• jasonm
    2
    I think I have the answer: good philosophy - actually good research in any field - doesn't just prey on one's fears or vulnerabilities. Good philosophy really makes you think; it especially makes you question and think critically. Ayn Rand's philosophy fails to really do any of this. There is so much emphasis in her philosophy on selfishness as a 'virtue' and how flawed conventional values are without any solid argument to support either of these notions that it is hard to say that it really makes one think at all.

    Now, one could say this is simply because her philosophy questions common values that it hasn't received academic acclaim; it in fact really does "make you think." But consider the theory of 'moral luck' by Thomas Nagel. Nagel's argument is that the way one behaves morally is largely a matter of luck or chance - a simple roll of the dice. In essence, it depends on one's genetics and the environment in which they were raised. For instance, if someone were raised in Nazi Germany, they would have a very different outlook on the Jews, and therefore racism, than if they were raised in 21st century North America. And, in people with ASPD - a trait related to criminal actiivty - evidence shows that identical twins often share the trait genetically. The notion then of luck should apply to almost all moral qualities. We therefore should not punish or reward people for their moral behaviour at all!

    Now, I have an argument against Nagel that I'm not going to get into. But you can see the difference between Ayn Rand and Thomas Nagel: even though Nagel presents an unpalatable conclusion, he at least presents plausible arguments and makes you think critically about the issues. I don't feel one can say the same thing about Rand. Her philosophy seems to be just one personal attack after another against human ethics and human emotion; she does not seem to have any real justification for asserting these beliefs.

    In any event, this is just my opinion. I am open to hearing yours...
  • mnoone
    6
    She is which is why she is taught in American high schools. She is a socialist in favor of intellectual property and that is all you need to know
  • ernestm
    629
    I think the fallacies with objectivism should be taught, especially in the USA, but there are other problems. I returned to community college to do some courses in literature. The first complete book I studied as a child was Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, well actually a play, when I was 10 years old. It was not considered unusual at the time.

    In 2005, I learned in community college I would have to study for three years before I could read Shakespeare again, and I was first required to read Harry Potter for four months with people who could hardly utter more than four words in a row without immense effort. That is the reality of the USA now, and the diminishing number of people here who remember more educated days are slowly dieing off.
  • Maw
    1.5k
    I think the fallacies with objectivism should be taught, especially in the USA, but there are other problems. I returned to community college to do some courses in literature. The first complete book I studied as a child was Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, well actually a play, when I was 10 years old. It was not considered unusual at the time.

    In 2005, I learned in community college I would have to study for three years before I could read Shakespeare again, and I was first required to read Harry Potter for four months with people who could hardly utter more than four words in a row without immense effort. That is the reality of the USA now, and the diminishing number of people here who remember more educated days are slowly dieing off.
    ernestm

    I'll take 'Things That Never Happened' for 1000, Alex
  • boethius
    244
    Though I agree with your conclusion, that Ayn Rand is uninteresting philosophical material, I have issue with several points of your argument.

    I'm not familiar with Thomas Nigel's work, but from what you present it is equally uninteresting as Rand's and for the same reason. The idea our actions are determined by nature and nurture and so morality doesn't really exist, goes back to the ancient Greeks. If is main argument is "luck" then he's presenting nothing original and entertaining his views is just a waste of time for those familiar the works of the great philosophers who have debated this issue.

    Though please point out if Nigel does review all this previous material in a serious way and makes some original extension, or at least useful synthesis, of it.

    If not, it is a very similar case to Rand. She presents herself as saying something original, but the subject of self interest, that everyone does or then should act only in self interest, again goes back to the Ancient Greeks.

    [...] right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. -- Thucydides

    Likewise, Plato has a whole dialogue on whether the "just" only pretend to be just because it furthers their interests.

    Worse still for Rand, literally the very first thing Homer thinks needing explaining is why Greek society doesn't always immediately descend into chaotic melee of all against all and the strong dominating the weak and taking what they want. His answer: Theseus and Pirithous killed all the brigands (i.e. expressing in mythological form the theory that the cohesion of society can only be maintained by heroic deeds of the equally strong defending the weak).

    The work of Rand is akin to what real scientists -- i.e. those who have bothered to learn the material of their field -- call crank science -- amateurs who have barely scratched the surface of the field of their fancy and who believe they have generated some revolutionary genius concept. Of course, there's no problem being an amateur if one doesn't immediately conclude every new idea one has is original; but, if one suspects originality one bothers to go out and actually check (which is nearly guaranteed to result in finding the idea is not original and probably originated hundreds or thousands of years ago).

