[ the actual title of this page:]
http://TheGodlessConservativeParty.Org/AynRandPhilosopherforDummies.html

 

 

Ayn Rand's "Objectivism"
was NOT Philosophy.

It was Polemics,
pure and simple.

Ayn Rand

"Philosopher

for Dummies"

smokingAynRand.jpg

The impact of the teaching of Ayn Rand on the Republican Party has become so great in recent years that I have created the following three pages to deal with the very important issues raised by this phenomenon:

"The Virtue of Selfishness"

Does the fact that Ayn Rand has persuaded a number of people to believe that she was a great thinker prove that she actually was? Or should that reputation have been earned, rather, by the quality of the thinking manifested in her works?
        I don't pretend to know everything about everything. And I haven't even read all of Ayn Rand works. But as a serious student of Philosophy and of Christian thought, I have done a thorough study of one of the few books that Ayn Rand dedicated to arguing for her beliefs,"The Virtue of Selfishness". For a writer who was famous for being so verbose when it came to promoting her philosophy in novels, it's amazing how little ink she expended what might be called "scholarship"! This book has only 139 pages.
        If fans of Ayn Rand are offended by my calling this critique of mine "AynRandPhilosopherforDummies.html", I'm not sorry, because this "thinker" doesn't deserve any more respect than what she showed other thinkers with much greater repute than her own.
        I'm going to provide five reasons below for why it takes "dummies" to view Ayn Rand's ideas as "great" :

  1. The way Rand dismissed all the great minds who preceeded her.
  2. The way Rand ignored the demands of logic.
  3. The way Rand argued against "altruism".
  4. The way Rand argued against "groups".
  5. The way Rand argued against "government".
  6. The way Rand argued against "socialism".

I've set Rand's words apart by coloring them purple.

1) Rand's dismissal of all of history's philosophers, whom she considers her inferiors :

"In the sorry record of the history of mankind's ethics—with a few rare, and unsuccessful, exceptions—moralists have regarded ethics as the province of whims, that is: of the irrational. Some of them did so explicitly, by intention—others implicitly, by default. A "whim" is a desire experienced by a person who does not know and does not care to discover its cause.
        No philosopher has given a rational, objectively demonstrable, scientific answer to the question of why man needs a code of values. "

2) Rand showed little appreciation for the demands of logic

( Now, anybody who knows anything about logic, avoids "universal negatives" (like "no philosopher . . . ") because they are so hard to prove. And Rand is showing why.
       Does she offer any evidence to support her argument? What would be needed is any number of examples. But what does she provide? Not a shred of evidence.
       Yet this is all that's needed for the reason-loving, logic-using "objectivists".

" So long as that question remained unanswered, no rational, scientific,objective code of ethics could be discovered or defined. (another "universal negative") The greatest of all philosophers, Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of:why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise."..

Objectivists know that what Rand says is true, because she quotes precisely where and what Aristotle said on this subject. Right ? Wrong! She provides no evidence at all.

"This could hardly be called rational, yet most philosophers have now decided to declare that reason has failed, that ethics is outside the power of reason, that no rational ethics can ever be defined, and that in the field of ethics—in the choice of his values, of his actions, of his pursuits, of his life's goals—man must be guided by something other than reason. By what? Faith—instinct—intuition—revelation—feeling—taste—urge—wish— whim. Today, as in the past, most philosophers agree that the ultimate standard of ethics is whim (they call it "arbitrary postulate" or "subjective choice" or "emotional commitment")—and the battle is only over the question or whose whim: one's own or society's or the dictator's or God's. Whatever else they may disagree about, today's moralists agree that ethics is a subjective issue and that the three things barred from its field are: reason— mind—reality.
        If you wonder why the world is now collapsing to a lower and ever lower rung of hell, this is the reason.
        If you want to save civilization, it is this premise of modern ethics—and of all ethical history—that you must challenge."

If Objectivists followed Rand because she is logical and/or rational, which is what she claims to be, then they could point to all of the rational arguments that Ayn Rand provided in support of the positions she took and taught.
        But what you find if you study Rand with your eyes wide open are positions that Rand simply believes and which she expects her followers to take on faith.
        You would assume, wouldn't you, that someone who claims to admire Aristotle as much as Rand does, would apply his teaching about logic to her own thinking and writing. But having been a serious student of Aristotle's philosophy myself for over 3 years, including his book on logic, I see little evidence in Rand's work that she learned much of anything from Aristotle's teaching on that subject.
        Here's the way another serious scholar, Peter St. Andre, described Rand's scholarship in a 2014 online critique :
        "These sentences reveal such a fundamental lack of familiarity with the sophisticated arguments presented in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (and their connections to his biological insights) that I wonder if Rand ever did more than glance over the copy of the complete works of Aristotle that she bought in the 1940s (Branden 1986, 192)."
        A Randian web page says: "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is the only full-length non-fiction book Rand published in her lifetime. All of her other non-fiction books were essay collections. The contents of the book were originally serialized in The Objectivist." In my humble opinion, any "philosopher" whose thinking was spread through fiction, rather than scholarly works ought to be called a "pop thinker" at best. I haven't read her famous novels, but there's more than enough fiction for me in her more "philosophical treatise, "The Virtue of Selfishness".
        Ayn Rand was proud of the little education she had received from others.
        I don't know that Ayn Rand spent much time in college. Maybe that's what made her such an authority - in her mind - . Like Glenn Beck, who couldn't make it through a single semester of college, and Rush Limbaugh, who may have made it through one year at most, Rand was contemptuous of college professors.

Ayn Rand talked enough about "logic" to make it likely that she spent at least some time studying it. Most anyone who has learned anything about that subject probably remembers the fallacy called "the straw man argument". It consists of claiming that one’s opponent holds views that are easily proven to be erroneous (somewhat like a warrior setting up straw dummies and then trying to impress unsuspecting viewers with his prowess in defeating them). On pages 134-136 of this little book of hers, you can see Rand modeling this classic fallacy, as she accuses others of logical malpractice:

“This is particularly prevalent in college classrooms. Many professors use the Argument from Intimidation to stifle independent thinking among the students, to evade questions they cannot answer, to discourage any critical analysis of their arbitrary assumptions or any departure from the intellectual status quo. “
        “All smears are Arguments from Intimidation: they consist of derogatory assertions without any evidence or proof, offered as a substitute for evidence or proof, aimed at the moral cowardice or unthinking credulity of the hearers. “
        “We have all heard it and are hearing it constantly:

        How lucky this "Philosopher for Dummies" was to have such clueless straw opponents!

3) Rand's war on "altruism"

Now, as a well-documented severe critic of religion myself, and considering her early experience growing up in the early 1900's as the daughter of a Jewish small business man in a country totally dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Imperial regime which was so closely associated with it, I understand why Ayn Rand had grave problems with religion. But that doesn't justify attacking anything and everything about religion and least of all attacking that which may be the most worthwhile and defensible about it.
        However justified you might be in disliking a neighbor of yours, or with a public official, would that justify your dragging him into court in order to accuse him of a crime that he hadn't committed?
        Although a small book, Ayn Rand's “The Virtue of Selfishness” is a very important work, because it's purpose is to establish the very foundation of her political philosophy, that the whole purpose of one's life should be to promote one’s own selfish interests and happiness, without regard for anyone else, or for society.
        I have a hunch that Ayn Rand zeroed-in on altruism, not because she felt that was religion's worst feature, but because she felt that if she could undermine this most important core belief, she could undermine everything else about religion. all in one fell swoop. Unfortunately for her, she didn't come close to hitting her mark, as I will easily show below.
        I say "easily", because it's hard for anyone familiar with good scholarship to take such a work seriously. On the one hand, she compares herself to all the philosophers who have gone before and dismisses them all, without ever quoting a single word that any of them has written. And when it comes to religion, she dismisses religion in general, and one of its most basic principle without ever quoting the Bible, or any other religious book or authority. There is not a shred of evidence in this book of hers that she has even read anything that she critiques with such abandon! In this entire book, there is a total of 5 or perhaps 6 footnotes, not one of which references anything written by anyone but herself or her allies.
        To see what foolishness is produced by such willful blindness, you can see for yourself in the quotes below how she drones on and on and on about the essence of " altruism" being, in her mind, hatred of one's self, when she could have avoided that mistake by simply exposing herself to what Jesus Christ actually taught on the matter, which is best exemplified by chapter 10 of Luke's Gospel where Jesus summed up the whole of his religion in two basic principles, the second of which was "you must love your neighbor just as you love yourself."
        I dare any follower of Ayn Rand to find any instance of any representative of religion teaching that you must love your neighbor and hate yourself" or " you must love your neighbor instead of yourself”. Yet that is what Ayn Rand constantly sets up as her straw man in this book and constant constantly argues against. Just because Rand constantly makes the same claim in a variety of ways is no substitute for making a solid argument.

