Friday, November 24, 2023

Ayn Rand vs. Immanuel Kant on Morality

I have just uncovered the most basic difference between Kant's and Rand's ethical theories.

The most basic issue is not that of altruistic duty versus rational self-interest. The more basic issue is the source of moral principles. Ayn Rand believed that the principles of philosophy and ethics are objective and should be self-evident to rational minds. She argued that these principles are rooted in the nature of reality and human existence, and therefore should be accessible to anyone willing to engage in honest and objective thought.

Rand often criticized those who did not understand the clarity of her philosophical and moral views. She believed that they were rejected not because of an intellectual limitation, but because of a conscious choice to ignore the truth. She saw this objection as a form of moral blindness, a deliberate rejection of rational moral principles.

The source of moral principles was, for Rand, out there, in the objective realm and human nature, waiting to be picked up and grasped by minds willing to understand them.

This is not an active way of creating morality, it is that of man as a passive recipient who merely needs to eat the fruit of moral wisdom.

This is the way of the God of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Except in this case, Rand would strongly advise us to partake of its fruit rather than barring mankind from consuming it as God did. Those who don't partake in the objective fruit of moral wisdom are, in Rand's view, "parasites" and "second-handers."

To the contrary, Kant believed that humans were active participants in creating moral principles. Humans engage in a process of rational reflection to derive moral principles by critically examining moral beliefs and actions.

The CI was designed to assist in this process of rational reflection, but not to determine an individual's moral principles. It is a tool for rational reflection, but not a set of moral principles themselves.

The source of moral principles is for Kant, therefore, internal, not external as it is for Rand.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Back to Objectivism Criticism: in Response to "Kant at the Masked Ball" Paper by Stephen R. C. Hicks

This blog post is in response to the text at

I am resposting this response from my Twitter account.

Thomas William Dowling @thomaswdowling tweeted: "Stephen Hicks thinks that the founder of the counter-Enlightenment was... Immanuel Kant. Don't waste your time or money."

In response to which I tweeted the following:

@thomaswdowling is correct in his criticism.

However, that doesn't mean you'd be wasting your money. It's necessary to learn from the errors of others in order to avoid making their mistakes.

According to Hicks, 'Moses Mendelssohn, Kant’s contemporary, identifies him as “the all-destroyer,” fearful that Kantian philosophy cuts off all access to true reality.'

I tweeted that Kant successfully argued that mankind never had access to "true reality" (noumena) to begin with.

Moses Mendelssohn, on the other hand, needed to prove that such access exists. If he never managed it, this fact doesn't prove Kant was right. It only means that Moses needed to provide more than rhetoric to the discussion.

However, Kant's philosophy does not necessarily rule out the existence of noumenal entities such as God or the soul. Kant simply argued that we cannot know these things through reason alone. He believed that faith is necessary to believe in these things. Kant limited reason to make room for faith.

A major problem with Mendelssohn's view is that it provides for only one understanding and truth about God. This view leads to intolerance and conflict between different religious groups. Kant's view, on the other hand, allows for speculation, thus tolerance versus division.

M's view that objective determinations about God can be made opposes Kant's view that such determinations are subjective, indeterminate (or, as he would say, they involve judgments of reflection). M's view thus denigrates moral autonomy. Because if there is only one absolute objective judgment to be made about God, then we are not free to live our lives in accordance to conscience or the autonomous will, but only in accordance to the decrees of an omniscient, omnipotent God's will.

M's view thus leads to religious statism. God Himself isn't able to stifle moral autonomy, so it is left up to an Earthly authority to take care of the matter in God's place. Freedom of religion is lost; freedom of speech is lost, freedom of the press is lost.

The progress made by the Enlightenment is lost.

I'm not saying that Mendelssohn advocated for religious statism. He was a strong believer in religious tolerance and freedom of conscience. However, his views could lead to religious statism if taken to their logical conclusion.

K, on the other hand, by delimiting reason while making room for faith, personal conscience, and moral autonomy, was intellectually consistent in his advocacy of religious freedom and tolerance. M was not. While he may have advocated for those things, his philosophy failed to provide support for them. Rather, we are left with a religious state such as found in medieval Europe, or the Middle East.

Kant's other detractors listed at rp_431_2.pdf simply failed to understand him. Or they lied. It's hard to say.

Not to single out Ayn Rand (actually, I am, but for a good reason), it is thought that she never read Kant at all, but merely followed along with his detractors, especially, Nietzsche, of whom she was a major fan during her college years.

Errors found so far in the text at rp_431_2.pdf. Kant did not argue that space and time are not objective. He argued that they are objective in the sense that they are the forms of our intuition and the conditions of the possibility of experience. However, he also argued that we cannot know anything about space and time as they are in themselves, independent of our intuition.

