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Oakes

Ex-marxist With A Q

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Hi, I'm Oakes. I've come here to learn more about Objectivism. I have been severely left-brained since 7th grade. The peak of my left-brain mania was in 8th grade when, after being forced to go on a field trip to an amusement park, I refused to indulge in any "irrational fun", so I did nothing but walk around.

This kind of lifestyle made me depressed after a while, even after finding ways to convince myself to have a little fun once in a while. Thus began my search for a world-view that made sense. I have been roaming the internet for years (I'm a high school senior now), going through transhumanism, nihilism, scientism, and back around again. I think Objectivism embodies most of what I've believed, some that I've never thought of, and refutes still more that I used to believe.

I knew early on that I would never be religious. But as a secular person, I inevitably fell into the subjectivist pit that characterizes much of the intellectuals today. I was undoubtedly a Marxist; as a matter of fact, I remember three years ago on an Isaac Asimov forum when I argued for over ten pages with no other than an objectivist! My arguments, in retrospect, were embarassing.

I want to say one last thing. Since this philosophy has been so strongly tied to its creator, Ayn Rand, I feel a strong obligation to think through the logic myself rather than accept her own conclusions. There is no disputing self-evident axioms, and hard to dispute the immediate conclusions of them, but as you branch out and deduce more and more specific applications to our lives, there is a chance of logical error. My goal in talking to objectivists is to reach the best answers for these out-standing parts of my philosophy, armed with the combined insights of a group of free thinkers who share a common philosophical foundation. So comes the question: how open is the definition of "objectivism" to differences in opinions and such?

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Oakes,

Objectivism is a proper noun, a trademark if you will, that belongs to Ayn Rand, since she is its creator.

Objectivism means - the philosophical system developed and named thus by Ayn Rand.

Objectivism does say people should think for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Therefore you are free to accept or to reject anything you want. But you are not morally free to call yourself an Objectivist if you disagree with some part of the philosophy.

Now, philosophy is a delimited subject - it does not include everything Ayn Rand ever said. She had views on certain works of art, certain people - that are based on her evaluation, not just her philosophical principles. The same is true of different matters in psychology, and other specific sciences.

Ayn Rand views on these matters are usually brilliant illustrations of applying abstract ideas to a concrete case, but strictly speaking they are not a part of the philosophy of Objectivism.

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Welcome!

Objectivism is a proper noun, and refers directly to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and thus includes (and is limited to) everything she published during her lifetime.

Applying Objectivist principles to new areas, however, allows room for rational disagreement. I believe I heard, in one of the lectures in the Harvard Lecture Series, that there is disagreement among many professional Objectivists, even, in the area of gun control--is a person carrying an oozie down the road threatening force or simply exercising his rights to dispose of his property as he wishes, so long as he isn't harming anyone? If you notice, it's not the general principles they disagree about, but only how to apply them.

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erandror,

But the real world will require constant moral evaluation, things that Rand herself never lived to know of. Does that mean, anything not evaluated during Ayn Rand's life is open to debate among those who wish to call themselves objectivists? But they must agree with the things she did get to evaluate or drop the name?

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Applying Objectivist principles to new areas, however, allows room for rational disagreement.

heheh, I guess you answered my question :-)

I still am confused about why this is so, though.

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heheh, I guess you answered my question :-)

I still am confused about why this is so, though.

Because evaluation of concrete situations is a very complex feat, not based merely on principles, but on data from various sources, with various levels of reliability, and even some optional value heirarchy.

For example - I like Mozart, and many Objectivists don't like him. Or, I love a certain movie while others hate it. It is a VERY complex issue, and the abstract principles don't always give you a simple answer.

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It is a VERY complex issue, and the abstract principles don't always give you a simple answer.

Are you just talking about asthetics?

I'm talking about making opinions on any given issue, like abortion. I would think that the best way to keep your philosophy free of contradictions is to have it be a dynamic philosophy with a firm base and an active outer sphere of applications to the real world, filled with lively debate. But some of that outer sphere seems to have an official Ayn Rand definition attached, and although I haven't found any disagreements so far, I still am hesitant of this.

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I'm talking about making opinions on any given issue, like abortion. I would think that the best way to keep your philosophy free of contradictions is to have it be a dynamic philosophy with a firm base and an active outer sphere of applications to the real world, filled with lively debate. But some of that outer sphere seems to have an official Ayn Rand definition attached, and although I haven't found any disagreements so far, I still am hesitant of this.

The applications you mention are not strictly speaking part of Objectivism, including abortion. That's not the point. The point is, these cases are so clear cut that there is no way to get "there" from "here" - e.g., there is no way to oppose abortion rights on Objectivist premises. That's why one cannot be an Objectivist and oppose abortion - not because abortion itself is part of Objectivism, but because to oppose abortion is to reject premises which are part of Objectivism.

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...an official Ayn Rand definition attached, and although I haven't found any disagreements so far, I still am hesitant of this.

Ayn Rand did not expect us to accept her conclusions on faith--of course we are to question them and, ideally, reach the same conclusions for the same reasons.

Objectivism, though, is a proper noun. It refers to her philosophy, including her applications of the basic principles. It is all hers, and I believe this is done to prevent so-called Objectivists from misrepresenting her ideas.

Keep in mind, the ultimate philosophic question is not "is it Objectivist?," but instead "is it true?" If you happen to disagree with one of her philosophical conclusions (I haven't), you are free to do so--you just aren't allowed to call it an Objectivist conclusion.

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Abortion IS a philosophical issue, because it stems from the nature of man, and of rights. Ayn Rand's opinion on this IS a part of Objectivism.

I didn't say it wasn't a philosophical issue - lots of things are philosophical issues yet are not part of philosophy proper. Philosophy is defined by principles and there is no principle which states, "Abortion is a moral right."

EDIT: To clarify, "Abortion is a moral right," is not a principle.

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I would've replied earlier but I couldn't connect to the site. While I was away, I casually browsed Nathaniel Branden's website. I was quite surprised how closely his thoughts resemble my own:

"...the debate has been whether Objectivism is a philosophical system that can be refined, expanded on, amplified, and applied in new directions by those who share its basic premises or whether Objectivism is confined exclusively to the positions propounded by Ayn Rand during her lifetime."

The applications you mention are not strictly speaking part of Objectivism, including abortion.

I disagree. Abortion and other real-world issues are philosophical in nature. Catholics have one view, subjectivist liberals have another.

EDIT: I read your next post. I find your distinction between philosophical issues/principles to be irrelevent. Perhaps it wasn't part of the philosophy "proper", but as a proponent of an open-system I really don't care about what's proper.

there is no way to oppose abortion rights on Objectivist premises. That's why one cannot be an Objectivist and oppose abortion - not because abortion itself is part of Objectivism, but because to oppose abortion is to reject premises which are part of Objectivism.

I'll be the judge of that. And others interested in objectivism should be the judge of that. Your logic is not infallible, and neither was Rand's.

Keep in mind, the ultimate philosophic question is not "is it Objectivist?," but instead "is it true?" If you happen to disagree with one of her philosophical conclusions (I haven't), you are free to do so--you just aren't allowed to call it an Objectivist conclusion.

Trust me, I know I'm free to disagree with her. I've got freedom flowing through my veins. The problem is that ideally a philosophy would be open to, as Branden said it, refining, expanding on, amplifying, and applying in new directions. I don't mean that objectivism should be allowed to become altruistic, collectivist, subjective, and mystical. I mean that the specifics should not be confined to the word of Rand.

BTW, Branden says he himself was angered when Objectivism was misrepresented as materialistic, dog-eat-dog, and fascist. I suspect he wouldn't have felt the same anger if it was a more specific issue like abortion that distanced from the original stance.

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I wrote:

The applications you mention are not strictly speaking part of Objectivism, including abortion.
Oakes writes:

I disagree. Abortion and other real-world issues are philosophical in nature. Catholics have one view, subjectivist liberals have another.

EDIT: I read your next post. I find your distinction between philosophical issues/principles to be irrelevent. Perhaps it wasn't part of the philosophy "proper", but as a proponent of an open-system I really don't care about what's proper.

No doubt, but this isn't an issue of open vs. closed system. Even if you think a philosophy should be "open" that still doesn't blur the distinction (nor the importance of the distinction) between what is a philosophical principle and what is not.

I wrote:

there is no way to oppose abortion rights on Objectivist premises. That's why one cannot be an Objectivist and oppose abortion - not because abortion itself is part of Objectivism, but because to oppose abortion is to reject premises which are part of Objectivism.
Oakes writes:

I'll be the judge of that. And others interested in objectivism should be the judge of that. Your logic is not infallible, and neither was Rand's.

Huh? You do understand that one can make claims about reality without implying that others should take him on faith, yes?

I should also note, I made no claim to infallibility. In fact, had you taken the time to ask, I would have explained that my primary area of interest (and expertise) is the Objectivist epistemology. I would have said that the foundation of the Objectivist theory of certainty is the fact human beings are neither omniscient nor infallible and that this is not a barrier, but the precondition, of certainty. I would have then explained that certainty cannot be undercut by the mere fact that man is fallible. If I make an argument, you cannot cast doubt on it by saying, "You're not infallible...maybe you made an error." It is your epistemological responsibility to show me where specifically that error is. Otherwise, I may claim certainty. And in this case, I do.

Finally, a word of advice. Lose the chip, my friend. You'll strain your shoulder.

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... that still doesn't blur the distinction (nor the importance of the distinction) between what is a philosophical principle and what is not.

I'm still not clear what the importance is. Is it to stay true to Rand's version? If so, then it is an issue of open vs. closed system.

Huh? You do understand that one can make claims about reality without implying that others should take him on faith, yes?

Of course, but when I suggest Ayn Rand's word on X should not be chiseled in stone, it doesn't work to respond by saying that opposing X requires that you reject premises of objectivism. It sure is my "epistemological responsibility" to show you where the error in X is, if I truly disagree with X, but I'd rather do it within the framework of and open-system objectivism, where I wouldn't be denied the name over minor disagreement.

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ideally a philosophy would be open to, as Branden said it, refining, expanding on, amplifying, and applying in new directions.

It is open to expanding and applying--but not to changing any of the fundamental principles. You can call your expansions just that--your applications of Objectivist principles. You don't have to divorce the name Objectivism entirely--in fact you should give credit to Objectivism for the Objectivist principles you use--but make sure to call it an application. That doesn't mean that no new applications can be added, but merely that they should be labeled as such.

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jedymastyr,

I'm not just talking about expansions, I'm talking about changes. Any opinion on some future issue will obviously be called an "expansion" or "application", but apparently the trouble comes when one seeks to change an idea -- not central to objectivism -- that Rand has already established.

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Ayn Rand was many things. She was a screenwriter, a novelist, a philosopher, a columnist, a friend, a wife and a person.

In all of these capacities she made observations, and her genius was revealed in all of her activities.

However, OBJECTIVISM is not synonymous with what Ayn Rand had to say. It is ONE of her accomplishment. It is the system of PHILOSOPHY she developed.

A philosophy is the science that studies the fundamental aspects of existence, and I would add man's relationship to existence.

Rights are principles. They are MORAL principles, and ethics is one of the main branches of philosophy. Therefore, the source of rights, the definition of rights, as well as what rights a woman has on her body is a classic philosophical issue.

Ayn Rand was very clear about it. Just check out some of her quotes in AbortionIsProLife.com. One of them is:

"One method of destroying a concept is by diluting its meaning. Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives."

— Ayn Rand ["A Last Survey — Part I", The Ayn Rand Letter Vol. IV, No. 2, 1975.]

If this is not a part of philosophy, nothing is. The right of a woman on her body is just as basic as the right of a man to his property or his life. It's not an application of philosophy - it is the essence of the issue of rights.

I do not believe a man can be against abortion and honestly call himself an Objectivist.

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If this is not a part of philosophy, nothing is. The right of a woman on her body is just as basic as the right of a man to his property or his life. It's not an application of philosophy - it is the essence of the issue of rights.

I didn't think of it in those terms. You're right. Thanks!

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Welcome, Oakes.

But the real world will require constant moral evaluation, things that Rand herself never lived to know of.

Certainly. All Ayn Rand provides are principles, and principles are useless until you put them to use -- in specific, particular situations in your own life.

In another thread on this forum I discuss how most philosophies and religions give you a rule book while Objectivism is more like a roadmap. Objectivism doesn't tell you what to do. It shows you what things are, where they are, and how to reach the goals which will make you successful and happy.

It is still up to you to use Objectivism and see if and how it applies to your own life.

Does that mean, anything not evaluated during Ayn Rand's life is open to debate among those who wish to call themselves objectivists?
Anything Ayn Rand evaluated during her lifetime must be evaluated too and by YOU. Otherwise, how would you ever know if Objectivism is a reliable roadmap for finding your way around the world and whether you ought to use it to guide your life?

But they must agree with the things she did get to evaluate or drop the name?

If you don't agree with Ayn Rand, why would you want to call yourself an Objectivist? Would you call yourself a Christian if you didn't believe in the divinity of Jesus?

I do call myself an Objectivist, but not as a sign of any status or membership. It is nothing more than a description that acknowledges the fact that I am using the philosophical roadmap I got from Ayn Rand.

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All Ayn Rand provides are principles, and principles are useless until you put them to use -- in specific, particular situations in your own life.

Are you saying there are no true conclusions objectivism draws that rational people could possibly disagree with?

If you don't agree with Ayn Rand, why would you want to call yourself an Objectivist?

Let's say I agreed with every major idea, but disagreed with a few of the specific conclusions drawn after that. Let's hypothesize further that I believed I was being more consistent with my reasoning than mainstream objectivists. Am I supposed to create a new word? If I ever had to, I'd be sure to not make the same mistake of having a closed system. Knowledge of the world and of philosophy are not implicit -- we must do everything we can to get the best answers.

