Saturday, January 06, 2007

We don't take kindly to Objectivists round here.

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

UPDATE!: See that, that up there, see what Josh did!

Back in November, That Morthos Stare enlivened us all with a collection of snippets, unfinished musings on assorted topics, one of which was this bit on Objectivists.

"I'm not fond of Libertarians in general, although I do respect some (read: few) of their intuitions. The Randians, however, get no sympathy from me whatsoever. I'm not sure that they mean to act as religious zealots (indeed, I would imagine that they would be horrified by the suggestion) but Objectivists, with their character worship of Ayn Rand, one of the last century's dullest writers, would most resemble a Roman Catholic's devotion to the Pope... except that Catholic's, by and large, ignore the Popes for the out-moded fuddy-duddies that they tend to be.

Still, blind devotion to an author doesn't necessarily make you a bad person. I don't dislike goths due to their insistence that Anne Rice is worth reading. I pity them, just as I pity anyone who decides to read a Poppy Z. Brite novel (the short stories are another matter entirely). No, it's the insistence that Rand's philosophy has real world relevance. Well, that and the claim that Rand's aphoristic style is philosophy.

Let me put this into perspective. Philosophy is a dialectical discipline in which we trade and develop ideas. One of our chief virtues is the ability to be wrong and admit to that fact. Objectivism, however, is a dogmatic belief system best analogised with a Jack Chick tract. I don't whether Objectivists think that it is immoral to show dissent from the official view or whether their intellectual poverty is so great that they have to toe the party line, but such strict adherence to a distinctly impoverished ideology isn't philosophy. I suspect that what appeal Objectivism has is psychological; if you think being a prick is a good thing then Objectivism gives you nice variety of shallow reasons to do so."

Hewligan concurred, goading Morthos to more fully explain why Objectivists are bad people. A task I volunteered myself for in my December Commentfest after he inadvertently answered his own question. And so, here we are.

Before we get started, for those who want to know what Objectivists belive in, go here. This post would also be good to gain some New Zealand context.

Although it should be obvious, not all libertarians are Objectivists, and not all Objectivists are pricks. I have met many fine normal Objectivists, this post only targets those who fit the bill.

Ayn Rand

First off, are some Objectivists pricks because Ayn Rand was a prick. Well no, because she wasn't. Not that she was perfect, she had flaws like anyone, some wrong ideas, a few character flaws, but she still falls within the range of normalcy and wasn't a bad person, or a prick. Ayn Rand's life and personality won't enlighten us in our quest.

But what of her writing? Here we are on firmer ground. I think the origin of many Objectivist's prickishness lies in her fiction. When you watch a normal TV program or read a normal novel, the main characters go through "an arc", I think it is called. They start off with personality / beliefs "a", go through various experiences, and end up with personality / beliefs "b" And it is through watching them go through that change that we find reading novels enjoyable. Ayn Rand's novels don't have this. Her protaganists seem to be like T 34 tanks. They start off as they finish, and everyone else just pings off them or goes under their tracks.

Ayn did this for a reason, she wrote that the goal of her fiction is to project her vision of an ideal man: not man as he is, but man as he might and ought to be. The problem is that Objectivists use Ayn’s characters as a template for how they should be. This, unfortunately leads to this by Kane Bunce. which is absolutely tragic because it is not (please surely not) the view that Ayn had or wanted her followers to have, but given the flaws in her fiction is what you can get.

Objectivism isn't about having a low opinion of and indifference to your fellow man, but of having a high opinion of and will to engage them to use their full potential, but unfortunately since Ayn's characters are so one-dimensional and un-engaging, Kane Bunce’s view is often the end result. Andrew Bates also deserves a kick up the arse for concurring. And that is the first reason why Objectivists are bad people. Since the characters in Ayn's novels are indifferent and one-dimensional, then people who use those novels as guides will end up in danger of being the same.


Morthos has claimed that Objecivism is a mock philosophy. Does this make Objectivists bad people? I don't think so. It isn't so much that Objectivism is not as developed in the "formal academic philosophy", but how Objectivists have dealt with that fact. Another aspects are that Objectivism is a meta-narrative.

I say "isn't so much" because it is still a factor. One of Objectivism's difficulties is that there isn't/wasn't a good, academic quality, setting out of it's beliefs. This has led to a) academic philosophy pretty much ignoring it, and then, b) an air of anti-intellectualism among Objectivists due to academics ignoring or deriding their philosophy. More specifically there is an unfortunate distrust of Philosophy departments and contemporary philosophers, viewing them all as a Caligulan orgy of subjectivism and relativism.