Kant did not argue that causality is a subjective creation of our minds. He argued that causality is a real principle of the world, but that we can only know about it as it applies to objects of experience. We cannot know whether or not causality applies to things in themselves.

Kant did not conclude that we cannot know anything about the objective world. He argued that we cannot know anything about the objective world as it is in itself, but that we can know about the objective world as it appears to us.


Ron Elam

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rand and Original Sin

From "This is John Galt Speaking" -

"The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin.
A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent
contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of
choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth,
he has no will, no power to change it;.."

Poppycock. These objections of Rand's have been brought up
and dealt with long, long ago. They are only original to her because
she has not done her homework. Under the doctrine of Original
Sin man still has free-will, only he lacks complete mastery of
his own faculties. In other words, he cannot gain perfect
control over them. There remains no doubt that man can gain
some control over them, however you may measure it, be
it 1% or 99.99% control. That 1% to 99.99% is still volitional.
Furthermore - once you understand that Original Sin does not
completely detract from volition, but only explains why volition
does not completely rule over the faculties, you can see that
MORALITY NECESSARY due to the percentage of his
being that is still not under control of his free-will.

There is yet another point, which was mentioned by Kant
in his ethics. The Original Man (Adam) apparently, according
to the Doctrine, had the ability to see or envision God. This
capability is now gone - a factor which also makes moral
theory, or religion, a necessity, as man now lacks direct
knowledge of the good.

As usual, Rand had it completely upside down and backward.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Rand's Moral System Cannot Ensure Happiness

Much is made in Randian circles about Kant's view of happiness.
Randites like to quote from one or two of his statements
on the topic, especially the one stating that only if a man is unhappy
and wishes to end his life, then duty extols that he should therefore,
to the contrary of his desires, preserve his life in order for his
actions to have moral worth.

"In short, [a man] is unable, on any principle, to
determine with certainty what would make him truly happy;
because to do so he would need to be omniscient. We cannot
therefore act on any definite principles to secure happiness,
but only on empirical counsels, e.g. of regimen, frugality,
courtesy, reserve, etc., which experience teaches do, on the
average, most promote well-being."
(Fundamentals of a Metaphysics of Morals)

It is not the case that the Randites are claiming that the
man is unable to predict the future. Perhaps it is only his
depression that makes him see only future torment
for himself, whereas reality may provide him with the exact
opposite. But that's not the point, which is, the Randite idea
that morality for Kant is only possible in a state of severe
depression. And that the more depressed or unhappy
one becomes, the higher a state of morality one has achieved
until living has become almost psychologically unbearable.
Allegedly, a veritable sainthood is ultimately achieved through
this method. Thus Rand recommends happiness as the manner
through which such evil Kantianism is eradicated from western
culture. Objectivism sainthood is ultimately to be achieved
through being the winner of the brass ring of happiness as we ride
life's merry-go-round.

But Kant is saying in the above quote that happiness,
while not impossible to achieve, requires knowing the outcome
of all courses we take through life, and all the choices we make.
He cannot determine with any certainty that rationality,
productivity, and pride will eventually lead to happiness, although
they may lead to success in other ways. Randian moral theory
requires omniscience, while at the same time stating that man
is neither omniscient nor infallible.

Although one could therefore say that Rand's moral system is
self-contradictory, its salvation lies in simply removing the label
of "morality." It is, as I have said many times in the past, a system
of prudent or sage advice, such as one can find in the self-help
section of any bookstore, but passing itself off as philosophy
rather than psychology, or let's say, as precious gold rather
than cheap brass.

Or perhaps we could use a tactic often employed with the
three axioms, and state that while they are only axioms in the
loose, not geometric, sense, Rand's moral system is only
philosophy in the loose sense of the word. So one could pull
off the shelf any quasi-systematic "guide to better living"
and call that someone's philosophy of life too.

That is not to say that Kant's commentary against happiness
is directed toward anything like Rand's theory. In fact,
he is only opposed to using happiness as a moral standard,
whereas Rand considered happiness an ultimate goal or
value to be achieved, and not a standard of morality.
So Kant is not interested in using un-happiness as a
moral standard either, because neither exists as
opposites but only as a matter of degree.

Here is a quote to this effect: "...and besides, feelings, which
naturally differ infinitely in degree, cannot furnish a uniform
standard of good and evil, nor has anyone a right to form
judgments for others by his own feelings." Surely Rand
would have agreed with this statement, even coming from
Kant's own quill? He is referring to moral feelings in this
quote, not to happiness, but obviously Kant is stating that
feelings are not a form of cognition, going against those
contemporaries who argue that "moral feelings" can be used
as a sound basis for moral judgments.

