• jlrinc
    4
    Is Ayn Rand a Philosopher? I searched and didnt see an equivalent post so I thought I'd ask. IMO She doesnt seem to understand anything about the subject . I find this odd because in the 60's her followers believed that she was the greatest philosopher whoever lived and the only question was whether her boyfriend Nathaniel Branden or Aristotle was number 2.
  • Maw
    1k
    Corey Robin, in his fantastic work The Reactionary Mind, writes, "Saint Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin, and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but she thought she was both."

    Was Ayn Rand a philosopher? If she was, she was a terrible one, and the work she produced was no more unique or profound than what can be found on a typical internet forum.
  • Andrew4Handel
    721
    She came across as a psychopath with a very chilling view of politics and economics.

    The only mitigating circumstance I can think is that was a reaction to the communist terror.
  • Maw
    1k
    The only mitigating circumstance I can think is that was a reaction to the communist terror.Andrew4Handel

    The irony is, is that Ayn Rand actually personally benefited from Bolshevik rule. She attended University for free (and as a Jewish woman she wouldn't have been able to attend at all). She was also able to attend subsidized Russian operettas, which influenced her play-writing and appreciation for theater.
  • Baden
    6.8k
    She came across as a psychopath with a very chilling view of politics and economics.Andrew4Handel

    That's my impression too. The only positive thing I can say about her is that she wasn't a bad stylist. She could actually write decent sounding sentences, which probably more explains the success of some of her novels (at least) than their "philosophical" substance.
  • John Doe
    167
    I'm sure there's an interesting question in here about the status of a philosopher, who gets to 'count' as a philosopher and who does this deciding in the absence of formal criteria.

    Undergrads who are really into Rand are interesting, because once they get it into their head that her exclusion from respectable discussion is a mix of left-wing conspiracy and petty academic stupidity there's little anyone can do to explain convincingly why that's not the case.

    At least from an institutional perspective, I think that Rand's philosophy is largely ignored for the same reason that L. Ron Hubbard's philosophy is ignored: both wrote a bunch of novels and expressed a bunch of philosophical musings, both did so in a way that convinced a few folks that they're super geniuses with the keys to life answers, but ultimately there's nothing valuable, profound, or interesting to it -- and how the hell do you explain to all the various cult members why they don't earn more respect?
  • Andrew4Handel
    721
    I think that the kind of "society" (or non society) Ayn Rand proposes would not work and the America she chose to live in was never like that.

    For example Stephen Hawking was kept alive by the NHS in Britain. In America someone said this and this absolute lie went around.

    "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

    In reality social services and wealth creating infrastructure, paid for by taxes have given opportunities to a lot of talented and productive people including universal education and access to health care. It is the most wealthy countries that have highest levels of social care.

    It is easy to win the battle of survival of the fittest and just go round and kill your competition. The reason we don't all just fight to the death is because cooperation is better for ourselves.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    Ayn Rand came up last night on the Philosophy Now radio program I hear late on Sunday night ("The radio show that questions everything -- except your intelligence"). The speaker mentioned that Rand's "philosophy" is best explored in the economics of economists like Milton Friedman, one of Rand's acolytes.

    People love to hate Ms. Rand, poor thing.

    she wasn't a bad stylist. She could actually write decent sounding sentencesBaden

    Right. Well, so can I. So why am I not more famous? My lack of fame, compared to Miss Rand's, leaves me peckish; even peevish.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    She wasn't "officially" a philosopher no, but she had a decent enough educational attainment (in the context of her milieu) to be not entirely discountable as a thinker. IOW, she was notably bright and did well at school and university, so people who try to make out that she was thick and utterly discountable are protesting too much.

    It's true that her understanding of philosophy and the history of philosophy isn't what's standard these days, but again, that's down to the context of her education - IOW, her understanding of philosophy and its history is what was current at the turn of the century in pre-revolutionary Russia. (e.g. consider that one of her tutors was a minor Russian Idealist philosopher.) One might say, in a trope, that her understanding of philosophy is frozen in amber, from a past time and another culture, and that's why it looks a bit strange to people who have been weaned on either the post-Frege/Russell analytic tradition or the post-Lukacs continental tradition.

