Objectivism Revisited

I would like to respond to a recent comment by The Write Wing, posted underneath his article, “A Tale of Two Republicans”.  I have decided to write this as a separate article, because I think that this comment, as well as the ideology that it touts, describe one of the most fundamental philosophical divisions of our time.  Many people, regardless of party affiliation, routinely use the logic underlying this comment to justify a variety of policies and platforms without considering the basic social effects of its ideology. I think that unless this division is resolved, violence and imperialism will continue to reign as legitimate methods of action.  With that said, here is the comment by The Write Wing:

“I am an objectivist. Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book. This is what I believe. Self-sufficiency is what get people out of the bed every day to go to work and produce something. Too much redistribution causes laziness.”

Objectivism is a totalizing philosophy of human existence composed by the literary giant Ayn Rand.  Rand did not approve of the history of philosophy and thus endeavored to create, from the ground up, a new understanding of reality.  This new view of reality centered around an “Objectivist epistemology” and the moral/ethical framework of “rational self-interest.”  Given these insights, which I will detail below, Rand concluded that unfettered free-market capitalism is the only moral system of political, economic, and social structure.  I think that there are glaring errors and misjudgments in both the “Objectivist epistemology” and the morality of “rational self-interest” that make any understanding of free-market capitalism as panacea completely defunct.  To understand why Objectivism is such a critically flawed system, we must logically detail Rand’s argument and understand how each part feeds into the next.

A Brief History of Objectivism

Epistemology is the study of knowledge.  What knowledge is, how human beings construct it, and what constitutes legitimate knowledge compose perhaps the greatest and longest running philosophical dialogue in history.  Plato, Kant, Hume, Berkeley, Foucault, Derrida – indeed, anyone deserving of the title philosopher over the last two millennia – have all weighed in on the questions of epistemology.  Rand’s primary epistemological contention was that there is an objective order to reality apart from our consciousness.  As such, there is truth about the universe that we inhabit, but it is obscured to us by the complications of perception.  What we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch confuse us into believing, what Rand called, “illusions”, or misconceptions about reality.  These misconceptions occur because the mind/consciousness/ego exists apart from the reality that it attempts to know.

People can, however, overcome these “illusions” by unquestionably embracing “reason”.  With a focused mind, you can, according to Rand, know all of the Objective Truth of the universe through entirely “rational” thought.   For Rand, the purpose of existence is not to think about philosophy, to build a government or community, or to have peace and stability.  Instead, the only goal is an individual one – to unravel the mysteries of perception to receive the Objective Truth.  Whatever you need to do to achieve that, for that is true happiness in Rand’s eyes, is considered “rational self-interest.”  For Rand, therefore, there is no such thing as altruism – the helping of an other for his/her sake and not your own.  There is only the realization that by helping them you are helping yourself to receive the Truth.  Rand would argue that environmental destruction should be solved by the realization of people that it is in their own rational self-interest to stop others from creating CO2, because you can’t learn about truth when the oceans eat your city.

With this understanding of rational self-interest, Rand left the world of epistemology and entered the world of political thought.  Rand believed very strongly that the only system of governance that could ensure this paradigm of rational self-interest was unfettered free-market, or laissez-faire, capitalism. In other words, the only system of governance that could permit her “rational self-interest” to exist is free-market capitalism.  (This is extremely important, because it highlights precisely what all of this free-market capitalism is enabling.)  She thought that by leaving governmental or legal regulation out of the political, economic, and social picture, people could finally be free to discover the Objective Truth through reasoned thought.  Indeed, most people know of Objectivism because of its strong defense of free-market capitalism.  It is critical to note, however, that Objectivism is a very different animal that just an advocacy of free markets.

The Moral and Economic Disaster of Objectivism

Rand’s literary flow can be alluring at times – who wouldn’t want to ensure that everyone can receive the Objective Truth?  That being said, here are what I consider to be the biggest problems with Rand’s ideas.

