Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Sign in to follow this  
John Kay Herdz

Whats Really Wrong with Objectivism

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

A guy on another forum posted this LONG article in responce to my frequent quoitng of Ayn Rand. I would just like to know how I should respond to it and your thought about the article.


John. :pimp:

WARNING: very long

By Chris Wolf

Why do so many Objectivists insist on attacking the honesty, integrity, and character of their opponents? Are such attacks an aberration, or is this sort of behavior actually advocated by Objectivism?

Such attack behavior, so prevalent among Objectivists, is not supported and advocated by the fundamental principles of the philosophy of Objectivism. However such behavior is personally supported and advocated by Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and many of their supporters. Such behavior is a clear case of misapplication of the fundamental principles of Objectivism. (If you think it's impossible for the originator of a philosophy to misapply it; think again.)

Anyone who has had much exposure to the philosophy of Objectivism, or the Objectivist movement, has observed the endless moralizing and condemnation which seems to characterize the philosophy of Objectivism and many of its adherents. People who oppose the philosophy of Objectivism, or who simply espouse ideas at odds with Objectivism, frequently find their character, honesty, and integrity under vicious attack.

For example, we are told that an academic Marxist is not merely mistaken, but is 'evil,' and is guilty of practicing 'evasion.' People who are the victims of such attacks frequently come away baffled. They cannot understand how their character and honesty can be judged solely by the ideas they have proposed or defended. These personal attacks cause many people to hurriedly back away from Objectivism, and refuse to have anything further to do with it. The victims of such attacks frequently conclude that Objectivism is simply another nutty cult, not worth wasting time on.

Anyone who has had much contact with the Objectivist movement knows that it is far from being a united movement. On the contrary, the in-fighting, warring factions, and schisms would rival those of any religious cult. This seems very strange, coming as it does from a philosophical movement that proudly claims its devotion to reason and logic, and insists that its entire philosophy is an integrated whole.

The fact is, Objectivists are in violent disagreement concerning the applications of their philosophy. Of course, disagreement as to the correct application of any philosophy is to be expected. This is inherent in the fact that conceptual knowledge is not automatically given to human beings. Such knowledge must be discovered by individuals who are not omniscient. But in Objectivism, the disagreement is seldom polite. Friendships, marriages, and lifetime associations are constantly torn apart by disagreements among Objectivists. Obviously there is much more going on here than a simple academic disagreement over the proper interpretation of a philosophy.

To repeat, there is no flaw in the fundamental principles of Objectivism, but there is a very great flaw in some of Ayn Rand's applications and interpretations of the fundamental principles of the Objectivist ethics. This flaw is based on Rand's seeming inability to separate philosophy from psychology, and her insistence on making unrealistic and inappropriate moral judgments about other people. She makes claims about human psychology that are never proved or defended. The claims are simply asserted as self-evident philosophical truths. These claims fall into three different, but closely-related categories:

Inherently Dishonest Ideas




Let us look at each of these categories, in detail.


Inherently Dishonest Ideas

Like any philosophy, Objectivism has begun to fragment into various schools of thought, each with its own interpretation of Objectivism, and with each school convinced that its particular interpretation is the correct version. This fragmentation has been accompanied by tremendous bitterness and character assassination. Probably nowhere has this bitterness reached such heights as over the subject of inherently dishonest ideas.

Currently, the two main schools of Objectivist thought are headed by Dr. Leonard Peikoff and Dr. David Kelley. Peikoff is supported by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), while Kelley is supported by the Institute For Objectivist Studies (IOS). Dr. Peikoff considers Dr. Kelley to be a dishonest renegade; a dangerous man who has abandoned and betrayed the fundamental principles of Objectivism, but who nevertheless continues to claim that he is an Objectivist, and falsely claims to be spreading the ideas of Objectivism. Dr. Kelley mostly ignores Dr. Peikoff, having written Peikoff off as a hopeless intrinsicist. Meanwhile, the supporters of Kelley and Peikoff wage constant, never- ending electronic war with each other on the humanities.philosophy.objectivism newsgroup on the Internet, and to a lesser extent on private mailing lists.

David Kelley was kicked out of the ARI when he disagreed with Peikoff over the proper way to judge a man's ideas. However, unlike so many others in the Objectivist movement who had met similar fates in the past, Dr. Kelley did not simply vanish into obscurity. As a professional philosopher, he founded the IOS and began promoting his own interpretation of Objectivism which has attracted many supporters (including myself).

