by Harry Binswanger
Walter Hudson, a columnist at PJ Media, has written a defense of Objectivism against the sad and lame “critique” offered by Bill Whittle and [Somebody] Klavan. I read the comments section, and no one seemed to get the point. So I posted this:
As a professional philosopher, an Objectivist, and an associate of Ayn Rand in her final years, I thank you, Mr. Hudson.
I think there’s something that nobody here is getting: It’s not that Ayn Rand had three or four ideas, and the question is whether or not a given person understands them correctly. Ayn Rand wrote extensively, systematically on hundreds of topics in philosophy, and many in related fields. She developed, over a period decades, a rich, deep, multi-tiered philosophical structure.
I taught “Introduction to Objectivism” in the 70s at The New School for Social Research, here in New York. It was a two-semester course. Later, I taught a graduate course on Objectivism for the Ayn Rand Institute (Yaron Brook was one of my students). It took me *three years* of classes, meeting 3 or 4 times a week, to cover it all.
So y’all have no idea. What can I say to concretize this? Well, first of all “concretize” is an important term in Objectivist–both in its theory of knowledge (epistemology) and its philosophy of art (esthetics). Let me take the latter.
In “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” she writes about how art achieves its impact:
“Out of the countless number of concretes-of single, disorganized and (seemingly) contradictory attributes, actions and entities–an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction.
“For instance, consider two statues of man: one as a Greek god, the other as a deformed Oriental monstrosity. Both are metaphysical estimates of man; both are projections of the artist’s view of man’s nature; both are concretized representations of the philosophy of their respective cultures.
“Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man’s concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.
“This is the psycho-epistemological function of art and the reason of its importance in man’s life (and the crux of the Objectivist esthetics).”
Note that “psycho-epistemology” is her concept. It refers to the implicit, automatized epistemology by which a person operates. She defines it as:
“the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.”
Are you beginning to see who is Ayn Rand?
Now, let’s consider her foundation for an absolute, rational, secular system of morality. Mr. Hudson only hints at it this topic. It’s possible, even in a brief space to do considerably more than that.
Morality, she says, is a code of values–an integrated system of principles telling us how to guide our actions. But guide them toward what? What is the ultimate goal? Is there some *fact of reality* that makes it good to act one way rather than another. Why can’t we just dispense with moral guidance?
Her answer is that there is one fundamental, inescapable fact giving rise to the need for acting *correctly*: the fact of being alive. Life is not guaranteed; certain ways of acting sustain one’s life and others weaken or destroy it.
In fact, the whole realm of values, of good and evil, right and wrong, benefit and injury, need and frustration, rests on and requires that one is judging by reference to the needs of a living being. Absent life–such as on the moon–nothing has any value-significance. On the moon, there is change, but no bettering or worsening. Better and worse, good and evil, etc. is a relation to the life of the acting organism. *Life* is the standard of value.
“It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”
“The standard of *moral* value (value for a being with free-will choice) is Man’s Life qua man. Since reason is man’s fundamental means of survival, this means the standard is Man’s Life qua rational being.”
Now have you read that before? I don’t think so, and as a professor of philosophy who knows the history of philosophy, I think I’m qualified to give an informed opinion. But I’d be delighted to learn of anyone who anticipated her in this line of reasoning.
And if you want to see more about the richness and depth of Objectivism, I can recommend 3 books (only 2 are by me): Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation, by me, and The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, which I compiled from Ayn Rand’s writings. The last can be searched online at aynrandlexicon.org.
Oh, yeah, altruism vs. selflessness Klavan says? Well here is what Ayn Rand says she means by “altruism”:
“Altruism holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.”
— Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is a professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. Dr. Binswanger moderates Harry Binswanger’s List (HBL)–an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues.