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Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

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The essentials of the essentials gets one to the standing-on-one-foot essentials of a theory. So for relativity, special and general, one gets the standing-on-one-foot essentials: frame-invariance of the form of physical laws, frame-invariance of a finite upper limit of velocity, and the equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass. For the standing-on-one-foot essentials of the philosophy of Epicurus, one gets: don't worry, pursue modest pleasure.

But for a statement of the essentials of these theories back at the first level, before the distillations of the distillations suitable for the standing-on-one-foot characterization, one should turn to books such as Wolfgang Rindler's Essential Relativity or Eugene O'Connor's The Essential Epicurus.

At this level, in my judgment, the essentials of Rand's philosophy Objectivism are what is included in Leonard Peikoff's book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand approved the lecture series (1976) from which this book was composed as the straight statement of her philosophy. I heard that lecture series in 1977. He couldn't include everything from the lectures, but he did very well at selecting what was essential to present in a book-length basic statement of Rand's philosophy.

Rand rightly did not say that Peikoff's lecture series (and the anticipated book to be based on them) was the only possible correct systematic presentation of her philosophy. Other books can be written on The Essential Objectivism, and their authors can argue from Rand's own philosophic writings that theirs is a correct statement of her philosophy and a correct identification of what is essential to her philosophy and what is not.

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Rand’s 1961 book For the New Intellectual has the subtitle The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. FNI includes Galt’s Speech from Atlas Shrugged. At the head of the Speech as displayed in FNI, Rand wrote: “This is the philosophy of Objectivism.” She had explained in the Preface to FNI that she had chosen the name Objectivism as the name of her philosophy.

In that Preface, she wrote:

“This book . . . . contains the main philosophical passages from my novels and presents the outline of a new philosophy.

“The full system is implicit in these excerpts (particularly in Galt’s speech), but its fundamentals are indicated only in the widest terms and require a detailed, systematic presentation in a philosophical treatise. I am working on such a treatise at present; it will deal predominantly with the issue which is barely touched upon in Galt’s speech: epistemology, and will present a new theory of the nature, source and validation of concepts. . . . I offer the present book as a lead or a summary for those who wish to acquire an integrated view of existence. They may regard it as a basic outline . . . .”

“When I say that these excerpts are merely an outline, I do not mean to imply that my full system is still being defined or discovered: I had to define it before I could start writing Atlas Shrugged. Galt’s speech is its briefest summary.”

Rand began writing a column in the Los Angeles Times in 1962. In the inaugural column, she reported that during a sales conference at Random House in ’57, a salesman had asked if she could state the essence of her philosophy while standing on one foot. She did, saying:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality

2. Epistemology: Reason

3. Ethics: Self-Interest

4. Politics: Capitalism

She went on to specify a bit further, in that column, what were her basic tenets under each of those headings.

The Objectivist Newsletter was established in 1962. From then through 1965, its subjects concerned overwhelmingly culture/politics and psychology/ethics. During that era, Nathaniel Branden penned in the Newsletter some short articles more to do with epistemology and a touch of metaphysics: First Cause Argument, Agnosticism, Unknowability, Stolen Concept Fallacy, Free Will v. Determinism, the distinctively Objectivist concept of free will, and a review of B. Blanshard’s Reason and Analysis (which last clearly had some input from Peikoff, who finished his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1964). Rand wrote a review of J. H. Randall's book on Aristotle in the Newsletter; she had written some, critically, in the title essay of FNI, concerning history of epistemology and metaphysics. Peikoff penned some remarks in the Newsletter concerning some texts on the history of philosophy.

Rand had written some about the conceptual faculty in her earlier writings on ethics and on esthetics, but in July 1966, in The Objectivist, Rand began her series of articles she thought of as one of the cardinal elements of Objectivist epistemology: its theory of concepts. “These articles may be regarded as a preview of my future book on Objectivism.”

(To be continued on into OPAR, hopefully soon.)

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What sort of book on Objectivism, written by herself, would Rand be envisioning as she was releasing ITOE in The Objectivist in 1966? By the early ’70’s, Rand had released ITOE as a monograph privately printed by The Objectivist Inc. and available for purchase. My copy was printed in 1973.

In the Preface to her series of articles composing “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” a Preface retained in the monograph, Rand wrote not only that ITOE was a cardinal element in the epistemology of her philosophy and that it was a window into her planned book on her whole philosophy. She remarked that ITOE was “offered here for the guidance of philosophy students.”

In The Objectivist, Rand’s series ITOE was soon followed by Peikoff’s “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy.” I suggest that much material in ITOE and in that Peikoff article, though the material is part of the philosophy of Objectivism and stakes out philosophic positions among alternative ones at a somewhat more academic level, is not part of Objectivism needed by every thinking person for a sufficiently wide and integrated view of reality. Then too, not all that Rand wrote about esthetics is needed by that population of thinking persons for the full and integrated view to which Rand invites them. Rand’s theory of concepts and of esthetics are not part of the philosophical passages in Atlas Shrugged, including in GS. And Rand’s later work in those areas was certainly not all implicit in the material in GS.

