Young people discovering or trying to understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, can easily be confused about the nature of the philosophy and its relationship to “true philosophy” or “philosophic truth.”
“True philosophy” or “philosophic truth” is a broad and ever-expanding umbrella or category of ideas. It includes all philosophic truths identified by people, past, present, and future—truths identified by Socrates, Aristotle, Epictetus, Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Ayn Rand, and whatever is to come. “Philosophic truth” is an open file folder into which all truths discovered in the realm of philosophy are properly put.
But philosophic truth is not the same thing as Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. If the principles of Objectivism are true, and I think they are, then they fall under the broad umbrella of “philosophic truth”—but they are not the equivalent of that umbrella. To treat them as the equivalent is to commit the fallacy of the frozen abstraction, which consists in substituting a particular conceptual concrete for the wider abstract class or category to which it belongs. In the case at hand, it consists in substituting a specific true philosophy, “Objectivism,” for the general class or category of “true philosophy.” This substitution is fallacious because, although Objectivism is true, its principles are not the only truths in philosophy. Other philosophic truths include, for instance, Aristotle’s principles of syllogistic reasoning, Leonard Peikoff’s principles of the mechanics of induction, and any philosophic truths that you or I or others might identify in the future.
Just as we don’t treat “math” as the equivalent of “algebra” and thus exclude geometry, calculus, and other kinds of math from the field—just as we don’t treat “religion” as the equivalent of “Christianity” and thus exclude Judaism, Islam, and other religions from the field—just as we don’t treat “government” as the equivalent of “theocracy” and thus exclude democracy, constitutional republicanism, and other types of government from the field—so we should not treat “true philosophy” as the equivalent of “Objectivism.” It is not.
To use a perfectly parallel example: We don’t add our own educational discoveries or principles to Maria Montessori’s educational system and call them part of her system. Likewise, we shouldn’t add our own discoveries or principles to Rand’s philosophical system and call them part of her system. They are not.
Objectivism—the fundamental philosophic concepts and principles identified by Ayn Rand and integrated into a system of ideas by her in her lifetime—is not the equivalent of philosophic truth. Rather, it is one set of ideas under the broader umbrella of philosophic truth.
Objectivism is not open to additions or revisions. It was “closed” when Ayn Rand died. Philosophic truth is forever open to additions and refinements. And much work remains to be done.
I’ll say more on this subject in the coming weeks, either here, on my blog, or on my soon-to-launch podcast, Under Standing.
If you have questions or comments about the matter, please share them via my contact form. I’ll address any that I think would be helpful to readers or listeners generally.
Also, I’ll be debating Stephen Hicks about whether Objectivism is a “closed system” or an “open system” at NICON in Serbia this April. Details about that conference and the debate will be announced soon on Ayn Rand Center Europe’s website.