This should improve over time. There is no reason why Objectivism can’t be tidied up and presented academically, and this is slowly beginning to happen. People like, unfortunate Tibor Machan , Chris Sciabarra, and Tara Smith are presenting Objectivist ideas in a format that people like Morthos could engage with.

Secondly, and briefly, being a meta-narrative, makes Objectivism prone to the usual schisms and denunciations that other meta-narrative’s like Marxism and Christianity suffer. This is normally fine, since it only affects how believers deal with each other. Problems arise because meta-narratives tend to have their own vocabulary and terminology, meaning that when others try and engage them they need to get to grips with how terms are being used (as Morthos found himself doing here, and here) and are also in danger of having their beliefs misconstrued and often end up just talking past each other (see the exchange between Robert Nola and Lindsay Perigo one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, oh, dear, god)

And, in case anyone was thinking it, Objectivists are not pricks because Objectivism is a cult or because Ayn Rand was cultish. It isn’t and she wasn’t, despite the ferocious arguments amongst her followers. Read this for more.


Lastly, and most importantly, the reason why many Objectivists (and in the New Zealand context “Libertarianz” since the two are linked here more than anywhere else) come across as being pricks or bad people is simply how they present their ideas. Curiously, and perhaps fatally for people who profess their admiration for a free-market system, mnay Objectivists feel they are at war. This is wrong for many reasons.

Firstly, almost no-one is actually fighting against you. At the recent Libz conference, attendees were told by one speaker:

“We must Attack! Attack! Attack! With your dying breath! Attack!
This aint no game people! This is war!”

God only knows why, or against whom. The vast majority of the voting population are not in metaphorical opposing trenches doing all they can to combat reason and laissez faire economics.

Most people are in a marketplace for ideas and political philosophies. They have a set of requirements - they want law and order, to have a comfortable standard of living, well educated kids, and for grandma to get a hip replacement of she needs it – and shop around for whoever will offer that to them. Almost everyone, even parties opposed to markets, grasp the importance of marketing their ideas so they are the most persuasive they can be.

This is often a matter of language, and no I don’t mean lying or Orwell, but using the language of the marketplace rather than that of the battlefield, and of avoiding needless use of terminology that has negative connotations.

Look at Peter Cresswell’s admiration for Barry Goldwater’s statement that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice". The sentiment is admirable, but why call yourself an extremist? What do your customers, the people who you want to sell your ideas to, think of when you use the word extremist? They think of lunatics, hijackings, bombings, and violence. So why use that word? Why not “principled”? This isn’t being deceptive, or Orwellian, it’s just a better word.

What really makes the “battlefield” view of many Objectivists, and libertarianz, so devastating is that it is polarising. With war, there is no middle ground. You are either with us or you are against us, and if you are with us, you are with us the whole time, 100%, there are no weekend soldiers. And so not only do you come across as a lunatic / extremist to your potential customers, you find yourself in constant battle with your own side to keep them on a war footing.

Large parties, like National and Labour, are successful because they are a broad church. You are valued no matter how large or small your contribution or skills. If you are out there every weekend doing a sausage sizzle to raise funds for the electorate, fine. If all you do is send in $5 with your membership form in June, fine. If you think you’re at war, then anyone who doesn’t go to war with the same fervour as you is guilty of cowardice, or if they leave because of your behaviour, then they are guilty of treason. The punishment for that in real war is death. However for a small political party / movement the punishment is a small divided membership, and severely disabled organisation. I should point out again that there are many good normal Objectivists and Libertarianz to whom this does not apply.

Which brings us to Hewligan’s observation. The context he was using was the invasion of Iraq, but the principle is the same.

“If you can't convince people of the rightness of the invasion, the question is: "Why can't you convince them?"

or rather “If you can’t convince people of the rightness of your position, the question is: “Why can’t you convince them?”

If you are at war, the answer is often “Because you haven’t attacked with enough strength and fervour”, and the solution is to attack harder in your black and white world view, coming across as a prick, and selling your philosophical wares to few.

If you are in a marketplace, the answer is “Because I have not been persuasive enough” and you work harder to offer what your customer wants, and are happy even if he only buys part of your philosophy because he is welcome to come back any time for more, or even a look around, since you have been so pleasant. And your staff retention is better than on the battlefield where you keep killing them.