(1)  Objectivism’s belief in “Objective Knowledge” i.e. Truth is otherizing and violent, because it privileges Knowledge over Being.

There is no access point to transhistorical, transcendent truth.  The Jews claim they had this access point through Moses, the Christians claim they had it through Jesus, the Muslims claim they had it through Mohammed, and the Objectivists claim they had it through Rand.  Just because someone wrote a text saying that something is unequivocally true does not make it unequivocally true.  Rand attempts to argue, like all of the monotheistic religions she attempts to destroy, that there is “Objective Truth” in the universe, like her unquestioned acceptance of free-market capitalism.  No, there is not – there is only knowledge through time; otherwise known as history.  Knowledge is always relative to society: its language, its culture, its everything.  What was truth in Alexandrian Egypt is not necessarily truth in contemporary New York.  This position is known as epistemological relativism and it holds that all knowledge is socially constructed.  I am strongly inclined to agree.  You may disagree, but that proves my point about ideology claiming access to truth.  We can all disagree about the fundamental nature of everything and that should be okay. Objectivism, to the contrary, like all proselytizing faiths and belief structures, says that this is not okay.  There is Truth and you can know it and the Way and the Light is Capitalism. These kinds of totalizing statements, while engaging in ideological exactitude, promote the intolerance and violence that result in real world suffering.  People first, ideology second.  As the Dalai Lama says, the best religion is also the simplest: practice kindness.

The inherent violence of the ideology of Objectivism a.k.a. any privileged Truth-claim comes about because it privileges knowledge above being.  What you know, as an Objectivist, is more important than what you are.  What they know, as an Objectivist, is more important than what they are. When this kind of identity-politicking occurs, it almost inevitably result in violence, because the Other person becomes a threat to your knowledge-claim (See: All structured religion, ever.)  This is what Rand simply does not realize – if two people are Objectivists and they have two competing knowledge claims, they have the “rational self-interest” to eradicate each other’s idea by eradicating each other.  Rand ties this all to happiness, but that is bullshit.  Happiness, like knowledge, is entirely relative.  I am perfectly happy not endorsing free-market capitalism, but my knowledge-claim is a threat to the Objective Truth of Objectivism.  Therefore, in order to “ensure individual rights”, my knowledge-claim should be destroyed with “reason”.  But reason led me to my claim as well, not just Rand’s.  That’s the funny thing about “reason” and “rationality” – they are tools for our minds like a paintbrush is a tool for an artist.  We may both have paintbrushes, but that doesn’t mean we are going to paint the same painting.  Telling another person that their artwork is “wrong” is essentially what Objectivism is asking you to do.  By the way, does this sound familiar?  It should. Think President of the United States from 2000 to 2008.

(2) People are not rational most of the time; therefore, a device created to rely on rational self-interest is not a good governing principle.

A variety of “behavioral economics” literature has become very popular recently, most notably the book “Freakonomics”.  I find the field of behavioral economics pretty amusing, because it acts under the guise of free-market capitalism while simultaneously rejecting everything it stands for.  Let me explain.  The primary assumption of free-market capitalism is that people act rationally in a self-interested way to secure their desires.  Empirically, however, this is clearly not the case.  People do not know what is best for them most of the time, and sometimes when they do, they still act differently.  This is not “Freakonomics” – this is society.  Economists are finally realizing that “the invisible hand of the market” is just as stupid as any human institution. There are tons of market-failures, but most notable are the tragedy of the commons and greed/Lehman Brothers.  The tragedy of the commons, a situation in which a common area becomes destroyed through use by all and care by none, describes the atmosphere, the oceans, rivers, and pretty much anything else that can’t be easily monetized.  If you can’t invest in it, free-market capitalism cannot save it.  Free-market capitalists would respond in favor of privatizing the ocean and the air.  That would fail as well and its simple to understand why.  There are people who don’t give a shit about being rationally self-interested, they’re just self-interested.  Those people make free-market capitalism not work. There have to be protections for the commons that go beyond the market and into the world of law.  Yes, regulation is always better than unfettered markets, because the law at least recognizes that “rational self-interest” is a fallacy and a myth.

