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Nathaniel Branden, RIP

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One of the Objectivist giants, his prodigious works corroborate and validate Rand, that indeed, "Man is a being of self made soul".


(Also see 'Nathaniel Branden Remembered' by Ed Hudgins, at OL)

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I’m not in a position to assess the insights, importance, or originality of Nathaniel Branden’s ideas in clinical psychology over his lifetime. Some psychology having bearing there bears also on philosophy. Cognitive developmental psychology, but also psychodynamics, bears on the philosophic question “What is man?” and contributes to concepts of mind and psyche wielded by philosophers. What is the constitution of the soul remains a principal issue for philosophy, from times of Plato and Aristotle to times of Augustine, Avicenna, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and our own, now informed by modern psychology and neuroscience.


One accomplishment of Branden during his years with Rand, was the articles (mostly psychology) he published in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist. Another was his systematic presentation of Rand’s philosophy in the taped lecture series “The Basic Principles of Objectivism.” That is comparable to Leonard Peikoff’s lecture series “The Philosophy of Objectivism” (1976), which Peikoff later transformed into the book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (OPAR). Branden’s lecture series was transcribed into the book The Vision of Ayn Rand in 2009. That is not to say Branden’s lectures were transformed into a book. Branden did not mold the lectures into a book acceptable to himself either during or after his association with Rand. Because some of his thinking in psychology, and even his definition of reason, changed during those later decades, a book laying out his revised philosophy later in life would have likely differed somewhat from what he’d have written had he transformed “Basic” into a book while still working with Rand. The book Vision, the transcription of “Basic,” is valuable for tracing further development of ideas in Objectivism from the ‘60’s to Rand’s last years (i.e., to Rand's philosophy as in OPAR).


James Peron is a friendly acquaintance of mine because we worked together on some Libertarian Party campaigns more than three decades ago. I gather from some of his writings on Facebook that he has continued bright and addicted to reading and learning. There is one statement he made in his notice concerning Branden in Huffington Post that I’d like to wavy-line.


“Branden systematized Rand’s philosophy, something she had not done, and presented lectures on the ideas, published as The Vision of Ayn Rand.


I was exposed to Rand's philosophy in the '60s through her fiction. I then followed elaborations and innovations within the philosophy through the nonfiction of Rand and her associates, including Nathaniel Branden to the split in 1968. The philosophy was a systematic one for me. I never heard Branden's "Basic Principles of Objectivism" lectures and only learned their content decades later by Vision. In 1976 Leonard Peikoff put together a similar set of lectures, in coordination with Ayn Rand, giving a systematic presentation of her philosophy. There too, same goes. It was already a systematic philosophy, and I knew what it was before hearing those lectures in '77.


What I object to is the idea---which is also put about by Yaron Brook (in oral remarks) in connection with Peikoff’s 1976 systematic presentation of Rand’s philosophy and subsequent book OPAR---that Rand’s philosophy as set out in 1957 (in Galt’s speech) was not yet a systematic philosophy. That is incorrect. To say that someone made a systematic and comprehensive presentation of Rand’s philosophy, such as Branden and later Peikoff accomplished (with the luxury of many more words than Galt’s speech and without the constraints of fictional context), should be kept separate from the idea that her mature philosophy of 1957 was one standing in need of being made systematic.


A famous example of an unsystematic philosophy is that of Nietzsche (say, Gay Science forward). He was opposed to system, and he achieved having a philosophy without it being a system. (I know there is one scholar today who thinks he has at last, thank God, figured out a system to Nietzsche, but that is an outlier view among the scholars.) When one reads Galt's speech, one knows this is a systematic philosophy, more specifically, that it is a foundationalist sort of philosophy. One knows the philosophy has axioms, is based on the senses, with reason as tied to the senses. One knows the axioms and corollaries, one knows the point at which value enters this metaphysics, one knows this ethic's chief virtues and how they are related to the three cardinal values and what is the base given for why those are the three cardinal values. Rand's philosophy 1957 is what we call a systematic philosophy. She could have dropped dead right then, rather like what happened to Nietzsche, and scholars coming along later could see that hers was a systematic philosophy, from theoretical philosophy to ethics, and his was not.

Edited by Boydstun
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The Washington Post notice has it, somewhat like Jim’s statement in Huffington Post, that “Mr. Branden helped develop Rand’s ideas into a philosophical construct that became known as Objectivism.” Really?