What exactly are Peikoff and Kelley arguing over? What has caused yet another bitter split in the ranks of Objectivism? A great deal has been written and argued by both sides, but the fundamental point of contention concerns the judging of the intellectual honesty of people. In other words, when someone espouses a false idea, how do we determine if he has merely made an 'honest error,' or is actually guilty of 'evasion,' i.e., refusal to think? The difference is one of crucial importance. Under Objectivism, one does not morally condemn a man for making an honest error in his thinking, however one never forgives (or fails to morally condemn) a dishonest evader, because Objectivism considers evasion to be the root of all evil.

Concerning the question of judging the intellectual honesty of others, Peikoff and Kelley give two very different answers. Peikoff puts forth his position in his essay, "Fact and Value". According to Peikoff:

"Just as every 'is' implies an 'ought,' so every identification of an idea's truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates."

In other words, according to Peikoff, as soon as we identify an idea as true or false, this immediately implies a moral judgment of the person who is advocating the idea. In this context, 'moral judgment' means we are trying to determine if this person is being honest, or dishonest. If the idea is true, we assume that he has sought the truth. However if the idea is false, then we must decide if he has committed an honest error, or has engaged in evasion. In other words, we must determine the person's state of mind. Peikoff offers a simple test to make this determination:

"The general principle here is: truth implies as its cause a virtuous mental process; falsehood, beyond a certain point, implies a process of vice."

In other words, if your idea is false, and the falsehood goes beyond a 'certain point,' then you cannot simply be guilty of an honest error in your thinking. Rather, you must have engaged in evasion, which is the root of all evil.

By claiming that false ideas are the result of evasion (at least beyond a certain point), Peikoff gives rise to the concept of inherently dishonest ideas. Peikoff never gives a useful definition of inherently dishonest ideas. In his entire Fact & Value essay, there are only two places where Peikoff makes an effort to provide a definition of inherently dishonest ideas. In the first case, he states that inherently dishonest ideas are an "explicit rebellion against reason and reality." Later on, he talks about ideas that are "openly at war with reason and reality." So the two 'definitions' we have are:

1. Explicit rebellion against reason and reality.

2. Openly at war with reason and reality.

Needless to say, neither of these statements are definitions, except in an extremely limited, technical sense. As Peikoff uses them, they are subjective rhetoric, little more than figures of speech. They are not precise, and they are not objective. A false idea is one that in some way contradicts reason and reality. That's what it means to be false. In that sense, any false idea could be described as an "explicit rebellion against reason and reality," or said to be "openly at war with reason and reality." This is why such 'definitions' are largely useless.

On the other hand, if we take Peikoff's definitions literally, then an inherently dishonest idea could only be an idea that explicitly comes out against reason and reality; one that says specifically, "I'm against reason. I'm against reality." Nihilism might qualify in this regard, but Communism, egalitariansism, non-objective art, or channelers, certainly would not. Nowhere do these ideologies explicitly state, "Down with reason! Down with reality!" Yet Peikoff claims that such ideologies are inherently dishonest.

In short, Peikoff's definitions of inherently dishonest ideas are so vague and subjective as to be worthless, except to dogmatic moralizers who can use such definitions to declare any idea to be inherently dishonest.

Peikoff does give some examples of inherently dishonest ideas, such as Nazism, Communism, non-objective art, non-Aristotelian logic, egalitarianism, nihilism, the pragmatist cult of compromise, and channelers. As Peikoff puts it:

"In all such cases, the ideas are not merely false; in one form or another, they represent an explicit rebellion against reason and reality (and therefore, against man and values). The originators, leaders and intellectual spokesmen of all such movements are necessarily evaders on a major scale; they are not merely mistaken, but are crusading irrationalists. The mass base of such movements are not evaders of the same kind; but most of the followers are dishonest in their own passive way. They are unthinking, intellectually irresponsible ballast, unconcerned with logic or truth."

From the above, one would conclude that an inherently dishonest idea is an idea that cannot be held as a result of honest error. In other words, an academic Marxist must be holding his Marxism as a result of evasion. He cannot be holding it as a result of honest error.

