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.
The Biden administration should not have exchanged the merchant of death for Brittney Griner.
Negotiating with tyrannical regimes is impractical because it is immoral.
America has now signaled to every thug on the planet that they can kidnap American citizens and get something in exchange.
What should the Biden administration have done? It should have notified Putin, in effect:
If Brittney Griner is not safely back in America within 48 hours we will begin destroying Russia’s computer systems and networks. We will not stop until Brittany is on American soil, in good health. If you harm Brittany, we will kill you, Putin, personally.
We will not say a word of this communication publicly. You may make up any story you like about why you released her.
The choice is yours.
We will not negotiate. You will not hear from us again.
Alas, no American politician today thinks in terms of moral principles. So none would have handled the situation this way.
We will pay for the moral failing.
(Whether Brittney broke a Russian law by "smuggling" hash oil is irrelevant. The possession of a drug does not violate rights, so such a law is illegitimate.)
Something from way, way back . . .
Here’s a poem I wrote when I was nineteen. I like what it implies about spiritual values and the integration of benevolence and self-interest.
I hope you enjoy it!
My father gave to me a kite,
But I’d no need in its lone flight;
For though it had a nine-foot span,
’Twas not enough to lift this man.
I took it down to old Byrd Park;
On one small face it made its mark.
There was a boy that it could lift;
My present then became my gift.
His small face grew to big brown eyes;
My hand held out, “See if it flies.”
Big wind picked up as if on cue—
Big kite. Big day. Big high it flew.
Now when in flight that kite I see,
It is enough to lift—lift me.
Atheism means almost nothing. It’s just a negation—a rejection of the notion that a god exists.
A person’s rejection of the existence of a god says nothing about what he accepts as true, why he accepts the ideas he accepts, how he arrived at his conclusions, or how he and others should and shouldn’t act.
What do you accept as true—and why? These are the questions that matter most.
What are your thoughts on the nature of existence? Do things that exist have a definite identity? Is a rock a rock, a person a person, a trade a trade, and theft theft? Or can a person be a rock? Or theft a trade?
Must things act in accordance with their natures or identities? Can a rock make a choice? Can a person turn into a pillar of salt? Can a thief have high self-esteem or acheive long-term happiness? Why, or why not?
These are metaphysical questions—questions about the way the world fundamentally is—and your answers to such questions underlie and have consequences for everything else you think, accept, and do in life.
Likewise, what are your thoughts on how you can know what is true? Do you know by observing reality with your five senses and mentally integrating your observations into concepts, such as “rock,” “person,” “trade,” “theft,” “self-esteem,” “happiness”—and generalizations, such as “rocks are inanimate” and “people need certain things in order to live” and “self-esteem is essential to happiness”? Or do you know what’s true by consulting your emotions or feelings in disregard of such observations and integrations? Or by deferring to the claims of a leader or the consensus of a tribe?
These are epistemological questions—questions about the nature and means of human knowledge. And your answers to such questions underlie and determine everything else you think, accept, and do.
Similarly, what are your thoughts on how we determine what is morally right and wrong? How do you decide what you should and shouldn’t do? Do you ask yourself: What are the factual requirements of your life and flourishing given the kind of being you are, and then answer that question using reason, observation, and logic? Or do you disregard such facts and consult your emotions or feelings? Or do you turn to other people, a leader, or a tribe to see what they say you should and shouldn’t do?
These are ethical questions, and your answers to them have profound consequences for your life.
So, being an atheist? Not believing in a god? Sure, it means something. But not much. It doesn’t even say why you reject the existence of a god. Do you reject it because you see no evidence to support his existence? Or do you reject it to be a nonconformist, or to piss off your parents, or to fit in with a group or impress other atheists? Only one of these reasons is intellectually responsible.
And even if you reject the existence of god for that reason, your atheism still says nothing about whether you hold—as a matter of principle—that evidence and logic are the only proper standards for accepting ideas as true.
Atheism is just no big a deal.
Your positive philosophy on the other hand—what you do accept as true and the means by which you accept it—this is a big deal. This is something to think about, talk about, check for accuracy, hone, and refine. And the reason all of this is worth doing is that an observation-based, logically integrated philosophy is your means of keeping your ideas connected to reality so that you can act successfully and achieve happiness in reality.
The philosophy you embrace determines whether your ideas are derived from reality and thus useful in reality. It determines whether you live a wonderful life or something less.
Atheism is relatively trivial. Your positive philosophy is profoundly important.
Amala Ekpunobi eloquently exposes the racist left in this beautifully written, passionately delivered video. What a breath of fresh air!
I’m delighted that Amala will be speaking at TOS-Con 2022 about her journey from the regressive left to independent thinking. Scholarships are available for young adults. So if you know any 18- to 29-year-olds who might enjoy a three-day deep dive into philosophy for freedom and flourishing, let ’em know.