Rand Rants Part 2: Ignoring the Obvious

Ayn Rand

You’d think it’d be obvious that, when creating a ‘new philosophy,’ that you’d have to provide some argument against the obvious and inherent alternative to your philosophy.  Especially when that alternative is 300 years old and a widely held as a philosophical standard.  But when touting their completely unprecedented philosophy they call Objectivism, Rand and Peikof don’t even address the obvious opposition to this philosophy, Subjectivism.  From the Wikipedia page:

“Subjectivism is the philosophical tenet that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience”.[1] The success of this position is historically attributed to Descartes and his methodic doubt.”

Along with basically inventing graphs, Descartes laid the groundwork for modern philosophy, basing his technique on methodic doubt, something Rand and Peikof seem to have been born without.  He called into question every knowledge claim that he could think of, and ultimately determined that he could only know for certain that he exists, because he can doubt these claims.  Hence his famous line, “I think, therefore I am.”  Every other facet of his existence and perception was subject to some degree of doubt, and so cannot be said to be wholly true.  Yet Rand and Peikof claim, without providing any argument against his reasoning, that reality exists objectively, independent of consciousness.

Along with completely ignoring, while at the same time opposing, Descartes’ subjectivism, Rand and Peikof completely ignore subjective experience as part of their logical equations.  Their attempt to prove the axiom of existence, through the character of John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, goes something like this:

“If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.”

Sound logic yes?  But the something of which you must be conscious is not objective reality.  Descartes is quite clear that the only thing of which he is conscious is his own thoughts.  What we are aware of is the experience of our senses, i.e. subjective experience.  Whether or not the data gathered from our senses corresponds to objects that exist independently, is something that Descartes showed as clearly dubious.  We know that we cannot always trust our senses, and we also know that what we actually experience is our brains’ interpretation of that data, not the data itself.  But Rand and Peikof need not doubt these things, because they simply know them.  They are axioms, and hence unquestionable.  Even though the father of modern philosophy saw fit to question them, according to Rand, we don’t need to at all.

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