Today on the show: Objecting to Objectivism


So last month, while preparing for a show on “Foolish Atheists,” I suggested three groups associated with atheism that might fit the bill: Communists, Raelians, and Objectivists. Nobody was interested in sticking up for Communists or Raelians, but we did get some email about criticizing Objectivism, both pro and con. So what good is having an atheist show if you can’t step on a few toes?

I’m personally critical of the libertarian thought that comes from Ayn Rand, but since my political beliefs aren’t the issue here, I’m going to try to stay away from that topic as much as I can manage. Instead, I want to focus on the weird cult-like status that Rand attained, and some oddities about her philosophy that make “Objectivism” seem not so objective.

Here come some links (check this post right before the show because I may add more):

  • Wikipedia article on Objectivism
  • Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature, a blog critical of Ayn Rand
    • A post from the above about “Second-Handers“. The comments section is especially amusing due to the fact that one of the Objectivist commenters attacks the author by saying “From the content of this blog alone I judge that you are a second-hander, a parasite on Ayn Rand, and to buy your book would be to enable that” – thereby providing an unwitting demonstration of the term “second-hander” as a well poisoning technique.
  • Alice in Wonderland: A critique of Ayn Rand from a Libertarian perspective
  • The Unlikeliest Cult In History by weird beliefs investigator Michael Shermer
  • Just for fun, here’s tvtropes.org explaining just which cliches are scattered throughout Atlas Shrugged. I’ll discuss a few of my favorites: “Mary Sue” (both Dagny Taggart and John Galt filling the role as idealized stand-ins for the author); “Author Filibuster” (56 pages worth of uninterrupted prosyletizing!) and “Anvilicious.”
  • Today’s musical selection is from “2112” by Rush. Neil Peart has stated that the concept album was inspired Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem.

Comments

  1. says

    I liked the Objectivism show. I’ve noticed that Rand’s novels project an unsubtle family-hating subtext. Not only do Rand’s heroes not have children or even want them; but they tend to despise their living relatives for their evil or irrationality, and they readily abandon them when the opportunity arises.Come to think of it, Rand did just that when she left her family in the Soviet Union and eventually cut off contact with them instead of trying to get them to migrate to the U.S.

  2. says

    Thanks, Mark. Yes, Ayn Rand’s disinterest in family is definitely an angle that I’ve spent some time thinking about. As far as I know, there are no positive characters in any Ayn Rand book. This makes a kind of sense to me, because children are not self-sufficient. The act of raising a child is generally a selfless act; it’s very expensive and time consuming, and it’s not motivated by the promise of future payback.

  3. MC says

    “The Unlikeliest Cult” is a fantastic read; I’m glad I got to it in junior high before the Objectivists got to me in high school. Randroids are nusances among public philosophy lectures, philosophy classes, and freethought meetings at my college. Many atheists got into objectivism through the popularity of George Smith’s books.

  4. says

    Well, I saw the show and have read over several of the links you provided on Ayn Rand.I thought I drop a few lines on this since I think you are somewhat off target — at least IMHO which I admit could be wrong. It is not hard to go wrong with Any Rand’s Personality and world view, I think it was deliberately exaggerated by her much like current pop Hollywood stars do in order to push more product (e.g. Paris Hilton). I’m not an Any Randian — but I think she is more correct (not 100% correct), but more correct than in error, and probably more correct than you think she was given you presentation. I like MICHAEL SHERMER’s summary in the link you provided:’…In other words, nature exists independent of human thought. Reason is the only method of perceiving this reality. All humans seek personal happiness and exist for their own sake, and should not sacrifice themselves to or be sacrificed by others. And laissez-faire capitalism is the best political-economic system for the first three to flourish, where “men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit,” and where “no man may initiate the use of physical force against others”. Ringing throughout Rand’s works is the philosophy of individualism, personal responsibility, the power of reason, and the importance of morality. One should think for one’s self and never allow an authority to dictate truth, especially the authority of government, religion, and other such groups. Success, happiness, and unrestrained upward mobility will accrue to those who use reason to act in the highest moral fashion, and who never demand favors or handouts. Objectivism is the ultimate philosophy of unsullied reason and unadulterated individualism…’Based on you presentation I think you missed at least two key points that I’ll summarize thusly:a) Laissez-faire Capitalism is *defined* to be where buyers and sellers do NOT use “force, the threat of force, or fraud” — I’m trying to quote it as the late Terry “Liberty” Parker always said it on his Public Access TV show “Live and Let Live”. And it is the governments function to punish those who violate this simple rule (it is critically important that government NOT become an enabler and panders to those who would seek to use force or fraud to accomplish what they can not achieve by voluntary exchanges from other buyers and sellers). It is very important to remember this key definition of laissez-faire Capitalism, otherwise everything thing else will be hopelessly out of focus!b) The above system is the best system to promote individual freedom. The proof of this is to consider the question: How can you violate the no force no fraud rule and yet increase individual freedom? You can’t by definition — to violate the no force no fraud rule requires you to reduce someone’s freedom. Perhaps as Thomas Jefferson would say, it this is merely a “self-evident” truth.I think this does not define the “best” system for everyone as, unlike Jefferson wrote, we are NOT all created equal (for the rigors of such a system as defined above). Indeed, for the “second-handers” of the world, they do not have the talent to achieve great success in such a system (consider the recent Olympic games — sorry, not everybody has the skills to be a Gold Metal winner — that swimmer who got 8 Gold Metals is going to make millions, the guys that “also ran” are not). Yes, I am an elitist — an elitism based on talent. The top few percent, in Science the Edisons, Einsteins, Feymans,…; in Music the Mozarts, Beethovens, … in Art the Picassos, Rembrants, …; in Sports the Jordans, Farves, etc… in Business the Jack Welchs, Sam Waltons, etc… are indeed those that make things go — all the rest of us (that includes me) are just along for the ride (no really part of the “A” team).Some of the “also rans” will thus seek to use government to obtain though the ultimate monopoly of government action to redistribute the outcomes because they can not achieve them on their own otherwise. Ayn Rand goes own to say that the winners simply don’t owe the losers anything when the winners did NOT use force or fraud to win. Hard core Randians take this as Gospel absolute truth — and in a way it is, but it is not an absolute moral truth. During the Olympics the Coke commercials show picture of Coke support both the Olympic and Special Olympics — e.g. those kids with Down Syndrome are, through no fault of their own, will never win a real Olympic Gold Metal.What the ultra hard core Randians miss is what many would say is a “moral” obligation in a civil society of the winners in life’s race to help those in the Special Olympics — those that simply got a bum deal in the DNA cards (perhaps part of “God’s Plan” — getting back to main subject of this blog really). The battle between Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Liberals, is how much of this redistribution CAN we, SHOULD we, engage in before we (1) create moral hazards, (2) diminish the growth incentives to increate the overall standard of living, (3) seriously undermine individual freedom, or (4) bankrupt the Treasury. In the end Any Rand only found the correct boundary conditions (to put it in math terms). I do agree that “Any Rand” became a cult — but the basic underlying principles are more solid than your presentation suggested (perhaps this is called liberal bias?).

  5. says

    “The act of raising a child is generally a selfless act; it’s very expensive and time consuming, and it’s not motivated by the promise of future payback.”Wow, that’s a pretty dismal view of child rearing. Here I was thinking that raising children enriches an individual’s life, allows him to see the world anew (so to speak) through the eyes of a child, and to enjoy sharing his ideas and life experience with a being created (hopefully) with someone he deeply cares about.But you’re probably right. It’s all resource drain with no conceivable net gain for the parents as individuals.Interesting show. I may post more later to outline what I see as your major misunderstandings of Rand’s philosophy.In the meantime, here’s a decent article dealing with Shermer’s cult accusations:Is Objectivism a Cult?

  6. says

    About three years ago an article in the pro-libertarian Reason magazine, of all places, pointed out that:In its pure form, Rand’s philosophy would work very well indeed if human beings were never helpless and dependent through no fault of their own. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that so many people become infatuated with Objectivism as teenagers and “grow out of it” later, when concerns of family, children, and old age–their own and their families’–make that fantasy seem more and more impossible.From what I’ve read in Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand, Rand’s world view didn’t work out so well for her when she came down with lung cancer and realized her own vulnerability. Objectivism, unlike, say, Stoicism, offers little or no guidance for the times in your life when your situation really sucks and you can’t make it any better.

  7. says

    Eric,Just to clarify, I DON’T have the dismal view of child rearing that you ascribe to me. I’m enthusiastic about being a dad — I don’t necessarily recommend parenthood for everyone, but I definitely do enjoy exactly the sorts of intangible benefits of personal satisfaction that you described.On the other hand, when I look at things from a Randian point of view, those intangibles don’t seem very important. The gain to be had is not material in nature; you do not accumulate wealth from it, and you are providing altruistic support for someone who gives you nothing in return (apart from emotional appreciation, and not always that). If I subscribed to Objectivism, I probably would share Rand’s own disdain for the responsibility of raising them.

  8. says

    Kazim speaks about Objectivists and “intangibles”:I’ve never understood the criticism that Objectivists only care about material things (insofar as this is a conclusion honestly reached). From Rand’s own remarks about love, emotions, self-esteem, and art, it should be clear to any inquiring reader that for her, as for Objectivism, the spiritual matters too. Objectivists are not Stoics.Here’s her comments on love, for instance: http://aynrandlexicon.org/lexicon/love.htmlNow, I’ve personally met and spoken with Objectivists whom are also parents, and I think they would agree generally with Eric’s description (which you agreed with as well).I think this example highlights a notable feature of Objectivism’s view of values: from a certain perspective, optional values exist. There isn’t a list of values which everyone must ascribe to (which is, IMHO, an end-result of the traditional moral objectivism viewpoint). The fact that Rand didn’t value or pursue child-raising doesn’t mean that no one else can, or that no Objectivists therefore should (which would be a poorly reasoned-out deduction, at best).

  9. says

    Kazim,I know that you don’t have that view of child rearing. I’ve heard you talk on the show about secular parenting and have found it quite inspirational.However, what you’re describing as a “Randian” point of view is not consistent with any of the material I’ve read from actual Objectivists. To start with, to the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing in Objectivism that says that all gains must be material or monetary in nature. The standard of value in Objectivism is the individual’s life, not his material wealth.Providing love and support to someone you value is not sacrificial or altruistic behavior. It would only be altruistic to raise/support a child if you personally get no satisfaction from the act of childrearing and have no interest or expectation of ever having a meaningful relationship or sharing your values with the child.(I should state that I do not consider myself to be an Objectivist. Though I am quite familiar with and interested in the philosophy, I may be misinformed on some of the finer points.)

  10. says

    Providing love and support to someone you value is not sacrificial or altruistic behavior. It would only be altruistic to raise/support a child if you personally get no satisfaction from the act of childrearing and have no interest or expectation of ever having a meaningful relationship or sharing your values with the child.In that case, I accuse Ayn Rand of committing the equivocation fallacy (my favorite fallacy!): Taking advantage of different definitions of a word to imply beliefs that her opponents do not have.Just because I am capable of feeling some amount of personal pleasure and satisfaction from my behavior doesn’t mean that I am not behaving altruistically. I don’t begrudge Rand the right to redefine the word “altruism” in this narrow way, but I’m going to assert that if altruism only exists when there is no personal gain of any kind whatsoever, even good feelings, then NOBODY is altruistic. The word is meaningless, and her caricature of her enemies as true altruists by this definition is nothing more than a straw man.Look, if “personal gain” can extend to things like “feeling good” or acting in accordance with one’s own evolutionary instinct, then even altruism in the animal kingdom can be defined as selfish. We’re talking about prairie dogs that stand up and bark when a predator is coming, thereby increasing the chance of survival for its companions, but greatly increasing its own risk of death. Evolutionary biologists describe that behavior as altruistic. Best guess is that it’s explained by kin selection; go back and listen to the show I did on altruism for more discussion.Look, I don’t know what goes on in the heads of those prairie dogs, but somewhere in there they probably feel a mental impulse to do what they do. It feels better to stand up and bark than to not stand up and bark. But does that mean they are NOT acting altruistically? That they are just in it for themselves? No, I reject that — if getting yourself killed for someone else isn’t altruism, even if you are happy to do it, then I think nothing is. (Dawkins would describe this as “selfish genes” — we don’t really act to preserve ourselves as individuals, but to preserve our own genes.)Consider the passage that I read about Ellsworth Toohey yesterday. In Toohey, we have a villain who is just insanely contrived, because he’s simultaneously supposed to be completely altruistic, yet batshit crazy because he WANTS TO HURT PEOPLE through his altruism. Who’s Toohey supposed to represent? Seriously? Who acts like that??I think that Rand has no choice but to either make up some ridiculously extreme caricature of altruism that nobody subscribes to, or else use a more standard definition of the word. The problem with the latter is that people don’t actually hate a guy who is selfless because he is helpful.

  11. says

    Getting back to anon7’s post:a) Laissez-faire Capitalism is *defined* to be where buyers and sellers do NOT use “force, the threat of force, or fraud” — I’m trying to quote it as the late Terry “Liberty” Parker always said it on his Public Access TV show “Live and Let Live”.Like in the case of "altruism," I am generally wary when a writer has to go out of their way to define words in non-standard ways to make their point. Doubly so if the definition appears to have something very similar to value judgments baked right into it. It's sort of like the problem of trying to nail down the notion of what a "true Christian™" is. Apparently a True Christian™ is just like a regular Christian, except with the added clause "…and never does anything immoral (however I choose to define that term)."In my experience with Objectivists, the notion of using "Force" is a fuzzy one. For instance, apparently if you defend your property by threatening to shoot someone, that's not using "force," because the person coming onto your property was an acting of violence against YOU in the first place. On the other hand, the concept of owning land which no one else may enter isn't a natural arrangement; it seems to me that this is in itself a forceful arrangement. Here's a stump that anybody may step on. No wait, I own this stump now, and if you step on it then I'll shoot you.Note that by pointing out that ownership is an act of force, I'm not saying that it's *wrong*. I'm simply pointing out that this is a boundary that is set up by social agreement, and Objectivists SUPPORT using force to protect this arrangement (as do I, in many cases). But it's just nonsense to describe an act of force (keeping people off of "your" land) as not being an act of force.The proof of this is to consider the question: How can you violate the no force no fraud rule and yet increase individual freedom? You can’t by definition — to violate the no force no fraud rule requires you to reduce someone’s freedom. Perhaps as Thomas Jefferson would say, it this is merely a “self-evident” truth.And I think that’s bullshit. Sorry.”My right to swing my fist ends where your face begins” — this rule is a restriction on my freedom. If I had the right to swing my fist at your face, I would have more freedom than I do now. I may not want to punch you right now, but the fact that I CAN’T punch you without having government-issued police locking me up for assault — that means I’m less free to do stuff that I might otherwise consider doing. (I don’t want to punch you, by the way. This is just an illustration.)I think that another problem with using creative definitions is that it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that often, two people’s freedoms are in CONFLICT with one another.I’m hungry. You’re hungry. There’s one apple left on the tree. If you eat the apple, then I’m still going to be hungry, because your freedom to eat the apple inherently limits my ability to do the same. Do you think we’ll fight for it? Are we allowed to use force to assert our “right” to eat this apple, or not?In many cases, my problem with Objectivism is that it oversimplifies the world by ignoring very legitimate conflicts between different freedoms. Instead of acknowledging that a conflict exists without easy solutions, Objectivists want to simply define the conflict out of existence.

  12. says

    On the definitions of “Capitalism” and other terms I thought I merely was referring back and trying to adhere the term in the very references *YOU* provide — but in my humble opinion you were not abiding by! I know I have a ton of spelling errors and grammar errors but I don’t think I make any material misquotes from Michael Shermers’ descriptions — I think the definitions are consistent with Ayn Rand’s use and with others (e.g. and other Libertarians, like Terry Parker — RIP). My Goodness, I’m not allowed to do that — use the references you provided! What kind of debating, discussion rule is that? Sounds like Heads I win, Tails you loose! You can swing at my face, but you better not hit me! — Hitting me reduces my freedom — you have imposed force on me — and the first blow!— and yes, damn right I have a right to defend myself!In regards to raising children. It the olden days people had large families so they could have more hands to work the farm, and take care of the parents when they were old. Now thanks to advances from modern technology fewer families are needed, and the families need to be smaller since Capital (John Deere equipment for example) replaced most labor. And as you would expect from rational utilitarian decision making, family size has decreased. Thus there must have been something other than altusistic behavior at work.I would suggest the work of Econmist Gary Becker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Becker). He was one of the first economists to branch into what were traditionally considered topics belonging to sociology, including racial discrimination, crime, family organization, and drug addiction (Cf. Freakonomics and Rational addiction). He is known for arguing that many different types of human behavior can be seen as rational and utility maximizing. His approach can include altruistic behavior by defining individuals’ utility appropriately. And yes, Becker is from the University of Chicago and his mentor was Milton Freidman — he is a Libertarian oriented economist.Finally, yes if there is one apple (or Gold Medal for an Olympic winning a sports event) and we both want it, we will compete and it might come to fighting — the world in general, and other people that work and produce, does not owe either of us a living, or a free lunch.Thanks for replying.

  13. says

    I read Anthem recently, and one of the complaints I had there was kind of echoed in Matt’s brief discussion on teachers in Objectivism. The hero in Anthem (likewise the protagonist in 2112, and from what I hear, Howard Roark and John Galt) just happens to be naturally good at pretty much whatever he puts his hands to. He heads off into the wilderness, with no knowledge of it whatsoever, and manages to invent the bow and arrow and become a fantastic hunter instantaneously. I mean, I could swallow (to some degree) his reinvention of the lightbulb, but when he first threw a stone and it immediately killed a bird, that just about broke my disbelief-suspenders. And yet, it was an absolute necessity, because there’s no role for teachers in the Objectivist paradise. In reality, most people who are thrust from the urban world into the wilderness with no knowledge or guide will either starve to death or just barely eke out a living; they won’t become Ted frigging Nugent on their first night. Objectivism, so far as I understand it and so far as it’s presented in Anthem, provides no reason or method for the transfer of knowledge from one person to another, which in reality is a necessary process. The other problem is that protagonist Prometheus is a second-hander himself; he doesn’t rediscover lost science in a vacuum, he stumbles upon an abandoned subway and manages to understand some of the heretofore lost technologies therein. His innovations required the innovations of those who came before him; he stands on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. There’s a reason that humans are social creatures; the problems with Anthem pretty well demonstrate why. Anyway, great episode. I’ve been anticipating this one since I started watching the show :).

  14. says

    Kazim says: “In that case, I accuse Ayn Rand of committing the equivocation fallacy (my favorite fallacy!): Taking advantage of different definitions of a word to imply beliefs that her opponents do not have.”Rand wasn’t “redefining” altruism; she was restoring it to its original conception as developed by philosopher Auguste Comte.The issue of “egoism/altruism” is an issue in ethics, and so it must be understood clearly and in fundamental terms. Egoism means “being concerned with one’s interests/self-sustainment by an act of choice and as a matter of principle.” Altruism, as Comte held it, was literally “living for others“; it meant serving others, even if at the price of your interests and life. He makes this clear in his Catechisme Positiviste: “We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service…. This [‘to live for others’], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely.”[Comte, August. Catechisme positiviste (1852) or Catechism of Positivism, tr. R. Congreve, (London: Kegan Paul, 1891)]The modern definition of altruism (simply helping others and being benevolent) is merely a water-down version. It doesn’t even serve the proper function of a definition, because no convincing argument has ever been given for why an egoist could not properly help someone else or be benevolent; it doesn’t properly distinguish the concept of “altruism” from the other species of the genera “position on moral beneficiary”: namely, the species “egoism.” Benevolence is not a fundamental issue: who should benefit from one’s moral actions, is.For evidence that the modern use of “altruism” is indeed a weak variation of Comte’s original view, please see Robert Campbell’s “Altruism in Auguste Comte and Ayn Rand.”http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/altruismrandcomte.pdf[Note: I don’t endorse Campbell’s current philosophical views, but I regard this essay as informative.][P.S.: I don’t support the current labels of “altruistic/selfless” and “egoistic/selfish” to evolutionary/biological issues (such as whether certain animals eat other in infancy or whatnot). Those are moral terms, and thus hinge upon making deliberate choices, not instinctual actions.]

  15. says

    Oh, also, as to the Batman thing: the way the characters are portrayed in the modern age, when you keep Batman’s brilliance and inventiveness and skill at everything he does, but you replace the altruism with greed and self-interest, you get Lex Luthor. So that’s who John Galt is.

  16. says

    “In that case, I accuse Ayn Rand of committing the equivocation fallacy (my favorite fallacy!)”You would first need to demonstrate that she is using a non-standard definition of the word, which I’m not so sure she is. You’d also want to show that she uses different definitions of the word to suit different point she’s making. I think Rand’s pretty consistent in her use of the word ‘altruism’ to mean taking action to benefit another without regard for one’s own interests.“Just because I am capable of feeling some amount of personal pleasure and satisfaction from my behavior doesn’t mean that I am not behaving altruistically.”Well, I guess we’d have to first decide what you think the word ‘altruism’ means, since you’re of the opinion that Rand is using it too narrowly. If it just means “doing something nice for other people,” then perhaps we’re talking past each other.“I don’t begrudge Rand the right to redefine the word “altruism” in this narrow way, but I’m going to assert that if altruism only exists when there is no personal gain of any kind whatsoever, even good feelings, then NOBODY is altruistic.”To clarify, the fact that something gives you pleasure does not make it in your self interest. As a self-described hedonist, you may disagree, but I think most Objectivists would argue that only those actions that have a net benefit on an individual’s life could be said to be in that person’s self interest. Shooting heroin all day may feel nice, but it’s perhaps not the best course of action if you value your life at all.As to whether altruism as Rand uses it actually exists, I would say it does. The environmentalist movement is predicated on the notion that one must act for “the good of the planet”, communism on “the good of the state”.“if getting yourself killed for someone else isn’t altruism, even if you are happy to do it, then I think nothing is. (Dawkins would describe this as “selfish genes” — we don’t really act to preserve ourselves as individuals, but to preserve our own genes.)”Killing oneself for the benefit of another would – with few exceptions – definitely be altruistic behavior. However, you’re confusing the issue with your selfish gene references. When prairie dogs act altruistically, they are acting according to their genetic “programming” to maximize the proliferation of their genes. As Dawkins himself has said, humans are the only animals (that we know of) able to resist our genetic programming. Humans are able to reason and determine what actions are truly in our interests, rather than merely acting as slaves to our genes.Re: Toohey. I’ve not read The Fountainhead, so I can’t say whether your description or your interpretation is correct. I’d have to read it myself before commenting.

  17. says

    “In my experience with Objectivists, the notion of using ‘Force’ is a fuzzy one.”Apparently, the “Objectivists” you’ve been acquainted with haven’t distinguished between “initiatory” and “retaliatory” force.Objectivists are against “initiatory” force and for “retaliatory” force on moral grounds.Without saying too much about the Objectivist view of morality, it is against actions which are opposed to one’s life, and force is an obvious example of this. Because force that is initiated on a person is a threat to one’s life and interests, the retaliatory use of force is the proper response to end the threat.In the Objectivist politics, with groups of people interacting in a society, this leads to two general practices:(1) The ban on the initiation of physical force (direct or otherwise). This is the practical implementation of the view that the government’s role is to only protect our individual rights.(2) The codification of the proper uses of retaliatory force. Since we don’t automatically know when a given use of force is retaliatory or not, the government must step in and handle violations of rights in place of ordinary citizens. And even when they cannot, as in certain emergencies (for example, a stick-up), and retaliatory force is used, they must be able to verify it. This, a law system, is the means of protecting rights, from what I understand of the philosophy.

  18. says

    Tom Foss says:”The other problem is that protagonist Prometheus is a second-hander himself.”You’re misunderstanding the term “second-hander.” You’re not living “second hand” if you use other people’s products, or if you ask for help.You’re living “second-hand” if you regard the “true” and the “right” as what other people say or do; one is a “second-hander” if one primarily orients one’s thoughts, reasons for acting, and justification to what other people think. If you go into a career solely because you want everyone to know how great you are at something, that’s “second-handedness.”I haven’t read Anthem, but I’ve heard enough about the novelette to know that the protagonist was not a second-hander, but an independent man. Independent, meaning a person who primarily orients this thoughts, etc. to reality, and not other people. His actions were based on facts, on facts concerning his survival and means to further it, and that’s what lead him to his innovations.Similarly, self-interest, coupled with brilliance and other traits you ascribe to Batman, do not necessarily lead to Lex Luthor.Lex, like Gail Wynand, like Ellsworth Toohey, is a second-hander of the worst kind: their orientation is still to other people, but instead of pandering to them (like Peter Keating), they seek to rule them (or destroy them).The selfish person, among other things, is the independent person. I hope you do look into what Objectivism has to say regarding these issues, but for now I’ll conclude that you don’t understand either of those terms (self-interest or independence). Consequently, you don’t understand Anthem’s protagonist (or, for that matter, Batman or John Galt).

  19. says

    “there’s no role for teachers in the Objectivist paradise. “As you noted, this was also mentioned on the show. I’ve not read Anthem, but I can say that the notion that no one would have any reason to be a teacher in an Objectivist society is utter nonsense.The ability to teach others would be a highly profitable skill, and there’s nothing (that I’ve read) in Objectivist ethics that says there’s anything at all wrong with making a living by teaching others.The only thing that would not be permitted in an Objectivist society is demanding that someone educate you (or your child) without compensation, or demanding that your neighbors pay for your education.

  20. says

    Anon7, you’ve said two separate things that collectively illustrate the sort of schizophrenic relationship with “force” that I think objectivism carries with it.First:You can swing at my face, but you better not hit me! — Hitting me reduces my freedom — you have imposed force on me — and the first blow!— and yes, damn right I have a right to defend myself!Second:Finally, yes if there is one apple (or Gold Medal for an Olympic winning a sports event) and we both want it, we will compete and it might come to fighting — the world in general, and other people that work and produce, does not owe either of us a living, or a free lunch.So yeah, Objectivism nominally doesn’t support “initiation of force”… but it DOES support competition that “might come to fighting.” What the hell? I’m planning to beat the crap out of you in order to make sure you don’t get the apple that I want to eat, but that’s okay, because somehow it’s healthy, capitalistic competition and that’s somehow not the same thing as initiating force. Is that right?To me, the whole point of this wacky contortionism with the meaning of words like “force” is to get around the fact that the real world is messy, and the line between “competition” and “force” is often exceedingly fuzzy by nature. Simply DEFINING capitalism as a system under which no one is coerced is just throwing words at the conflict, not actually making it go away. The definition of what constitutes a fair use of force strikes me as exceedingly arbitrary in many cases.Of course there is going to be some amount of arbitrariness in ANY system that’s run by people, and the goal should be to minimize this and make sure the rules are clear. But Objectivism is simply taking a hard line on one particular set of rules, and then declaring by fiat that this is the only possible one which is good and true.

  21. says

    Regarding what I mean when I use the word “altruism” (this is for both Eric and Roderick):The wikipedia article on the subject starts with the sentence: “Altruism is selfless concern for the welfare of others.” From Merriam-Webster I get this:1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others I’m pretty cool with both sources. (MW also uses something much like my prairie dog example as definition #2.) Notice that both sources pretty much require that the intent should be for the benefit of others, so yes, altruism pretty much has to involve the intent to be helpful. A lunatic like Ellsworth Toohey doesn’t seem to qualify, given that he knows his actions will be harmful. As another example, you can’t really describe a crazed gunman on a shooting spree as an altruist, even if the gunman is ultimately “selfless” enough to plan on offing himself in the end.Eric:As to whether altruism as Rand uses it actually exists, I would say it does. The environmentalist movement is predicated on the notion that one must act for “the good of the planet”, communism on “the good of the state”.Both these doctrines might be “altruistic” the way I used the words (although they may ultimately be misguided as well). However, I’m not quite clear on the way you are using it. You use the terms “the environment” and “the state” as if they were abstract entities that can be improved for their own sake, whereas I think most environmentalists would say that the ultimate issue is the survival and comfort of us humans (individually and as a group). Some would probably extend that to other intelligent species. Similarly, Marx wasn’t really focused on “the state,” but mostly on “the workers.” Whether his proposed system could ever achieve his goals is hugely debatable (you and I would probably both say no). I just want to clarify that the structures you mention are interesting not in themselves, but because they are composed of people who are also interested in benefiting themselves. Would you consider that a fair statement?

  22. says

    “Notice that both sources pretty much require that the intent should be for the benefit of others, so yes, altruism pretty much has to involve the intent to be helpful. A lunatic like Ellsworth Toohey doesn’t seem to qualify, given that he knows his actions will be harmful.”Fair enough. I was not aware that Rand uses the word ‘altruist’ to describe such a character. While I would say that his actions (as you’ve described them, anyway) are selfless, I’m not sure I completely understand how they could be called altruistic.That said, it doesn’t really change the fact that (in the case of rational individuals) raising children is neither selfless nor altruistic, which is how this all got started. :)“You use the terms “the environment” and “the state” as if they were abstract entities that can be improved for their own sake, whereas I think most environmentalists would say that the ultimate issue is the survival and comfort of us humans (individually and as a group)”I think you give the environmentalist movement too much credit. I don’t deny that there are people who call themselves environmentalists who have a rational concern for the environment with regard to how it affects their own well-being – to an extent, I would count myself among them. However, the notion that nature has intrinsic value and that humans must make sacrifices to “protect the environment” runs rampant in the movement. Look no further than the environmentalists protesting solar power plants in the f’n desert! The same sort of intrinsicism dominates the animal rights movement (which is fractally wrong, as Matt would put it).“Similarly, Marx wasn’t really focused on “the state,” but mostly on “the workers.”But you acknowledge that there is no such entity called “the workers” who can value anything, no? In most instances, what’s considered good for “the workers” is not in any individual’s self interests. It may be for the good of the collective that I starve myself to allow more food and resources for “the workers”, but it’s sure as hell not in my rational self interest.

  23. says

    Yep — I said it *might* come to fighting over the apple , because you didn’t provide any details of the context. I figured you would just make up a set of details as you go along, thus the word “might” was used. For example, if you start the fight, I’m not going to just stand there — I don’t think Libertarians := Pacifists.I see no need for further discussions. Thanks again for your reply.

  24. says

    I think you give the environmentalist movement too much credit. I don’t deny that there are people who call themselves environmentalists who have a rational concern for the environment with regard to how it affects their own well-being – to an extent, I would count myself among them. However, the notion that nature has intrinsic value and that humans must make sacrifices to “protect the environment” runs rampant in the movement. Look no further than the environmentalists protesting solar power plants in the f’n desert!Actually, I think you have your ratios flipped. I know a lot of people who consider themselves environmentalists, and MOST of them are in it because they are concerned about the people ON the planet, not merely “the planet.” I think PZ Myers is a good illustration to bring up here.The same sort of intrinsicism dominates the animal rights movement (which is fractally wrong, as Matt would put it).As a matter of fact, I know for certain that Matt would NOT describe the animal rights movement as “fractally wrong,” because we had a very long discussion about that very topic on the Non-Prophets once. The conclusion was that he and I are both mostly comfortable with being omnivorous, but at the same time we aren’t ready to simply dismiss the concerns of people who think that you should avoid unnecessary cruelty whenever possible. I may disagree with authors like Peter Singer, who points out the philosophical justification for animal rights, but I don’t dismiss him as a moron and admits that he has some real questions to consider. That’s not what “fractally wrong” means.But you acknowledge that there is no such entity called “the workers” who can value anything, no?I can’t even figure out what you’re supposed to mean by that. No, “the workers” is not an entity, anymore than “the human race” is an entity. Both terms describe a COLLECTION of entities. But the individual entities do indeed want and value things, and you certainly CAN make generalizations about them which are more or less true. For instance, if I were to say “People want to be free,” can I assume that you would not snidely dismiss me by saying that “‘People’ is not an entity”?In most instances, what’s considered good for “the workers” is not in any individual’s self interests.Now that’s just stupid.

  25. says

    Kazim says: “Notice that both sources pretty much require that the intent should be for the benefit of others, so yes, altruism pretty much has to involve the intent to be helpful.”A term can mean whatever you want once you change the definition.As I’ve said, an egoist can benefit others. An egoist who has a friend can help him study for an exam he needs to pass, or play a game with him. The friend’s life and values matter to the egoist.Whether an egoist is helpful to others is a derivative issue.The big question is: what is the moral difference between this “helping others” being primary [altruism] or consequential [egoism]?Why does altruism posit that morality must involve other people? Morality is a system which allows one to guide one’s purpose in life and its course by informing one of what ends one should seek (values) and how to gain them (virtues). What facts make it mandatory for someone to place “serving others” as the course that one’s life has to take?As a budding philosopher, I question the modern and ancient definitions of this term; and more: I question its justification.

  26. says

    Roderick:A term can mean whatever you want once you change the definition.Sure it can. Like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, you can use words to mean whatever you want them to mean, neither more nor less. Then you can use the word “altruism” to mean “triple cheeseburger and a side order of fries” if you want, and at that point you can prove that altruism is directly responsible for heart attacks.Just don’t expect anyone to understand what you’re talking about. And then if people say “I think of myself as an altruist” and then you reply “You mean you’re a CHEESEBURGER?!?!?” you should expect to receive a lot of blank looks.Why does altruism posit that morality must involve other people?See, this is a perfect example of what I just said, and it makes me roll my eyes. You are deliberately confusing two separate concepts here: “Altruism” as an abstract word which has some recognized characteristics; and “altruism” as some kind of comprehensive philosophy that places moral restrictions on people. I was using the former word, when I said “altruism pretty much has to involve the intent to be helpful.” The reason I said that was because it was in the definition that I looked up in the dictionary. I’m not saying you have to be an altruist; I’m not saying that you are required to act a certain way to be considered a good guy. I’m just saying that if you want to describe something as “altruism” and you would like to be understood, then your use of the word should maybe have some passing resemblance to the way the word is commonly defined and recognized. Instead of doing the cheeseburger thing.As a budding philosopher, I question the modern and ancient definitions of this term; and more: I question its justification.Question it all you want, O Wise Disciple of Socrates. While you’re at it, feel free to define “up” as “down,” and “laissez-faire” as “magical panacaea, plus a pony!” I don’t care how you personally think words should be defined. I’m just saying that if you keep insisting that I use words the way you think they should be defined, then you’re going to get even more frustrated with this conversation than you already are.

