Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

The Anatomy of Adulteration

Posted by Jerry on July 27, 2006

Recently, Robert Bidinotto’s lecture (transcribed here) titled, “The Anatomy of Cooperation” compelled me to jump into the still-raging debate among Objectivist circles on the question: Is the philosophy of Objectivism open to interpretations, modifications, alterations, and re-definitions?

Thus far, I have been mostly silent on this topic (except for posting some brief comments on different blogs expressing sometimes contradictory views) because I didn’t feel intellectually knowledgeable and equipped enough to decide on a position either way.

However, Bidinotto’s lecture was so obviously an attempt to justify the adulteration of Ayn Rand’s formulated philosophy that I couldn’t help but express my deep disapproval of his lecture on his blog. Interestingly enough, Bidinotto chose not my post my last comment on his blog–ignoring it completely. Of course, he is within his right to do so. However, I am only wondering why would someone fail to defend one’s views in the face of direct, honest, respectful yet pointed criticisms. Luckily, (and actually because somehow I expected such a tactic from him) I saved all my comments and his responses to them. I also saved my last comment which he did not post on his blog, did not acknowledge the comment, nor responded to it yet. I had decided to wait for a couple days to give him time and the benefit of the doubt–see if he may just have been too busy to moderate comments and post mine with a reply (and this might still be the case); however, I noticed comments from other posters posted on the site, leading me to believe that Bidinotto has simply decided to not post mine.

From Ergo on 07/22/06

You said: “Objectivism will have to come to mean that open system of rational individualist philosophical principles described by Will Thomas and David Kelley; and agreement will have to be based on its essentials, not on every comma Rand struck on her Remington Rand typewriter. ”  
 
But this is completely wrong. Rand has already developed her philosophy of Objectivism; she has already formulated and defined the KEY ESSENTIALS of her philosophy around which she built a whole system of interrelated principles and ideas. Now, why do we need Kelley or you or whoever else to revise Objectivism’s essentials and define them as however you want?  
I mean, sure… go ahead and create a new set of philosophical essentials and definitions, but that will not be Objectivism then, i.e., the philosophy of Ayn Rand.  
 
Objectivism is open only in that its implications can be explored and applications can be extended. In its fundamentals, Objectivism is closed. If there are other key elements that need to be defined as “fundamental,” it would have to go under a different philosophical name…  
Just as including the veneration of Muhammed as a fundamental principle in Christianity would alter the essential IDENTITY of the Christian religion.

From Bidinotto on 07/22/06

“Ergo,” I wonder if we really disagree? You and I both seem to be saying that to call oneself an “Objectivist,” one must agree to the “essentials” of Rand’s system. No argument there.  
 
But what ARE those essentials? Are they Rand’s “Objectivism standing on one foot” version? Are they what she outlined in “Galt’s Speech” in Atlas Shrugged? Are they the principles defined in Nathaniel Branden’s old “Basic Principles of Objectivism” course, approved by Rand herself (and still sold by TAS)? Or are they the principles in Peikoff’s later “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” course, also endorsed by Rand?  
 
All of those are versions of the “essentials” of Objectivism, as defined and/or approved by Rand herself. Some are much more elaborate than others; but none contradicts the others. I am perfectly comfortable with those renditions.  
So I guess that makes me an “Objectivist,” by any of those statements of the philosophy’s “essentials”…as defined and endorsed by Rand herself.  
 
So I’m confused: First, if I accept all these “essentials,” in what respect am I not an “Objectivist”?  
 
Second, and even more interesting: What would YOU list as the “essentials” of Objectivism…and thus, which of Rand’s views would you therefore regard as “non-essential” to her philosophy? It would clearly not make any sense to have such a concept as “essential” if not to distinguish it from “non-essential.” So help me out here: What views of Rand are not “essential” to her philosophy?