Galt’s Speech confined itself to what a person needs for an integrated full framework for living in the modern world, with its opponent common views on knowledge, metaphysics, ethics, and politics. GS was Rand’s first presentation of the mature philosophy she had formulated, and it addressed life and thought in the actual world (our world), even though it did so while set in a fictional world tied to ours.

Read in its context in Atlas Shrugged, the speech is under a sunrise and a shadow. The sun had risen at the outset of Part III in Rand’s description of Dagny Taggart opening her eyes and seeing human clarity, openness, rightness, and serenity in the face of the man who later begins his national radio speech with the introduction “Ladies and gentlemen, . . . This is John Galt speaking.” The shadow is the economic disintegration and growing violence and tyranny in the country.

Galt is speaking as the ideal man, by the lights of Rand’s philosophy, and he is setting forth analysis of what has caused the crisis in the fictional world of Atlas and what is importantly wrong in the real world of the reader. He is setting out the solution, which is to say, he is setting out the new philosophy, Rand’s philosophy, which needs to be adopted to remedy the human failures in that fictional world and in the real world.

Rand leads in GS by characterizing the crisis as a moral crisis and by attacking prevalent moral ideals (1009–12). She then begins her own setting of the biological base of her new morality and its basic place in human existence, and this entrains her doctrines on human consciousness and the nature of rationality and human volition (1012–15). This lead naturally to laying out her fundamental metaphysics, her axioms, corollary axioms, her doctrine “existence is identity” and its modes in different basic categories of existence, her doctrine “consciousness is identification”, and her definitions of logic and truth concordant with all that (1015–17).

With the full complement of her axioms set out, Rand went forward with them to rule out radical indeterminacy of human nature and to portray applicability of the law of noncontradiction to the real world known by ordinary experience and science (1016, 1037, 1040–41). She puts her axioms to the purpose of refuting the method of faith and revelation (1018, 1035–36), radical separation of human values from matter or mind (1029–30), supremacy of will or feeling over rational perception of reality (1036-37), skepticism concerning sensory perception (1036, 1040–41), skepticism concerning causality (1037), and skepticism concerning knowledge (1039–40). Another purpose to which she puts her axiom “existence is identity” is to bar the “negative way” of approaching God, a regular path in Christian and Judaic theology, salient in Pseudo-Dionysius and Maimonides, and a regular thoroughfare of outright mysticism (1039).

Rand’s envisioned book she mentioned in 1966 would surely include all that and all the topics in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political theory that had been articulated in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist. By the 70’s, she would surely want to include the advances she had proposed in “The Metaphysical and the Man-Made” (1973) and in “Causality vs. Duty” (1970).

Would such a book include the measurement-omission theory of concepts Rand had set out in ITOE? Would it include the material she had set out in The Romantic Manifesto (1971)? Would it stick to the subjects dealt with in GS, without the story-context and with her advances on those subjects in the ’60’s and ’70’s? But like GS, not deal with the theory of concepts introduced in ITOE or the theories set out in RM? Rather, keep to what the regular thinking person needs for a well-fortified integrated framework of the world?

The first half of of the twentieth century had seen some pretty successful blockbuster books presenting a full philosophy, and these had rather straddled being academic and being for the general educated reader: Process and Reality by Whitehead, Being and Nothingness by Sartre, and Being and Time by Heidegger. (In 1981 Nozick would also deliver such a tomb with his Philosophical Explanations.) I had long hoped for a book from Rand rather like those blockbusters. But Boydstun and pals with their inveterate scholarliness were only part of the not-fools audience Rand had always tended to. So I’d not have been surprised had she delivered a book rather more like Peikoff’s OPAR would turn out to be, with its things addressed and it things only pointed to in other publications.

When Peikoff, with Rand’s participation, pulled together the material for his 1976 lecture series The Philosophy of Objectivism, Rand had lung cancer. She was unable to attend the first few lectures, as she had been in the hospital for surgery. But she returned and became a lively speaker within the series before it was over. She made it clear that Peikoff, not she, would be subsequently writing a book presenting her philosophy systematically and that it would be the sort of material as was in this lecture series. And that she had great confidence in him in this book-writing endeavor. Me too.

(I hope to contribute in the future with a comparison of OPAR to GS. Meanwhile, I surely do welcome any comments here from others on Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.)

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There are reviews of OPAR by Henry B. Veatch and by David Ramsay Steele (along with their critiques of the philosophy) in the January 1992 issue of Liberty, pp. 60–68, available here.

Detailed critique of a particular point in epistemology in OPAR and beyond is given by Robert Campbell in the fall 2008 issue of JARS here.

