Rand on Biology and Egoism: A Reply to Mozes

I deeply appreciate Eyal Mozes’s thoughtful challenges to my critique of Ayn Rand’s metaethical theory, which I present in my book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics, and in subsequent essays.

Here I reply to Mozes’s March 25, 2019, essay. My essay here is part of an exchange beginning with Mozes’s January 6 essay and continuing with my previous reply. Although I seek to put the present discussion in its broader context, I certainly do not try to recapitulate my entire case here, a fact to which I hope readers are sensitive. My goal here is to try to wrap up the exchange so that readers know where and how Mozes and I disagree.

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Exploring Value Integration: A Reply to Mozes on Rand’s Ethics

Eyal Mozes reviews my book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics, in a detailed essay posted January 6, 2019.

Mozes and I agree very closely on the proper interpretation of Ayn Rand’s metaethical theory. We disagree about whether that theory is correct (I say no) and what the theory entails in terms of certain moral commitments. We also disagree about whether my proposed alternative, that the point of ethics is to help a person rationally integrate values experienced as ends in themselves, can succeed.

A bit of background: Mozes, whom I met years ago at an Objectivist event, has written important essays about Rand’s moral theory, including one on the free-rider problem, several of which I discuss in my book. In my view, Mozes is a widely underappreciated Objectivist theorist.

Here I do not limit myself to a point-by-point reply of Mozes’s commentary; I seek also to put the conversation in context and to expand my ideas in a way that I hope will prove helpful to the general reader.

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Rand’s Ethics: Reply to David W. Johnson

In his Amazon review of my book, “What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics,” David W. Johnson claims that my essential point is that the “Objectivist ethics allegedly is heavily oriented toward basic survival, undervaluing . . . life’s greater potential.”

It is true that Rand’s metaethics is oriented to the individual’s survival, as I review, but Johnson’s terms “heavily” and “basic” are misleading.

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Critique of Rand’s Ethics: Reply to Pseudo-Objectivists

Objectivists I know and know of tend to be smart, thoughtful, balanced, joyful, successful people. They do profoundly important work in such areas as education, technology, aviation, business, law, and philosophy. In many ways their productive achievements directly or indirectly benefit my life.

Unfortunately, there is a brand of self-proclaimed Objectivist—more accurately, pseudo-Objectivist—who tends to parrot Ayn Rand’s ideas rather than seek to deeply understand them and to nastily smear both Objectivists whom they deem heretical and critics of Rand’s ideas. Continue reading “Critique of Rand’s Ethics: Reply to Pseudo-Objectivists”

How Objectivists Can Fruitfully Reply to My Critique of Rand’s Ethics

I have come to believe that Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics is basically wrong, however interesting and insightful it is in various ways. Because of my interest in the matter, and because I used to think that Rand’s theory is correct, I spent considerable effort reading about the theory and formulating my thoughts about it. I wrote up the results in my new book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics. Continue reading “How Objectivists Can Fruitfully Reply to My Critique of Rand’s Ethics”

Ayn Rand Is the Anti-Trump

Recently the Washington Post has published numerous stories that worry about “fake news” (see a first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth example out of many articles on the subject). It seems odd, then, that the paper also published the ludicrous claim that Donald Trump is an “Ayn Rand-acolyte” and an “objectivist” who follows Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. In fact, there is zero evidence that Trump understands any aspect of Rand’s ideas and much evidence that in the main he flatly rejects them. Continue reading “Ayn Rand Is the Anti-Trump”

What Is Ayn Rand’s “New” Novel, “Ideal?”

Ideal by Ayn Rand
A new publication of a work of one of the 20th century’s most read (and most controversial) novelists is big news. Ideal is the work at issue; Ayn Rand is the author. So what is Ideal?

Ideal is not new; it was written in 1934 and revised as a play over the next year or two. (The play wasn’t produced until 1989.) What’s new is the publication of Rand’s early novelization of the story.

The play was published in 1983 in The Early Ayn Rand. The new publication contains the novelization which preceded the play—and which is substantially less polished—as well as a reprint of the play. The oddity, then, is that the “new” work is in rougher shape than is the previously published version of the work.

What, then, is the purpose of publishing an older version of the same basic story? Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s heir, suggests two main reasons in his introduction to the new work. First, a publication of one of Ayn Rand’s earliest works, and in two different versions at that, may offer valuable insights into her intellectual and literary development. Second, a novel offers a reader a complete, self-contained experience in a way that a play cannot.

On this latter point, Peikoff explains:

By itself, a script is not a work of art or a genre of literature. Novel and play alike, being complete, enable you fully to enter and experience the world they create. But the script by itself does not: it omits the essence in this context of literary art; it is written for perception (to be heard from a cast of actors seen on a stage), yet by itself it is detached from any such perception.

As an indication of just how substantially Rand revised the play relative to the preliminary novel, consider Peikoff’s description of a section:

In Chapter 3 of the novel, the central character is Jeremiah Sliney, an ignorant, dialect-speaking farmer. On her typescript, even before she started the play, AR slashed out the whole chapter, with ruthless lines signifying emphatic rejection. . . . Dropping Sliney from the play, she instead took the name of a son-in-law of his, who had been an incidental character, and made him the scene’s central character. In this reincarnation, Chuck Fink [the new character] has an ideological identity: he is a member of the Communist Party.

By any standard, that is a major change. Yet the “new” publication contains the original text, despite Rand’s rejection of it. Peikoff writes, “Despite [Rand]’s deletion of Slinky, I have left him in the novel just as he was in its first draft.” Peikoff puts readers on notice, then, that this novelization does not reflect a polished, final work that Rand herself approved. Rather, it reflects a work in progress.

Why did Rand develop the material into a play rather than into a revised novel? I had assumed that the reason had something to do with Rand’s anticipation of getting a play produced. But Peikoff suggests literary reasons. First, Peikoff suggests, the beauty of the central character is integral to the story, and that is probably better shown than described. Second, the play format seems to have allowed Rand to introduce a wide array of minor characters more perceptually and therefore more briskly.

What is Ideal about? Peikoff offers a good summary in notes published with the 1983 version:

[Ideal is] a story in which a famous actress, so beautiful that she comes to represent to men the embodiment of their deepest ideals, actually enters the lives of her admirers. She comes in a context suggesting that she is in grave danger. Until this point, her worshippers have professed their reverence for her—in words, which cost them nothing. Now, however, she is no longer a distant dream, but a reality demanding action on their part, or betrayal.

“The theme is the evil of divorcing ideals from life,” Peikoff writes there.

That is a theme well worth contemplating in novel form, even if the novel in question does not reflect Ayn Rand in mature literary form.

Oh, You Mean Ayn Rand Wasn’t a Rawlsian?

Image: Michael Greene
Image: Michael Greene

As John McCaskey reviews, various libertarians today are explicitly egalitarian in the vein of John Rawls. One such libertarian is John Tomasi, who claims that even “avowedly egoistic defenses of libertarianism [such as Ayn Rand advocated] recognize the moral imperative that material benefits of social cooperation reach the least well-off class.” This is as quoted by Don Watkins in his article today for the Ayn Rand Institute.

Watkins offers a pretty good summary of why Rand was not Rawlsian, even implicitly, even a little. (As an aside, she was not a libertarian, either, and did not consider herself to be one.) He writes:

Rand would say we shouldn’t evaluate institutions by how they affect any group. It’s wrong, she thinks, to approach political questions by thinking in collectivist terms like “the rich,” “the poor,” or “society.” The question is not which social system benefits which groups, but which social system is geared toward the life of an individual human being.

Of course, when government protects each individual’s rights to think and act by his own judgment, the outcome is a prosperous society that can benefit everyone—including the least-wealthy people living in it. It should come as no surprise that what’s good for individuals is good for individuals considered as a group.