  27. says

    “In most instances, what’s considered good for “the workers” is not in any individual’s self interests.”I wouldn’t quite say it that way. I think the real point is that if you have a group as diverse as “the workers” you can’t really claim any one thing to be in all their best interests, unless you keep it very vague like “progress”. You can’t really define any specific action that would be in all of their best interests (and in any case why would you?).

  28. says

    Kazim:In the context of moral philosophy altruism has a different meaning than the everyday definition. When an Objectivist says the word altruism they generally mean an altruist morality. One that considers whether an action benefits others as the main concern of morality. When Objectivists argue against altruism they aren’t arguing against specific actions they are arguing about a type of morality. To an Objectivist the issue of whether or not someone is acting altruistically according to the everyday definition is a side issue that doesn’t really matter.

  29. says

    Regarding the alleged conflict between environmentalism and human welfare, Objectivists regularly ridicule people who want to preserve forests and wetlands. But when you cut down forests and drain coastal wetlands, you make water-related natural disasters worse. Wetlands, especially, act as buffers against tsunamis like the one in the Indian Ocean in 2004, and against storm surges like the one created by Hurricane Katrina. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island in the Caribbean, but Haiti suffers from worse flooding than its neighbor because Haitians have cut down most of their country’s trees. So, apparently, forests and wetlands do serve a purpose in sustaining human life after all.

  30. says

    “I know a lot of people who consider themselves environmentalists, and MOST of them are in it because they are concerned about the people ON the planet, not merely “the planet.””I’m sure that you do know a lot of people like that, as do I. But I tend to think that we both are mostly rational people and tend to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals. In any event, it’s irrelevant what percentage of environmentalists see the environment as an end to itself. For the sake of my point (which was in response to your comment that NO ONE acts altruistically according to Rand’s definition), it only matters that some environmentalists truly do think that the good of the planet is more important than their own self interest. They act not according to what will further their own lives, but what might be best “for the planet” in the long run (likely decades after they are dead).“As a matter of fact, I know for certain that Matt would NOT describe the animal rights movement as “fractally wrong,” because we had a very long discussion about that very topic on the Non-Prophets once.”Easy friend, I didn’t mean to imply that Matt agrees with me on the issue of animal rights, only that he has used the phrase “fractally wrong” in the past (more than anything, it was an attempt to subtly imply how much I enjoy the show by incorporating some of the vernacular). I’ll take your word for it that I’ve used the phrase incorrectly. For the record, I agree with you that we should avoid unnecessarily harming animals. I also agree that Singer raises important questions about whether or not animals have rights. I still think he’s wrong pretty much from get-go.“For instance, if I were to say “People want to be free,” can I assume that you would not snidely dismiss me by saying that “‘People’ is not an entity”?”Apologies if I came across as snide. I wasn’t trying to insult, merely trying to clarify where we differed. Coreyd rephrased my position better than I put it. My point was that there is no hive mind called “the people” that shares common values and interests. Even a generalization as broad as “the people value freedom” fails in light of the many religious fundamentalists who are all too happy to give up their (and your) freedom to decide who to marry, what drugs to use, or whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.In most instances, what’s considered good for “the workers” is not in any individual’s self interests.Now that’s just stupid.”On that note, I think I’ll end my participation in this discussion. I feel like I’ve kept things civil, with a genuine interest in trying to help correct some of your rather glaring misunderstandings of Rand’s philosophy. Given the tone of your most recent response I’m starting to question your interest in an honest discussion of the issues. At a minimum you seem to be growing weary, and I didn’t come here to harass you. Thanks for your time. I did enjoy the show, and hope that if you do discuss Objectivism again, it is with a slightly better understanding of the ideas you’re criticizing.

  31. says

    Kazim:”I’m just saying that if you want to describe something as ‘altruism’ and you would like to be understood, then your use of the word should maybe have some passing resemblance to the way the word is commonly defined and recognized.”I gave you a quote from the coiner of the term “altruism.” “Altruism” is a moral concept, so I referred you to the originator of it. Is the common usage more valid than the original concept? I wouldn’t think so (as I’ve said earlier).The modern usage of “altruism,” as I’ve argued, is merely a watered-down variant of the original conception; in fact, the “modern” usage depends on the original one.Observe: the “altruistic” person is the helpful person, and this is typically portrayed as “good.” But why is it “good”? What properties make “unselfishly” helping someone “good,” but doing the same out of self-interest questionable, or even “evil”? I don’t care if you’re saying I should be an “altruist,” or if you’re not; I’m simply asking you to consider why people think altruistic actions are good.Now, the obvious answer to me, regarding those above questions is: helping others is “good” because the broader morality of altruism demands it (as held by Comte). In his version, you had a duty to serve others with no concern for self-interested actions or motivations; your very existence was to be in service to others, and this service was the warrant for your remaining in existence (and for being moral).As should be clear by now, I refuse to use the modern definition of “altruism.” It is literally not a definition; it doesn’t distinguish itself from “egoism/selfishness” and “selfishly helping others” and is thus useless as a definition.If I define a computer as “audio-playing technology,” does that sufficiently distinguish it from other such objects, like a CD-player or TV? The three objects: computers, TVs, and CD-players all fit into the wider concept “technology,” but that definition I gave for computer is useless in differentiating it from the other two objects, correct?I’m essentially arguing that the same issue applies to the modern definition of “altruism.” As you’ve said, “altruism pretty much has to involve the intent to be helpful.” Both egoism and altruism are part of the wider concept of “moral codes,” but I’m saying that “being helpful to others” doesn’t distinguish “altruism” from “egoism.” That characteristic could apply to both concepts.Now, if you’re implying that the modern usage of “altruism” is not a moral/philosophical term, then the whole concept is a trick, or is being used dishonestly (or used innocently but mistakenly); because it is typically used as a “morally good” term; the altruistic person is the “good” person, which is the conventional view. By contrast, the “selfish” person is the bad person, the person willing to engage in any hedonistic act he wishes, mass murder not an exception.If anything, you’ll need to convince me that “selfish concern for others” (as a derivative of “egoism”) is different enough from “unselfish concern for others/altruism” to warrant the concept.

  32. Barnetto says

    @ Roderick Fitts So I get that you and Rand are speaking of Comte’s ethical doctrine of altruism. You guys don’t buy into it, Kazim might not, and I read it and decided it sounded like some sort of platform for explaining why Christ is so awesome (because he’s the only one who could attain something like that?).What does objectivism and Rand have to say about altruistic acts? Say a stranger just ahead of you drops $20 bucks, or you get on the bus and discover someone left their phone behind, or the lady at the counter next to you making a purchase is short a dollar? Returning the money, contacting the phone’s owner (or a bus lost and found), giving the lady the dollar, to me would all be altrustic acts (I noticed wiki has two different pages for altruism, one the standard and the other Comte’s ethical system, but these individual instances would seem to follow under both definitions) and I would certainly consider those actions good/moral. They don’t cost me much but don’t bring me any tangible benefit. How would they be viewed under objectivism?

  33. Martin says

    barnetto: I myself have actually done variants of your first and third examples (a fact that is sure to throw Rhology into a fit of frustration). I cannot imagine having any use for either a philosophy that says I shouldn’t bother doing those things because that type of altruism doesn’t accrue an instant benefit to me, or a religion that tells me that altruism doesn’t exist in the first place and that all our moral actions are and should only be in aid of scoring brownie points with a God.

  34. says

    barnetto: Those actions would be encouraged by Objectivist ethics but considered very trivial, since the issue of whether you are helpful to others in not central to Objectivist ethics at all. Since these acts require very little from you the thankfulness of those you help would likely be reward enough.

  35. says

    “What does objectivism and Rand have to say about altruistic acts?”Generally, kind acts are only appropriate to people you value (because of Objectivism’s broader contention that actions should serve one’s interests–one’s values). This means that it isn’t a major virtue, in the same way that Rand doesn’t view “charity” as a major virtue [a link is provided below]. Sometimes, kind acts are optional, but sometimes they are demanded by the virtue of integrity.To give an example of Rand herself being kind: Allan Gotthelf told an audience of the time when he once complimented Bertrand Russell’s definition of “number,” and Rand kindly showed him why he was mistaken. It was kind, from Gotthelf’s description, because she did so in consideration of his well-being, particularly his understanding of numbers and how it could negative affect his learning in other issues, and so she assisted him. [“New York Centenary Reminiscences of Ayn Rand” by Harry Binswanger and Allan Gotthelf (Recorded April 23, 2005), from 4:10 to 5:43,http://facetsofaynrand.com/additional/audio.htmlHere's a quote from Rand which includes “kindness,” “generosity,” and “charity” (and possibly other actions):”The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.”[“The Question of Scholarships,” The Objectivist, June 1966, 6.]http://aynrandlexicon.org/lexicon/charity.htmlThere are also examples of kind acts littered about “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” (I haven’t read her other novels the whole way through).Tara Smith, an Objectivist professor teaching ethics and law, gives three (though not exhaustive) reasons why a rational egoist (i.e. an Objectivist) should be kind:1) Kindness furthers one’s values. Assisting those one cares about is a means to boosting their spirit, and this is a positive for the egoist.2) Kindness can help in strengthening personal bonds.3) Kindness can make the social climate more friendly, which can be a value for an egoist. [This isn’t the same as “what goes around, comes around,” because it isn’t a wager about future people’s actions; it’s merely an attempt to make the social environment more positive right now, regardless of whether such kindness is reciprocated later.]To respond to one of your examples:Returning the money, if it’s a stranger, is optional, in my view. If you have an important meeting to get to right now, then kindness here might be against your more significant interests (e.g. your presentation, job), so you shouldn’t help. In and of itself, returning the money is not automatically “moral,” but neither is it “immoral.”Most of my comments on kindness here are drawn from Tara Smith’s book “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: the Virtuous Egoist,” chapter 10, so it should be taken as an interpretation of Rand and Objectivism, not a definitive statement.

  36. says

    To qualify coreyd’s statement:Helping others is a derivative issue in the Objectivist ethics, but I wouldn’t say “trivial.” It depends on who you’re helping and their relationship to you (i.e. your life and values). It might be trivial in one case, like with a stranger, but incredibly important and an act of justice in another case, like with a good friend or spouse.

