Friday, 24 March 2017

My Farewell To Organized Objectivism

I am inspired by Ayn Rand’s philosophy and literature, but I am now compelled to dissociate myself from the Objectivist movement. I was an enthusiastic supporter of organized Objectivism in the last five years, but now I feel disenchanted and disgusted by the shenanigans of the movement’s top philosophers and acolytes.

I have found evidence which shows that the Objectivist movement is in a state of disrepair and it is being led by men of low caliber and integrity. The top Objectivist philosophers are insular and authoritarian. They prefer to waste time in petty squabbles instead of creating new articles, books and lectures for expanding the scope of Rand’s philosophy.

Here are the reasons for which I have decided to excommunicate myself from the Objectivist movement:

Open System—Closed System
I find the issue of “open-system—closed system,” which is dogging the Objectivist movement for almost three decades, quite baffling. In his 1989 article “Fact and Value,” Dr. Leonard Peikoff claims that Objectivism is a closed system. But his arguments are not convincing.

Here’s an excerpt from “Fact and Value”: “Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system — its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch — is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author. If this applies to any philosophy, think how much more obviously it applies to Objectivism. Objectivism holds that every truth is an absolute, and that a proper philosophy is an integrated whole, any change in any element of which would destroy the entire system.”

These lines make no sense. Why should a change in one element destroy the entire system in Objectivism? Does Dr. Peikoff really believe that he can stop anyone from making use of Rand’s abstract philosophical ideas? Just look at the extensive permutations and combinations that we have of the ideas of every major philosopher in history. Why should the fate of Rand’s ideas be any different?

Isaac Newton has said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” The same holds true for Rand. She could look far ahead because she stood on the shoulders of giants like Aristotle, Aquinas, Newton, Locke, and many others. She picked up ideas from many philosophers of the past, changed those ideas that needed to be changed, developed a number of ideas of her own, and went on to create a new system of philosophy.

Rand is now herself a giant in philosophy. It is natural that a new crop of philosophers will try to stand on her shoulders to look further ahead. There is scope for improvement in a philosophical system when the followers of the original philosopher explore different lines of thought and come up with new perspectives on the social, moral and political problems.

As Dr. Chris Matthew Scibarra has said in the Introduction to Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: “Rand could not have explored the full implications of her philosophy in her lifetime. Such a task is reserved necessarily for succeeding generations of scholars.”

If Objectivism is a closed system, then, in my view, it cannot be regarded as a philosophy. A philosophical system must always be an open system. A philosophy is a set of principles which explain the nature of the universe and man’s place and role in it. A philosopher who creates a new system of philosophy is the discoverer of the principles which explain reality. It is irrational to claim that the philosophical principles explaining reality are to be regarded as a closed system.

For more information on this issue, I will refer to the book by Dr. David Kelley, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand.

The Authority Figure
Ever since I became active in Objectivist circles, I have been reminded repeatedly by certain old-timers of the movement that Dr. Peikoff is the supreme authority in Objectivism. I accept that Dr. Peikoff is a writer of important books and articles on Objectivist thought but why should he be regarded as an authority figure? Why does Objectivism even need an authority figure? This is the philosophy of reason and everyone is expected to follow the rule of reason and not of any human being.

The Intellectual Heir
On his website, Dr. Peikoff declares that he is Rand’s legal and intellectual heir. I understand the logic of having a legal heir, but why does Objectivism have a so-called intellectual heir? Why? It is ludicrous to think that anyone can inherit philosophical ideas. Also, I am unable to find any communique from Rand stating that she has conferred the title of “intellectual heir” on him.

I think that Ayn Rand did a great disservice to Objectivism by proclaiming Nathaniel Branden as the intellectual heir in the 1950s. She wrote in the end of Atlas Shrugged: “When I wrote The Fountainhead I was addressing myself to an ideal reader – to as rational and independent a mind as I could conceive of. I found such a reader – through a fan letter he wrote me about The Fountainhead when he was nineteen years old. He is my intellectual heir. His name is Nathaniel Branden.” Branden’s “intellectual heir” status was revoked by Rand after his split in 1968.

Barbara Branden has claimed that Rand told her that she had learned from her bad experience with Nathaniel that it is not a good idea to have an intellectual heir. Rand had learned the right lesson. Objectivism is not a cult—it is not a religion—therefore it can’t have an intellectual heir. It is not as if Rand was akin to the Messiah who re-named Simon, “Peter”, the rock on which the church of Objectivism will be built. It is certain that Dr. Peikoff is not Saint Peter.

