Tuesday, May 04, 2021

New Book: "The Faux-Rationality of Ayn Rand"

I am pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, The Faux-Rationality of Ayn Rand, which is available at amazon.com in paperback (and hopefully soon in kindle). Whether this is the best critical book on Ayn Rand and her Objectivism philosophy on the market today I will leave to others to decide. But I'd like to think it's the most readable, succinct, and relevant piece of Randian criticism that we've seen to date. It covers the main points of Rand's Objectivist philosophy (i.e., her views on human nature, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics), showing, in lively, pointed language, what is wrong with her various contentions about these domains of experience. It is hardly an exhaustive critique of the Randian sophistry. It doesn't cover everything — only the most important stuff. More than anything else, I see this book as a one-stop shop for discovering what is fundamentally wrong with Rand's philosophy. 

The book is only about sixty-thousand words long and is based on posts published here at ARCHN. The fact is this blog is a bit of a mess. Although most of Rand's philosophy is critiqued in a reasonably systematic matter, it's challenging to read the posts on the blog in the order they were originally meant to be read. The format of the blog simply doesn't allow for that, nor is this something that's easily fixable. Another issue is that many of the posts I contributed to ARCHN were written very hastily and they were not always well proof-read. Much of the material could really use a serious and thorough re-write — but that would be an immense job, and given the slippage of interest in Rand's philosophy, I doubt it would be worth the trouble. So instead I have culled the best and most pertinent posts that I have written for the blog, cleaned them up, arranged them in as systematic a way as possible, and then published them via amazon.com. 

    With this new work of criticism of the Randian sophistry now in circulation, I don't really see the need for additional forays against the Objectivist philosophy. While Rand's novels will continue to delight, exasperate, inspire, and mystify readers for decades to come, her philosophy will likely fade with the passage of time, becoming the near exclusive province of a handful of Ayn Rand nerds, but otherwise being of little practical or intellectual use to anyone else. The thing just doesn't seem to have legs for long-term endurance. Most of Rand's purely philosophical writings — that is to say, "Galt's Speech," the title essay of For the New Intellectual, the essay "The Objectivist Ethics," and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology — are sketchy and poorly thought-out. There are too many dubious and untrue assertions in them. And let's face it: Rand, however brilliant she may have been on the literary side of things, was a philosophical illiterate. She believed, for instance, that the problem of universals was epistemological. That's about as embarrassing a philosophical faux pas as one can imagine — but it requires a fair amount of philosophical literacy to appreciate this.

The Faux-Rationality of Ayn Rand lays out the major issues in Objectivisim in lively, incisive prose. Making use of the latest evidence from the sciences of human nature, the book thoroughly refutes the Rand's ill-informed views of human nature. It lays bare the poverty of the arguments Rand set forth on behalf of her metaphysical "axioms." It shows how her ethics and politics are not merely badly formulated and thoroughly rationalistic, but irrelevant and beside the point as well. Hopefully, this work can help usher in a new appreciation of what an intellectual disaster Rand's philosophy really is. If you are inspired by The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, I have nothing to say against that. But if you still find merit in a philosophy that denies that human beings have a genetic-based nature (which is what believing in the blank slate amounts to in the end); that regards emotions as merely automated value judgments and denies their cognitive and moral functions; that regards the philosophy of Immanuel Kant as the cause of most that is wrong in the world; that believes Rand's own poorly conceived metaphysical speculations have epistemological warrant to dictate to science; that believes, in the teeth of mountains of research and evidence, that human beings can be guided, in both morals and everyday life, by a consciously directed "reason"; and that insists that words that make up human languages have "real" meanings: if you must persist in all such delusions, then there really is no hope for you. You are merely additional evidence od the hypothesis that most human beings are not capable of being rational.


Anonymous said...

well jeez greg some peer review would be nice just sayin

Albionic American said...

If Objectivism lived up to its True Believers' advertising, Operating Objectivists could demonstrate something like superpowers.

max said...

Faux--not genuine; fake or false
of course, example:

Harold J. Berman:

I start from the fact that every legal order requires for its vitality the support of a belief system that links law not only with morality but also with fundamental convictions about human nature and human destiny. This is an anthropological truism, not a theological proposition,

In all societies religion and law, in the broad sense of those words, are interdependent and interact with each other. In all societies there are shared beliefs in transcendent values, shared commitments to an ultimate purpose, a shared sense of the holy: certain things are sacred. And in all societies, there are structures and processes of social ordering, established methods of allocating rights and duties, a shared sense of the just: Certain things are lawful.

