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On The Nozickian Non-Argument: Robert Nozick’s Failure To Grasp Ayn Rand’s Ideas

Forbes quotes a Ph.,d. candidate writing for Quora. Aside from the author using words like “nuanced” and “remarkably sensitive” — something which the author’s post is neither — the post is of little value as it simply sets up a second handed, straw man  attack of Ayn Rand’s ideas. As a purportedly professional academic, the author examines criticisms of Ayn Rand’s thought, without seeking to examine the actual material for Ayn Rand’s thought itself! In other words the author is dealing in academic gossip.

What is of value are some of the responses, most notably by philosopher Dr. Harry Binswanger of HBL, which we present here:

After a lifetime of teaching Rand’s philosophy inside and outside the universities, I can say (and prove) that she wins the debate with Nozick.

Nozick’s criticisms of her proof of life as the standard of value reflect a total misreading of what she says. (I spoke to Nozick about this many years ago, and sent him a 6 page single-spaced letter on the subject. He said he hoped to read it eventually, but had too big a pile on his desk to get to it “soon.” I guess he never did get to it.)

Here’s the error in Nozick and this site’s post: Rand’s argument is NOT that you have to be alive in order to act. Everyone knows that trivial point. Her argument is that life–and only life–is what brings the phenomenon of values into existence.

Apart from the alternative of staying alive or going out of existence, there are only facts, not values, not good and evil, not helpful or harmful. A living organism’s need to act in order to survive is gives rise to the whole phenomenon of “good for” and “bad for,” “beneficial” and “harmful,” “valuable,” and “disvaluable” etc.

In Atlas Shrugged (no less) she states “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.” To support this, she gives in The Virtue of Selfishness the killer example of an immortal, indestructible robot which is impervious to all affects of its actions. Such a robot could move and “act” but could have no goals or values. Nothing could be good for it or bad for it. Facing no alternative in its own condition, it could have no “stake” in the outcome of its actions. This illustrates how “value” depends upon the agent facing an alternative in its condition–the fundamental such alternative being its continued existence as an acting agent (life) or ceasing to exist as such (death).

Nozick further misunderstands her proof’s methodology. The key steps of it are not deductive but inductive. In fact, the Objectivist epistemology holds that all new knowledge is inductive–deduction is essentially for the application of existing knowledge to new concretes. That view in itself is a radical departure from the (ironically) Platonic “methodology” of contemporary philosophers, who are mostly Empiricist in regard to the content of their ideas.

Rand’s thought is much more profound than that of her critics, who are playing games around the periphery without even grasping the fundamentals.

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