Upper-Case "Objectivism". Why?
Today, on his "Verma Report" blog (formerly "For the New Intellectual"), Anoop Verma asks: "Why Objectivism Must Have 'O' Capitalized?"
He says that Chris Matthew Sciabarra "always writes 'Objectivism' with capital 'O.' In the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which he edits, all the authors are required to capitalize the 'O' in Objectivism." In personal correspondence, I had mentioned to Anoop that one of the reasons Rand capitalized her system, "Objectivism," was to distinguish it between classical (lower-case 'o') objectivism and traditional subjectivism. If Rand had not capitalized Objectivism, she would have been lumped together with all the other classical objectivists in history, and that would have been incorrect, from a categorical perspective. She was quite explicitly opposed to classical objectivism, which didn’t allow for agent-relative perception. All things are perceived objectively by a mind that allows us to view reality in a certain form, dictated by the organs of our perception. For Rand, the organs of our perception did not distort reality, as the classical objectivists would have maintained; they were the only means of grasping reality in a certain form. We do not acquire knowledge by some ineffable means to grasp the object (classical objectivism); and we do not distort the objects of reality by use of our organs of perception (automatic) or by defining and categorizing them arbitrarily, as the subjectivists would claim. We acquire knowledge of the objects of reality in a certain form as dictated by the nature of our own means of perceiving and identifying those objects; this is an objective reality as understood by a knowing subject.
But I've also looked at "Objectivism" in a more "hermeneutical" fashion, ever since the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was first published back in 1995 (it went into a second edition in 2013). I'll quote the relevant passages (I've eliminated the citations and references, which can be found in the published source):
In my view, there are distinctions between the "orthodox" interpreters of Rand's thought and those who can be termed "neo-Objectivists." The orthodox thinkers see Rand's philosophy as closed and complete. The neo-Objectivists accept certain basic principles, while expanding, modifying, or revising other aspects of Rand's thought. The "neo-Objectivist" label is not employed critically; for history, I believe, will describe all these thinkers simply as "Objectivists." Nevertheless, Rand did not sanction all of the developments proceeding from her influence. In the case of Nathaniel Branden, for instance, although Rand enthusiastically approved his theoretical work while he was her associate, she repudiated his subsequent efforts.
A later dispute between Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley centered on the question of what precisely constitutes the philosophy of Objectivism. Adopting an orthodox, "closed-system" approach, Peikoff has stated: "'Objectivism' is the name of Ayn Rand's philosophy as presented in the material she herself wrote or endorsed." Peikoff excludes from "official Objectivist doctrine" both his own work after Rand's death and Rand's unedited, unpublished lectures and journals, since she "had no opportunity to see or approve" of the material. Peikoff follows Rand's own pronouncements. At the time of the Branden schism, Rand maintained (in 1968) that she was a theoretician of Objectivism, which she characterized as "a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name." She claimed that it was her "right and responsibility" to defend the system's integrity, and she renounced any "organized movement" in her name.
Twelve years after this "statement of policy," when a magazine called The Objectivist Forum was established, Rand approved the journal as "a forum for students of Objectivism to discuss their ideas, each speaking only for himself." Rand stated that the magazine was neither the "official voice" of her philosophy nor her "representative" or "spokesman." Rand explained further that those who agree with certain tenets of Objectivism but disagree with others should give proper acknowledgment "and then indulge in any flights of fancy [they] wish, on [their] own." Anyone using the name of "Objectivism" for his own "philosophical hodgepodge . . . is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain (or of trying to pass his thinking off as mine---an attempt which fails, for obvious reasons). I chose the name 'Objectivism' at a time when my philosophy was beginning to be known and some people were starting to call themselves 'Randists.' I am much too conceited to allow such a use of my name." Upholding the consistency of her system as one of its virtues, Rand opposed the practice of those philosophers who "regard philosophy as a verb, not a noun (they are not studying or creating philosophy, they are ‘doing’ it)."
Thus Peikoff's interpretation of Objectivism as a "closed system" clearly mirrors Rand’s own view. By contrast, David Kelley views Objectivism as an "open system":
A philosophy defines a school of thought, a category of thinkers who subscribe to the same principles. In an open philosophy, members of the school may differ among themselves over many issues within the framework of the basic principles they accept.
The evolution of academic Marxist thought illustrates Kelley's point clearly. In defining the essence of contemporary Marxism, it is impossible to disconnect the statements of Karl Marx from the multiple interpretations constructed over the past century. These interpretations are as much a logical development of Marx's methods and theories as they are a reflection of the particular historical, social, and personal contexts of his interpreters. The interpretations also reflect different periods in Marx's own development. Some scholars stress the earlier, more "humanistic" Marx, whereas others argue for an economistic interpretation based on his mature works. Most scholars would agree, however, that one cannot detach Marx's unpublished writings from the corpus of his thought. Indeed, the great bulk of Marx's work was issued posthumously. For example, Marx's Grundrisse, composed of seven unedited workbooks, was first published in the twentieth century. It provides a cornucopia of material from which one can reconstruct his method of inquiry as a distinct "moment" (or aspect) of his dialectical approach. The Grundrisse is an essential complement to and reflection on Marx's published exposition in Capital.
In addition, a Marxist scholar cannot neglect the plethora of interpretive twists resulting from the combination of Marx's theories with compatible approaches in psychology, anthropology, and sociology. What has emerged is a scholarly industry that must take account of structuralist, phenomenological, critical, and analytical approaches, to name but a few. Finally, we have been presented with different philosophical interpretations of the "real" Karl Marx: the Aristotelian Marx, the Kantian Marx, the Hegelian Marx, and the Leninist Marx. None of these developments alter the essential body of theory that Marx proposed in his lifetime. One can empathize with the innovative theorist who, jealously guarding his discoveries, aims to protect the "purity" of the doctrine. Ironically, Rand suggests a spiritual affinity with Marx on this issue. She remembers that upon hearing the "outrageous statements" made by some of his "Marxist" followers, Marx exclaimed: "But I am not a Marxist."
Nevertheless, although one can debate whether a particular philosophy is "closed" or "open," scholarship must consider the many theoretical developments emerging over time directly or indirectly from the innovator’s authentic formulations. Much of current intellectual history focuses not on the ideas of the innovator, but rather, on the evolution of the ideas and on the context in which the ideas emerged and developed. As W. W. Bartley argues, the affirmation of a theory involves many logical implications that are not immediately apparent to the original theorist. In Bartley's words, "The informative content of any idea includes an infinity of unforeseeable nontrivial statements." The creation of mathematics for instance, "generates problems that are wholly independent of the intentions of its creators."
In this book, I have adopted a similarly hermeneutical approach. The principles of this scholarly technique were sketched by Paul Ricoeur in his classic essay, "The Model of the Text." Ricoeur maintains that a text is detached from its author and develops consequences of its own. In so doing, it transcends its relevance to its initial situation and addresses an indefinite range of possible readers. Hence, the text must be understood not only in terms of the author's context but also in the context of the multiple interpretations that emerge during its subsequent history.
I do not mean to suggest that Rand's ideas lack objective validity, that is, validity independent of the interpretations of others. Ultimately, one must judge the validity of any idea by its correspondence to reality and/or its explanatory power. But to evaluate the truthfulness of a philosophic formulation is not the only legitimate task of scholarship. Indeed, my primary purpose in this study as an intellectual historian and political theorist is not to demonstrate either the validity or the falsity of Rand's ideas. Rather, it is to shed light on her philosophy by examining the context in which it was both formulated and developed. In this book I attempt to grasp Rand's Objectivism as a text developing over time. As a concept, "Objectivism" is open-ended; it contains its history and its future. It must be understood in terms of both its historical origins and its post-Randian evolution. The existential conditions from which it emerged and to which it speaks are in large part what give it its very significance. So, too, its meaning continues to unfold through a clash of interpretations offered by followers and critics alike. By clarifying these conditions and factors, I hope to provide an enriched appreciation of Rand's contributions.
Such an assertion might imply that I claim to have grasped the implications of Objectivism even more thoroughly than did Rand herself. Although I would never presume to such intellectual hubris, it is true, nonetheless, that Rand could not have explored the full implications of her philosophy in her lifetime. Such a task is reserved necessarily for succeeding generations of scholars.
I know this is not the way Objectivists would approach the study of Rand's contributions; but then again, I've never claimed to be an Objectivist (at least not without significant qualification); I've been influenced by too many theorists, from Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Aristotle and Ayn Rand, to be pinned down to any one school. I've embraced the term "dialectical libertarianism", and have taken my lumps in doing so. But, for now, there are few people out there claiming to be "dialectical libertarians," so I don't think I'm in any danger of needing to jealously guard the intellectual niche I've carved out for myself. But one thing I'd never do is claim that my own philosophical hodgepodge is anything but my own. As I once wrote, citing an old Spanish proverb that Nathaniel Branden was fond of quoting:
I’m adhering to the old Spanish proverb that says: "Take what you want, and pay for it." I’m taking what I want from Rand’s legacy, and paying for it---by assuming responsibility for my own interpretations and applications. Call me a Randian or a post-Randian or a neo-Objectivist or an advocate of Objectivism 2.0, or even the founder of Sciabarra-ism. But don’t call me an Objectivist. I agree with Rand’s core principles. But I have never argued that my own innovations (on subjects like dialectics or homosexuality) are part of "Objectivism" as Rand . . . defines it. Yes, I do believe that my own viewpoint is fully consistent with Objectivism. And on the subject of dialectics, for example, I’ve even argued that Rand herself was a dialectician as I’ve defined it. But I would never argue that Rand embraced "dialectics" as such, explicitly and by that name. Ultimately, I believe that I’m carrying on Rand’s legacy in many substantive ways and the burden is on me to prove it.
I think I've done that job in my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism and in many subsequent essays over the last two decades. But in the end, I'll let future generations of scholars have at it, to debate whether I got it right or wrong. However, I ain't dead yet. And there's lots more to come.