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The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism

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So, I heard of this book by Nathaniel Branden. According to a few reviewers in my link below, it's a transcript of lectures that Branden gave with the explicit approval of Rand. That is, I take it to be a very good book to read about Objectivism as a whole. But has anyone here read the book? How useful is it? I'm thinking of getting the book to compare it to OPAR, to see if the approach is perhaps better in this book.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon:

Edited by Eiuol

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I highly recommend it. It's a transcription of the Basic Principles of Objectivism course given at NBI from the late 50's through 1968. It used to be distributed on tape to other cities. When it was given in New York, Rand would often take part in the question periods. I agree with Ted Keer's lengthy review on Amazon, so I'll refer you to that. I think it's the single most valuable book on Objectivism not written by Rand herself.

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Thanks for reminding me about this. I bought it last month but have only read the epilogue so far, 'The benefits and hazards of the philosophy of Ayn Rand' (it sounded the most interesting). It is a really powerful intro to Objectivism, highlighting the good and the bad. The highs Branden mentions are high, but the lows are really low. For example, he uses examples to talk about Rand's close-mindedness, her interchangeable use of the words 'mystical' 'irrational' and 'evil,' her suspicion of scientific facts (evolution), her obsessive moralizing, her lack of advocation for mutual benevolence (one that's compatible with self-interest), her claim that everything in her philosophy is 100% true with no errors, her lack of knowledge about psychology which has lead to some major problems for Oists (alienation, emotional repression, and guilt).. etc. There are others, but these are the main criticisms I remember.

One part says, "You can tell people that it's a virtue to be rational, productive, or just; but if they have not already arrived at that stage of awareness and development on their own, Objectivism does not tell them how to get there. It does tell them they are rotten, if they've failed to get there." I don't know about you guys, but in a lot of articles from 'ex-Objectivists', people have said that they were unhappy and alone (or sometimes even outright unmotivated or unsure what to do with their lives) as Objectivists. My first thought was usually, 'Oh, they must have done something wrong. How can being rational make someone LESS happy?' For me, it was a welcome breath of fresh air. But Branden makes a good point: not all of us are John Galt.. and how do you live with yourself if you aren't? How can you become better while you feel so guilty and subpar comparing yourself to unrealistic standards?

I probably focused too much on the negative here, but that's because it's so rare to see honest criticisms of Ayn Rand and her philosophy (from people who have actually studied it and understand it). Branden ends the book by saying, "If we see only the greatness and deny the shortcomings or if we only see the shortcomings and deny the greatness, we remain blind." Boy, is that true.

Edit: Now that I have the book open, I want to throw in one more line (Branden is seriously a good writer. There are lots of lines that resonate with me): "Her work represents a glorification not only of the human potential, but also of the possibilities of life on earth.. One cannot understand the appeal of Ayn Rand if one doesn't understand how starved people are- and especially young people- for a celebration of human efficacy and for a vision that upholds the positive possibilities of life.. It gives them courage to fight for thier lives and for their integrity and for their ambitions." :)

Edited by mdegges

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Yeah I highly reccomend it, even moreso than OPAR, at least for a beginner. It seems to me a perfect intermediate book in between something like Bernstein and OPAR. It follows the basic progression of OPAR, though (being that OPAR was crafted from lectures that were crafted from Branden's lectures), so you will get almost the same progression, and even some of the same arguments and examples, but it can be refreshing to have a different spin on them.

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Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is shorter. That one and Branden’s transcripts The Vision of Ayn Rand both have the merit for older eyes of having large type. The Index in the latter is totally off. Roger Bissell has since prepared a correct one. Write to me via the email service of this site if you would like a copy of it. I have found the corrected index very helpful. I use Vision for history of Rand’s views.

OPAR has more metaphysics and epistemology, and it was composed as a book. I find it easy to read, it is admirably organized, and it includes detailed citations to Rand's own writings. Vision has more psychology, and it is more rambling due to being a compilation of lectures, not a book distilled from lectures. It is unclear if anything within Branden’s recorded lectures to the point of his break with Rand in 1968, anything he might later have found embarrassing (such as that homosexuality is a mental illness), has been omitted from the transcriptions. If there are any such omissions, I’m sure it’s for the better.

Edited by Boydstun

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M remarked in #4 on Nathaniel Branden’s Epilogue to Vision, which is titled “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” In the hazards portion of that retrospective essay, one of Branden’s analyses is especially wide of the mark.

He writes of readers of Rand who say

“It was so great! I read her books, and I got rid of the guilt that the Church laid on me. I got rid of the guilt over sex. Or wanting money. . . . [but] now I’m guilty about something else. I’m not as good as John Galt. Sometimes I’m not even sure I’m as good as Eddie Willers” . . . .

