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  • 6 months later...

On Thursday evening January 6, 2022, at 7pm, there will be a session of the Ayn Rand Society. That will be at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Lester Hunt will deliver a paper on Rand’s comments on film in her essay “Art and Cognition”. This session will be in person, not via Zoom. The Meeting this year is being held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel. The commentator on Prof. Hunt’s paper will be Prof. Andrew Kania.

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  • 1 month later...

The Ayn Rand Society session for Eastern 2022 was one of many sessions that opted in late December 2021 to not assemble in person, but virtually. The date was shifted to 18 January, at 2:00 pm. The paper to be read by Prof. Lester Hunt addresses, in view of some brief remarks by Rand on film, two related, long-standing questions in film theory and criticism. Comments on the paper, as noted earlier, will be from Prof. Andrew Kania.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'd like to welcome to Objectivism Online the poster Laws of Biology, who writes in his/her About Me the following:



I was surprised and pleased to recently discover that Ayn Rand was a real and serious philosopher, who was well-versed in the whole history of Western Philosophy, and in all the important eras, movements, issues, and technical terms of Western Philosophy.

Previously I had gotten the impression (from representations in the mass media, both pro and con) that Ayn Rand was more of a shallow, irrational, emotionalist, imbalanced, activist ideologue and provocateur, along the lines of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Laura Ingraham, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, etc. 

But no, I have come to see that Ayn Rand was a real philosopher in the tradition of Western Philosophy, and the philosophy of Objectivism that she delineated is a real, systematic, comprehensive philosophy that deserves to be taken seriously.

Objectivism should be closely studied by anyone interested in the path of Western Philosophy as a means to gaining the clearest possible understanding of reality and as a means to living the best possible human life. 

Rather than being viewed as being comparable to the aforementioned shallow and often incoherent pundits, provocateurs, and activists, Ayn Rand deserves to be regarded as being in the company of the likes of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, Epicurus, Aquinas, Hume, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Burke, Nietzsche, Herbert Spencer, Marx, Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, and Wittgenstein (not that Ayn Rand agreed with all or most the doctrines of the aforementioned persons, but that, like them, she was a serious, knowledgeable, systematic, sincere, determined, forceful, and rational thinker in the tradition of Western Philosophy). 

Objectivism seems, to me, to very different from many other movements and "-isms" in that Objectivism claims to use the classical methods of Western Philosophy to firmly and undeniably establish and prove its system of ethics and its political philosophy.  The proponents of other "-isms," such as Conservatism, Libertarianism, Socialism, and Progressivism, generally do not seem make any such claim. 

Based on what I now know, Objectivism claims to be the apex, pinnacle, climax, culmination, fulfillment, and completion of Western Philosophy. 

In essence, as I understand things at the present, Objectivism claims to be the final philosophy, with Ayn Rand as the final philosopher.

I am interested in investigating all these claims fairly and thoroughly.

My objective is not to debunk, nitpick, or find fault, but to dive deep into the essence of what Western Philosophy is. 

Objectivism is also profoundly different from the philosophy that is taught in philosophy courses at all or nearly all universities and colleges in the USA. These courses seem to generally teach epistemological skepticism and moral relativism. I recently read an online essay by a university-based philosopher that was titled: "Philosophy cannot resolve the question ‘How should we live?’" I think that is typical of university-based philosophy. Of course, most of many people would think that a philosophy that cannot guide people on how they should live is a philosophy that is worthless. But Dave Ellis, the university-based philosopher who was the author of that essay, was confident that his work had value even though it could not resolve the basic question of "How should we live." 



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  • 2 months later...

Rand "is the cold, stony advocate of self-interest, the poet of the sociopath." That quotation is from the book AYN RAND AND THE RUSSIAN INTELLIGENTSIA (2022) by Derek Offord. He goes straight to Rand's various representations and condemnations of altruism and collectivism and to her holding high ethical egoism and attendant inversions of traditional virtues, such as the displacement of humility with pride. He sees the audacity of Rand's vision of a guilt-free human life.