Needless to say, this notion of 'inherently dishonest' ideas is not philosophy; it is simply Peikoff's personal evaluation of Nazism, Communism, etc. Of course Peikoff is entitled to his opinion, but he is not entitled to present it as a philosophical principle. It is okay to say, "I have met many academic Marxists over the years, and all of them turned out to be dishonest evaders." However it is wrong to conclude that all academic Marxists are dishonest evaders. This is a false argument. No matter how many dishonest academic Marxists a man might personally have met, this can never be used to prove that all academic Marxists are inherently dishonest. Human beings simply aren't that predictable.

Even if we could somehow demonstrate that most academic Marxists do, in fact, hold their Marxism as a result of evasion, this still would not prove that all academic Marxists must hold their Marxism as a result of evasion. Because human beings have free will, and can make enormous mistakes on the conceptual level, there is always the possibility that a particular academic Marxist is holding his ideas honestly. In such a case, it would be a monstrous injustice to morally condemn such a man, solely on the basis of the ideas he holds. There can be no greater injustice than to morally condemn a man, solely because the other members of his group are known to be dishonest. Obviously Peikoff's 'certain point' at which an idea becomes inherently dishonest, is critically important. If we know that a man is holding his false idea as the result of evasion, then we can immediately morally condemn him. Unfortunately, Peikoff never tells us where this 'certain point' is, nor how to determine it. This means that every Objectivist is free to determine, on his own, the location of that 'certain point.'

What this means, in actuality, is that every Objectivist uses his own internal standard of reasonableness, and his own knowledge of human psychology, to determine the location of that 'certain point.' He asks himself, "Do I think it's possible to hold such an idea as the result of honest error?" Needless to say, one would expect different individuals to have wildly different answers to such a question. What this does, in effect, is to make the process of judgment, in the realm of ideas, totally subjective. One merely hauls out one's own guess, or estimate, based on one's own limited observations (or feelings). There is no fact of reality on which one can reliably base such an estimate. Such a process is about as 'objective' as Trial By Ordeal.

What does the concept of inherently dishonest ideas mean in practice? According to Peikoff, there can be no such thing as an honest academic Marxist. To become an academic Marxist, a man "must have" engaged in evasion. How does Peikoff know this? He will tell you that the evidence of the falsity of Marxism is simply overwhelming, and no honest adult could be aware of this mountain of evidence and still honestly advocate Marxism. In other words, this is simply Peikoff's psychological guess. It is not proof of any sort. Yet on such shaky grounds, Peikoff (and many of his supporters) are willing to morally condemn human beings, and declare that such people are dishonest evaders.

David Kelley's position is just the opposite of Peikoff's. Writing in his monograph, Truth & Toleration, Kelley states:

"Can we tell from the truth or falsity of an idea, and from its consequences, whether those who accept it are rational or irrational? This is the central issue on which Peikoff and I disagree."

Kelley goes on to say:

"This does not mean that all errors are honest. People subscribe to mistaken views, in philosophy as elsewhere, for any number of bad motives. But it does mean that we cannot judge a person's rationality solely by reference to the content of his ideas."

Kelley's position on the subject of inherently dishonest ideas is quite different from Peikoff's. Writing in his monograph, Truth & Toleration, Kelley states:

"I believe it is fruitless to define a category of inherently dishonest ideas, and then try to list its members. A more accurate approach would be to rank ideas on a continuum defined by the likelihood that adherents of the idea are honest. At one extreme are issues about which any error is almost certainly innocent. As we move along the continuum, the probability shifts toward the assumption that the error springs from irrationality, and proponents of the ideas must bear an increasingly heavy burden of proving their intellectual honesty."

Kelley does not say where on the continuum he would place an academic Marxist. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Kelley would not automatically conclude that the academic Marxist is dishonest, solely because the man believed in Marxism.

What the Kelley-Peikoff split ultimately comes down to is a disagreement over the psychological nature of human beings. Peikoff claims that some ideas are so blatantly false that they could not possibly be held honestly. Kelley claims that even a blatantly false idea has at least the possibility of being held honestly. As a result, Kelley would never automatically judge a man as intellectually dishonest, solely on the basis of holding a false idea. The same cannot be said for Peikoff.

For Objectivists, the choice of supporting Kelley or Peikoff is not a trivial issue. Not only has the Kelley-Peikoff split torn the Objectivist movement apart (and continues to do so), but it's also (and more fundamentally) a question of justice. If an academic Marxist is always dishonest, then one should morally condemn him. On the other hand, if it's possible that an academic Marxist is honest in his belief, then it would be a great injustice to morally condemn him, solely on the basis of his Marxism.