Rand might respond, “But these people are guilty of pretentiousness and grandiosity!” Surely they are, at least some of the time. Although when you tell people, as Rand did, that one of the marks of virtue is to value the perfection of your soul above all things, not your happiness, not your enjoyment of life, not the joyful fulfillment of your positive possibilities, but the perfection of your soul, aren’t you helping to set people up for just this kind of nonsense? (550)

Rand did not paint any such priority of virtue over achievement or happiness. I suppose psychologists making money off persuading people they are underachieving, and in need of encounters with the profession to get where they should be, encourage an inversion of priorities somewhat along those lines. Among philosophers Kant certainly set virtue in the way decried by Branden. Rand did not. From Kira to Roark to Galt, she set concern with what is right only within a wider context of life, achievement, and happiness.

When Rand addressed the moral virtue of pride, one may be reminded of Kant’s remarks on the preciousness of a good will.* There too, the discussion is within a setting of value wider than moral value.

With Eddie Willers, we have a young person looking for the best in humans as under conventional notions of the morally extraordinary. Dagny does not look there, nor to what one thinks of at that early stage of the novel as the region of morality at all. In the end, Eddie comes to find the best in us not in an extraordinary and separated plane of morality, but in business and making a living and in the esteem, will, and thought making them possible.

Eddie is not portrayed as morally defective. He is as moral as Dagny or Galt. They all make errors. None of their errors are held up as moral failings. They have differences in abilities, interests, and personality. “Sometimes I’m not even sure I’m as good as Eddie Willers.” There is bound to be some running together of moral goodness with intellectual ability in that sort of attitude.

It is, of course, John Galt, not Eddie Willers, who is Rand’s conduit for letting morally ideal human being speak to the reader. In absorbing Rand’s literature and philosophy, one who ends by taking an individual personality such as Galt (or Rand) as model for one’s own ideal, rather than self-consciously taking abstract ideal human (tuned to the present world and having one’s own personality), might very well end up accepting an unearned guilt, or anyway, a guilt out of all proportion to one’s real error.

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...one who ends by taking an individual personality such as Galt (or Rand) as model for one’s own ideal, rather than self-consciously taking abstract ideal human (tuned to the present world and having one’s own personality), might very well end up accepting an unearned guilt, or anyway, a guilt out of all proportion to one’s real error.

Very well said. I think this evaluation can also apply to Branden's other example of people trying to be like Roark.. not by trying to apply his ideals to their own lives, but by trying to take his personality as their own. Branden says these people often feel guilty for being unhappy as they try to alienate and isolate themselves from others.

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it's a transcript of lectures that Branden gave with the explicit approval of Rand.

I wondered what it was about when I had seen it. While I read and recommend his self-esteem related books that I have read, there is no way I will buy/read/sanction this book, not after reading Rands 'To Whom It May Concern' and other writing about the Brandens and Rand.

Rand: " I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently, as spokesmen for me or for Objectivism."

Edited by intellectualammo

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I wondered what it was about when I had seen it. While I read and recommend his self-esteem related books that I have read, there is no way I will read this book, not after reading Rands 'To Whom It May Concern' and other writing about the Brandens and Rand.

Rand: " I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently, as spokesmen for me or for Objectivism."

Have you read the Brandens' responses to 'To Whom It May Concern'?

J

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Intel, Rand said future, thenceforth from 1968. "I hereby withdraw my endorsement of them and of their future works and activities. I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently, as spokesmen for me or for Objectivism."

Aside from the preface and epilogue, the contents of this book are evidently from years prior to Rand’s split with Branden. Rand had already assured her audience that all those lectures, which are from before the split, were accurate representations of her philosophy.

I don’t mean to encourage you to buy or read the book. It may very well hold little that would be new and significant to you. However, it is an error to think that because you buy a book you sanction its content or its existence. I have four translations of the Bible. I use them all for scholarly work. I do not thereby sanction the content or existence of them.

Were Rand alive, she would not like me bringing this book Vision to her soiree (supposing I found the book so gripping). I wouldn’t do that, out of personal respect for her realm. We are in no such place. Rand is long dead, and before long all the people who knew her personally and significantly will also be dead. The rotten things they did to each other—preeminently the Brandens’ deception of Rand for continuance of their position and enterprise—are not our rational personal concern. Their deeds were not done to us, and they set no norms for us or society. We do not require those persons nor Rand as role models. Their personal conflicts are not to the point of which ideas are true and important and which expressions of them are eloquent.

Edited by Boydstun

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Intel, Rand said future, thenceforth from 1968. "I hereby withdraw my endorsement of them and of their future works and activities. I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently, as spokesmen for me or for Objectivism."