Rand introduced the name Objectivism for her philosophy in the Preface to the book For the New Intellectual (October 1960). That book contained her essay “For the New Intellectual” and principal philosophical passages from her novels, including Galt’s speech. In the Preface, Rand described a treatise on her philosophy she was writing. It would include a theory of concepts, which was a major piece of her philosophy not exposed in her fiction. Readers here know that she delivered that missing portion of her philosophy in print in 1966–67. In his Basic lectures (as transcribed in Vision) and in his The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Branden gave Rand sole credit for that theory of concepts.


Perhaps the forthcoming Rand biography by Shoshana Milgram will include specifics of the intellectual relationships between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden over the course of their association (to 1957 anyway).

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No one has thought Galt's speech contains all of Objectivist epistemology. I did not say, imply, or insinuate it did. I cited Rand's 1960 remark that it did not. The novel thing and the most remarkable thing about Rand's theory of concepts is her analysis of them in terms of measurement omission, which she published, as you know, in ITOE. I have not said there is nothing more to be done in developing her theory of concepts, in its several interlocking aspects, that is significant. My view of it is quite the contrary. But this part of Rand's philosophy that she delivered in ITOE joined with what she delivered in Galt's speech constitutes a systematic philosophy, and the philosophy at this level of its development was Ayn Rand's own achievement, I'm pretty sure. Additional insights and refinements in this philosophy have been made by others besides Rand, but these are upon a full-blown philosophy in place in her own texts.

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Hey Stephen, I think my post may have come off in a way unintended. I have heard others make the comment that I was responding to and your post reminded me of the general topic. If that context in my mind caused me to drop some context of all the things you said about the systematic nature of Oism in Atlas, I apologize. I wasn't really directing my response at you but more generally. Too generally.

I could swear I've heard Dr. Peikoff say the same thing somewhere... I'll do some investigation on it...

Edited by Plasmatic
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  • 2 years later...


The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 16(1,2) – 2016

Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

The last time I saw Nathaniel Branden, he also saw me. There are some things I’m quick on. One is quickness in catching objects falling unexpectedly, another is quickness in catching some kinds of jokes. It was 2005 at the last of David Kelley’s summer seminars I had the pleasure of attending. Branden was there, not to give a lecture, but a live interview, hosted by Duncan Scott. They called the interview-session “On Ayn Rand and Objectivism.” I had not intended to attend the session, but had ended up too exhausted to walk back to my motel across the Union campus and then return for my next big session. So I plopped myself down in the interview session. I’d not prepared any question. (I certainly wish I’d prepared and had asked him about his and Rand’s collaborations [and Continental precursors], up to the completion of Atlas Shrugged, on their concepts of self-esteem and on what he would come to call The Visibility Principle in their joint journal a decade later.) So I contributed nothing to the interview, except for one lightning laugh. Some audience members had been asking about his personal romantic relationship with Ayn Rand and its eventual bust-up of their wider relationship. At one point, he said of some recent writing or other, by others, on those things, “I will say this, if I’d done half the things they claim I did to Ayn Rand, she’d had to have been an idiot.” We both knew well that consequent was an absurdity, and he flashed those blues and grin over to my instant burst.

There are some recollections in this JARS issue from persons who (unlike me) knew Nathaniel Branden personally. Pages 115-243 are especially susbstantive on Branden's ideas in psychology as he developed them after his years with Rand.


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I see from the Name Index for my journal Objectivity (1990–1998) that authors referred to something or other by N. Branden on the following pages. I’m curious what were the topics for which these authors had found something useful in his works. I’ll fill that in here in the Name Index entry for him.

Branden, Nathaniel

V1N2 68, 72, 74

“Why Man Needs Approval” – Marsha Enright


V1N5 43, 59, 70, 161

“Intricate Consciousness” – Jay Friedenberg

“On the Physical Meaning of Volition” – Ronald E. Merrill

“Finitude and Meaning” – James Henderson




 V1N6 31, 163

“Formation of the Concept of Mind” – Paul Vanderveen

“A Philosophy for Living on Earth” – Peter Saint-Andre


V2N1 112, 120

“Volitional Synapses” – Stephen Boydstun


V2N2 9

“Axioms: The Eightfold Way” – Ronald E. Merrill


V2N3 110, 146

“Compatibility of Determinism and Free Will” – George Lyons


Con Molto Sentimento – Marsha Enright


V2N5 35–36, 45, 69, 71, 73, 78, 86

“The Essence of Art” – Roger E. Bissell

“Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique” – Ronald E. Merrill


V2N6 193–94, 202, 204–5

“Ayn Rand: Literary Portraiture v. Philosophic Explication of Ideal Man and Woman” – Charles Wieder



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  • 2 years later...

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