In his article, "A Question Of Sanction," David Kelley writes:

"Soviet tyrants are not evil because they believe in Marxian collectivism. They are evil because they have murdered millions of people and enslaved hundreds of millions more."

Here we see a concrete application of Kelley's position. Just because someone believes in Marxian collectivism does not automatically make him evil. Such a man is only evil if he holds his Marxism as a result of evasion. If he holds his Marxism as a result of honest error, then he is mistaken, but he is not evil. Simply knowing that a man is a Marxist does not automatically tell us that he is evil; we must find out why the man is a Marxist. (On the other hand, an action, such as murdering millions of people, can instantly be judged as evil, using life as the standard of value.)

Needless to say, Peikoff would instantly judge Soviet tyrants as dishonest, even if they had never murdered anyone, solely on the grounds that such men could not be Marxists as a result of honest error.

The chief problem with Peikoff's claim of inherently dishonest ideas is that it's an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary proof. Peikoff is claiming that certain ideas (such as being an academic Marxist) are impossible to hold honestly, rather than simply being unlikely to be held honestly (which would be in accordance with Kelley's position). Nowhere does Peikoff offer proof of such an extraordinary claim. He merely asserts that the evidence against certain ideas (such as academic Marxism) is so overwhelming, and so readily available, that no one could hold such an idea honestly. Unfortunately, this does not constitute proof. It's merely Peikoff's own opinion. No doubt this opinion is based on many years of first-hand observation of academic Marxists, but nevertheless, it's merely an opinion, and not a proven philosophical principle. An opinion (even an informed opinion) is not proof.

It's critically important to remember that the notion of inherently dishonest ideas is not a philosophical principle; it's simply Peikoff's personal evaluation of a group of particular ideologies. Peikoff is saying, in effect, "I've known a lot of Marxists, Nazis, Channelers, and Egalitarians over the years, and except for the illiterate, the retarded, and the very young, they always turned out to be dishonest." Unfortunately, while this may give us a general idea as to the typical honesty of Marxists, Nazis, Channelers, and Egalitarians as a group, it tells us nothing about any particular member of these groups. Peikoff is taking an overall judgment about a large group of people, and applying it to individual members of the group. There is a name for this sort of judgment. It's called Collectivism.

Peikoff's evaluation of Nazis, Communists, etc., is actually only one step above racism. Under racism, all members of a group are pronounced evil, solely because of their physical characteristics. Under Peikoff, all members of a group are pronounced evil, solely because of their ideas.

In his attempt to establish the validity of inherently dishonest ideas, Peikoff resorts to incredible intellectual contortions. He tries to establish the concept of inherently dishonest ideas as a principle, and at the same time, he barely admits that it's not a principle. In his article, "Fact & Value", Peikoff writes about the leaders of inherently dishonest movements, such as Nazism, Communism, and Egalitarianism:

"The originators, leaders and intellectual spokesmen of all such movements are necessarily evaders on a major scale; they are not merely mistaken, but are crusading irrationalists."

Let us very carefully note that Peikoff does not claim that it is highly probable or very likely that the leaders of Communism and Egalitarianism are dishonest evaders. No, he states very clearly that they are necessarily evaders (and on a major scale, too). This leaves no room for the possibility that such leaders could be honestly mistaken; rather it means that it's impossible for such people to be honestly mistaken. One does not use the term 'necessarily' when one actually means 'highly likely.' Peikoff's language is the sort one would use when talking about an absolute philosophical principle, rather than simply offering one's opinion or evaluation. Even the term 'inherently dishonest ideas' is misleading. If one is simply giving one's opinion or evaluation, one does not use the term 'inherently dishonest.' Such a term does not mean highly likely to be dishonest; it means that it absolutely is dishonest. Such a term can only properly be used to identify an absolute philosophical principle.

Having made every attempt to establish inherently dishonest ideas as a philosophical principle, Peikoff then gives himself an escape clause by declaring that it is just barely possible that someone might be a Communist or Channeler through an honest error. Peikoff writes:

"Even in regard to inherently dishonest movements, let me now add a marginal third category of adherent is possible: the relatively small number who struggle conscientiously, but simply cannot grasp the issues and the monumental corruption involved. These are the handful who become Communists, "channelers," etc. through a truly honest error of knowledge. Leaving aside the retarded and the illiterate who are effectively helpless in such matters, this third group consists almost exclusively of the very young."

