Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

I have often read on this board, someone proclaiming "Objectivism is what Ayn Rand said, no more and no less," or something to that same effect. Dr. Peikoff has used this definition of Objectivism to suuport his "closed-system" position, at least insofar as I understand his position. (Disclaimer: It is not my intention to discuss the "open-ness" or "closed-ness" of Objectivism, nor to create a microcosm of the ARI/TOC battle.) My question here is in regard to whether such a definition conforms to the Objectivist principle of defining concepts by their essentials.

How does one define an entire body of thought? Certainly, it is a difficult proposition. How does one form a useful concept that subsumes an entire range of axioms, principles and concepts? One method would be to define it by its source: The body of philosophical thought espoused by x. This is a perfectly valid concept definition in certain contexts. In academia, for instance, to say, "I'm studying x-ism," is to mean, "I'm studying the body of philosophical thought espoused by x." No problem there.

When one moves into the realm of application, however, the problem becomes slightly different. If we maintain the type of definition described above then the statement, "I conduct myself according to x-ism," means, "I conduct myself according to the body of philosophical thought espoused by x." The source remains the essential charateristic. For some systems, this does not pose a problem. A Christian, for instance, conducts himself according to the teachings of Jesus Christ because they are the teachings of Jesus Christ. As Christ himself said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. None shall come to the Father but through me."

For those who adopt a philosphy which espouses, among its major virtues, independence, as Objectivism does, this method of definition breaks down. If one says, "I conduct myself accoring to Objectivism," and by that means, "I conduct myself according to the body of philosophical thought espoused by Ayn Rand," one has apparently created a contradiction. One cannot practice an ethical system involving independence while defining that system on the basis of who espoused it, not if one is defining by essentials. Doing so would be the essence of "second-handedness" or "other-directedness," not independence. The essential characteristic of Objectivism, in regard to its application, is that it is grounded in reality and in reason, and its definition, in the context of application, must reflect that essence.

I doubt whether "the body of philosphical thought espoused by Ayn Rand" and "the body of philosphical thought based on reality and reason" are sufficiently distinct to merit different terms to describe them. Each refers to the same thing, but which is essential? That question clearly relies on the context in which one is speaking. In certain contexts, the former seems to violate the principle of definition by essentials.

Thoughts, anyone?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I doubt whether "the body of philosophical thought espoused by Ayn Rand" and "the body of philosophical thought based on reality and reason" are sufficiently distinct to merit different terms to describe them.  Each refers to the same thing, but which is essential?

They do not refer to the same thing. “Objectivism” refers to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, while "the body of philosophical thought based on reality and reason" refers to a certain human perspective of reality. (Namely, the correct one.) Since I do in fact agree with everything I know of Objectivism, any difference between the two is completely arbitrary to me, but if you thought that Ayn Rand’s philosophy was not “based on reality and reason” then it would be improper for you to call your philosophy “Objectivism.”

By the way, a definition is not equivalent to the concept it represents. It refers to all the properties of the concepts, essential and non-essential, known or unknown. Otherwise, whenever we discovered some new essential or non-essential property of a concept, we’d have to make a whole new word.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure how I gave the impression that I was confusing a concept's definition with the concept itself. The fundamental issue I was addressing was whether the essential characteristic(s) of a concept are dependent upon the context in which it is used. After further consideration, I'm inclined to say no. If they were dependent upon context, they wouldn't be essential. Therefore, you're correct: "the body of philosophical thought espoused by Ayn Rand" and "the body of philosophical thought based on reality and reason" do not define the same concept. (I'm aware that a concept refers to all its properties essential and non-essential, known and unknown. I haven't read IOE, but I have read OPAR.)

If I were to define a concept denoting my system of values and ethics, I could not call it "Objectivism" using the generally accepted definition of that term. My system of values would be more accurately, more essentially, described by the latter of teh above definitions. As GC pointed out, I cannot then apply the term Objectivism to it. The same would seem to apply to any application of Objectivist principles. Ironically, it would seem that Objectivism cannot be applied as such. Once its principles are taken out of the academic realm and into that of the practical world, they must become something else. (I'm treading dangerously close to making A into non-A here. Since it's in different respects however, I'll assume for the moment that I'm not yet on thin ice.)

If, as it would seem, Objectivism is a concept limited to the academic realm, what concepts denote its applications? Rand herself called the application of her principles to literature romantic realism. In ethics we would call it rational or enlightened self-interest, to borrow an older term. In politics the best description, even though it bristles many of those on this board, is libertarianism or classical liberalism. I'm not sure there's a term for the application of Objectivism's epistemological principles to, for instance, science, but surely that too is deserving of a designation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would say that Objectivism is the system of principles and the methods of applying them which Ayn Rand espoused, whereas "the body of philosophical thought espoused by Ayn Rand" also includes her own applications of the principles. For example, though Ayn Rand may have said something regarding Mozart, that position is not one of Objectivism. A judgment on Mozart is an application of the general principles and methods of judgment to a specific case.

A "Randist" would say, "everything Ayn Rand said is Gospel." An "Objectivist" would say, "those principles and methods which Ayn Rand espoused are correct, though I may disagree with her on specific cases X, Y, and Z, because the contexts or our knowledge and the values we have chosen are different."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The proper definition of Objectivism is: "the philosophy of Ayn Rand." Which means that only philosophic statments made by her, and those which she expressly endorsed, are to be included in Objectivism. An Objectivist is someone who agrees with Objectivism.

An Objectivist would say "I happen to agree with every philosophic view espoused by Rand." Feldblum's person who disagrees with X, Y, and Z is only an Objectivist if X, Y and Z are not philosophic views.

I believe Feldblum intended this to be his point... I just think his method of attack could have been better, so I made it better.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, Ayn Rand defined Objectivism herself: "my philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being,..." (you guys know the whole thing)

And although it may not be the best formal lexicon entry, it is the best definition aesthetically.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Objectivism" isn't a concept. It is a proper noun like "The United States of America." It is one of a kind and not the integration of two or more similar units.

Since it isn't a concept, it isn't defined. It is denoted. "I mean the (one and only) philosophy of Ayn Rand." "I mean the nation north of Mexico and south of Canada."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"Objectivism" isn't a concept.  It is a proper noun like "The United States of America."  It is one of a kind and not the integration of two or more similar units.

I think this is the key to the whole issue! That's why we write Objectivism with a capital "O".

People who use the name Objectivism to denote something different than "the philosophy of Ayn Rand" are simply usurping the name she invented and gave her philosophy, and using it to denote something different, with the purpose of erasing the legitimate usage.

Suppose I founded a new country, and called it "The United States of America", and then proceeded to print "US Dollars". Or suppose I started a software company and called it Microsoft, and started selling products called Microsoft Windows, but actually completely different from the original...

This is the exact same issue: some people are simply trying to profit from the reputation of Ayn Rand, even though they can't provide the same goods.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

EC, there is an article in "The Voice of Reason" that I suggest you read called, "Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?" It may clear up a few things for you as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...