AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

AYN RAND:THE RUSSIAN RADICAL

ONLINE REVIEWS

DAVID S. ROSS, AYN-RAND@IUBVM.UCS.INDIANA


With everyone commenting on Chris Sciabarra's book, I thought I'd put in my two cents. Chris's central thesis is that Rand was a "dialectical" thinker. I do not think that he has established this. In fact, "dialectical" is in scare quotes because I don't see how this term, as used in The Russian Radical, refers to an actual logical method. However, I do agree that Rand is properly characterized in terms of method; her views on epistemology and metaphysics, and the logic that follows from these, are essential, her views on social issues and ethics and other matters are consequences. (She said of herself that she was not primarily an advocate of capitalism or egoism, but of reason.) Thus, it is crucial that we be clear about just what her method is. Rand's method is based on the primacy of existence: Reality exists and has identity independent of our awareness of it. Consciousness is metaphysically passive. But consciousness itself is an existent, and thus has identity; consciousness is epistemologically active. The nature of consciousness determines the forms of awareness. Perceptual level awareness is automatic. Thus there is no question of its being wrong, it is simply given. But conceptual level awareness is volitional. At this level, we make choices about how to sort out and integrate perceptual data, and these choices can be wrong; we're fallible. Rand's method, therefore, is to always check reality, as given perceptually, to ensure that our abstract conclusions conform to the facts. Rand defined her method--logic--as the art of non-contradictory identification.

The emphasis on identifying facts is clear in Peikoff's identification of reduction and integration as the two central techniques of logic. Reduction is the direct tracing back of an idea to its perceptual bases. Integration is the checking of the consonance of an idea with other ideas--other ideas that one has presumably based on facts; things really are just one way, so if one of your ideas is that they're a certain way, and another is that they're not, you have erred. In evaluating an idea, there is only one fundamental question: does the idea conform to the facts? And in forming ideas, there is only one legitimate procedure: look at the facts, all of the relevant facts, and only the facts, and differentiate and integrate on the basis of real criteria. Rand not only advocated this method, she used it consciously and consistently. Her analysis of values, her arguments for the necessity of ethics and art to human life, her defense of rights, her analysis of anti-concepts, are powerful examples. David Kelley pointed out at this year's IOS seminar--in the course of using this method himself in his ground-breaking analysis of the virtue of benevolence--that Rand presents each of the specific virtues by detailing the facts that give rise to it. It was Rand's in-principle and in-practice dedication to grounding her ideas in direct perceptual awareness of reality that caused her to get things right.

Is the method that I just outlined the dialectic method that Chris is talking about? I don't think so. For one thing, if Chris could show that Hegel and Marx were advocating or using anything like this method, we--Objectivists, Hegelians, and Marxists alike--would be amazed. More importantly, nothing in Chris's discussion of dialectic in The Russian Radical sounds at all like the method I just described. Unless I read sloppily, there was no definite characterization of the dialectic method, the method that Chris claims Rand shared with Hegel, Marx and Aristotle. There are, as I understand Chris, two main features of the dialectic method: 1. The rejection of dualism, which is accomplished by an operation called transcendence. Given ideas A and B, a dialectic thinker may transcend them to arrive at another idea, C. Transcendence is also used to refer to the relation between the idea C and the ideas A and B. 2. Integrating the ideas in a philosophical system. Integration is clear to me. Transcendence is not. There is no definition by genus and differentia of either transcendence or dialectic in The Russian Radical.   Such definitions are required, however, if Chris wants to defend, or even explain, his thesis about Rand. I hope that Chris will provide us with such definitions. Moreover, in reading the book, I was not able to infer just what the operation/relation of transcendence is. So I have more questions. It appears that transcendence, the operation, is the logical machinations that take one from, say, subjectivism and intrinsicism to objectivism on the issue of concepts. And it seems that transcendence, the relation, is the relation in which objectivism stands to subjectivism and intrinsicism. Logical relations among ideas, to be valid, must correspond to real relations among things. To what, in reality, does transcendence refer? What facts underly it? How would I perform the operation? Much of the discussion in the book suggests that if A transcends B and C, then A is true, B and C false, but in one place Chris says that B and C need not be false, so how does transcendence relate to the truth values of the relata? What conditions must a pair of ideas meet to be candidates for transcendence? Chris writes of dialectic often as if it is a method by which a true idea can be inferred from false ones, as if one can arrive at an identification from two failed attempts at identification, how can that be? Finally, how does dialectic relate to Rand's method of objective logic that I described above?

This is the crucial question, and it is one to which I did not find an answer in The Russian Radical. All Objectivists have been pained by gross misrepresentations of Rand, misrepresentations by undergraduates and by Harvard professors, by libertarian philosophers and by Nobel Prize winners. These misrepresentations all derive from someone's addressing certain of Rand's positions without grasping her method. I have never known a case in which someone grasped Rand's method, yet disagreed with her on some major issue. If Objectivism is going to change the culture for the better, it is the method of objective logic that we must use, present, explain, and defend. We must be absolutely clear on what this method is and why it is right. Therefore, I think that if we can't get a precise definition of dialectic, and a detailed picture of how it relates to objectivity, we should avoid associating it with Objectivism.


Sciabarra's Response to Ross Click here to view the Author's response

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