Hart on Rand

Wow. Hilarious. Does anyone actually know a Rand Disciple?

“But I suppose I have circled back on myself. Where Rand’s fiction is concerned, I suppose aesthetic and ideological revulsion are not really separable. What made her novels not just risibly clumsy, but truly shrill and hideous, was the exorbitantly trashy philosophy behind them. Taken solely as a storyteller, she had many of the skills of the proficient pulp writer. Her overwrought plots, her comically patent villains, her panting, fiery, fierce yet quiescent heroines—all of that would be quite at home in lushly bad romance fiction. Had she not mistaken herself for a deep thinker, she might have done well enough, producing books that filled out that vital niche between Forever Amber and Valley of the Dolls. Sadly, though, her ambitions would not let her rest there.”

“Rand was so eerily ignorant of all the interesting problems of ontology, epistemology, or logic that she believed she could construct an irrefutable system around a collection of simple maxims like “existence is identity” and “consciousness is identification,” all gathered from the damp fenlands between vacuous tautology and catastrophic category error. She was simply unaware that there were any genuine philosophical problems that could not be summarily solved by flatly proclaiming that this is objectivity, this is rational, this is scientific, in the peremptory tones of an Obersturmführer drilling his commandoes.”

Unfortunately, that last paragraph could describe the approach of many bloggers to their philosophical musings.

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10 Responses to Hart on Rand

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Sadly, there are plenty randians, including Alan Greenspan, whom you may know.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    Here are some of Rand’s ideas:

    “According to Rand, attaining knowledge beyond what is given in perception requires both volition (or the exercise of free will) and adherence to a specific method of validation through observation, concept-formation, and the application of inductive and deductive logic. A belief in, say, dragons, however sincere, does not oblige reality to contain any dragons. For anything that cannot be directly observed, a process of “proof” identifying the basis in reality of the claimed item of knowledge is necessary to establish its truth.”

    “Rand rejected all forms of faith or mysticism, terms that she used synonymously. She defined faith as “the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and reason… Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as 'instinct,' 'intuition,' 'revelation,' or any form of 'just knowing.'”[26] Reliance on revelation is like reliance on a Ouija board; it bypasses the need to show how it connects its results to reality. Faith, for Rand, is not a “short-cut” to knowledge, but a “short-circuit” destroying it.”

    Interesting, because it sounds like I have heard all that before. Perhaps you know some Randians. Are you “sad” about those Randians too?

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  3. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    Any guru of this longevity and influence will necessarily be mixing some wheat in with the chaff. I am sure there are some things she said that even you would agree with.

    The question is whether the parts of her edifice which are distinctive and novel are any good. And there I think we agree that the answer would be no.

    The communists and Nazis both claimed to be “scientific”, and used pseudo scientific rhetoric, mixed with good and bad forms of science.. that doesn't make scientists accountable for their programs.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    I have to admit that I did read “Atlas Shrugged” a few years back out of morbid curiosity but as I read through something like the Wikipedia Rand listing, I can’t anything substantive or significant that I would agree with her regarding. Anything I find that I can agree with her regarding is insignificant. However, I would wager that you have much more in common with her world-view. After all, the quotes I noted are not peripheral but foundational.

    Perhaps in a post you could tease out those parts that are “distinctive” and “novel” and differ from your scientism.

    It would also be interesting to hear how, from a purely materialist perspective, you are able to distinguish “good” science from “bad” science and in a way where it means more than saying something like “I prefer red wine to white.” After all, if science is just about the “facts” then how is it “good” or “bad?” It just “is.” And of course, that was one of Rand's points as well.

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  5. Burk Braun says:

    I'm sorry that I haven't read a stitch of Rand, and have no interest in doing so. Nor am I interested in separating the good from the bad.. there are more interesting cults to look at.

    So then … you are opposed to using “deductive and inductive logic”? That would be strange.. it would be an area were most people agree. How one does so might be a different matter!

    It all sounds very good to be “objective” and the like, but of course the details are what are the matter.. where the devil lies.

    With regard to good and bad science.. what is good is what is true about reality, (in a correspondence sense), and the best is what condenses the most truth in the most useful, brief form. So Lysenkoism, to take an example, is false, and not good science.

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  6. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “So then … you are opposed to using “deductive and inductive logic”?”

    No, as I said, there are things she says that I would agree with, but they are insignificant, such as your example shows, as any philosophy uses (for ill or good, or badly or well) deductive and inductive logic.

    But, her commitment to empiricism and her ideas about “faith” are significant and foundational. And here you agree with her. Perhaps you should read her because she appears to be a first or second cousin to scientism.

    “With regard to good and bad science.. what is good is what is true about reality, (in a correspondence sense)..”

    Yes, that is exactly Rand’s point and what she means by “objectivism” so I can see why you might not want to peer too closely into something that looks eerily similar to scientism.

    “Objectivism is in basic agreement with the classical understanding of truth as correspondence to the facts. D. J. O'Connor's The Correspondence Theory of Truth is an excellent introduction to this theory and its rivals, both classical and contemporary.” (David Kelley)

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  7. Burk Braun says:

    Very well. So do you regard faith as a shortcut to knowledge, in contradistinction to Rand?

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  8. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    Do you mean do I agree with her views of what “faith” means? Of course not, she's an idiot.

    By the way, it would seem you have more in common with her than Mr. Greenspan–so I'm not sure what you were so sad about.

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  9. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    Which is not to say I think you are an idiot. I don't. I think you are much more thoughtful than she was. I do think you need to take seriously the similarities between the two views however.

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  10. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    Let me trot through a brief treatment of objectivism for your benefit. Most of this is unexceptional.. philosophical realism is OK by me. I am not sure whether you would share that, however. Empiricism is OK as well, as it is for you, apparently in most respects.

    “Objectivism offers a radically new theory of perceptual appearances as forms in which we perceive objects directly.”

    Not true, since much of our sensory apparatus is fallible, and very partial in what it perceives. Thus we are forced to create any number of supplementary instruments and senses to perceive more aspects of reality. The objectivists are on solid ground in only the simplest of cases and senses- the coffee cup, etc.

    The wiki site on objectivism adds that .. “Emotions are not tools of cognition”. This also is not true- they are very fine tools of cognition, but unreliable. They are tuned to our social sphere, where they are usually better than our conscious tools. But the farther from the social they stray, the less reliable they are.

    Unfortunately, the “Concepts” section of the site above offers no substance, so I can't comment.

    “Objectivism holds that both truth and certainty must be defined in terms of a specific context of knowledge.”

    This all sounds great. The problem with Rand is probably not her metaphysical forays, but their false connection to a moral system of selfishness and greed. To snip from the wiki site..

    “For Rand, all of the principal virtues are applications of the role of reason as man's basic tool of survival: rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride—each of which she explains in some detail in “The Objectivist Ethics.” The essence of Objectivist ethics is summarized by the oath her Atlas Shrugged character John Galt adhered to:

    I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

    This completely misses man's even more basic tool for survival- society and sociability. We are nothing by ourselves, and thus others have a claim on us by simple reason of their existence, contrary to Rand's constant prating about selfishness:

    “Poverty is not a mortgage on the labor of others—misfortune is not a mortgage on achievement—failure is not a mortgage on success—suffering is not a claim check …”

    So the issue is a very simple one- not about metaphysics, objectivism, realism, or empiricism, but about something even more central to the enlightment project- the theories of human moral sentiments and long-term social utility, (which many spent much time one- Smith, Hume, Rousseu, etc), of which Rand's is phenomenally obtuse and crabbed.

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