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Ayn Rand Wikipedia Article Locked - "Amateur" Philosopher

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Reading the talk page is a bit frustrating, but here it is:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Ayn_Rand

 
I'm not sure how many here might be Wikipedia contributors, but qualifying her as an amateur shows an obvious slant.  Especially considering I couldn't find any other descriptions of "amateurs". 
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"Professional" philosophers want people to think that she is not really a philosopher or taken seriously by anyone who is intelligent. Why? Because she is preaching the opposite of their philosophical code. And if you cannot refute her philosophy, their only tactic is to smear her.

 

I experience this a lot, actually. And when you attempt to examine Ayn Rand's ideas with many of these people, you find out that they don't understand them. Just ignore them until you find someone that is actually concerned with ideas. 

Edited by thenelli01
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Exactly, Reidy. When you earn a living doing something, you are a professional. They might have settled on "pop" philosopher, because unlike any philosopher since Nietzsche and probably long before, people actually know about and follow her philosophy. But they would probably think that gives her too much credit. Most philosophers seem like intellectual hipsters to me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I see that in the lead sentence of the article, the adjective amateur has been removed. I had never looked at this article until now. From a quick skim, it looks pretty good.

 

The last sentence of the introduction says that Rand "has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives." I wonder if she has also been a significant influence on contemporary atheism and self-esteem. I expect so for both, but I'm not aware of any sociological research on the extent of those influences.

Edited by Boydstun
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"Professional" philosophers want people to think that she is not really a philosopher or taken seriously by anyone who is intelligent. Why? Because she is preaching the opposite of their philosophical code. And if you cannot refute her philosophy, their only tactic is to smear her.

Will you please give some examples of specific individuals who hold those views and practice those tactics? Please name names.

Of the philosophers I've seen who were critical of Rand, they were not necessarily in disagreement with her philosophical code, but were critical of her non-scholarly method -- her inaccurate interpretations of history and of other philosopher's views, etc. When she is called an "amateur" (which I think is a false description), it is because her method was often not very rigorous.

 

That, and she didn't publish in the category of professional/academic-level philosophical treatises. She didn't write formal philosophical presentations of her ideas. She only wrote a mere introduction to her theory of epistemology. She never submitted her ideas for professional review and criticism.

 

She never answer informed, independent criticism, but in fact often acted as if any criticism of her ideas was a vicious personal attack and insult. Those are, unfortunately, very amateurish traits, but they don't make Rand an amateur.

J

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Of the philosophers I've seen who were critical of Rand, they were not necessarily in disagreement with her philosophical code, but were critical of her non-scholarly method -- her inaccurate interpretations of history and of other philosopher's views, etc. When she is called an "amateur" (which I think is a false description), it is because her method was often not very rigorous.

Maybe you've found one particular professor or one particular university who doesn't trash, explicitly and implicitly, virtually all of Rand's main ideas. But even very brief observation of the product (stupents) and operating decisions (guv'ment money and influence) of almost all schools tell us that Rand is being rejected, even if they don't know her by name. If they do know of her and don't reject her, chances are they don't even understand what she says.

For supporters of Rand, your particular response is just an apology for the dishonest "intellectuals" who can't do anything but smear Rand.

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James and Nell and Jonathan,

 

I have known a number of philosophers in academia, most of them not Objectivist. My impression is that among English-language philosophers today who have earned a PhD a significant number are realists concerning perception, science, and epistemology more generally. Overwhelmingly, at the same time, they reject foundationalism, especially of the axiomatic sort. The number of philosophers in agreement with Rand’s ethics, or with any egoistic ethics, is insignificant. (Eudaimonistic ethicists today also generally reject egoism.) Some philosophers defend the justice of laissez-faire capitalism, but not many in comparison to those opposing it.

 

There is overwhelming commitment to reason among those professional philosophers. Conceptions of reason will vary considerably, but they stand pat overwhelmingly against fideism, assertions without reasons, and logical fallacies (formal or informal). Overwhelmingly, they are atheists, outside of the religious schools. In sum there is significant concurrence with Rand on realism, reason, and atheism, but next to no concurrence with Rand on axiomatic foundationalism, egoism, or laissez-faire capitalism.