The author sticks to the clashes between Rand’s ethics and the traditional, altruistic ones, secular or religious. He takes no notice of continuities of the old and the new and ways in which the latter took up the old with redefinition and placement in an orderly account of value per se. By sticking to only the stark clashes and by ignoring facets of the psychology of Rand’s protagonists—indeed conjecturing that such things as empathy and concern for others are entirely absent in those characters (and in their creator)— Offord makes it easy on himself to slide from Rand being the poet for personalities asocial, to antisocial, to sociopathical. Even the asocial is in full truth not fitting of Rand’s protagonists.

This book is another distortion and smear of Rand’s philosophy. It is a smart one, by someone who actually has read Rand’s novels and The Virtue of Selfishness. He is of independent mind, not one repeating old critical reviews by others.

From page at the University of Bristol:



Derek Offord is a specialist in pre-revolutionary Russian history, thought and literature and in language usage and language attitudes in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia. He has published books on the revolutionary movement in its Populist phase, on the debates in the nineteenth-century intelligentsia (especially between its radical wing and its liberal and romantic conservative wings) and on the ways in which Russian writers travelling in the West used their travels to shape notions of national identity as Russia entered the European world. Together with William Leatherbarrow, he co-edited a documentary history of Russian thought in 1987 and a new History of Russian Thought published by Cambridge University Press in 2010.

From 2011 to 2015 he led a multidisciplinary project funded by the AHRC on the history of the French language in Russia from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. The project yielded three co-edited volumes, two clusters of articles, and a 700-page monograph co-authored with Vladislav Rjeoutski and Gesine Argent and published by Amsterdam University Press in 2018. This monograph, The French Language in Russia: A Social, Political, Cultural, and Literary History, was awarded the Marc Raeff Book Prize for 2019 by the Eighteenth-Century Russian Studies Association, an affiliate of the American Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, and (as Joint winner) the 2019 R. Gapper Book Prize awarded by the Society for French Studies. It has been translated into Russian and is due to be published by Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie in Moscow in 2022. The website of the AHRC project, which includes twelve documents or sets of documents from primary sources accompanied in each case by an explanatory article, is at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/research/french-in-russia.

Derek's latest book-length publication is on Ayn Rand and the Russian intelligentsia (published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2022 in their Russian Shorts series; details at https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/ayn-rand-and-the-russian-intelligentsia-9781350283947/).

Derek is also the author of two widely used books on the modern Russian language, Modern Russian: An Advanced Grammar Course (1993) and Using Russian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage (1996), which was republished in a revised and augmented edition co-authored witn Natalia Gogolitsyna (2005).

He is currently beginning work on a survey of contemporary Russian nationalistic thought.




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  • 3 weeks later...

Well Done!

Ken Danagger asks Dagny Taggart:



“And if you met those great men in heaven, . .  what would you want to say to them?”

“Just . . . just ‘hello’, I guess.”

“That’s not all,” said Danagger. “There’s something you’d want to hear from them . . . you’d want them to look at you and say, ‘Well done.’”


Dr. Chris Sciabarra is ending his long labor of love The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. He produced the journal for 22 years, which means a total of 44 issues of the journal. I list here some tidbit teasers from the first 10 years of the journal.



“But something changes. At the end of the book, Roark is no longer a seemingly isolated young man, alone with his thoughts in the depths of the countryside. He is just as individual as he was at the beginning, but now he stands at the heart of his country’s economic life, building its most conspicuous symbol, with the glad permission of his fellow citizens. Of the many inversions of perspective and expectation that are suggested by Roark’s dive into the sky, this is one of the most remarkable.”

–Stephen Cox



“Although both Andrei and Wynand are men guilty of their own tragedy, Rand presents their falls more as the logical outcome of their mistakes than as the just desert of their sins. As in the Aristotelian tradition of tragic ‘hamorita’, theirs is a type of transgression that must be distinguished from pure evil, making their fatal ends deserving of respectful pity rather than righteous condemnation.”

–Kirsti Minsaas



“You can live any way you choose within a regime of well-drawn non-conflictng individual rights. But again, to know what those rights are, to better be able to shape them coordinately, to limit all but procedural distinctions, we require minarchy.”

–Murray Franck



“The character may be embroiled in highly implausible situations, but he must still ‘live and breathe before us’ as an actual human being, with motivations we find at least intellibible, else we cannot empathize with the character or imaginatively share his fate. There is much more to it than this, and I am greatly condensing the account. But when I presented it once to Rand she agreed with it, and was pleased by my Aristotelianism on this issue.”

–John Hospers



“The data the sensations provide us with must come from somewhere, and this somewhere cannot be, as on the Cartesian account, from the physical objects. On pain of rendering incomprehensible why we all largely agree in our empirical beliefs, something that the formal agreement in geometrical belief cannot suffice to explain, there must be some common data source. Given the Kantian account of the physical world, this data source must be supra-physical.”

–R. Kevin Hill



“It isn’t just Rand who stumbled over the implicit. It gets under psychologists, feet, too.”

–Robert L. Campbell



“Indeed, I would argue that we can see Rand’s epistemology as an updating of the project that Abelard pursued over 800 years ago.”

–Peter Saint-Andre



“There is the marked disparity between her popularity as a novelist and the number of articles of literary criticism written about her work, though this too is not without precedent. It took some time for John Steinbeck to achieve recognition by certain sectors of the critical establishment. His work was disdained for its popularity, sentimentality, and the fact that it is accessible even to high school students.”

–Mimi Reisel Gladstein



“Considerations of self-esteem and self-esteem-based happiness THEMSELVES do not provide an agent with a reason that makes the difference in how he should act.”

–Eric Mack



“Rand’s measurement-omission analysis of concepts could be correct even if her account of their genesis were incorrect.”

–Stephen Boydstun



“Dr. Stadler’s complaint that he almost froze to death and numerous references to city-dwellers exposed to the elements for the first time in their lives [also] describe the first winters of Communist rule.”

--Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal



“I find it tempting to believe that we can gain knowledge through the faculty of reason both in an a priori way and from experience. . . . These two ways could work together.”

--Richard C. B. Johnsson



“Rand’s trader principle does not suffer from the problems of [Adam] Smith’s invisible hand principle because she explicitly grounds her defense of trade in an individual’s right to exist for his or her own sake. . . . I do not sacrifice my interests for your sake, and you do not sacrifice your interests for my sake.”

--Robert White



“If you want a deconstructionist, go to the English Department. Philosophy departments in Anglophone countries are still predominantly homes for linguistic and logical analysis, the whole tone and tenor of which are very much in opposition to subjectivist nihilism. In fact, analytic philosophy of all styles began in self-conscious opposition to such German gobbledlygook.”

--Max Hocutt



“That worry is precisely the worry that being unmarried ISN’T a necessary property of anything, prior to and apart from the convention in question. . . . It’s only qua bachelors that those entities are necessarily unmarried, and the worry is that what it is to be something qua bachelor is an artifact of the convention, not a fact about the world. / I believe this worry can be met, but that the way to meet it is to show that it can arise only from OUTSIDE the linguistic practice in question, and cannot coherently be raised from within it. No one who assents to the proposition that bachelors are necessarily unmarried (thereby participating in the practice) can consistently add “oh, but that’s not a fact about the world.”

--Roderick T. Long



“To be fair, Objectivists do not deny the existence and importance of ‘spiritual’ qualities. Objectivists argue strongly against any sort of reductive materialism such as behaviorism or eliminativism. But, for Objectivists, material entities are the ultimate reality and conscious beings somehow supervene upon this underlying reality. Thus, the existence of any sort of supernatural entity, such as God, is ruled out.”

--Stephen E. Parrish



“A human being is a coherent unity of mind and body, yet this way of stating the fact still leaves ‘mind’ and ‘body’ conceptually separate. The concept ORGANISM conceptually integrates these two facets of human nature in a graceful and unit-economical way.”

--Andrew Schwartz



“Both see rationality as our distinctive means of avoiding threats and securing our survival, given our animal vulnerabilities. However, where MacIntyre diverges from Rand is in relation to the implications of this in respect of our ongoing dependence on others.”

--Ron Beadle



“We do not believe there are untethered and dispositionless will acts made in complete freedom of antecedent conditions. . . . We endeavored to use notions of self-direction in ‘common-sense’ ways not packed with a lot of philosophical baggage, because we believed that ordinary usage (say, ordinary common law usage of choice and intent) were sufficient to complete the political argument.”

--Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen



“He [Nietzsche] insists, as she does, that it is absurd to live for the sake of the collective (i.e., what he calls ‘’the majority’), but the reason he gives is not the one that she would give. Her reason would be that it is absurd to live FOR ANYONE [who is not oneself]. The answer he gives is the aristocratic one, that one should live for the best and the rarest. Even here, though, his position still overlaps with hers IN A WAY: for what he is saying here can be captured by a phrase that Rand sometimes applies to herself, namely, hero-worship. Nietzsche’s aristocratic hero-worship I think is the key to understanding the collectivist-sounding language in . . . .”

--Lester Hunt


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  • 2 months later...

THE OXFORD COMPANION TO PHILOSOPHY (1995, 2005) is an encyclopedia of issues and philosophers. It is 1056 pages long. It does not have an entry for Ayn Rand, although she is mentioned within an entry for Popular Philosophy. The entry begins by setting forth three sorts of popular philosophy: general guidance about the conduct of life; amateur consideration of the standard, technical problems of philosophy; and philosophical popularization.

There was movement called “popular philosophy” in eighteenth-century Germany. It included various definite philosophies, but criticized obscure technicalities and systematic elaborations, in an attempt to stay close to experience and usefulness for life. Frankly, general educated readers today, would find those writings quite technical philosophy. And frankly, the German Rationalist before them Christian Wolff held to the Enlightenment value of concern for the welfare and betterment of humanity (and he found a method for increasing the yield of grains). Then too, all the systematic, technical philosophers before them held forth practical philosophies, which is to say ethical systems. So I don’t give much weight to the claims of uniqueness in this self-declared popular-philosophy movement. The movement was eventually displaced by Kantianism.

Beside those guys, the entry mentions under philosophers giving general guidance about the conduct of life: Socrates, Aristotle, Stoics, Epicureans, Christian dicta (not really philosophy), Erasmus, Montaigne, F. Bacon, La Rochefoucauld, Samuel Johnson, and Benjamin Franklin. “By the end of the eighteenth century, prudence, and the idea of rational management of life, had been obscured by the clouds of romanticism.” That is to say, the allure of this sort of practical philosophy was outdone and displaced by the allure of philosophical romanticism, including Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Emerson and Shaw should be counted among this sort of practical philosopher. Others mentioned, from the twentieth century: Émile Chartier, Havelock Ellis, John Cowper Powys, Aldous Huxley, and Sydney Harris.

In the last three decades of the twentieth century (and to the present), “professional philosophers, after a long period of absenteeism from anything but the most abstract and uncommitted attention to the problems of conduct and practice, have resumed a measure of direct involvement, mainly at the political or collective level, but to some extent more personally, as in Richard Robinson’s AN ATHEIST’S VALUES and Robert Nozick’s unkindly treated THE EXAMINED LIFE.”

Skipping the second kind for a moment, the third kind of popular philosophy in this entry is popularization of philosophy. Among this kind are mentioned: Paulsen, Windelband, Benn, and Russell in his PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY, Hospers in his INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS and HUMAN CONDUCT, and Scruton’s MODERN PHILOSOPHY. T. Nagel, Blackburn, Midgley, Glover, and Singer are professional philosophers who have been lured into press in the popularization genre.

The second kind of popular philosophy is in contrast to institutional philosophy, which today means in contrast to academic philosophy. This kind of popular philosophy, though amateur, tackles the standard, technical problems of philosophy. Notwithstanding all their influence, the author of the entry puts Descartes and Hume in this category. I should add Spinoza. This sort of philosophizing flourished at presses in the nineteenth century, but languished in the twentieth century. Exceptions in the twentieth: C. G. Stone, L. L. Whyte, and George Melhuish, “and, in the United States, Ayn Rand, strenuous exponent of objectivism and self-interest.”

I’d say that Leonard Peikoff greatly contributed to expanding the range of standard philosophy problems that can be addressed by Rand’s philosophy in metaphysics and epistemology. His essay, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” was a big expansion, even if only a short overview. In his History of Philosophy lectures in the early 1970’s, he gave square, competent presentations of the big guys through the ages and followed each with what Objectivism could say precisely of what was amiss or right in the particular philosophy.

Appearance of the Blackburn A COMPANION TO AYN RAND is a milestone breach of the silence on and snubbing of Rand by academic philosophers. This breach was made possible by the renowned Aristotle scholar and Objectivist Allan Gotthelf. Another breach is the Ayn Rand Society within The American Philosophical Association and the books issued by that Society under an academic press. Another: Chris Sciabarra’s AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RANDICAL and his JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES. The thesis of his book on local Russian influences on Rand’s philosophy were contested by James Lennox, Barbara Branden, and others knowledgeable of Rand and her development, but in the course of his book, Sciabarra exposes to a wider scholarly audience a very detailed view of Rand’s philosophy itself. I should mention that the professional philosopher Robert Nozick preserved his early challenge to Rand’s ethics by including it among his papers in his book SOCRATIC PUZZLES. Academic presses have issued other books on Objectivism or putting it into technical philosophical work: three books by Tara Smith and one by David Kelley.

Although Nietzsche after 1890 was widely read among people outside academia, and a cult of Nietzsche burned brightly until WWI, he was shunned by the academy there and here until after WWII. That would be about five decades after his death (really ten for full blaze). Rand has been deceased about four decades. The question of how far Rand’s philosophy might become a stable and large topic of academic philosophers in the coming decades remains entirely impenetrable to me. By now though, it appears Rand’s philosophy will for a long time to come continue as a help to some people in making a life for themselves and as, for some, an entryway to philosophy more generally.

This is a picture of Ayn Rand in 1951 being read by a college student maybe 15 years later.

S:R copy.jpg

Edited by Boydstun
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  • 2 weeks later...

The issue of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES recently issued (December 2022 – https://scholarlypublishingcollective.org/…/ayn…/issue/22/2… ) includes a paper by Dr. Kathleen Touchstone titled “Error, Free Will, and Freedom.” It engages importantly with earlier writings of mine, and because the next issue of JARS will be its final issue, and it is already at the printer, I’m making a reply to Touchstone’s paper simply in online posts.

Kathleen Touchstone’s main-stage representation of what I wrote in OBJECTIVITY in the 1990’s about internal indeterminism is incorrect. I rejected the idea that quantum indeterminism could play a role in these organic processes. The classical Boltzmann-regime and chaos processes in the classical regime are the only plausible candidates for micro indeterminism in neuronal process as far as I knew or know even now.

I do NOT accede “the source of volition is errors.” I argued that error occurs, contra Descartes, in animal capabilities not requiring free will. But the circumstance that error arises without conceptual intelligence and free will does not entail that error Is the source of free will. Although, it suggests that cognitive error, conceptual or more primitive, is a necessary attendant of intelligence and free will.

I do NOT accede “this error [thence free will] is due to indeterminism that is associated with quantum probability” or “credit error—specifically as it relates to quantum probability—with being the root of free will.” I did NOT conclude: “Of the three sorts of chance, quantum probability offers the only possible physical source for volition because of the presence of indeterminism.” Rather, classical processes can be the physical bases of neuronal indeterminism once one rejects the illicit projection of regular classical isolated, independent, determined process-streams onto wider physical reality. A softening of the picture of determinism in ordinary physical reality is required (V2N4, pp. 183–86; also "Reply to Eilon" in V2N5 Remarks): a keeping true to actual physical process before us everyday, which leaves a possibility for neuronal processing systems, so far as I know, that yields free will.

