In Case You Ever Wonder

Why Ayn Rand Is “Not a Serious Philosopher”

Let us look more closely; what is the scientific man? A type of man that is not noble; he has an instinct for his equals and for what they need; for example, that claim to honor and recognition, that constant attestation of his value and utility which is needed to overcome again and again the internal mistrust which is the sediment in the hearts of all dependent men. He is rich in petty envy and has lynx eyes for what is base in natures to whose heights he cannot attain. Their sense of the mediocrity of their own type instinctively works at the annihilation of the uncommon man and tries to break every bent bow, or preferably, unbend it.

—Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil § 206, as presented by Laurence Lampert, Nietzsche and Modern Times, pp. 34–35

Objectivism Misfires

This is the tenth entry in my Antistatism Series.

Objectivism has nothing substantive to say about the private ownership of firearms, and nothing at all to say about the revolutionary and radical implications of the Second Amendment. Objectivists, in the aggregate, tend to follow Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff in thinking of the right to keep and bear arms as a peripheral issue in politics. After all, “A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war.” For Objectivists per se, there is no concern that Americans might ever need to shoot their way to a free country; they intend to think, write, and talk themselves into that state.

Since Objectivism itself has no substantive position on the right to keep and bear arms, Objectivists have assumed varying positions. Some are trenchant supporters of the Second Amendment; some are tepid supporters; some seem to want no truck with guns at all. If there is a consensus among Objectivists, it is this: Individuals have the right of personal self-defense, and a proper government must permit the personal ownership of small firearms at least for this reason, and probably for sport and target shooting as well. Notably, there is not a consensus amongst Objectivists against what is presently called “reasonable gun-control.”

Leonard Peikoff, for example, argues that the right to self-defense implies that citizens should be permitted to own only those firearms suited to the purpose of personal defense or other “domestic use[s],” and that the private ownership of fully automatic weapons, or other weapons that are demonstrably ill-suited to stopping a burglar or dropping a moose, should be outlawed. Given the radical meaning of the Second Amendment, that it exists to empower the people to forcibly check the expansion of government power, it is clear from his position here that Peikoff either misunderstands, rejects as outmoded, or rejects fundamentally the principles of the Second Amendment. (Lest it appear I might agree with Peikoff on this issue, let me pause to note that, while I have argued in this series that the Second Amendment is outmoded, I have not said what implications, if any, this has for contemporary gun-control debates.)

As I have already alluded, Objectivists have no interest in violent revolution, except to preempt one through intellectual and cultural revolution. As is plain from their reverence for the Declaration of Independence, Objectivists agree with the Founders on right of revolution (in theory). It should also be plain, from their treatment of gun rights, that they part ways with the Founders, radically, when the question arises of what the people should do when, in the the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.

No. That is wrong. Objectivists do not part ways with the Founders when this question arises; they part ways with the Founders when it doesn’t arise.

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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.

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The Solution to the Problem of Universals

Late in the week of April 16, 2000, I solved the problem of universals. I have delayed publication for a number of reasons. Before publishing, I wanted to develop the perfect formulations, to have ready answers to all probable objections, and to have acquired a detailed knowledge of the history of the problem. I have never quite been able to find the time. Until yesterday, I figured I would just keep waiting. But then I found myself searching for a fitting way to celebrate a recent victory. It came to me: why not publish? And so I am. I would still especially like to have had time to have developed that detailed knowledge of the history of the problem, but eight idle years is more than long enough. If I am right in my solution, then it is, after all, a matter of some urgency.

Readers of philosophy of a certain bent of mind may wonder why I have been so concerned with the history of the problem, especially if they find themselves agreeing with my solution. It has been my experience that the majority of those who concern themselves with philosophy and its problems are, in fact, concerned not with philosophy itself, but with its history. In the case of the problem of universals, for example, attempts at solutions apparently fallen into one of two mutually exclusive traditions: nominalism and realism. These traditions loom so large in the minds of, it seems, most philosophers, that they cannot conceive of a solution that does not belong to one or the other. But the history of philosophy is their cave, and nominalism and realism shadows on the wall. The real solution comes from outside. My interest in a deeper knowledge of the history of the problem of universals has its origins where philosophy and rescue spelunking meet.

Since I have not had time for a full survey of the history of the problem, I will make do with something more modest.Instead of placing my solution to the problem of universals in the full context of the history of Western philosophy, I will place it in the context of Objectivist philosophy. One reason this appeals to me is that, while I am not an Objectivist, if I can be said to belong to any tradition or school of philosophy, Objectivism is it.

Many Objectivists reading this will now wonder how I might propose to place my own original solution to the problem of universals within the context of Objectivism, given that Ayn Rand claimed to have solved the problem of universals herself.The answer lies in that the problem of universals, while a real philosophical problem, is also a historical artifact. I am not sure exactly how or why Ayn Rand misapprehended the nature of this historical artifact, but, to a significant degree, she did.

Certain critics of Objectivism have claimed that Ayn Rand totally misapprehended the problem of universals, and was therefore totally unjustified in her claim to have solved it. These critics are quite wrong on this point, but their criticisms have been very useful to me, because they have provided an avenue for placing Ayn Rand’s solution to the problem of universals into the larger context of Western philosophy. By borrowing from these critics of Objectivism, I will be able to show that the critics are right on one point: Ayn Rand did not solve the historical problem of universals — and wrong on another, far more important point. Borrowing from these critics will also allow me to compensate somewhat for my own limited knowledge of the history of the problem since Plato.

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"Kids These Days," And Other Snipes

Billy Beck, the best blogger out there, brought Fred Hiat’s June 9 meditation on the "’Bush Lied’ story line" to my attention. Hiat argues or implies that

  1. The Rockefeller report, which has been taken by the "Bush Lied" partisans as clear-cut vindication of their claims, in fact shows that Bush did not lie, but rather based his pre-war claims on bad intelligence.
  2. "Bush Lied" partisans continue to make their claims apart from all evidence.
  3. There will inevitably be times when the president is called upon to make a judgement call based on imperfect intelligence.
  4. Once the president and his military advisors have judged that military action is necessary, it will be necessary to spin such imperfect intelligence until it appears to unambiguously demand a military response, in order to get the gun-shy American people behind the effort.
  5. The Bush administration may very well have spun the imperfect intelligence too hard in the lead-up to the Iraq war, but the "’Bush Lied’ story line" threatens to undermine the president’s future ability to spin intelligence to the American public.

Beck seems to have found point 2 above to be the most worthy of comment. He links to a commentary on the Hiat piece by a hand-wringing Catholic matron (Elizabeth Scalia) who sees bad omens in the pervasive Gen-Y perspectivism that is intimately familiar and obscenely comfortable with the partisans’ habit of making claims apart from all evidence.

Scalia’s take? Too much egoism in our young, combined with an infotainment diet saturated with satire and irony is leading to the Nazification of the U.S. (She doesn’t make her point quite this explicit.)

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