 

Those academic philosophers who have looked into Rand’s philosophy think they can refute it just fine. I imagine some of those philosophers who have not given a sustained look at Rand’s philosophy simply don’t have time for it, estimating it could not give them much help, given it is not academic philosophy. They have much other, definitely helpful work to study. They are pressed for time not only by shortness of life, but by competition from colleagues in their area.

 

Rand’s philosophy does give many other people much help, as you know. I expect it be will be around a while, and eventually someone might even bother to pull together a secularist and philosophically sophisticated book-length critique of the entire philosophy. At this point, however, it is unclear who would be the audience for such a work. Most people I’ve known with an interest in Rand’s philosophy either have an interest in it mainly for political organization or for the sake of themselves and their family. True, a few of us have studied philosophy widely beyond Rand, from all periods of philosophy, including our own, but few is few.

 

Stephen*

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Can you give examples of where she addressed such criticism?

Are you aware of the Q&A sessions she had after every lecture? Or her television appearances? She answered plenty of criticism.

She just didn't answer the criticism of the self-appointed experts of the field of contemporary Philosophy, because she considered the field they created devoid of value.

But whenever the questions came from people interested in philosophy as a means of understanding and living in reality rather than just a purposeless intellectual exercise, she made a considerable effort to answer.

 

Nozick, for example, tried to put forth a serious technical critique of her ideas, but she never took him up on it.

What makes Nozick's critique "informed and independent"? The fact that he had a PhD? The fact that he's famous?

Or is it something actually contained in that criticism? (if it's the latter, please, name a specific point that's informed and independent).

P.S. The real question I have (the one I'm interested in far more than anything else in this thread) is an explanation of what "technical" refers to. What are the specific techniques/definitions/assumptions/(whatever else) being employed, that make a critique of Ayn Rand "technical"? (in fact I'll probably start a thread about it at some point, because I keep hearing it and it always struck me as a very vague thing to say)

Edited by Nicky
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Are you aware of the Q&A sessions she had after every lecture? Or her television appearances? She answered plenty of criticism.She just didn't answer the criticism of the self-appointed experts of the field of contemporary Philosophy, because she considered the field they created devoid of value.

They weren't "self-appointed" experts. They were experts. People who are experts ask questions and pose challenges that lay people, talk show hosts like Donahue, and students and fans don't know enough to ask. The same is true of any profession. It's the reason that peer review exists. If, say, a scientist were to propose a new theory, his facing an audience of housewives on a popular talk show, or briefly answering randomly selected questioners after a speech, would not be the same as facing sustained, in-depth, professional criticism, review and testing by experts in the field. The scientist's declaring that all other scientists are devoid of value, and therefore that he wasn't going to answer their criticisms, wouldn't be a rational or effective tactic.

What makes Nozick's critique "informed and independent"? The fact that he had a PhD?

Yes, a person's earned degrees, honors, publications and professional experience make him an expert. That's what it means to be an expert. Degrees are conferred upon people for having studied and demonstrated their expertise of the subject at hand.

J

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 Rand’s philosophy does give many other people much help, as you know. I expect it be will be around a while, and eventually someone might even bother to pull together a secularist and philosophically sophisticated book-length critique of the entire philosophy. At this point, however, it is unclear who would be the audience for such a work.

Well, I think it would follow the typical call-and-response, critique-and-rejoinder format, which would mean that the audience of criticism would be, and should be, Objectivists, or enthusiasts of Objectivism. It will take time. The passion of cult of personality, aesthetic exuberance and hero-worship loyalty probably needs a few generations to fade. And then cooler heads will take a fresh look, freely and dispassionately accept adjustments and improvements, and discard the mistakes. They will invite criticism rather than resent it.

J

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And then cooler heads will take a fresh look, freely and dispassionately accept adjustments and improvements, and discard the mistakes. They will invite criticism rather than resent it.

Resenting criticism doesn't imply a lack of coolheadedness. "Hero-worship" doesn't imply a lack of objective evaluation, nor does "aesthetic exuberance" or (reasoned) loyalty.