    The problem with most criticisms of Rand (apart from the ad homs and strawmen, which are obviously irrelevant) is that they miss the point that she has the classical understanding of identity, and most of her philosophy is built on that foundation. For example, criticisms of her ethics on the basis of the standard analytic is/ought distinction (such as Nozick's), completely miss the point that she really does take seriously the Aristotelian view that things have specific natures, which bypasses the Humean problematic entirely.

    I do quibble with her stance on Kant somewhat - but again, she's reacting to one particular standard late 19th century view of Kant that she was taught, which is that Kant was a species of idealist.

    In sum, once one understands her context and limitations better, one tends to cut her some slack, and within those limitations, she's actually quite an interesting philosopher. But of course many people will be unwilling to cut her that slack, for the obvious reason that she was vehemently anti-Communist and pro-Capitalist.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    It is easy to win the battle of survival of the fittest and just go round and kill your competition. The reason we don't all just fight to the death is because cooperation is better for ourselves.Andrew4Handel

    Obviously it isn't so easy to win the battle of survival of the fittest. The competition, after all, is as capable of coming round to kill their competition (i.e., us) as we are them. We cooperate because we are less likely to be stabbed in the back, just when we are busy thinking about something else.

    Cooperation is better, and competition needs to be kept to the useful minimum (which still leaves room for sorting out the best without killing off the rest).
  • Lif3r
    118
    I do not have the training, but I know that I am a deep thinker. Do I qualify? Perhaps the word theorist will better fit, considering lack of academic studies in academic institutions.
  • Lif3r
    118
    competitionBitter Crank

    Competition stifles innovation. Collaboration strengthens contemplation.



    It sounds pretty, but if someone could break down that first sentence a little bit I would be grateful. It feels like it is not completely correct.
  • Lif3r
    118
    I just feel like when people compete to achieve the same goal first, they keep one another from sharing the concepts that are retained by the opposition's experiments.
  • Lif3r
    118
    The reward for achieving a goal first can be a driving factor for the individual to work diligently, but so too can be the comradary of collaboration.

    The risk is when two collaborate, and one takes the credit. This happens very often as well and is the story of many wealth giants.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    Science, for example, has been the beneficiary of simultaneous competition between research groups and cooperation within those groups. There is a difference between friendly competition (we are both on the same side) and hostile competition (who will be killed first?)

    Competition stifles innovation. Collaboration strengthens contemplation.Lif3r

    You will need to explain how competition stifles innovation. My theory is that when a research group knows that others are seeking the same goal, they work harder so that they can claim the prize of success first. Collaboration is just as critical as competition.

    I'm not sure that it follows logically that collaboration strengthens contemplation. The two terms seem to belong to different spheres. (In a monastery, collaboration might very well strengthen contemplation, but that would be a rather out-of-the-way example.)
  • Baden
    6.8k
    Right. Well, so can I. So why am I not more famous?Bitter Crank

    It's one of the great mysteries of life, which even I have never managed to work out. :chin: We all have our limits...
  • Lif3r
    118


    "Competition stifles innovation"
    Competing with someone to the degree that one is willing to hide information that has been gathered from another person who is also working towards the same goal limits the amount of information that each person is capable of evaluating, and thus limits their ability to produce their desired results.

    "Collaboration strengthens contemplation."
    Collaborating with another person with transparency of the information being processed by two minds yeilds more information available for the two minds to evaluate, and thus strengthens their ability to produce their desired result.

    In other words, "Two minds are better than one."
  • Bitter Crank
    6.7k
    Of course - competition and collaboration are productive when people behave fairly. If they don't, then nothing will help. People have to be honest for business to get done properly.