  37. says

    First a note: I’m not an Objectivist, but I am interested in Objectivism. I’ve debated with Objectivists heavily on their own forums (even getting banned/unbanned at some points).For me, though, this show was a let-down. I was expecting some in-depth analysis of where Rand goes wrong, as I am starting to read their books and try to make up my own mind, but all you’ve done is jump from the beginning axioms to the end results, and objected to the end results as though they were the next step in the line of reasoning after the axioms – something that nobody is claiming.And where is your analysis? You seem to “feel” every statement. Does this statement feel right? Yeah, I’m fine with this one. Does this one feel wrong? Hmm, maybe. For the love of Cthulhu, what the is the basis for these feelings of yours, and how do you know them to be accurate? If all you’re going on is your feelings, then you’ve simply plummeted into subjectivity – your feelings are innate, inexplicable, and your foundation can only be defined by whether or not you agree or disagree with others’ assertions; you make no assertions of your own.”Rational self-interest is not clearly defined in this context.” That’s bound to happen when you pull a single sentence out of context and strip it from its line of reasoning.Attacking conclusions as though they were propositions is, simply, attacking a straw man.I just finished Atlas Shrugged – some parts were bland but I get the purpose behind every chapter. I’ve lined up Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology next, and maybe some of these suggested readings after that.As for the cult-like feelings, I’ve seen this at times, but the problem is in separating the Objectivists from the “Randroids” – those who desperately cling to Rand but are capable only of regurgitating quotes. Judging the former based on the latter – yet another strawman.

  38. says

    I’d also like to say – and I say this as a 4-year Wikipedia editor with 30,000+ edits – that relying on Wikipedia for something this controversial was your first and mistake. Assuming you could summarize something this complicated into a few minutes was your second and more important mistake. Who was it that said that oversimplifying is bad? ;P

  39. says

    Brian,Thanks for the feedback.I understand and appreciate the nature of your criticism. At the same time, I hope you will appreciate the scope of what I was trying to present. As I could not assume that all of our viewers are deeply familiar with Objectivism, I set out to include all of the following:* A brief biographical sketch of Rand* A brief overview of what Objectivism claims* Criticism of the basic tenets of Objectivism* A satisfactory plot summary for the major works of fiction, including an overview of the main themes* Literary criticism of some of the concepts found in there* Short summary of the “Randroid cult” aspectsAll this I tried to do in an hour and a half, while at the same time leaving ample time to take calls. Sorry if you feel like the treatment was too shallow; you’re welcome to use this space to discuss what else could have been covered. In the past, I’ve used equal or less time to go over such topics as evolutionary psychology, game theory, and the evidence for evolution. Those are hardly less dense fields, and hopefully nobody expects a full doctoral dissertation on a public access show.Regarding the “mistake” of leaning on Wikipedia: While I respect your concerns, you’ll notice I used very little from that source. All I pulled was a one paragraph biopic of Ayn Rand, followed by the axioms of Objectivism. That’s it; everything else came from either other sources or my opinion. So unless you think there were some specific factual errors in the pieces that I did pull, I’m not sure I can accept your complaint. Fair enough?

  40. says

    Let me illustrate my objection to your objection:1. A brief overview of what Objectivism claims2. ???3. Criticism of the basic tenets of Objectivism4. Profit!The part you left out, which led to the entire basis for your criticism of the tenets, was – exactly how do the basic axioms lead to the tenets that were specifically mentioned? You left all of that out, and then criticized those tenets for having no foundation. You criticized for lack of context.Step 1: Take a line of reasoning and conclusionStep 2: Leave out the line of reasoningStep 3: Criticize the conclusion for having no reasoning behind itYou pointed to Wikipedia as the primary source of information on Objectivism (right on the front page of the blog entry), rather than, say, anything from an Objectivist site. The problem is the lack of depth in the Wikipedia article. Obviously you cited very little, but argument from omission is still a fallacy, as far I can tell.

  41. says

    Let me illustrate my objection to your objection: 1. A brief overview of what Objectivism claims 2. ??? 3. Criticism of the basic tenets of Objectivism 4. Profit!The part you left out, which led to the entire basis for your criticism of the tenets, was – exactly how do the basic axioms lead to the tenets that were specifically mentioned? You left all of that out, and then criticized those tenets for having no foundation. You criticized for lack of context.That doesn’t sound like an objection to my argument. But my objection beef with Objectivism is, in fact, its conclusions, not for the way those conclusions are reached. If there’s something specific in your step 2 that you think makes the conclusions less bad, then we can discuss that, certainly. As it is, this seems to me like a similar situation to if I point out the the Bible presents a story of 42 children being ripped apart by bears, and you respond by saying that the quote is “out of context.”You pointed to Wikipedia as the primary source of information on Objectivism (right on the front page of the blog entry), rather than, say, anything from an Objectivist site.No, actually the links on the web page are not my argument, they are background. The detail I offered was through my presentation on the show, which only pulled brief bits out of the Wikipedia article. Much more of the discussion came out of my having read the books, one of which I brought with me on the show, and from the other sites, which also were from a critical point of view.Is it really the parts from Wikipedia that you want to focus on? Were they wrong? In what way? Was my opinion of the books, which I have read, wrong? In what way?Step 3: Criticize the conclusion for having no reasoning behind itI don’t follow you. I don’t think I criticized the conclusion for having no reasoning behind it; I criticized the conclusion in itself for being a poor one. I mean, you’re free to keep talking in vague, general terms about how I argued poorly, but don’t you think it would be more productive if you discussed a particular tenet of the philosophy that you think I unfairly disagreed with, and see if there is any discussion to be had from that point?

  42. says

    “But my objection beef with Objectivism is, in fact, its conclusions, not for the way those conclusions are reached.”So you’re not even interested in the line of reasoning. You care not for finding the step where they go wrong in their understanding. You look at the conclusions, and feel a response – “meh, I don’t like the look of that!” And it was you criticizing them for lack of objectivity? It should be pretty obvious to anyone reading this that it is absurd to take a conclusion that is supposed to be the result of a line of reasoning, and disregard it outright without reference to the rationale behind it, and with no explanation as to the reason for diregarding it. The only reason you give is that the statements lack context (e.g. my quote from your show in my first post above). Well of course it lacks context – you don’t care about the rationale behind it, under your own admission!“As it is, this seems to me like a similar situation to if I point out the the Bible presents a story of 42 children being ripped apart by bears, and you respond by saying that the quote is “out of context.”Except that the Bible would not provide any rationale to back up its statement. If it did, I would attack the rationale and show where it goes wrong. The alternative is to subjectively feel out a response, as you both repeatedly do in the video. I’m alright with that statement… Ehh, that statement is okay too… nope, I don’t like that statement one bit!No, actually the links on the web page are not my argument, they are background.Exactly, you pointed to a low quality source as “background”.“Much more of the discussion came out of my having read the books”But the fiction do not serve the purpose you believe them to, the purpose filled by Rand’s non-fiction (at least, this is from what I have heard of Rand’s statements about her fiction).“I don’t follow you. I don’t think I criticized the conclusion for having no reasoning behind it”Indeed you did. You both say things like, “good to whom?” or “what does that even mean” or “where is the context”. These are all signs that you’ve simply pulled out some choice quotes. From what I’ve read on the Ayn Rand Lexicon (longer quotes from her non-fiction), she goes into detail about the very things you criticize for being absent.“I criticized the conclusion in itself for being a poor one.”Now, what does that mean?? Does it mean you just don’t like the conclusion, or that some part of the conclusion is based on bad rationale? If the former, you’ve plummeted into subjectivity, and if the latter, which rationale?“I mean, you’re free to keep talking in vague, general terms about how I argued poorly”I’ve been pretty clear about this. You presented the axioms on which all their lines of reasoning are based. You then skipped all the reasoning, and went right to the conclusions, and decided that they didn’t sit well with you.

  43. says

    So, when it comes to objectivism, people are objecting to both objectivism and to objections about objectivism and to objections about the objections about objectivism?Objectively, the object of a free society is one where the object of so many people’s objections (Objectivism) can be objectively objected to without the objectors becoming the objects of people’s objections.Hopefully no one will object to that fact, since I arrived at it objectively.

  44. says

    Normally i love your show but you guys really dropped the ball on the subject of Objectivism. I think next time you should get someone on the panel the knows the subject so he can give an accurate explanation of her beliefs.

  45. says

    Brian,I think I understand what you’re trying to say now, but I think you misinterpreted my remarks. You are referring to my response to the following tenet:”The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with on another, not as victims and executioners, not as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force against others.”Which came not from Wikipedia, but from The Objectivist Newsletter in 1962 (see http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectivism.html).In saying “there’s no context,” I was NOT criticizing the fact that I myself read the quote without the context of the rest of Objectivism. I was saying that Objectivism regards laissez-faire capitalism as “the ideal system,” not for a defined person or group of people, but for everyone. It is simply the best.My remark about context was not about the context of the argument. It was meant to highlight the fact that you simply cannot declare system X to be universally the best and call this an objective value. Why? Because values are inherently subjective. There’s not a universal “best,” and part of the reason is because different people want different things. In an anarchic system, it’s easier to kill somebody — you might fear reprisals from their friends, but there isn’t a legal system dedicated to tracking you down. So is it better to have police that prevent the use of force? Yes — unless you’re a person who happens to LIKE grudge killings. Then the system is worse. For you.There isn’t a strictly “better than” hierarchy, for social or economic systems, because people’s values conflict with one another. Ayn Rand’s attempt to assert that her point of view is “objectively” better than all others is just flatly absurd, because she’s trying to boil down complex societal interactions between billions of people into a single, one dimensional measurement of “better” or “worse.”Having said that, can we come up with social systems that are good for *most people*? Sure. John Locke suggested that systems should ensure “the greatest good for the greatest number,” and that seems like a good start, but even that’s on ethically shaky ground sometimes — when you start considering the typical moral dilemmas like whether it’s okay to kill one innocent person in order to save five others. And yet, if you’re one of the other five, the answer might seem a lot more obvious at the time.So… you propose to find a system which is “objectively” best. Not for some person, but for the entire human race. Yet when I discussed some point that somebody else once tried to make about doing things that are good for “workers,” Eric declared that “workers” are too diverse a group to try to do anything that would be acceptable to all of them. Well, obviously. And yet objectivists know what’s best for the entire human race?That’s the “context” I’m talking about. I’m not saying that Ayn Rand and her followers haven’t tried to make arguments that get around this. I’m saying their arguments won’t do it, because the whole effort is basically misguided.I’ve been pretty clear about this. You presented the axioms on which all their lines of reasoning are based. You then skipped all the reasoning, and went right to the conclusions, and decided that they didn’t sit well with you.Right, I’ve heard this one before. It’s what PZ Myers referred to as the Courtier’s Reply. “Mr. Dawkins has the audacity to assert that the emperor is nude, and yet he has neglected to specifically rebut each one of the thousands of scholarly treatises which have been written on the subject of the intricacy of the emperor’s garments.”

  46. says

    My remark about context was not about the context of the argument. It was meant to highlight the fact that you simply cannot declare system X to be universally the best and call this an objective value. Why? Because values are inherently subjective.I have no evidence that Rand merely declared capitalism to be the universally best social system and an objective value. In fact, such an unsubstantiated judgment (“that X is simply the best”) would run counter to her actual statements regarding what can be “the best” or an “objective value” as articulated in her essay “The Objectivist Ethics.” From my understanding of Rand/Objectivism, regarding something as “the best” or as “valuable” requires reasons for thinking so which are grounded in facts, not just self-evidence or obviousness (“it simply is”).But your rebuttal, that values are “inherently subjective,” implies that people can simply decide for themselves what is “objectively the best,” facts notwithstanding. If that’s the case, then people can decide what is the best for everyone because, in effect, their desires constitute values in reality. There’s simply “value for me” against “value for you,” and this in itself doesn’t bar one from desiring one’s own values to apply to everyone else. I’m not saying that this is right; I’m just pointing out that calling values “subjective” doesn’t thereby avoid the result you disapprove of–people declaring what is “the best” and “objectively valuable” for everyone.If you simply meant that something being a “value” depends on a specific person’s identification of it as such (and hence “subjective”), then I agree, but would say that values are “relative,” not “subjective,” (Rand would agree as well). Food, in my view, is not a value for a person until he identifies that it is, he has to discover how it relates to his life, and thus why it is a goal that should be pursued; the fact that a given piece of food benefits someone biologically/nutritionally is not sufficient for deeming it a “value,” in other words. I don’t use “subjective” because traditional moral philosophy uses this term ambiguously; implying that the fact that the people identify values from a personal “subjective” perspective, means that values are only creations of the mind with no relation to facts (“the moral subjectivism” branch of philosophy).”There’s not a universal ‘best,’ and part of the reason is because different people want different things. In an anarchic system, it’s easier to kill somebody — you might fear reprisals from their friends, but there isn’t a legal system dedicated to tracking you down. So is it better to have police that prevent the use of force? Yes — unless you’re a person who happens to LIKE grudge killings. Then the system is worse. For you.”The mere fact that someone “likes” or “desires” some condition does not constitute a proof that it is actually a value for him. If you have a defense of this brand of moral subjectivism (which sounds like hedonism), then please present it. There isn’t a strictly “better than” hierarchy, for social or economic systems, because people’s values conflict with one another. Ayn Rand’s attempt to assert that her point of view is “objectively” better than all others is just flatly absurd, because she’s trying to boil down complex societal interactions between billions of people into a single, one dimensional measurement of “better” or “worse.”On your interpretation of “values,” of course there’s a “conflict,” and of course no social system is better than any other, ultimately. It doesn’t mean that we have to accept your interpretation as “true.” (The fact that you don’t argue for it but merely assert doesn’t help your case.)”Having said that, can we come up with social systems that are good for *most people*? Sure. John Locke suggested that systems should ensure ‘the greatest good for the greatest number,’ and that seems like a good start, but even that’s on ethically shaky ground sometimes — when you start considering the typical moral dilemmas like whether it’s okay to kill one innocent person in order to save five others. And yet, if you’re one of the other five, the answer might seem a lot more obvious at the time.”Now that’s just invoking a double standard. Mill “boils down complex societal interactions between billions of people into a single standard,” a kind of overall utility (which does admit of degrees of measurement), which is the same criticism you leveled against Rand, but you say that it’s “a good start”; while you call Rand’s approach “flatly absurd.” If it’s not the standard or dimensional measurement that really causes you to be at odds with Rand (as I’m now under the impression that it’s not), then please show us what your actual problem with Objectivism is. “So… you propose to find a system which is “objectively” best. Not for some person, but for the entire human race. Yet when I discussed some point that somebody else once tried to make about doing things that are good for ‘workers,’ Eric declared that ‘workers’ are too diverse a group to try to do anything that would be acceptable to all of them. Well, obviously. And yet objectivists know what’s best for the entire human race?”Objectivism is a philosophy, so it makes fundamental points and conclusions in the branches of philosophy. So on fundamental issues, like morality, an Objectivist could know what’s best for every human being who sought to remain alive, because he would be able to identify the nature of man, and thus understand why certain things are good for human beings, and why certain things are bad. This doesn’t mean that Objectivists are now omniscient in every field and capable of knowing what is literally “the best” thing for every person, whether in choices of friends, lovers, banks, or mattresses.”That’s the ‘context’ I’m talking about. I’m not saying that Ayn Rand and her followers haven’t tried to make arguments that get around this. I’m saying their arguments won’t do it, because the whole effort is basically misguided.”If you’ve already closed your mind to considering the merits of arguments which disagree with your position, why should anyone accept your criticisms?”Right, I’ve heard this one before. It’s what PZ Myers referred to as the Courtier’s Reply. ‘Mr. Dawkins has the audacity to assert that the emperor is nude, and yet he has neglected to specifically rebut each one of the thousands of scholarly treatises which have been written on the subject of the intricacy of the emperor’s garments.’ “While I admit that the Courtier’s Reply is ridiculous (namely, that it doesn’t take refuting volumes of works to rationally or refute the essentials of a position), I don’t think that allows you to refute Objectivism without demonstrating that you know the essence of the position.

  47. says

    “My remark about context was not about the context of the argument. It was meant to highlight the fact that you simply cannot declare system X to be universally the best and call this an objective value. Why? Because values are inherently subjective.”The whole line of reasoning of Objectivism, the whole basis for their ethical system, is that the ultimate value of every person is to live. Every second you are choosing to live, you are choosing a fundamental value, and all values that follow from that can be traced back to your desire to live. Objectivism argues that only rational thought is going to keep you alive and fulfill your other values. There are whole lines of reasoning behind these statements, so rather than simply attack these statements that I have just provided you with, I’d suggest reading some of her non-fiction to understand how those conclusions are reached. (e.g. The Value of Selfishness; The Objectivist Ethics)”So is it better to have police that prevent the use of force? Yes — unless you’re a person who happens to LIKE grudge killings.”I’m not sure why you brought up anarchy. Objectivism is vehemently opposed to anarchy. (I think part of that vehemence is due to the continual mislabeling of Objectivists as anarchists.)”There isn’t a strictly “better than” hierarchy, for social or economic systems, because people’s values conflict with one another.”They can and do conflict, but that does not mean it is not possible for a hierarchy to exist. The assumption that you make, to which Objectivism is opposed, is that all individual values are moral. To Objectivists, the fact that there are conflicting values simply means that some of those values are not rooted in reason and may be contrary to the will to live. Again, there are whole lines of reasoning behind these conclusions, so I’d suggest reading the non-fiction as a starting point.”Ayn Rand’s attempt to assert that her point of view is “objectively” better than all others is just flatly absurd, because she’s trying to boil down complex societal interactions between billions of people into a single, one dimensional measurement of “better” or “worse.””But each one of us is an individual, and according to Objectivism, the individual is the starting place for the development of morality. I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at with this statement. Again, there are a lot of people in the world, and they all interact, but the point of an ethical system is to explain how they should interact with eachother based on their individual wills to live. Are you simply saying that no ethical system is possible? Are you indeed advocating subjectivity?”John Locke suggested that systems should ensure “the greatest good for the greatest number,” and that seems like a good start”That’s not a start; it’s a conclusion. One of the problems with that conclusion, and its line of reasoning (besides the lack of definition for what is “good”) is the one you cited earlier – with billions of people interacting in different ways, it becomes impossible for a dictator to know if he is in fact giving the “greatest good” to the greatest number of people. In much clearer terms – it’s like trying to predict the stock market on a person-by-person scale. The larger problem with that ethical system, though, is that it denies the existence of individual rights.”when you start considering the typical moral dilemmas like whether it’s okay to kill one innocent person in order to save five others.”For Objectivists, this would be immoral, even if you’re one of those five. If you read the end of Atlas Shrugged, you’ll understand this. Accepting the situation that the criminal has put you in, and playing by his rules, is nevertheless immoral.”So… you propose to find a system which is “objectively” best. Not for some person, but for the entire human race.”Not for the entire human race, but for every member of it, to guide them in their decisions. Most moral systems are sets of commands. But the intent of Objectivism is not to tell you what you shouldn’t do, but to get you to understand an ethical system that will lead you through a life that is moral because it is rational.”Yet when I discussed some point that somebody else once tried to make about doing things that are good for “workers,” Eric declared that “workers” are too diverse a group to try to do anything that would be acceptable to all of them. Well, obviously. And yet objectivists know what’s best for the entire human race?””Best” in the understanding of Objectivism, but not in the understanding you’re using here. You use it to refer to a plan to get us all to some common goal. Objectivism explains how individuals should interact, and shows how this will lead to benefit on a societal scale – development, growth, productivity.”Right, I’ve heard this one before. It’s what PZ Myers referred to as the Courtier’s Reply. “Mr. Dawkins has the audacity to assert that the emperor is nude, and yet he has neglected to specifically rebut each one of the thousands of scholarly treatises which have been written on the subject of the intricacy of the emperor’s garments.””The reason why I say you have to attack the line of reasoning, rather than the conclusions, is that your attacks (at least the ones you presented here) are covered in the line of reasoning. You responded to the conclusion with more questions (“good for whom?”, “best for whom?”) If you read the reasoning behind the conclusion, you’ll understand what is meant by “best” or “good”. Those words by themselves have no meaning behind them without an ethical system – the very system that is explained at length and used to arrive at the understanding of what Objectivism means by those words. This would be the same no matter the moral system that states what is “best” or “good”.

  48. says

    Hey Brian, I’d just like to qualify a few of your statements, so as to not confuse the other commenters.”The whole line of reasoning of Objectivism, the whole basis for their ethical system, is that the ultimate value of every person is to live.”That’s not quite correct. The validity of rational egoism for one person doesn’t hinge on other people’s desires to remain alive, which seems to be the implication of what you’re saying. After going through a certain process of thought about values, and their foundation, one can realize that one’s own life is one’s ultimate value, regardless of other people’s choices to live. The foundation of the Objectivist ethics isn’t “universality,” such that certain claims or principles, to be valid, must apply to everyone, whether they wish to live or not. For more on this, see Tara Smith, “Viable Values, pp. 108-109.””Every second you are choosing to live, you are choosing a fundamental value, and all values that follow from that can be traced back to your desire to live.”Desiring to live isn’t sufficient for generating values: the person has to identify that the things he’s seeking to gain really do benefit his life; he has to engage in a process of thought (in addition to wanting to live).”Accepting the situation that the criminal has put you in, and playing by his rules, is nevertheless immoral.”Once an emergency has been introduced, whether natural (e.g. a hurricane) or man-made (e.g. a hold-up man), morality is useless to you as a guide, according to Objectivism. Once the conditions of successful living have been effectively cut off, there is no point in following the moral code of Objectivism. So following the criminal’s orders is neither “moral” nor “immoral.” (The criminal, in regards to your life, is “immoral,” because he’s chosen to negatively affect your life.)”But the intent of Objectivism is not to tell you what you shouldn’t do, but to get you to understand an ethical system that will lead you through a life that is moral because it is rational.”While it’s true that the moral, in Objectivism’s case, is the rational, that isn’t the whole story. Objectivists are not Rationalists, so we don’t hold that rationality is a self-sufficient reason to do anything. The facts of life also play an important part in determining why one should be “moral.” See Smith, “Viable Values, pages 40-53″ (specifically, she criticizes the ethical rationalists (e.g. Immanuel Kant) while answering questions like “Why be Rational?”).

  49. says

    Great show! My favorite! Randroids! Ugh! Who’d WANT to believe in that elitist, Hobbes-serfdom religion? It’s absolutely crazy and downright mean! It’s nothing more than a gussied-up caste system!

  50. says

    “Kel Dowhower” either doesn’t understand Objectivism very well, or is misinformed on Hobbes, religions, and caste systems. Maybe all of the above.If there’s something about Objectivism he disagrees with, why not state it explicitly, for all of us to see? Why hide behind empty insults?To rephrase a saying we hear as kids: “If you have nothing productive to say, it’s best not to say anything at all.”

