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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » The definitive article on Ayn Rand's philosophy

   
Author Topic: The definitive article on Ayn Rand's philosophy
Destineer
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http://www.rotman.uwo.ca/2012/the-system-that-wasnt-there-ayn-rands-failed-philosophy-and-why-it-matters/

By Nicholas McGinnis, a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario. An excellent (although very long) piece that surveys the few good philosophical works that have taken Rand's work seriously, and presents a number of additional damning objections.

quote:
One of the few academic philosophers to take Rand seriously enough to bother with a critique was our erstwhile libertarian friend Robert Nozick. His short article On the Randian Argument proposes to examine the alleged ‘moral foundations of capitalism’ provided by her system. Almost immediately it devolves in dialectical castigation, with Nozick taking Rand to task for lacking clarity, for failing to adequately support her premises, for drawing unsupported conclusions, and for baldly stating controversial theses as if they were self-evident facts. From the very first, he writes that “I would most like to set out the argument as a deductive argument and then examine the premises. Unfortunately, it is not clear (to me) exactly what the argument is.”
quote:
What is difficult to understand is why we should believe that reasoning from so-called ‘first principles’ can tell us anything at all about how to build and maintain something as complex and messy as a human society, with complex social, economic, political arrangements presided over by only partially rational creatures prone to outbursts of passion, crises of confidence, and known, predictable irrationalities.
Quite a fun read, if you can get past the length.
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Dan_Frank
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What makes this article "definitive?"

It looks like any of a hundred other superficial, mocking articles I've seen. Only longer.

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Destineer
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
What makes this article "definitive?"

It looks like any of a hundred other superficial, mocking articles I've seen. Only longer.

Interesting reaction. I would've said its depth (lack of superficiality, plus comprehensiveness) is what makes it definitive.

Most critical essays on Rand either argue for the falsehood of her conclusions without addressing her arguments for them, or else treat the arguments very briefly. While I would say a brief treatment is sufficient to convince a discerning reader that her arguments are invalid, it can be hard to get a clear sense of what Rand thinks she's getting at from this sort of perfunctory criticism.

The discussion of the role of logic in Rand is especially good, I thought, since it makes clear not just what her errors are, but what it is about her broader approach that leads to the errors. Namely that she lumps under the domain of logic a number of questions that clearly belong to the domain of substantive metaphysics and epistemology.

I also liked the summary of Nozick's criticisms. Any piece on Rand that aspires to be comprehensive should go over the Nozick article, but many just ignore it.

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:

The discussion of the role of logic in Rand is especially good, I thought, since it makes clear not just what her errors are, but what it is about her broader approach that leads to the errors. Namely that she lumps under the domain of logic a number of questions that clearly belong to the domain of substantive metaphysics and epistemology.

Assuming that there isn't more nuance to this that I'm missing, this argument could be made of almost any philosopher who isn't applying a modern, academic approach. A lot of philosophers apply logic to questions of epistemology and metaphysics (Spinoza, Descartes, Nietzsche, Sun Tzu, Aristotle, etc). Natural law, especially, follows this rubric, and it's kind of the foundation of our freakin' society.

[ August 28, 2012, 06:57 PM: Message edited by: Aros ]

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Itsame
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There's a difference between applying logic, which one certainly should do, and falsely classifying something as logic, which might lead to errors.

Destineer: +1. I know that you're not the biggest fan of the blog, but did you read the (lengthy) discussion of both Ayn Rand and the related SEP article on Leiter Reports?

Edit: And I'm not going to touch the natural law stuff.

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Destineer
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quote:
There's a difference between applying logic, which one certainly should do, and falsely classifying something as logic, which might lead to errors.
Exactly. The truths of logic remain true when we're discussing M&E, but metaphysical facts, for example, are not logical facts, in that one can deny them without self-contradiction.

quote:

Destineer: +1. I know that you're not the biggest fan of the blog, but did you read the (lengthy) discussion of both Ayn Rand and the related SEP article on Leiter Reports?

I took a look early in the discussion, but never came back to it. Did something cool come up?
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Aros
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Isn't all philosophy just a series of conclusions, based on earlier premises? Any supposition would generally be claimed as a logical one.

Take the Bhagavad Gita, for example. But, I guess, you could make the argument that you're leaving the world of philosophy and heading into theosophy.

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Kwea
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Natural Law, such as it is, is anything BUT the foundation of any working society.
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Destineer
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quote:
Isn't all philosophy just a series of conclusions, based on earlier premises?
Philosophical arguments are normally like that, for sure.

quote:
Any supposition would generally be claimed as a logical one.
You mean the philosopher will claim that his/her premises are logical truths?

