Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Free Capitalist

Aristotelianism Vs Objectivism

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

...

The problem of how to acquire integrity is NOT TRIVIAL. There aren't enough buttons in this forum software for all the different ways I want to italicize, underline, etc, this. I am at once exultant that the view I oppose has finally been explicitly said, and exhasperated that this view exists at all, and lives very prominently in beginner-to-intermediate Objectivist circles. I don't mean any disrespect here, but your statement is my proof that AR's omission of this study has been disastrous; maybe I'm comitting the mistake of selective attention here, given all the good things she did say, but after reading Aristotle I just find AR's omission so glaring, and A West's opinion here impermissable. This, what he said there, is exactly what I was repeating to myself for years, and what some others I know of have been repeating as well. It does not work. At the same time I know that I've improved dramatically after being introduced to Objectivism. So, introspectively remembering and analyzing the progress I've made in all this time, I saw that all of it occurred in spite of this view, not because of it.

...

Can anyone see the problem I'm talking about here (besides JRoberts)?

Yes. I can. I now come to the part where I was the one who didn't quite get what you were getting at, at first, and only upon second reading did I fully grasp it. I got hung up on that whole "quantitative" issue. If I understand you correctly then I fully agree with you. In defense of Ayn Rand I would say that it was simply not her primary purpose to teach men how to live (and thus how to acquire or be virtuous). First of all she was first and foremost a novelist. Her philosophy was developed as a tool because she had to arrive at the necessary understanding of the existence, knowledge, morality and politics in order to present the ideal man which was her goal in fiction (please someone correct me if my understanding is faulty -- in fact on all of what I say).

Remember, she wrote little or no nonfiction until after Atlas Shrugged. Of course, once she had achieved her major fictional goal, she did, in some ways reluctantly, lead a movement to change the ideas in the culture, which she had always had problems with. But she always had associates who gave the complete courses (NB at first, LP later on). She was content to, more or less, write and give lectures about important contemporary issues, though always addressing more fundamental points within them. I'm sure that in private conversation with, for example, Leonard Peikoff, she would address they kind of question you've been asking. However, she never wrote a detailed treatise on it. I certainly don't blame her for it. As you point out that was not her priority. I think Dr. Peikoff said that she was quite uncomfortable in her role as the new Aristotle and was hoping there would be an actual Aristotle that would fill that role but unfortunately that was not the case.

But there's no reason to despair because others have in fact given many more details on virtues and how to practice them and several important sources have been pointed out. Of course, you will have to judge in each case whether their ideas are consistent with Ayn Rand and more importantly with reality but that's a requirement that can't be escaped in any case. The elaboration of the application of principles will always be incomplete -- at some point you have to have understood the principles and use your own best judgement to apply them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gideon, thanks for that great response.

I find your point about AR's aims for her philosophy very valid and important here. You're right of course, her aim was to defend her vision of the ideal man, not to teach others.

So with this in mind, we may classify the two philosophies as follows (further underscoring the difference between the two):

Aristotelianism aims to teach you how to live a good life

Objectivism aims to defend the vision of the ideal man

Furthermore we may add, when explaining the two philosophies to someone else, that Aristotle's philosophy can, and does, defend the epitome of human excellence, but it was not designed to do this, and thus shouldn't be expected to do it in a consistent and explicit fashion.

By corollary, Objectivism can, and does, help to understand how to live a good life, but it was not designed to explain this, and thus shouldn't be expected to do it in a consistent and explicit fashion.

I'm really satisfied about this new understanding.

--

For this discussion, I'd like to put aside the followers and students of both schools. If we take them into account everything gets confused and non-essentialized. If we take followers into account, we may just as well say that Aristotelianism both teaches how to live a good life, and defends the vision of the ideal man, because Aristotle did the former and Ayn Rand, his student, did the latter!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Gideon, thanks for that great response.