Josh said...

Yes, I lost a large amount of respect for libertarians due to their use of one word: "sheeple". If I understand libertarianism correctly, they think that the government should get out of everyone's way as much as possible, and that the world would be best if people were left to follow their own rational self-interest. And then you see libertarians (some libertarians, I should add) claiming that these same people are all stupid morons. How does that work?

Applying our friend the Principle of Charity, maybe they'd claim that it's the infantilising effect of Nanny State that reduced people to this level, and that IQs would soar as soon as the government stopped telling us to wear bicycle helmets and subsidising our healthcare. OK, that ended up not being so charitable. Anyway.

Philosophically, my biggest problem with Objectivism is its failure to incorporate any sort of fallibilism, and hence its inability (or refusal) to distinguish between facts about the world and our (fallible) perception of those facts. The way Objectivists talk, it often sounds like they think that, having grasped the notion of an objective universe, they aren't capable of being wrong.

Josh said...

Also, in reference to a brief discussion we had on PC's blog...


"Man -- every man -- is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others"


"Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but at the same time as an end."

There's the most obvious similarity -- my first exposure to Randian ethics was a quote of Rand's (and damned if I can find it anywhere now) invoking the "A is A" thing to explain why certain actions are morally wrong -- essentially, when you treat a person as a means to an end, you are treating them as something other than the rational being they are; saying that A is not A. In other words, actions can be shown to be morally wrong because they lead to a logical contradiction, which is exactly what Kant says as well (obviously, he has rather different ideas about where the contradiction lies).

Now, maybe I'm mis-remembering the text (maybe it's all a product of my fevered imagination), but I was genuninely surpised when I first heared that Objectivists disliked Kant so much, because, having only studied Kant in terms of his ethics at that point, the two systems seemed so similar to me.

I referred to Objectivism as a "rights-based" ethic, because whenever Objectivists discuss ethics, they always seem to do so in terms of rights (which, in my view, are no more than a useful shorthand for more involved concepts, and largely surplus to requirements when discussing ethics in depth).

That Morthos Stare said...

I've just finished reading the Perigo/Nola debate (again) and I have to say that my opinion of Perigo has changed. He's even more of a pratt than I had originally thought.

All this has got me thinking; our friend Mr. Olthwaite has given us some good reasons to think that Objectivists are bad people; I should now probably set myself the task of setting out why they are irrational (I have spent some time reading on the topics of Objectivist Epistemology and Metaphysics). The problem is that to do this I have to suffer through their interminable writings... But someone has to do it and it might as well be me. I've been a bad, bad boy and need my punishments.

Apathy Jack said...

Still my favourite definition of Objectivists: People who believe that they should be able to do whatever they want, and that roads and schools just, y'know, happen.

I remember at uni I got into a debate with the above mentioned Bates, telling of the time I was on the back of a truck that was stolen by the police during a protest march. He replied that such a thing (the police hijacking our truck) could not have happened, because the police were bound by law not to act in such a manner.

Now, let me be clear (and I did clarify it with him at the time) - he was not arguing that it shouldn't have happened; rather that it was physically impossible for it to have happened - that despite my own testamony, several eye witnesses and photographic evidence, the situation I had described was as impossible as perpetual motion. Either I was lying or I was misremembering, because the police were no more capable of acting outside the law than they were of flying under their own power.

That was when I learned how black and white the world view of some Objectivists was...

The basic problem I have with Randianism is: who pays for the hospitals? The answer given is always "Whoever wants to."
"Do you want to?" I always ask.
"Well, no," comes the reply "but, you know, someone will."
"I don't know. Someone."
"But not you?"
"And not any of the other Objectivists I've talked to?"
"Apparently not."
"But someone will want to?"
"Sure. Bound to happen."
"I see..."

Hewligan said...

My major objection to Objectivists, and much of the libertarian end of the far right is always the same. It's the way they always claim that what they believe in is freedom.

And yet, based on their actions, policies, as far as I can tell, they define "Freedom" as "Lower Taxes."

Now, don't get me wrong, I can quite understand that, given their belief system, lower or no taxes would be a necessary part of it. Still, I can't seem to find any other principle that they won't cheerfully sell out for lower taxes.

And, personally, I refuse to believe that "Freedom" just refers to paying less income tax.

David said...