    Moreover, it is nearly always the case that amateurs who do make some "maverick" contribution, still bothered to learn the material of their field, they just didn't do it in a academic setting; so they are exceptions that prove the rule (the rule being: no one is so smart as to be able to simply skip thousands of years of accumulated human knowledge by millions of participants and just jump straight to profound new insights).

    Crank scientists and crank philosophers like Rand basically have the intellectual capacity of children, insofar as their subject matter expertise is concerned.

    Someone serious about discussing Rand's contentions would go back to the ancients Greeks, the Tao, the Upanishads, Buddha, Confucius, the Tora and the Gospel, and see, starting from the beginning of written history and in addition what insights archaeologists and sociologists have gained in to pre-history and non-written cultures, and from this starting point see how the issue is debated all the way to the present, then present the results of this inquiry and the critical positions that have been taken over the years and the arguments in favour of preferred premises and conclusions and against the primary contenders with them, followed by one's original ideas, if there be any (there is no problem with novel analysis of old ideas).

    This is a significant amount of work, but, if you think about it, it's very likely the only pathway to make some serious contribution to what has been already said. Crank philosophers like Rand don't bother to put in the work to make a serious contribution, so why should serious people take her seriously? There is plenty of crank philosophy out there, as it requires almost no effort to generate more and more or it, and there is simply no time to analyse it all and meticulously demonstrate every recasting of old ideas into new words and uncovering every totally unsupportable argument, false dichotomy and total obliviousness to critical contentions.

    Now, the proponents of Rand take comfort in her popularity within the US. "She must have good ideas if she has such a following" is generally the view, implicit or explicit, that they believe is good basis to avoid engaging in the actual philosophical material that has been written about their beliefs. This is of course a foolish view.

    edit: it was Theseus and Pirithous not so much Hercules.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    This question comes up periodically, and I thought I answered it again recently, but in a nutshell, it's a combo of

    (a) initially she wrote fiction and it's difficult to move out of being pigeonholed (she's still popularly thought of as primarily a fiction author),

    (b) she didn't develop or emerge from academic philosophy socially, and as unfortunate as it may be, it's much more difficult to "break in" to that world than it is to emerge from within its confines,

    (c) she's seen as (i) not being a "systematic" philosopher and (ii) having a lot of wonky notions, having misunderstandings, etc. about previous philosophers and theories, and this is seen as an upshot of and justification for (b). Of course, many philosophers who are studied in universities, who are regularly published in academic journals, etc. also have issues with (i) and (ii), but they developed within academic philosophy.
  • ernestm
    629
    Someone serious about discussing Rand's contentions would go back to the ancients Greeks, the Tao, the Upanishads, Buddha, Confucius, the Tora and the Gospel, and see, starting from the beginning of written history and in addition what insights archaeologists and sociologists have gained in to pre-history and non-written cultures, and from this starting point see how the issue is debated all the way to the present, then present the results of this inquiry and the critical positions that have been taken over the years and the arguments in favour of preferred premises and conclusions and against the primary contenders with them, followed by one's original ideas, if there be any (there is no problem with novel analysis of old ideas).boethius

    As you say, its a significant amount of work, and significantly, people who know enough to do that don't want to do it.
  • boethius
    244
    This question comes up periodically, and I thought I answered it again recently, but in a nutshell, it's a combo ofTerrapin Station

    Please provide a link and the reasons you believe your answer was complete and correct in the other discussion you mention.

    (a) initially she wrote fiction and it's difficult to move out of being pigeonholed (she's still popularly thought of as primarily a fiction author),Terrapin Station

    There are plenty of authors, taken seriously in academia, that wrote fiction, from the Greek Playwrights, to Shakespeare and Moliere, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Satre, Camus. Can you provide another example of a supposed relevant thinker, much less great philosopher, who has been pigeonholed as a fiction author?

    Furthermore, the reason Ayn Rand comes up on philosophy discussion forums is precisely because she is not pigeonholed as simply a fiction author, otherwise she wouldn't come up at all. She was not interviewed about her views because she is just writing fiction. To her adherents she is the founder of objectivism, a philosophical school; they don't refer to other "real philosophers" that hold these views and then just mention Rand wrote some fiction with the themes. She is not dismissed by academics as terrible philosophy because it is fiction, but because it is terrible philosophy.

