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Thinking About Thinking About Our Interlocutors

I wrote the following as part of an ongoing debate over my solution to the problem of universals. I leave it for the reader to surmise why I thought it worth sharing here.

Let me take a moment to make a meta-argument before I dive back in to addressing the comments in this thread.

I am working under the assumption that Ayn Rand is a hero to most of the participants here. Ayn Rand herself called the problem of universals “philosophy’s central issue.” Those who profoundly admire Ayn Rand do so, in large part, because of her achievements in philosophy. By any measure, then, Ayn Rand’s solution to the problem of universals is an important value to Objectivists.

Now, suppose I am right, and that Ayn Rand either did not solve the problem of universals, or only solved it partially. Ayn Rand’s philosophy then has an error of omission, at the least, down near its very roots in metaphysics.

From the perspective of hero-worshipping Objectivists, it could hardly matter whether this error is a minor error of omission or something more significant; the prospect that Objectivism could have a flaw at a point so fundamental in the hierarchy of philosophy should be disturbing.

I say “should be” disturbing, and this is a characteristically careful choice of words on my part. I hope Objectivists are disturbed at this prospect, because being disturbed would evince a healthy commitment to their own values, and a healthy response of profound unease when these values appear to be (and “appear to be” is another careful choice of words) threatened.

Still supposing, purely for the sake of demonstration, that I am right about universals, let me propose then that there are three ranks of Objectivists, ranked by how they might respond to such a threat.

Objectivists of the third and lowest rank are not at all disturbed when they confront my arguments. They are blithely unconcerned with any threats to Objectivism because they have not only decided that Objectivism is true, but they have permanently closed themselves off to reason and evidence to the contrary. Having arrived at the truth, their satisfaction is so complete, they have no further use for the faculty that propelled them to it.

Objectivists of the second rank have not maimed their reason in any way; they remain fully capable of reading, understanding, absorbing, and, as necessary, refuting foreign views or integrating them into their own. Faced with a possible challenge to the integrity of the Objectivist metaphysics, however, these Objectivists quail, all unconsciously, and switch, psycho-epistemologically, from lovers of wisdom (philosophers) to Defenders of the Faith. Objectivists of this rank, against their better judgment, end up asking themselves ‘What arguments will defend Objectivism?’ rather than asking themselves ‘What arguments are true?’ For them, outing “flaws” in my argument (whether they are real or imagined) is more important than evaluating it.

Objectivists of the first rank, like those of the second, have fully intact faculties. When these thinkers are confronted with a challenge to their values, they follow the sentiment attributed to Aristotle, who is said to have said of his mentor, “I love Plato, but I love the truth even more.” Thus, even though they face a powerful temptation to read foreign arguments first and foremost for their conformity to Objectivism, and only after this for the truth, they resist it. What I find important is that, because of how deeply they value Objectivism, even those Objectivists who resist the urge to read foreign and threatening arguments with a bias still feel the urge. The only question is how this urge is dealt with. Thinkers of the first rank deal with it harshly. This is what separates the proverbial men from the boys.

Out of courtesy, benevolence, and prudence I shall be assuming that the denizens of this forum are all Objectivists of the first rank, until or unless the evidence becomes preponderant to the contrary. What I will not assume, since I believe it would be foolish, is that the potential threat to the integrity of Objectivism’s theory of universals is not affecting my readers’ readings of my solution.

I ask that participants in this debate ask themselves: Is my reading finally motivated by a desire to defend Objectivism, or by a desire to know the truth? Be assured that I continually ask myself whether I am motivated by a desire to defend my own view or to know the truth.

Quid pro quo.

Now, a note on my priorities when responding to posts in this thread. My top priority is always to reply to those who I think are “getting it.” My second priority is to reply to those who I think are not getting it, but not getting in an interesting way. My next priority is to address challenges that are most likely to turn a quick profit for me. For example, a challenge that misses an elementary point is relatively easy to address, and so the small effort to address it will look like a good investment. My last priority is to address posts that strike me as soliloquies, hopelessly confused, or made in bad faith.

If I have not replied to your post, do not take this as evidence, on its own, that I think you are writing hopelessly confused soliloquies in bad faith. I hope to reply to everyone who has been interested enough in this topic to participate here.

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