I find your point about AR's aims for her philosophy very valid and important here. You're right of course, her aim was to defend her vision of the ideal man, not to teach others.

So with this in mind, we may classify the two philosophies as follows (further underscoring the difference between the two):

Aristotelianism aims to teach you how to live a good life

Objectivism aims to defend the vision of the ideal man

Furthermore we may add, when explaining the two philosophies to someone else, that Aristotle's philosophy can, and does, defend the epitome of human excellence, but it was not designed to do this, and thus shouldn't be expected to do it in a consistent and explicit fashion.

By corollary, Objectivism can, and does, help to understand how to live a good life, but it was not designed to explain this, and thus shouldn't be expected to do it in a consistent and explicit fashion.

...

Okay, I'm going to have to quibble here a little because I don't want to be misunderstood. I tried to make clear that Ayn Rand's purpose in writing her fiction was the presentation of the ideal man. I don't think you can conclude from that that "Objectivism aims to defend the vision of the ideal man" (although that does play a role in Objectivism as it does in Aristotelianism -- from my understanding of Aristotelianism anyway). Objectivism, as a philosophy aims at providing a philosophy "for living on earth" -- as I believe Ayn Rand put it once. I think where I agree with you is that other than the fictional presentation of heroes and the nonfiction essays on ethics, Ayn Rand has not written on the detailed application of ethics to life, i.e., on what it would actually mean, in detail, to practice Objectivism with numerous specific examples and illustrations. She wrote fairly detailed justifications of the principles she advocates but not detailed guides for following them. From what you write it seems that Aristotle did write in detail on how to live. So while you can certainly point to differences in the Aristotle's and Ayn Rand's aims, I don't think its valid to suggest that Objectivism differs in its aims from Aristotelianism just because you find that Ayn Rand did not elaborate enough to your satisfaction. I think, in general, the aim of both systems is the same as all serious philosophies: both are attempts at systematic presentations the nature of existence and its relation to and implication for man.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not that she didn't elaborate to my satisfaction, but that she elaborated to her satisfaction, and so did Aristotle, which resulted in the two of them producing related and similar, but different, philosophies.

Now I see that, despite numerous philosophical advances Objectivism made over Aristotle, one cannot simply view it as an 'upgrade', and leave the original to the dusty academics (no offence, Prof. Gotthelf, if you're reading :)).

I too remembered AR's definition of Objectivism as "philosophy for living on earth". That threw me, because she also said her aim was not to teach philosophy, but to defend the ideal man. I remember her saying that on numerous occasions, and these memories got jogged due to this discussion, making everything clear.

I think the way AR defined it, she might have meant Objectivism to be a philosophy that defends the ideal man, and thus enables him and others to live on earth... or something like that. Objectivism is emphatically not a manual, (though it is tremendously helpful to the extent that it explicitly aims to teach); this expectation of Objectivism to be a manual, in the same fashion as Aristotle's books are, was my biggest misunderstanding of the philosophy, not cleared up until today.

PS I don't think that all serious philosophies are cut from the same cloth, and for the same general aim. Plato, for example, wasn't an armchair philosopher, he lived through a tumultuous mob-rule-slash-aristocracy-rule period in Athens, and got so fed up with lack of civil calm that he decided to create a plan for a society that would be better equipped to weather such storms. He didn't care about expanding philosophy as such, not any more than your average Greek, hence why you don't really find much ethics; even his metaphysics and epistemology are explained through allegories and myths rather than through sharp polemic and logically strict theories; his world of forms is esoteric more than anything else. His primary influence was, and is, his politics, because that's what he was interested about, that's what moved and motivated him. Had there been peace and calm in early 4th century Athens, I have strong doubts whether The Republic would ever see the light of day, or even if it would, that it'd be anything more than a sidenote dialogue.