As for Kant's concern with happiness, the following
quote is more useful than the one most often quoted
by Randites: "Thus a good will appears to constitute the
indispensable condition even of being worthy of happiness."
Why? Because, as he explains, even happiness, along
with other acquisitions, inspire pride - one of the seven
deadly sins, symptomatic of narcissism, and not the natural
human pride which may itself lead to narcissism.

I would add that egoism, which is a natural, healthy concern
for one's own well-being which is every human's birthright, has
its potential negative aspect if not for the possession of a good
will, a will that is good in and of itself and for no reason or
purpose beyond itself. Or let's take life as the ultimate standard
of value, i.e., life qua man, qua rational being, along with the
totality of all that this idea encompasses. But that basically
only boils down to the system of virtues and values which,
by itself, has its own negative aspect. That is, unless one can
develop one's capacity for good will.

But isn't there a kind of good will in Randian thought? Didn't
she at times refer to benevolence? Yes, but she never
systematized a theory of benevolence. She only employed it
for certain essays on morality, as in the Ethics of Emergencies.
It did not form any part of her morals proper.

Leonard Peikoff, on the other hand, is Rand's systematizer
(See his "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand"). Did he
perhaps take this term in a systematic fashion? No. Peikoff
defined in terms of friendship, and at other times treated it
metaphysically ("benevolent universe premise"). But in fact, this
states nothing about human benevolence. Therefore there
is no intellectual method or formula in Rand's moral theory
to prevent her set of virtues from turning into a set of
vices, as there is with Kant's moral system.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gary Merrill's Criticism of ITOE2

Merrill's critique only concerns the style and manner of Rand's writing
in ITOE.

For example, 'Rand mentions Kant repeatedly (he seems to be the guy she loves to hate), but there is absolutely nothing that is specific. She never quotes Kant directly, but when she apparently feels a need to justify her view of Kant she instead quotes from a book published in 1873 by Henry Mansel whom she describes as “a Kantian”. Again, I am not an expert on Kant, but who is this guy Mansel? I can find him mentioned in none of the histories of philosophy I have, and he is not mentioned in the fairly extensive bibliography on Kant in Lewis Beck’s 18th-Century Philosophy. So direct reference to Kant is replaced by reference to “a Kantian” (and a very obscure one at that). Why do this? Why not show how Kant himself held the position that is being attacked? There is no justification for this sort of thing. Again, poor scholarship. (I do not, by the way, believe that even the quote from Mansel supports Rand’s view of Kant. But I will not argue that point now.)'

I am at present reading the Mansel book quoted by Rand. If Mansel was a Kantian, he was only 2/3 Kantian at best. Did Rand know about neo-Kantianism? At least Mansel has the distinction of reading the Critique of Pure Reason, and in the original German. Rand had never distinguished herself in that way, either with the German original or any English translation.

Mansel trashed Kant's literary style. And yet, he excused it as a natural product of the German language which delights itself in never-ending sentences and multi-syllabic expressions. Mansel seemed to approve of the Aesthetic and Analytic sections of the Critique, but utterly opposed the Dialectic of Pure Reason. He held that this section had led to the numerous metaphysical errors that future German philosophers were guilty of.

Upon reading these key sections of Mansel's book, I can only conclude that Rand "borrowed" many of her future ideas from Henry Mansel's Letters, Lectures, and Reviews.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Key to Understanding Objectivism

'Exclusion is inextricable from formal logic, and is obviously thoroughly embedded in human language. But we should be extremely cautious about making any leaps towards concluding that the human mind must somehow work by exclusion. There's a whole lot of research to show that the human mind is, for want of a better term, very strongly "associative" rather than being based on exclusionary, or formally logical principles, as will be discussed a bit later. It would also be a mistake to assume that the brain somehow "works by language" or "thinks in words", with collections of neurons performing ratiocination in english or some cruder or more fundamental, but similar "language" that english can be mapped onto.

Language is indeed one thing human brains can produce and understand, but there's a lot going on inside there, and the amount of the brain involved in producing and understanding language may be relatively small. Language is closely associated with brain processes and interactions with others that we are conscious of, but that's rather understandable - those parts of our brains dedicated to interactions between individuals, to how we present and explain ourselves, are obviously going to find language useful in those tasks. But the brain evolved before human language did, and there's no reason to leap to conclusions that some form language must somehow be the way in which all regions of the brain communicate with each other, or that language is just the electrical signals between neurons writ large in some way or other. There's every reason to suppose that this isn't the case.