Unlike Ayn Rand, I don’t ask my readers to take my word for any of my assertions. The following are all examples of Ayn Rand misrepresenting the beliefs of altruists:

“Altruism holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value—and it is logical that renunciation, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates.” {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!} (p 29)
        “If a man accepts the ethics of altruism, he suffers the following consequences (in proportion to the degree of his acceptance):
        1. Lack of self-esteem—since his first concern in the realm of values is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it.
        2. Lack of respect for others—since he regards mankind as a herd of doomed beggars crying for someone’s help.” . . . {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!}(p. 39)
        “Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less “selfish,” than help to those one loves).“ (p.39)
        “The moral purpose of a man's life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that he is indifferent to all men, that human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental— as disasters are marginal and incidental in the course of human existence— and that values, not disasters, are the goal, the first concern and the motive power of his life.” {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!}(p.43-4 )
        "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for me." { Big deal. Nobody else does either!} (p.43-4 )

"Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one's own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.{Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!}
        Hence the appalling immorality, the chronic injustice, the grotesque double standards, the insoluble conflicts and contradictions that have characterized human relationships and human societies throughout history, under all the variants of the altruist ethics.
        Observe the indecency of what passes for moral judgments today. An industrialist who produces a fortune, and a gangster who robs a bank are regarded as equally immoral, since they both sought wealth for their own "selfish" benefit. A young man who gives up his career in order to support his parents and never rises beyond the rank of grocery clerk is regarded as morally superior to the young man who endures an excruciating struggle and achieves his personal ambition. A dictator is regarded as moral, since the unspeakable atrocities he committed were intended to benefit "the people," not himself." . . . {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!}
        "Since nature does not provide man with an automatic form of survival, since he has to support his life by his own effort, the doctrine that concern with one's own interests is evil means that man's desire to live is evil—that man's life, as such, is evil.{Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!} No doctrine could be more evil than that." ( p.7)
       "I have come here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life, it had to be said. the world is perishing from an orgy of self sacrifice." (p. )

Rand had such a distorted view of "altruism" (derived from the Latin version of the word for "other") that she couldn't see any difference between being forced to serve others against one's will, out of servitude, and willingly doing things for others out of love, as is obvious in the important paragraph below:

"Every political system is based on some code of ethics. The dominant ethics of mankind's history were variants of the altruist-collectivist doctrine which subordinated the individual to some higher authority, either mystical or social. Consequently, most political systems were variants of the same statist tyranny, differing only in degree, not in basic principle, limited only by the accidents of tradition, of chaos, of bloody strife and periodic collapse. Under all such systems, morality was a code applicable to the individual, but not to society. Society was placed outside the moral law, as its embodiment or source or exclusive interpreter — and the inculcation of self-sacrificial devotion to social duty was regarded as the main purpose of ethics in man's earthly existence. . .{Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!} This was true of all statist systems, under all variants of the altruist-collectivist ethics, mystical or social. "The Divine Right of Kings" summarizes the political theory of the first -- "Vox populi, vox dei" of the second. As witness: the theocracy of Egypt, with the Pharaoh as an embodied god -- the unlimited majority rule or democracy of Athens -- the welfare state run by the Emperors of Rome -- the Inquisition of the late Middle Ages -- the absolute monarchy of France -- the welfare state of Bismarck's Prussia -- the gas chambers of Nazi Germany -- the slaughterhouse of the Soviet Union.” ( p.86 )Does Rand offer even a shred of proof to back all of these sweeping claims of hers? No. Her readers must take it all on faith!

