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Post 20

Monday, August 6, 2007 - 9:52pmSanction this postReply
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Come on, John! When Rand said that she "discovered" the non-initiation of force principle, she wasn't referring to its philosophical underpinnings; she was referring to the principle itself. By your argument, Rand might as well claim to have "discovered" every tenet in her philosophy, including capitalism.

She very clearly did not discover the non-initiation of force principle; it was "discovered," if you want to use that term, by her libertarian predecessors. Rand didn't invent the philosophical wheel, for Christ's sake, even though Objectivists would like to think that she has. I would say that her most important contributions are her epistemology and her ethics -- certainly not her politics!

- Bill



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Post 21

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 5:58pmSanction this postReply
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The Angel of the Garden of Thought

Bill is correct that Rand did not discover and did not claim to have discovered many of the principles in her system. It is unfortunate that this is one of the complaints that academic philosophers use against her - according to their standards they are correct to see her as suspect because she did not footnote and attribute every last idea she had in common with another school. Indeed, much of her metaphysics has similarities to the less deistic forms of Stoicism. Her indestructible robot argument would have been very familiar to the Epicureans. Her ethics has much, but by no means all in common with Spinoza. The only concepts of hers in ethics, metaphysics and epistemology which I have not come across in some form in other philosophers are those of the stolen concept, and the floating abstraction. Perhaps one can also add the primacy of existence, which is foreshadowed in Aristotle but not, I believe so clearly identified.

The wonder of Rand's thought is that it coheres. It self corrects. It is the only real and unapologetic attempt at systematization since Marxism, and the most noble since that of the Greeks. Rand's original theory of concept formation and her brilliant identification of the stolen concept stand around her system like a fence; keeping in the productive fruit of her and her spiritual predecessors, and expelling weeds from the garden of thought.

Ted Keer

(Edited by Ted Keer on 8/07, 10:06pm)




Post 22

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 9:39pmSanction this postReply
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Ted,

What about her theory of concept formation? I think that's original. Wallace I. Matson, who was Chair of the Philosophy Department at U.C. Berkeley back in the early 70's when I was a student there said, after reading her ITOE pamphlet, that it was the best thing he'd seen written in philosophy in the last 50 years.

While such praise is perhaps underwhelming to an Objectivist, bear in mind that it comes from a well-recognized, academic, non-Objectivist philosopher, with no axe to grind, who's published his own text on A History of Philosophy (from the pre-Socratics to the 20th Century). Hospers wasn't the only well-recognized academic philosopher to be impressed by her contributions.

- Bill



Post 23

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 10:03pmSanction this postReply
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Bill, I did mention it, but in the second paragraph.

I wanted to make the metaphor of her conceptual theory (which is not just one, but a set of concepts) as serving as a wall around the garden which is her philosophy. Upon pre-submission editing I had removed the word original, I have put it back in.

I am glad to hear of Matson's praise. Bringing up Rand in college was usually a great way to halt a conversation. My advisor Brian McLaughlin at Rutgers was interested to hear my explanation of her ontology and epistemology (He's a fan of Daniel Dennett) but I don't believe he read ItOE. A professor who taught a 400-level class in ethics told me that her thought was more profound than he had realized after I explained her axiomatic method - he praised her as being dialectic - but again I don't think he read her.

Ted

(Edited by Ted Keer on 8/07, 10:08pm)




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Post 24

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - 6:12amSanction this postReply
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In my own estimation, the following two ideas of Rand’s are original, true, and important.

 

Concepts

The first is Rand's idea that concepts of any particulars can be fashioned according to a principle of suspended particular measurement values along certain magnitude dimensions shared by particulars falling under those concepts. This conjecture is important as a distinct position in the theory of universals. I have written a little about the precursors of this idea in the history of philosophy in my first essay on Rand's theory; see §III “Measure and Matter” of “Capturing Concepts” in Objectivity (V1N1). The conjecture has implications for metaphysics; see my essay “Universals and Measurement” in Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (V5N2). I continue to develop the measurements-omitted theory of universals and to put it to work in problems current in metaphysics and in the philosophy of mathematics and science.

