Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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I am reminded of this whenever I hear Dennis Dutton, distinguished lecturer in the philosophy of aesthetics & scourge of post-modern excrement-purveyors, heaping praise on Immanuel Kant. The post-moderns deny the existence of an external reality independent of human consciousness & assert that we construct our own. That’s the basis of their excrement. Well, Kant, the single most influential philosopher of modern times, said pretty much the same thing, if one is to make any sense at all of his convoluted mumbo-jumbo! He didn’t deny the existence of an external reality, exactly; he relocated it to a realm inaccessible to our senses. What we do perceive, he claimed, is not what’s really real - which belongs in the noumenal realm - but is a subjective construct of our organs of consciousness which operate in the phenomenal world. If that didn’t pave the way for the post-moderns, whatever their stated attitude to Kant, I don’t know what did.
If one can identify a real conflict through the history of philosophy – though it too is fraught with mis-alignments, exceptions, ironies – it is the conflict between Plato & Aristotle. This conflict has been fought on three fronts: 1) is there a reality independent of us?; 2) if so, can we have knowledge of it, & by what means?; 3) given what we know, how should we behave?
Plato taught that true reality resides in the World of Forms, the true, perfect versions of everything we see, in mirage form only, here on earth. He believed that a chosen few could have knowledge of this World through recollection of their pre-birth residence therein. These chosen few, he added, should be the ones who govern the rest of us.
Aristotle taught that the true reality is the one we perceive, reason is the means by which we grasp it, and each of us should use his reason in pursuit of his own life & happiness.
Through such disciples as Plotinus & Augustine, Plato was grafted onto Christianity. The result was the Dark Ages. The things of this world – especially its carnal pleasures – were shunned & despised. Self-mutilation & torture were the Dark Ages’ growth industries. Men took religion seriously.
Then, after many centuries, Aristotle was rediscovered & unleashed by an unwitting Thomas Aquinas into what Leonard Peikoff has called “that desert of crosses & gallows.” Aquinas, though a conscientious Catholic, retrieved reason from its lowly status as faith’s handmaiden, & paved the way for the Renaissance & the Enlightenment.
But still the philosophers would tie themselves in knots. Even the Aristotelians couldn’t come up with a solution to the so-called problem of universals, & thence, a viable theory of knowledge. Nor, as a consequence, could they identify an objective basis for ethics. Then along came the afore-mentioned Kant, with a more sophisticated Platonism than Plato’s. What he called his “Copernican revolution” in epistemology posited that our knowledge doesn’t conform to objects; rather, the objects conform to our way of knowing them. We know them as they appear to us in the phenomenal dimension; we cannot know them as they really are, as “things-in-themselves” in the noumenal dimension. Nonetheless, he claimed, the noumenal dimension does communicate certain truths to us, ineffably & irresistibly, such as the existence of God & of free will & the necessity to treat individuals as ends in themselves (on which basis was a flimsy case for political freedom made. Kant’s “free will,” moreover, was severely compromised by his typically Christian view that man was “radically evil” & could only be sure he was doing good if he removed every last vestige of personal inclination from his actions!).
Kant’s stated objective was to save religion from science by rendering unto each its due. In fact, by comprehensively severing reality from knowledge, fact from value, Kant contributed significantly to philosophy’s contemporary collapse into wanton subjectivism & nihilism.
Fortunately, help is at hand. A new, improved Aristotle is poised to stage a rescue mission. The philosophy of Objectivism is Aristotle without the taint of Plato.
As before in history, there is no guarantee that Aristotle – in this fully self-consistent incarnation – will prevail. The duel goes on. Men have free will. But at last, reason - & with it, freedom – has a viable grounding.
Which Kant can’t give it.
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