“The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others— and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”(p. 23)

When Rand says“The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.” is just another way of arguing for the impossible to prove universal negative equivalent :“there is no moral purpose as great as the achievement of one’s own happiness”. Yet Rand expects everybody to accept that sweeping claim - like most of what she proclaimed - just because it has come from her lips (or pen)!

“To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love—because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone. It is only on the basis of rational selfishness—on the basis of justice—that men can be fit to live together in a free, peaceful, prosperous, benevolent, rational society. {Once again, this is just another way of arguing for the impossible to prove universal negative statement "No one is capable of love but a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, "}Can man derive any personal benefit from living in a human society? Yes—if it is a human society. The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade. Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation; the knowledge potentially available to man is greater than any one man could begin to acquire in his own life-span; every man gains an incalculable benefit from the knowledge discovered by others. The second great benefit is the division of labor: it enables a man to devote his effort to a particular field of work and to trade with others who specialize in other fields. This form of cooperation allows all men who take part in it to achieve a “Egoism holds that man is an end in himself; altruism holds that man is a means to the ends of others. Egoism holds that, morally, the beneficiary of an action should be the person who acts; altruism holds that, morally, the beneficiary of an action should be someone other than the person who acts.“ {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!} (-p.53 )

        (This particular chapter was written by one of Rand's most devout acolytes at the time, Nathaniel Branden)

The following cover blurb for one of Rand’s other non-fiction collections "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" (from a Signet paperback printing) shows how crucial Rand's war against altruism was: "The fundamentals of capitalism are being battered by a flood of altruism, which is the cause of the modern world's collapse. This is the view of Ayn Rand, a view so radically opposed to prevailing attitudes that is constitutes a major philosophic revolution. In this series of essays, she presents her stand on the persecution of big business, the causes of war, the student rebellion, and the evils of altruism. Here is a challenging new look at modern society by one of the most provocative intellectuals on the American scene."

Far from being opposed to the happiness of each individual as Ayn Rand claims, rightly understood, altruism can enhance the happiness of individuals. Let's take the example of individuals A, B, C, D, E, F. If each of these loves only him or herself, as Rand would have them do, then each is loved and helped, etc. by one person, themself. But if they are altruists and “love their neighbors as they do themselves”, then each of these is loved and helped, etc. by 5 people, in addition to themselves. And the larger the group, the better.

Ayn Rand was not a philosopher who happened to have an interest in politics. She was a polemicist, first and foremost, who managed to persuade millions that she was a profound expert on government, despite the fact that she had never governed even so much as a family! Whatever success she has enjoyed over the years hasn’t been because of the intellectual quality of her ideas, but because of their political value to those in our society who are the rich and powerful, like the Koch brothers, and love a “philosopher” who idolizes them for being so.
        Because she hated government so much, she created a so-called “philosophy of objectivism”, whose objective was to put government out of existence. In her philosophy, individuals are not only supreme, they are the only entities that even exist. Rand seems incapable of seeing the world from anything but the viewpoint of her own two eyes. She even argues that "groups" are nothing but a fiction. According to her, if you view yourself as a member of a family, a church, a club, a union, a profession, a business, a battalion, a military service, a city, and state or country, a country, you are delusional, because "groups" are nothing but intellectual fictions (i.e. delusions), because only individuals are "objective", or real. If that sounds strange to you, don't blame me, blame Ayn Rand and those who believe in her so-called "philosophy".

