Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saving The Appearances 2: Notes on Cultism in "The Logical Leap"

If "The Logical Leap" is a Rand-cult book, we should expect it to conform strictly to the Prime Directive of cultism: that the Ayn Rand is the greatest individual that ever lived. Rand-cult books like James Valliant's "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" are written to promote the moral supremacy of Ayn Rand; "The Logical Leap" to promote her intellectual and philosophical supremacy.

However just as the insurmountable conflicts between the Prime Directive and reality forced Valliant's book into sycophantic absurdity, this case presents enormous problems for the true believer. For unlike the problem of universals, or the "is/ought" problem, which Rand claimed to have solved (even though it seems that she neither solved, nor even understood them), with the problem of induction she is on record as stating she had not solved it, and had not even begun to do so.

Even worse, the problem of induction was posed by one of the chief villains of Objectivist mythology, David Hume, which in turn inspired the philosophy of the Ultimate Objectivist Villain - "the most evil man who ever lived", as Rand described him - Immanuel Kant. How could the greatest philosopher of all time not have an answer to the two most evil philosophers of all time? How could Rand, who prided herself above all on her supposedly epochal "epistemological" achievements, blank out on this decisive epistemological question? Hence the problem of induction has been a ticking time bomb under Objectivism for the last 40 years.

From the cultist point of view, there is really only one way to defuse the situation: it has to be shown that Rand's work already somehow contains the solution to the problem of induction - that, being the Greatest Philosopher of All Time, she solved it even though she didn't solve it. Hey, she did it without even trying! Now, Rand's Theory of Concept Formation, expressed in a handful pages of vague jargon within the mere 90 odd pages that she contributes to the Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology is the obvious candidate for such a claim, even though this meisterwerk is originally only supposed to solve the problem of universals. It's also critical that her acolytes are not seen to make any distinctive contribution themselves - to do otherwise, to imply that there was anything fundamental that Rand did not ultimately anticipate, that they are anything more than passive vessels communicating the guru's supreme vision is to violate the Prime Directive.

Therefore we can expect two things from The Logical Leap:
1) At some point Rand's Theory of Concept Formation will be presented as the direct and fully sufficient answer to the problem of induction
2) Neither Harriman, the ostensible author of the book, nor Peikoff his "collaborator" will have any directly identifiable contribution to any important part of the problem's solution.

Of course considerable effort behind the scenes will be required to "save the appearances" of Rand's greatness. Fortunately Harriman and Peikoff have the basic cult tools discussed previously to help engineer this: 1) the "thought terminating cliches" of Objectivist jargon 2) the sharply divided world of the Objectivist founding mythology and 3) their own idolatrous and and naiively uncritical attitude to Rand's ideology. In my next post we'll see how this all comes together.


stuart said...

Daniel, thanks for doing the thankless task again, I have felt I really should read the Logical Leap if I were to know anything about induction or is and ought,and you give me hope that there is life beyond Sense of Life, even for lifers.

Greatly enjoying the series,

Anonymous said...

Objectivists are at times, the least objective people of whom I associate. I guess the old saying is true, you teach what you need to learn most.

Here is the tragedy. Rational thinking and objectivity are critical to man’s survival. A useful, yet limited government is desired.

Ayn Rand fluped it all up.

Good work btw!

gregnyquist said...

Objectivists are at times, the least objective people of whom I associate.

Undoubtedly true; which leads to the ironic conclusion that, in order to be objective, one must reject Objectivism.

Here is the tragedy. Rational thinking and objectivity are critical to man’s survival ... [and] limited government is desired.

Well, while a certain level of "objectivity" may be necessary to survival, and while rational thinking may increase well-being, it's probably over dramatic to describe Rand's failure to uphold and defend these things as a tragedy. Even if Rand had offered an immaculate defense of "objectivity" (as if such a thing is even necessary!) it wouldn't have made much difference. Indeed, I suspect, had she done so, that no personality cult would have arisen around her, and thus no Objectivist movement.

Wells said...

I realize that you are not expecting this book to yield any new philosophy; and therefore are analyzing it as a text that is supposed to propagate the current orthodoxy and bow down to David Harriman's master Leonard Piekoff.

But what if it does have new philosophy? Either inadvertently or because David Harriman and or Leonard Piekoff felt that it had to contain the new doctrine in order to be complete. How will you handle that in your Review? How do you predict David Harriman will handle it in his book?

Daniel Barnes said...

>But what if it does have new philosophy?

Well, you never know. Our team of ARCHNblog researchers is earnestly scanning Harrikoffrand's deathless prose for the faintest sign of interesting or non-defective theories, believe you me. Hence you won't see the next post on this till at least the weekend, possibly later.

Ken said...

Plus, nothing prevents anyone else from reading the book, or from adding to the comments. So if someone finds that TLL has some new philosophy, they can let everyone reading this blog know.

Existence proofs are easy; just show an instance of the thing. They're also much more impressive than complaining that someone else has not shown an instance of the thing.

Neil Parille said...

Here's yet another book on Objectivism coming out.

It's called Understanding Objectivism: A Comprehensive Examination of Ayn Rand's Philosophy of Objectivism.

It's by former ARI president Michael Berliner. It's 368 pages.

I seriously doubt it will say anything new.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Neil: Where did you find this info on Berliner's book? I asked Mr. Google, but he didn't find anything.

Neil Parille said...


I did a search on Amazon with "Ayn Rand" in the title and it came up.


Neil Parille said...


In December 2007 I did a post listing the books on philosophy by orthodox Objectivists. I found a grand total of 6.

Since then:

Harriman's book on induction is out. Binswanger's book on consciousness isn't out, nor is Peikoff's DIM book. The DIM book was supposed to be published in 2009.

The latest I read is that Milgram's authorized bio of Rand will go up to 1957.

-Neil Parille

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

Neil -

Thanks. I found it. I see it is available for pre-order but not promised until March of next year. That's a long way in advance for pre-ordering, at least in my experience.

-- ECE