Most of the major philosophies I'm aware of have appeared to have an element of truth to them, the problem lies with people who don't understand that all truths are inherantly incomplete. They offer a partial view of reality, since reality is far too expansive for a limited being to comprehend. All reasonable arguments have elements of substitution, where variables are exchanged for compilations of insights gathered by other people. Philosophy is a construct of environment, and cannot exist independantly. You're average objectivist doesn't seem to grasp this fact. Thus the widespread dislike of kant, even though sometimes kant and rand say very similar things.

How is it possible to always use reason in a world which is inherantly unreasonable? .. and it is unreasonable, a human being does not have the mental capacity to comprehend all known variables. Objectivism, like most philosophies, is a state of unobtainable perfection. Perhaps something to strive for.

Rich said...

Great cartoon!

One problem with libertarianism is that it's unattractive to most rational voters.

The reason for this is that most people benefit from community services, whether those they use (like highways) or those that they might use (like unemployment benefit). Further, given that in most developed societies mean incomes are much higher than median incomes, a majority will pay less for a service financed through progressive taxation than for one charged for at cost.

This means that Libertarianism fails at the ballot box. The political strategy taken by many of those of a Libertarian persuasion is to counter this by losing the anti-authoritarianism and favouring low taxes, low regulations on corporates, but draconian regulation of individuals, not to mention kicking any minorities they can find. (e.g. ACT, US Republicans).

Anonymous said...

It should be remembered that Objectivism is to libertarianism what fundamentalism is to Christianity and what paint-by-numbers is to art. It is merely a subsection of a much broader, much wider philosophy. The Kiws Objectivists are among the worst in the world -- the most obnoxious and virulent and nasty. Kiwi Objectivism via those discussed here has become a personality cult which has denounced all other strains of Objectivism rather consistently. And since the same people control the Libz they are also prone to denounce all other libertarians elsewhere in the world as well. They are fundamentalists and like all fundamentalists they give a bad name to the ideas they purportedly support and show themselves up to be total jerks.

Kiwi Objectivism is like a dead fish rotting from the head on down. And the head stinks. Though you would think something preserved in that much alcohol wouldn’t stink but it does.

Josh said...

Go on, give 'em the link.

Paul said...

Cracking good post, Eric.

Objectivists object to philosophy because it disappoints them: they don't want philosophy to be a discourse about the nature of the world but a doctrine which proclaims their view of the world to be right. But they still want intellectual respectability so they crave acceptance by philosophers.

Marxists and some Humanists (those of the Paul Kurtz happy-clappy kind, at least) are much the same. All of them complain about relativism and postmodernism constantly, because their view of the world is so absolute that any kind of uncertainty is immoral.

Lyndon said...

Interesting stuff, thanks.

On 'sheeple', I've often what the reaction would be if one pointed out that the stereotypical Lib were accusing the vast majority of the population of having a false consciousness in much the way a marxist might.

Someone once shared a theory that people (some people, obviously) are naturally attracted to this position (he may have been talking about ACT, but anyway...) on account of their personality problems. They feel that they are being persected, so seek out a political position that provides a explanation.

This may or may not tally with my own observation of a couple of libz as being the kind to think that, should the apparatus of state support be dismantled, they would be alright. Libertarianism doesn't actually assume people are self-supporting islands. The main reason people assume it does is lack of thought or charity but another one might be exposure to actual libertarians.

I don't trust anybody to build a political philosophy from first principles at all.

Lyndon said...

There's an interesting digression in the comment of the post about David Irving on Bernard Darnton's free speech blog, about what the book “Why People Believe Wierd Things” has to say about the Ayn Rand personality cult:

"How could such a highly individualistic philosophy become the basis of a cult, an organisation that thrives on group thinking, intolerance of dissent, and the power of the leader?"

Answers apparently in the book

Rick said...

Someone's going to pay for this. Pay.

Duncan Bayne said...


Get your hands on a copy of Gary Hull's 'Introduction to Objectivism' lecture, & pay particular attention to the introduction to Objectivist epistemology, & the nature of certainty. I think he pretty much addresses your concern.

Apathy Jack,

Clearly you haven't had that discussion with me, as it'd have run a bit differently, starting with my response "I will, along with any other people who want the healthcare afforded by good hospitals."

Perhaps you're so used to things like hospitals being provided by compulsory taxation that you can't imagine any other possible way of doing it?


I'm curious ... in what way is donating to a blood bank altruistic? I know, I know ... I've got a defective sense of humour, etc. etc.