    However, personally I would agree that she is simply a fiction author with as much philosophical relevance as Daniel Steel, and even writing in the same genre; just Steel writes eroticism for women, whereas Rand wrote erotic fantasy for young men wanting to masturbate to the contours of unfettered power.

    (c) she's seen as (i) not being a "systematic" philosopher and (ii) having a lot of wonky notions, having misunderstandings, etc. about previous philosophers and theoriesTerrapin Station

    You seem to agree that she is not very learned, yet lament that she is not counted amount the learned. Is the criticism you mention correct but somehow irrelevant to the value of her arguments? Or is it incorrect and she does indeed accurately understand previous theories and philosophers? If the latter, please provide a citation of a typical supposed misrepresentation of previous thinkers and explain why it's in fact accurate. If the former, please explain why dealing essentially in strawmen doesn't impede relevant, much less brilliant, philosophy in Rand's case; would this be a general rule for every similar case?

    Of course, many philosophers who are studied in universities, who are regularly published in academic journals, etc. also have issues with (i) and (ii), but they developed within academic philosophy.Terrapin Station

    Yes, please provide a list of these many academic philosophers who are as poor thinkers as Rand but are not only published but seriously studied by other academics. Let us compare the errors of the one with those of the latter and see for ourselves if they are similar and Rand is indeed unjustly not counted among the incompetent philosophers.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    In the spirit of solving one thing at a time:

    There are plenty of authors, taken seriously in academia, that wrote fiction,boethius

    Didn't I write the word "initially"?
  • boethius
    244
    Didn't I write the word "initially"?Terrapin Station

    What does this change? There are plenty of authors that likewise wrote initially fiction that are taken seriously, in some cases only fiction. If you wrote a masters or PhD thesis on some philosophical nuance in Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Hesse, Tolstoy, and many others, academia would not frown upon you for addressing a fictional author; rather they would be weary that you can find any nuance that has not already been addressed many times over, precisely because these authors are taken so seriously a significant body of work already exists about them that one should be cautious about making any new addition. And if one was criticized for addressing one of these or other works of fiction, the criticism wouldn't be that fiction is not a suitable form of philosophy but that the content is simply not original nor substantive and there is simply far better material available dealing with the subject matter; can you find any academic that has criticized Rand for being fiction rather than this latter form of argument?

    If other fictional authors are taken seriously in academia, what is your argument about pigeonholing? which seems to imply it is a pattern of the academic philosophy community or then an exception was made in Rand's case? If there's a pattern there should be other examples. If an exception was made, why was fiction suddenly a factor in this case and not in others?

    Edit: also, if we're solving one thing at a time, why skip over my first question of "Please provide a link and the reasons you believe your answer was complete and correct in the other discussion you mention." If you've already made a great defense of this issue, it seems a labour saving device -- which seems the presumed goal of "solving one thing at a time" is to save on labour -- to reference your existing defense and summarize your success; a victory lap is rarely considered onerous to the champion.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    What does this change? There are plenty of authors that likewise wrote initially fiction that are taken seriously . . . Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Hesse, Tolstoyboethius

    Which of those authors are you claiming are taught in philosophy departments as philosophers?
  • Sculptor
    41
    Rand is not a philosopher. She was a political bigot and polemicist. He ideas are anti-human, anti-social, and have shown to encourage selfishness and greed.
    You might as well ask, why is Mein Kampf not part of every syllabus.
  • boethius
    244
    Which of those authors are you claiming are taught in philosophy departments as philosophers?Terrapin Station

    I didn't make any such claim, only that they all wrote initially and in some cases only fiction and are taken seriously in academic philosophy (your retort to my previous list of philosophers who also wrote fiction seemed to be that Rand is different because she initially wrote fiction). Why move the goal posts from "taken seriously" to "taught as philosophers"? Does it make a difference to the debate?

    Now, I have no problem moving the goal posts and answering your question, but, first, taking one thing at a time, how does it even support your position one way or the other?

    Since you want to save time, it should be pretty clear that if I answer "they are not taught as philosophers, just considered as serious philosophical material as I stated" this advances your cause, or perhaps some other answer would.

    Whatever the case: How? How is this not completely irrelevant to the debate at hand?

    And if it's not relevant, is not engaging in "the 'philosopher' label game" -- who of the thinkers taken seriously by academic philosophers is really a "philosopher", not just great writer, historian, intellectual, etc. and who isn't -- just petty deflection (i.e. to start a new debate about something else to avoid the substantive criticism already offered on your views)?