In a way, such hypotheses are reminiscent of crudely "homuncular" views about how we see: as if we see the real world through our eyes, as if those eyes were windows that our brains could somehow peer through, and see the real world just as it is. instead, our brains construct the world we see from sense data. According to the physics of "string theory", should that pan out, our brains may even be leaving out most of the dimensions and complexity of the eleven-dimensional world since those aren't relevant to daily life, and model merely four of its dimensions (including time) for the sake of simplicity, and efficiency. Our brains' neurons don't "talk" to each other with words, and there's no reason to suppose that language is the richest possible way to communicate, either - it's only a slim pipeline over which considerable information can pass between individuals, quite slowly. Not the sort of process or mechanism you'd want to build a quick-witted brain from. Language developed from crude alarm and food calls that are common to anthropoids, and we can easily over-estimate it's power and complexity - in any case, neurons aren't really small humans, or anything like that, that talk in predicate-subject form.'

I don't see anything wrong with SUPPOSING, as a thought experiment,
that there are more than 3 spatial dimensions. The author does say "if
String Theory should pan out." That may be a big IF to some, but it is
still being used by the author hypothetically.

This thought-experiment has nothing to do with physics per se. He is
saying that the world we perceive is constructed in our brains, and
that which we perceive is constructed in 4-dimensions (including
time). The reason the brain does this is for simplicity and efficiency.

This, by the way, is not the Kantian view of space, since the author
of seems to think that space is objective and that
somehow the brain is eliminating (filtering out) these other
dimensions it doesn't need.

In fact, those other dimensions, if they do indeed exist objectively,
are much too small to perceive. So there is nothing for the brain to
filter out of sensation before it becomes constructed into perception.
For example, electromagnetic activity is not visible to the naked eye
(only the results of its force on objects) because it requires a
fourth dimension that is smaller than the eye or any of our
instruments can perceive. It is not invisible to us because our brains
have deemed it irrelevant to perception, it is simply too small.

The other spatial dimensions of ST are wrapped into such tiny
"packages" (for lack of a better word) that there is never, ever any
chance of viewing them. That, however, doesn't mean they exist, only
that they are, in theory, very useful.

What's important for the article is that it points out our inevitable
bias regarding 3 dimensions. What we see is what we get, but not
necessarily what is.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to selectively,
via the mind's associative mechanism, filter out information that does
not conform to our pre-established beliefs about the world.
Common-sense requires a form of logic that causes our perceptions to
conform to our biases. It does not require "formal logic" and in fact
any attempt to formalize this process is commonly met with by
revulsion. Nevertheless, the logic of common-sense is typically of the
AND/OR types of statements. It does not WANT to use XOR logic, that
is, exclusion logic, because that may tend to exclude our preciously
held beliefs. It tends to disrupt the cognitive harmony that we feel
is required to keep us intellectually happy or at least satisfied.

So, by this theory, what to me is A is A? It is not only a statement
of identity, it implies confirmation bias just as it also implicitly
rebels against exclusion logic. {A is A} is a statement that logically
says {A or not-A}. Surprised? Nor is it a contradictory statement.
All it says is that a thing is either A, or it is not-A. It doesn't
say that a thing isn't itself, that would be given as {A and not-A}

It just so happens that {A or not-A} (A is A) is a tautologous
statement. It has its uses in logic theory - it formalizes the error
of restating one's premises at the conclusion, thus the argument has
gone nowhere - but that is all. The tautologous argument is neither
wrong nor right, it is simply vacuous.

But thanks to A is A, Randroids of all sorts now have an excuse merely
to reconfirm what they already believe to be true, and to set in stone
the all-too-human tendency to avoid using exclusion logic.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lies versus the truth - environmentalist quackery

I haven't seen this topic discussed here for a while, but the
thinking, the epistemology, behind it lies at the heart of the
enrivonmentalist movement.

The lie:

"The Benefits of Good Ozone

"Small concentrations of ozone occur naturally in the stratosphere,
which is part of the Earth's upper atmosphere. At that level, ozone
helps to protect life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet radiation from
the sun, particularly UVB radiation that can cause skin cancer and
cataracts, damage crops, and destroy some types of marine life."

The truth:

(Incredibly, the truth is found at the page cited above)

"The Origin of Good Ozone
Ozone is created in the stratosphere when ultraviolet light from the
sun splits an oxygen molecule into two single oxygen atoms. Each of
those oxygen atoms then binds with an oxygen molecule to form an ozone

Does anybody besides yours truly see the immediate discrepancy between
these two stories?

The first story gives us the "shield" theory of ozone, for example:

"In the absence of this gaseous shield in the stratosphere, the
harmful radiation has a perfect portal through which to strike Earth."

So we can easily imagine a kind of shield surrounding the earth with
UV radiation bouncing away, using little arrows to depict the motion
of the harmful UV rays.

However, this picture is contradicted by the story of how O3 is
created in the first place. Note carefully:

There is O2 floating around in the upper atmosphere. UV rays contact
this O2, splitting it into separate oxygen atoms which then combine
with O2 to create O3, "good" ozone.

By the correct theory, there is no such thing as "good" ozone, just
good old oxygen we breathe. By the correct theory, there is no shield
of ozone shield protecting us from harmful UV rays. There is just good
old oxygen absorbing UV, and in the process, recombining with O2 to
create O3 as a byproduct of this process.

The epistemological method being perpetrated by the environmentalist
movement is that of the Big Lie. As with any Big Lie, it has been told
so many times that it is in the very air we breathe, the "air" of our
culture. That is why nobody bothers to question it. Or if somebody
does notice the discrepancy between the two stories, nobody wants to
rock the boat.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Closed-mindedness in the Objectivist Community

A message from -

"This site is for Objectivists. You may continue to post on the Dissent board only."

RebirthOfReason should be renamed. Let's see... TheDemeaningOfReason?

Whatever reason means to them, it has nothing to do with objectivity. Paranoia, no doubt.

Fred Seddon and his Critique of Rand's Anti-Kantianism

In this article Objectivist scholar Fred Seddon wishes to deal with the Randian critique of Kant. In one section in particular he concerns himself with infamous "make room for faith" quote found in the Critique of Pure Reason at page Bxxx. This quote is by far most often quoted by Objectivists, Randroids, as well as their libertarian cousins and cousines. It must seem to them both glib and damning at the same time - it seems the normally obscure Kant had an off-moment of sparkling clarity to take advantage of.

It is also a great excuse for out-of-context quoting, followed by the usual building up from this one E-vil little seed (or grain of sand) to the entire Kant universe. This is characteristic of the Randian way of thinking, which is (to quote from a Barbara Branden post on another forum) her ability "to see the universe in a grain of sand."

That's a wonderful and envious ability. However, what happens when you have misidentified the grain of sand? Then the entire universe that results rests on a false premise. So in dealing with this Objectivist issue it is only necessary to deal with that grain. And that is what Fred Seddon has done, or tried to do.

And so in analyzing the Kant quote "I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith," Seddon rightly follows the Aristotelian path of considering the context of the quote. And this he sets out to accomplish in dazzling detail. Seddon analyzes the phrases leading up to the quote, he analyzes various translations from the original German, he dissects key terms. He even delves into a little Kant theory which comes remarkably close to making the point that he should have set out to make in the beginning of this section. But he never quite gets around to making the key point that will dissolve the entire Randian critique in "the cheap acid of mere logical acumen."

And that point is this: Kant denied knowledge - of topics common to speculative metaphysics up until Kant's day. Those topics concerned the nature of God, of the simple soul, and other topics of "rational psychology" and theology.

Kant has limited reason's scope - but he has limited its scope to the material or empirical realm, while denying it access to the spiritual realm. In this, Kant has literally saved reason from itself, that is, from its inherent or innate tendency to "fly to the sun on wings of wax," that is, to attempt to comprehend the realm of spirit and always fail miserably.

And so it is as Kant wrote on the very next page of the Preface to the B edition, "It is therefore the first and most important task of philosophy to deprive metaphysics, once and for all, of its injurious influence, by attacking its errors at their very source."

But Kant also wants to make room for faith,

"...there is the inestimable benefit, that all objections to morality and
religion will be for ever silenced, and this in Socratic fashion, namely,
by the clearest proof of the ignorance of the objectors."

Thus in one stroke Kant has quelled both the dogmatists - the speculative metaphysicians of his era - and the empiricists who seek through the failures of the metaphysicians the destruction of morality and religion. In this, Kant has not destroyed reason, he has saved it from being torn apart in an endless quarrel between opponents who are both laying claim to "reason" while having no Critical ground to stand upon.

I'd like to go into detail as to how closely Seddon came in my estimation to creating a devastating critique.

I did enjoy this part of the Seddon article,

"God here serves for Kant the same function that the equator has for geography. The equator does not have objective reality, but it does have objective validity. That is, with its use as a regulative rather than constitutive concept, we are able to organize and integrate our knowledge of the earth. But we know that the equator is not a possible object of perception."

I myself couldn't think of a better way of putting the issue which is why I respect Seddon as a top-rate thinker.

However, in the same article he later claims that the Kant word "faith," originally "glauben," should best be translated "thought." Seddon writes:

“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Or “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for thought.”

I think this is where Seddon missed his opportunity to give the Randian anti-Kant critique a really good spanking, so caught up as he was on translating and interpreting the fairly non-controversial word glauben.

But I cut him some slack, because Seddon does write,

"In order to save morality, Kant critiques pure reason but his conclusions cut both at the rationalist and the skeptic. Since we cannot know the thing in itself, neither the rationalist nor the skeptic can make positive, constitutive claims. The rationalist is denied knowledge of freedom, God and the immortality of the soul. But so is the skeptic denied knowledge that there is no freedom, no God, no soul. Both are denied knowledge of the thing in itself."

