An Objectivist who goes by John Jr. believes a strict view of the teachings of Ayn Rand…remains necessary to fully understand Objectivist Ethics. Because of this…he took issue with my analysis of Objectivism. Here he is unleashed. I did some formatting for easier reading and SEO purposes. For the original format click here.
Concerning your blog posts on Objectivist Ethics: Note: I’ve also written articles on other blogs using the first name Robert.
Hi, Robert, I’ll get right to the point: First, while you seem to have a decent grasp of economics and politics (government) from an Objectivist perspective, you also appear to have some very odd notions about the more fundamental, foundational and logically prior aspects of Objectivism. I’ll begin with two quotes:
“In any hour or issue of his life, Man is free to think or to evade that effort.” [Ayn Rand. “The Virtue of Selfishness,” 20.]
“The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism.” [Leonard Peikoff. “The Ominous Parallels,” 305.]
Objectivism’s Chain of Reasoning
I gather from your blog that you may not be aware that Objectivism’s politics and economics are not primaries, but consequences of a long chain of reasoning, reason being the “objective” focus of Rand’s philosophy, which philosophy is an integrated whole…a “ladder” of reasoning on which each higher rung is dependent, objectively, upon the truth-value of all of the rungs below it. If one rung is flawed, broken or missing, all the rungs above it are almost certainly flawed also (the one rare exception being that, even a conclusion based upon flawed premises and faulty reasoning can…purely accidentally…turn out to be true) and one’s progress is necessarily stopped at that point on the ladder until the error has been corrected.
As a comprehensive, integrated, hierarchical philosophical system, Objectivism does not permit one (logically) to mentally leap over or ignore a rung that one disagrees with without being able to rationally refute it (and “show one’s work,” i.e., one’s evidence and reasoning), not, at least, with intellectual impunity. One either accepts every link in a valid chain of reasoning or one is logically obligated to demonstrate…rationally…that an error in reasoning (facts and/or logic) has occurred at that point, which, when proven, would invalidate all of the reasoning in the chain beyond (or above, in the case of the ladder analogy) that point. That is how a fully rational, OBJECTIVE epistemology must proceed. One may not arbitrarily skip a rung on the ladder of reason…no matter how many years one has “meditated” upon it (meditation being the emptying of the mind of concepts and, therefore, of reason).
Primacy of Reason
You see, Robert, Ayn Rand did NOT begin with political and economic liberty (i.e., capitalism) and then proceed to create a philosophy which supported that notion. Rather, she began with the primacy of existence, and with reason as Man’s only means of gaining reliable and accurate knowledge about the world. Rand began with the axioms “existence exists” (the primacy of existence) plus, “I am aware of it” (the axiom of consciousness), and with reason (and its tool, logic) as man’s only means of knowledge. Said Rand herself:
“I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism, and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.” [“the Objectivist,” September, 1971; 1.]
With that background, I can now address the few issues I have with your article. I will take them one at a time for clarity. First up: The end of your 3rd paragraph in part one (Selfishness Unleashed – restated in Objectivist Ethics – Reality or Illusion ), wherein you speak about, “irrationally selfish behavior.” Without going into too many details of my argument against that notion though (for, depending upon your response, it may not be necessary) I will simply state my conclusion and await your reply.
Critique of Irrational Selfishness
It is my contention that there is no such thing as “irrational selfishness” and that your use of that phrase may bely a fundamental misunderstanding on your part of what Rand meant by rational self-interest or rational selfishness.
For Ayn Rand, what is truly in one’s self-interest (i.e., what is really selfish) is always rational, and…more importantly…never irrational. Genuinely selfish behavior is that behavior which is really, OBJECTIVELY, good for an individual. That is, that which enhances his or her rational goals and genuinely contributes to earned/deserved self-esteem and happiness.
Defining and discovering what those sorts of things are is the province of a rational, objective, morality and ethics, not the irrational whims or wishes of a given individual. Ayn Rand gives her readers the “dictionary definition” of selfishness as: “concern with one’s own interests.” says Rand:
“This concept [(“concern with one’s own interests”)] does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil, nor does it tell us what constitutes Man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer that question.” [“The Virtue of Selfishness,” vii.]
It is important to note here that Ayn Rand’s ethics are OBJECTIVE, i.e., they are derived logically from the correct application of reason to experience exclusively, and are not gleaned by any other method…including “intuition.” (This will come up later, if and when we get to it.) In other words, for Rand and Objectivists, an action is truly “selfish” only if it is genuinely, OBJECTIVELY good for the actor, i.e., only if it is rational. The notion of an “irrationally selfish” act is a contradiction to which Rand always and strenuously objected… rationally so. An action that is not genuinely, OBJECTIVELY good for an individual is not rational and cannot, therefore, be “selfish,” in any sense that Rand and Objectivists define and use that term.
That will do it for now, Robert. I look forward to your reply. Regards, “John Jr.”
RA Meyer Responds
First, I must state that although Objectivism is my favorite philosophical system, I’m not a pure Objectivist. I disagree with her some of her assertions about art, music and literature. I endorse Mises’ theory of subjective value.
I understand the part about integrating concepts and concept building. Before I discovered Objectivism, I was highly influenced by Mises’ system of Praxeology. In economics, I reason from a priori concepts. Of course, I also believe in Rand’s demonstration of axiomatic concepts.
My system integrates Objectivism and Praxeology (Human Action) which invited some criticism from hardcore Objectivists and Praxeologists. I realize that Ayn Rand had some problems with Ludwig von Mises view of epistemology . However, I have to agree with “reason being the “objective” of Rand’s philosophy.
Although Rand supports capitalism from an objective point of view, I believe the efficacy of capitalism is proved with praxeological principals…especially the category of causality.
Benefits and Traps of Meditation
I disagree with the 2nd part of the following statement. “One may not arbitrarily skip a rung on the ladder of reason — no matter how many years one has “meditated” upon it (meditation being the emptying of the mind of concepts and, therefore, of reason).”
Unless you’re a hopeless mystic…meditation means emptying the mind of illusions, not purging it of reason and awareness. Of course, some men and women exist in airy-fairy land…which doesn’t help them increase awareness…and reason more effectively.
You probably realize…some mystics use meditation for anti-life purposes, such as practicing social altruism. A social system run on the illusions of altruists…quickly descends into the abyss of government interventionism and eventually socialism.
I can also state that meditation enhances my sensitivity to music, art and nature…and other pleasures.
Rational and Irrational Selfishness
I felt I had to distinguish between acting in what is truly in one’s self-interest and what isn’t. So, I created the opposite term irrational selfishness. Now here’s where I parted with Mises. He claimed all purposeful behavior is rational, even when it clearly doesn’t accomplish the desired end. He even defined self-defeating behavior as rational. Since, I am well versed in psychology, studied Freud, Jung and Maslow, I sometimes think from means and ends in personal relationships. Still, I agree with Rand’s definition of rational selfishness. I can see where there might be a problem using the term selfishness with irrational. You might consider that distinguishing between rational selfishness and irrational selfishness could clarify things for many readers.
John Jr. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. If you have any more insights we look forward to hearing from you. You are a true Objectivist…and we are happy to see you unleash the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
RA Meyer – Master the Social Maze