 

 

Values

The second is Rand's idea that value occurs only on account of the existence of life. Where there is value, there is life; and where there is life, there are values. I have not published work in this area, though you will find remarks of mine in this area in internet posts. I would like to say just a bit about the history of this idea right here. The first thinker who really got some grip on this idea was a philosopher who was probably as unknown to Rand as he is unknown to most philosophers today. His name is Marie-Jean Guyau. His theory of ethics was individualistic, against Utilitarianism, and purely secular. His book presenting this theory is A Sketch of Morality without Obligation or Sanction (1885). Nietzsche read this work in spring and early summer of 1885 and promptly changed his old tune as to the nonexistence of a secular, objective basis of his own ethic. There was Guyau—"Brave Guyau" as Nietzsche calls him—setting out a purely secular and individualistic and rational ethics based on a broad principle of biology. Guyau's ethics is not egoism. After 1885 Nietzsche began to insist uniformly that his own ethics was based on a principle of biology, although one different from Guyau's. It would be a good project to compare the different conceptions of life, at all its levels, held up by Guyau, Nietzsche, and Rand and the different moral theories they derive from these different conceptions of life.

 

Each of these three philosophers developed a theory of value in general, and human chosen values in particular, around various general features of living activity. All three knowingly relied on the science of biology in their own age. All were trying to be sensitive to that science in their theories of value and of what one should or should not do.

Both Rand and Guyau described their theories as the first true ethical theories based only on scientific facts. The casting of certain values as norms based on biology and psychology need not be nothing but a scientific casting in order to be a wholly rational casting. Which features of the biologically given and the psychologically given are stressed by a value theorist needs to be watched and remembered by the consumer.





Post 25

Saturday, December 27, 2008 - 3:58pmSanction this postReply
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Bill, I have no problem believing that Rand honestly 'discovered' the NIOF principle, unaware that Herbert had already been there. Nor do I see the similarity in phrasing - including the description of fraud - as a problem. She reasoned from the basic premise that life is optional and presents choices, that choices require reasoning, that action is required and needs to based upon reason, and that force and fraud both break that chain.



Post 26

Saturday, December 27, 2008 - 5:12pmSanction this postReply
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The problem is not over originality, but over Rand's opposition to citing other thinkers who supported her opinions or had similar thoughts. For instance, the indestructible robot argument is very similar to Epicurus' "thegods, being perfect, bear us no ill will" formulation. OPAR, with a little research and footnoting, could have been written this way.



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Post 27

Saturday, December 27, 2008 - 7:11pmSanction this postReply
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"The problem is not over originality, but over Rand's opposition to citing other thinkers who supported her opinions or had similar thoughts." Ted.

She was a novelist first, a philosopher second, and an academic never. It wasn't her style and her disgust for what passes for philosophy in the universities was needed more than citations - even if it is causing issues now. Very little of the academic opposition to Rand is honest. I'm not going in the direction their bandwagon is headed and I don't like the tunes they're playing. Remember they have no problems with citing of nonsense, and they have no problem with other philosophers that didn't cite - it's all about hate, not reason. It's a shallow excuse for discrediting her, and by extension, Objectivism, without taking on the ideas honestly.



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Post 28

Saturday, December 27, 2008 - 9:55pmSanction this postReply
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Uh, duh, who's discrediting her? If the ideas were discreditable, what would be the point in my saying that we need a scholarly treatment that shows where her notions correspond to and are supported by other thinkers? Do you disagree that OPAR would have had more impact if, for example, Peikoff had used his doctorate and his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of philosophy to show where she and Aristotle, Chrysippus, Epicurus, Epictetus, Maimonides, Aquinas, Spinoza, Locke and Nietzsche had agreed?

Just as I chastised Bill and those who sanctioned him for that silly Nazi rejoinder, I will ask did your quote of me do me justice? And did those who sanctioned you do so for making a point, or scoring a point?

I know you, and you know me, so I know you know there's no reason to treat me so shabbily.





Post 29

Saturday, December 27, 2008 - 10:20pmSanction this postReply
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Ted, you misunderstand the thrust of my remark. I am happy that there are people who are writing about Objectivism in a scholarly fashion. And I agree with your point about OPAR. But the criticism of Rand, by her academic opponents, is not honest at its base. If you thought that I was accusing you of "discrediting her" you are very wrong... and I apologize for not being clear - I was thinking of those who are in academia and who hate her ideas and who attempt to discredit her by simply saying she isn't a philosopher because her work isn't filled with footnotes or cited in academic journals.

I quoted you because the quote was a succinct statement - I had just been out on Wikipedia where she is attacked for not having ideas worth talking about, attacked for not having original ideas and attacked for not being a philosopher (i.e., not writing footnoted articles in academic journals) - in other words, she is attacked, so they don't have to deal with her ideas.



Post 30

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 2:26amSanction this postReply
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pmub



Post 31

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 3:01pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

How about -- to be an Objectivist, one must deeply admire, be familiar with, and generally agree with the views of Rand. I think that captures what is essential and distinguishing.

I would be highly skeptical of someone claiming to be an Objectivist if he or she didn't know, detested, or generally disagreed with Rand's views.

Jordan





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Post 32

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 9:40pmSanction this postReply
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If the quotes are accurate then clearly Rand was not the first to elucidate the NIOF principle - but I do not find it hard to believe that two great minds found themselves going down the same path. Most of us know enough of Rand to know that she wouldn't plagerize in a million years - just not in her character, and it would be extremely unlikely for her to have heard it elsewhere or read it elsewhere and not remembered.
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On Ed's 7 points, I'd modify them a bit... maybe like this:

4) every man is an end in himself (which entails rational self-interest) and his life requires the making of moral choices (volition) [italics mine]

7) [laissez-faire] capitalism is ideal for man on earth and requires a minarchist government based upon individual rights [italics mine]
-------------

I sanctioned Stephen Boydstun for his elegant reminder of the centrality of choice.




Post 33

Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 2:54pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Stephen,

It's off topic, but per your post #24, I would suggest (as you did partly) that Rand borrowed her theory of value from Nietzsche, who pinned value to life; but also from Aristotle, who pinned value to fact; as well as von Mises, who pinned value to action. And Rand's theory of concepts highly classical theories of classification and abstraction. Both tend to entail omitting stuff although they usually won't call that stuff "measurement."

If you'd like to continue with this topic, I would suggest reviving the "what is original to Objectivism?" thread:
http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/Dissent/0209.shtml

Jordan



Post 34

Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 11:42pmSanction this postReply
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Jordan,

Ed,

How about -- to be an Objectivist, one must deeply admire, be familiar with, and generally agree with the views of Rand. I think that captures what is essential and distinguishing.
The problem I have with this definition is that it's fuzzy. There's too much room in the phrase: "generally agree with the views of Rand." On a related note, I agree with Steve's edits of my original 7 pillars of Objectivism.

Ed




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Post 35

Friday, May 29, 2009 - 10:21amSanction this postReply
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Jordan, since #24 of August 8, 2007, I executed the proposed study of Nietzsche, Guyau, and Rand.
It is in these three parts: A, B, C





Post 36

Friday, May 29, 2009 - 10:36amSanction this postReply
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A couple of notes additional to #12 on definition of Objectivism: 1, 2





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Post 37

Friday, May 29, 2009 - 11:34amSanction this postReply
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Following Stephen's links to ObjectivistLiving, and browsing a little on that thread, I read, once again, David Kelley's description of 'What is Objectivism?' - from the section of that name, in chapter 5 of Kelley's book "The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand". It is worth re-printing here.
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What is Objectivism?

In The Objectivist Newsletter, Ayn Rand described the central tenets of her philosophy as follows:

"In metaphysics, that reality exists as an objective absolute;
In epistemology, that reason is man's only means of perceiving reality and his only means of survival;
In ethics, that man is an end in himself, with the pursuit of his own life, happiness and self-interest as his highest end;
In politics, laissez-faire capitalism.[9]"


Is this the essence of Objectivism? Certainly these four principles are essential. But they are not enough. These are extremely broad doctrines as stated. Every one of them has been defended by other philosophers, and the package as a whole is not too far from the views of many Enlightenment thinkers. If Ayn Rand had said no more than this, we could not credit her with having created a distinctive system, much less a system that provides the fundamental alternative to Kant. She would properly be regarded as a secular and individualist thinker within the Aristotelian tradition. To identify what makes Objectivism unique, we have to be more specific. We need to identify the basic insights and connections that allowed Ayn Rand to give an original defense of the four principles I stated. So let us take a closer look at each of the relevant areas.

In metaphysics, Ayn Rand's view of reality as objective, her view of facts as absolutes, is basically Aristotelian. But her formulation of this view states its essential elements with unprecedented depth and clarity. Her axiom of existence expresses the insight that existence is the primary metaphysical fact, not to be questioned or explained; that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is meaningless; that existence does not derive from some more fundamental stratum of forms or essences. Her principle of the primacy of existence denies that reality is malleable by consciousness, even a divine consciousness. This closes off the possibility that nature has a supernatural creator—a possibility that Aristotle left open. And it distinguishes her from modern Kantian views which claim that the world we know is merely an appearance, shaped by our own concepts and conventions. Finally, she formulated the laws of identity and causality as axioms that define the realm of metaphysical facts, and that ground the operations of reason. The law of identity, which says that a thing must have a specific and non-contradictory nature, is the basis for all deductive reasoning. The law of causality, which says that a thing must act in accordance with its nature, is the basis of all inductive reasoning. In epistemology, Ayn Rand also agreed with Aristotle—up to a point. She held that reason is man's means of knowledge, that it gives us the capacity to grasp the world as it is, that the material of knowledge is provided by the senses, that the method of reason is logic, and that this method is grounded in fact. But she went far beyond this. I would say that three of her insights in epistemology are essential to Objectivism.

