Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism Continued

The more I read about objectivism and Ayn Rand – the latest being this London Review of Books overview of her works – the more I befuddled I become at how people are simply in love with her and her books. Out of the four basic principles of Objectivism, I happen to agree with two of them:

Politics: capitalism
Epistemology: reason

But not with:

Metaphysics: objective reality (I’m more of a relativist)
Ethics: self-interest (what??)

I reviewed Atlas Shrugged here. Sure – I love the emphasis on the mind and intellectualism…but not enough of it to make it my life philosophy.

4 Responses to Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism Continued

  1. Hamen Cheese says:

    Do you have a search engine somewhere on your blog?

  2. ben casnocha says:

    Ah…thanks for the reminder. It’s been too long! Just added it to top of right bar.

  3. Dave Jilk says:

    Objective reality: at the end of the day, all this really means is that reality is what it is, regardless of what we perceive or wish. If people (or animals) didn’t exist, reality would still be what it is. Note that this makes Objectivism a fundamentally atheist philosophy (this is not necessarily obvious, but
    true). This is in contrast to a Platonic/Kantian sort of world that is more oriented around idealistic forms or a priori ideas, and where the “real” world is not really important or accessible.

    Rand emphasizes objective reality for, I think, two reasons: first, her distrust of social interactions and groupthink (observe her use of the term “social metaphysician”) – which necessarily ignores such social realities as money and legal systems, not to mention all the most important elements of running a business; second, for the tendency of people to think that government/God/wishes can make the world something it is not — can produce goods in impossible ways, etc. People really do think this. For example, they think we can fix the healthcare system by creating universal healthcare and making doctors effectively employees of the government.

    So there is much to be learned from Rand’s work, but its emphasis is not always right.

    The same is even more true for the issue of self-interest vs. altruism. In most people’s minds, altruism and benevolence are very similar, but not to Rand. And she is making a very strong point, that people have claimed that the work product of creators belongs to others, not to them, and that it’s only by benevolence that OTHERS let them keep any of it. That’s all backwards. If your business is successful, its success is yours, not mine or someone who has failed to make a living. And of course, the altrustic ethical system never just stays in the boundaries of ethics — it always moves into politics, where it is typically imposed by those who are acting in an irrationally selfish way (e.g., Ted Kennedy, the man who won’t give away his own wealth but wants to take ours – likely because he didn’t earn a penny of his – is he altruistic or simply a bully?) to steal from the productive.

    On the other hand, it is very clear that anyone who fails to consider the interest of others with whom he deals will quickly become tiresome to deal with, and few people buy from or spend time with him, even if he has a crazy cool invention. This is why inventors with no marketing sense and social skills rarely get rich.

    Rand and supporters would claim that her philosophy includes “rational relationships” — but it’s really lip service and is treated at a very shallow level.

    I could go on, but my point is that it’s easy to miss Rand’s point if you don’t understand that her philosophical position is also burdened with problematic attitudes.

  4. ben casnocha says:

    Dave thanks for the detailed comment.

    > Objective reality: at the end of the day, all this really means is
    > that reality is what it is, regardless of what we perceive or wish. If
    > people (or animals) didn’t exist, reality would still be what it is.
    > Note that this makes Objectivism a fundamentally atheist philosophy
    > (this is not necessarily obvious, but
    > true). This is in contrast to a Platonic/Kantian sort of world that is
    > more oriented around idealistic forms or a priori ideas, and where the
    > “real” world is not really important or accessible.

    Got it, but I don’t see it this way. I don’t think “reality is what it is.” I think you’re condemned to a certain perspective. The Dalai Lama said in his book The Universe and a Single Atom: “Scientific materialism upholds an objective world independent of the preconceptions and perceptions of the scientist analyzing them.” I’m not familiar too much with the Kantian worldview.

    > Rand emphasizes objective reality for, I think, two reasons: first, her
    > distrust of social interactions and groupthink (observe her use of the
    > term “social metaphysician”) – which necessarily ignores such social
    > realities as money and legal systems, not to mention all the most
    > important elements of running a business; second, for the tendency of
    > people to think that government/God/wishes can make the world something
    > it is not — can produce goods in impossible ways, etc. People really
    > do think this. For example, they think we can fix the healthcare system
    > by creating universal healthcare and making doctors effectively
    > employees of the government.

    I sort of understand your first point, but I find your second point a bit strange. I see the connection between objective reality and God (though I, for one, believe in neither an completely objective reality nor God), but not “wishes” or “government.” Your healthcare example is a political argument, not philosophical.

    > The same is even more true for the issue of self-interest vs. altruism.
    > In most people’s minds, altruism and benevolence are very similar,
    > but not to Rand. And she is making a very strong point, that people
    > have claimed that the work product of creators belongs to others, not
    > to them, and that it’s only by benevolence that OTHERS let them keep
    > any of it. That’s all backwards. If your business is successful, its
    > success is yours, not mine or someone who has failed to make a living.
    > And of course, the altrustic ethical system never just stays in the
    > boundaries of ethics — it always moves into politics, where it is
    > typically imposed by those who are acting in an irrationally selfish
    > way (e.g., Ted Kennedy, the man who won’t give away his own wealth but
    > wants to take ours – likely because he didn’t earn a penny of his – is
    > he altruistic or simply a bully?) to steal from the productive.

    Ah, politics again. :-) Josh makes an acute point in the emails I’ll forward about the problems with the term “selfishness.” You seem to think along similar lines. But I guess how I view the altruism ethical system is different. For example, I don’t see why being a full fledged altruist is mutually exclusive with realizing that my work product is my own. That is, I don’t see appropriating credit to others as a chief characteristic of altruism as much as giving to others in need before yourself. I wonder what Rand would think about “community service” and charity. I feel like her view on this is closely linked with her belief in laizze-faire capitalism and the invisible hand of Adam Smith, which has some serious gaps!

    Thanks for the thoughts Dave. Good stuff.

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