David Kelley’s 1992 review of OPAR is here.

By the way, in summer of 1992, I attended an Objectivist conference in which Peikoff was delivering a series of lectures. I recall conversing with a middle-aged woman there, who surprised me when I asked what books of Rand’s she had read. She replied, none yet. She had only read the book OPAR, which had been issued the preceding December, and through that alone, she had come to the conference to learn more.

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The thoughts in OPAR move smoothly. It is as easy to read as GS. The two have the same range of readers to whom they are significantly understandable.

Peikoff begins OPAR with remarks on the nature and function of philosophy (1–4). Rand had taken on that issue in her 1974 address at West Point, and Peikoff excerpts from that speech for his springboard into what is philosophy, in Rand’s conception of it, and how he will proceed to present the areas of philosophy hierarchically in his book. He then proceeds in his first chapter to point out that philosophies build on starting points, and that Objectivism begins by stating and validating its starting points. He continues in that chapter under five headings:

Existence, Consciousness, and Identity as the Basic Axioms

Causality as a Corollary of Identity

Existence as Possessing Primacy over Consciousness

The Metaphysically Given as Absolute

Idealism and Materialism as the Rejection of Basic Axioms

Rand had touched on the what and why is philosophy in Atlas Shrugged through her philosopher character Hugh Akston, who had been an esteemed professor of Galt, d’Anconia, and Danneskjöld. In those undergraduate years also, Robert Stadler had been their preeminent professor of physics. “‘I did have a rival’, said Dr. Akston slowly. ‘It was Dr. Robert Stadler. . . . [If, as Stadler thought of it] we were rivals for these three students, . . . I had one advantage: I knew why they needed both our professions; he never understood their interest in mine. He never understood its importance to himself—which, incidentally, is what destroyed him’” (789).

Rand exhibited her conception of philosophy and its place in human existence by the whole arc of Atlas. She addressed the topic explicitly in the title essay of FNI, beginning with “The sound of the first human step in recorded history . . . .”

Peikoff began his 1976 lectures The Philosophy of Objectivism by posing the question What is man? Rand had situated and addressed that question in GS. Peikoff remarked in this lecture that the essence of a philosophy can be seen in its view of man. Man’s nature is not the basis of philosophy; a view of man’s nature presupposes a view of metaphysics and epistemology. There is a metaphysical view of man, which then is presupposition of ethics, politics, and esthetics. Concerning man’s metaphysical nature, these loom large: Human living being requires achievement of values, therefore action and production, therefore reason. / Reason is an attribute of the individual. / Mind and body are rightly a unity; no purely mind, no purely body; reason is not for own sake, but for life. / Nature of emotions and their right relation to reason. / Free will and determinism.

For entry of that first lecture into OPAR, see these Index entries of the latter: Consciousness / Emotions / Idealism / Individualism / Man / Materialism / Metaphysics / Mind-Body Dichotomy / Philosophy / Reason / Volition

The first lecture in Nathaniel Branden’s series The Basic Principles of Objectivism (1960’s) was titled “The Role of Philosophy.” Transcription is available in The Vision of Ayn Rand (2009).

Answer to what is the nature and role of philosophy in the lineage of Rand is partly kin to Aristotle on the nature and role of metaphysics. But with Rand the beginning and ending is man, whereas, for Aristotle, at least in metaphysics, the end is the Prime Mover, not we mortals.

My own treatment of What is philosophy? is given in the opening section ‘Philosophy Frames’ of my fundamental paper “Existence, We” issuing next month in JARS 21(1):65–104.

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Peikoff’s book on the philosophy of Ayn Rand covers all of the basics of the philosophy. Is every point the book includes as part of the philosophy essential to that philosophy? I should say No.

As I mentioned earlier, Rand’s measurement-omission theory of concepts (which I have championed and developed further in my 2004) as well as her theory of esthetics are not essentials of the philosophy. Those things were not in Galt’s Speech, whose doctrines suffice to cover all the essentials of the philosophy. (Amplifications of those essentials Rand subsequently published could also be taken as part of the essentials.) Additionally, all points in OPAR for which an endnote is attached that gives a source in remarks of Rand that she did not publish are not points essential to the Objectivist philosophy.

OPAR does not portray Rand’s development of her mature philosophy across the philosophical points made in her novels from 1936 to 1957. That development, though interesting, would not be necessary for stating what the mature philosophy is. Comparison of the mature philosophy with other philosophies, though helpful in characterizing what the Objectivist philosophy is, is also not necessary for stating what the mature philosophy is. At least not for purposes of persons not students of philosophy.

Coming back to what is essential to the philosophy, there are things in GS and in OPAR and in Peikoff’s 1976 lecture series “The Philosophy of Objectivism” (PO) and in Branden’s 1960’s lecture series “The Basic Principles of Objectivism” (BPO) that are not essential to the philosophy. In my assessment, such non-essentials would be those compiled below. (For my own part, I do not think all the essentials are true or fully accurate, though many are, and I do not think all the parts of the philosophy that are not essentials of it are false.)

GS – psychologies and motives of religionists and of materialists (e.g. Marxists, Behaviorists) / psychologies of savages and of dictators. These portions are not part of philosophy. What is known as philosophical psychology is necessary for a philosophy to answer the question What is man? but I reject a conception of these portions as properly part of philosophical psychology. I should maintain that these portions are not necessary to setting what is man in the Objectivist philosophy, and they are not essential to the Objectivist conception of what is man. These portions are not included in OPAR, and in my view, they are rightly omitted for the book’s purpose of portraying what is this philosophy.

BPO – psychodynamics. Theories of neurosis and repression and psychological types and sexual psychology are not part of philosophy, hence not part of Objectivism as a philosophy.

PO – (I’m leaving topics from the Q&A’s out of consideration here.) – esthetics is part of the philosophy, though not essential to it (as shown by absence from GS.)

OPAR – like PO / and, as remarked already: "all points in OPAR for which an endnote is attached that gives a source in remarks of Rand that she did not publish are not points essential to the Objectivist philosophy."

There are such things as philosophy of physics, biology, theater, music, film, language, technology, history, dance, education, humor, architecture, or sport. But for a full general philosophic system that has been formulated, such as Objectivism, it is not plausible that such specializations of such a philosophy results in the specializations being essential elements of the general philosophy.

In saying something is not part of philosophy or is not part of the essence of the Objectivist philosophy, I don’t mean to imply or insinuate that such things are not worthwhile or wonderful realms of understanding.

(I'll stop here. S)

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Notice that my immediately preceding post contradicts what I said in the first post of this thread, in respect of OPAR containing the essentials of the philosophy. It is the later post that is the more considered assessment and that demarcates some inessentials of the philosophy that are included in OPAR. That the book contains more than the essentials is no demerit to its aim.

If one goes, as many do, in looking at who is an Objectivist in their philosophy by whether they concur with the essentials of the philosophy, I should not want to leave the impression that everything in Peikoff's book is a thesis that must be concurred with to rightly count one as an Objectivist. Which would be the implication from my imprecise assessment of the book in the initial post.


Whether one is an Objectivist, a Heideggarian, or whatever is of secondary importance to what one holds as true and right. Concern over correct classification is a matter of keeping labels and conceptions straight.

One thing more about judging essentials of a philosophy, for example, Objectivism. Whether one concurs with essentials is not a matter of merely agreeing with high-altitude essential theses of the philosophy. That there is nothing supernatural is packaged right in the fundamental axioms of Objectivism. That the state has no right to commandeer one's life into personal service of its projects is straightforward implication of the Objectivist ethics and conception of what is man. So anyone who is a believer in the supernatural or in the military draft is not an Objectivist. That is not rocket science, and if one is a supernaturalist or a believer in conscription, one should just get some balls and stand up for what is one's own conviction and its difference from Objectivism. On the other hand, if one does not agree that there is such a thing as a sense of life, then one is not disagreeing with an essential of the philosophy.

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Additionally, given my later, more considered examination, I should take back my earlier, imprecise statement: “Galt’s Speech confined itself to what a person needs for an integrated full framework for living in the modern world.” Rather, that confinement is what remains of GS when one sets aside “psychologies and motives of religionists and of materialists (e.g. Marxists, Behaviorists) / psychologies of savages and of dictators.”

I said also earlier in the reflections in this thread that the doctrines in Galt’s Speech “suffice to cover all the essentials of the philosophy. (Amplifications of those essentials Rand subsequently published could also be taken as part of the essentials.) Additionally, all points in OPAR for which an endnote is attached that gives a source in remarks of Rand that she did not publish are not points essential to the Objectivist philosophy.” I want to expand further on the amplification idea and to amend the not-published-by-Rand resort in source found in endnotes as a criterion for chucking into the bin Non-Essential.

Concerning amplifications, I’m thinking of post-Atlas writings such as Rand’s essays “The Metaphysical versus the Man-Made” and “Causality versus Duty.” Another candidate would be David Kelley’s argument that essentials of Rand’s philosophy beget benevolence as a major moral virtue. Each such candidate would have to have it’s argument outlined and its beyond-GS premises, if any, studied to assess whether the candidate is an essential part of the philosophy. (In the twentieth century, I recall seeing proof of a theorem about circles in the Euclidean plane which was a new discovery of a truth in Euclidean geometry, notwithstanding the external circumstance that Euclid had died a long time ago—truths of Euclidean geometry can come to light without Euclid having ever known anything about them.) Such assessments of candidates as amplifications of essentials in Objectivism will be left to the labor and sagacity of the reader as interest in a particular amplification candidate might arise.