As I said in the beginning, that's close to being an appropriate counter-thesis to bring against the Randites. But it doesn't quite cut to the quick. If only he had said something like:

'Thus in one stroke Kant has quelled both the dogmatists - the speculative metaphysicians of his era - and the empiricists who seek through the failures of the metaphysicians the destruction of morality and religion. In this, Kant has not destroyed reason, he has saved it from being torn apart in an endless quarrel between opponents who are both laying claim to "reason" while having no Critical ground to stand upon.'

This conclusion brings to the fore some history the Randites would like to evade - the fact that there were two sides of a great debate ranging over the centuries in which both sides lay claim to a superior form of reasoning. And that the Enlightenment era debate did not primarily concern reason vs. faith, but two very different expressions of reason commonly known as "rationalism" and "empiricism." (Epistemologically speaking, they are "dogmatism" and "skepticism," respectively.) They do share this in common, however: they both lack a critique of pure reason.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Question for Readers of ITOE

Where exactly IS the a-ness in 5 or 5,000,000?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rand's Unintentional Contradiction

I use the word "unintentional" in this case where Ayn Rand employed two opposing ideas in different contexts. The first context was the prepared and edited portion of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (2nd ed.), the second context was the impromptu Q&A found at the end of the second edition.

On page 52, Rand wrote, 'Aristotle regarded "essence" as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological.'

However, on page 230-31 she wrote, '"Metaphysically" here refers to that characteristic which, in the nature of the thing, makes other characteristics possible. "Epistemologically" means the way we would proceed to discover a causal explanation. You see, I could not put the second into a metaphysical category, because nature as such doesn't explain. A thing just is, and certain characteristics are the causes of other characteristics. But metaphysically—that is, apart from human observation or knowledge—it doesn't constitute an explanation, it's just a fact. Epistemologically, the process of determining a defining characteristic will proceed by means of the question: which characteristic explains the others? Metaphysically, this means: which characteristic makes the others possible? Which is the cause?'

Which is the cause?

The important thing to realize here is that this is a strikingly Aristotelian thing to say, in contradistinction to her anti-Aristotelian comment pages before. For it is only in the Aristotelian context that one can speak to causes "from the inside" so to speak, or more technically, intrinsic causality.

For those unfamiliar with Aristotle's metaphysics, he held to four different kinds of causes: Formal, Efficient, Material, and Final. Science for the most part only believes in efficient causes, for example, billiard balls set in motion by some external force.

In the Aristotelian system, the example of a bust of Socrates is commonly used to explicate the four causes. The formal cause of the bust of Socrates is the form hidden inside the granite block it originated from, this is the form as viewed by the sculptor. The efficient cause is the action of the sculptor chiseling away at the block of granite. The material cause is the granite from which it is made. And the final cause is the perfect form the bust would take at the hands of a perfect sculptor living in a perfect world. It is not so much the bust itself but the idea which takes imperfect form in reality. That perfect, final form is the end which the sculptor strives toward in an imperfect world.

For Rand, a "defining characteristic" is that which makes the most other characteristics possible, intrinsically speaking. Rand's theory is just as intrinsic as Aristotle's theory of Formal causality, regardless of whether or not she would have viewed the example of the bust of Socrates as quaint or old-fashioned (which it is). Rand limited her definitions to actuals, it did not include potentials as the form of Socrates hidden within the granite block. Everything, for Aristotle, was in the process of becoming; for Rand, everything simply is.

That difference, however, is not important concerning the fact of her intrinsicism, it only detracts from the time element or the process-orientation found in Aristotle's metaphysics.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rand's Universal Mistake

Whether or not concepts are Universals, even if they are formed the
same way as concepts - through differentiation and integration - the
problem of Universals remains the same. The problem is whether or not
those generalities, often in the form of -ness (manness, squareness,
etc.) then refer back to particulars in external reality.

Rand has confused the manner in which they are allegedly formed in the
mind with the *actual* problem which is relating them back to

So where is the manness in men? We formed it as a generality, yet in
man the particular it cannot be found. In individual men, the quality
of being rational (the Universal of "rationality") comes and goes, it
is relative, and it differs from individual to individual.

And where is the 2-ness in two objects? However the number 2 was
derived, its Universal form is nowhere to be found in those two

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Solution to the Problem of Universals

Undoubtedly, and without reservation, the universe is what it is, metaphysically or otherwise. Nobody has questioned this. But by the same token, the human mind is what is and evading this fact will not make it go away. The fact important to the context of Universals is that the human mind imbues the real world with ideals of its own creation.

The human mind does this for various reasons, first and foremost perhaps is to bring comprehension to the world around it. Where the world utterly fails to bring its comprehension to the human mind, the mind itself makes this comprehension a possibility, set forth as a task not by reason or mystical intuition, but by the nature of the mind itself.