 

Why is Rand the one who is to blame for not fitting into what is essentially nothing more than a culture of university professors? Why not the other way around? Rand's whole thing was that philosophy needs to be accessible to people, not just as a series of floating ideas. Professors' and Rand's approach to philosophy do not jive, and I think Rand's is superior.

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Yes, a person's earned degrees, honors, publications and professional experience make him an expert. That's what it means to be an expert. Degrees are conferred upon people for having studied and demonstrated their expertise of the subject at hand.

Of course, we're all free to judge whether those degrees actually mean anything... or whether they're just self-serving junk titles.

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"Amateur" is usually used to contrast against "professional". Using one or the other usually hinges on whether one gets paid for whatever role is being described. Amateur can also connote a "hobbyist", as opposed to someone who makes it their career. When talking of branches of knowledge, there's another distinction: whether one takes the traditional, establishment route or whether one is mostly self-taught.

So, for instance, Henry Ford was not a professional engineer, nor a career engineer when he was first developing his car. From a short biography I've read, I doubt he engaged in discussions with any contemporary professors of engineering. (Though mechanical engineering was only newly broken off into its own field, some schools -- notably University of Michigan -- had created separate programs around the time Ford was 10 years old.) When he started making money selling cars, he became a professional, even though he had taken a non-establishment route. Wait though, while Ford was doing the work that would finally lead up to selling cars and becoming one of the richest men in the country, was he "non professional"?

Essentially, Ford's situation does not fall neatly into the category. And, that's just fine. It is quite pointless to argue which qualifier one ought to use to describe him. Rand clearly did not go through the typical, establishment training for philosophers. She clearly saw her career as being a novelist, rather than a philosopher. She wrote philosophy for non-philosophers. Even writing for lay-people, she does not take a textbook style: for instance, she does not methodically compare and contrast her conception of Egoism with the one or two major conceptions that have been put forth by previous philosophers. Though she wrote privately to John Hospers, she did not seem interested in any wider engagement with career philosophers. Clearly, she does not fall into a neat category.

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They weren't "self-appointed" experts. They were experts. People who are experts ask questions and pose challenges that lay people, talk show hosts like Donahue, and students and fans don't know enough to ask. The same is true of any profession. It's the reason that peer review exists. If, say, a scientist were to propose a new theory, his facing an audience of housewives on a popular talk show, or briefly answering randomly selected questioners after a speech, would not be the same as facing sustained, in-depth, professional criticism, review and testing by experts in the field. The scientist's declaring that all other scientists are devoid of value, and therefore that he wasn't going to answer their criticisms, wouldn't be a rational or effective tactic.

False analogy, for one. You're also begging the question. The crux of the disagreement between Rand and academia is precisely whether their philosophy is a rational study of reality (the way science is), or more akin to religion than science.

Rand's position was clear on that. So is yours. She argued her position in half a dozen books. Now it's your turn. Instead, so far you're trying to win the argument by assuming your own position, and drawing an analogy between what scientists do and what modern philosophers do. Fraudulent nonsense. Let me know when you have an actual argument, defending your position against Ayn Rand's using logic.

 

Yes, a person's earned degrees, honors, publications and professional experience make him an expert.

Degrees and honors are in fact not what make someone an expert in a subject.

Degrees are conferred upon people for having studied and demonstrated their expertise of the subject at hand.

Let's say that's true (though it's not always true, in fact most degrees make all kinds of false claims or exaggerations about the expertise they supposedly "demonstrate").

But let's say it's true: the subject of Nozick's critique was Rand's philosophy (which consists of Rand's thoughts on the nature of reality and man's role within it). What degrees or honors did he hold to demonstrate his expertise in that subject?

Edited by Nicky
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Well, I think it would follow the typical call-and-response, critique-and-rejoinder format, which would mean that the audience of criticism would be, and should be, Objectivists, or enthusiasts of Objectivism. It will take time. The passion of cult of personality, aesthetic exuberance and hero-worship loyalty probably needs a few generations to fade. And then cooler heads will take a fresh look, freely and dispassionately accept adjustments and improvements, and discard the mistakes. They will invite criticism rather than resent it.