The first is her concept of objectivity, and her rejection of the false dichotomy between intrinsicism and subjectivism. I described this insight at the beginning of my essay, and have relied upon it throughout. It runs through every part of her epistemology, as well as her ethics and politics; it is the Archimedean point from which she overthrows the Kantian system. A second and closely related insight is her recognition that reason is the faculty of concepts, and that a concept is an integration of particulars on the basis of their similarities. A concept is an abstraction. It is not merely a name for an arbitrary collection of things we happen to classify together, but an integration of them into a new mental unit that expands the range of our knowledge. An abstraction, however, does not exist as such, over and above the concretes it integrates; it is the rule by which they are integrated. So it cannot be divorced from its perceptual basis and allowed to float free. As a result of this theory, Objectivism has a highly distinctive view about what it means to think conceptually, to think in principles—a view that avoids the classic defects of rationalism on the one hand and empiricism on the other.

The final point I would mention in epistemology is that reason is a volitional faculty: that conceptual integration, unlike sense-perception, is a cognitive function that must be initiated and directed by choice. This is the essence of our free will, and the source of our need for epistemological standards. It is also the psychological source of hostility toward reason. In analyzing the varieties of irrationalism, as I noted in Section III, Ayn Rand always traced them back to the desire for an effortless, automatic mode of cognition.

This brings us to the fields of ethics and politics, where Ayn Rand's views were most distinctive. Her most important contribution in ethics is clearly her insight that values are rooted in the phenomenon of life. Values exist because the existence of a living organism depends on its own goal-directed action; in order to survive it must treat certain things as good for it and other things as bad. This is her solution to the notorious is-ought problem in philosophy, the problem of how normative conclusions can be derived from facts about the world, and it provides the basis for an objective ethics.

If we value life, then our nature requires certain kinds of actions, which we identify as virtues. Since reason is our basic means of survival, the primary, essential virtue is rationality: the acceptance of reason as an absolute, and a commitment to the use of rational standards and methods in every issue we confront. All of the other virtues are implicit in rationality; they involve the acceptance and use of reason in specific areas such as judging others (justice) or creating value (productiveness). But the virtue of independence deserves special mention because it also involves the recognition and acceptance of the volitional character of reason. The fact that we must initiate and direct the process of thought means that we must not subordinate our judgment of the facts to the minds of others, no matter how numerous; and that the sense of efficacy that is crucial to self-esteem is ours to achieve by our own effort. In this respect, the virtue of independence is the key link between epistemology and politics. Because reason is volitional, it is a faculty of the individual, whose freedom to act independently, on his own autonomous judgment, must be protected by a system of political rights.

If these are the central virtues in Objectivism, what are the central values? Life, of course, is the fundamental value, but what about the subsidiary values, the ones we need if we are to maintain, fulfill, and enjoy our lives? What is most distinctive to Ayn Rand in this regard is her new about the central role of production in man's life. Productive work, the creation of value, is our basic means of dealing with reality and a precondition for the pursuit of any other value. Psychologically, it is a vital source of one's sense of efficacy and self-worth. Production is not merely a practical necessity; it is man's glory. Our ability to reshape the world in the image of our values, in a world open to our achievement, is the essence of her view of man as a heroic being, a view that shaped and colored everything she wrote.

Finally, we cannot omit her explicit rejection of altruism and the mind-body dichotomy. This is a negative point, but we need to include it because Ayn Rand was virtually without precedent here. Many other philosophers have adopted views that are implicitly egoistic, but few were willing to put their cards on the table, to say explicitly: altruism is wrong, self-sacrifice is a perversion of ethics. The same is true of the dichotomy between mind and body, between the material and the spiritual. Ayn Rand is distinctive in her exalted, idealistic defense of such worldly values as sex and wealth.

In politics, the essence of the Objectivist view is the principle of individual rights. The rights of the individual, not the welfare of the collective, provide the moral basis of capitalism. Of course Ayn Rand did not originate the concept of rights; she inherited it from the individualist thinkers of the Enlightenment. Her contribution was to give their political individualism an ethical basis in egoism, the right of each individual to pursue his own happiness; and an epistemological basis in the fact that reason is a faculty of the individual mind. She also identified the fact that rights can be violated only by force. A right is a right to action, not to a good like food, shelter, or medical care, and it can be violated only if someone forcibly prevents one from acting. The political implication of these views is that the government must be strictly limited: limited in function to the protection of rights, and limited in its methods to acting in accordance with objective law.