A Movement Mired in Schisms
What is the reason for which Rand evicted Nathaniel Branden from the Objectivist movement? I can deduce from the articles and books that I have read on this subject that the breakup between Rand and Nathaniel was for personal issues and not on account of philosophical differences. Rand was entitled to remove him from her life but did she have to excommunicate him from Objectivism of which he was a good advocate, despite any personal flaws that he may have had?

After Rand’s demise, Dr. Peikoff became the supreme leader of Objectivism and he started the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). But under his leadership many wonderful thinkers have been shunted out of the Objectivist movement. Dr. David Kelley, George Reisman, Robert Tracinski and John McCaskey are apparently no longer fit to be called Objectivists, even though they are writing articles and books as good as the intellectuals in the ARI.

What is going on at the ARI? Why are good intellectuals being forced to leave the institution? From the books and articles that I have read on these schisms, I can infer that these intellectuals have departed from the ARI for reasons that have very little to do with philosophy.

Objectivism is bleeding talent because the top-level Objectivists have accepted the idea that Dr. Peikoff is the supreme authority and intellectual heir. This has led to a situation where anyone who disagrees with Dr. Peikoff is forced to sever all connection with the ARI. As long as the Objectivist movement remains subservient to one individual and one institute there is no possibility for Objectivist ideas to take root in our culture. Objectivism needs more voices.

The Demonization of the Brandens
In his 1987 talk at the Ford Hall Forum, Dr. Peikoff was asked if he had read Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand. Here’s an excerpt from what he said: “I didn’t, because I discount — you know, the technical term is not lie, which I would regard as inaccurate—I regard her book as non-cognitive. Uh… By this I mean, I do not think that it has reached the realm of cognition to be evaluated as true or as false.”

I have read Barbara’s book. It is certainly not a “non-cognitive” work as Dr. Peikoff claims. I won’t say that everything she has said is the truth. But she has an interesting story to tell and she has made a number of valid points. The book is quite popular. In fact, I fear that Dr. Peikoff's judgement of Barbara’s book has a non-cognitive bias. He has said that he will not read the book. But if he does not read the book, then how does he develop an opinion on its content? Heresy! Premonition!

In the case of Nathaniel Branden’s book My Years with Ayn Rand, we find a similar campaign of disinformation and vilification being launched to persuade the Objectivists that they should not read it. Well, I did read it. I didn’t like this book as much as I liked Barbara's book, but this does not mean that I should start claiming that Nathaniel has written a non-cognitive book. This business of branding books as non-cognitive is extremely ridiculous.

There are many faults in Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, but this does not give anyone a right to demonize them. They have said a lot of wrong things about Rand in their books, but they have also said many right things. Their books are not arbitrary or non-cognitive. They merit scholarly evaluation.

Support for Left-leaning Political Groups
In the time of the 2006 elections, Dr. Peikoff issued his Objectivist fatwa: "In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man's actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world."

Apparently, Dr. Peikoff was of the view that the Republicans were overrun by the Evangelical Christians and that voting for them was the same as voting for a theocratic autocracy. Irrespective of the reasons on basis of which Dr. Peikoff reached his political judgment, he had no right to dictate to others who they should vote for and to threaten them, even implicitly, with excommunication for having a different opinion. I think his claim that anyone who votes for Republican or abstains from voting is not fit to be an Objectivist is most amazing.

Then in the 2017 elections many Objectivist thinkers “ordered” the Objectivists to vote for Hillary Clinton. They happily joined hands with the liberal shills in the mainstream media and proclaimed that Donald Trump was a racist, fascist and barbarian warmonger. The worse thing is that they didn't consider it necessary to explain the logic and evidence on basis of which they had reached their political judgement.

The reason for which Dr. Peikoff prefers progressive political groups is, I think, stated in his book The Ominous Parallels. Dr. Peikoff has said in The Ominous Parallels that in a few years the political power in the USA will get usurped by a conservative fascist force. How can his prediction be wrong—after all, he is the intellectual heir to Rand! Since Dr. Peikoff has not predicted the rise of a progressive fascist group in the USA, the Objectivists are not expected to feel threatened by the rise of the welfare state under progressive regimes. Well, such is the post-Rand logic.

Lack of Research on Rand’s Soviet Background
I became aware of the influence that Rand’s education in Soviet Russia had on her after reading Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra. It is surprising that we don’t have any other detailed scholarly study of Rand’s Soviet background. Sciabarra’s work remains the only source on Rand’s education.

The authorized biographies of Rand written by scholars affiliated to the ARI seem to take a minimum cognizance of the fact that she lived in Russia till the age of 21. These biographies do not offer any insight into the teachers and philosophers by whom Rand may have been influenced while she was in Russia. It seems as if Dr. Peikoff, for some reason which is known only to him and his closest associates, is interested in re-writing the history of Rand’s life, and projecting her as a completely American writer.

Well, I will end the article at this point. I think I have covered the key reasons for which I am forced to withdraw from the Objectivist movement. Hasta la vista, dear Objectivists.

*******

I have read a number of books, articles and blogs to develop my view of the current sad state of the Objectivist movement. Here I mention a few of these works:

The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand by Dr. David Kelley
The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen
The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden
My Years With Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics by James S. Valliant
The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: A Symposium on Nathaniel Branden
Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Resignation from the Boards of ARI and the Anthem Foundation” by John P. McCaskey (Article)
Anthemgate” by Robert Tracinski (Article)
The 1980s Called, and They Want Their Objectivism Back” by Robert Tracinski (Article)
"Intellectual Inheritance?" by Per-Olof Samuelsson (Article)
Beneath The DIM Hypothesis: The Logical Structure of Leonard Peikoff's Analysis of Cultural Evolution” by Roger Bissell (Article)
Open Letter to Objectivists” by Lindsay Perigo (Article)
The Vision of Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
“In the Ayn Rand Archive” by Jennifer Burns (Article)
The Rewriting of Ayn Rand's Spoken Answers” by Robert L. Campbell (Article)
Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden

Websites:
http://www.aynrandstudies.com
http://objectivish.blogspot.com/  
http://www.solopassion.com/frontpage
http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com
https://perolofsamuelsson1.wordpress.com/

Thursday, 23 March 2017

For Brutus is an honourable man ~ William Shakespeare



Here's the speech by Marc Antony in Shakespeare's play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Typewriter

In 1881, Friedrich Nietzsche’s eyesight started failing, so he decided to buy a typewriter (then it was called a “writing ball”) to enable him to continue his writing.

Remington typewriters were available but Nietzsche wanted a simple to use and portable typewriter which would allow him to travel, when necessary, to more salubrious climates. The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball seemed to fit the bill.

In 1882, Nietzsche received his Malling-Hansen Writing Ball directly from the inventor. Unfortunately he was not satisfied with his purchase because he could not master the use of the instrument.

A number of theories have been proposed to explain why Nietzsche was unable to take advantage of his Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. According to some accounts, the instrument was damaged during a trip to Genoa. The inept mechanic who tried to repair it may have inflicted further damage.

Nietzsche immortalized his struggle with the writing ball with this verse:

“The writing ball is a thing like me: 
Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys. 
Patience and tact are required in abundance 
As well as fine fingers to use us.”

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Graduate Student Who Inspired Ayn Rand To Publish A Book

Ayn Rand begins the Foreword to The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution with a letter form a reader. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
Dear Miss Rand: 
I am a graduate student in sociology in Northern Illinois University and a student of Objectivism… 
Actually, what I want to discuss with you is your writings on the New Left. I have read them all and, in my opinion, they offer the best critical analysis that has ever been written on this movement. Your recent articles: “The Left: Old and New”; “Apollo and Dionysus”; and your recent article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, “The New Left Represents an Intellectual Vacuum,” were superb. I recently reread your article, “The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion,’” published in 1965, and I was struck by how accurate ad prophetic your analysis was at that time. 
After reading these articles it occurred to me that, if they were all collected together and published (i.e., mass-distributed in paperback by Signet), they could have a tremendous impact on the culture and especially on the college campuses…
The letter is signed by just an initial: G. M. B.

Mr. G. M. B. did manage to convince Rand. A bit later on she says in the Foreword: “As a rule, I do not like practical suggestions from readers. But this was such a good idea so convincingly presented that I showed the letter to my publishers, who agreed with its writer wholeheartedly. Such was the origin of this book—with my thanks to Mr. G. M. B.”

When I read the book, I think 13 or 14 years ago, I remember wondering who this G. M. B. was. Well, then I had no way of finding out, but in the social media, you sometimes find people who can answer such questions. Mr. G. M. B. has been in my Facebook friend-list and I didn't know that he was the writer of this letter until he revealed it to me by himself a few days ago while we were discussing something else.

The initials stand for Gerald M. Biggers. On the social media he is Mr. Jerry Biggers. He says, “Of course, I am astounded that Miss Rand had followed-up on my suggestion for a book of her articles on the New Left, and was immensely grateful and honored that my letter was included.”

In 1999, The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution was reissued under a new title: Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. Along with the complete original text, the new edition contains two additional essays by Ayn Rand, "Racism" and "Global Balkanization," and three essays by the editor, Peter Schwartz.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Case Against The Brandens

The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics
James S. Valliant

James S. Valliant has done a service to the followers of Ayn Rand by writing The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC). His leitmotif is to show that Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden are such thankless people that even though they benefited extensively from their association with Rand, they caused her personal pain and tarnished her reputation. But the PARC goes much beyond its “expose and diminish the Brandens” agenda, and it conjures a deeper and more rounded image of Ayn Rand as a woman.

Rand used to freely and spontaneously confide her thoughts to her private journals. The appeal of the PARC lies in the fact that it includes several of Rand’s notes on the Brandens.  These notes dispel the myth of Rand as a strident and dry philosopher and writer. Here she is showing the emotional side of her personality. She is trying to psychoanalyze Nathaniel in an attempt to find out if he loves her or not. At times, she seems unsure of what is going on—at times, she resorts to rationalization, as she tries to cope with the feelings of hurt, humiliation, and torture.

The “About the Author” note at the end of Atlas Shrugged has this line: "My personal life," says Ayn Rand, "is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: 'And I mean it!’" But a life that is a postscript to her novels can only be led in the company of someone who is like John Galt. Therefore it was her personal need that led her to rationalize that Nathaniel was a Galt-like man.

Valliant pays considerable attention to refuting the claims about Rand that Nathaniel has made in My Years with Ayn Rand, and Barbara has made in The Passion of Ayn Rand. In the book’s second chapter, Valliant points out that Nathaniel claims in his book that “Rand once described him as John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, ‘except for a few blemishes.’” Nathaniel blames the unrealistic view that Rand had of him for the erratic behavior that he exhibited with her during this period. For once, Valliant is in agreement with Nathaniel—he accepts that Rand was in error when she proclaimed that Nathaniel was close to being a John Galt.

But he blames Nathaniel for not doing enough to make Rand aware that she was misjudging him and that he was not who she thought he was. Valiant writes: “It was his responsibility to correct Rand in this matter rather than to continue what he knew to be a fraud for several more years, as he did, and then, after her death, to characterize her unconsciousness of certain personal facts as ‘appalling.’” But I must point out that in his book, Nathaniel claims that on several occasions he told Rand that he was not a John Galt. By the time the realization dawned on her that he wasn't what she expected him to be, it was too late and they could not avoid a messy breakup.

PARC is divided into two parts. In Part I, which is titled “Biography and Myth,” Vaillant’s approach is like an American soldier going into battle—he takes an all-guns-blazing approach. In the 6-chapters of the Part I, he deploys every bit of firepower in his arsenal to demolish the critique of Rand by the Brandens. He offers novel arguments, evidence from diverse resources; he rationalizes, he analyzes, and he relentlessly strives to prove that much of what the Brandens’ have said about Rand is a lie.

Valliant is not subtle about what he aims to achieve in the book—he declares it upfront that his intention is to go after the Brandens. In the final paragraph of the first chapter, “Less Than Zero,” he writes: “As we proceed, Mr. Branden will be seen to invent implausible, improbable, and impossible quotations for Rand—again and again. Ms. Branden will be seen to make bold assertions even in the face of conclusive evidence to the contrary—again and again. The Brandens’ books are themselves replete with evidence that this kind of dishonesty pervades all aspects of their ‘biographical’ efforts.”

In the second chapter, “Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect,” he gives a brief survey of historian Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals. “In Intellectuals, Paul Johnson’s biographical survey of many of the most influential thinkers of the past couple of centuries, a fascinating series of case studies offer a dramatic comparison.”

Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals reveals that Bertrand Russell was himself a womanizer, but he complained bitterly when his wife Dora had an affair—Ernest Hemingway was an alcoholic who would often beat his wives and anyone else—Karl Marx rarely bathed. Valliant’s point is that even if  Rand had a few bad qualities she was still a much better person than other intellectuals. But by contrasting Rand with other intellectuals, Valliant seems to suggest that we can judge a person through a process of comparison with other people.

Would such a method of judging a person be acceptable to Rand? I think she would have insisted that a person be judged only on the basis of his own qualities. But for Valliant the intellectuals in Paul Johnson’s book are an argument by themselves—he uses their shortcomings to prove that Rand is better than them. “From the ferocity of the Brandens’ attack, one would assume that Rand was far worse than any of these celebrated figures. And, yet, an objective comparison—using the Brandens’ own works—suggests a contrast to these “giants” of another kind.”

It is clear that Valliant has gone through the books by Barbara and Nathaniel with a fine-tooth comb, because he presents his perspective on almost every adverse remark that they have made about Rand. For instance, Barbara has asserted that Rand was being dishonest when she claimed that the “only thinker in history from whom she had anything to learn” was Aristotle. She is of the view that Rand ought to have been challenged for making such a statement—she takes Rand to task for dismissing the entire history of philosophy with the sole exception of Aristotle and Aquinas.

Valliant counters Barbara by pointing out that it is true that “Rand was influenced by very few thinkers when it came to philosophical fundamentals.” He also points out that Rand has explicitly acknowledged that she was influenced by certain ideas of Nietzsche.

In the chapter, “The Exploiters and the Exploited,” Valliant takes the Brandens’ to task for their sexual misdemeanors: “in contrast to Ms. Branden’s portrait of her own personal victimization, Branden reveals the multiple, undisclosed affairs Ms. Branden had during the early years of their relationship. He also reveals himself to have been the aggressor in his sexual relationship with Rand.” In the pages of Valliant’s book, there is certainly a whole lot of dirty laundry being washed in full public view. But that is the nature of his project.

Now coming to the Part II of PARC which has only one chapter of close to 200 pages—the first thing that strikes you is the title, “Documenting the Rape of Innocence.” On which personality is Valliant attributing the quality of “innocence”? On March 2, 1950, when Nathaniel had his first meeting with Rand, he was a 19-years-old college student. Then Rand was a 45-year-old cultural icon. She was experienced in the ways of the world—she had escaped the Soviet Union and arrived in USA, and after years of struggle she had established herself as a writer of bestselling books and a philosopher.

But the word “innocence” conjures the picture of a helpless gullible person who has an immature view of the world. It does not seem logical to attribute the quality of “innocence” to Ayn Rand. She was anything but innocent. What about Nathaniel Branden? Can he be the “innocent” one? Consider these lines that he has written in My Years With Ayn Rand:

“In 1948, at the age of eighteen, I knew The Fountainhead so thoroughly that if someone read me any sentence in the book, I could recite the gist of the sentence immediately preceding and following. This had one practical consequence, which would assume so much importance later; I had become intimately familiar with the workings of Ayn Rand’s consciousness. It was as if there were a direct line from her psyche to mine. I was only two years away from our first meeting.”

This is the level of knowledge that he had at the age of 18. The point is that neither Ayn Rand and nor Nathaniel Branden were of the “innocent” kind. Both were fully mature and they entered into a relationship because they chose to do so. The use of the word “rape” in the title is quite disconcerting. It is a harsh word and it certainly seems out of context when we are talking about how the relationship between Rand and Branden developed and deteriorated.

In the final pages of the chapter, Valliant explains his choice of the title. He says that in “his sexual behavior toward Rand, Branden, by his own admission, was motivated not by lust, but by power and position.” He also reveals that in his view “Branden’s psychology shows a striking similarity to the psychology of a rapist.”

And a bit later on:

“Branden was not only able to exploit Rand—intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, professionally and financially—he could do so with an erection. While his behavior was not, technically, rape, Branden’s was nothing less than the soul of a rapist.”

Well, in my view Valliant’s verdict on Branden does not add any value to Rand’s reputation. If she allowed a man who is just out of college to exploit her—intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, professionally and financially—for more than two decades then what does that say about the strength of her mind? I don’t think that she had an abusive relationship with Branden. She would not have tolerated Branden for a day if the relationship had not been pleasurable and profitable for her. The quality of their relationship saw a deterioration only in the final years of their association.

While I disagree with the title of the only chapter in Part II, I like its content. The excerpts from Rand’s personal journals that I have mentioned in the beginning of the article are published in this chapter. These excerpts are a treasure trove of information on Rand’s views on mortality and psychology. Here’s an excerpt from her note on July 8, 1968:

“For instance, [Nathaniel] had thought that an ideal form of love was a single, monogamous marriage—therefore, he resisted the realization that his marriage had failed, because he regarded this as his failure to lead a “stylized” life. I asked him whether he regarded Rearden’s life as “unstylized” because of the failure of his marriage. He agreed emphatically that he had always regarded it that way. He compared Rearden’s situation—the discovery that he had chosen the wrong woman—to the position of a writer who discovers that his past work is bad or wrong, and who is ashamed of it; he said that such a writer’s position was a horror. I told him that this amounted to a “Kantian stylized universe”: a series of intrinsic moral absolutes to which men had to conform, regardless of context, personal choice or circumstances. ”

Rand’s private notes that are included in the Part II of PARC were written by her in 1968 when she was on the verge splitting from Branden. The notes show that her mind is full of questions like: Is he hiding something? Does he really love me? Why is he behaving like this? Is there another woman in his life? To find the answers to all the questions that were in her mind, she tries to psychoanalyze Branden and reaches categories such as “Kantian stylized universe.”

In her lengthy note on July 8, 1968, Rand writes that she had now realized that instead of being like John Galt, Nathaniel was like Philip, the weak, vacillating, and often irrational protagonist in Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.

In his Introduction to the book, Valliant writes: “In May of 2003, the Estate of Ayn Rand granted me unprecedented access to these same unpublished journals. At that time, only a small handful of people, and certainly not the Brandens, had even seen many of these journal entries, and their contents were the subject of considerable speculation.” However, Valliant does not explain why he was granted the “unprecedented” access to these notes, which are a treasure trove of information on Rand and the Brandens.

The private notes included in PARC are often fragmented but one can draw the inference that these are a small part of what Rand may have written in her journals in 1968. I find myself wondering what is there in her journals that are yet to be published? What else did she write in 1968? What did she write in 1967 and in years before that? What did she write in 1969 and the years after that?

Overall, Valliant has written a long, informative and satisfying account of a controversial epoch in Rand’s life. The best thing about the book is that he has allowed Rand to speak for herself (through her private notes) on the most compelling issues. I will end this article with a personal plea to the Ayn Rand Estate to publish all the notes from Rand’s personal journals.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Immanuel Kant On The Historians of Philosophy

In the second paragraph of Introduction to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Immanuel Kant says that scholars should not confuse philosophy with the history of philosophy. 

Here’s the excerpt: 

“There are scholarly men, to whom the history of philosophy (both ancient and modern) is philosophy itself; for these the present Prolegomena are not written. They must wait till those who endeavor to draw from the fountain of reason itself have completed their work; it will then be the historian's turn to inform the world of what has been done. Unfortunately, nothing can be said, which in their opinion has not been said before, and truly the same prophecy applies to all future time; for since the human reason has for many centuries speculated upon innumerable objects in various ways, it is hardly to be expected that we should not be able to discover analogies for every new idea among the old sayings of past ages.” 

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Classical Mind

A History of Western Philosophy: The Classical Mind (Second Edition)
W. T. Jones
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969


I became acquainted with A History of Western Philosophy by W. T. Jones while listening to Leonard Peikoff’s History of Philosophy lecture. Peikoff has good things to say about W. T. Jones’s survey of the life and works of the major Western philosophers from antiquity to modern times.

A History of Western Philosophy is a four-volume work: Volume I—The Classical Mind; Volume II—The Medieval Mind; Volume III—Hobbes to Hume; Volume IV—Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre. I plan to read all the four books, and now I have finished the Volume I—The Classical Mind, which I find very informative and pleasant. Here’s my article on the book:

In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones describes the evolution of philosophy in ancient Greece and the early period of the Roman Empire. The focus is on the key philosophers and major philosophical trends. In the Preface, W. T. Jones explains the method that he employs in the book:

“An historian of philosophy can either say something, however brief, about everyone who philosophized, or he can limit himself to giving a reasonably consecutive account of a number of representative thinkers, omitting discussion of many second- and third-flight philosophers. I have chosen the latter approach…”

The verdict of more than two millennia makes it clear that Plato and Aristotle were the masters of their period and therefore The Classical Mind has considerable emphasis on their life and works. The discussion on the two philosophers is spread across four lengthy sections—section 4 and 5 for Plato, and section 6 and 7 for Aristotle.

But W. T. Jones does not neglect the non-Platonic and non-Aristotelian aspects of Ancient Greek philosophy. He creates a composite picture of the intellectual, cultural and political forces that were operating in the pre-Socratic Greece, and shows how these forces led to the creation of an environment in which the rise of Plato and Aristotle became possible.

There are chapters on how God and nature were viewed in the time of Homer and Hesiod—the teachings of thinkers like Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Pythagoras and Socrates—the movement of the Pythagoreans, sophists and atomists—the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes—the impact of the Peloponnesian War on the intellectual culture of Athens.

But what enabled the ancient Greeks to make such rapid strides in philosophy? In his Introduction, W. T. Jones writes: “Greek philosophy was born out of the struggle to understand nature, for understanding nature proved to be less simple and straightforward than the earliest Greek scientist had confidently assumed. Scientific inquiry becomes philosophical when men discovered that it was necessary to ask questions about this inquiry itself and about its method.”