    Of course, I'll also accept "ahhah, just wait and see what awaits you once I have your answer on this point" or some such variation. If you are certain your question is critical, I have no problem seeing where it goes.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    I didn't make any such claim, only that they all wrote initially and in some cases only fiction and are taken seriously in academic philosophyboethius

    What I was answering is why Rand isn't taught in an academic phil context.

    You're agreeing that the authors you mentioned aren't taught in an academic phil context. Yet you're saying "they're taken seriously." I don't understand what "taken seriously" refers to there. They're not taught in a philosophy context, as philosophers. What do we do with them in an academic phil context that equates to "taking them seriously"?
  • boethius
    244
    What I was answering is why Rand isn't taught in an academic phil context.Terrapin Station

    Yes, this is the debate. You've advanced the theory that it's for reasons extraneous to the quality of her arguments: that a. she wrote fiction or then "initially fiction" (and so presumably academic philosophers will pigeonhole her as a writer of fiction and unlikely to take her fiction or later non-fiction work seriously due to the starting point), that b. she developed outside academia and so it's hard to "break in", c. and she had wonky and erroneous notions about previous theories and thinkers.

    Now, if your saying she has the problem of the overwhelming point of d. creating very low quality arguments filled with fallacies and strawmen at every turn, then we are in agreement. However, based on your comments you seem to believe she is generally excluded from academic philosophy for your points a, b and c primarily, which leave the possibility she has great philosophical material to engage with but has been overlooked due to the biases of the academic philosophical community.

    You're agreeing that the authors you mentioned aren't taught in an academic phil context.Terrapin Station

    I do not say this, I said I would answer after you explained why we should move the goal posts and why it's relevant to the debate even if we do move the goal posts. I feel I was pretty clear about this, but please point out where the ambiguity arose.

    These authors are all taken seriously as philosophers, and taught as philosophers in the history of thought, and you can find plenty of academic dissertations on the philosophy of each one expressed in their fiction as well as use of their fiction to illustrate various philosophical themes. I would be surprised if you found a philosophy professor that dismissed any one of these thinkers as a just poor writing and arguments, nothing interesting philosophically, and really amazed if you found a professor that dismissed all five of these authors as "not philosophers; not relevant to philosophy departments".

    They share in common with Rand writing fiction, but what they don't share is consistently misunderstanding previous thinkers and theories and formulating and attacking an entire field of strawmen.

    But again, let's say you find a professor that does view Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Hesse, Tolstoy just as irrelevant to philosophy as Rand's fiction, what about Rand's non-fiction? Your contention 'a' seems to be it's dismissed because of her previously writing fiction, that the academic community tends to pigeonhole fiction writers who try to break out of this philosophically irrelevant genre, akin to a signer trying to expand into acting and directors and the public not giving fair treatment; what's your supporting evidence? Are there other authors that fit this pattern, or just Rand?
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    You've advanced the theory that it's for reasons extraneous to the quality of her arguments:boethius

    No, I didn't. That was part of the reasons that I gave.

    I only read the above by the way.

    One thing at a time. Of course, you can type and blah blah blah on and on as much as you want, but I'm only doing one thing at a time. I see it as more or less a disease to have to type so much in response to simple comments. Aren't you capable of keeping things brief and focused?
  • boethius
    244
    No, I didn't. That was part of the reasons that I gave.Terrapin Station

    Your points a, b and c, are all extraneous to the quality of argument. One can write fiction and have high quality arguments. One can develop outside of academia and have high quality arguments. One can misunderstand previous thinkers and theories and nevertheless have high quality arguments (bring plausible premises to sound conclusions).

    But if you also agree with my point d. that the overwhelming factor why Rand is not taken seriously is that she makes low quality arguments that have no merit to be taken seriously, then what is there to debate?

    Sure a, b, and c add some slight additional obstacle for Rand to "break in" to academia on top of point d. but who cares. Shakespeare is relatively recently looked at very seriously as presaging many philosophical movements that developed later, such as existentialism (perhaps he was a very serious and dedicated philosopher that used fiction so as to avoid being burned at the stake), Spinoza and Schopenhauer were initially dismissed as irrelevant outsiders, and accusations of misunderstanding or misrepresenting previous thinkers and theories is exchanged between many schools of thought all the time (he who has "gotten" Nietzsche, cast the first stone).
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    Your points a, b and c, are all extraneous to the quality of argument.boethius

    (c) is about the assessment of her content.
  • boethius
    244
    (c) is about the assessment of her content.Terrapin Station

    It's assessment of only part of her content, the part dealing with views of other thinkers, it says nothing of what arguments she presents herself from first principles, the much more important part.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    It's assessment of only part of her content, the part dealing with views of other thinkers, it says nothing of what arguments she presents herself from first principles, the much more important part.boethius

    What does (c)(i) have to do with other thinkers?
  • boethius
    244
    What does (c)(i) have to do with other thinkers?Terrapin Station

    "(i) not being a 'systematic' philosopher" also says nothing about quality of arguments.