She withdraws endorsement of them and of their future works and activities. Repudiating them totally and permanently as spokesmen for her or her philosophy. So not just from 1968 on, but before, as well.

But, while I wont buy/read/listen to Branden in regards to Objectivism, or mistake him as spokesmen for her or her philosophy, I still will read more of his work in psychology, she might not endorse his future works, but that aspect has nothing to do with me buying/reading/recommending such works myself.

Edited by intellectualammo

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It is an excellent book. I find TVoAR more useful most of the time since the lecture covered more ground with more examples. Plus, it is rather interesting to see how the subject was covered in the early days of Objectivism. The only real criticism one could make is that it could be more succinct but that is unrealistic for what it is. OPAR, for example, was a book that was intended to be a book while this is a transcript from a lecture.

Although in full disclosure I am admittedly biased since I listened to the original lectures on tape when I drove truck back in the day and that was before I ever heard of OPAR (92?). Those tapes are history at this point so the book brings back fond memories of when I first got interested in philosophy, Objectivism, and started the whole journey of rediscovering ideas.

As for the epilogue, that covered some of the post-break issues Brandon encountered and while I certainly did not identify with them I can see how they were issues he did have to deal. I can see people not *getting* the difference between Atlas Shrugged as a novel and Atlas Shrugged as a presentation of a philosophy within the context of that novel. Rand’s love of the dramatic and juxtaposition of extremes to project drama and imagery is great, but in some cases (see the famous “rape scene”) there is a lot at work there that people confuse the distinction between art and Objectivism.

It is an excellent book. I find TVoAR more useful most of the time since the lecture covered more ground with more examples. Plus, it is rather interesting to see how the subject was covered in the early days of Objectivism. The only real criticism one could make is that it could be more succinct but that is unrealistic for what it is. OPAR, for example, was a book that was intended to be a book while this is a transcript from a lecture.

Although in full disclosure I am admittedly biased since I listened to the original lectures on tape when I drove truck back in the day and that was before I ever heard of OPAR (92?). Those tapes are history at this point so the book brings back fond memories of when I first got interested in philosophy, Objectivism, and started the whole journey of rediscovering ideas.

As for the epilogue, that covered some of the post-break issues Brandon encountered and while I certainly did not identify with them I can see how they were issues he did have to deal. I can see people not *getting* the difference between Atlas Shrugged as a novel and Atlas Shrugged as a presentation of a philosophy within the context of that novel. Rand’s love of the dramatic and juxtaposition of extremes to project drama and imagery is great, but in some cases (see the famous “rape scene”) there is a lot at work there that people confuse the distinction between art and Objectivism.

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What do you mean by post-break issues? Like after Rand break with him? Does he speak of that time during which he gave these lectures, and of how he was deceiving Rand, acting against the principles, virtues of honesty, justice, of Objectivism, and so forth, for how many years that he was?

If I remember right, one book that does a fantastic job writing about his deception and such is Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns.

Edited by intellectualammo

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What do you mean by post-break issues? Like after Rand break with him? Does he speak of that time during which he gave these lectures, and of how he was deceiving Rand, acting against the principles, virtues of honesty, justice, of Objectivism, and so forth, for how many years that he was?

Insofar as we're talking about the transcripts, there is no deception in them, no misrepresentation of Objectivism, because Rand herself said that the lectures are good. You don't even reject Branden yourself in totality - you said his books on self-esteem are good. There is no reason I can think of to suspect this book misrepresents Objectivism or Rand. I'm not asking questions about Branden, I'm only asking about the value of the information in this book. So far, I intend to buy it soon.

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Branden talked candidly and at length about these issues in two autobiographies, Judgement Day (the vain, vindictive version) and My Years With Ayn Rand (the make-nice version).

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What do you mean by post-break issues? Like after Rand break with him? Does he speak of that time during which he gave these lectures, and of how he was deceiving Rand, acting against the principles, virtues of honesty, justice, of Objectivism, and so forth, for how many years that he was?

If I remember right, one book that does a fantastic job writing about his deception and such is Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns.

Branden mentioned in the article about how people would come to him at his practice and look for help with trying to practice Objectivism. The issue was that they took to trying to immolate patters from the book instead of having a deep understanding of Objectivism itself. In a nut shell, people got themselves screwed up by treating a novel as the equivalent of OPAR, which makes sense that would be a big problem. Sounds like he had to untangle some thinking to get people to understand Objectivism does not mean being depressed because you have not met Dagny Taggart or cannot match Roark’s reactions to others. He also talked about other issues, like overcorrecting emotionalism by supressing emotional reactions all together.

As for deceptions I have read his later work and there are no glaring indications that he has misrepresented Objectivism. His work on self-esteem is top notch actually and I recommend his books highly.