    Yes 2 minds are better than one. Unless it's me, then the other mind is redundant. (joke)
  • John Doe
    167
    She wasn't "officially" a philosopher no, but she had a decent enough educational attainment (in the context of her milieu) to be not entirely discountable as a thinker. IOW, she was notably bright and did well at school and university, so people who try to make out that she was thick and utterly discountable are protesting too much.gurugeorge

    :brow:

    Even were we to grant this rather dubious claim, is this not true of hundreds if not thousands of Assistant Professors around the world? Not to mention people like my Harvard/Oxford educated friend who can't even find a job in this market. And these people don't even generate enough interest for anyone to so much as bother to discount them as thinkers. Her being discounted is itself a sort of achievement that seems to fit with her level of qualification and accomplishments.

    It's true that her understanding of philosophy and the history of philosophy isn't what's standard these days, but again, that's down to the context of her educationgurugeorge

    Well, this is the reason why there are so many hyper-educated, very brilliant philosophers who virtually nobody bothers with any more, like Roy Wood Sellars or Leonard Linsky. But even then you're certainly inflating her qualifications and accomplishments within her own era.

    One might say, in a trope, that her understanding of philosophy is frozen in amber, from a past time and another culture, and that's why it looks a bit strange to people who have been weaned on either the post-Frege/Russell analytic tradition or the post-Lukacs continental tradition.gurugeorge

    Sure, or perhaps their interests and ways of looking at things won out because they were a million times more interesting and intellectually sophisticated and are still worth engaging with. Hence, few still bother with Rand, just as few bother with Roy Wood or Linsky. As is the case with a lot of decent but ultimately unremarkable thinkers. Isn't this how every discipline works?

    For example, criticisms of her ethics on the basis of the standard analytic is/ought distinction (such as Nozick's), completely miss the point that she really does take seriously the Aristotelian view that things have specific natures, which bypasses the Humean problematic entirely.gurugeorge

    There are plenty of brilliant Aristotelian female philosophers of the same era who continue to attract enormous attention, such as Anscombe and Arendt.

    In sum, once one understands her context and limitations better, one tends to cut her some slack, and within those limitations, she's actually quite an interesting philosopher. But of course many people will be unwilling to cut her that slack, for the obvious reason that she was vehemently anti-Communist and pro-Capitalist.gurugeorge

    Are you sure? I have no doubt that you are sincere in finding her semi-interesting when you simply discount all her flaws and contextualize her as a heavily limited thinker of her era. But then, for the rest of us, why bother with her over the thousands of similar people for to whom we might extend the same courtesy?

    Moreover, given the prevalence of anti-Communists and pro-Capitalists throughout the canon -- including literal Nazis -- doesn't it make a lot more sense to conclude that people are genuine in their belief that she is simply not a particularly remarkable thinker?

    The problem with defending her through a mix of "people are ignorant of context" and "people don't like her nasty views" is that the same reasons for dismissal would seemingly apply to any of the myriad example of people who are taken very, very seriously in intellectual circles.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    But then, for the rest of us, why bother with her over the thousands of similar people for to whom we might extend the same courtesy?John Doe

    Well one obvious reason would be because she was a tremendously influential novelist as well. I mean, I like Anscombe as much as the next guy, but she didn't write best-selling philosophical novels that kick-started a sizeable political movement that still exist to this day.

    So, it might be interesting to, you know, try and figure out why, what her message was, etc.- not just if you find her political position broadly congenial, but especially if you're against it.

    Another reason she's interesting is because very few philosophers in recent times have tried their hand at a complete, systematic "big picture" philosophy with many levels, from synoptic overview to ethical, even aesthetic advice for everyday life. One might say that's because it's been demonstrated to be a fruitless or hubristic endeavour, but really it hasn't; the twee tone of faux humility that's characterized much of academic philosophy in the 20th century, especially in the analytic tradition, has really just been more of a fashion statement and "house style." It's how you write to get published and be clubbable among other academic philosophers. It's actually refreshing to read someone who isn't constrained in that way and is unafraid to have a go at trying to understand how "things, in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term."
  • John Doe
    167
    You're right, that's certainly a huge issue with current academic philosophy (though it's notable and interesting that you want to move in the direction of how Sellars views philosophy, so obviously the big-picture vision is not entirely dead in analytic departments). But we're talking about an individual's choice in engaging with the grand visions of various historical figures. So one again needs to wonder -- why engage with Rand over the myriad other options?