Notice the phrase "almost exclusively" in the last line of the above quote. This phrase destroys the principle of inherently dishonest ideas, and turns it into a rule, or generality. Even after excluding the illiterate, the retarded, and the very young, it's still just barely possible to have an 'honest' communist. In other words, Peikoff is admitting an exception to his principle of 'inherently dishonest.'

If it's possible to have an exception to your principle, then it's not a principle. Within its defined context, a principle is absolute. If you have an exception, then it's not a principle; it's a rule. A rule is something that is frequently true, but not necessarily true. That's the difference between a rule and a principle.

If you state that Marxism is 'inherently dishonest,' then you are making a statement of principle. You cannot then turn around and say, "Well, yeah, it's just barely possible to have an honest Marxist." By allowing for an exception, you have just destroyed your principle, and turned it into a rule.

The concept of inherently dishonest ideas may be a good rule, but it can't be called a principle, because it can never be absolute. As long as men have free will, and can be mistaken on the conceptual level, there can be no such thing as an 'inherently dishonest' idea. To claim otherwise is to wipe out the concept of free will.

The concept of inherently dishonest ideas is not a philosophical principle; it's merely an unproven psychological assertion. It's in the same category as Rand's other famous psychological statement of "No woman should aspire to be President of the United States." It's interesting that Peikoff and his followers are quite willing to declare Rand's statement about a woman President to be separate and distinct from the philosophy of Objectivism, but apparently are willing to fight to the death to defend the equally-shaky psychological notion of inherently dishonest ideas. It is also interesting to note that Rand herself never wrote on the subject of inherently dishonest ideas. Her writings and public behavior would certainly lead one to conclude that she did support the concept of inherently dishonest ideas. How else could she instantly conclude, on the basis of a single question, that a questioner was evasive and dishonest? Nevertheless, the actual concept of inherently dishonest ideas is not to be found in Rand's writings, although it's implied in many ways. For example, writing in her essay, "The Psychology of Psychologizing," Rand states:

"A man's moral character must be judged on the basis of his actions, his statements, and his conscious convictions."

Obviously Rand believed that a man's conscious convictions (his ideas) can be used to judge his moral character as good or evil. In other words, bad convictions imply bad moral character. It's only one step further to the notion of inherently dishonest ideas.

The actual concept of inherently dishonest ideas seems to have originated with Leonard Peikoff. It is briefly mentioned in his "Understanding Objectivism" tape lecture series, and made explicit in his article, "Fact & Value." Thus it's very difficult even to defend the notion of inherently dishonest ideas as an official part of the philosophy of Objectivism.

Return To Categories



The concept of inherently dishonest ideas is made possible by the concept of evasion. A dishonest idea is one that is held as the result of evasion, rather than honest error. In his book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Peikoff defines evasion as follows:

"Evasion is the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one's consciousness, the refusal to think--not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment--on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it."

In essence, evasion is defined as the refusal to think. Evasion is certainly an interesting psychological phenomenon, but of what value is it to a philosophy? How are we know when a man is engaging in evasion? It's very rare that someone will openly admit, "I refuse to think about it." And even in such a case, how can we be certain that we are actually witnessing deliberate evasion, as opposed to an involuntary psychological problem?

For example, suppose we show Mrs. Jones a videotape of her son robbing a liquor store? She responds by closing her eyes, clapping her hands over her ears, and shouts, "I refuse to watch! I refuse to think about it!" Now is Mrs. Jones engaging in evasion, or is she simply manifesting a severe psychological problem? Perhaps evasion is a psychological problem, in which case it would be incredibly unjust to morally condemn Mrs. Jones for being mentally ill.

One can certainly imagine the phenomenon of evasion. One can look inside one's own mind and easily imagine a situation where one simply refuses to integrate a particular fact with the rest of one's knowledge. Unfortunately, this tells us nothing about the minds of others. It does not tell us if they are actually engaged in such a phenomenon.

There is no question that Peikoff considers evasion to be a widespread phenomenon. In his book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, he writes:

"Morally, it is the essence of evil. According to Objectivism, evasion is the vice that underlies all other vices. In the present era, it is leading to the collapse of the world."

If one believes that evasion is the essence of evil, and is leading to the collapse of the world, wouldn't it be a good idea to have ironclad proof that such a phenomenon not only exists, but is also widespread? But Peikoff offers no proof that this is the case, and he certainly offers no test for the presence of evasion. Once again, Peikoff simply makes an unsupported psychological assertion, and treats it as a self-evident philosophical truth.

As a result of this unsupported assertion, many Objectivists treat the phenomenon of evasion in exactly the same fashion as they do the concept of inherently dishonest ideas. They simply look inside their own minds for a standard of reasonableness, and ask the question, "Could I hold such an idea honestly?" If the answer is "no," they immediately pronounce the judgment of evasion.

Many Objectivists are willing to pronounce the judgment of evasion after little or no debate with their opponents. If such an Objectivist decides that an opponent's idea is 'inherently dishonest,' then of course no debate is necessary, and we may proceed with the hanging. Frequently an Objectivist will make an argument (sometimes repeatedly), and when his opponent continues to disagree, the Objectivist will simply decide that his opponent is evading. "After all," the Objectivist reasons, "I have just made a shatteringly brilliant argument that no honest man could fail to understand. Therefore if my opponent still claims to disagree, then he must be evading." Needless to say, this is an incredibly naive (and stupid) conclusion.

There are a thousand reasons (in addition to evasion) why an honest man may fail to grasp a particular argument, no matter how clear and brilliant the argument may be. This is inherent in the nature of Man's conceptual faculty. Men are not moved by mere facts; they are moved by principles, and an honest man does not change his principles on the spur of the moment, even when confronted with an unanswerable argument. An honest, conscientious man needs time to think things through. This is an inescapable result of the fact that men can make enormous mistakes on the conceptual level, and must always proceed with great caution.

Many Objectivists acknowledge that Man is fallible on the conceptual level, but then seem to promptly forget this fact. Observing the depressing frequency with which many Objectivists denounce their opponents as evaders, one is tempted to conclude that Objectivism is a great magnet for simple-minded fools who have deluded themselves into thinking that they are philosophical and psychological experts.

The point is, there is no simple way to instantly and reliably identify a phenomenon such as evasion. Realistically, such a determination requires a long period of observation and analysis. In the end, it is a psychological evaluation; a judgment-call of great uncertainty. It cannot be done solely on the basis of a man's ideas. The critical point here is that in dealing with the phenomenon of evasion, we have left the realm of philosophy and have entered the realm of human psychology. Once again, an unproven psychological assertion is being used to judge the honesty of others. One might as well read tea leaves.



Ayn Rand appears to have had a very poor grasp of human psychology. Nathaniel Branden reports that Rand once said to him, "You know, I really don't know anything about psychology." Of course we don't know in what context this statement was made, but Rand's view of human psychology was peculiar, to say the least. Her statement that no woman should aspire to be President of the United States is one of the more obvious examples. Another example is her strange notion of 'evil.'

Rand defined 'evil' as "anything that is anti-life." This is quite different from the working definition of evil that most people have, namely that evil is a man's deliberate choice to do something he knows to be immoral. This difference in definition leads to a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding. For example, Objectivism considers the idea of socialized medicine to be a very bad idea. Many non-Objectivists would agree with this characterization. However Objectivism also declares that the idea of socialized medicine is evil because it is anti-life. Most non-Objectivists who would categorize socialized medicine as a bad idea, would not call it evil. Most non-Objectivists would not consider false ideas to be evil. This is because, unlike human beings, ideas do not possess the volition necessary to make evil possible. Since evil (in the layman's term) requires that one choose to do something immoral, only humans can be evil. Objectivism agrees that humans who deliberately do immoral things are evil, but Objectivists also use the term in a much broader sense to indicate any human activity that is anti-life. For example, Objectivists are in the peculiar position of declaring socialized medicine to be an evil idea, but they also claim that the supporters of socialized medicine are not necessarily evil.

It would be difficult to find a modern day religion that tosses off the word 'evil' as frequently as Objectivism uses it. Because Objectivism uses the word 'evil' in so many different ways, because the word can mean something as serious as cold-blooded murder, or merely an idea that would have anti-life consequences (such as socialized medicine), the term ends up encompassing so much territory that it becomes virtually meaningless. Indeed, under Objectivism, the term 'evil' has become little more than a synonym for 'bad.' This is very strange in a philosophy whose epistemology is so carefully defined when it comes to forming concepts, and whose epistemology insists that concepts must refer to specific related concretes in reality, according to logical definitions, and cannot be defined so as to include vastly dissimilar concretes.

The concept of 'evil' should be reserved solely for human beings who deliberately do things they know to be immoral. Why Rand would insist on using the term 'evil' to characterize anything that is anti-life, when the term 'bad' is much better suited to the task, is a mystery. As Rand defines it, the term 'evil' loses virtually all of its impact and meaning.

