Monday, August 23, 2021
Saturday, July 17, 2021
Our understanding of what constitutes “human nature” can come from at least three sources: personal experience, literature, and scientific investigation. I knew early on that Rand’s view of human nature had serious problems. I had read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Idiot right before I read Atlas Shrugged, and I couldn’t help noticing how shallow and tendentious Rand’s view of human nature is compared to Dostoevsky’s. The human beings who populate Atlas are little more than ideological caricatures. They is little, if any, of the stuff of real life in them. They are all gesture and speechifying, ---- mere empty vessels, bloodless and without soul.
But how does one demonstrate such a thing? Human nature, in the traditional conception passed down to us by the great poets, historians, and philosophers of Western Culture, consists of innate tendencies of behavior—tendencies which Rand explicitly denies in Galt’s speech—but which are distributed unequally and in varying degrees throughout the species. One trick Objectivists use to dismiss the traditional conception of human nature is to try to interpret it through the prism of their unique versions of essentialism. Rand believed that the objects of knowledge, what she called concepts, where defined by “essential characteristics without which the [existental referents of these concepts] would not be the kind of existents they are.” Rand’s doctrine of essentialism can be a little confusing because Rand regarded essences as “epistemological” rather than “metaphysical.” They were products of thought rather than reality; yet they somehow referred to objects and attributes in reality. The upshot of this essentialism, whether “metaphysical” or “epistemological,” is that the attributes that make a thing what it is have to be universal. They have to apply to every manifestation of the concepts’ real world referent. Rand regarded “rationality” as the essence of the concept man because all men were, she claimed, rational (at least potentially). Now the tactic used in regards to human nature is to claim that if a given innate tendency of behavior isn’t shared by absolutely everyone, then it can’t be part of human nature. And since not many innate tendencies of character are shared by everyone, that leaves the concept high and dry.
Saturday, June 26, 2021
The issue of philosophical literacy is a troubling one for Objectivism on multiple levels. To begin with, many of Rand’s most ardent followers became Objectivists when they were teenagers or young adults. They discovered The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged knowing little if anything about philosophy (or anything else for that matter). For this reason, they were not equipped with the necessary tools—which is to say, the philosophical literacy—from which to evaluate the contentions that at the bottom of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Yaron Brook, in his conversation with Michael Malice, admits as much. Teenagers and twenty-somethings rarely have neither the philosophical literacy nor the worldly knowledge to evaluate Rand’s contentions about human nature, morality, and the role of ideas in history. Swept away by Rand’s charismatic vision of a world populated by individualistic heroes like Howard Road and Hank Rearden, they end up taking everything Rand says on trust, without asking the necessary questions or demanding appropriate evidence.
This matter is further complicated by Rand’s own philosophical shortcomings. Rand had her own issues with philosophical illiteracy—although for very different reasons than we find among her youngest admirers. Rand’s philosophical illiteracy stemmed from her innate dogmatism and her intractable hubris about her own mind which made it very difficult for her to accept criticism and learn from those whom she disagreed with. Rand rarely if ever entertained the possibility that she might be wrong. In any dispute with an individual who held rival views, she was right and they were wrong—end of issue. This attitude rendered it inconceivable for her to appreciate the possible merits of viewpoints and philosophies that conflicted with her own.
There is also the issue of Rand’s education to consider. We know little, for example, about what Rand imbibed during her years attending Petrograd State University in the Soviet Union. According to biographical data accumulated about Rand, the most formative philosophical influence on her thinking was Isabel Paterson. From Paterson Rand developed her obsession for “reason,” her over-fondness for the phrase “A is A,” her admiration of Aristotle, and her enmity to Kant and Hegel. Paterson, who was widely read, presumably had acquired at least some of her views through first-hand sources. She wasn’t merely repeating what had been told to her by another person. She had done the hard work for herself, coming to an understanding of philosophy through her extensive reading. Rand, on the other hand, seems to have relied far too much on brief abstracts provided her by Paterson, the Branden’s, Peikoff, and others. Rand was hardly a voluminous reader. She was impatient with detail and nuance. She did not read to understand; she read to demolish. When confronted with texts she disagreed with, she would begin with what she called the art of “philosophical detection,” which in practice meant putting the worst possible interpretation on anything she ran across that inspired her loathing.
Monday, June 14, 2021
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Tuesday, May 04, 2021
Sunday, March 07, 2021
Those of you who are apologists for Donald Trump, please never use the word "Objectivist" to associate it [Objectivism] with yourself. Because you cannot be Objectivists, you are not Objectivists, if you apologize for this guy.And you are not doing anybody a favor by selling-out, selling-out the fundamental ideas that we believe in. For the sake of what? Popularity, for the sake of defeating the left?You are sell-outs, you are the fifth-column within Objectivism.
But the Trumpists are a disaster. If they win, and they come to dominate all of the Republican Party and all of its candidates, this country is finished, this country is finished.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Anne Heller, as long ago as 2009, published her biography of Ayn Rand. I have finally gotten around to reading it and will at some point make a post or two commenting upon it. In this post I want to turn to another issue --- namely, one of the two organizations tasked with the propagation of Rand's ideas, The Atlas Society. I had not realized the extent to which Heller had used TAS in research for her book. It is notorious that ARI refused Heller access to their archives until long after her book was finished. But it appears Heller didn't need ARI because she had TAS and David Kelley, who explained Rand's philosophy to Heller. It wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration to call Ayn Rand and the World She Made the official Rand biography of the Atlas Society --- although technically that's not true.