(3) Altruism is Real

This one is probably the worst, but it in many ways feeds on the claims of otherization and violence from Problem #1.  Rand straight up denies that altruism exists.  WHAT?  I promise you that when I give a homeless person a sandwich, that in no way whatsoever helps me.  Rand would say that it helps my self-esteem and my community, but that’s not always the case.  What about Doctor Mudd, who assisted John Wilkes Booth?  That was neither helpful for him or his community, but an act in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath – an altruistic document.  It all ties back into Rand’s privileging of knowledge over being.  For Rand, even though you can help someone substantively, that is trumped by the fact I “cheated” and felt good about it.  That argument demonstrates a poor understanding of causality and there are millions of examples to the contrary.  If the markets cannot factor in either the supply of or demand for altruism, it has no hope as a governance mechanism.

Some Concluding Remarks

The effects of the free-market are certainly up for debate and I’m not going to claim to know everything about capitalism.  There are an infinite number of forms for capitalism to take on – we all need to use money – and whatever you want to call the version that is substantively best for everyone, that is what I endorse.  That being said, I wanted to make it clear that Objectivism is to Capitalism what any Monotheism is to God.  It isn’t an argument, it’s a religion.  Rand, Greenspan, and their various disciples were/are extremists and look where it has gotten us.  The me-first thinking of Rand is echoing everywhere in our society, from foreign policy to economics.  Reagan started the deregulation program, Bush finished it – and who can say that Ayn Rand isn’t just a little bit to blame.

13 thoughts on “Objectivism Revisited”

  1. Can you elaborate with examples of how Objectivism has lead directly to violence? Please do not point to instances where violence has occurred due to structured religion, this is unrelated.

  2. There’s nothing of Objectivism that I recognize in your article. Starting from your “sketch” of Objectivist epistemology, nothing in it resembles that of Rand’s philosophy.
    Read “The Importance of the Subject in Objectivism” by Dr. Tara Smith in the Social Philosophy Journal of Cambridge University.

    Objectivist epistemology does not depend exclusively on “rational thought.” That would be Rationalism–a philosophical school of thought that Rand vehemently opposed.

  3. Re: Chubby Funster

    I think that there are an infinity of examples in which rational self-interest has resulted in violence. Alan Greenspan is commonly referred to as the Undertaker of Objectivism, because he strongly adheres to Rand’s views. His role at the Fed led to a great deal of the financial upheaval that we are now seeing on Wall Street. To me, families losing their homes because of an abstract market principle is the definition of ideological violence.

    Some instances of objectivism might have legitimate justification, like self-defense, but the problem with objectivism is that it denies any reference point external to the individual from which to evaluate those instances. Everything in the lens of objectivism views the individual prerogative as paramount, even if it imagines that the individual is conscious of societal norms that force it to act otherwise. Those norms exist subjectively, not objectively, as the consequence of societal normative construction. There is simply no consideration of social structure external to the agent in objectivism. I have yet to understand how objectivism upholds the rule of any law, because rational self-interest denies the concept of justice.

    Re: Ergo

    I read Smith’s article and I do not think that I incorrectly characterized the moral implications of objectivism at all. Certainly, Smith goes into much greater detail to enunciate Rand’s understanding of morality and its formation, but, as you note, my description of Objectivist epistemology was only a sketch.

