Tuesday, September 27, 2022

An Epistemological Quandry

Harry Binswanger has come out with a video on Ayn Rand's break-up with philosopher John Hospers. Binswanger attended the notorious meeting for the American Society for Aesthetics that led Rand to terminate her friendship with Hospers. Against the advice of his colleagues, Hospers had invited Rand to present a paper on aesthetics. Rand read one of her essays on her concept of a "sense of life." Afterwards, Hospers offered some criticisms of Rand's theories, to which Rand then offered a replied. 

Now according to Binswanger, Hospers criticism was "unhelpful," amounting to something of a philosophical put-down. "He didn't give her respect," he would later recall. When Rand delivered her responses, she was "so nice and so gentle." But when she looked in Hospers direction, to perhaps gauge his reaction, he not even paying any attention to her.

Hospers delivers a remarkable different account of the event:

By tradition, commentators make criticisms. Mine, I thought, were mild as criticisms go. I wondered publicly about whether every work of art (even mediocre ones) carries with it a sense of life; I mentioned Ayn’s own example of Dinesen (fine writing, but an awful sense of life); I speculated about whether to any extent what we say about sense of life depends on the language we use to characterize it ("emotive meaning" again).

I saw something wrong when I noticed that her remarks in response were icy, sarcastic, even insulting. I never discovered what there was about my remarks that made her "go ballistic." Apparently I had betrayed her, and I had done so publicly, when an academic audience already presumed critical of her might have been turned her way. There was no doubt that she felt deeply hurt. At the party in her room afterward, she would not speak to me, nor would anyone else: word had gone out that I was to be "shunned." I never saw her again.

So the epistemological question that confronts us is How can we know which account is the right one? Presumably, almost everyone who participated and witnessed the event in question is dead. A few members of the audience who, like Binswanger, were mere students may still be around. But finding them would be difficult and verifying that they were actually in attendance at the meeting close to impossible. So it really is Binswanger's word versus that of Hospers (who is no longer with us). How are we to determine which, if either, is telling the truth? Does Rand's own epistemology provide us any insights on solving this quandry?

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Review of Simon Lemieux's Book on Rand

Who the Hell is Ayn Rand? was recently published.  It is written by Simon Lemieux who teaches at Portsmouth Grammar School in England. It’s a volume in a new series of brief introductions to ancient and contemporary thinkers. It’s a good overview of Rand’s life and philosophy from a somewhat left-wing perspective.  In particular, I like how Lemieux lets Rand speak for herself, letting the reader judge for himself if Rand’s ideas are correct or practical.  In this respect it’s quite unique in the world of Randian criticism.  In lieu of a formal book review, I’ll summarize each chapter and make some comments.


The introduction points out that Ayn Rand continues to be controversial.  Lemieux also notes that Rand has been misrepresented and “wasn’t a fully-fledged libertarian or a reckless libertine.”  He makes the interesting observation that Randianism is something of a combination of Nietzscheanism and can-do American individualism.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Objectivist Round-up, September 2022

1. Who the Hell is Ayn Rand? was recently published by Simon Lemieux. It’s a volume in a new series that provides brief introductions to ancient and contemporary thinkers. It’s a good overview of Rand’s life and philosophy from a somewhat left-wing perspective. I hope to review it in a week or two.

2. Ayn Rand Fan Club interviewed Michael Stuart Kelly of the Objectivist Living website. I enjoyed the discussion of his friendship with Barbara Branden, his involvement in The PARC Wars, and the rise and fall of Objectivist forums.

3. Chris Sciabarra just announced that the final issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will come out in 2023. JARS published numerous significant articles on Rand and related issues. Chris also published two important essays on Rand’s college transcripts based on archival research. I will always be grateful to Chris for printing three book reviews I wrote. JARS was first published in 1999.