Religion of the Intellectuals by Harold J. Berman

It is supposed by some – especially intellectuals – that fundamental legal principles, whether of democracy or of socialism, can survive without any religious or quasi-religious foundations on the basis of the proper political and economic controls and a philosophy of humanism. History, however, including current history, testifies otherwise: people will not give their allegiance to a political and economic system, and even less to a philosophy, unless it represents for them a higher, sacred truth. People will desert institutions that do not seem to them to correspond to some transcendent reality in which they believe – believe in with their whole beings, and not just believe about, with their minds. That is why countries of democracy and socialism that have abandoned traditional religions turn ultimately to religions of race, of country, or of class (or of all three). The intellectuals feel betrayed by this; they continually anticipate that people will develop a new style of consciousness, secular and rational like their own, but they do not realize that their own belief in political and economic systems and in a humanist philosophy is equally transrational and equally self-interested – it is the religion of the intellectual.

Anonymous said...

I loved your first book on Objectivism so might purchase this one.

I take it the ARI have not requested a copy to review?

gregnyquist said...

I take it the ARI have not requested a copy to review?

Of course they haven't.

Carrie said...

Hi, Greg! I check your blog every so often and am excited to come across this post today. As a former committed Objectivist (still recovering), research from recent years in evolutionary psychology has been particularly helpful in giving me a more accurate and nuanced understanding of human nature. Your new book is very timely with the addition of insights from Jonathan Haidt, etc. Your work certainly has a niche audience so I imagine the effort you put into it is not particularly well-compensated. That being said, I hope this note of appreciation and the purchase of your new book will repay you in some small way. Thank you for your sincere work.

P.S. Others may be interested in these recent podcast episodes hosted by the Ayn Rand Centre UK:
- Harry Binswanger: Evolution - Fact in Biology, Fiction in Psychology. (Here Dr. Binswanger's arguments demonstrate that he does not understand the claims of evolutionary psychology at all. He makes strawman arguments about how we are not born with content knowledge.)
- Yaron Brook debate: Choice, Evolution, & Human Behaviour. (His argument against evolutionary psychology is along the lines of, "It's a new field. It's not proven yet." Aside from that, he pretty much concedes all of his opponent's points about temperament and inclinations being inborn, and that most humans default to their natural tendencies.)

At this point in human development I don't think Objectivism has much to offer. Information from high-quality podcasts on science, neuroscience, psychology, etc. is readily accessible. The Objectivist refusal to incorporate neuroscience into its worldview will make it seem mystic/religious/superstitious to most contemporary thinkers.

I look forward to learning more from your new book.

Michael Prescott said...

Congratulations on your new book, Greg. I hadn’t looked in on this blog in a while, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you’ve put some of your excellent posts into a more permanent form.

As a (former) blogger myself, I understand only too well what you mean about the difficulty of organizing old posts. I had intended to create some kind of hierarchical, easily searchable structure for my years of scribblings, until I discovered there's no obvious way to do it.

Rand seems increasingly irrelevant to the political and philosophical conversation. As late as the 1980s, her views were fairly prominent. She influenced some members of the Reagan administration, and echoes of her arguments could be found in occasional opinion pieces. These days, she rarely comes up, except as an answer in crossword puzzles. The last time I heard of her in connection with any public figure was when a report circulated that congressman Paul Ryan liked her books. Ryan has since retired from politics. There’s an old (very laudatory) quote from Donald Trump about Rand, but it’s hard to see her influence in his brand of populism, which she probably would have despised. (Or maybe not; Peikoff said he was voting for Trump in the last election. In any case, Trump is no Objectivist.)

I have a higher opinion of Rand as a fiction writer than I think you do, and I would expect The Fountainhead, at least, to endure — if anything not approved by the progressive hive-mind can endure in the woketopia we seem intent on creating. To that extent, she’ll continue to have an influence, but more in a "self-help" or "self-actualization" kind of way. Perhaps that’s the role she’s best suited for. Her vision of human nature as a blank slate, while not empirically justified, does hold out the promise that the determined and properly focused striver can bootstrap his way to greatness — much as William James's devotion to the untrammeled power of the will allowed him to break free of the neuroses that handicapped his early life. It’s a sort of philosophical placebo effect.