    The entirety of objectivism (including Smith’s paper) rests on the contention that there is an “external reality” that “consciousness” accesses through perception. It is this axiom that forces Rand into a paradigm of self-interest, because it privileges knowledge over being. I simply do not understand how any of this is a postulate; in fact, the debate surrounding this contention is known as the “philosophy of mind”. There are indeed a great number of philosophies of mind, but Objectivism bothers me, because of its claim to objective knowledge, or truth. I’m sure Rand was very intelligent, but she simply has no place to declare the philosophy of mind debate closed (which she did, in her book “Philosophy – Who Needs It). This is precisely my point about ideological violence – it happens when one closes off realms of thought in favor of “objectivity”. Just because one person thinks something does not make it dogmatic upon the rest of society.

    Furthermore, if this epistemological priority to uncover objective self-truth is taken away, objectivism as a moral framework crumbles. It literally results in Rand arguing that there are no “good deeds”, because good is relational. Good is certainly relational, but why does that deny altruism? If good to you is food, and good to me is giving it to you when you are starving, at what point does that not become altruism, albeit relationally? I would love to hear your justification for why altruism cannot exist in a subjective/relational framework or how free-market capitalism is the “end of history”. Rand is to capitalism what Fukuyama is to democracy – both latch onto the basic good of a system and call it a day without thinking about how to refine either.

    That said, Smith’s argumentation begins with a massive caveat to Rand’s moral theory. Smith says:

    “My presentation of Rand’s view is sympathetic, but it is not a full defense of her moral theory. While I will naturally need to present certain points of argument to convey the plausibility of relevant portions of her theory, my mission here is to present a perspective that can enhance our understanding of the traditional debate. Regardless of whether one accepts Rand’s larger moral theory, if she is right about the frequent confusion of objective with intrinsic value, her trichotomy offers a more accurate picture of the alternatives and thereby places us in a better position to assess the relative merits of moral objectivism and subjectivism.”

    This paper is not a defense of Rand whatsoever – instead, it is a defense of the understanding that “objective morality” and “intrinsic morality” are not the same. I entirely concur with this argument and it proves my points above.

    Smith compares “intrinsicism”, “subjectivism”, and “objectivism” as the only three moral frameworks available to humanity. Intrinsicism is defined by Smith as the belief that there are inherently good values, such as ‘you can never kill anyone.’ I concur – there might not be intrinsic values. However, this is not an answer to the subjectivists. Smith writes:

    “Like the subjectivists, Rand maintains that value is relational. Unlike in the subjectivist view, however, it is not relational simply to individuals’ beliefs or attitudes. Rather, value is a function of a thing’s relationship to a person’s life, which encompasses his existential status as well as his consciousness. Matters of independent fact are indispensable to objective value. In order to advance our lives, human beings must respect certain facts that are not of our choosing.”

    This is nonsense. What Rand patently fails to realize is that this understanding of consciousness is only hers, not mine. I choose what is of value to me, not her and not the physical constraints of life. This is philosophical dogmatism and I won’t hear it. If I want to help someone, even if it hurts me, then it is still of value to me to do so.

    What exactly are your problems with my argument? It’s difficult to preempt you without any understanding of your opinion.

    Re: The Ride

    Thank you. That is a very interesting article and I believe it is demonstrable proof of the failings of free-market capitalism as an ‘end of history’ kind of structure. Creative capitalism, which is espoused wonderfully by Bill Gates, is another form of capitalism that moves beyond the free-market. Gates acknowledges the positive developments that capitalism has brought, while arguing that there is room to correct market failures through intervention. That is what The Write Wing would like to call “redistribution that promotes laziness”, but that is just unintelligent. If there are market failures involving the value of people, which is equal across the board in any cosmopolitan understanding of humanity, creative capitalism attempts to solve them instead of telling the people to just go die because they are stupid and poor. That is immoral and that is what Rand justifies.

  4. I thought this was a very good description of Rand’s Objectivism, but here were a couple places where you should have quit while you were ahead.