Such, in briefest outline, is the essential content of Objectivism as a philosophy. Not all of the ideas I've mentioned were discovered by Ayn Rand, but many of them were, and the integration of them into a system was hers. This outline captures the essential principles that distinguish Objectivism from every other viewpoint—no adherent of a rival philosophy would embrace all of them. Conversely, anyone who accepted all of these ideas would have to consider himself an Objectivist. But notice what I have left out. I omitted a number of points in epistemology, ethics, and politics. I omitted the entire field of aesthetics, just as Ayn Rand did in her brief summary. I haven't said anything about the role of philosophy in history, or the identification of Kant as an arch-villain.

I've omitted these things, not because I disagree with them, or because they are unimportant, but because they are not primary. Some are technical theories required to explain and defend the primary claims that I did include. Some are implications and applications of those primary claims. All of them are principles of limited range and significance for the system as a whole. They are logically connected to the points I've mentioned, and they contribute to the richness and power of Objectivism as a system of thought; if we regard them as true, we will naturally include them as elements in the system. But someone may challenge these noncentral tenets without ceasing to be an Objectivist. The outline I gave was not intended as an exhaustive presentation of Objectivism as I understand it. My purpose was to identify the boundaries of the debate and development that may take place within Objectivism as a school of thought.

It's also important to stress that the principles I have mentioned are not to be taken as a list of articles of faith. They are elements in a connected system. I have been asked whether I would consider someone to be an Objectivist if he accepted all these principles but denied some other point—e.g., that honesty is a virtue. My answer is that the question is premature. I would need to know the reason for his position. If he rejects honesty because he doesn't like it, even though he happens to like the points I've mentioned, then he would not be an adherent of the Objectivist philosophy because he is not an adherent of any philosophy. A philosophy is a logically integrated system, not a grab bag of isolated tenets adopted arbitrarily. If the person did have a reason for his position, then I would need to know what it is. I cannot imagine any argument in favor of dishonesty that does not rest on a rejection of rationality, in which case the person is outside the framework of Objectivism. But if his position is that honesty, while good, is not important enough as an issue to be considered a cardinal virtue; or that the scope of legitimate "white lies" is larger than Ayn Rand allowed; or any number of other variant positions in all such cases, I would consider him an Objectivist even if I disagreed with him, as long as he defends his view by reference to the basic principles.

Like any other philosophy, in short, Objectivism has an essential core: a set of basic doctrines that distinguishes it from other viewpoints and serves as the skeleton of the system. The implication is that anyone in substantial agreement with those doctrines is an Objectivist. I believe that a great deal of damage has been done by refusing to take this attitude. It's been thirty years since Atlas Shrugged was published, the length of an entire generation. After all that time, only a handful of philosophers are willing to identify themselves as Objectivists, and our output has been pretty thin; a complete bibliography would not amount to much. This is partly because Objectivism lies so far outside the main-stream of academic thought. But another reason is the insistence on defining Objectivism in the narrow fashion that Peikoff urges, and the atmosphere of dogmatism that accompanies it. In the name of preserving the purity and integrity of the system, Objectivists have too often relied on stereotypical formulations of Ayn Rand's ideas. They have been quick to pounce on thinkers who might have been their allies. They have greeted new extensions of the system with a timid caution that reminds me of the Council of Scholars in Anthem, who spent fifty years debating the wisdom of accepting that radical innovation, the candle. These policies have discouraged independent thinking, they have driven away creative minds, they have kept Objectivism from being the living, growing philosophy it could be.
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[this is a copy from the ObjectivistLiving post by Michael Stuart Kelly at the link supplied above]




Post 38

Friday, May 29, 2009 - 3:54pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Stephen.

Ed, I completely agree that it's fuzzy. But I think that's okay because that is how the term is used. If people have a broad view of what "generally agrees with Rand's view," then they might say Bill and Roger are Objectivists (given they meet the other criteria I mentioned). If they have a narrow view, then Bill and Roger might be stripped of that title. To capture both versions, I think we need to keep a level of flexibility. What say you?

Jordan



Post 39

Friday, May 29, 2009 - 7:29pmSanction this postReply
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Jordan,

This is going to sound like an appeal to authority, but I ask you to trust me -- or withhold snap judgments -- that it is not:

I often ask myself: "WWRD?" (what would Rand do?). In this instance, I think that while Rand would still have Bill and Roger over for coffee or tea, she wouldn't call them "Objectivists." I get this notion from stuff she has written regarding the subject, contrasted against stuff Bill and Roger have written.

Elaboration upon request.

:-)

Ed




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