Sometimes, however, this task takes on elements of psychological neurosis, as when Ayn Rand, in her quest for the Ideal Man, thinks to have found it in this or that personage (such as Branden) and is eventually disappointed to find that it's not the case. If Rand had understood the nature of Universals as idealizing principles of the mind she might have understood that they were not intended to serve as psychological projections based on unmet childhood needs carried into adulthood as neuroses - and finally, when the subconscious premises of this neurosis are gathered together in a somewhat less rhapsodic and more intellectualized way, as a lowly, secular, man-worshipping, emotion-driven religion posing as higher philosophy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rand's Nominalism/Realism - or Whatever???

On the RoR forum at
Stephen Boydstun wrote:
"Rand's theory [of epistemology] is not realist, neither is it

Ignoring the bad grammar usually found on these forums ("neither"
should read "nor" (or the sentence should be re-written to exclude the
useless comma), and schools of philosophy are always capitalized (as
in Realist and Nominalist), the point made on Friday, August 25, 2006
at 9:36am is a valid one.

I recall the days, 20 years or more ago, when I would have like to
find some philosophical genre in which to firmly plant Randian
epistemology, to find out where it belongs. But the task was hopeless
(I did learn a lot more about philosophy, however). It wasn't until 20
years later that I discovered that Randian epistemology is not
epistemology, that it relies on an implicit epistemology which was
never directly discussed by Rand. And even though she discussed
Realism and Nominalism in very brief and often polemical terms, it
only served to confuse the issue since, despite the title of her
compendium of articles, Rand never wrote a book on Objectivist
epistemology (or an introduction to one, as the title suggests).

One would hope that an introduction to a topic would at least contain
elements of the topic itself.

Rand was certainly correct to state in that book's preface that all
the problems of epistemology originate in one basic problem, that of
Universals. The problem of Universals has taken many forms down
through the centuries, but she chose to focus on that form relevant to
the mid-20th-century discussion which is not exactly what one would
normally call an epistemology. Rather than discussing what makes
knowledge possible, they only discuss concepts, that is, pre-existing
knowledge that takes the form of words.

Rand took her epistemological cues from books written probably around
the 1950s to 60s, thus confusing concepts with knowledge. For example,
Lyle Bourne wrote in 1966:

"As a working definition we may say a concept exists whenever two or
more distinguishable objects have been grouped or classified together
and set apart from other objects on the basis of some common feature
or property characteristic of each." (Lyle Bourne, Human Conceptual
Behavior, p. 1.)

Lyle Bourne, on the other hand, did not make the mistake of
classifying his book as a work on epistemology or even an introduction
to one. And anyway, concept-formation and definition should not
comprise an introduction to epistemology, those topics are relevant
only after the fact of knowledge.

The question may then be asked: what is knowledge, if not concept?
The answer is simply to look to Rand's work itself in which she states
that knowledge is gained and held in conceptual form (ITOE, 1). That
says nothing about the formation of new knoweldge per se, only the
conceptual form it takes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

New Problem with Rand's Idea of Definition

On pages 45-6 of ITOE Ayn Rand wrote:

'Observe that all of the above versions of a definition of man were
true, i.e., were correct identifications of the facts of reality - and
that they were valid qua definitions, i.e., were correct selections of
distinguishing characteristics in a given context of knowledge. None
of them was contradicted by subsequent knowledge: they were included
implicitly, as non-defining characteristics, in a more precise
definition of man. It is still true that man is a rational animal who
speaks, does things no other living beings can do, walks on two legs,
has no fur, moves and makes sounds.'

However, on page 46 she also wrote:

'In this issue, an ignorant adult is in the same position as a child
or adolescent. He has to act within the scope of such knowledge as he
possesses and of his correspondingly primitive conceptual definitions.
When he moves into a wider field of action and thought, when new
evidence confronts him, he has to expand his definitions according to
the evidence, if they are to be objectively valid.'

The issue here lies with the phrase "expand his definitions." In fact,
if a definition were expanded, it would simply become larger and
encompass more and more essentials. But in this case, previous
essentials were discarded in favor of new ones. So in fact the
definition was not expanded at all, it was essentially altered to
encompass new knowledge about "man."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Objectivist Ideas found in Older Book

Spiritual fragments
By James J. Owen

Intelligent Design

I'm feeling limited by the topic I set here. My interest in critiquing Objectivism comes and goes, and for now I've been interested in studying Kant's Critique of teleological reflective judgment. Whether or not that can be made to fit in with the forum topic is another thing, as Rand had no opinion of this work that I'm aware of, and perhaps no knowledge of it.

But then, it's my blog and I can create any topic I want, so I'll just forge ahead. What's interesting to me is the fact that Kant had an answer to the recent, now past, debate over Intelligent Design. This is found in sections 77 and 78 of his Critique of Judgment.

