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Rand, her philosophy and her personal and historic context

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As I've been reading more of Rand I'm continually aware of her historic and personal context. In many ways, this seems to be a determining factor in her philosophy - a point that feels weak to me. While not always leading to wrong conclusions it certainly feels that it affects over/under emphasis on some of her ideas.

I'm wondering if others have considered this question ("How has Ayn Rand's historic and personal context affected her beliefs").

Edited by DoxaPar
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I was thinking particularly her early encounters with communism and how that may have impacted her values, particularly in economics and government. Almost all of her early work (at least to my knowledge) revolved around these issues. Thus, I often wonder frequently that the larger portions of her philosophy grew out of these experiences and informed them.

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Miss Rand was not affected much by her experience in Russia. Anyone with the extraordinary amount of brilliance and intelligence like her would have seen the world the way she did. Human beings have this curious thing called free will. One has to use free will and have rational values which have been prevalent exclusively in the west in order to arrive at Miss Band's philosophy.

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As I've been reading more of Rand I'm continually aware of her historic and personal context. In many ways, this seems to be a determining factor in her philosophy - a point that feels weak to me. While not always leading to wrong conclusions it certainly feels that it affects over/under emphasis on some of her ideas.
Ayn Rand had a sister who lived through the same years. The sister's ideas were nothing like Rand's. Clearly, one's experience does not determine one's conclusions.

Of course one draws principles from some type of underlying notions (facts or beliefs) about reality. Experience is one important source of knowledge. For instance, an industrialist has certain principles about how he runs his business. If he had early experience in some type of business or some type of success or failure, then he has a certain special understanding of that type. He understands it in a concrete and nuanced way that cannot come from reading about it. He can often leverage this understanding in the future. Of course there is also the so-called "myopia" of business people, where they do not adapt to a changing world, but try to repeat what worked yesterday, even though the context has changed.

People with active minds do realize that there are broader contexts than their individual experiences. They will often learn about the varied experience of others. They will often read business history. They will compare their experience to what they see in others. They understand that things change, and will try actively to understand what is changing and how that impacts them. If a businessman is doing something a certain way and if he learnt those lessons from some particular experience, it does not follow that he is following the wrong principles.

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softwareNerd,

I think that is accurate. I'm not asking that anyone completely separate themselves from their experiences, nor am I expecting that it is possible (or even always good).

However, I also think it valuable to consider carefully the context of our philosophers so that we might be better able to understand them, their strengths and their weaknesses, and understand particular emphasizes in their ideologies (e.g. why did Rand write more on capitalism than issues of family?).

This is a pretty basic practice in the reading of philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, etc and provides helpful insight and understanding.

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Ayn Rand had a sister who lived through the same years. The sister's ideas were nothing like Rand's. Clearly, one's experience does not determine one's conclusions.

Rand’s sister spent nearly 50 additional years living under the Soviets before they met again. Rand was reportedly disappointed at how much she’d changed by the early 70’s. I don’t think this example supports your case.

(e.g. why did Rand write more on capitalism than issues of family?).

Her early life provides reasons why she didn’t want to have children. Her mother used to complain about the duties of motherhood in the presence of the children.

I don’t say there’s a simple one to one relationship here: witnessed communist revolution, therefore wrote Anthem and Atlas Shrugged (her prophetic, apocalyptic works); mother was a complainer, therefore didn’t want children. I’m sure there are contrary examples from other writers, where experiences (good or bad) don’t color their writing. P.G. Wodehouse comes to mind, his experiences in WW2 could well have turned him into a Dostoyevsky, yet his writing resumed without a trace of what he went through. In Rand’s case, however, the facts line up quite well. I don’t think this is a negative in any way.

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Ayn Rand had a sister who lived through the same years. The sister's ideas were nothing like Rand's. Clearly, one's experience does not determine one's conclusions.

I’m sure there are contrary examples from other writers, where experiences (good or bad) don’t color their writing. P.G. Wodehouse comes to mind, his experiences in WW2 could well have turned him into a Dostoyevsky, yet his writing resumed without a trace of what he went through.

softwareNerd is right in saying that "one's experience does not determine one's conclusions" with one nuance, I think. I would just add "one's experience does not necessarily determine one's conclusions". Ninth Dr gives a good example of Dostoyevsky. My question surrounds the issue of how much Rand's experience determined her conclusions.