 

But this is already happening; specifically, in the Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies series edited by Allan Gotthelf and James Lennox.  The first book, Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue, contains essays by Objectivists which further flesh out Rand's philosophy, a series of responses by non-Objectivist philosophers, and rejoinders by Objectivist scholars.  This seems like precisely the type of exercise that you are asking for.  For example, in his essay on 'Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy,' Irfan Khawaja states his purpose as "to identify [the Objectivist ethics'] overarching justificatory structure in such a way as to show (without doing violence to its claims or watering it down) how it is in competition with analytic philosophy on problems that analytic philosophers can recognize as their own."  The essay following this one is a reply to Khawaja by Paul Bloomfield, a non-Objectivist professional philosopher.

 

The final section of the book is titled "Author Meets Critics: Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics."  It contains critiques of Smith's presentation of Rand's philosophy by philosophers, and rejoinders by Smith herself.

 

The second volume in this series, Concepts and their Role in Knowledge, is similarly structured.  The first part contains essays which expand upon Rand's epistemology, written by Objectivist philosophers (e.g. Allan Gotthelf and Onkar Ghate).  The second section, 'Discussion,' contains critical responses to each of these essays by non-Objectivist scholars, along with rejoinders from the authors.

 

I'd note that several of the Objectivist scholars involved in this series are also strongly affiliated with ARI, most notably Onkar Ghate and Tara Smith.  They seem to be perfectly willing to engage in critical debate with non-Objectivist academics over Rand's ideas.  Harry Binswanger is quoted on the back of the first one as calling it "a valuable and exciting project."  I think you strongly overstate the 'passion of cult of personality, aesthetic exuberance and hero-worship loyalty' that supposedly prevents Rand's ideas from being discussed critically.

 

As an aside, Allan Gotthelf did an excellent job producing the series, and I sincerely hope that they continue to be produced in his absence.

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Most people I’ve known with an interest in Rand’s philosophy either have an interest in it mainly for political organization or for the sake of themselves and their family.

Personal gain (ethical and professional guidance - in the area of aesthetics) and the improvement of inter-personal relationships (and organization, including political) are the reasons why I have an interest in Rand's philosophy (and not just Rand's, I have an interest in some other people's too, for the same reasons). The way I read your sentence, you're referring to those two main reasons.

For what purpose do you have an interest in philosophy, aside from those two?

Edited by Nicky
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But this is already happening; specifically, in the Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies series edited by Allan Gotthelf and James Lennox.  The first book, Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue, contains essays by Objectivists which further flesh out Rand's philosophy, a series of responses by non-Objectivist philosophers, and rejoinders by Objectivist scholars.  This seems like precisely the type of exercise that you are asking for.

Close, but not quite. The idea that I'm talking about is arguing in forums that are independent of either side's control. One side's choosing which of its opponents are worthy of having a voice, and which of their arguments will be published, isn't quite the bravely facing of criticism that I had in mind.

If those associated with Peikoff and the ARI were to have the confidence to publish in, say, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which they have no control over, now that would be what I'm talking about.

The final section of the book is titled "Author Meets Critics: Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics."  It contains critiques of Smith's presentation of Rand's philosophy by philosophers, and rejoinders by Smith herself.

Again, I think that's good. It's a step in the right direction. But it's not the letting go of control. It's not fearlessly sailing the Good Ship Objectivism into the open seas, but cautiously keeping her near the mouth of the harbor.

 

I'd note that several of the Objectivist scholars involved in this series are also strongly affiliated with ARI, most notably Onkar Ghate and Tara Smith.  They seem to be perfectly willing to engage in critical debate with non-Objectivist academics over Rand's ideas.

Then The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies would be a perfect opportunity for them. Why are they not taking advantage of it? It's a forum where Objectivist and non-Objectivist experts can meet on neutral ground. I'd think that academically kicking the asses of non-Objectivist critics in a completely fair fight (where the Objectivists weren't deciding which of their opponents they were willing to debate or which arguments they'd be willing to address) would be something to look forward to and enjoy, and that it would have the benefit of promoting Objectivism.

J

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  • 4 weeks later...