But to reference another post to this blog - I think we're using slightly different definitions of altruism here, for I'd term voluntary blood donation as benevolent, rather than altruistic.

Duncan Bayne said...

You're not alone in your assessment of (some) Objectivists as being "follow-the-leader" types.

Perigo caused quite a storm over on SOLO, by accusing many supporters of the ARI of being just that: voting Democrat becaue Peikoff told them to, and despite their ongoing inability & unwillingness to argue coherently in favour of that strategy.

As for the term sheeple ... I don't take that to mean "stupid moron", or similar. I take it to mean someone who chooses not to engage his rational faculty, and think about a problem.

I've also (amongst Americans) heard it used to mean "voluntarily unarmed" - alluding to the behaviour of flocking herbivores like sheep :-)

My personal favourite shining example of sheep ... sh ... sheeplosity? is the statement by Senator Mikulski that "All Americans have the right to feel safe in their homes ..." I'm sure most Americans do, but whether they are in fact safe is another matter altogether ...

Personally, I don't think the majority of voters are stupid morons, despite the fact that they pretty much consistently vote for stupid morons. I think they've been indoctrinated since early childhood by bad ideas.

If Objectivists want a better society, we need to provide alternatives to the ideas that are busy destroying society.

At times though, it's difficult to prevent a slide into misanthropy ... although arguably, any variant of socialism has at it's core a level of misanthropy unmatched by any except perhaps the radical environmentalists.

That Morthos Stare said...

Duncan. Having just looked at the Objectivist Epistemology I think I can safely say on Josh's behalf that it only makes the problem worst. Aside from the philosophical difficulties it also faces the problem that it seems utterly unrelated to what we know of the neuroscience behind perceptual experiences, which is something that any Theory of Mind must confront.

As for the whole 'Sheeple' thing; I think you have just proved Josh's point.

Josh said...

I don't know about "makes the problem worse" -- more like "brushes the problem under the carpet". I couldn't find that exact lecture, but I did a bit more reading and from what I can gather, Objectivism does acknowledge that we can get things wrong, but rather than saying that this suggests we can't be 100% certain about anything, it simply redefines "certainty", using the standard Objectivist band aid of "context". As a project for another time, someone's going to have to explain to me how appeals to context are anything other than relativism...

Rick said...

This all reminds me of the first 'Priates' movie where Captain Jack is said to be the worse pirate they've ever heard of. But he says, "Ahh, but you HAVE heard of me". Likewise with Objectivism. Thanks for the attention. Shows you care.

So many uninformed views above! But Eric's points do, at least, target actual issues and in an unbiased way.

As Duncan rightly explains, the whole sheeple thing is a point about people failing to live up to their potential. It's the whole 'are you a mouse or are you a man' thing. We say the people are men and have it in them to act like it, to 'step up' and claim individual responsibility to think for themselves. 'Sheeple' is a commentary on behavior, not an estimate of man's nature. So now you know.

That Morthos Stare said...

Wel;l, I say it makes the problem worse because it is a step backwards to some of the naive/early indirect realism that was summarily dismissed at the turn of the last century. Certainly, from the looks of it Rand was not a thinker particularly suited to Philosophy and her latter interpretators seem to be having a hell of a time trying to ram her inconsistent ideas into a framework.

Duncan Bayne said...


Care to cite some specific examples of that "hell of a time?" It's impossible to debate the issue until you do.

W.r.t. the individual potential / sheeple issue, this is why many Objectivists (myself included) maintain that the way to a better society is primarily through culture, not politics.

As long as pop culture derides integrity as impractical, productivity as theft, and self-interest as immoral, we won't choose a system of politics that holds those attributes as virtues.

This culture is responsible for political 'leaders' who use the words 'think' and 'feel' interchangeably (a pet peeve of mine), and who win votes by promising to rob Peter to pay Paul (and who inevitably wind up robbing both).

Personally, I suspect the incidence of misanphtropy amongst Objectivists is due to a lack of benevolence w.r.t. human nature.

Rand observed that the fervent religious sentiment against which she battled was actually a good thing in a way, for it showed that humans have an incredible propensity towards doing good as they see it, even at great personal cost.

I think the issue is 'merely' one of pointing out the correct morality, one which doesn't involve great personal cost, but is geared towards producing great personal benefit. I don't think it helps anyone to point it out in the form of one gigantic ad-hominem attack, which sadly some Objectivists and Libertarians do tend to do.

