of the goals of this websight is to help those who are fed up with being trapped in the Objectivist bunnyhole find their way out. It would be unfair to those people not to take Rand's ideas seriously, because it is precisely by taking those ideas seriously that we can most readily and palpably expose their weaknesses.

PhysicistDave said...


Fair point. And, of course, I'm probably a bit more sympathetic to "Rand's ideas" than you are, although I agree with you completely that those ideas are and should be completely open to criticism. One point that I note you're having trouble getting across to most of your Objectivist visitors is that criticizing and correcting her ideas is actually the best way of showing *respect* for them.

In science, the number of "citations" you receive is commonly considered a measure of the importance of your paper, even if the new papers that cite your paper, actually criticize, correct, or expand upon your own work. Simple blind, uncritical agreement is not a compliment.

So, in a very real sense, your site here may be one of the most complimentary sites to Rand on the whole Web!

I fear her followers don't quite see it that way.

Of course, my own interests run more to the social psychology of the cult itself and to why she and her followers cannot see that almost all of her philosophical ideas are not original with her.

I do, however, agree with Ellen that the ideas Rand filched from her predecessors in philosophy, usually without giving proper credit, are tantalizingly close to the ideas that really would be needed in the best philosophical synthesis that one could achieve today (with emphasis on "today" -- as science and human thought advances, so must philosophy).

I'm curious as to how much you agree with Ellen and me on this. Do you think Rand was generally sort of groping in the right directions but managed to get a lot of the details all mixed up? Or do you think that Rand was generally going 180 degrees in the wrong direction?

To me, for example, Popper and Rand were both in the broad empiricist tradition going back to Locke and others in the seventeenth century, but neither has the final word in that area.

Some of what Rand said in ITOE was nonsense but some was quite sensible, if incomplete and nowhere near as original as she thought. For example, I think that “measurement omission” is what is going on in the formation of some concepts (I also think that if we could resurrect John Locke, he would say “Yes, that’s what I was saying, you know.”).

Do you agree or do you think that Rand was simply spouting complete nonsense on epistemology?

All the best,


JayCross said...

So, in a very real sense, your site here may be one of the most complimentary sites to Rand on the whole Web!

As an Objectivist I visit this site more often than any other Rand-related webpage. I don't agree with everything said, but you certainly aren't "anti-mind" or whatever for posting it.

Daniel Barnes said...

>Do you agree or do you think that Rand was simply spouting complete nonsense on epistemology?

The ITOE is nonsense. (Interestingly I also have a Lockean acquaintance who disputes "measurement ommission " is functional) I personally think all "measurement ommission" amounts to is a vague way of asserting something has a property. I haven't examined it closely, but I suspect it's just another incredibly overrated piece of Randian verbiage; just like a "conceptual common denominator" is just a pretentious way of saying a "similarity" (and a circularity at that: see the Understanding Objectivist Jargon entry).

I agree that other aspects of Rand's philosophy are "tantalisingly close" - as I say, achievement, productivity, reason, freedom, capitalism, reality etc is not a bad hand to play. The intriguing thing is why such a promising hand turns into such a bust. Quickly, part of the problem is the justificationist/absolutist philosophical foundations; another key part is Greg's insight about her central rationalisations about the "ideal man"; the third is her verbalist Aristotelian methodology; the rest is social psychological knock-ons from those, probably. The result is what you see today.

Anonymous said...

If you believe that concepts are objective (i.e., like an Objectivist would), then you would have no problem with the process of summarizing or paraphrasing.

But since you are into the necessity of quotes to describe another's beliefs, why don't you quote for us where Rand said that the flawed arguments of others conferred credibility on her own position.

Oh, and since the flawed position of one's opponents does not confer credibility on one's own position, then since you argue that Rand's position was flawed, I am sure you will also agree that your own position has no credibility.

It's like taking candy from a baby.