Reason as the Leading Motive

Blanshard and Rationalism

Posted by Jerry on November 11, 2005

Lately, I’ve been exposing myself to critiques of Objectivism and I happened to stumble upon an almost unknown Oxford and Yale philosopher – Brand Blanshard. It’s interesting how he parallels Objectivist ideas quite thoroughly, even in his aesthetic assault on abstract art and relativism in art. He, like Rand, insisted on rational and stylized-realism in art as the only kind of art that can be relevant to human consideration.
Ofcourse, his philosophy is Rationalism, and as that he misses out on the crucial union of reality with abstract thought – the importance of which is one of the most enlightening elements of Objectivism. This divorce of thought from reality allows Blanshard quite consistently to believe in a God (a supernatural Being that can be rational but need not have any necessity to bear consistency with reality).

I agree with almost all of Blanshard’s philosophy precisely because he considers subjectivism and relativism as merely a joke in philosophy and because he places Reason (the practice of) as the highest of human virtues.

“Our age is one of uninhibted artistic experimentation, which may of course lead to achievements of great value. But its most conspicuous achievement so far is a state of aesthetic anarchy . . . . There is, to be sure, a kind of philosophy behind the development of abstract art. It is felt that the sentimentalism of the nineteenth century, the attempt through painting or sculpture to tell a story or paint a moral, was artistically impure because it introduced so much that was not properly aesthetic, and that the right way to get rid of this embarrassing freight is to confine oneself to arrangements of line and color . . . . If this is the only way in which art can achieve integrity, we must wish it well. But is there any reason to believe this? I cannot think so. The painter or poet who prefers the fall of man to a pinhead as his subject is choosing what gives him larger scope as an artist; and he has not felt in the past that he was immolating his art when he used it for the expression of significant ideas and feelings. And an art so pure as to be meaningless can hardly complain if a busy and burdened humanity passes it by.”

— Blanchard in Reason and Analyis


One Response to “Blanshard and Rationalism”

  1. Ergo Sum said

    I made an error in this post by referring to Blanshard as a christian… it is more accurate to say that he was sympathetic to theism, but in the end he died an agnostic.
    He was never able to fully — and to his satisfaction — defend a non-theistic or atheistic worldview. Again, that I think is an attribute of his philosophy – Rationalism.–>

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