That Morthos Stare said...

It's hard to know where to start, Duncan, and although I'm now familiar with the literature I have neither the time nor the inclination to go through it now. I am planning to write something up for Brain Stab as to the inherent irrationality of Objectivism so I recommend you wait a little longer.

Duncan Bayne said...

Surely if you don't know where to start, it should be easy enough to just list a single one of random significance?

E.g. if someone were to press me to cite a fault with cultural relativism so it could be debated, I'd say "cultural relativism's critique of objective comparison between cultures reduces to absurdity, for it itself is a product of a particular culture."

Or likewise, I could say "socialism is predicated upon the assumption that the majority of people are incapable of running their own lives" and we could debate the validity of that.

I'm immediately and strongly skeptical of someone who makes a sweeping statement about a philosophy or philosopher, and then declines to produce even a single bullet-point argument in favour of that statement.

Josh has, in person, called me on similar behaviour in the past :-)

That Morthos Stare said...

One - Context: The comment you are referring to was a comment made in reference to a comment of Josh's, thus the derogatory reference to Objectivism was a comment between friends/like-minded individuals (the internet - making usually privatre injokes public since 1982). Thus I am not obliged to respond to your request (although I have indicated that I shall be doing more than that at a latter date).

Two - Cultural Relativism itself is not culture specific but rather culture independent (in the same respect that Physics itself is not dependent on the research programme of any given culture (unless you are anti-realist...). Theory vs. practice; the theory is not in itself absurd but the putting of it into practice might well be (it depends on how strong you take the tenets of Cultural Relativism to be. I'm not a cultural relativist, note, but I'm also not a subscriber to any kind of objective morality in the classic sense (Deontological, Consequentialism or Virtue).

Three - 'I'm immediately and strongly skeptical of someone who makes a sweeping statement about a philosophy or philosopher, and then declines to produce even a single bullet-point argument in favour of that statement.'

As you should be, but in this case we are discussing Rand, who isn't a philosopher (if we admit Rand then we have to admit the kinds of people that the so-called 'School of Philosophy' in Mt. Eden advocate, as well as Montessori et al - these all may well be examples of systemic thinkers but that does not make them philosophers).

Four - In re Socialism one could equally argue that it is predicated on the notion that businesses are not very good at providing a basic standard of living for consumers. Frankly, anyone who claims that socialism is about ceding autonomy to government needs to read up on the reasons why Socialism came to be promulgated, especially in reference to the standards of living in 19th Century London.

Also, unless you happen to be an American, the word is 'scepticism. Because I'm a pedantic cunt.

Josh said...

Duncan, before you respond to Morthos here, you should probably read Hewligan's comment on the post above...

That Morthos Stare said...

Josh is right, you probably should.

When I am at work I am the model of reasonable argumentation but when it comes to the blogosphere... Well, comment threads are a happy release from having to be reasonable in a professional capacity.

Duncan Bayne said...


Thanks for the heads-up :-) I actually thought something might be up when I saw his argument that Rand wasn't a philosopher ...


I'm biting my tongue (actually, should that be my fingers given the medium?) re. your reply to my comment about socialism. Is it worth it? Could we really have a polite discussion online without it descending into namecalling?

Or would I simply be providing you with an opportunity for some well-needed catharsis (given your obvious self-repression at work) ;-)

That Morthos Stare said...

But Duncan, Rand isn't a philosopher. The works of philosophers are taught in academic Philosophy Departments. Now, Peikoff and Kelley are philosophers (for instance, I can locate articles by both of them in the Philosopher's Index (which is the database in my field; incidently, if you use this to judge a philosopher's output then Kelley is more active in the field of Philosophy than is Peikoff)) and some of their work to make Rand's system philosophical is admirable (although possibly misguided).

As to the Socialism debate... We could have it, but we probably aren't going to, if only because I have to write a paper to give at a conference early next month and its far more important that I impress my philosophical peers than try to convert an objectivist from the error of his ways.

Duncan Bayne said...


Okay, I'll bite, despite Josh's best efforts to warn me off.

How do you determine whether someone is or is not a philosopher? Mirriam-Webster defines a philosopher as "a person who seeks wisdom or enlightenment" or "a student of philosophy."

I'm guessing your definition is a little less broad ... ?

That Morthos Stare said...

Dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive and they aren't particularly good places to start debates since they are uniquely idiosyncratic. Take, for example, the OED definition:

1. a. A lover of wisdom; an expert in or student of philosophy (in various senses); a person skilled or engaged in philosophical inquiry. Formerly also: {dag}a learned person, a scholar (obs.).

The former part of the definition is a literal translation of the Ancient Greek whilst the latter are what I would deem to be the current usage of the word. Rand doesn't really fall into the two latter categories and thus I (and most other philosophers will concur) don't see her as a philosopher.

Philosophy is an academic discipline; in the same way that your grandfather, despite knocking up a sturdy garage, is not an engineer Rand, as someone who wrote about a system, is not a philosopher. Think of it as a distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions. Being a systemic thinker is necessary to being a philosopher but it isn't sufficient. The sufficiency condition is to do with accreditation, and Rand did not gain and does not have any such accreditation with the Academe. Some of her followers do (Kelley moreso than Peikoff, as examples) and they may well be able to turn Objectivism into a philosophy, but Rand, as it stands, did not.

Rick said...

Stare, that is simply mad. You are taking elitisim too far to suppose that accedamia has a monopoly on knowledge, or any part of knowledge, especially the cream of knowledge.

After all, to be part of these state-ordained institutions is a matter of legal decree. Therefore, by your standards, it is for politicians to decide who is or is not a scientist, or a history teacher, what is psychology, what is philosophy. Along with other things, this makes me suspect you might not be a libertarian.

However, it would be interesting to know if Einstein was a physicist or his theories physics up until the time he, and they, were sanctioned by the magic wand of officialdom. You don't have to answer that.

That Morthos Stare said...

Damn straight I'm not a libertarian (of either variety).

As for your comments about Universities; you obviously don't know much about the history of such institutions or their (admittedly now dismissed but still very existent) independence. Universities are still considered to be sovereign and whilst we get some funding from the Government (which isn't true across the board; many of the older colleges in the Oxbridge system, for instance, are entirely independent in their funding) and we can be subject to legal matters concerning regulations (i.e. making sure that a degree from the University of Auckland is equivalent in points to one from Victoria) the content of our degrees and the quality of teaching and research are set internally by the Senate/Governing Board of each institution and is the result of peer review, not government interference.

As for Einstein. Well, I think my reply to Duncan explains that situation quite well.

Rick said...

Undergraduates, you will agree, are strictly regulated. Nothing that will menace the cirriculum is permitted.
Tertiary institutions, on the other hand, I will answer for by saying that to set one up and even call one "university" is a political and legal battle.

HORansome said...

Rick, have you been to University? Have you ever sat in a Stage I Biology class or taken Ethics I? If you had you would have noticed that most lecturers not only advocate their own, research-informed, position but that they field questions from students and often have to justify their views. I've even seen lecturers back down on an issue when given new evidence.

As for your latter point; whilst setting one up these days is a logistical and, yes, legal nightmare that doesn't really have any say on the nature of universities themselves, since some of them are very old indeed and most countries had had them longer than the current form of democracy. Arguing from facts about the now to how things might have been in the past is often fallacious, and it is definitely so in the case you are trying to prove.

As for QED... Well, by your usage I can see you don't actually know what it means.

Rick said...

For present purposes we will conceed that all accademics are uncorrupted by government influence. Also, that accademics permit a fair trial of their views and eat their sprouts and always wash the dishes when it is their turn.
Also, yes, some institutions are really old.

But even granting to you all of this in no way validates the proposal that accedamia have soul title to the stations of intellect.

A government enforced monopoly on knowledge and education is not supported by any of the claims you make.

And if a doctrine (Rand's or another's) is onloy an accademic rubber stamp away from being a legitimate philosophy then your respect for knowldge counts merit as nothing.

Lastly, I assure you my 'QED' was within commas exactly because I know the full meaning of the unqualified expression which I cannot be accused of using in vain.

Anonymous said...

The various comments were not quite accurate. I see a distorted view of libertarians in general but also an inaccurate view of the Perigoons and the Cult of Linz, the remarks here are far too kind in regards to the latter, who are not indicative of libertarians in most of the world and are nothing more than a personality cult for a narcissist with nothing to be narcissistic about.

One thing is true: give a Perigoon a bottle of wine and they'll start morally denouncing everyone in existence. How tedious.

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Urban said...

Hm... this post didn't even talk about objectivsm!

All it is, is some whineing that we won't say we're wrong and that we can know nothing.

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Elliott Broidy said...

wonderful commentary.