SCIABARRA RESPONDS TO THE CRITICS
A POST TO THE ALT.PHILOSOPHY.OBJECTIVISM NEWSGROUP IN ANSWER TO THOSE RAISING QUESTIONS ABOUT JOHN RIDPATH'S "REVIEW" OF RUSSIAN RADICAL
"RIDPATH AND RUSHDIE"
Sciabarra writes: "I've already been condemned as an academic 'deconstructionist' by one 'reviewer' -- but the truth is that I am not a deconstructionist."
A commentator asks: "But isn't this the predominant methodological mode of academia today? How can the methodology employed in your book, qua modern academic product, be divorced from the ideological context in which it arose?"
Sciabarra responds: "Deconstructionism argues, at least in its most popular variety, that the hermeneutical interpretation of texts in terms of their context, and in terms of their interpretation over time by others, is the only legitimate scholarly endeavor, and furthermore, that there is no such thing as truth, validity-testing, or objectivity. While my book is based on a 'hermeneutical' type method, because I think that textual and con-textual interpretation are legitimate scholarly projects, I do not believe that there is no such thing as truth, validity-testing, or objectivity. And I state as much in the book: (p. 7) '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.'
The commentator asks: "Isn't it incumbent on the reviewer to root your work firmly in the surrounding context in which it arose, even if the content of your work (admiration of Rand) is diametrically opposed to the content of those whom you claim to disagree with (the anti-reality, anti-meaning, anti-objectivity deconstructionists)?"
Sciabarra responds: "The reviewer who called me a 'deconstructionist' -- and we shant hide that fact here -- was Dr. John Ridpath, in one of the most venomous pieces of theatrical hyperbole that I've ever seen written about my book. It was filled with such hostility, and such blatant fear of alternative viewpoints that it was simply not worth responding to. Any review which begins by calling my book 'grotesque' and ends with a tirade against its significance (Dr. Ridpath uses words like 'worthless,' claiming that it offers 'nothing of significance' about Objectivism or Ayn Rand) -- is not a review at all, but the makings of an Objectivist jihad against non-traditional thinkers like myself. That's fine. If some would like to demonize me, and make me the Salmon Rushdie of Objectivism, that's no problem at all. They are only fueling the controversy and fueling the sales of my book. As to the substantive point of rooting my work in its context -- there is nothing wrong with rooting my work within a context of scholarship, provided that the reviewer doesn't equate my work with the context. In my own examination of Rand, I warn explicitly against such reductionism, and examine the degree to which Rand not merely absorbed material from the surrounding culture, but transcended it, and triumphed over it. In many ways, my book uses contemporary academic methodologies to undermine the very collectivist-statist content that they are often wedded to. It is like beating the adversary at his or her own game, if you will.
The commentator asks: "Is it the content of the method of 'deconstructionism' you disagree with, or do you agree with the method used to derive that content (namely the method of deconstructionism), and merely eschew that method, which is fundamentally different from your method (such that you are not a deconstructionist) but which is nevertheless the same in its essentials anyway, abstracting away content? I am simply following what seem to be logical implications of your premise."
Sciabarra responds: "Again, there is nothing wrong with a hermeneutical examination of texts or philosophies. I don't 'eschew' such a method -- I merely believe that such a method, valuable as it is, is not the only method of analyzing something, nor is it likely to yield the only legitimate conclusions about something. I state in my epilogue that mine is only one vantage point on Objectivism, taken through the lens of history and methodology, but that there are other legitimate ways to look at Objectivism. I believe, however, that my own approach is more in 'sync' with the Objectivist theory of concept-formation. I treat 'Objectivism' itself as a concept, albeit an 'open-ended' concept -- a concept that contains its history and its future, a concept that must never be disconnected from the context which enriches its meaning. And that meaning, at least partially, has unfolded over time, through a clash of interpretations offered by followers and critics of Rand. That is the nature of how human knowledge often evolves -- over time, and in dynamic dialogue thrashing out conceptual implications. This in no way indicts the truth-content of the philosophy -- it merely seeks to understand that philosophy in terms that are not primarily 'logical' or 'existential,' but 'methodological,' 'historical' and 'contextual.' Nor am I asserting that there is a contradiction between these factors -- but we all operate in a society that is based upon the intellectual division of labor, and I leave it to others -- Peikoff, Ridpath, and company -- to fight the other battle. Rand herself recognized the legitimacy of taking a 'scholarly' approach that was removed from claims of 'validity.' She writes to John Hospers in Letters (p. 506):
Present the best, strongest, most authentic arguments tying morality to religion that you can find, in the words of their actual advocates . . . and then, as answer and antidote, include in your book a presentation of my ethics. This would allow you to maintain the position of an impartial, critical observer and let me be the antagonist of religious doctrines, which I am known to be anyway.
And later, (p. 541):
I would much prefer to see Objectivism presented to the philosophical profession by you, rather than by myself -- for the obvious reason that a presentation by you would lend it more objectivity in the eyes of the readers. This does not mean, of course, that I expect you to endorse Objectivism nor to announce yourself as agreeing with it; what I would find extremely important and valuable would be an objective, precise, impartial presentation of my ideas -- and as to the comments on them, that would be entirely up to you.
I quote from Rand here, for a single reason: not to equate myself with the distinguished John Hospers, but to show that Rand herself, believed that scholarly presentation removed from "agreement with" her philosophy was a legitimate task. Commentators such as Dr. Ridpath seem to indict academic presentations per se, since he criticizes those of us who are out to 'impress' our colleagues with 'serious' treatments of Ayn Rand. I think it is a bit of historical irony, in keeping with my own thesis, that so many 'orthodox' thinkers are still attempting to remain separate from the academy. In the vast history of Russian philosophy, philosophy as a discipline wasn't even allowed to be taught in the universities, and then, when it was allowed, only classical thinkers in the ancient world were examined. Genuine social critics were always outside the academy, and indeed, it was a badge of honor to be outside since the inside was so corrupted, and was a virtual court intelligentsia for the ruling class. I think there is legitimate room for scholars inside and outside of the academy, and I think it is simply wasteful to indict those of us on the inside for not being on the outside. "