I realize that ID followers like to attack Darwinian evolution which came along after Kant's death. However, ID has been in existence for hundreds of years, and anyway, Darwin was hardly the first to come up with a theory of evolution.

Kant's argument does not address evolution, only ID versus mechanistic materialism.
Evolution could easily be seen as a school of thought founded in the latter.

Part of Kant's answer states that both theories are needed. ID is the product of subjective, reflective judgment. In other words, it is based in the need of reason to find purpose in a design, thus a Grand Designer. And of course mechanism provides the key to many answers to scientific issues. Kant even says that we don't know if maybe the Grand Designer (my term for it, by the way) created mechanism, and of course evolution along with it. It is, at least, a logical possibility given the limitations of our knowledge, for we cannot say one way or the other, but at least the skeptic is confounded to find an answer where a simple "no" merely reveals his dogmatism, that is, the pseudo-religious thrust of his materialism requires a priori absolutes that aren't founded in materialism but upon which materialism is based.

Kant states that one theory should not supplant the other, so attempts by ID theorists to downplay evolution theory are just as wrong as materialistic attempts to reduce religious experiences to the material realm. This sort of Compatibilism between ID and mechanism is not, however, Kant's final solution to the problem. Otherwise we would be left with only a kind of "cold" acceptance or tolerance of each side to the other.

Kant's solution is to ground both theories in a "supersensible substrate" in which materialism is subsumed by Intelligent Design. This grounding, or foundation if you will, does not however provide any kind of theoretical or scientific knowledge, it does nothing to supplant the investigations of materialistic science. What it does say however is that the materialist must, in the long run, acknowledge that there is the imputation of design and purpose to certain elements in the universe and that, indeed, no matter how far science may advance in its study of genetics, the materialist cannot explain the growth of even a single blade of grass without the imputation of a Designer.

On a personal note, some time ago a friend of mine told me that he became convinced of the existence of God while studying, and being completely amazed by, genetics during his college years. So you see, it is not just the growth and development of life that requires a Designer (although not in actuality, but only, as Kant tells us, a heuristic principle), it is the very scientific matrix that encompasses the essence of life itself, which may or may not even be considered life but only a complex of protein molecules, that requires a Designer or, as Kant called it, a "supersensible substrate."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Soul Vampire

I think of Ayn Rand lately as more of a soul-vampire than author/philosopher. I don't want to sound over the top, I am really only speaking from my own personal experience. She is the Ellsworth Toohey of reason - or really, just a Toohey who thought she was being rational, whereas her character from The Fountainhead was apparently being more honest with himself in his philosophy. Rather than describe himself as a proponent of reason, he propounded its exact opposite. Rand propounded its exact opposite under the guise of reason.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Meaning of "Man Qua Man"

On May 21, 1934, Ayn Rand wrote in her philosophical journal:
"Mankind? It is an abstraction. There are, have been, and always will be, men and only men." (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

I would change that to go one step further: man, only man.

Has there ever been a history written from the viewpoint not of a nation's development through its outstanding individuals, but of these individuals' desperate fight against their nations, for the sake of the development and advancement for which the nation so noisily and arrogantly takes credit after it has made a martyr of the "developer" and "advancer"? History as a deadly battle of the mass and the individual. A scientific task for me: to trace just how many of mankind's "geniuses" were recognized and honored in their own time. And since they were not—as most of them weren't—is there any ground for the conception of any national cultures, histories and civilizations? If there is any such thing as culture and its growth—isn't it the culture of great individuals, of geniuses, not of nations or any other conglomerations of human creatures? And isn't history the fight of mankind against advancement, not for it?

"Man, only man." Man the achiever, man the genius, man qua man.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Failing to Bridge the Is-Ought Gap

That "is" defines "ought," or "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do," is clearly circular. Rand confuses this situation with her theory of moral choice which leaves the "ought" to choice and not to "is." This is the problem of pre-moral choice which has stymied Objectivist ethics for decades now.

If an ought is defined by an is, then how is this up to pre-moral choice? How can any choices be pre-moral? "Choosing life as your standard of value is a pre-moral choice. It cannot be judged as right or wrong; but once chosen, it is the role of morality to help man to live the best life possible."

So it appears that Objectivism has not bridged the is-ought gap as long as there is at least one a-moral choice ("it cannot be judged as right or wrong"), the so-called "pre-moral choice."

"You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles." OPAR, 1. However true that may be, Objectivism has not bridged the gap enabling them to integrate facts of reality into moral prescriptions. We may have no choice than to integrate them, but the "how" of this is left up in the air. Objectivism therefore leaves man with no philosophical guidance to make the correct pre-moral choice, only highly romantic novels to convince his mind through escapist literature.