Sunday, March 06, 2016

Objectivist Roundup March

Neil Parille notes what is notable this month:

Scott Ryan, author of Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality  has passed away. See Ed Feser’s tribute here.

Check Your Premises (the blog of the pro-ARI Ayn Rand Society) has published Harry Binswanger’s 1977 response to Robert Nozick concerning his “On the Randian Argument.”

The Huffington Post wonders if Donald Trump is an Objectivist.

The snoozefest known as The Objective Standard has published a collection of writings about Ayn Rand.


Bryan White said...

I felt some distinct seismic activity in the direction of Any Rand's grave when the Huffington article characterized Objectivism as an "amoral philosophical system."

Now, whatever issues can be raised about Objectivism's theory of ethics, I would hope that we could all agree that calling it "amoral" isn't remotely accurate or fair.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that my hope is going to end up disappointed. *sigh* Alright, let's hear it.

Jzero said...

Well, I think it's correct to say that Objectivism presents itself as a heavily moral system, that Rand and probably most of her acolytes would claim themselves to be of the highest moral standing - on their own terms.

But if it's claimed that despite popular opinion, greed and selfishness are virtues and not vices, and that charity is effectively a sin and so on, then by the standards of society at large, someone might well consider that "amoral", particularly if they focus on those aspects of the philosophy.

Or to put it another way, I doubt Rand would have had any qualms about declaring any of her favorite targets as amoral, or at least immoral.

Bryan White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan White said...

I would probably be more willing to accept someone calling Objectivism immoral rather than amoral. To say that something is immoral is to judge it against a standand. By some people's standards Objectivism would be considered immoral. Whether of not I'd agree, I can accept it as a valid statement.

To call something amoral, on the other hand, is generally to claim to make an observation of fact. It's to say that something doesn't concern itself with morality, or doesn't believe in it or consider it significant. One can condemn something as immoral as viewed from their moral perspective, but one does not condemn something as amoral; they classify or categorize it as amoral. If a writer called Objectivism immoral, I would think, well that's their opinion. If a writer calls objectivism amoral, I think, somebody didn't do their research before they wrote this, or someone is incapable of even understanding that there are other ways of thinking about morality.

Whatever it's merit or demerits, Objectivism is almost first and foremost a philosophy concerned with morality and moralizing (perhaps to a detrimental degree on occasion.) As this blog itself has pointed out before, even Rand's metaphysics and epistemology were informed more by Rand's view of morality than by reality. She often saw things through the lens of her ideals. This is something she has been critized for here on numerous occasions. For someone to say that Objectivism is an amoral system is for someone to just flat out not know what they're talking about.

And as far as what Rand would say or do about people, that's entirely irrevelvant. You don't consider the merits of what's said about someone on the basis of what that person would say about other people. You know that. And if you don't know, you really should.

Jzero said...

"If a writer calls objectivism amoral, I think, somebody didn't do their research before they wrote this, or someone is incapable of even understanding that there are other ways of thinking about morality."

I think you've answered your own previous post, then. Do we think that Huffington Post mention was a well-researched and thoroughly-considered thesis? Hardly. Nor do I think it had any obligation to be, really. It's an opinion piece, practically a paragraph, reposted from a blog that partially describes itself as "rants". And who knows? With literacy in decline, perhaps the author actually meant immoral and got it confused? My point is: was this trip really necessary?

"And as far as what Rand would say or do about people, that's entirely irrevelvant. You don't consider the merits of what's said about someone on the basis of what that person would say about other people."

No, but you can make a judgement about whether the person being talked about really deserves any sort of vigorous defense. Or in other words, Rand's penchant for taking shots at others (often ill-informed herself) mitigates, for me, any outrage or sympathy for her that someone's ill-informed blog post about her might evoke.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

The HuffPo author (Francis Levy) clearly isn't a philosopher. In addition to calling Objectivsm amoral, he also asserts that utilitarianism and consequentialism are amoral ... because they're concerned "what results from [an action], rather than its morality."

No philosopher would write that. It's expected from someone who thinks that "morality" means the code of ethics he was taught as a kid.

Anonymous said...

> and that charity is effectively a sin

Where did Rand ever claim that charity is effectively a sin?

(Talk about taking ill-informed shots at others!)

Jzero said...

"Charity is effectively a sin" is a flip characterization of Rand's stance that altruism is immoral, if you want to argue semantics.

I mean, if that's all you came here to tsk-tsk about, Anon, you need a hobby.

Daniel Barnes said...

>Where did Rand ever claim that charity is effectively a sin?

Well she doesn't. But she does weasel her way around it in her typical fashion. It's by implication a minor virtue in Objectivism, buried in the fine print behind the fiery anti-altruistic damnations. But she never really explains how giving to others even in a small sense isn't sacrificial or altruistic in an equally small sense. And given she's always telling us how even the smallest lapses from black-and-white values are like mixing "a little poison in your food" this is a bit of a problem.

Of course, there's nothing particularly original about the idea that it's ok to spare a little charity when you can afford it. Where she forgets the weasel wording for a minute and becomes full throated, in her "Ethics of Emergencies" essay (also cited in the Lexicon entry on "Charity") it immediately becomes a lot more original. It also goes pear-shaped at the same moment.

