The Critique of Rand’s Philosophy

Ayn Rand has been criticized as “anti-scientific” and not truly Aristotelian (O’Neill, 1977:12, 85, 126f.) and “anti-religious,” although she borrowed a “flavor” of religion by replacing the term “God” with her reality as “the authoritative absolute” and termed “man” as “the object of worship” (Ryan, 2003:329f.). A rhetorical strategy that she sometimes used in an argument was that she “attaches a ‘rider’ to a position, rejects or refutes the ‘rider,’ and seems to think she has thereby rejected or refuted the position itself” (ibid., 37). This way, Rand can impose her own meaning and misrepresent ideas of others without exposing the flaws or inadequacies of her own philosophy. She also had “an undeniable ability to portray her foils vividly and to make the reader loathe them as much as she did” (346).

Although the rhetorical strategies seem to be correctly interpreted, I disagree with O’Neill’s and Ryan’s categorizations of Objectivism as anti-scientific and anti-religious. Rand, like Plato, wanted to posit her philosophy as the foundation of a new science, and, as I have shown in an earlier post, her philosophy has that potential. Objectivism’s conflict with modern sciences should be interpreted as a conflict with the Kantian philosophy, which works as the foundation of quantum physics and related disciplines. Objectivism is also very much religious, if not neo-religious. Have you read Atlas Shrugged yet and hearkened to “ideal” John Galt and saw him and his followers into “Atlantis,” as it was envisioned beyond the close of the book? To see how Rand fits into the philosophical context, follow the illustration (Figure 3) of The Complete Reality Hypothesis below:

The Complete Reality Hypothesis: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Rand

Figure 3

The what, or object, of reality – 1;
the how, or means of sensing, perceiving, or conceiving, of reality – 2

Plato: P2, M1 — physicalistic metaphysicist (misintegrating, realistic idealist)
Aristotle: M2, P1 — metaphysical physicalist (integrating, idealistic realist/mystic)
Kant: M2, E1 — metaphysical epistemologist (disintegrating, idealistic materialist)
Rand: E2, M1 — epistemological metaphysicist (misintegrating, materialistic/realistic idealist)

Rand’s way

My verdict of Objectivism is that it is Aristotelian in the Platonic flavor, Platonist at the core. Rand could not match the integrating direction of Aristotle because she could not overcome her hate of Kantianism in order to create a fully integrated Aristotelian philosophy. But she was able to heal the breach made by Kant through the misintegrating Platonic idealism, even though she could not create a pure Aristotelian philosophy without overcoming the inductive approaches to argumentation of the empiricists, such as David Hume. Rand took Aristotle’s metaphysical ideas, made them into axiomatic absolutes, placed existence above Kantian epistemology (i.e., the primacy of mind), and so cast the rest somewhere within the mispackaged “implicit” concept of the contextless, spaceless, causeless, independent, yet finite but eternal entity aka universe aka existence (see Peikoff’s OPAR, Ch.1; also ITOE, Ch.6). Her metaphysics parallels Plato’s even though she misintegrated his and Aristotle’s ideas that dealt with actual reality.

Aristotle never “worshipped” actual reality or the metaphysical concepts that he derived from it. Instead, he questioned and tried to understand it. Logic for him was a tool or the means of communicative implication but not itself an actual end of inference. My view is closer to Aristotle when reality is viewed as the spatiotemporal, finite, non-eternal context (or contextual relationships) known as the directly perceived environment or a part of Nature, not the “finite” Universe or Cosmos or existence that is believed by Objectivists to be within absolute human comprehension but is really not.[1] Aristotle started with perceiving the physical, not the metaphysical, which was conceptually derived.[2] He was inspired by Plato’s metaphysics to drive into what he called “secondary” or natural philosophy, which became his primary domain of research. His body of work describing the physical and connecting the metaphysical to it made him known more as an original contributing scientist than a pure philosopher like Plato.

By starting with the metaphysical as the true, objective reality that must be somehow perceived conceptually, one takes the role of the unmoved mover, the omniscient God, whom and whose characteristics Objectivists thoroughly try to ignore and avoid. Yet, rhetorically, Objectivists are trying to subjugate the concept of God to their will by totally dismissing God into oblivion and replacing it with “existence.” Do they realize what they are doing by conceptualizing everything including themselves in alignment with their primary volitionless axiom? This is similar to what many religious fanatics had tried to do throughout our history, and Plato is no difference, if you read his Republic, in which he praised monarchy, and the repercussions of whose view may be seen in the ushering in of the Dark Ages. Religious ideas, once rhetorically imbued, become dangerous if incomprehensible. Also, just as many people are unknowingly corrupted by Kantian materialism, so many idealists do not comprehend the kind of philosophy they are carrying in their minds. But there is a cure to the willful oblivion. This cure is called epistemological physicalism, which will be discussed later.

[1] By Objectivists here I mean those who decided that they have reached the “ideal” state of Objectivism, such as Rand and Peikoff, not the beginning Objectivists who follow the founders. I support any non-religious philosophers as long as they follow Rand’s lead but never try to match her position. I also want to note the similarity between other philosophers who start toward the metaphysical perfection rather than start at perfection. For example, this applies to Marxism, where the “ideal” communists, as some of the party-members saw themselves, did not favor change or liberation for the subjugated, whereas the true communists (e.g., Andrei Taganov from Rand’s We the Living (1964)) retain their self-integrity as their lives are devoted to reaching self-perfection. Miguel de Unamuno’s philosophy of quixotism is especially relevant here, albeit with a tragic overtone, in striving to reach (or comprehend, as for Aristotle) the ideal while knowingly never quite making it. I am speaking of the importance of direction, for direction down (Platonic/Kantian) is dictatorial but may lead to liberation if reversed. True creative freedom is in following one’s own self and also someone else’s leads but never losing sight of the former.

[2] In contrast, for my reasoning that EXISTENCE is IDENTITY, or metaphysical is physical, is an implication and cannot be reversed without negation to match Aristotle’s position, please see this post on the Objectivism online forum.

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