Bodystun, sounds like you are making two claims:

1. wisdom is the ultimate purpose of a man's actions

2. all philosophy (or at least all philosophy considered worthwhile by academics) is wisdom

I disagree with both. Life is the ultimate purpose of a man's actions, and wisdom is merely a means towards that end, and a lot of philosophy has nothing to do with wisdom (or the understanding of any aspect of the Universe) anyway.

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Somehow I missed this when you originally wrote it, sorry about that. Anyhow, better late than never.
 

Close, but not quite. The idea that I'm talking about is arguing in forums that are independent of either side's control. One side's choosing which of its opponents are worthy of having a voice, and which of their arguments will be published, isn't quite the bravely facing of criticism that I had in mind.

If those associated with Peikoff and the ARI were to have the confidence to publish in, say, the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which they have no control over, now that would be what I'm talking about.

.....

Then The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies would be a perfect opportunity for them. Why are they not taking advantage of it? It's a forum where Objectivist and non-Objectivist experts can meet on neutral ground. I'd think that academically kicking the asses of non-Objectivist critics in a completely fair fight (where the Objectivists weren't deciding which of their opponents they were willing to debate or which arguments they'd be willing to address) would be something to look forward to and enjoy, and that it would have the benefit of promoting Objectivism.

 
Okay, but if this is your concern then I'm still pretty mystified. One glance at Tara Smith's CV, for instance, shows that she's been publishing in a number of philosophy journals not controlled by ARI or even anyone in the Objectivist movement: Social Philosophy & Policy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of Value Inquiry, etc. The same goes for James Lennox and Greg Salmieri, although their research focuses more on interpreting Aristotle than outright defense of Objectivism.  Although I can't seem to get my hands on his CV, Darryl Hunt has an article articulating and defending Rand in Social Philosophy & Policy.  Tara Smith even has a publication in a non-ARI libertarian journal, Reason Papers.  Just because they aren't publishing in the one particular journal that you'd like them to (JARS) doesn't mean they've insulated themselves from criticism.
 
In fact, I would question your characterization of the Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies series as an insulated forum controlled by "those associated with Peikoff and the ARI."  One member of the editorial board for the series, Lester Hunt, has in fact published in JARS numerous times.  Another (Fred Miller) is also on the editorial board of Reason Papers.  I'm just not seeing this insular echo chamber that you're claiming will take several generations to fade.

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Okay, but if this is your concern then I'm still pretty mystified. One glance at Tara Smith's CV, for instance, shows that she's been publishing in a number of philosophy journals not controlled by ARI or even anyone in the Objectivist movement: Social Philosophy & Policy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of Value Inquiry, etc.

The issue is not if Objectivists have published in independent philosophy journals, but whether or not they have faced sustained, informed criticism of Objectivism in those journals. One glance at Tara Smith's CV tells us nothing about whether or not her participation in any journals included defenses of Objectivism against sustained, informed criticism. For all we know, her participation may have been the opposite: she may have been offering informed criticism of some other philosophy. Which isn't the same thing at all.

 

The same goes for James Lennox and Greg Salmieri, although their research focuses more on interpreting Aristotle than outright defense of Objectivism.

Well, we're talking about people engaging in structured, scholarly debates in academic journals and other fora about the philosophy of Objectivism, we're not talking about Objectivists discussing subjects other than the philosophy of Objectivism in academic journals.

 

Although I can't seem to get my hands on his CV, Darryl Hunt has an article articulating and defending Rand in Social Philosophy & Policy. Tara Smith even has a publication in a non-ARI libertarian journal, Reason Papers. Just because they aren't publishing in the one particular journal that you'd like them to (JARS) doesn't mean they've insulated themselves from criticism.

Where did you get the idea that I'd "like them" to publish in one particular journal? I merely cited it as one obvious opportunity. It exists specifically for the purpose of discussing Rand's ideas, yet people associated with the ARI avoid it and condemn it.

Are you aware of the Bernstein apology?