  51. says

    Brian,I’m going to make just a few quick replies to your comments, but they’re not going to be comprehensive, and it may be my last reply, because I have to admit that I’m feeling like I’m running out of steam on this topic after 53 posts total.I don’t disagree with you that one CAN assign values to be of greater or lesser significance. In fact, I think that any reasonable society MUST come up with such an assignment in order to help people get along and work out their difference.However, to describe such a system as “objective” is nonsensical without completely redefining the word. You can use the word “objective” to mean whatever you want, obviously, but such a definition is then unrecognizable with respect to morestandard applications to the real world, i.e. “The sky above earth is blue.” Not only is it not an “objective” determination, but I haven’t even gotten into all the specific ways I disagree with unregulated capitalism as “the best possible system.” Many people are (“objectively?”) worse off with less regulation than they are with more, as regulation is applied (for example) to the system that exists in the United States and every other first world country today.You ask why I bring up anarchy. I don’t understand why every time I merely mention the word “anarchy” with libertarians/objectivists, I always get the same defensive answer about how they are not anarchists. I KNOW that objectivists are not anarchists — that’s the point. Earlier, another poster (anon7) declared that “capitalism is the best system to promote personal freedom.” I’m pointing out that, no, it isn’t, because when you pass ANY laws, even laws against murder, you are limiting my freedom and preventing me from doing something I might want to do. Hence anarchy is freer than laissez-faire capitalism with law enforcement. Yes yes, you say that murder is “use of force,” but then, so is property; all you’ve done is defined a specific condition where you’re comfortable with using force. Anon7 even went so far as to say that if there is an apple, which initially belongs to neither of us, then he’s perfectly justified in using force to make sure I don’t get it.And really, I’m fine with acknowledging the gray areas. There’s a boundary where freedom and security encroach on each other, and you’re free to draw the line over here, while I’m free to draw the line over there; and if you and I want to get along, then we’ll either agree on one of our lines or else find a compromise. But to say “This is THE line where all societies must agree, thus sayeth Ayn” seems as useless as taking a Christian’s word for it that morals are absolute because God Said So.I mean, from the looks of this thread, even you and other objectivists seem to have some major disagreements about what is right in some circumstances. That doesn’t bother me at all, because MY position already acknowledges that reasonable people can disagree due to having different values. But if there really are “objective values” that can be measured by some absolute standard, it seems to me that there would be some way of proving that one of you is right and the other is wrong. And I don’t see you coming up with that proof, without appealing to your own axioms that draw different lines in the sand.Okay, get your last words in. I think I’m done with this conversation.Russell

  52. says

    Kazim:Alright, we will get straight to the point:”to describe such a system as “objective” is nonsensical”Why? You repeatedly state that an objective foundation for values is impossible. What is the basis of this belief? On what is this wall of yours grounded?

  53. says

    Dearest, roderick: Well, I won’t beat around the Bu$h, you can take yer preachy idea of what “productive” is and stuff it. Anyway, Rand’s regurgitations are nothing more than hackneyed plagiarism. Her boring crud was old news before it was even published. Retreaded Hobbes, etc. I choose not to waste much of my time any more waxing ad nauseam with Randroids. I know they like to type and type and type—they’re simply in love with the sound of their own arrogant voices—YAWN. Anyway, Alan Greenspan knew Rand personally and is to this day a crazy sycophant of hers. He’s one of the few real world examples of “objectivism” in action. Can you say, ABJECT FAILURE?! No thanks pal. I don’t like people who want the rich to rule. Continue preaching that second-hander, religious goop to the choir, it don’t make no sense in the real world. Arguing with a Randroid is exactly like tussling with a religious fundamentalist. Sorry, I care about “sinners” who may die hideously in, well let’s say, a train wreck—and anyone else your religion has judged as, “unproductive.” Objectivists seem to think that only thems “productive” peeps is special in the eyes of that there universe of ours! Heh, heh.

  54. says

    Actually Greenspan is practically doing the exact opposite of what Objectivists would recommend. The fact that a government-appointed individual such as himself can sway the economy with the snap of his fingers should be the first indication that he’s fallen off the bandwagon – or is it Randwagon? ……. (couldn’t resist)

  55. says

    Roderick I think that you have represented Objecitivist philosophy extremely well throughout the discussion, but there is one statement that I take issue with.”Once an emergency has been introduced, whether natural (e.g. a hurricane) or man-made (e.g. a hold-up man), morality is useless to you as a guide, according to Objectivism.”Rather than reply to this myself I will direct you to a video by an Objectivist that explains it better than I could.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et9-MG3HviMThe video is called “An Objectivist on a Lifeboat”Also I will provide a quote from Rand that should shed light on her position.”It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.”

  56. says

    Kel: I won’t bother to respond to most of that nonsense but I will respond to the most glaring misrepresentation of Objectivism that you made.”I don’t like people who want the rich to rule.”If you think that Objectivists want the rich to rule then you have no idea what they actually stand for. I saw this same mistake in the show when they talked about Galt “ruling the world”. He never wanted to rule anything let alone the world.

  57. says

    Kazim:”Yes yes, you say that murder is “use of force,” but then, so is property; all you’ve done is defined a specific condition where you’re comfortable with using force.”Initiation of force is prohibited because people have a right to their life and to the product of their own productive effort. I won’t go into the justification for that here but you must have read it before if you are as familiar with Rand as you say. Property rights of course all come from the right to the product of your effort. If someone takes your property they are initiating force against you, forcibly taking the product of your effort.Some people make a distinction between material goods as property and land ownership and since you used property lines as an example earlier I will address this argument also. Its true that the land was not created by your effort but it not as if we are drawing arbitrary lines in the sand aqnd forbidding people to cross it. Someone had to make use of the land initially which required work: building houses, farming, etc. And you most likely bought the property using the money that is the product of your effort, it is essentially no different than owning a product made in a factory and the same rights apply.

  58. says

    “…but there is one statement that I take issue with.”Thanks for the catch, coreyd.I didn’t properly distinguish between “metaphysical emergencies” and “natural emergencies,” a distinction Tara Smith makes in “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics (AYNE),” pp.97-98. She suggests that this distinction is implicit in some of Rand’s remarks in the essay “The Ethics of Emergencies,” particularly sentences like this:”Rand observes that ‘illness and poverty are not metaphysical emergencies, they are part of the normal risks of existence.” (Smith, AYNE, p. 98; quoting Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, “The Ethics of Emergencies,” p. 55)Metaphysical emergencies make human life impossible by introducing elements which a human cannot live in due to his nature, such as a fire or a hurricane (to use my earlier example). It’s in this case that morality is inapplicable, because there’s simply no time to stop and consider what one’s moral code would instruct one to do. In this situation, there’s no time to consider how the virtue of honesty will apply to this person’s discussion with his wife tonight, for instance, because it’s likely that this person will never see his wife again, due to his circumstances. The circumstances of the matter require immediate action, in particular escaping one’s doom, not moral contemplation. As Smith puts it, “A metaphysical emergency makes it impossible for a person to abide by morality and survive.” (AYNE, p. 97)A person’s use of force, like a hold-up man, is a man-made version of a “metaphysical emergency,” because his actions also make human life impossible (by rendering the victim’s mind and/or body useless as a means to sustain one’s life).Morality does apply to what Smith refers to as “natural emergencies” however, and my earlier remark was mistaken. How it applies to such a situation (like a good friend falling ill) would differ from normal conditions, however. Smith gives an example of breaking into a neighbor’s vacant house to use their phone (to dial 911) when one’s own isn’t working, as being justified by such an emergency. Since the emergency isn’t an emergency for the neighbors whose property you’ve violated, however, morality would also counsel paying compensation for any damages. In general, these kinds of emergencies, while threatening to (some of) your values, do not make human life impossible, and thus fall into morality’s domain (though while different in its applications).I hope I’ve made the distinction clear.

  59. says

    Brian: Blah-blah-blahbahdee-blah-blah. Sorry, I’ll take Greenspan’s interpretation of objectivism any day over some commenter on a blog. I mean really, he knew her personally and worships her every bit as much as your devout hinny does.Coreyd: Ditto above.Roderick: Sorry, professor condescension, YOU commented on MY post—not the other way around. Some guy on the show said that Rand was brave for writing about the individual at that period of time—or some crap—I disagree. She became the loony creep she was because the USSR closed down her dad’s liquor store or somethin’—heh, heh. It pissed her off to no end. Anyway, I think this history fits her cheap, loathsome social-Darwinistic “objectivism” better.

  60. says

    “Brian: Blah-blah-blahbahdee-blah-blah. Sorry, I’ll take Greenspan’s interpretation of objectivism any day over some commenter on a blog.”Err… ok. I’m not sure how to respond to such blind faith. Why are you even replying to comments if you have interest in what people say? I know Greenspan was into Objectivism back in the day, but does he still claim to be?”I mean really, he knew her personally and worships her every bit as much as your devout hinny does.”You talk in the past tense, and then magically transform it into the present tense. Show me the evidence that Greenspan still claims to follow Objectivism.Also note, I’m not an Objectivist. I’m just interested and have started reading some of Rand’s work. Nice bad assumption on your part, though.

  61. says

    Roderick: I’m not sure I agree with Tara Smith but I think I’ll read her book and do some contemplation of my own before I come to a definite conclusion on that one.Kel: Knowing Ayn Rand does not make Alan Greenspan an Objectivist or an expert on Objectivism the actual recognized experts on the philosophy have also pointed out that Greenspan’s actions and words are not consistent with Objectivism. But it doesn’t matter because your interpretation doesn’t represent his views either.Objectivism is not in any way “social-Darwinistic”. If you insist on arguing with straw-men then I will leave you to do so. This will be the last time I correct your misrepresentations of Objectivism.

  62. says

    Brian, don’t even waste your time with this guy. He’s gone out of his way to insult us, and probably won’t care that you personally are not an “Objectivist.”If he doesn’t want his misinformation and nonsense corrected, and seems content with unjustified attacks, then simply let him be.If Kazim, or someone like him, is still willing to discuss Objectivism (flaws or otherwise), I’d be happy to address them.

  63. says

    Brain: Wow! Ya really got me on that “assuming” thing! Wooo-weee! A real “gotcha”! Yuck-yuck. Heh, heh. I don’t think I stated that I cared what the hell you are or believe. “Show me the evidence that Greenspan still claims to follow Objectivism.” Yes sir, mazza! What’s that, some sorta commando prayer? Oh yeah, how silly of me! Your statements are obviously more fact-based than mine! Self-important people are always so bossy—you ever notice that? You may not be an objectivist, but yer sure as arrogant as one. Look, if yer interested in Greenspan, look it up yerself. He was part of Rand’s special little crazy clique—that’s the fact—now it’s up to you (whatever you are) and the Randroids to prove that he had some sort of epiphany and suddenly dropped his Rand worship. Christmas past, present, or future? I haven’t had dinner with him lately—you? Otherwise, you’re just throwing around weak assumptions in an attempt to endlessly continue your objectivist-style masturbatory rants. And remember, were all just compost that’s fading fast—let’s just try and make everyone as comfortable as possible until we fizzle away. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is for objectivists and other religious zealots.

  64. says

    Note: After re-reading the posts I’m not sure the quote “…don’t even waste your time with this guy. He’s gone out of his way to insult us…” referred to Kazim; however, I think it still applies to Kazim (but not to the same degree as to the person it was directed at).

  65. says

    Kazim said: “…Anon7 even went so far as to say that if there is an apple, which initially belongs to neither of us, then he’s perfectly justified in using force to make sure I don’t get it.”Is that what I said? I though I explictly said: it *might* come to fighting over the apple , because you didn’t provide any details of the context. I figured you would just make up a set of details as you go along, thus the word “might” was used. For example, if you start the fight, I’m not going to just stand there.For Kazim to say this in anyway means:”… he’s perfectly justified in using force to make sure I don’t get it.” — well, I want to keep this civil, so I will not use the four letter “L” word, but you can make your own mind up on that. Other may use alternative lanaguage as the see appropriate.

  66. says

    Coreyd: That makes sense. The issue of “emergencies” is somewhat difficult, and it would be nice for someone to go into more depth about them.Anon7: I thought the context of my post was clear, but I’ll state explicitly that I was referring to “kel dowhower,” not Kazim.I disagree with Kazim’s interpretation of Objectivism, but he’s been respectful (to me, at least, though you may disagree) throughout the comments.Kel, on the other hand, has some issues with Objectivists and finds it necessary to show it, with his insults and nigh-constant sarcasm. This will be the last time I refer to him (Kel), as I think it’s best to just ignore guys like him.

  67. says

    Mark Plus:”Objectivists regularly ridicule people who want to preserve forests and wetlands. But when you cut down forests and drain coastal wetlands, you make water-related natural disasters worse.”Mark, there are certainly irresponsible people who live only in the present and want to cut down all the trees without concern for where wood will come from in the future. And yes, it does seem quite irrational to think and act this way. I don’t know much about logging, but have been watching episodes of Ax Men on the History Channel to see how they do it. For a given region, they will only cut down one section of trees, which they will then re-plant. The next season, they will move on to another section. They have so many sections to work with that, for example, today they are cutting down sections that haven’t been cut down for over half a century. So while it is certainly irrational to go on cutting sprees, I don’t think that’s how all logging companies act – at least, not the ones that plan to stay in business.With all of that said, we must remember that value, purpose, and meaning are nonexistent outside the rational mind. There are environmentalists that would lead you to believe that forests are innately of value – a value seemingly divined from the Heavens, completely independent of man’s purposes. It should be clear what is wrong with this view – that only a volitional, rational being can create purpose for and derive value from the world. It should also be clear that only a rational being would keep in mind his long-term goals and the goals of those he values, rather than choose to squander his resources as quickly as possible – there’s nothing reasonable about being wasteful.

  68. says

    anon7-coreyd-roderick-randroids:What ever shall I do without the “corrections” provided so charitably by your real fine examples of arrogant, unsolicited preaching? How WILL I go on? Oh, mummery! Posh and bother!Have a great day, gentlemen!

  69. says

    Roderick: I looked up the section on emergencies in the Ayn Rand Lexicon and, even though I have yet to read Smith’s book, I have to say that her statements don’t quite fit with Rand’s. Of course which ideas are correct is another issue entirely, right now I just want to determine which is the correct interpretation of what Rand was saying.This is a quote that I took from the Ayn Rand Lexicon.”An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible…By its nature, an emergency situation is temporary; if it were to last, men would perish.”She defines an emergency not only as a metaphysical emergency, but also by the fact that it is temporary. However she does not say that in these emergencies ethics do not apply. It is only a different application of the same basic principles. If ethics did not apply then there would be values and therefore no reason to choose any action over any other. This is not what she is saying.

  70. says

    Coreyd:Maybe this will help.Consider the relationship between values and physical force:”Force invalidates and paralyzes a man’s judgment, demanding that he act against it, thus rendering him morally impotent. A value which one is forced to accept at the price of surrendering one’s mind, is not a value to anyone; the forcibly mindless can neither judge nor choose nor value.”[“What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 23http://aynrandlexicon.org/lexicon/physicalforce.html]In Rand’s view, the use (or threat) of physical force destroys the ability of value-pursuit for the victim (and the initiator of force). From this, I infer that morality and ethics are also useless as guides, and thus no longer apply.This doesn’t seem to be a case of an “emergency,” that she refers to in most of “The Ethics of Emergencies.” So I think there’s evidence within Rand’s works which suggest such a distinction.Also, while discussing the distinction in emergencies, Smith puts in a footnote:”This [emergency] distinction is suggested by Rand’s discussion in ‘The Ethics of Emergencies,’ pp. 54-55, and was brought to my attention by Leonard Peikoff in a very helpful discussion of these issues.”So I think Smith’s view is the correct interpretation of Rand on this issue. If you think she’s mistaken about ethics not applying to a certain kind of emergency, you’ll have to show how morality can be used in “metaphysical emergencies” like with force-wielders (i.e. show why there’s no basis for the distinction). Or simply come up with an entirely new interpretation.

  71. says

    I think Ayn Rand’s Objectivism Philosophy is brilliant. Reason is the only absolute. It’s a sad thing that her fiction books have a cult following though. I don’t recommend reading fiction at all! These Rand cultists would do themselves a service by reading math and physics books instead of reading the same fiction books repeatedly. To read fiction you might as well be reading the Bible or the Koran or something dumb.

  72. says

    It is my belief that Ayn Rand thought Capitalism solves everything because nature works on a survival of the fittest basis. Businesses go bankrupt just like species go extinct and some business monopolize when they have the demand for their supply. When the government runs a business it usually is at a significant loss of profit at taxpayer expense, and hence socialism and communism don’t work.I think, however, that socialism succeeds whenever there is an ecconomic expansion or a boom in population or is that just social security. Anyhow, people need to die off in order for social security to remain stable, none of this living too long stuff. Either that or the social security taxes will need to be raised on the workers or the retirement age needs to be raised like in Cuba.

  73. says

    Response to Quantum Flux:For the record, I recommend reading fiction. Putting oneself in those fictional worlds portrayed in literature can be a very illuminating experience–sometimes even a life-changing one. I use myself and my experience with “The Fountainhead” as evidence of that.In regards to your interpretation of Rand’s view of capitalism: I know of no evidence which points to that as being a valid interpretation.Capitalism, in Rand’s view, allowed a practically endless amount of economic values and products to be produced, made available, and traded amongst men, not “jungle law” where only the best or “fittest” businesses could “survive.” Her view of capitalism was not an application of a certain interpretation of Darwinian evolution.I think Rand believed that capitalism could solve a great many of our economic/survival problems because:”The action required to sustain human life is primarily intellectual: everything man needs has to be discovered by his mind and produced by his effort. Production is the application of reason to the problem of survival . . . .Since knowledge, thinking, and rational action are properties of the individual, since the choice to exercise his rational faculty or not depends on the individual, man’s survival requires that those who think be free of the interference of those who don’t. Since men are neither omniscient nor infallible, they must be free to agree or disagree, to cooperate or to pursue their own independent course, each according to his own rational judgment. Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man’s mind.” [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal “What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 17.]http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.htmlAnd capitalism, in her view, was (and is) eminently the system of freedom.I find your views on soc. sec. odd (to put it nicely).

  74. says

    It stinks to come across discussions like these three months after they happened. I came across this show while searching for podcasts that addressed Objectivism a little while ago, and I was disappointed with what I heard. I think the show’s viewers and listeners would have been better served had they had an Objectivist on-air. If anything, just to get an accurate representation of the philosophy. It’s one thing to disagree with Objectivism; it’s another to misrepresent it. Just in case the hosts or anyone who has come across this blog recently would like to see a “rebuttal” of some of the statements offered on the show, I’m in the middle of writing a quick set of blog posts that address the accuracy and context issues with the AE’s presentation of Objectivism. I can’t speak for Ayn Rand or Leonard Peikoff, but I can do the research to look up what they said and compare it to what the hosts offered. And I did. You can find the first of my responses below: http://tinyurl.com/6rq822

  75. says

    First of all, I should say that I am a huge fan of the Atheist Experience, and that I feel a bit torn between my admiration for your work there and my disappointment for what I think is an extremely inaccurate understanding of Objectivism on this particular episode.I have the rare advantage of being someone who listened to "Objecting to Objectivism" prior to reading any of Ayn Rand's works — and I ate it up, based on what sophomoric smears about her I had heard elsewhere. A classmate of mine urged me this past April to give Rand an honest, scholarly reading, and I have since read The Virtue of Selfishness, For the New Intellectual, Philosophy: Who Needs It, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and Atlas Shrugged, as well as Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (by far the best book for a comprehensive understanding of Objectivism.) Next on my list are: Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Romantic Manifesto, and Fountainhead.I decided to give this episode a fair second listening, for a before-and-after sort of comparison, and I found myself completely overwhelmed by what I can only compare to the feeling I get when I hear a theist say, "Well if you're an atheist, why aren't you killin' people?" or the headache I suffered while watching Bill O'Reilly attempting to pull the rug out from under Richard Dawkins' atheism with the level of analysis we've come to expect from him.I obviously can't deconstruct the entire episode here, but I think it would be a massive disservice to anyone reading this if I did not recommend a thorough and critical reading of Rand's non-fiction before spreading any Fox News-quality memes about what she did and did not think to people who now probably won’t bother to read it themselves. It is far superior to her fiction in presenting clearly exactly what she thought, and why. The AE episode aside — simply reading this blog post and its comments has indicated to me that you have not yet done so. As an individual, I don’t care what you do and don’t read before forming an opinion, but when you are in the position of influencing as many people as you do, it is truly unfortunate. Whether you accept her philosophy or not is of no consequence to me. I hesitate ever to become a mouthpiece for such things. I only regret the fact that you and thousands of listeners unfamiliar to Rand's serious and meticulous treatments of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, etc., now have a Cliff's Notes interpretation of a rather intricate and intellectually demanding, rationally cohesive philosophical system. All the best with the show, though, truly. You guys do an amazing job, and I have learned something new from each episode. Keep it up.

  76. says

    I have recently become a huge fan of the show and have been hugely grateful for the direct role the Atheist Experience and the Non Prophets have played in helping me become active in my atheism. This isn't the purpose of my email, I just wanted to get my gratitude out of the way. Thanks! I just recently watched the "Objecting to objectivism" episode, and had a small point I wanted to bring up. Something that came up several times during the episode was the idea that in objectivism, there is the assertion that objectivists must all have the same values. However, in all of my readings on objectivism, it appears that objectivism is based almost explicitly on the notion of subjective value and its relationship to objective morality. In fact, the belief in the superiority of capitalism, as it is held by objectivists, is based entirely on subjective value. In those economic terms, for example, if I have 7 chickens and you have 3 cows, and we decide to trade 3 of my chickens for 1 of your cows, that is a transaction that can only occur if we value these resources differently based on the utility they add to our existence, otherwise the transaction would not have taken place at all. There are some values which we all share by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings (ie. valuing life more than death, valuing our property, etc.). I think these particular values are the ones Rand asserts as absolute, and that may just be her overly-dramatic, authoritative way of saying that they are merely common to all humans due to the similar circumstance of existing as conscious beings. It is definitely possible that she was just being unnecessarily black-and-white, as was her usual attitude, especially in her fiction. In the end, though, it seems to me that the point of objectivism is to take into account people's values, whatever they may be, and structure them in a way that best fits the model of a beneficial, objective morality as it pertains to their situation. This is not to say I don’t have my qualms with Rand herself. I was completely disgusted by the piece at the end written by her ex-lover, true or not. That kind of authoritarian nonsense is unfortunately common for most "Randroids." Also, her loose justification of infidelity is something that I take big issue with. I never cared much to look at the life of Ayn Rand herself, it just seemed that idea was inaccurately represented. Thanks for reading this, and I hope to hear back 

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