From Ergo on 07/23/06

Robert,  
 
You’re presenting a false alternative by dividing Objectivist principles into “essentials” and “non-essentials”. By doing that, I think you haven’t understood the kind of philosophy Objectivism is.  
 
Objectivism is one whole. Wholly integrated body or system of ideas.  
 
My use of the word “essentials” is in referring to the “fundamentals” of Objectivism, i.e. the most basic premises without which one cannot make any additional steps in legitimately understanding this philosophy.  
 
In my use of the term “essentials”, there are NO “non-essential” principles in Objectivism… there are only DERIVATIVES, i.e. that which FOLLOW or FLOW from the essentials.  
 
The essentials are accepting the fact that everything exists with identity, that man is volitional, that reason is the only guide to and tool of survival for man, that survival is not automatic and therefore man must work and produce inorder to survive.  
 
If you notice, as we get higher and higher in the hierarchy of principles, we begin to notice a blurry demarcation between “essentials” and derivates… such is the interconnected relations between ideas in Objectivism. You cannot SEPERATE them neatly into “essentials” and “non-essentials” as you are so bent on doing, and are INSISTING that others do too (in your lecture).

From Bidinotto on 07/23/06

“Ergo,” I haven’t heard any of my questions addressed. I indicated that I do accept all the principles of Objectivism, in the sources I mentioned that were approved by Rand herself as representing Objectivism’s “essentials.” So again — in what respect am I not an “Objectivist”?  
 
Now clearly, some principles are more fundamental than others. As a thought experiment: If it were demonstrated that some more derivative one(s) was inconsistent with the more fundamental ones, where would YOUR loyalties lie: to the “whole system,” including the inconsistencies…or to the more fundamental principles?  
 
And in such a case, what would you call “Objectivism”: that whole system, inconsistencies and all — or the basic principles that you yourself enunciated, i.e.: “The essentials are accepting the fact that everything exists with identity, that man is volitional, that reason is the only guide to and tool of survival for man, that survival is not automatic and therefore man must work and produce inorder to survive.” If, for example, it were demonstrated that some political view of Rand’s was incompatible with that statement, what would your position be: that you rejected Objectivism…or that Objectivism had to be revised in accordance with the new knowledge?  
 
Just wondering…

My final comment that was not posted nor responded to: 

You repeatedly ask me: in what respect am I not an “Objectivist”?

Nowhere in any of my comments have I claimed that you are not an Objectivist. I’m not sure why you seek validation from ME of whether or not you are an Objectivist. I suppose that is a question you have to answer for yourself. Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, is before you. All you have to do is judge your beliefs, standards, and principles as being consistent with the philosophy or not.

My point in these comments is that your UNDERSTANDING of this philosophy is flawed, and your insistence upon others to do as you do (i.e. compartmentalize Objectivism into “essentials” and “non-essentials,” then merrily revise the “non-essentials” of the philosophy as you see fit) is seriously misguided.

Your thought experiment conflates many issues. The question of “where my loyalties lie” is different from the question of WHAT Objectivism is and what its essentials/derivatives are. If certain derivative principles in fact contradict the validated and the verified fundamental ones, then yes, the derivative principles will need to be revised in accordance with the fundamental principles. However, what new philosophical view results from such revisions will NOT be Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (as she herself very clearly says so), it will be attributed to whoever that philosopher or thinker that made those changes.

To maintain that any, all, and every revision to Objectivism will still remain part of Objectivism is to morph Ayn Rand’s philosophy into something that she simply did not formulate. It will be some kind of free-for-all system of unconnected, or only loosely connected, ideas. 

You are seriously misguiding readers by saying that their only choice is between choosing what you deem are the “essentials” of the philosophy and what you describe as “every comma Rand struck on her Remington Rand typewriter.”

Both those alternatives are patently false. First, Objectivism–as I already mentioned–cannot be neatly compartmentalized into essential and disposable, as you are so wont to do. Further, Objectivism is NOT EVERY COMMA Rand struck on her Remington Rand typewriter–or, your implication that Objectivism is literally every word uttered by Ayn Rand, such as her tastes in movies, food, music, pets, etc.