    First, Ergo, you’re right: Rand isn’t purely rational. I think she’s pluralistic (in terms of worldview) but in more practical terms: she is lost. Rand’s big problem, and many people’s, is her refusal to accept that the free-market is perfection and perfection doesn’t exist on this Earth. The free market is the method of interaction in a perfect world: in Ultimate Reality. Unfortunately, we have this pesky value capsule called money and this silly experience called space-time. Money and (space-)time frame/structure our individual experiences of the free market.

    Rand neglects the simple fact stated above. Like a lot of libertarians, she has 100% faith in the free-market but isn’t aware enough to realize her free-market is limited by this awkward tool called money. The free-market she (should be) searching for isn’t a place where money can be traded at equilibrium for goods and services. It is a place where trade exists without the limitations of money and time. It is both every moment and the broadest span of history. It is ‘the way’ aka the Tao.

    Behavioral economists realize this: they see free-market principles in action in everything, except they aren’t limited themselves to money but, instead, see free markets in any trading process that minimizes resistance.

    Back to Rand: she is a victim of the common fallacy of modern times that money=value. Money is the way we currently determine value but there was value before there was money and there will be value after. There is also value separate from money: altruism. Rand can’t deal with altruism because she’s forgotten money is an awkward tool we use to access the free-market. It might be the most popular tool, and the most efficient for many applications, but there are others.

    People say you don’t wage war, you wage peace. I agree, but would prefer to say “You don’t wage war, you wage trade.”

    What does all this mean: Rand is lost because she hasn’t found a way to account for altruism. She can’t account for altruism because she hasn’t realized the true nature of the free market.

    We’re all libertarians trying to figure out how to get to a free market. Whoever thought getting to a free market would as easy as supporting the use of the words ‘free market’ didn’t realize that achieving a ‘free market’ is tantamount to finding whatever you’d like to call God. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth a try.

  5. Re: Anthony

    The Greenspan example is a poor one for a couple of reasons:

    1) Greenspan was heavily influenced by Rand when he was younger, but he shifted away from this as he grew older. By the time he was Fed Chairman he could no longer be considered an objectivist. I suggest the article “How Alan Greenspan Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the State.” It can be found at http://www.lewrockwell.com/long/long19.html .

    3) The very existence of the Federal Reserve runs contrary to the principles of Objectivism. Objectivists advocate that government get out of the business of money supply. For more see this post by Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute: http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=21339 .

    I’m not trying to blow up your spot here, I genuinely would like to understand why you believe Objectivism leads to violence. I’m not an expert on objectivism, or philosophy in general, but I’ve read a bit of Rand and cannot see how Objectivism leads to violence.

  6. Point taken on Greenspan and the Fed; he was the first person that came to mind.

    My argument for why objectivism results in violence is two-fold:

    (1) a. Objectivism claims that there is “objective truth” for individuals based upon what their survival and rational self-interest require. If I need food, then “objectively” it is of value to me.

    b. While it may be true that you need food to survive and it is of value to you, it is still a subjective choice. You don’t HAVE to eat, but you do because you think that survival is good. Any consideration of the good, as Rand agrees, is relational to society. If you take away the inherent subjectivity of all values, it results in the construction of ideology that cannot be easily torn down, because it is “truth”.

    c. “Truth” claims historically lead to violence and unwavering support for failed policies. This applies in general to all epistemology as well as to free-market capitalism. The “objective” good of free-market capitalism, according to Rand, is unquestionable. The whole point is that nothing should ever be closed to debate, because of its relational subjectivity.

    2) Ideology in general is inherently violent, at least rhetorically and at most physically. This is because the idea takes precedence over actually helping people. This was my point when I invoked the Dalai Lama quote and when I contended that objectivism prioritizes knowledge over being. This was also one interpretation of the thesis in “War and Peace” by Tolstoy. Embracing kindness and the “small things in life” a.k.a. non-ideological knowledge is the key to sustaining peace.

    Thanks for your posts, they are very insightful.

  7. ” While it may be true that you need food to survive and it is of value to you, it is still a subjective choice. You don’t HAVE to eat, but you do because you think that survival is good.”

