There’s a debate going on on Dan O’Brian’s blog The Search for Truth about Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. I had never read much by or about Ayn Rand, but this debate sparked my interest, mainly because I had no idea that she dabbled in pure philosophy. And by dabble, I mean she dips her toes in just enough to get wet and then says she went swimming. The more I read of her ‘philosophy,’ the more I want to bring her back from the dead just to slap her across the face. Yet for some reason, I can’t stop reading it; it’s like picking at a scab. It’s frustrated me so much that I’ve come back from a short hiatus just to write a series of posts strictly dedicated to deconstructing every facet of her flawed ‘logic.’ I’m not sure how many I’ll write, depending on how soon this rage wares off, but hopefully it will be more than just this one. If these posts seem a bit unorganized and ranting, I apologize, but that’s just the kind of thing someone like her does to my ADD-addled brain. It’s hard to even pick a place to begin with her, but I suppose it’s best to start at the foundation of her self-proclaimed ‘new philosophy.’
When introducing her philosophy, Rand audaciously claims that it is unprecedented and entirely of her own conjuring, which should be a huge red flag to anyone interested in philosophy. She also claims that it is a philosophy based entirely on reason, and that reasoning is the only way a person makes sense of the world, so it seems odd that she doesn’t even consider that another person could reasonably come to the same conclusions she has, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Rand calls her entirely new and revolutionary philosophy ‘Objectivism,’ opting against ‘Randism’ as Mike Wallace suggests in his 1959 interview with her (though it wouldn’t be out of character for her). Objectivism is based on three propositions that Rand claims are ‘axioms.’ This an extremely convenient way to start a philosophical discussion, because an axiom, by definition, cannot be called into question. By claiming these propositions are axioms, besides kicking logic squarely in the scrotum, Rand evades the very line of questioning that would unravel her entire philosophy. Let’s take a look at each of these ‘axioms’ in depth, and see if they are in fact unquestionable.
The first axiom is the axiom of existence. The simplest explanation of this axiom that Rand provides is “Existence exists.” This is a bafflingly muddled and ultimately meaningless statement for several reasons. If Rand means existence as ‘the state of existing,’ then the statement is definitively untrue. ‘Existence’ by definition does not have the attributes of itself, i.e. can’t exist or not exist. If we start to argue for or against the existence of existence, then we end up in a grammatical conundrum of endless meaninglessness, so let’s hop off that train right now. Rand clarifies this axiom in The Objectivist Newsletter (1962) by stating, “Reality exists as an objective absolute – facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears.” This seems to be Rand’s attempt to completely disregard the entire branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. The objective existence of reality may be one of the oldest questions of philosophy, and one that has yet to be definitively answered, except by Rand’s own volition. To claim this proposition to be true beyond question is to completely undermine the works of Aristotle, DesCartes, Kant, Russell, and of course, our boy Wittgenstein, just to name a few. The second part of the statement just shows more of Rand’s ignorance, as well as her tendency to generalize all opposition to her theory as superstition. If she were a real philosopher, that statement might have gone something like ‘facts are the case independent of consciousness,’ which is just untrue. Facts do not exist in objective reality. A fact is something understood by a mind. The fact that a cup is blue is not a physical object. The cup is a physical object, blue is a certain wavelength of light, but the blueness of the cup is something understood by a conscious observer. Leonard Peikoff, a Rand acolyte who is much more well-versed in philosophy than herself, clarifies even further, stating, “If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms.” This is logically true, but it does not prove the objective existence of reality. If I hallucinate an object, then I am conscious of something that doesn’t exist. You could argue that the object exists as a construct of my consciousness, and so exists in reality, but this is not the ‘objectively absolute’ reality that Rand claims exists.
The second axiom is that of consciousness. It’s at this point that anyone who’s read even a little bit of philosophy would throw their hands up in frustration. These first two axioms combined completely contradict Cartesian Dualism, arguably the most widely-held philosophy of mind, without directly addressing it or providing any kind of argument against it. Once again, Rand states these as axioms to avoid any such discussion, and fails to see that in an objectively absolute reality, consciousness cannot exist. Rand also claims that existence has primacy over consciousness, that consciousness conforms to existence. Again, providing no evidence or reasoning, she and her lackey Peikoff claim this as axiomatic, and that any philosophy that claims the primacy of consciousness is mystical, superstitious mumbo jumbo, despite the overwhelming evidence that consciousness does in fact directly affect reality.
The final axiom is the law of identity. This is a law of logic set down by Aristotle, and may be the only actual axiom of the three. The law of identity is that “A is A,” that a thing is itself. This is foundational for defining logic and is hardly new to philosophy, though Rand and her devil’s advocate Peikoff claim that “You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.” And the audacity continues. With not even a morsel of respect for any thinker since Aristotle, Peikoff claims, based on Rand’s teachings, that no one has fully understood this basic and not-at-all-hard-to-understand principle of logic. They use this axiom to neatly tie together all three into an absurd and unfounded statement that defines their entire philosophy, and which, according to them, is not subject to debate.
Stay tuned for more ranting about this non-philosophic philosophy and its self-obsessed and deluded founder. 🙂