---

AR found herself on soon-to-be ashes of a great civilization, and moreover looking at charred corpses of the best mankind could offer. She was besieged, psychologically, and the most important thing for her to do was to justify the heroes' right to exist. After she did this with AS, after the Hero was finally defended, she apparently lost all motivation. To have a quaint, quiet lifestyle of teaching select students how to be good men is not what she chose (understandably); she chose to be known as a radical for capitalism, and all her post-AS aims were to convince a rebirth of intellectuals, not for the sake of quietly living out their lives in quiet happiness, but in order to create a society where the Hero could live freely once more.

I hope my understanding of AR's motivations is accurate here.

Aristotle did not have a tremendous emotional need to defend the ideal man; he was living in a time when Greek hero-worship was high, when man was considered the greatest and physically most beautiful creature in nature, and when intellectuals were beginning to view even the benevolent Greek superstitions as a fool's folly. It was a high tide of man's greatness, a victory for reason, and there was nothing to 'defend', no life-or-death intellectual struggle to win. His books are leisurly, patient, incisive but collected.

For him to try and argue in favor of Man, to spend all his strength to justify his moral right to exist, would be a completely moot point at best, and would warrant at least one sidewise glance from contemporaries trying to steer clear.

For AR to try and devote her energy to teaching people how to become Better would be a premature project, before the Best man was defended. Her books are swift, angry, slashing, striking violently deep into the enemy territory with rhetoric as much as her own ideas.

There's nothing wrong with her priorities, nor Aristotle's. It's just that I previously saw Objectivism as a "swiss knife" 'be anything for anybody' kind of philosophy, which it never made itself out to be.

Also, it's only in retrospect, after spending some years learning what she had to teach me, did I become good enough inside to ask her, "Hey, where's more?"

Anyway, I'll wait for your response Gideon, but this thread isn't about me. ;) There are other disagreements Aristotle and AR have, this time on purely philosophical grounds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As you said, Ayn Rand never finished her own book on Objectivism, and you ascribe the omission of her discussion on virtue's acquisition to that fact. However I must point you to the fact that one need not write a systematic treatise on the entire philosophy in order to write a systematic description of its most important aspects. AR has obviously done this, describing each of her five branches in considerable detail. Yet nowhere in VOS, or other books, does she address the acquisition of virtue in any detail, and certainly does not obsess over it nearly as much as Aristotle does. The picture her choice paints for me is that she simply didn't think it was important enough ...

Whoa! The difference between Aristotle and Ayn Rand isn't between someone who thought virtue was important and someone who didn't. They BOTH did.

Ayn Rand wrote PLENTY about virtue and its acquisition. Her novels are filled with virtuous people. Instead of talking about virtue, she showed people being virtuous. Aristotle described and explained virtue and Ayn Rand ILLUSTRATED it.

The difference between Aristotle and Ayn Rand is the difference between a scientist/philosopher and an artist/philosopher.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The problem of how to acquire integrity is NOT TRIVIAL.

It ISN'T?? :)

It seems rather obvious to me.

Once I am convinced that something is true, why would I ever want the false? Once I am convinced that something is good for me or bad for me, why would I ever act against that knowledge?

Figuring out and understanding what IS a fact and what IS, in fact, a value is the hard part, but once I know what the right thing is, integrity is EASY.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
AR found herself on soon-to-be ashes of a great civilization, and moreover looking at charred corpses of the best mankind could offer. She was besieged, psychologically, and the most important thing for her to do was to justify the heroes' right to exist. After she did this with AS, after the Hero was finally defended, she apparently lost all motivation. To have a quaint, quiet lifestyle of teaching select students how to be good men is not what she chose (understandably); she chose to be known as a radical for capitalism, and all her post-AS aims were to convince a rebirth of intellectuals, not for the sake of quietly living out their lives in quiet happiness, but in order to create a society where the Hero could live freely once more.

I hope my understanding of AR's motivations is accurate here.

I don't think so.

In "The Goal of My Writing" she wrote about creating her heroes for the personal, selfish pleasure of contemplating them as an end in itself. Elsewhere she explained why fiction should NOT be didactic or polemical. Her goal as a novelist was to tell a dramatic story about wonderful people and not to teach, promote, or defend. See The Romantic Manifesto and The Art of Fiction for insights as to what Ayn Rand REALLY was after and what REALLY motivated her.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Betsy, thanks for replying.

Whoa!  The difference between Aristotle and Ayn Rand isn't between someone who thought virtue was important and someone who didn't.  They BOTH did.

Ayn Rand wrote PLENTY about virtue and its acquisition.  Her novels are filled with virtuous people.  Instead of talking about virtue, she showed people being virtuous.

This was your reply, and this was my original statement:

"Yet nowhere in VOS, or other books, does she address the acquisition of virtue in any detail, and certainly does not obsess over it nearly as much as Aristotle does."

I don't see how what you wrote contradicts or disagrees with my original claims. Moreover, nowhere (except the erroneus, hasty, claim in the first post) do I deny AR wrote about virtue. It's obvious beyond any doubt that she did: "Virtue of Selfishness" comes to mind :D

But, as I stated, did she really write how how to get it? Does she ever even publicly comment on this issue and omission in her philosophy like she did on induction? Aside from Atlas Shrugged, the impression is that acquisition of virtue was far below her radar (which doesn't mean that she thought it 100% irrelevant, just less important than other topics). And as for Atlas Shrugged, as I replied to A West, yes it's a wonderful example of moral progression, but it's only that, an example. And you can't substitute an example for a theory.

Plus you can't really say that AR was illustrating what Aristotle theorized about. She didn't come out and say: "Such and such topics are omitted in my official philosophy, though you see them illustrated and dramatized in my books. I recognize this omission and recommend you to read Aristotle's Books such and such to complement Objectivism." Oh, if only she once said that there was this omission, and that it deserved attention, but she hasn't!

I suspect that the deeper problem here may be our difference in viewing acquisition of virtue as trivial or not. I know you have oodles of personal experience to corroborate your view, but I have a little bit of it myself, and I also have personal knowledge of other teenagers who are learning how to apply Objectivism to their lives. In my experience, this omission has been a detrimental aspect in a philosophy that is otherwise wholly healthy and helpful. The reason why this omission is detrimental is that it paints a picture that there was nothing there to be omitted in the first place. In other words, she didn't say, "This is what justice is. Unlike Aristotle, I'm not going to devote 20 pages to describing how to acquire and practice this virtue, but if you're interested you may look to him for help. Or wait for one of my students to write a book, or produce a lecture." She said, "This is what justice is. You just do it, try hard and it will work out." This tells the students that there's simply nothing to talk about; while doing it is hard, knowing what to do is easy.

But Aristotle judged this subject as far from trivial, and we might humorously describe him as obsessive compulsive in his perrenial desire to teach and explain this issue from every possible angle. Only upon reading him had I realized that what was discounted by Objectivism as trivial was actually a subject deserving its own attention; in many ways, Aristotle taught me that knowing how to acquire and practice virtue is just as important as knowing what the virtue is in the first place.

---

On a somewhat unrelated topic, did you really say that AR's books are not polemical? :D Galt's Speech, despite all its worth, is "looters" this and "moochers" that. In the introduction to one of her non-fiction books (VOS probably), AR makes a controversial statement, and then says "the most depraved question you can ask right now is 'Why'" (or possibly 'Whose'). That's some pretty violent writing. Now as I said before, I'm not saying it's bad, but that I now view statements like that from the context in which she wrote her philosophy - to morally justify a hero's right to exist.

And, btw, I will read The Romantic Manifesto again, as you suggested.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A person who pays for their food 75% of the time but steals it the other 25% of the time is not "75% just." They are a criminal and should be thrown in jail.

I think all others would agree with me that that is the Objectivist view.

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...