    Yes, that is one choice that Objectivism cannot talk you into making – choosing whether or not to live. The Objectivists I have talked to consider that an amoral decision. Choosing whether or not other people live, however, is immoral. Your misunderstanding is in comparing the moral system of Objectivism to religions. In religions, moral codes are arbitrarily defined commandments to be upheld by everyone. Objectivism’s morality is a personal one, a guide for your self-actualization. Inherent in that morality is that one should not become subservient to others, nor permit others to become subservient to you. Because in reality this is not going to universally occur, a government with a monopoly on force is needed to uphold the rights of others.

    Essentially, your conclusion that Objectivism leads to violence comes from the false analogy of comparing Objectivist use of the word “morality” with the more common version of “morality”.

    “Truth claims historically lead to violence and unwavering support for failed policies.”

    Appeal to tradition. I’d like you to show me a society that has tried anything like Objectivism, a truly laissez-faire capitalist system, in which the government existed solely for the protection of individual rights.

    “The “objective” good of free-market capitalism, according to Rand, is unquestionable.”

    The problem with your conclusion from this that it will lead to violence is that the only violence under such a system would be a military/police self-defense against those who are violating the rights necessary for capitalism to occur. If you believe other violence will occur, explain, or show why the violence I have mentioned is dangerous.

    “This is because the idea takes precedence over actually helping people.”

    There’s quite a difference between not helping someone, and physically harming them, unless you can argue that a person has the right to the productivity and support of everyone else.

    “Embracing kindness and the “small things in life” a.k.a. non-ideological knowledge is the key to sustaining peace.”

    And what if certain people decide to live off others’ kindness, and those other people see this, consider it vile, and decide to cut off their kindness? And what if this happens on a large scale? Where’s your peace then? Free lunches breed freeloaders, which breeds economic free-fall, which breeds a free-for-all.

  8. Re: Brian0918

    At the beginning of my response, let me refer you to my newest article, “Remembering Levinas”, because it explains my position on ethics/morality much clearer and answers most of your questions.

    You raise some interesting points and I actually think that we are in agreement on most things. You and I both appear to categorically reject violence against other people, unless it is in self-defense. We also appear to agree that the state is a necessary device at the current moment of history to ensure the protection of individual rights. Where we diverge is on the legitimacy of Objectivist epistemology and the importance of kindness.

    On the issue of Objectivist epistemology, you say: “Yes, that is one choice that Objectivism cannot talk you into making – choosing whether or not to live. The Objectivists I have talked to consider that an amoral decision. Choosing whether or not other people live, however, is immoral.”

    Whether or not suicide is amoral is not really relevant. My point in raising the suicide example is that everything, including the drive to live, is a subjective decision. I am illustrating that there is no objective truth in anything, even in something that appears to be a given, like feeding yourself. I agree that choosing to end someone else’s life is unethical, but not because you or I say so. It is unethical, according to Levinas, because the pre-rational interaction of the face-to-face dictates an ethical responsibility to substitute your own existential Being for the Other. Once again, I refer you to my other article and the comments section, where someone else with similar objections has been responded to.

    You then say: “Your misunderstanding is in comparing the moral system of Objectivism to religions. In religions, moral codes are arbitrarily defined commandments to be upheld by everyone. Objectivism’s morality is a personal one, a guide for your self-actualization. Inherent in that morality is that one should not become subservient to others, nor permit others to become subservient to you.”

    My criticism of Objectivism comes from Rand’s contention that a human thought can be objectively true. When something is true, it cannot be refuted, because it is truth. This is the purpose of my comparison of Objectivism to the major monotheistic religions. Both claim, despite the highly divergent nature of the claims themselves, that through one path or another – for Rand, reason; for monotheists, divine texts – that they can access the truth of an ultimate reality. The fact is that our reality is not that ultimate reality and, as such, we do not have access to truth as objective knowledge. My objection is that human thought is always relational to space and time and therefore not privileged to be truth – it is human. When one argues that they possess truth, historically it leads to violence, because no one can disprove a true statement. Truth functions outside of debate. Therefore, many times, the solution is to kill the other person whose truth conflicts with yours, because that is the only way to maintain your monopoly on a truth claim.

