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Ayn Rand's use of language

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Marty McFly
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Ayn Rand’s vocabulary does not sit right with me.

For example, she uses the word “masses” a lot (to describe incompetent people, I think)

I don’t agree with Ayn Rand about her definition of “the Masses”. She claims that the masses stupid and easy to sway. She claims that the masses are “second handers”who have no thoughts of their own, but who think only what others think and what others want them to think.

I do not agree with this.

Let’s first look at the definition of Masses: A lot of people. But then a lot of people are the product of many INDIVIDUALS. Alot of individuals equal to “the masses”

While there are some parasites, like Peter Keating, in the world, most people can, and do think for themselves. I think Peter, Jim, and certainly Toohey are a crazy exaggeration. I never met anyone who fits the description of any of them. I have, however met many Dagnys, Reardens, Kiras, Galinas, even Roarks. I refuse to believe that the world holds even one Toohey, let alone thousands of them, to make up her “masses”. Most people are neither Roark, nor Keating, but a combination of both.

Another word that bothers me is “greed”. If you look up the definition of “GREED” in the dictionary, you will find that it means excessive desire (mostly of material things) that one does not need or deserve.

Do you think Hank Rearden does not DESERVE the riches he got from his mills? Do you think John Galt would not DESERVE the fame and fortune he would have gotten from an invention like the electric motor? (BTW who DID invent the electric motor of today’s trains?) So why does she call them “greedy”?! It’s the bums who are greedy. It’s the people who don’t work, but expect to get paid by the rich producers for doing nothing! They should be called greedy in her novels. She totally confuses the words!

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She claims that the masses stupid and easy to sway. She claims that the masses are “second handers”who have no thoughts of their own, but who think only what others think and what others want them to think.
You might try reading some of her novels and paying attention to context when she uses the term: see who is saying it, and what they are saying about "the masses".
Another word that bothers me is “greed”. If you look up the definition of “GREED” in the dictionary, you will find that it means excessive desire (mostly of material things) that one does not need or deserve.
Another example. You could use the search function to find the recent thread about her use of the word "greed". I mean, you'd think. Edited by DavidOdden
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Another word that bothers me, but in a different way, is the way she uses the word "selfish". I do agree that people who have no sense of self cannot be good people, but a guy like Jim, for example, IS selfish; in a different way, of course. He is greedy, too.

People like Jim are selfish in a certain way, but it is not the dominant thread of their character. They are by nature second-handers who look to others to create their mental "self" even if they do desire the aquisition of physical or material goods.

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Another word that bothers me, but in a different way, is the way she uses the word "selfish". I do agree that people who have no sense of self cannot be good people, but a guy like Jim, for example, IS selfish; in a different way, of course. He is greedy, too.

Have you read "Selfishness without a self?" Ayn Rand was deliberately making the point that people like that are not selfish. Peter Keating was specifically meant to define this fact.

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If you look up the definition of “GREED” in the dictionary, you will find that it means excessive desire (mostly of material things) that one does not need or deserve.

What is "the dictionary"? Which dictionary? Published by whom, and when? What standards employed by those defining the words in this dictionary were superior to Ayn Rand's, and why?

Edited by Bold Standard
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What is "the dictionary"? Which dictionary? Published by whom, and when? What standards employed by those defining the words in this dictionary were superior to Ayn Rand's, and why?
These are excellent questions, and need to be followed up on. Two theories of the relationship between words and meaning are that either (1) there is an intrinsic, natural relation between a word and its meaning or (2) the relationship between word and meaning is completely arbitrary and trivially mutable. Both theories are false, although many people tend to believe theory (2). Words serve two related purposed in cognition: they are the symbolic units that allow concepts to exist, and they allow us to express propositions in an objective manner that others can grasp. For the first purpose, it's unimportant whether you call a spade a spade, or an elephant; for the second purpose, it is. A proper dictionary, then, objectively reports the meaning -- the denotation, reference -- of words as they are actually used in the society where the language is spoken.