Edited by Spiral Architect

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Guys, Im not talking about any possible misrepresentation of her or her philosophy on his part in this book. Yes, she did approve of his lecture series, I knew that, my problem is with him, what he did to Rand, what he was doing in his personal life while giving these very lectures, and afterwards what went on, etc. I do not want to support him in any way in regards to this book, or that lecture, I dont think he deserves it.

I have read those two books and his answer and Barbaras answer to Rand, before.

Edited by intellectualammo

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Yes, she did approve of his lecture series, I knew that, my problem is with him, what he did to Rand, what he was doing in his personal life while giving these very lectures, and afterwards what went on, etc. I do not want to support him in any way in regards to this book, or that lecture, I dont think he deserves it.

..because he didn't want to be romantically involved with her, a woman 25 years his senior?

Outrageous! :angry:

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Michelle, Intel's concern and the widespread concern over Branden doing something wrong against Rand does not include his loss of romantic interest in Rand. No one faults that; it happens. The concern does include, importantly, Nathaniel and Barbara's concealment from Rand his change of heart and his having fallen in love with another woman. It was a deception over a considerable amount of time, and both of the Branden's have acknowledged that moral wrong they committed against Rand's person, as I recall.

Intel, by buying Vision and studying and writing about Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures therein, I do not "support" Branden in some way against Rand, and I do not give him something he does not deserve. Impact on the author existentially, and symbolically in my own psyche, compared to interest (or not) in the ideas in a book is as the weight of a feather in comparison to the weight of the book. I think one sense of Branden getting something he does not deserve by publication of those lectures is that much of the interest in the lectures in the first place and later was their close attention and concurrence from Rand. However, the content of the lectures simply is what it is. Its ideas and their expression simply have the merit they have under rational scrutiny regardless of who wrote the lectures.

I don't mean to try to talk you out of the way you feel or say the weighting you give against Branden for his elaborate dishonest behavior while he was delivering those lectures is incorrect in comparison to the weighting you give to the possible value from reading the lectures. I don't mean to say there is only one imbalance of that scale that is the objectively correct result for every psyche. And even for a single individual, he or she might rightly change those comparative weightings through time.

I was curious if you think your own feeling that Branden gets something he does not deserve by having this book and having it read would change after the Brandens are both dead. Would that make a difference in your decision and its reasons? One thing I would venture is that as the generations pass, fewer readers will decline the book for the reason that they think it gives Branden something he does not deserve. After all, the parties to the incidents will have all been dead for decades, then centuries. Rand said her "permanently." She definitely meant also, "If you value me, don't listen to that pair concerning what they might say about me and my philosophy. For that matter, don't give them any encouragement to further success or fulfillment in life." Naturally, some people responded that the conditional statement was incorrect---when referred to their own interests and values, rather than to Rand's---for they found they still valued Rand all the same and followed the later writings of the Brandens about Rand and her philosophy. As for Rand's "permanently," I doubt she gave a care over whether it pertained to time of readers after she and the Brandens were all dead.

Edited by Boydstun

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I will see The Goddess of the Market, and Ayn Rand And The World She Made again, instead. In the meantime, if you can find him owning up to anything that he did to Rand, post it asap, anyone. He also critisizes Objectivism, too.

http://www.dianahsieh.com/ff/

Edited by intellectualammo

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Intel,

In his book My Years with Ayn Rand (1999), Nathaniel Branden relates his feeling, while the deception continued, of enormous guilt over his (and Barbara’s) withholding from Rand the important information that he was no longer in love with Rand. He finally disclosed the information in a letter to Rand, which he delivered in person. In that letter, he apologized to her for the deception. Some days later, Barbara revealed to Rand the further information that Nathaniel had entered into an affair with a young woman known to them all. Rand had Nathaniel come down from his apartment in the same building in which she lived, had her scene with him (along the lines you would expect), and during that scene, he apologized to her for the pain he had caused her. Of course that pain was about more than the deception.

They had all been deceiving the public. That is entirely different. Their affairs of he heart were none of the public’s business. Lying to the public in such matters is part of one’s rightful autonomy over the intimacies of personal identity.

Branden chose eventually to discuss publicly his affair with Rand and their total parting, and in this memoir, he chose to convey is own (and Barbara’s) wrongfulness in their deception of Rand and admit their motives for carrying on that charade. Barbara has made these admissions in a post at OL, which I had stumbled across a few weeks ago, but I have been unable to locate it just now and can’t give further time to this topic. Nathaniel Branden chose to display also in his memoir his apology to Rand for his deception.

The important thing in The Vision of Ayn Rand is the Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures. The important thing about Ayn Rand is the literature and philosophy she created.

Edited by Boydstun

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