Usually that's only done when the argument's subject matter is formal logic.

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Itsame
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quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
I took a look early in the discussion, but never came back to it. Did something cool come up? [/QB]

One of the pair who wrote the SEP article posted questioning why people thought it was a bad article, and someone wrote a lengthy reply explaining just why it did not qualify as decent philosophy. That was entertaining, if harsh. I haven't checked back to see if the author responded.
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Destineer
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Sometimes harsh philosophy is the best kind. That's what's so fun about the McGinnis article.
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Aros
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It's kind of hard to argue formal logic when you are dead. Lol.
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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
What makes this article "definitive?"

It looks like any of a hundred other superficial, mocking articles I've seen. Only longer.

How is it superficial? It mocks, yes, but when you've got material like this, you're allowed a few flippant photo captions:

quote:
Indeed the crisis in the foundations of mathematics, the work of Tarski on truth, the rejection of the law of excluded middle by Brouwer and his followers, Gödel’s proofs–the list could be multiplied–had no effect on her, if she was even aware of any of it. The Atlas Society’s guide to objectivism candidly admits this lacuna, in its entry on the topic of the philosophy of mathematics:

quote:
Ayn Rand’s identification of the nature of universals and her analysis of the process of abstraction have much to contribute to the philosophy of mathematics. There is, however, no Objectivist literature on this topic.


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Destineer
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I would actually call that part a bit of a cheap shot. It's not like there's some law that says everyone has to have a philosophy of mathematics. In the context of her general naivete' about logic, it makes sense to mention that she didn't know any math to speak of. But that wouldn't have been a problem if she hadn't made such over-the-top claims about her system's relationship with logic.
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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Destineer:
I would actually call that part a bit of a cheap shot. It's not like there's some law that says everyone has to have a philosophy of mathematics. In the context of her general naivete' about logic, it makes sense to mention that she didn't know any math to speak of. But that wouldn't have been a problem if she hadn't made such over-the-top claims about her system's relationship with logic.

That's why it's not a cheap shot. She lived in a world which had a half-century long, ongoing revolution in science, math and logic, and was uninterested in all of it. Even more than uninterested: contemptuous. That's a massive failing and cannot be pointed out enough.
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Destineer
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I'm not sure if she was contemptuous, exactly. My sense is that she just didn't feel she needed complicated mathematical logic to make her points. Everything was supposed to follow from 'A is A.'

In principle, that's just fine. If she had gotten the 'A is A' thing right, I wouldn't have a problem with her ignoring the axiom of choice.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
It's kind of hard to argue formal logic when you are dead. Lol.

Well, Rand certainly had her shot when she was alive. People who were able to dissect her logical premises had already begun to discover that her formal philosophical theory had at least .. what was it, eight fatal flaws? So she opted to instead dismiss even the need for philosophical review wherever and whenever it became obvious that they were going to harp on her unrecoverable errors and poor premises.

It's remained that way since between the devout followers of the idea of Objectivism, and those who want to analyze its validity as a cogent philosophy, which Rand claimed it was. Rand was particularly flawed through how she based her ethics on the agent-relative position and then, ultimately, offers no argument for it. Only an insistence which she had.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
What makes this article "definitive?"

It looks like any of a hundred other superficial, mocking articles I've seen. Only longer.

Well then, read it. Does it still come off as "superficial" to you?

We have here something which is important in a lot of people's zeitgeist, especially when they are devoutly attached to the ideas she offers. Her philosophy is full of bald premises, bad language framing ("man qua man: "rational" and things like what counts as "proper to a rational being" are given without criterion, just an insistence that she has properly provided for what "rational" is in an objective sense or what actions can be judged as "man qua man") and, in particular, serious and clear misinterpretations of history and the history of philosophy which can even be picked apart on a level of purely historical expertise.

That is, so far, if I've got the right of it. Which I believe I do. This happens whenever interest in her works and her world theory somehow result in some sort of a successful petition for a philosophical review of Rand; they end up coming to the same result as Nozick offered, through plenty of means to determine as such: Rand's philosophy is unclear, it does not support itself, it has unsupported conclusions, and it aggressively states 'self-evident facts' which are anything but, and all of these are things upon which the core of the philosophy rests, and upon which one can find observable, fatal flaws — without which it cannot be considered valid.

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Destineer
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Hopefully this article will lead some people who are attracted to Rand's views away from her badly-thought-out arguments and toward Nozick, who supports similar views with actual coherent arguments.
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