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I'd personally break down Rand's work into 3 categories: fundamentals, derivations from fundamentals, and personal opinions. The first 2 categories would be the Objectivist corpus, while the latter wouldn't technically be part of her philosophy (by personal opinions I include things like "homosexuals are disgusting" and "smoking is an expression of productive rationality"). If you disagree with any of Rand's fundamentals, then you obviously wouldn't be an Objectivist. However, if you disagreed with other aspects of her philosophy that weren't central (such as specific issues relating to concept-formation, or her aesthetic theory), I would say it would still be possible to call yourself an Objectivist, depending on the number and severity of the disagreements. As I mentioned in another thread, I don't think Rand had all the specific details of her epistemology worked out at the time she wrote the Fountainhead, but it would be absurd to claim that she wasnt an "Objectivist" at this time.

I currently disagree with too many things to call myself an Objectivist, so I normally just say that I've been heavily influenced by Rand. From a purely academic standpoint however, I think it would be useful to have a seperate noun to collectively refer to the work being carried out "in the Randian tradition/school of thought" (as it were). It would probably also serve the benefit of reducing arguments relating to the proper use of the word 'Objectivist'.

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oakes,

I am not much older than you since I am still in high school, and I think I understand how you feel. But the very core principle of Objectivism in the political realm is freedom. That freedom is required by man's nature. Objectivism holds that you cannot overlook the nature of things, facts, etc and come to conclusions. If you overlook parts of the philosophy to make your own conclusions you arent an Objectivist. There is no way to disagree on the abortion issue.

The label Objectivist is like any other label. Would I label a table a table if it didnt hold the qualities of a table? Would I call it a table if it didnt have legs, or a flat surface, or if it were a liquid? No. To be an Objectivist you have to hold all the principles of Objectivism. However, you SHOULD make your own conclusions from those principles. In fact, YOU SHOULD CHALLENGE those principles. But as you will find, if your honest, those principles will hold true, and most if not all of Rand's applications will hold true. Can Rand be wrong? Of course. You should actively question all of her applications, but as I said, if you are honest, they will hold true. She made the philosophy, so who would know it better than her? You are always free to disagree with her, but you must prove her wrong first, which isnt an easy task.

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Hello Oakes,

If you decided that you did not like the ending of, oh, the Odyssey, would you demand that it be an 'open' book and change the ending?

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All Ayn Rand provides are principles, and principles are useless until you put them to use -- in specific, particular situations in your own life.

Are you saying there are no true conclusions objectivism draws that rational people could possibly disagree with?

Certainly not.

When I first encountered Objectivism, I agreed with most of it but questioned some of it and strongly disagreed with other parts of it. I was rational then and I am rational now. I have learned a lot about Objectivism and about life over the years and changed my mind about some things as the facts required.

Let's say I agreed with every major idea, but disagreed with a few of the specific conclusions drawn after that. Let's hypothesize further that I believed I was being more consistent with my reasoning than mainstream objectivists. Am I supposed to create a new word?

That sounds like me a couple of years into Objectivism.

If I ever had to, I'd be sure to not make the same mistake of having a closed system. Knowledge of the world and of philosophy are not implicit -- we must do everything we can to get the best answers.

Agreed. YOUR philosophy is not a closed system and you should keep on learning all you can about life and the world and learning and developing the ideas that will guide you to success and happiness.

Ayn Rand's system, on the other hand, IS closed. Unfortunately for all of us, she is not around any more to offer any new insights. If you agree with "every major idea" from Ayn Rand, take them and use them. If there are things she said and did that don't make sense to you, don't do them. It is your philosophy and your life that counts here, not Ayn Rand's.

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If you disagree with any of Rand's fundamentals, then you obviously wouldn't be an Objectivist. However, if you disagreed with other aspects of her philosophy that weren't central (such as specific issues relating to concept-formation, or her aesthetic theory), I would say it would still be possible to call yourself an Objectivist, depending on the number and severity of the disagreements.

Good, then we're in agreement.

If you overlook parts of the philosophy to make your own conclusions you arent an Objectivist.

Remember my hypothetical situation: "... Let's hypothesize further that I believed I was being more consistent with my reasoning than mainstream objectivists ..." The point is that people may think (and may be right) that they are being more consistent with the philosophy, and yet are still finding disagreement with Rand.

There is no way to disagree on the abortion issue ... But as you will find, if your honest, those principles will hold true, and most if not all of Rand's applications will hold true ...  She made the philosophy, so who would know it better than her?

Damnit, this is what DPW was doing. I'm not interested in actually arguing about any specific issue right now, and I don't need someone else assuring me that everything is fine and dandy. As long as A remains A, we humans will be here, looking for the best way to live our lives. Far from saying it is unattainable, I think its search requires that objectivists allow the possibility of logical failure when it comes to truths that aren't as self-evident as 1+1=2.

If you decided that you did not like the ending of, oh, the Odyssey, would you demand that it be an 'open' book and change the ending?

wtf?

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