I assume you’re smart enough to know that your alternatives are false. My question to you is, why then do you present them as the only options to choose from?

Advertisements

3 Responses to “The Anatomy of Adulteration”

  1. Ergo, I like your comments on “derivative” being the proper contrast with “essential.” However, where systems of philosophy are concerned, I’d focus upon the nature and role of *philosophic principles*. Objectivism is a hierarchical network of philosophic principles. Although some principles are more fundamental and others are more derivative, all are part of Objectivism.

    Contrary to Bidinotto’s evasions, that approach doesn’t make Objectivism equivalent to everything that AR ever wrote. After all, AR wrote about much more than philosophic principles! She also wrote on issues outside philosophy — and applied her priniciples to a wide variety of concretes. (Those concrete applications make clear the meaning of the principle, but they are not part of it.)

    Notably, the application of Objectivist principles to particular cases isn’t a matter of subjective whim. If a person claims that rational selfishness demands feeding soup to drug addicted homeless crazies every Sunday, then either he’s seriously ignorant about the nature of rational egoism — or he’s willfully distorting it. In either case, the person’s not an Objectivist. In contrast, when a person knowledgeable of Objectivist principles misapplies them in hard cases, that doesn’t disqualify him from being an Objectivist. That’s why people in ARI circles will often vehemently disagree on points related to philosophy, even while both recognize that the other person is an Objectivist.

    The “revisionist Objectivists” like Bidinotto are quite another breed. They want to claim AR’s philosophy as their own, even while distorting and undermining it. To do so, they deliberately play dumb about the distinction between philosophy and non-philosophy, as well as between principles and non-principles. All that definitely disqualifies them from being Objectivists at all.

  2. Ergo said

    What irks me the most about his lecture is his entirely FALSE alternatives in Objectivism of “essentials” versus “non-essentials” and “essentials” versus “every comma Rand struck.”

    It is clear that he views Objectivism not as a wholly interrelated system of principles hierarchically organized–with fundamental principles at the foundation and related derivations based upon them and connected to each other–but as a disjointed, unconnected, linear series of ideas or principles from which (by whatever standard) one must be able to pick and choose which ones are “essential” and which one’s are “non-essential”… and if we fail to do as he says, then we have invariably come to regard the entire philosophy of Objectivism as “every comma Rand struck on her Remington Rand typewriter.”

    Frankly, I also find his formulation as such, quite offensive.

    Then, at one point in his lecture he quotes Ayn Rand as saying “[the 3 rules regarding the relationship of principles to goals] are by no means exhaustive; they are merely the first leads to the understanding of a vast subject.” A few paragraphs later, Bidinotto criticizes Rand by asking whether those 3 rules “exhaust the logical possibilities” and goes on to point out that they do not in certain specific scenarios. Ofcourse not! Rand herself said they are not exhaustive, and Bidinotto just quoted her saying that same thing. So, why pose the question at all?

  3. Mark said

    My sense is that Mr. Bidinotto has succumbed to moral relativism.

    Relativism intrinsically allows for this picking and choosing, or trying to sublimate one aspect of a philosophy to another, based on an arbitariness.

    In doing so, sure you keep grad students rich in theses, but you stray away from what was actually laid out by Ms. Rand (in this case) as ‘Capital O’ Objectivism.

    For me, Ergo, you nailed it all with the following:

    Rand has already developed her philosophy of Objectivism; she has already formulated and defined the KEY ESSENTIALS of her philosophy around which she built a whole system of interrelated principles and ideas. Now, why do we need Kelley or you or whoever else to revise Objectivism’s essentials and define them as however you want?
    I mean, sure… go ahead and create a new set of philosophical essentials and definitions, but that will not be Objectivism then, i.e., the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: