Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ayn the closet Kantian?

NEWSFLASH: I have discovered a contradiction in Objectivism!!!

like... dozens of others have before..

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” - Ayn Rand

Francis L. Macrina, in Scientific Integrity:

"Ethical theories are generally divided into two major categories. The first of these is called either teleological or consequentialist, and the second is referred to as deontological. Teleological theories focus exclusively on the consequences of an action in order to determine the morality of that action...

[Deontology] does not depend exclusively on the consequences of an action to determine its morality... [Kant's] theory is an example of an extreme deontological position in that the consequences of an action are not considered in establishing its morality. Kant believed that using the utility of an act to determine whether it is right or wrong is a terrible mistake."

Many have commented that other than her rabidly capitalist veneer, she is really Leftist on the inside. She says that happiness is man's purpose in life, but this lip service is as far as she goes to avoid Kant's deontology. The next part of her motto states that one should hold "reason" as their absolute. All her novels are about the importance of having the "right" (read: Objectivist) philosophy to live by. None of these things are compatible with a teleological point of view. She admits as much in her condemnations of libertarianism as being too utilitarian.

Of course, Rand probably did not intentionally write this contradiction into her philosophy. Her leap of logic is that holding reason as one's absolute will, ipso facto, make you permanently happy. Which any truly rational person would know, is not always the case.

Either half of her above statement alone would have made sense, but together they contradict each other. If you hold adherence to the creed of Objectivism as the most important thing in life (and this is what I gather from the body of her writings and those of her followers), then your happiness is not top priority. This can be compared to adherents of conventional world religions: They believe that practice of their creed will lead to happiness and success in life, but they usually admit that they place adhering to the exhortations of their faith above pursuing their own immediate happiness should they contradict. Objectivists aren't so artless.


Jay said...

Her leap of logic is that holding reason as one's absolute will, ipso facto, make you permanently happy.

That's a lie. Here's the Ayn Rand Lexicon link containing every (major) mention of reason she made in print.

She also names purpose and self-esteem as being essential to happiness. Nowhere, however, is it said or implied that reason will, "ipso facto", make you "permanently happy." In fact, (as I just mentioned on another post), Peikoff explicitly stated: "Virtue is not automatically rewarded, but that does not change the fact that it is rewarded."

Michael Prescott said...

Well, Rand did say:

"Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions."

It is true that she said happiness is possible, not guaranteed. Still, one would think that if such a stringent set of requirements were actually met, one's chances of happiness would at least be pretty darn good. The Objectivists I knew certainly gave the impression that living by Rand's precepts (which is what she meant by rationality) would make just about anyone happy.

To me, what's interesting about this quote is that Rand makes a sweeping, stridently absolutist assertion but provides no evidence for it. Is it really true that happiness is possible only to people who are rational all the time, in all respects? So that, for instance, a Marxist who falls in love cannot possibly be happy?