    Many philosophers are not considered 'systematic' in their process or world view, even disagreeing that a system is desirable or even possible. Academic philosophers do not view non-systemic thinkers as creating low quality argument simply because they work outside or even repudiate a systemic view. This is also extraneous to quality of argument. A philosopher may have positive argument for believing a system is desirable and possible and their system is correct, and so by inference, if this is correct, all non-systemic philosophers are wrong, but even in this case it's not cause to assume the non-systemic philosophers are making poor quality arguments: philosophers can make extremely high quality arguments requiring extremely careful consideration -- merit very serious review -- and still be wrong.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    "(i) not being a 'systematic' philosopher" also says nothing about quality of arguments.boethius

    It's an impression of her quality as a philosopher, which is about argumentation.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    You didn't comment, by the way, on the fact that (c) (i) has nothing to do with her views of other philosophers. You had just said that's all it was about.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    You also never responded to me asking you about the claim about Shakepeare, etc. being "taken seriously."

    Let's solve one thing at a time. So we don't have to keep going back and forth.
  • boethius
    244
    Let's solve one thing at a time.Terrapin Station

    Yes, I thought this was your method. And yet you make 3 successive posts about more than one thing. What gives? I thought you only ever did one thing. Furthermore, you skip all the way to point c (i) yet we haven't solved (a) much less (b).

    To make matters worse:

    Of course, you can type and blah blah blah on and on as much as you want, but I'm only doing one thing at a time. I see it as more or less a disease to have to type so much in response to simple comments. Aren't you capable of keeping things brief and focused?Terrapin Station

    Three comments in succession doesn't seem like one at a time. Or is it? One at a time but three times in a row? Are you being consistent here, or is it terribly not brief.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    And yet you make 3 successive posts about more than one thing. What gives?boethius

    "You also never responded . . ."
  • boethius
    244
    "You also never responded . . ."Terrapin Station

    Ok, have you responded to my very first question for you?

    Please provide a link and the reasons you believe your answer was complete and correct in the other discussion you mention.boethius

    I don't see how you have progressed by methodically dealing with things one at a time.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.8k
    She is a socialist...mnoone

    I have only a glancing acquaintance with Ayn Rand, but my understanding thus far is that she tends toward fascism, not socialism. Selfishness, which she proclaims as a virtue, is anathema to socialism, a social, communal, political ideology. :chin:
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    Please provide a link and the reasons you believe your answer was complete and correct in the other discussion you mention.boethius

    I didn't respond to that because it made no sense to me. What relevance would a "link" be first off?
  • boethius
    244
    The first thing you say is:

    This question comes up periodically, and I thought I answered it again recently, but in a nutshell, it's a combo ofTerrapin Station

    Implies you've already made answers that you consider satisfactory with respect to the issues raised here and are only here providing the nutshell version. Or at each time you only provide a nutshell version of a more complete answer you choose to withhold and never elaborate? If not, what could be more relevant than a link to both satisfactory and more complete answers that you've already made?

    Or did you mean to say, "This question comes up periodically, and periodically I am unable to provide a good answer and make as poor a showing of my critical thinking abilities as will demonstrate for you here". If so, we've reached complete agreement. If not, it's certainly easier to reference material you have already made than to remake it from scratch.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    mplies you've already made answers that you consider satisfactory the issues raised here and are only here providing the nutshell version.boethius

    Ah, a link to other threads specifically for my answer. For one, I'm pretty sure the last time it came up the thread was deleted. The mods seem to get annoyed that Rand is asked about so frequently--I know other Rand threads have been deleted, too. Partially because it's the same thing over and over again. You could search for other Rand threads if you're that interested. I think the longer version of my response here may have been deleted with that other thread though. I'm not that interested in it, really, but I enjoy going back and forth with people who act like as much of an unjustifiably arrogant asshole as you do, especially when I can goad you into typing so much in response to short answers.

    Re "the reasons I believe my answer was 'complete'"--what the heck would a "complete" answer be for this?
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