Sunday, July 31, 2022

Objectivist Round-up, August 2022

1. An expanded version of the Letters of Ayn Rand is now online. According to Jennifer Burns, this is one of the few pieces of Rand’s posthumous material that hasn’t been rewritten to any significant extent. When I read the volume years ago, I thought that the correspondence to John Hospers was particularly interesting. To print those parts of Rand’s letters that quote Hospers’ correspondence with her, the editor needed Hospers’ permission. They agreed to print Hospers’ statement:

“The letters were interstices between oral conversations; they were written only when Ayn and I were at different geographical locations and could not meet in person. Almost all of the significant material in our communications with each other was in oral, not written, form. The letters may thus give a distorted view of the content of our conversations.”

"You rightly have a great interest in reproducing everything that Ayn said; and you have no particular interest in whatever it was that I said, either to initiate a discussion or to respond to her. The result is that my thoughts just don’t appear in these pages—not that you wanted them to, of course. But sometimes I thought that Ayn had not correctly apprehended a point I had made, and her summary of what I said sometimes did not reproduce what I really did say. Whether what I said was mistaken or not is beside the point here; I was often more interested in clarifying a point than in presenting it for acceptance. I am afraid the reader who read what Ayn wrote to me, and not what I wrote to her, would gather that I was a bloody fool. I daresay that in some ways I was, yet not so much as one would get the impression of from the letters. The trouble is, from her letters one gets only one side of a dialogue. And that isn’t quite fair, is it?”

2. The Ayn Rand University has a new course on comparing Rand’s ethics to the “virtue ethics” of Philippa Foot and G. E. M. Anscombe. I wonder what Rand would have thought about this kind of compare/contrast approach to her work. Anyway, while the course seems a bit expensive at $1,200, you can aways audit it for a mere $900.

3. Speaking of compare/contrast, Harry Binswanger has an interesting video discussion comparing Rand’s philosophy to “academic philosophies.” See here, here and here. Harry says he hasn’t followed academic philosophy since 1990 but he’s been told that philosophy has gotten better since then. He mentions John Searle and Phillipa Foot. Searle’s Mind, Language, and Society is a good introduction to philosophy that sounds like Rand at times. Foot’s best known work is Natural Goodness.

4. The Atlas Society has a You Tube channel with many interviews.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, July 2022

1. Once it became likely that the United States Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, it’s been all abortion all the time for the Ayn Rand Institute. They have even published a free Kindle book, Why the Right to Abortion is Sacrosanct, not knowing apparently that the “primary dictionary definition” of sacrosanct is, “most sacred or holy.”

2. Speaking of abortion, it’s not clear what Rand’s views were. The ARI’s claim that she supported legalized abortion until birth is debatable. See here and here.

3. This is an interesting (and unusual) discussion with a critic of Objectivism by the Ayn Rand Centre UK. I had never heard of Paul Crider before, but as an Objectivist turned libertarian turned conventional left winger, his criticisms of Objectivism and Atlas Shrugged are much more informed than most critics.

4. Speaking of Objectivists turned liberals, Dr. Diana Hsieh took her website down stating that it no longer reflects her current beliefs. Based on her Twitter feed it seems that she is more or less a left winger. She actually has become a union organizer. I don’t know of any studies, but most Objectivists who leave the movement seem to turn libertarian or conservative.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Guessing Game

Now let's test our ability to match a quote with the appropriate Objectivist (or Objectivist approved) philosopher. Among the great apostles of reason, which great thinker penned or spoke the following bit of rhetoric in praise of enlightenment, independent thinking, and intellectual courage? The quote is as follows:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another . . . "Dare to think! Have the courage to use your own reason!" is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.

Who must we thank for this bit of eloquent magniloquence on behalf of "reason"? Is it Rand? Is it Peikoff? Is it perhaps Binswanger? Or is it some other Objectivist-sympathizing worthy? Can anyone guess this without cheating?

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, June 2022

Here's another roundup of latest Objectivist news, compliments of Neil Parille:

1.  Spanish philosopher Luca Moratal Romeu has a 415 page book on Ayn Rand’s political philosophy.  The book is $37.  I can read Spanish but, unfortunately, there is no Amazon preview so I don’t think I’ll be purchasing it.

2.  ARI philosophers Onkar Ghate and Mike Mazza discuss criticisms of Ayn Rand by professional philosophers Sidney Hook and Robert Nozick.  I can’t find Hook’s review of For the New Intellectual on the web, but my recollection was that much of his criticism was focused on Rand’s caricature of the history of philosophy in the book’s introductory essay.

3. OCON 2022 kicks off next month.  Some of the talks look interesting, but when I saw that future Rand biographer Shoshana Milgram was speaking, I checked the speaker’s section.  Apparently, she is still working on her biography, which will only go to 1957.  I wonder if the book will ever be published.  If so, it likely won’t be authorized as previously promised.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, May 2022

1. A Companion to Ayn Rand (2018) is now out in a more reasonably priced paperback edition. Although all the contributors are associated with the ARI, the essays are in general valuable, albeit not particularly critical. What I found most interesting is that Greg Salmieri acknowledged that the editing of Rand’s posthumously published writings (such as her Journals and Question and Answers) leaves something to be desired.

2. The ARI’s recent “Of Schisms” essays has received criticism from two of its targets, Robert Tracisnki and Craig Biddle They challenge the essay’s description of their schisms.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Objectivist Schisms: an Overview by Neil Parille

As observers of Objectivism know, schisms are a perennial part of the world of Objectivism. In particular, the “official Objectivism” going back to Ayn Rand, which has continued into today with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), has been particularly prone to dust-ups, breaks, and even excommunications.  I don’t know of any sociological studies of schisms that might shed light on this, but there may be a couple reasons.  First, Objectivism is a relatively small movement, and most people tend to know each other.  This means that disputes will tend to become personal.  Second, many associates of Ayn Rand are still alive.  Hence protecting her legacy in their eyes likely heightens the gravity of any disputes.

The biggest schism in the Objectivist movement was Ayn Rand’s break in 1968 with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.  The Brandens were the chief promoters of Objectivism, particularly through the Nathaniel Branden Institute.  While the details remain somewhat obscure, the rupture began because Nathaniel and Rand had years earlier commenced an affair which eventually grew cold.  When Rand wanted to restart the affair, the much younger Branden balked at this, in large part because he was having an affair with a beautiful young model and actress, which he concealed from Rand for years.  When Rand found out about his affair, she denounced Nathaniel in her own inimitable way.  In her “To Whom It May Concern Statement,” she never mentioned that she and Branden had an affair, nor Branden’s clandestine affair with the model.  She went on to denounce him for failing to devote his efforts to advance Objectivism and she all but accused him of stealing from her. She did hint that Nathaniel had betrayed her in an unspecified way:

This year, in a long series of discussions, held at his request to help him solve what he characterized as his psycho-epistemological problems, I was shocked to discover that he was consistently failing to apply to his own personal life and conduct, not only the fundamental philosophical principles of Objectivism, but also the psychological principles he himself had enunciated and had written and lectured about. For example: he was unable or unwilling to identify the motivation of some of his actions or the nature of his long-range goals; he admitted that in many respects he was acting on the basis of unidentified feelings.

As Nathaniel later wrote in his memoir, Rand’s attack was so “over the top” that people suspected that he was an alcoholic or a child molester.  Both Nathaniel and Barbara responded, countering Rand’s allegations of wrongdoing.  Nathaniel hinted that there had been an affair and conceded that he concealed something important of Rand.  He explicitly denied her allegations of financial wrongdoing.
After the Branden split, there were other schisms during Rand’s life.  After her death, Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s self-proclaimed “intellectual heir,” started the ARI.  Peikoff shortly thereafter split with philosopher David Kelley over Kelley’s contention that Objectivism was an “open system.”  Peikoff’s denunciation, in which he purported to speak for Rand, was vitriolic.  More splits, generally of a lesser significance, have continue until the present.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Taking Ideas Seriously

[Neil Parille continues where he left off in 2009.]

Ayn Rand was quite explicit that ideas are what matter and, in particular, it’s abstract philosophical ideas which guide human history.  Because of this, Objectivists usually blame the sorry state of the world on “intellectuals” and professors of philosophy.  Leonard Peikoff once said that we’d know the world is on the right track when the philosophy department of UC Berkeley was Objectivist.

Objectivists talk about the history of philosophy as a battle between Plato and Aristotle.  According to Objectivists, a society or culture succeeds to the extent it adopts Aristotelian ideas.  For example, they argue that the Renaissance began and flourished because Thomas Aquinas supposedly reintroduced Aristotle’s works to the West.  In the main Objectivist work of historiography, Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels, he argued that Nazism and the gas chambers were the direct result of the influence of Immanuel Kant on German intellectual life.  Christianity, to them, is as foolish as one can get.

History paints on a large canvas.  One can find examples and counterexamples to prove or disprove any broad historical narrative.  For example, contrary to Rand, many scholars argue that the most important Renaissance thinkers were Platonists.  Germany’s leading Kantian philosopher was Ernst Cassirer.  It’s said that upon hearing a Nazi say “truth is what the Fuhrer says it is,” he responded, “if that’s the case, there is no hope for Germany.”  He promptly left for England.  I recently heard Yaron Brook claim that the Roman Empire fell because it adopted Christianity.  Yet the Eastern half of the Empire - which was more Christian – lasted until 1453.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Objectivism on Christianity and Religion

[Here is another article  by Neil Parille:]

Ayn Rand and her followers have a bee in their bonnet when it comes to religion. In particular, contemporary Objectivists often fret about the influence on the Religious Right on politics. It doesn’t appear, however, that they have spent much time studying the topic of religion because the same old chestnuts keep popping up again and again..

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The PARC Wars Revisited

[ARCHNBlog is privileged to have the following contribution by Neil Parille, who discusses some the latest information to surface concerning James Valliant and his book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics.]

As long-time readers of the Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature blog might remember, one of the strangest incidents in the recent history of the Objectivist movement was the publication in 2005 of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC) by James Valliant.  This book took aim at Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography of Ayn Rand, The Passion of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden’s two memoirs.  It is also noteworthy for including Rand’s diaries from the time of her break with Nathaniel Branden.  These diaries were provided to Valliant by Rand’s heir, Leonard Peikoff.