I notice it also seems possible that the essentials of Objectivism or some natural portion of them might have a significant reformulation of them, rooted in writings of Rand, that is equivalent to the formulation expressly given them by Rand. This would be analogous to the equivalence of the epicycle model and the eccentric model that astronomers in ancient Greece used in capturing certain patterns of celestial bodies moving over the earth through a year.* I’ve seen a couple of efforts gesturing in this direction, but among the writings of Rand they draw upon are ones that are beyond GS and its implications, and their equivalence in resulting formulation to (portions of) Rand’s essentials are not entirely worked out.

The amendment I should add to counting as inessential any points supported by citing solely a saying or writing of Rand that she never chose to publish is: If the point can be argued anyway from essentials in GS by a deduction, then we can count it an essential. I make such a particular deduction myself in my paper “Existence, We” to be published in JARS next month (p. 88), and I then quote the conclusion also as an oral statement of Rand’s that she had never chosen to publish.

To locate the places in OPAR where Peikoff cites in support of a point words of Rand she did not chose to publish is easy. Just look down the Endnotes for ones citing only the Appendix to ITOE (1990) or only a private journal note of Rand’s or only a private letter of Rand’s. Compilation of the theses to which these Endnotes are attached and determination of whether they can also be reached by argument from essentials of Objectivism in GS, will be left as an exercise for the reader and maybe not this one who is the writer.

There is something not about OPAR in general, but a point within it, I’d like to comment on, particularly in connection with Aristotle and Bolzano. So there’s at least one more post coming.

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At the entry PROOF in the Index of OPAR, we see:

– proof as presupposing axioms: 8, 10 –12

– nature of proof: 119 –21

– proof defined: 120

– proof as reduction: 137 –38

– evidence presupposes a standard of proof: 176 –79

(nice Index)

“Being implicit from the beginning, existence, consciousness, and identity are outside the province of proof. Proof is the derivation of a conclusion from antecedent knowledge, and nothing is antecedent to axioms [cf. Met. XI.4]. Axioms are the starting points of cognition, on which all proofs depend. / One knows that the axioms are true not by inference of any kind, but by sense perception. . . . Axioms are perpetual self-evidencies. There is nothing to be said in their behalf except: look at reality” (OPAR 8).

What is the nature of axioms of the Objectivist philosophy and what is the content of those axioms is part of what the Objectivist philosophy is and indeed part of what is essential to that philosophy. The preceding excerpt from OPAR is a rendition of GS at 1039–40: “proof presupposes existence, consciousness, and a complex chain of knowledge: the existence of something to know, of a consciousness able to know it, . . . . / An axiom is a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others, . . .”

Peikoff in OPAR introduces Rand’s conception that logic is the art of noncontradictory identification by proposing that “the avoidance of contradiction is at the heart of every process of logic, whether deductive or inductive”(119). (Aristotle had maintained this point with respect to deduction at Metaphysics IV.3, 1005b33–35.

Leading into her definition of logic in GS, Rand had maintained, in step with Aristotle (Met. IV.3, 1005b14–20; IV.6, 1011b13–22), that one kind of object cannot be another kind of object at the same time, an object cannot possess throughout one attribute and at the same time possess a contrary attribute, and an object cannot be undergoing one process throughout and at the same time a contrary process (AS 1016).

She maintained that knowledge is based on sensory connection to existence and that logic rests on the axiom existence exists. Further, “all thinking is a process of identification and integration” and all through such a process one is asking “What is it?” and establishing the truth of one’s answers by means of logic. That is to say, logic is the holding of identifications to thoroughgoing noncontradiction, and “no concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge” (ibid.).

Peikoff writes in OPAR: “In essence, logic is the method of observing facts (the premises), then consulting the law of contradiction, then drawing the conclusion that this law warrants” (119). (Though it is tangential to present purposes, I’ll reiterate, as I have for many years now, that in an inference to the conclusion ‘x is M’ from ‘all A are M and x is an A’, one’s direct consult is the law of identity, not its lack-of-contradiction offspring. For that reason, Rand’s definition of logic is defective [Aristotle at 1005b33–35 is likely partly to blame]; I remedy that defect in my definition of logic given in the forthcoming paper “Existence, We”.)

Peikoff continues: “It is important to note that the process must be grounded in observed fact. To derive a conclusion from arbitrary premises . . . is not a process of logic. . . . If logic is to be the means of objectvity, a logical conclusion must be derived from reality; it must be warranted by antecedent knowledge, which itself may rest on earlier knowledge, and so on back, until one reaches the self-evident, the data of sense” (119–20). This is a devised sense of the term “proof” special to Objectivism. (I like it, and I take logical reasoning on mathematical or on fictional topics, however abstruse, to be transplanted from logic as it rightly goes in reasoning about empirical reality, and the transplant being itself capable of further development in the land of mathematics.) It is in very close step with Rand’s conception of logic and proof in GS, could easily pass for essential to the philosophy that is Objectivism, I expect, and was being put about in the 1960’s in Branden’s BPO.

Peikoff would know, from his dissertation work completed in 1964, that John Dewey had put forth a view of logic and proof along these lines in his 1938 work Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, but with an interesting difference. Recall that in Rand’s ITOE, she described logic as being a method. That conception of logic was also in GS and was carried into BPO, into PO, and into OPAR. That logic was a method sounded perfectly uncontroversial to me when I read the installments of Rand’s ITOE as she was publishing them. But when Dewey had argued logic to be a method in his 1938, he was making an innovative and controversial move.

(To be continued.)

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Let me fill in some citations for portions of those last two paragraphs:

“It is in very close step with Rand’s conception of logic and proof in GS, could easily pass for essential to the philosophy that is Objectivism, I expect, and was being put about in the 1960’s in Branden’s BPO (2009, 72–73, 75–76) .”

“Recall that in Rand’s ITOE, she described logic as being a method (36; also, Peikoff 1967, 112–13). That conception of logic was also in GS and was carried into BPO (75), into PO (Lecture 3), and into OPAR.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

This post is a sidebar.

I had mentioned in the post before last my usual line of objections to defining logic with noncontradictory taken for differentia on the genus (art of) identification: some inferences are on identity directly. I see since that post that Rand was somewhat cognizant of this consideration, at least by January 1961. John Hospers was at that time listening to, and by letters critiquing, the Branden tapes The Basic Principles of Objectivism, and Rand, conferring with Branden and Peikoff, was replying by letters to Hospers. Rand writes:

“You say that ‘A is A’ does not ‘provide a validation for any particular arguments’, but ‘All A is B, all B is C, therefore all A is C” does. I will answer by telling you a story I heard years ago. Two men were arguing about which is more useful to men, the sun or the moon, and the argument was decided in favor of the moon, because, they declared, the moon shines at night, when it’s dark—while the sun shines in the daytime, when it’s light anyway.

What, if not ‘A is A’, gives any validity to ‘All A is B, all B is C, therefore all A is C? What is the latter but one of the concrete [particular?] applications or derivatives of ‘A is A’? [applause from Leibniz and Kant and their colleagues on that point]. And if anyone claims that something other than ‘the Aristotelian laws of thought’ was needed to validate that principle, he is using the same type of reasoning as the man in the sun-moon controversy.” (Letters of Ayn Rand, 527)

Rand did not mention there, perhaps was not cognizant of, and anyway, it would have been out of place to take up right there that that syllogism’s validity is straight from identity and requires no invocation of noncontradiction: therefore her definition of logic had been not quite right. The perfectly plain correctness of that syllogism was in fact the basis Aristotle used in Prior Analytics to show the correctness of all the other forms of syllogism. (He did not realize, unlike latter philosophers, that identity could be a basis of that basic syllogism and its immediately manifest validity.)

(My own definition of logic, now published in my fundamental paper “Existence, We” and recommended as replacement for Rand’s definition: Logic is “general law, for rational identifications, of not-both exclusions and our self-mappings of referents.” Full understanding of this definition requires coming to it in its context in the paper.)

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Leonard Peikoff’s dissertation advisor Sydney Hook had read several versions of all the chapters in Dewey 1938, and Dewey thanked Hook for his immense helpfulness in comments and criticisms on the work. Dewey was 80 years old when this book was completed and published; he had begun developing a conception of logic along these lines 40 years past.

Dewey outlines the conception of logic borne by his title Logic: The Theory of Inquiry* in the first chapter of that work (1938). The proximate subject-matter of logic, what one learns in the elementary texts, is not greatly disputed among philosophers. It is the ultimate subject-matter, “what’s it all about”, that is greatly disputed. Dewey’s characterization of what logic is ultimately, what is its ultimate setting and ground:

“All logical forms . . . arise within the operation of inquiry and are concerned with control of inquiry so that it may yield warranted assertions. This conception implies much more than that logical forms are disclosed or come to light when we reflect upon processes of inquiry that are in use. Of course it means that; but it also means that the forms originate in operations of inquiry.” (11)

Dewey’s thesis challenged the view that although there is a field of methodology of inquiry in every science, art, craft, and profession, that field of methodology of inquiry is not logic (12). One big question Dewey must answer is the problem of how every inquiry must hold to the standard of logic, yet inquiry originate those standards (13). The similar question for Objectivism is how can the normative constraint of noncontradiction hold for every occasion of identification, yet that constraint as norm arise from occasions of identification.