    Here, I just don't see a good philosophical reason, though you're right that there is perhaps a good sociological reason. The problem with this 'sociological' reason, however, is that few want to spend the amount of time and energy it takes to master and respond to a thinker if they feel that time is not well spent -- who wishes to spend a year researching and writing an article (let alone a dissertation) on Rand instead of other folks who articulate their vision in a more cogent and rigorous way? Ultimately, her thought is not of high enough value to justify the personal expenditure for most individuals and so there's only a limited market for her intellectual services.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    though it's notable and interesting that you want to move in the direction of how Sellars views philosophy, so obviously the big-picture vision is not entirely dead in analytic departmentsJohn Doe

    Well that's why I referenced him - like, come on guys, get off your arses, it's not totally alien to your own tradition. So what if you get it wrong and other philosophers laugh and point? Try.

    Ultimately, her thought is not of high enough value to justify the personal expenditure for most individualsJohn Doe

    We'll just have to agree to disagree.
  • John Doe
    167
    Well that's why I referenced him - like, come on guys, get off your arses, it's not totally alien to your own tradition. So what if you get it wrong and other philosophers laugh and point? Try.gurugeorge

    Sure, we can respectfully disagree. I'm still not sure how any of this relates to Rand and the entirely empirical matter of how utterly uninteresting her attempts at philosophizing seem to be to the majority of educated people who nonetheless flock to the grand political visions of Marx, Nietzsche, Arendt, Delueze, Foucault, etc. etc., or how Rand stands as some sort of testament to the failings of analytic philosophy over-against any of those far more worthwhile figures, but I promise to leave off obnoxiously prodding your position.
  • MindForged
    513
    Another reason she's interesting is because very few philosophers in recent times have tried their hand at a complete, systematic "big picture" philosophy with many levels, from synoptic overview to ethical, even aesthetic advice for everyday life. One might say that's because it's been demonstrated to be a fruitless or hubristic endeavour, but really it hasn't; the twee tone of faux humility that's characterized much of academic philosophy in the 20th century, especially in the analytic tradition, has really just been more of a fashion statement and "house style."gurugeorge

    Maybe it a just me - but given you mentioned it I assume this is a fairly common view - but it seems clear that philosophers in general do think such an effort is fruitless (I'll ignore the hubris point, aside from saying that Rand was very directly hubristic in some of her comments about her own work).

    The 20th century was rather a disaster for these big picture projects. Not only is it borderline impossible to have the breadth and depth of knowledge to adequately do such a thing, there are inherent issues with even trying. Like take a relatively simple example. So there was a fun idea at one point that logic was a metaphysically neutral discipline. The idea was that whatever we may disagree about philosophically or whatever, logic is the mediator no party involved can decry (when used validly).

    But this is just an obviously false idea, especially once alternate logics started getting real development (starting with Intuintionistic Logic Heyting made based on Brouwer's intuitionism about math). Different logics make different metaphysical assumptions; intuitionistic logic is anti-realist (it was juxtaposed against math platonism for a reason).

    We could even get into the Relativistic and Quantum mechanical stuff, where we couldn't even baldly assume Euclidean Geometry mapped onto the world and where issues of identity crop up (not to mention the interpretation issue). But that's not necessary, it's a fairly continuous widening that happened across many branches of philosophy. Starting from axioms and working out from there doesn't end up being particularly insightful because even that starting place has difficult issues. And that difficult bubbles outward to everything else.