Everything else in Touchstone’s representations of my old papers is accurate. I thank Dr. Touchstone for her deep dive into and recognition of the significance of those papers:

Boydstun, S., Chaos, OBJECTIVITY V2N1:31–46. Online at: http://objectivity-archive.com/volume2_number1.html#31

——. Volitional Synapses: Part 1. OBJECTIVITY V2N1:109–38. Online at: http://objectivity-archive.com/volume2_number1.html#109

——. Volitional Synapses: Part 2. OBJECTIVITY V2N2:105–29. Online at: http://objectivity-archive.com/volume2_number2.html#105

——. Volitional Synapses: Part 3. OBJECTIVITY V2N4:183–204. Online at: http://objectivity-archive.com/volume2_number4.html#183

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~Additional comments on Kathleen Touchstone’s “Error, Free Will, and Freedom”~

The first full paragraph in Gibson, p. 147, which Touchstone relies on, is dubious history of quantum mechanics, at least in the impression it gives, and its ascription to Schrödinger of the idea that a photon’s position does not exist until it is observed is very unlikely to be a correct ascription; that sounds more like Bohr and von Neumann. Touchstone got right as preludes to QM the wave character of light and the Planck/Einstein new reasons for a particle character of light. But the building order of QM, in the 1920’s, went like this: DeBroglie’s wave, Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics. Schrödinger’s wave mechanics, Born’s statistical interpretation of the wave (as recounted in my V2N2, pp. 121–25). (Warren Gibson, “Modern Physics versus Objectivism,” THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, 2013, V13N2, pp. 140–59.)

I think it is important to hold forth, as Touchstone did in this paper, the idea that rights violations occur not only because of willful evil, but from innocent errors, including errors in identifying what rights there are. But I think it true also that rights are abridged by willful evil. As I understand her, Rand would agree that willful evil is a reality (contra Socrates), and she had it that that was possible through the power of evasion and irrationality.

I don’t think the Randian Benevolent Universe Principle (BUP) should be taken as Touchstone did, as an ideal situation in which all people act morally by their own lights. It is, rather, the standing condition that the human as rationally acting animal is in a physical world suited to the human. (Which really is due to the evolution of our wing of primates evolving into rational animals, which was due to the adaptive advantage of joint intentionality, which would chagrin Rand were she still around to see this work: A Natural History of Human Thinking by Michael Tomasello, 2014.) Unfortunately, Rand left out of the fundamental stance of BUP that one is in company of other rational animals with whom to cooperate.

Touchstone represented Rand as holding: “Since man’s life is his ultimate value, rights are necessary.” Left there, that’s a big leap. Touchstone follows up with Rand’s connection of instrumental rationality with moral virtue and the need of rights for operation of that rationality. But besides Rand’s life-as-ultimate-value-and-necessity-of-rights, there is also in Rand the argument: Life is an end in itself. Individual human life is an end in itself. Rationality includes recognition that the lives of others are ends in themselves and should be treated as such. That too is a line of Rand’s reasoning to rightness of respecting rights of others. Because of this second way of basing rights under Rand’s ethical theory, I decline the tout court conclusion that Rand’s case entails that “rights are based (secondarily) on errors . . . . . .”


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In the present post, I want to draw attention to and to dispute a recent attack on Rand’s idea that consciousness stands as a philosophical axiom. The criticism of this idea comes from Prof. Fred Seddon (Philosophy) in his recent review of a book titled EXPLORING “ATLAS SHRUGGED”: AYN RAND’S MAGNUM OPUS (2021). That book is a collection of essays by Prof. Edward Younkins (Business). Seddon’s review is in the December 2022 issue of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, to which my page citations refer in the following.

Seddon’s springboard to this issue is a statement by Younkins that an axiom “cannot be reduced to other facts or broken down into component parts.” Seddon responds: “Yet consciousness depends on other facts, like the brain or body. Consciousness is an attribute, not a thing, and attributes depend on the entity of which they are attributes.”(p. 237) Furthermore, secondly, “unlike existence and identity, consciousness did not always exist. For billions of years there was no consciousness.” Thirdly, “there is no proof by denial for consciousness. It makes perfectly good sense to say there was no consciousness, whereas it makes no sense to say there was a time when there was no existence or identity.”

Concerning Seddon’s third criticism, I say: proof by contradiction in denial of an axiom is indeed a traditional necessary condition that Rand accepted for having the status of a philosophical axiom, as she indicated in Galt’s speech and in ITOE. The fact that consciousness has not always existed does not change the circumstance that to affirm existence or any facts of existence implicitly affirms the fact of consciousness at work in mustering the assertion. To say that consciousness is identification of existence is to define the fundamental nature of consciousness from which all other episodes that are ordinarily spoken of as consciousness are causal and conceptual derivatives (such as dreams or hallucinations). Consciousness as identification of existence is an axiom for an epistemology, specifically a stand on the relation of mind to world informing and constraining all right additional epistemology.

“Whatever the degree of your knowledge, these two—existence and consciousness—are axioms you cannot escape, these two are the irreducible primaries implied in any action you undertake, in any part of your knowledge and in its sum, from the first ray of light you perceive at the start of your life to the widest erudition you might acquire at its end. Whether you know the shape of a pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that IT exists and that you KNOW it.” (AS, pp. 1015–16)

In my own modulation of Rand’s metaphysics, as set out in my fundamental paper “Existence, We”, the axiomatic concept consciousness is continued as fundamentally consciousness of existence, but the fundamental division of existing things into existence and consciousness (the existent that is consciousness) is kicked upstairs a bit by the division: existence and of-existence, where the latter includes any living existent, including the living existent that is consciousness. Nevertheless, what Rand said about the way in which consciousness is an axiom still holds. The circumstance that consciousness and life did not always exist, Seddon’s third rub, is irrelevant to the point of having a set of axioms needing to be put to work, according to Rand, for the human level of consciousness. My reply to Seddon’s third criticism also replies to his second criticism.

To Seddon’s first criticism, I say: To say, as Seddon does, that consciousness is an attribute, not a thing, and therefore consciousness is fundamentally dependent (on things, on entities), is to hold Rand’s division of identity into categories (entity, action, attribute, relation) to an exclusivity standard, which was held for Aristotle’s categories, that she did not accept. In Galt’s Speech, Rand refers to the solar system as a thing, as an entity. Yet it can be allowed also, considering further aspects of the solar system, to be a thing composed of component things and their motions. Rand did not take up the picture in which if something belongs to one metaphysical category, it can in no wise ever belong to another category. Indeed any action (one of Rand’s categories) when considered in its systematic situation can also be an entity. The system that is the instrumentation and master control system of an animal can also be a combine of entities as well as a combine of activities. Where that system amounts to consciousness of existents as entities, we rightly say all of these: Mind is a system, which is to say, an entity; mind is an activity, which is to say an action; mind is an attribute of certain animals, which is to say that mind is an attribute. It is invalid to think, as Seddon reasons, that because consciousness is an attribute of certain things, it is, tout court, dependent on other things and therefore cannot qualify as an axiom.

To say, in Rand’s meaning, as Younkins reported, that the axioms of existence, identity, and consciousness “cannot be reduced to other facts or broken down into component parts” is not to say that consciousness cannot become explained by facts of life and brain operations, but that one will not come such explanation or explanations of anything else without consciousness of existence and apprehension that one is conscious of existence, and those things are first-apprehensions in the order of knowledge. If one does not already have those in hand, one can be told nothing of anything nor understand anything.