Ernest Nagel writes in the Introduction for Dewey 1938 that before Dewey there had been philosophers who had taken logic to be a theory of inquiry and that Dewey had learned from them for his own theory: Aristotle, Descartes, Arnauld, Mill, Russell, Bosanquet, Lotze, Sigwart, and Peirce (xi–xii). Dewey dissented from the theories of these mainly because of their unfamiliarity with methods of modern experimental science or because they gave such fragmentary and unsound accounts of those methods. Standing against theories of logic in which logical forms are taken as syntactical structure of statements (10), Dewey took logical form to refer to the function of some item in an inquiry. Propositions have no definite logical form when not being used in a definite way to achieve the goal of an inquiry. Nagel points out the similarity to taking data of observation as not yet being evidence until used for testing some hypothesis (xx–xxi).

Logical forms, in Dewey’s view, are not logically prior to or external to methods of scientific inquiry. I notice some comfortable fit on the point with Aristotle in his treatment of deduction and induction in Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics. However, the purport of Aristotle in Metaphysics of a decidedly and specifically metaphysical basis for logical principles is a move rejected by Dewey, who disputed that we have a faculty for discerning self-evident truths to take for axioms imported as norms in science from outside science (18; rather like Peirce in this point).

Dewey died in 1952. He surely would reject the view of logic that Rand set out in her 1957. Rand was therein running with Aristotle on philosophy of logic as in Metaphysics, though she was making some innovations thereon: existence is identity, consciousness is identification. Dewey could go along with the idea that logic has its base in aspects of existence and the idea that baseless assertions are in defiance of logic. But he would object against Rand her view, like Aristotle’s, that logical principles are to be conceived as axioms, axioms that are true. Rather, logical principles (such as identity, noncontradiction, and excluded middle) are experientially, superbly well-founded hypotheses or postulates (18–29). The question that then arises for us is how Objectivism, with identification taking the place of Dewey’s inquiry and, contra Dewey, with an axiomatic, metaphysically based characterization of logical principles, proceeds to maintain a conception of proof with such similarity to the controversial lines of Dewey 1938 concerning logical proof?

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Dewey distinguished validity-invalidity from formal correctness-incorrectness. “Any given proposition is such that it promotes or retards the institution of final resolution [of an inquiry]. It cannot be logically adjudged, therefore, merely on the basis of its formal relations to other propositions. The syllogism ‘All satellites are made of green cheese; the moon is a satellite; therefore, it is made of green cheese’ is formally correct. The propositions involved are, however, invalid, not just because they are ‘materially false’, but because instead of promoting inquiry they would, if taken and used, retard and mislead it.” (1938, 287–88)

Peikoff would say of that sort of syllogism that “it is not a process of cognition at all; it is merely an imitation of the form of logic while dropping its essence” (OPAR 120). We noted above that in the Objectivist view the process of proof “must be grounded in observed fact. To derive a conclusion from arbitrary premises . . . is not a process of logic. . . . If logic is to be the means of objectivity, a logical conclusion must be derived from reality; it must be warranted by antecedent knowledge, which itself may rest on earlier knowledge, and so on back, until one reaches the self-evident, the data of sense” (119–20). Careful Objectivist writing, such as OPAR, does does not go so far as Dewey right out the gate and pronounce deduction with unwarranted premises as logically invalid without preface with Peikoff's restriction “If logic is to be the means of . . . .” But Objectivism is quickly close to Dewey in this vicinity by taking such a deduction to be not validated, where validation is meant as a superordinate of proof.

Validation, in Objectivist dedicated service, “subsumes any process of establishing an idea’s relationship to reality, whether deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, or perceptual self-evidence. In this sense, one can and must validate every item of knowledge . . .” (OPAR 8). I notice that the term proof in common usage also has that same extension, the same extension as what Peikoff is here giving the term validation. One dictionary definition of proof is “the evidence establishing the validity of a given assertion.”  Under that usage of proof, for any variation in the referent of validity there is a companion usage of proof.

Of the several usages of proof defined in American Heritage, two are: (i) the proving of something by experiment, test, or trial, and (ii) the validation of a proposition by application of specified rules, as of induction or deduction, to assumptions, axioms, and sequentially derived conclusions. Dewey held that inference by itself does not exhaust logical functions and alone determine all logical forms. “On the contrary, proof, in the sense of test, is an equally important function” (1938, 160). He means, from the context: test is a logical function equal in importance to the logical function that is inference. For Dewey’s specification of logic, both (i) and (ii) are part of logic.

Dewey, further: “An ‘inference’ that is not grounded in the evidential nature of the material from which it is drawn is not an inference. It is a more or less wild guess. To say that an inference is grounded in any degree whatever is equivalent to saying that the material upon which it is based is such as to be a factor in warranting its validity . . . .” (424)

Under the Objectivist meaning of logic, which conceives it as an aspect of identification of reality, this much can be said in step with Dewey: from premises arbitrary, premises ungrounded, no valid logical inferences are drawn, no logical proofs are assembled.

(To be continued.)

Edited by Boydstun
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One of the most influential new schools of philosophy from the 1930’s to the 1960’s was Logical Empiricism, known also as Logical Positivism. The most influential picture of that school to be received by English readers not able to read German was the 1936 book of A. J. Ayer Language, Truth and Logic. Logical empiricism was a major contemporary school of philosophy on the scene in American philosophy, especially in the Ayer rendering, while Dewey was producing his 1938, Rand her GS and ITOE, and Peikoff his 1964 and 1967.

Prevalent in logical empiricism, across its era, is the doctrine of verificationism, the thesis that to have cognitive meaning, statements making existential claims must ultimately be empirically verifiable, at least in an in-principle way. Metaphysical and theological claims were taken as in-principle not thusly verifiable, therefore without cognitive meaning. The positive focus of verification principles and associated reductive programs for the logical empiricists was on statements concerning ordinary experience and empirical science. Dewey and Objectivism have an empiricist perspective one-upping that one. (This perspective is not to be found in the empiricism of Aristotle.) Dewey and Objectivism diverge greatly from the varieties of verificationism developed by logical empiricism. Contrary to some logical empiricists, Dewey and Objectivism begin their empiricisms, as had Peirce, in the parish of percepts, not in sense data. Dewey and Objectivism expand the meaning-requirement—superseding its strands in logical empiricism—from statements concerning ordinary experience and empirical science to statements concerning mathematics and logic as well.

The architects of Objectivism supplanted verificationism with validationism. I conveyed their validation requirement previously in this thread. The Objectivist requirement of validity in concepts and judgments and Dewey’s requirement of warrant for concepts and judgments did not bring either of those schools to a verdict of meaningless on all metaphysics, though it resulted in the stamp meaningless on the concept God in the usual talk heard on that topic by theists. The meaning of meaningless varies according to whether the meaning-requirement is (some variety of) verificationism, warranted assertion, or validation; it seems that for the first alone, with its domain of existential claims, meaningless entails that a statement is neither true nor false.

Rand wrote to John Hospers in 1961, and included in that letter of January 3 is her opposition to the Verifiability Principle of the logical positivists. “What I challenge, oppose and condemn is the essence of that principle and the method it proposes, in all and any of its variations. (I do not believe that ‘propositions’ have to be ‘verified’; I believe that they have to be ‘validated’—it is a night-and-day difference).” That remark shows that Rand thought of the Objectivist requirement of validation (of statements) as the replacement for the logical positivist requirement of verifiability (of existential propositions) and that she thought her validationism to differ greatly from said verificationism, though she does not say here what is the difference.

Hospers had been remarking privately, by letters, on Branden’s Basic Principles of Objectivism Lectures (a welcome thing to Rand and Branden), and the remark of Branden’s that Hospers was commenting on was in the first Branden lecture. We do not have Hospers’ letters, but from Rand’s reply to him concerning the Verifiability Principle, Hosper’s had cautioned against the Branden diatribe in Lecture 1 characterizing logical positivism as a new form of mysticism. Rand replied that it was in their concept of what constitutes “verifiability” that they become most mystical. She objects also to their rejection of all issues of ontology as meaningless. The version of BOP transcribed in Vision no longer contained the remarks on logical positivism that Hospers had remarked on in 1961. (On the Objectivist conception of validity as conveyed in BOP, see pages 45–46, 71–75, 93–95 of Vision.)

I’ll now quote from Dewey’s criticism of the verificationist meaning-requirement in logical empiricism. The issue I’ll then resume, in the next installment, is whether the controversial statements about logic and proof in OPAR, statements indeed consonant with GS and BPO, so close to Dewey on their surface, remain consistent within Objectivism once the pertinent underlying ground in Dewey is refused by Objectivism, warranted is replaced by validated, and inquiry replaced by identification.

“The history of science, as an exemplification of the method of inquiry, shows that the verifiability (as positivism understands it) of hypotheses is not nearly as important as their directive power. As a broad statement, no important scientific hypothesis has ever been verified in the form in which it was originally presented nor without very considerable revisions or modifications. The justification of such hypotheses has lain in their power to direct new orders of experimental observation and to open up new problems and new fields of subject-matter. In doing these things, they have not only provided new facts but have often radically altered what were previously taken to be facts. Popular positivism [e.g. Ayer 1936], in spite of its claims to be strictly scientific, has been in some respects the heir of an older metaphysical view which attributed to ideas inherent truth-falsity properties. A sense for the actual patten of inquiry will assign to ideas as ideas the intrinsic function of being operational means. On this ground alone, the positivistic theory of knowledge falls short. This criticism also applies to any form of positivistic theory that confines the scope of logic to transformation of pre-existing materials with no provision for production of new hypotheses whose operative use supplies new materials which reconstruct those already at hand. It applies to ‘logical positivism’ as far as that theory limits logical theory to transformation of propositions in separation from the operations by which propositions are formed.” (1938, 513)

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