In the chapter, “Evaluation of Aristotle’s Philosophy,” Jones draws an interesting comparison between Aristotle and Plato:

“Where Plato is whimsical and ironic, and proceeds by suggestion and indirection, Aristotle is matter-of-fact, almost pedestrian. Where Plato’s writing is filled with his sense of better and more beautiful world behind, above, beyond the world of ordinary experience, illuminating that experience but transcending it, Aristotle keeps his feet firm on the ground of ordinary experience. This is his reality, and the business of philosophy in his view is to make sense of the here and now.”

The final chapter, “The Late Classical Period,” is on the rise of Rome. Greek philosophy has now gone into a decline. The Roman Empire has emerged as a major political power in Europe and it also become the center for philosophical and scientific inquiry. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

On Aristotle

“Where Plato is whimsical and ironic, and proceeds by suggestion and indirection, Aristotle is matter-of-fact, almost pedestrian. Where Plato’s writing is filled with his sense of better and more beautiful world behind, above, beyond the world of ordinary experience, illuminating that experience but transcending it, Aristotle keeps his feet firm on the ground of ordinary experience. This is Aristotle's reality, and the business of philosophy in his view is to make sense of the here and now.”

~ W. T. Jones in A History of Western Philosophy (Volume I — The Classical Mind)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

On The Objectivist Lectures Of The 1960s

The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism 
Nathaniel Branden

Of late I have been inquisitive about the lectures on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy that Nathaniel Branden delivered under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI). I have read a few accounts which claim that these lectures were very well conceived.

NBI was founded in 1958 by Nathaniel with the blessings of Ayn Rand. But the  organization was shut-down in 1968 after Rand evicted him from her circle.

Last week, I listened to two lectures by Nathaniel. Yesterday I purchased the book called The Vision of Ayn Rand which has the transcription of the major lectures that he delivered in the 1960s. Till now I have read the book’s “Introduction” which is by Barbara Branden.

Here’s an excerpt from the “Introduction” in which Barbara seems to suggest that Nathaniel played a critical role in the development of Rand’s philosophical system:
It is unlikely that Rand would have done the work undertaken by Nathaniel—that is, presented her ideas not merely as separate concepts spread over separate novels in separate speeches by her characters, but as a total system that could be studied by those interested and that ultimately would be recognized as a new philosophical system. At the time, she had no interest in writing nonfiction. She sometimes said that she would not write a comprehensive statement of her philosophy until she was 80. And when she did turn to non-fiction writing, she focused primarily on presenting various important aspects, applications, and extensions (such as her work on epistemology) of her ideas rather than on structuring and completing the system as a whole. 
It is possible that Barbara is overhyping Nathaniel’s role. But I will have more to say on the value of the lectures on Objectivism that Nathaniel delivered during the 1960s after I finish reading The Vision of Ayn Rand.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Lawgivers of Ancient Greece

Early Greek Lawgivers
John David Lewis
Bloomsbury, 2007 

What is the contribution of the lawgivers in Ancient Greece to the idea that all men are equal under the law, and that the king must rule according to a written constitution? John David Lewis’s Early Greek Lawgivers has the answer to such questions.

A book of just 100-pages, Early Greek Lawgivers is divided into seven chapters—the first three chapters have a short description of the history of early Greek law. The next four chapters focus on the lawgivers like Minos and Rhadamanthus of Crete, Lycurgus of Sparta, Solon of Athens, and a few lesser known lawgivers.

The era in which these lawgivers lived was the era of the polis—the Greek city-state. Hundreds of city-states had appeared across the Mediterranean and each one of them was legally independent and self-governing, as there was no overarching Greek empire to impose a common constitution.

The Greek system of justice was an attribute of individual city-states. “When we speak of ‘Greek law’ or a “Greek lawgiver’, we must ask which set of laws or which lawgiver we are considering for which particular polis, for there were no universal Greek institutions to enact and enforce Greek laws across a singular Greek world.”

The special status of the lawgivers within the polis enabled them to resolve disputes without violence, and preach ideas for moral behavior. In the chapter, “Early Greek Order, Justice and Law,” Lewis says that “a ‘just’ decision was one that both sides can agree on, and that forestalls a violent clash.”

And a bit later on: “It is important to note that the ‘City of Peace’ is not a town in which no disputes occur; it is the way that disputes are handled that distinguishes it from the City of War.” Therefore the inference can be drawn that the critical task before any lawgiver in a Greek polis was to maintain peace by resolving disputes.