"Since only an individual man can possess rights, the expression "individual rights" is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today's intellectual chaos). But the expression "collective rights" is a contradiction in terms."
        Any group or "collective," large or small, is only a number of individuals. A group can have no rights other than the rights of its individual members. In a free society, the "rights" of any group are derived from the rights of its members through their voluntary, individual choice and contractual agreement, and are merely the application of these individual rights to specific undertaking. Every legitimate group undertaking is based on the participants' right of free association and free trade. (By "legitimate," I mean: noncriminal and freely formed, that is, a group which no one was forced to join.)" (p.95-96)
        The right of an industrial concern to engage in business is derived from the right of its owners to invest their money in a productive venture -- from their right to hire employees -- from the right of the employees to sell their services -- from the right of all those involved to produce and to sell their products -- from the right of the customers to buy (or not to buy) those products. Every link of this complex chain of contractual relationships rests on individual rights, individual choices, individual agreements. Every agreement is delimited, specified and subject to certain conditions, that is, dependent upon a mutual trade to mutual benefit.
        This is true of all legitimate groups or associations in a free society: partnerships, business concerns, professional associations, labor unions (voluntary ones), political parties, etc. It applies also to all agency agreements: the right of one man to act for or represent another or others is derived from the rights of those he represents and is delegated to him by their voluntary choice, for a specific, delimited purpose -- as in the case of a lawyer, a business representative, a labor union delegate, etc.
        “A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. Any group that does not recognize this principle is not an association, but a gang or a mob. Any doctrine of group activities that does not recognize individual rights is a doctrine of mob rule or legalized lynching.
        The notion of ?“collective rights?” (the notion that rights belong to groups, not to individuals) means that ?“rights?” belong to some men, but not to others—that some men have the ?“right?” to dispose of others in any manner they please—and that the criterion of such privileged position consists of numerical superiority. {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!}Nothing can ever justify or validate such a doctrine—and no one ever has. Like the altruist morality from which it is derived, this doctrine rests on mysticism: either on the old-fashioned mysticism of faith in supernatural edicts, like ?“The Divine Right of Kings?”—or on the social mystique of modern collectivists who see society as a super-organism, as some supernatural entity apart from and superior to the sum of its individual members.“ (p. 96) {Rand misrepresenting her rival's views!}

ModernConservative

4) Rand's war on "government"

This web page isn't finished. I'm working on a lot more logical fallacies that pass for "rational thinking" in objectivist circles.

"Among the things offensive to followers of Ayn Rand is the concept of one volunteering their time in the service of others. In 1995, President Bill Clinton called on all American's to give of their time in service to those in need. Along with the future Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and other dignitaries, Clinton held a volunteer summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Discussed at this meeting were all the ways in which citizens could make this a better society through the giving of their time. Whether it be helping teach others to read, picking up trash on highways, coaching a kid's sports team, helping out at a homeless shelter, or numerous other ways of service. While most people cheered the idea, faithful followers of Ayn Rand's Objectivist principles let their feelings be known.
        Guest newspaper columns written by the leaders of the "Ayn Rand Institute" were seen in papers all across the nation. The very idea of volunteer service so offended the Randians that some even picketed outside this summit! Youthful members of college Ayn Rand clubs were seen on CSPAN and other cable networks expressing their outrage."

In a 1963 essay entitled "The Assault on Integrity." by Greenspan in Ayn Rand's anthology Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Alan Greenspan - a disciple of Rand's at the time - argued that "regulation which is based on force and fear undermines the moral base of business dealings." As Ron Paul would do 46 years later, Greenspan argued for the entombment of every form of regulation, from local building inspectors to the Food and Drug Administration. Greenspan said, "It is precisely the 'greed' of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking, which is the unexcelled protector of the consumer."

This web page isn't finished. I'm working on a lot more logical fallacies that pass for "rational thinking" in objectivist circles.

Other Philosophers' opinions of Ayn Rand :

"I'm a PhD philosopher and former philosophy professor and can assure you that no one in any major philosophy department regards Rand as a serious thinker. . . . Rand’s faux heroic romanticism, especially in the novels, make her popular among geeky tekky libertarians who mostly are not that well off." (i.e. "wannabees")
        "Justin Schwartz, PhD, Philosophy and Political,Science, Univ. of Michigan; MPhil, History
       from https://www.quora.com/Why-do-Republicans-accept-Ayn-Rand%E2%80%99s-philosophy ;

Further Reading: