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Did Rand Coin 'objectivism'?

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I am finally going to get into studying all of philosophy, not just Objectivism, and I've been searching for an introductory text for a while. Right now, I'm just browsing the selections at the local Borders and Barnes & Noble, and when I come across an introduction book, I usually check the index for a reference to Objectivism or Ayn Rand. Not surprisingly, such references are rare.

However, the word 'objectivism' appears sometimes, and it usually is presented as a slight hiccup in one of the book's chapters. The definitions are limited to a short sentence, such as "obectivism is the belief in an objective reality." (Wow! I like that idea? Where do I get more? The book never provides a guide ...)

So, for those that have studied other pilosophers, tell me - did Ayn Rand coin the term 'objectivism'? Was it around before her philosophy, even if it was just a simple description as above? Or was hers the first use of the term?

I'm not talking about 'objectivism' vs 'Objectivism', just its etymology.

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No, she didn't coin the term objectivism. Objectivism has been used (both philosophically and otherwise) to refer to a variety of positions. Objectivism in philosophy usually means simply the belief in a reality independent of the human mind. There is also moral objectivism, which is belief in an objective morality. If I remember correctly, Ayn Rand chose the name "Objectivism" to reflect her idea that concepts are objective.

Edited by LaszloWalrus
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The term referred to a bunch of Modernist poets of the 30's. It is probable that she, as an author, knew of that usage but I doubt it had any relevance to her use of the term. The earliest use of the term in the relevant sense that I know of, by Rand, is the June 8, 1958 journal entry "Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth".

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The term "subjectivism" had been in use for a couple hundred years before AR as a term denying the existence of an objective reality, also. So, in a lot of texts, everyone who believes in an objective reality-- from the Greeks on down, gets classified (by default) as an objectivist, "object" being the traditional antagonist or counterpart to "subject" in philosophy-- "object" meaning "the percieved" and "subject" meaning "the perciever." So a few philosophers had picked up the term just as a description of one aspect of their philosophy-- holding objective reality as existential and/or knowable. But, before AR, subjectivism had been much more thoroughly defined and defended than had any (at least, post-Kantian) version of objectivism.

If you want a good history of philosophy text, two that I can remember off the top of my head which were recommended by Leonard Peikoff are A History of Philosophy by Wilhelm Windelband, and A History of Western Philosophy by W.T. Jones. I think the Jones book is more geared to beginners than the Windelband book. Also, Piekoff has recommended Philosophic Classics, edited by Walter Kaufmann, which is a selection of primary-source excerpts of philosophy from Thales through Kant. All three of those are reviewed by Peikoff in the September, 1964 issue of The Objectivist.

Also, Peikoff's "History of Philosophy" lecture series is excellent.. Both the "Founders of Western Philsophy, from Thales through Hume" and the "Modern Philosophy from Kant to the Present" set were, at one time (I think), available in book format. But I couldn't track down who's published that, just now. (If I find it later, I'll post it).

Edited by Bold Standard
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Objectivism_(metaphysics) (although this is incredibly badly written)

etc

The word 'objectivism' is used in various different fields to describe theories which roughly assert that certain phenomena are 'objectivive' (ie independent of subjectivity, although what this actually means in practice isnt always clear) - for instance objective metaphysics, moral objectivism, objective theories of meaning in philosophy of language, and so on. It is sometimes fairly synonymous with 'realism' (a realist theory of (eg) universals or mathematics will insist that universals/mathematical objects actually exist, which normally means they are human-independent in some sense).

Specific examples of things I would personally refer to as being objectivist theories include Platonic/Aristotlean metaphysics (universals have mind-independent existence and are 'perceived' by our higher intellectual faculties rather than being created), Kantian ethics (the moral law is universal and independent of any particular human or group of humans, just like that laws of logic), and Fregean/positivistic philosophy of language (sentences have some kind of intrinsic meaning/'sense'. which can be specfied in advance and relatively independently of context). As this list probably shows, objective doesnt always mean 'good'.

edit: the distinction isnt always clear or well-defined, and often the same idea can seem either objectivist or subjectivist depending on how you look at it. Kantian metaphysics/epistemology is a great example of this, with some people being adament that his approach subjectivises pretty much the whole of human reality, with others being equally insistent that his ideas are unrealistically objectivist/universal. The Objectivist (Ayn Rand) theory of concepts, and other broadly conceptualist approaches, dont really fit nicely into either category, since they are based on the (subjective) creation of concepts, guided by similarities that in some sense exist independently of humans.

Edited by Hal
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edit: the distinction isnt always clear or well-defined, and often the same idea can seem either objectivist or subjectivist depending on how you look at it.

That's funny. :D

since they are based on the (subjective) creation of concepts, guided by similarities that in some sense exist independently of humans.

Just to avoid confusion, "subjective" is often taken to mean "created entirely by the subject" or "arbitrary." In that sense, the creation of concepts (in Objectivism) is not subjective. It's a response to what's really "out there," and, historically speaking, this is really where Ayn Rand introduced a brand new meaning for the word "objective."

Traditionally, the argument had been on whether concepts were "subjective" in the sense I just defined, or "intrinsic," meaning that particular concepts followed necessarily from the object and couldn't be organized any other way. That's when Ayn Rand introduced her new concept of "objective," meaning that it's a rational response to sensual evidence. That's probably one of the more important "false dichotomies" of Western Philosophy (subjectivism/intrinsicism) that Ayn Rand (and later Piekoff) spent a lot of time refuting (although I don't know if I explained it in the clearest possible way).

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Also, Peikoff's "History of Philosophy" lecture series is excellent.. Both the "Founders of Western Philsophy, from Thales through Hume" and the "Modern Philosophy from Kant to the Present" set were, at one time (I think), available in book format. But I couldn't track down who's published that, just now. (If I find it later, I'll post it).

I found it. It's being published by George Reisman, edited by Dr. Linda Rearden. Only the first five (out of twenty four) lectures have been published so far, though. They're selling them for 14.95$ per lecture, or all five for 54.75$. At the Ayn Rand Bookstore, you can get the first twelve lectures on CD for 425$, the second twelve for 405$, or all twenty four for 695$. So, looks like the book version is a lot cheaper.

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$15 is pretty ridiculous for a 50 page pamphlet, given that you could pick up the whole of Frederick Copleston's history of philosophy for the cost of 10 Peikoff lectures :/ However I'll probably end up buying one of them when they publish his lectures on later philosophy (eg Hume/Kant) because I'm mildly curious about his writing style.

Edited by Hal
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  • 2 weeks later...

On another interesting note, in English class, I was reading Cyrano De Bergerac and I noticed that Cyrano exhibited many traits that Francisco from Atlas Shrugged did as well. Among these are that he was altogether unwilling to take or give charity, unwilling to stop attacking those who were immoral, and willing to fight them to the death. This book was written in the late 1800's.

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Ooh, yes, Cyrano de Bergerac is one of my favorites! : ) I see similarities between Cyrano and Francisco, too. I know Ayn Rand was a fan of the play. In an article in The Ayn Rand Column from December 16, 1962 (arcol_75 in ORCD) she said this: "Cyrano de Bergerac is a hymn to man's integrity, independence and self-esteem—a magnificent view of man's heroic spirit that remains untouched by suffering and tragedy."

I've heard that Fransisco was in part inspired by the character of Zorro in "The Mask of Zorro" (1920), and there's a great line in that movie where the girl asks him why he won't take off his mask, and he says that maybe he's hiding the face of a de Bergerac (but he's not). :(

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