As Wikipedia reports:

 

In 2002, philosopher Andrew Bernstein, who is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, contributed a brief reply to a review of the CliffsNotes for Ayn Rand's novels. He subsequently issued an apology for having contributed to the journal. Bernstein wrote, "I deeply regret my thoughtless decision to contribute to this journal, and hereby irrevocably repudiate any and all association with it", and asserted that the journal was "filled with writings by people with whom I refuse to knowingly associate under any circumstances." In 2007, the Department of Philosophy at Texas State University turned down a grant from the Anthem Foundation to support a visiting faculty position that would specialize in Objectivism. Bernstein was a candidate to fill the position. According to Rebecca Raphael, a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Texas State, Bernstein's apology for publishing in the journal indicated that the Anthem Foundation was expecting the person hired to meet an "ideological litmus test." According to reporter David Glenn, "When asked by The Chronicle about his 2002 comments, Mr. Bernstein replied that rejecting The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was a moral and intellectual obligation."

 

The notion of announcing that one is refusing "to knowingly associate under any circumstances" with certain people, after one has just done so, is the type of attitude that I'm talking about.

I wonder specifically what crimes those associated with JARS committed. I'd think that identifying their immoral behavior by citing specific examples would be important to an Objectivist who is issuing a public apology and making a public condemnation. I've read many issues of JARS, and I've never seen anything in the publication that would indicate that its participants are evil, let alone evil to the point of anyone's needing to publicly announce that they won't associate with them. The only conclusion that I can come to is that JARS allows informed criticism of Rand's ideas, and therefore it is seen by certain people as a threat. The crime appears to be, as Rebecca Raphael noted in the Wikipedia excerpt above, that JARS has not passed an "ideological litmus test." It has not shown the expected loyalty. It has shown that it is willing to critically examine Rand's ideas.

 

 

In fact, I would question your characterization of the Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies series as an insulated forum controlled by "those associated with Peikoff and the ARI." One member of the editorial board for the series, Lester Hunt, has in fact published in JARS numerous times. Another (Fred Miller) is also on the editorial board of Reason Papers. I'm just not seeing this insular echo chamber that you're claiming will take several generations to fade.

You don't appear to want to see it. Your last post to me lists examples as evidence which don't actually support your position. The fact that certain Objectivists have published in certain fora doesn't mean that they have defended Objectivism against sustained, informed criticism in those fora, and the fact that certain members of the Ayn Rand Society editorial board have published in JARS or elsewhere doesn't make the Society a neutral scholarly publisher that isn't under the control of those associated with Peikoff and the ARI. As long as anyone associated with the ARI is a board member, it is not an independent journal. It is an advocacy group, not a neutral party.

J

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Where did you get the idea that I'd "like them" to publish in one particular journal? I merely cited it as one obvious opportunity. It exists specifically for the purpose of discussing Rand's ideas, yet people associated with the ARI avoid it and condemn it.

 

Because it's literally the only example that you're citing, and you do it again in this post.  Your original claim was that mainstream Objectivists will be unwilling to engage in critical debate within the wider context of academic philosophy for probably several generations.  To support this, you've repeatedly criticized them for not doing so in JARS specifically, both in the original post I quoted and now doubling down here.  The fact that they seem to have a problem with JARS specifically doesn't necessarily mean that they have a problem engaging the wider philosophical community.  It may be an indication of that larger phenomenon, or it may simply reflect personal disagreements with Sciabarra and others at JARS.  Certainly there is reason to believe such animosity exists.

 

Now I certainly agree that during Rand's lifetime, and for years following her death, there was essentially zero interaction between academic philosophy and the Objectivist movement.  I also agree with what I presume is your position that there should have been much more, that both sides would have benefited from critical engagement with one another.  Really the only people willing to do so were those that were outside the organized movement, such as Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen.  However, you seem to be arguing that this is still basically the case, and will be for several generations to come.  I don't agree with that at all.  I think we've seen a new generation of scholars within the movement, many of whom were mentioned above, that have taken such a task seriously, and have done good work in that area.  Certainly the Anthem Foundation deserves much credit in this regard.  Obviously this phenomenon has much farther to go, and there have been setbacks and backlashes, but overall it's much farther along than you seem to think.  I certainly wouldn't interpret animosity towards JARS as animosity to the idea of engaging with any informed philosophical criticism at all.

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