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Since the death of Alan Gotthelf in 2013, attendance at sessions of the Ayn Rand Society at APA meetings have greatly declined. Last month there was an ARS session in which a paper was read and a prepared Comment was presented. There was no one in the audience. This Eastern APA meeting was in Montreal. I did not attend because train service beyond Albany has not yet been restored, and I'd not have wanted to be flying in and out of Montreal with the risk of snowstorms so great at that time of year. The present leaders of ARS are going to consider whether to continue having in-person sessions. I still expect the ARS book comparing the philosophies of Aristotle and Rand to brought to completion, whether or not ARS in-person sessions continue.

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A paper concerning Ayn Rand's political philosophy will be presented in a session on the theme of Radical Liberalism at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophy Association in January 2024 in New York. The paper is titled "Ayn Rand's Novel Contribution: Aristotelian Liberalism." The author of this paper is Cory Massimino

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  • 3 months later...
On 10/6/2023 at 7:32 AM, Boydstun said:

A paper concerning Ayn Rand's political philosophy will be presented in a session on the theme of Radical Liberalism at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophy Association in January 2024 in New York. The paper is titled "Ayn Rand's Novel Contribution: Aristotelian Liberalism." The author of this paper is Cory Massimino.

I was able to attend this Meeting of APA and this particular session. Massimino's presentation shadowed his paper in the final issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies last summer. Abstract of that fine paper:

The author argues Ayn Rand made a genuinely novel, but often overlooked and underappreciated, contribution in her synthesis of Aristotelianism and liberalism. Aristotelianism, a philosophy of flourishing, and liberalism, a politics of freedom, have been viewed throughout history as largely incompatible doctrines, often understandably so. The author discusses the history of these concepts, especially their tensions, as a backdrop to further explore and contextualize the work of Rand, who argued that Aristotelian ideas about flourishing and liberal ideas about freedom are natural allies, and in fact strengthen each other. Rand's "Aristotelian liberalism" is a fruitful synthesis.

Other presentations at this APA session, which was organized by Prof. Roderick Long:

"The Problem of Pervasive Historic Injustice" by Prof. Jason Lee Byas

"A Radical Liberal Approach to LGBTQ Emancipation" by Dr. Nathan Goodman

These presentations and their follow-on Q&A's were informative and incisive.

Roderick organized another session Nation-States, Nationalism, and Oppression which I did not attend because in that time slot I was shopping.

The Ayn Rand Society did not have a session at this Eastern APA meeting. Perhaps Greg and Jim will pull something together for Central (New Orleans) or Pacific (Portland).

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Chapter 11 of John Richardson's Nietzsche's Values (Oxford 2020) is titled "Creating – Founding New Social Norms." Therein he writes:



Now that we have a fuller idea what's involved in "founding" values for a community, let's try to specify better what values Nietzsche wants to found. What kind of community does he hope for, held together by what norms, and by what kind of allegiance to norms?

The ultimate point is to redesign norms to enhance humans' power—to favor most effectively its "growth in control." The highest such achievements will of course always be by a few individuals. . . . 

We're concerned with improving a distinctively human kind of control—the distinctive form of power that our human history has been building our capacities for. One might perhaps have expected Nietzsche to think here of the kind of control that is surely our species' most blatant achievement—its enormous practical and technological power over its environment. One might have imagined his heroes of the future to be Ayn Randian wielders of the greatest instrumental (or political) power and that the new social norms would be platforms for them.

But it's clear that Nietzsche has in mind a "spiritual" growth and power. . . . (455–56)


It is pleasing to me to see this scholar taking notice of a big difference between Nietzsche and Rand complementing my treatment of it in "Locomotive Rand v. Nietzsche." But what I'd like to draw attention to for this thread is that in print an established professional academic philosopher (besides Rand-friendly Lester Hunt [Chapter 14] and Rand-devotee ones) should mention Rand at all. Ever since The Fountainhead and the film of it made a splash, there has been popular press simply identifying Rand with Nietzsche by a superficial association (for political smear): individualist-egoist, Roark-Superman, Nietzsche rerun, fascist. But the academic stand has been as in the book American Nietzsche (2012): do not mention the existence of Ayn Rand. Richardson's natural mention of Rand merits a hat-tip. 

Edited by Boydstun
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