Thursday, July 18, 2019

Objectivism vs. Sam Harris

To say that Sam Harris entertains a low opinion of Ayn Rand and her disciples would be something of an understatement. He once referred to Rand’s philosophy as “basically autism rebranded.” Nonetheless, there are very definite parallels between Harris’s views on religion and morality and Rand’s. Harris and Rand both take a dismissive view of Hume’s is-ought gap; they both believe that science and rationality can determine moral ends; they both are uncompromising critics of religion; they both tend to assume, somewhat naively, that if we could only (per impossible) persuade religious people to dispense with their “superstitious” beliefs and embrace “reason” and science, the world would be a better place; and they both take a dim view of much that passes for academic philosophy.

Despite these parallels in their viewpoints, Objectivists have found plenty in Sam Harris’ moral philosophy to quibble about. Ari Armstrong has been the chief critic of Harris over at The Objective Standard. He makes three main criticisms of Harris’ book The Moral Landscape:

  1. Harris’ concept of well-being lacks the clarity of meaning to sufficiently ground it in a bonafide theory of ethics. 
  2. Lacking a clear conception of well-being, Harris embraces hedonism as the standard of value. 
  3. Harris merges his vague conception of well-being with a form of utilitarianism, which constitutes “a collectivist form of hedonism holding that the good consists of self-sacrificially serving the greatest happiness for the greatest number."

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Evolution of Orthodox Objectivism

The Ayn Rand Institute has recently introduced a new set of YouTube videos, many of them hosted by Dave Rubin, called "Objectivism on Happiness." The videos give an insight in how a new generation of "orthodox" Objectivists are framing (or rather re-framing) Rand's ideas. In what I've heard from Yaron Brook, Greg Salmieri, Onkar Ghate, and Tara Smith, there seems to exist a drive to portray Rand's philosophy in such a way that it does not come into conflict with the sciences of human nature. Ayn Rand believed that human beings were, at birth, "blank slates," and that it was through exposure to philosophical premises that they developed personalities and character. The strategy that this new breed of Objectivists appear to have concocted to separate themselves from this embarrassing doctrine is to make it clear that, while they have no intention of explicitly denying the possibility of heritable traits of character, they nevertheless continue to insist that, through the use of "reason" and "free will," they can achieve Rand's vision of the self-created man.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Did Rand read Kant?

In an interview, Shoshana Milgram, Rand's "official" biographer, is asked whether Rand ever read Kant. Given how far Rand's interpretation of Kant departs from the views of actual followers and admirers of Kant, many people have assumed that Rand must never have read Kant. Objectivists tend to regard this assumption as derogatory of Rand and deplore it. But it's not necessarily any worse than the alternative. For if Rand had in fact read Kant and still gotten him so very wrong, that would speak poorly regarding her ability to interpret philosophical texts. So what is worse? Mis-interpreting Kant because of a lack of familiarity with the relevant texts? Or reading Kant with great attentiveness and still getting him wrong?