So, as usual, Rand is both good and original as the old joke goes.

Bryan White said...

@Daniel: I was almost tempted to repeat what I've said here before on this subject. But seeing as you linked to the page when I left the comment saying it before, that kind of spares me the trouble. Thanks! I'll just quote one small part of it.

"I'd also like to believe that these are the grounds on which Rand objects to altruism, the mandate of it and the corrupting grudge it fosters, rather than objecting to the idea of actually WANTING to help someone. There ARE hints of that here and there in her writings and places where she actually says it explicitly. But it's not mentioned nearly enough. It seems like something she's reticent to admit, like it would be a concession or a weaknesses or some sort. Therefore, you end up with embarrassing formulations like the one above where she says it's "permissible" to help a drowning person. Well, gee, if it's okay then..."

(The rest of the comment puts the above into context, of course.)

advancedatheist said...

Did you notice the new CEO of the Atlas Society, a woman named Jennifer Anju Grossman?

I watched a video clip she made for her previous job with the Dole Nutrition Institute, and I immediately profiled her as an airhead.

Sure enough, her first article on the Atlas Society's website in her new capacity deals with Objectivist principles for the modern degeneracy called "dating," which in practice means women's sterile sexual encounters with men they don't have any intention of marrying.

Grossman looks 40-ish to me, still single and apparently doesn't have any children. Wouldn't surprise me if she has had an abortion or two on her life résumé. Yet she still engages in "dating" with "boyfriends," like a girl half her age.

If she represents what female Objectivists think women should do with their lives, instead of following women's natural functions ("A is A" comes to mind) of marrying and forming families starting at their peak fertility, then she can become the poster girl for why Objectivism as currently formulated doesn't work and has no future.

Daniel Barnes said...

Is CEO of the Atlas Society even a job?

Jzero said...

Apropos of nothing in particular, but has anyone here read the science fiction story "Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy" by Matt Ruff? It is slightly ARCHN-relevent in that one of the supporting characters is a hurricane lamp in which has been embedded an A.I. recreation of Ayn Rand.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@advancedatheist: Where is your contempt for the men who engage in the "modern degeneracy called 'dating'"? Surely they are just as complicit in the horror of "sterile sexual encounters" as the women.

Or is it that wanting something out of life other than babies is only wrong if you're a woman?

Kindly take your sexism elsewhere. Thank you.

advancedatheist said...

You call it "sexism." I call it the new frontier of freethought.

Yes, men suffer from the dating degeneracy as well. Traditional societies which made arranged marriages for family formation thrived for generations, and I think we should give that practice a second look, especially considering the West's demographic implosion.

Which goes to show the unsustainability of organized Rand cultism. Grossman herself admits in her Huffington post interview the other day that her cult needs to keep recruiting young people who lack the life experience to know any better, because Objectivism doesn't work for older sterile people like her who keep dying off.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@advancedatheist: It seems we have different priorities. I'm not at all worried about "the West's demographic implosion."

And I read the HuffPo interview with Grossman. She doesn't say what you claim she said about recruitment or "older sterile people like her." Only thing I could find her saying about recruitment is this:

I want to get young people in general, women and immigrants in particular, engaged with these powerfully transformative ideas -- not just via philosophy and fiction, but via art.

And of course she wants to recruit the young. People with life experience are too likely to see Rand's BS for what it is.

Jzero said...

Ah, jeez, I thought the whole "woman's natural functions/A=A" thing was trying to be ironic or satiric, not serious. I am chagrined.

Seriously, doesn't the world have enough people already? Do we really have to be in some kind of competition to make more than "the other guys"?

Phinias T. Shinebaum said...

"The other guys," i.e., those having the most children, are not remotely Objectivists; for example, Muslims are roughly two billion strong, and growing. But of course all we need to do is to suggest that they read The Fountainhead or Anthem in their equivalent of high school, and there will be nothing to worry about in the long run, because people are blank slates and the rational idea always wins. Syrians will make fine Americans once they do some civics reading and experience Freedom for themselves, by touching our magic soil (it must be the soil, because in the US Freedom is on life-support because of attacks on it by the secret Muslim-in-chief who doesn't even have a birth certificate!). It all makes perfect rational sense, if you read Atlas Shrugged.

Gordon Burkowski said...

re arranged marriages:

It's remarkably addled to think that we could eliminate "dating degeneracy" and the "demographic implosion" by giving arranged marriages "a second look". Talk about mixing up cause and effect.

We live in a society where most women have the same education as men, work outside the home and very often have professional positions. All of these factors have caused the end of arranged marriages. And dreaming of bringing them back is a little crazy: who exactly is supposed to "arrange" the marriage of an American woman who is a doctor or lawyer?

Yes, arranged marriages are still common in some places - Pakistan and Afghanistan, for instance. Also unsurprisingly, the same countries have a lot of "honour" murders. That is no accident. Neither is the extinction of arranged marriages in western democracies.

Lloyd Flack said...

In our society arranged marriages were an aristocratic phenomenon, made for the sake of the extended or stem famiy. The majority of the population allways were in nuclear families Arranged marriages were never common in such families.
And the World is overpopulated. A gradual decline in the population would I think be a good thing.