Like the concepts of 'inherently dishonest ideas' and 'evasion,' the concept of 'evil' is a psychological concept that doesn't even belong in philosophy. The sooner the concept of 'evil' is tossed out of Objectivism, the better.



The concepts of 'evil,' 'evasion,' and 'inherently dishonest ideas' are psychological concepts that do not belong in philosophy. These concepts merely serve to give Objectivists unrestricted license to morally condemn other human beings. As a result, Objectivists end up treating their intellectual opponents (and each other) as people who can be despised and hated. This is what has torn the Objectivist movement apart for the last thirty years, and will continue to do so. The players change, but the game remains the same.

The power of moral judgment is enormous. The power to pronounce someone as an evil evader is the greatest power of all. By making such power available, subject only to whim, with no objective facts or principles to restrain it, Ayn Rand has unleashed a reign of intellectual terrorism. She has transformed many honest, well-meaning individuals into unjust dogmatic moralizers.

This propensity to engage in unjust moral condemnation is also what keeps Objectivism a tiny, insignificant intellectual movement that has all the appearance of a religious cult, and is seldom taken seriously in the academic world. People of self-esteem will not remain in a movement where a single mistake can result in having one's character, morality, and honesty attacked. In the same vein, spokesmen for other philosophical movements will not debate, nor take seriously, Objectivists who constantly attack their opponents' morality and intellectual honesty.

If you have ever wondered why so many Objectivists are so quick to pronounce their opponents as evil and dishonest, it's because they are honestly convinced that their opponents are evil and dishonest. If your only criterion for pronouncing someone to be evil and dishonest is the conclusion, "He can't be holding that idea honestly," then virtually anyone who opposes you can be instantly transformed into a dishonest evader. This also means that Objectivists who agree with Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff's psychological concepts of 'evil', 'evasion,' and 'inherently dishonest ideas,' will automatically end up insulting many of their opponents. Such an Objectivist, upon deciding that his opponent is expressing an inherently dishonest idea (and is therefore evading), will immediately declare his opponent to be a dishonest evader. Needless to say, if the opponent is holding his idea honestly, he will be immediately offended at having his character and honesty smeared in so unjust a manner. He will quite properly take it as an insult.

Fortunately for Objectivism, these unproven psychological assertions are not fundamental to the philosophy. The psychological concepts of 'evil,' 'evasion,' and 'inherently dishonest ideas' can be discarded with no significant effect on the structure of the philosophy. The unjust moralizing, which has become a virtual trademark of Objectivism, can be eliminated. These unproven psychological concepts represent the tragic errors of Ayn Rand (and are being perpetuated by Leonard Peikoff). The fact that Rand chose to incorporate such psychological concepts into her philosophy does not obligate the rest of us to make the same mistake.

It's very easy to avoid repeating Rand's mistakes. By leaving the psychological concepts of 'evil,' 'evasion,' and 'inherently dishonest ideas' out of the picture, we avoid the fatal mistake of mixing psychology with philosophy. Our judgments of other men will no longer require that we be armchair psychologists and psychiatrists. This completely eliminates the need to attempt the hopeless task of getting inside someone else's head, and trying to determine his actual mental motivation.

What is the proper form of moral judgment? Morality is a code of values that tells a man how he should act to protect and promote his life. Since morality is so critically important, moral judgment takes on a life-or-death importance. The wrong moral judgment can get you killed. Moral judgment comes in two very different flavors; judging yourself, and judging others. Because their contexts are so different, these two different types of moral judgment require very different standards.

Personal moral judgment is something each individual man must do inside his own mind. Each man must constantly ask, "Am I acting in my rational self-interest? Am I being rational? Am I being honest?" Each man must ask (and answer) these questions for himself. No one else can do it for him.

Moral judgment of others is quite different from personal moral judgment. Unlike the contents of your own mind, the thoughts, reasoning, and volitional processes of other men are not available to you. Any attempt to morally judge someone else that depends on knowing the contents of his mind, will never be anything more than a guessing game. And it's an unjust game, guaranteed to alienate everyone in your sphere of influence.

Moral judgment that requires us to determine the mental state of another man, is worthless. Ever since Rand proposed this impossible standard, Objectivists have been scrambling to find ways to implement it. Peikoff's concept of 'inherently dishonest ideas' is simply the latest doomed attempt. Actually, there is one very common technique that most Objectivists use to determine the mental state of another man. This technique is called 'guessing'.