    I agree, there has not been a perfectly laissez-faire capitalist regime yet. However, my point, once again, is that any and all truth claims are rhetorically exclusive and tend to justify violence. As my colleague Walther has pointed out above, we all desire the utopia of the free-market, but it does not exist. In the meantime, it becomes easy to totalize others who do not agree with you and justify violence against them in order to actualize your self-interested goal. I am not saying that you do this, I am simply suggesting that there is a better foundation for ethics than reasoned thought and purpose.

    This is most clearly highlighted by your speech that: “And what if certain people decide to live off others’ kindness, and those other people see this, consider it vile, and decide to cut off their kindness? And what if this happens on a large scale? Where’s your peace then? Free lunches breed freeloaders, which breeds economic free-fall, which breeds a free-for-all.” It all comes down to how you react when you see a homeless person on the street. Under your paradigm, you would walk by and ignore them, saying that they are in that position because they did not work hard enough and would just spend the money on booze anyway. In my paradigm, you would talk to that person, without preconceived judgment of how they got there. Most times, you would find that they are either mentally disturbed, a physical fault that is nothing of their own, or they are the victim of drug use, a mistake that you could help them get out of through recommending a free clinic etc. Kindness solves all of your arguments back, because it does not allow you to totalize anyone. Rand does. A free lunch might hurt economic productivity, but it also feeds someone who might be starving to death. If that is a free-for-all, bring it on.

  9. “The fact is that our reality is not that ultimate reality and, as such, we do not have access to truth as objective knowledge. My objection is that human thought is always relational to space and time and therefore not privileged to be truth – it is human.”

    Are we supposed to take this to be the truth? I think it might contradict one of your premises…

    PS: just because there’s a correlation between people who believe they know the truth and violence doesn’t mean it’s a causal relationship. Is there a gang of objectivists roving the streets, starting shit with anyone who doesn’t believe in the market?

  10. Re: Ernie

    You raise a good point. I think that this is where my criticism of Objectivism becomes difficult to elucidate. I must use language and thought to express my critique of language and thought. It is another unfortunate consequence of our reality. I think that some logical contradictions can be embraced, however, without ceding the ethical argument that I am espousing. This is the heart of the philosophical justification for ironic performance. The responsibility that I have for the Other trumps logical contradictions, because logic is not all encompassing. It is only one aspect of human rationality. Moreover, rationality is only one part of what it is to be human. Sensibility provides a better framework than logic in this instance, as it allows for an extra-mental conceptualization of ethics. I discuss this in greater detail in my “Remembering Levinas” article.

    As for the correlation between truth and violence with regards to Objectivism, I’m not saying that Objectivists by definition are violent towards other people. What I am saying is that it is much easier to totalize someone into rational categories when you believe that your own reasoned thought is the end-all-be-all of their Being. However, take the example of a homeless person in the comment above. Many Objectivists that I know would say that the homeless person “deserves” their standing and does not warrant their help. I would say that that is the essence of totalization – that somehow their Being is defined by your rational category of not owning a home of some sort. Certainly, you are not ‘causing’ them pain or suffering by not helping them, but you are denying your ethical responsibility to help the other.

  11. What you said in the first paragraph was a little over my head so I’m not going to comment on it, but it seems chock full o’ truth (!) claims.

    As for the second paragraph, I hate to beat a dead horse here but you are making a false inference. Using your logic (I don’t know what else to call it) we should ban surgical scalpels: it’s much easier to cut and harm people when you have a knife, surgeons use knives, surgeons can/will cut and harm people.

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