You will then also find that Rand uses words, for example "selfish", according to their standard meaning, as reported by the best dictionaries of the language. Those would be the Oxford English Dictionary, Webster's Third Unabridged, and the American Heritage Dictionary. Best lexicographic practice is to not confuse connotation and denotation, i.e. the dictionary should not confuse attitute with fact, as can happen in some dictionary definitions of words like "selfish".

As was already discussed in the greedy thread, there are no objectively specifiable referents for the anti-concept "greedy", which is why Rand mocks the word.

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I don’t agree with Ayn Rand about her definition of “the Masses”. She claims that the masses stupid and easy to sway. She claims that the masses are “second handers”who have no thoughts of their own, but who think only what others think and what others want them to think.

I do not agree with this.

Let’s first look at the definition of Masses: A lot of people. But then a lot of people are the product of many INDIVIDUALS. Alot of individuals equal to “the masses”

Rand goes back and forth on this issue. Sometimes she looks upon the common person with respect, and sometimes she carries a more negative view of mankind. Her sentiments probably just fluctuated with her moods, as i'm sure we can all relate.

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Rand goes back and forth on this issue. Sometimes she looks upon the common person with respect, and sometimes she carries a more negative view of mankind. Her sentiments probably just fluctuated with her moods, as i'm sure we can all relate.
That's plain false. Have you read any of Rand's writing?
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Her sentiments probably just fluctuated with her moods, as i'm sure we can all relate.

This is an insulting comment and it isn't even tolerated in the Debate section. What evidence do you have that she had fluctuating moods and/or sentiments with particulars on how and where her writing was impacted by such things?

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[Rand] claims that the masses [are] stupid.

["The masses"] are ... a combination of [Roark and Keating].

Aren't these two statements equivalent?

If you look up the definition of “GREED” in the dictionary, you will find that it means excessive desire (mostly of material things) that one does not need or deserve.
Is it possible to deserve something that one does not need?

And is it possible to earn something that one does not deserve?

If they aren't possible, then why should one accept these bad premises as possible by accepting the bad definition?

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Aren't these two statements equivalent?

no, they aren't. if the masses are a combination of Keating and Roark (and Dagny, and Rearden, and Jim too) that means that they are not easily swayed. it means that, although they do take other's oppinions into consideration (like Keating and Jim - and yeas, even Rearden) they can and do think for themselves.

Just the fact that "Fountainhead" did so well and sold so many books, SHOWs that the comman man is not stupid at all. the publishers didn't want to publish it, but the masses gobbled it when it was finnally published. this proves that there are a FEW individuals who are stupid and try to brainwash thier stupidity on others, while the masses are smart and capable, and know what's good for them, despite what the few idiots try to do.

Is it possible to deserve something that one does not need?

And is it possible to earn something that one does not deserve?

If they aren't possible, then why should one accept these bad premises as possible by accepting the bad definition?

Edited by Marty McFly
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This is an insulting comment and it isn't even tolerated in the Debate section. What evidence do you have that she had fluctuating moods and/or sentiments with particulars on how and where her writing was impacted by such things?

Not her writing. Refer to Ayn Rand Answeres: The Best of Her Q & A to see what i'm talking about.

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Just the fact that "Fountainhead" did so well and sold so many books, SHOWs that the comman man is not stupid at all.
Is a man stupid (irrational?) if he reads The Fountainhead on weekends and the bible on weekdays? If not, then what qualifies as "stupid"?

I would note that I doubt that Rand was defining "masses" in whatever piece you're referencing. I doubt she was saying that the masses, no matter where or when, are definitionally stupid, but rather that, here and now, these masses are stupid.

As for my reply about greed, your definition can mean quite different things

  • You are greedy. (You desire money that you deserve but don't need.)
  • You are greedy. (You desire money that you don't deserve.)

Was, by your definition, Rearden "greedy" when, on his first lowly job, he desired material goods? He certainly needed them, and it can't be said that he deserved something he hadn't yet earned.

So would it be better for him to accept a definition that alternates as insultingly false and technically true?

Or use his own definition that actually makes sense?

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You are making really annoying and unsubstantiated accusations. You need to either back up your charges right here and now, or apologize and shut up.

:(

Seriously? Is this a joke? Marty disliked the fact that Rand considered the masses, "Stupid and easy to sway." To say that Rand really thought this all the time would be to imply that she held a malevolent universe premise, which of course is not true.

One character in her novels that held such a premise was Dominique. And Rand said, "Dominique is me on a bad day (or in a bad mood)." (taken from bernstein's lecture on Neitzsche, in which he references that quotation two or three times)

I cannot find my copy of Ayn Rand Answers, but when I do i'll be sure to quote different examples on where she fluctuates on this topic.

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Is a man stupid (irrational?) if he reads The Fountainhead on weekends and the bible on weekdays? If not, then what qualifies as "stupid"?

no, this certainly does not qualify stupid. a man usually wants to learn all there is out there. does a man need to be a full fledged Objectivist in order to be not stupid? wouldn't that be alot worse to follow Ayn Rand blindly? if a person was raised relligious, wouldn't he still want to read his own scriptures, just to decide for himself what is the right way for him? Anyone who reads "fountainhead" and "Atlas shrugged",, and the next thing he knows, he is a complete objectivist, is not any better that a man blindly following relligion, or blindly following the propaganda of the times.

One should never blindly follow anyone. not even Ayn Rand.

I would note that I doubt that Rand was defining "masses" in whatever piece you're referencing. I doubt she was saying that the masses, no matter where or when, are definitionally stupid, but rather that, here and now, these masses are stupid.

maybe the masses in her stories were stupid, which brings me to another point. I think her stories are grossly exaggerated. I understand that she did it to prove a point, but still. I don't beleive any of them can be true ( with the exception of "We the Living") the most exaggerated was Anthem - come on! I was laughing when I finished that tiny book!

But then maybe she did mean the masses of the time. after all, we've come a long way since the 1940's and much of it is probably thanks to her!

As for my reply about greed, your definition can mean quite different things
  • You are greedy. (You desire money that you deserve but don't need.)
  • You are greedy. (You desire money that you don't deserve.)

Was, by your definition, Rearden "greedy" when, on his first lowly job, he desired material goods? He certainly needed them, and it can't be said that he deserved something he hadn't yet earned.

OK, that's a good question. would you be greedy if you want something you can't yet have, but are able to work for it? I'm starting to see why she mocked the word. :)

:nuke:

Seriously? Is this a joke? Marty disliked the fact that Rand considered the masses, "Stupid and easy to sway." To say that Rand really thought this all the time would be to imply that she held a malevolent universe premise, which of course is not true.

One character in her novels that held such a premise was Dominique. And Rand said, "Dominique is me on a bad day (or in a bad mood)." (taken from bernstein's lecture on Neitzsche, in which he references that quotation two or three times)

I cannot find my copy of Ayn Rand Answers, but when I do i'll be sure to quote different examples on where she fluctuates on this topic.

Ha I can see how one will become a Dominique on a bad day LOL :lol: My mother is like that

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Maybe the masses in her stories were stupid, which brings me to another point. ... but then maybe she did mean the masses of the time. after all, we've come a long way since the 1940's and much of it is probably thanks to her!
As far as I remember, Rand never made a big deal about the stupidity of the masses, so to speak. In fact, it is interesting that when Objectivists from ARI come to speak at colleges, there are often some budding socialists who are sceptical on the grounds that Objectivism might work if people were bright and could look out for their self-interest, but since the masses are mostly sheep, they need intelligent government telling them what to do.

The "masses" simply means "the majority of people". In actual fact, the bulk of people are not stupid in an IQ sense. However, when it comes to the way they approach Philosophy they mostly accept what they get from their culture, first from their parents and then from their high-school and college experiences. As for things improving since 1940, I'm not sure what you mean.

I think her stories are grossly exaggerated. I understand that she did it to prove a point, but still. I don't believe any of them can be true ( with the exception of "We the Living") the most exaggerated was Anthem - come on! I was laughing when I finished that tiny book!
Since you don't say if you were laughing for joy at the wonder that such a cool book could be written, I'll leave that part without comment. As for the stories being exaggerated: would you say they're exaggerated in the sense that Harry Potter is an exaggerated story? If not, then in what sense do you think it is exaggerated? It isn't clear if you think the "stupidty of the masses" is the exaggerated part or if you think the heroism is exaggerated.
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What is wrong with excessive desires beyond "need"? We don't need to get water from the tap, we can always dig it up like a poor villager in Africa but its thanks to men being rationally greedy that we get modern plumbing. When I explain my use of the words "greed", "selfishness", and "ego", three virtues that Objectivism holds, I have to use rational as an adjective to explain it to people who have not really studied Objectivism. Rand did this as well, if you notice in a lot of interviews, take the Donahue ones for example she always has to do the common "By that, I mean" and then backtrack and say "Rational Egoism", etc... The reason why she or any other rational person in the world doesn't say "Rational Greed, Ego, Selfishness,etc..." is because you shouldn't have to. Rationality is not and shouldn't be an exception, it should be the default when it comes to the definition. So if I say, "that is greedy" you should assume I'm referring to some being rationally greedy, not irrationally greedy.

What is "irrational greed"? Irrational Greed is the second definition you presented, "excessive desire (mostly of material things) that one does not need or deserve." This is irrational because you aren't respecting the concept of truth and justice. If you set out to get something (an end) without any honest means to do so than you are making it right for any other man to do so, then you find yourself in an abyss of hypocrisy and abstracts because you aren't following the concept of truth and justice. For an example, killing your best friend to get a job that he is next in line for and you are right behind him. You aren't following a concept of ones metaphysical right to live freely, thus denying your right to live freely because you are contributing to the idea of this concept being impeded upon.

I think alot of the comments so far are pretty dead on but I think one of the keypoints to make clear is Rand's use of language. Some of the most important and beautiful words such as the Ego, Selfish, and Greed have such a huge stigma due to altruistic ideas that is must be made clear in a rational way.

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I understand that she did it to prove a point, but still. I don't beleive any of them can be true ( with the exception of "We the Living") the most exaggerated was Anthem - come on! I was laughing when I finished that tiny book!

Are you aware that Ayn Rand was born in Czarist Russia, and lived there/escaped during the reign of Stalin [edit: that is, during the Communist period]? If you ever study what life is like in brutal dictatorships like Russia was at the time, you might be surprised how much like Anthem real life can be (and has been, and is, in some parts of the world). But more than that--Anthem serves a different literary purpose. The society portreyed in Anthem is the type of society that many people today and throughout history actually consider to be the ideal society. If you don't believe me (and are interested), try reading Plato's Republic, or Thomas More's Utopia, or even Marx and Engels' The Communist Manifesto for that matter. Every social principle and law at work in the society portrayed in Anthem can be found in one of those three books--even down to the thing about the mating rituals! So Ayn Rand's book works to show what such a society would really be like, and what it would mean for the people who actually matter (the heroes in the book).

Edited by Bold Standard
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Seriously? Is this a joke? Marty disliked the fact that Rand considered the masses, "Stupid and easy to sway."
Very serious, and I can't believe you would even question it. Since you take it to be a "fact", you then should provide the proof that Rand considered the masses stupid and easy to sway, if you are going to echo the accusation. Objectivism is the philosophy that takes existence, and its nature, to be primary -- we don't arrive at an arbitrary conclusion based on emotion and then ignore whether the conclusion corresponds in some twisted way to reality. The fundamental motto in argumentation is "Put up or shut up". So put up.
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