Any proper moral judgment of other men must rely on facts that are readily available to anyone; not facts that only a trained psychiatrist could hope to obtain. What are the facts that can be used for moral judgment?

Ayn Rand wrote that, "Morality is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions, that determine the purpose and the course of his life." Accordingly, judging the morality of others requires that we judge how well they are adhering to a code of rational values, rather than trying to discern the actual motivations of another man's mind (as Rand and Peikoff would have us do). In broadest terms, are other men acting in a pro-life, or anti-life manner? Are they being rational, or irrational? Are they using reason, or emotion? Do they tell the truth?

We base such judgments on direct observations of a man's actions, statements, and conscious convictions. Such judgments are not always easy to make, and they can never be made quickly, but none of them requires us to determine if a man is 'evading,' or is advocating an 'inherently dishonest idea,' or is 'evil.' To try to answer any of these last three questions, is to push moral judgment into the realm of unjust fantasy.

If a man is performing life-threatening actions, or advocating life- threatening ideas, then he is doing bad things (for whatever reason), and we must take steps to protect ourselves from him. It isn't necessary to judge the true motivation of the man. Not only is the task virtually impossible, but in most cases we simply don't care what his motivation is. All we need to know is that he's doing bad things that threaten us. He's not acting in a rational manner. It doesn't matter if he's doing these things as a result of 'honest error' or 'evasion.' The end result is the same.

Moral judgment does not mean deciding if someone is motivated by an honest mistake, or by evasion. That is a job for the specialized sciences of psychology and psychiatry, not philosophy. Any attempt to enter the realm of these specialized sciences, armed only with the principles of philosophy, will end in utter disaster. This was the tragic mistake of Ayn Rand, but we need not perpetuate it.

Just as the valid parts of the philosophy of Aristotle have survived, so will much of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. But just as we have discarded Aristotle's ethical concept of the 'virtuous Athenian', so should Ayn Rand's psychological concepts of 'evil,' 'evasion,' and 'inherently dishonest ideas' be discarded. Rand's attempt to mix psychology with philosophy should be relegated to the status of historical footnotes.

Edited by John Kay Herdz

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not going to weigh in on the whole thing at this point, but I think the starting sentence sets the tone of much of it;

Why do so many Objectivists insist on attacking the honesty, integrity, and character of their opponents? Are such attacks an aberration, or is this sort of behavior actually advocated by Objectivism?

It's funny that he makes a generalized (unsupported) attack on the character of "so many Objectivists" while decrying that they attack other people's character.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The question is, why hasn't someone given this weasel the whupping that he so richly deserves? I think the answer is that it would take an awful lot of effort to deconstruct this nonsense, and what ultimately is the benefit? From an academic point of view, it is simply not worth the effort, whereas I think that the Huemer essays are at least at a high enough intellectual level that they could be answered.

However, from a polemic point of view, I get how one might want to fight fire with fire. I can't exactly ho that, but hereunder is my retort to his essay:

"Your essay would be more effective if you had first read some works of Objectivism, spoke truthfully, and grounded your statements in reality".

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
A guy on another forum posted this LONG article in responce to my frequent quoitng of Ayn Rand. I would just like to know how I should respond to it and your thought about the article.
The best way for you to approach this is to ask yourself what one (max. two) criticisms -- out all that is in that post -- seem the most credible to you. If they sound credible, it means you have a question about some aspect of Objectivism or about Objectivists. Frame and ask that question. I think you'll get the most bag for your buck that way.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
They cannot understand how their character and honesty can be judged solely by the ideas they have proposed or defended.


We have a winner!

Tell me, what are we to judge people on if not their ideas?

When a thug robs a bank the action that proceeded it was the thought that he was going to take that which was not his merely because he wanted it. The action is evil and it sprung fully formed out of an evil thought, idea or belief.

When a socialist enslaves a nation the evil of that action is preceded and facilitated by the evil thought that his political philosophy gave him the right to steal the lives, liberty, property and happiness of everyone in that nation.

Judge, and be judged!!!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

So this guy basically pasted someone else's diatribe from 13 years ago? Has he even read it? I would ask him first to summarize it for you, or to pull out some important points. If he's not interested in thinking, just let him know that you will waste no more energy on him and move on.

Edited by brian0918

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.

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.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...