See below for an perfect example of why this issue (of personal and historical context) is so important:

Her early life provides reasons why she didn’t want to have children. Her mother used to complain about the duties of motherhood in the presence of the children.

... mother was a complainer, therefore didn’t want children.

In my "Two Questions" thread in this same forum I said that I have always been pro-life on Objectivist values. Yet, Rand is not. What here accounts for the discrepancy? A few possibilities exist: 1) I am wrong, 2) she is wrong, 3) we are both wrong or 4) our values or experiences have influenced our thinking on the subject (i.e. our personal experiences have affected our positions).

In Rand's defense of abortion there is a very interesting quote:

Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

This argument seems to be her premiere argument (in quantity) in favor of abortion rights. You'd be hard pressed to tell me her mother's complaining of the duties of caring for children has no influence on her position (interesting as well that she disregards alternatives, such as adoption).

Now, I'm not (at least here) debating the issue of abortion. I'm merely citing this as an example of just how utterly important understanding the historical and personal context of a person is in the evaluation of their ideals. Clearly, Rand's experience with her mother impacted her (at least offer up one argument) on abortion rights.

Hope that makes sense! :-)

Edited by DoxaPar
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Speculation time: If she had been born in London (England), can anyone have much doubt she'd soon have 'escaped' to New York - and her subsequent career?

Notwithstanding early influences, this is the person who said "Your ideal as a thinker is to keep the universe with you at all times" and near as dammit, demonstrated exactly that.

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Shouldn't you be telling us a bit about your background so that we can evaluate if what you say is true?

While not always leading to wrong conclusions it certainly feels that it affects over/under emphasis on some of her ideas.

Maybe not whether what I say is true or not but why I say what I say or how loud or how often I say it?

:-)

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Speculation time: If she had been born in London (England), can anyone have much doubt she'd soon have 'escaped' to New York - and her subsequent career?

Notwithstanding early influences, this is the person who said "Your ideal as a thinker is to keep the universe with you at all times" and near as dammit, demonstrated exactly that.

whYNOT,

Tough to say, I think. My experience with Rand has not included a study of her ideas in their chronological development. However, citing a later quote as an argument for a hypothesis regarding an earlier action is bit anachronistic and may be a confirmation bias. These things tend to be impossible to determine. But a lot of fun to speculate on. :P

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Maybe not whether what I say is true or not but why I say what I say or how loud or how often I say it?:-)
So, you're saying that Rand's experience tells us absolutely nothing about whether she is right or wrong on the issue of abortion. If so, I agree.

You're also seem to be saying that her experiences might tell us why she chose to avoid writing any major essay on the topic, and only addressed it indirectly in some others, plus in some spontaneous Q&A sessions? If so, maybe... does not matter much.

Edited by softwareNerd
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So, you're saying that Rand's experience tells us absolutely nothing about whether she is right or wrong on the issue of abortion. If so, I agree.

Not precisely. But I'll try to explain below.

You're also seem to be saying that her experiences might tell us why she chose to avoid writing any major essay on the topic, and only addressed it indirectly in some others, plus in some spontaneous Q&A sessions? If so, maybe... does not matter much.

It matters because there are two ways to evaluate an argument. The first way is to evaluate the conclusion. This is most often what people do and what most people tend to care about. If you and I agree on the conclusion to an argument than that is really all that matters. We feel comfy with each other and all is right in the world.

The other way to evaluate an argument is to evaluate the premises that support that argument. This, in fact, is the most important way to evaluate an argument. Two brilliant (or stupid) people may reach the same conclusions for utterly different reasons. Let me provide an example.

Person 1 says:

Premise 1: Bricks are made of concrete.

Premise 2: Concrete is hard.

Conclusion: All bricks are hard.

Person 2 says:

Premise 1: I hit my head on a brick.

Premise 2: My head was injured.

Conclusion: All bricks are hard.

In this instance, both person 1 and person 2 reach the same conclusion for entirely different reasons. One of those people reached their conclusion entirely from experience.

An evaluation of a philosopher's personal and historical context is helpful in evaluating their premises. I believe that is important in evaluating the validity of their conclusions.

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True enough, A.Paradox - excuse me, DoxaPar ;) - it is only induction that makes me fairly confident of my claim. A combination of Rand's singular intelligence, unusual self-determinism and the fact that she didn't suffer to the extent millions of other Russians did (and how many became writers, not to mention, philosophers?), indicate a very similar destiny, whatever her beginnings.

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True enough, A.Paradox - excuse me, DoxaPar ;) -

Close! doxa is a Greek term for "glory", "fame", "honor" while par is Latin in origin and implies "average", "usual" or "normal".

Thus, the combination of the two terms becomes not only paradoxical in meaning but also in letter composition.

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Clearly, one's experience does not determine one's conclusions.

Instead of thinking of this in terms of determinism vs. free will, I’d like to suggest it’s more about authenticity.

Just imagine if some silver spoon trust fund endowed Ivy League degreed pseudo-litterateur were to write an imitation of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, or of a Kafka story. Or think of the examples of upper middle class rappers with fabricated “street cred” who come along every few years and are eventually exposed as poseurs. Rousseau wrote very influential books on how to educate the young, while not only having never raised any children, but having left each of his at a foundling hospital as soon as they were born.

Say what you want about Rand’s fiction, one thing it’s not is inauthentic.

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This argument seems to be her premiere argument (in quantity) in favor of abortion rights. You'd be hard pressed to tell me her mother's complaining of the duties of caring for children has no influence on her position (interesting as well that she disregards alternatives, such as adoption).

It sounds to me like you're asking about cognitive bias; to what degree were certain conclusions the result of bias or not? Perhaps her not wanting to have kids implied that she understood there is not a duty for women to have children. Then maybe Rand wondered why her mother ever had kids, so perhaps reached conclusions about rights and ethics because of questioning that. If women don't have to have kids, then maybe there is something to say about the actual means of having kids. Reasoning could go like that. I don't know what you mean about Rand disregarding alternatives, mostly because the main point she made that I've seen is that a fetus has no rights anyway.

Certainly experiences can have a profound influence, but it's entirely different to say those experiences *determine* viewpoints. Some people have a profound cognitive bias and you can say where their viewpoint comes from, but others do have a rational basis that was influenced by an experience because an experience got them questioning. Personal context is interesting often because you see formative experiences, but evaluating arguments is one way to check for cognitive bias. If the argument is bad, then the position is probably held due to bias or emotional evaluation of experiences. If arguments are good, then the position is probably held based on rational evaluation of experiences.

Edited by Eiuol
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Certainly experiences can have a profound influence, but it's entirely different to say those experiences *determine* viewpoints.

Absolutely. Hope I didn't imply otherwise.

Some people have a profound cognitive bias and you can say where their viewpoint comes from, but others do have a rational basis that was influenced by an experience because an experience got them questioning. Personal context is interesting often because you see formative experiences, but evaluating arguments is one way to check for cognitive bias. If the argument is bad, then the position is probably held due to bias or emotional evaluation of experiences. If arguments are good, then the position is probably held based on rational evaluation of experiences.

I think this is completely accurate and the crux of what I'm trying to propose (esp. my emphasis). I don't think it is altogether wise to assume that anyone is completely free of cognitive biases. Thus, as readers we have a responsibility of reason to understand those biases.

** Side note

I don't know what you mean about Rand disregarding alternatives, mostly because the main point she made that I've seen made is that a fetus has no rights anyway.

That is one of her conclusions, for sure. But not the only one.

One of Rand's arguments for for abortion was that children are an incredible burden on parents and results in sacrifice that may be involuntary. I said this was a poor justification for abortion because it implies only one option, not an alternative (the excluded middle, if you will). Such as..

1. Involuntary sacrifice is bad.

2. Unwanted children cause involuntary sacrifice.

3. Therefore, abortion should be legal.

When I said "alternatives" I mentioned adoption as the alternative to abortion. I apologize if that wasn't clear.

So.. how does all of this relate my original question?

In this example, we can imagine that one of the main way that Rand argues for abortion is founded on at least two premises that do not necessarily support the conclusion. If those premises are upheld by personal experience (her recognition of her mother's sacrifice for her children and verbal expression of that to Rand) then we can have a stronger awareness of cognitive biases.

TL;DR: We have have cognitive biases that we're both aware of an unaware of. To say otherwise is probably the greatest cognitive bias you can hold.

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An evaluation of a philosopher's personal and historical context is helpful in evaluating their premises. I believe that is important in evaluating the validity of their conclusions.
Are you now going to explain your own history and background so that we can evaluate your premises?
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