Lewis acknowledges that it is difficult to conduct an objective study of the ancient Greek lawgivers because their life is shrouded in mythology. He writes: “Many lawgivers were real historical persons—and they did bring laws and constitutions to their cities—but they have also become figures shaped by centuries of legends.”


Homer’s verses have lavished praise on the ancient Cretan King Minos's system of justice. Homer “connected Minos to the earliest Greek gods and heroes,”  and asserted that Minos consulted his father Zeus for the laws and brought them to the Cretans. Another lawgiver to use unwritten laws is Lycurgus who is credited with establishing the Spartan state.

The first Athenian figure to whom specific laws have been attributed is Draco (who lived around 621 BC). “In writing the laws Draco brought some stability to judgements, by limiting the discretion available to officials, and by placating those who wanted strong customary laws enforced.”

In the history of Greek lawgivers Solon of Athens (640-560 BC) is the most revered figure. Lewis points out that Aristotle has said in Politics that Solon, with his written laws, brought ‘politeia’ to Athens. Some scholars have translated ‘politeia’ as constitution, but Lewis says that if we translate this as ‘constitution’ then “we run the risk of conflating Aristotle’s sense of politeia (the organization of the polis, including its distribution of offices) into a modern ‘constitution’.”

“Solon did bring reforms to Athens, and what resulted was a polis with a certain organization, but Solon never called a constitutional convention to establish new institutions, nor did he consider the various forms of polis analytically (as did Aristotle). He rather used poetry to inculcate certain habits of mind, connected to social ritual as well as to reforms of offices, by which he could bring his sense of justice to Athens.”

In the final chapter, “Lesser Known Lawgivers,” Lewis talks about the particular issues in Greek law that certain lesser known lawgivers tried to address. For instance, Philolaus attempted to tackle family law; Phaleas addressed the issue of communism of property; and Hippodamus presented ideas on civic planning.

Early Greek Lawgivers will not give you a complete exegesis of the work of the ancient Greek lawgivers—but with its brief accounts of the major lawgivers, the book facilitates an understanding of the social background in which they worked, and the terminology and concepts in law that they developed. Also, Lewis’s analysis of Aristotle’s comments on Greek lawgivers in works like Politics and Constitution of the Athenians is quite interesting.

Overall, Early Greek Lawgivers is an ideal primer on the development of the concept of rule of law in ancient Greek city-states.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Galt’s Gulch Is Not An Endorsement of Anarchism

The "free-market anarchists” or ”anarcho-capitalists” claim that the lack of government in Galt’s Gulch can be seen as Ayn Rand's endorsement of a no-government society.

So how did Rand herself view the political structure of Galt’s Gulch?

In Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A, she is asked: “Why is the lack of government in Galt’s Gulch (in Atlas Shrugged) any different from anarchy, which you object to?” In her response, Rand repudiates the anarchist position.

Let me quote her:
Galt’s Gulch is not a society; it’s a private estate. It’s owned by one man who carefully selected the people admitted. Even then, they had a judge as an arbitrator, if anything came up; only nothing came up among them, because they shared the same philosophy. But if you had a society in which all shared in one philosophy, but without a government, that would be dreadful. Galt’s Gulch probably consisted of about, optimistically, a thousand people who represented the top geniuses of the world. They agreed on fundamentals, but they would never be in total agreement. They didn't need a government because if they had disagreements, they could resolve them rationally.  
But project a society of millions, in which there is every kind of viewpoint, every kind of brain, every kind of morality—and no government. That’s the Middle Ages, your no-government society. Man was left at the mercy of bandits, because without government, every criminally inclined individual resorts to force, and every morally inclined individual is helpless. Government is an absolute necessity if individual rights are to be protected, because you don’t leave force at the arbitrary whim of other individuals. Libertarian anarchism is pure whim worship, because what they refuse to recognize is the need of objectivity among men—particularly men of different views. And it’s good that people within a nation should have different views, provided we respect each others rights.  
No one can guard rights, except a government under objective laws. What if McGovern had his gang of policemen, and Nixon had his, and instead of campaigning they fought in the streets? This has happened throughout history. Rational men are not afraid of government. In a proper society, a rational man doesn't have to know the government exists, because the laws are clear and he never breaks them. 
It is noteworthy that Rand says that libertarian anarchism is “pure whim worship.” If you said that of any anarchist, you will be accused of making an ad hominem argument. But the truth is that they are using Rand’s concepts to make the case for a no-government political position which she has emphatically rejected.