    Just look at the situation in ethics. Even among professionals, it's a nearly three way tie between deontology, consequentialism and virtue ethics (though that latter one is a little less popular). If even that is so contentious, why would I want her read an attempt at a systematic regimentation which will necessarily leave out important bits of every discipline? As a discipline of learning increases in complexity (and thus the need of more and more specializiation) this sort of thing pretty much has to go. This is probably the source of stigma of philosophy not making progress. It continuously drills down, making issues clearer while creating ever more positions people can hold on every issue.

    That's just one issue with Rand at the level of her approach. The actual quality (or lack thereof) is another matter (doesn't interest me, and from the general panning of her work in academia, it seems common a response).
  • gurugeorge
    517
    the majority of educated peopleJohn Doe

    Generally a good guide, but not always.

    (Also, I'd be careful about that sort of appeal to authority - libertarians have the highest IQ of all the political persuasions ;) )
  • gurugeorge
    517
    But this is just an obviously false idea, especially once alternate logics started getting real development (starting with Intuintionistic Logic Heyting made based on Brouwer's intuitionism about math). Different logics make different metaphysical assumptions; intuitionistic logic is anti-realist (it was juxtaposed against math platonism for a reason).MindForged

    Sure there are alternative logics, but the question of interest is which form of logic does the world happen to behave in accordance with? At the level of the middle-sized furniture of the world, at least, it seems to be good old-fashioned binary logic.

    This is probably the source of stigma of philosophy not making progress. It continuously drills down, making issues clearer while creating ever more positions people can hold on every issue.MindForged

    And that's something philosophers can do, but the question is whether it's worth doing - or whether philosophers doing that has been simply an artifact of the academic system.

    Thinking about the big picture is also something philosophers can do - and in fact, in the eyes of most ordinary folks, they're paying a portion of their taxes in the hope that philosophers will do that dirty job that they don't have time to do, because they're so busy living ordinary lives. That philosopher are failing to take up their proper obligation and public responsibility, is part of Rand's complaint about philosophy as practiced.
  • John Doe
    167
    Generally a good guide, but not always.gurugeorge

    A good guide when discussing someone's intellectual status.

    (Also, I'd be careful about that sort of appeal to authority - libertarians have the highest IQ of all the political persuasions ;) )gurugeorge

    I'd be careful defending any political position that fails to adequately account for the views expressed by a large community of intelligent and hard working individuals from across the political spectrum. I'd also advise against equating IQ with any sort of insight or wisdom regarding politics.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    I'd be careful defending any political position that fails to adequately account for the views expressed by a large community of intelligent and hard working individuals from across the political spectrum.John Doe

    Well if you put it that way, then Rand isn't "ignored," but a modestly popular taste on the Right. (Lots of books sold, remember?)

    And if you want to use "intelligence," as a criterion, what better measure of general intelligence do we have than IQ tests?
  • John Doe
    167
    Well if you put it that way, then Rand isn't "ignored," but a modestly popular taste on the Right. (Lots of books sold, remember?)gurugeorge

    Sure, I guess. She has one philosophical work that cracks 500 citations and a philosophically-themed novel.

    And if you want to use "intelligence," as a criterion, what better measure of general intelligence do we have than IQ tests?gurugeorge

    I don't want to use it as a criterion. That's why I did not mention it except in response to your quote. I am simply responding to the question "Is Ayn Rand a philosopher?" with "How do the many hard-working and smart people who comprise the community of people who evaluate and discuss philosophy treat her work?" And I take it the clear answer is that the majority of this community does not hold her work in very high esteem.
  • Christoffer
    78
    That there's a world outside of our perception that we perceive through our senses isn't anything new in her objectivism compared to other philosophers, however I think the only good thing she put forward is putting objectivism on the spectrum so that the extreme Laissez-faire capitalism and pure egoistic values has a place that we can measure against. On the other end we have collectivism and relativism. It's easier to draw up a political map with objectivism included. It's simplified I know, but anyway...

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