Objectivism is the philosophical system created by Ayn Rand. That has been ARI’s position since its founding in 1985. In 1989, this was disputed by David Kelley, then a speaker for ARI. To soften the blow of a disagreement he had expressed with Rand’s theory of moral evaluation, Kelley maintained that Objectivism “is not a closed system.” Peikoff responded:
Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system . . . 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.
This spring, Stephen Hicks and Craig Biddle reopened the question in a public debate. But according to ARI senior fellow Onkar Ghate on a recent episode of The Yaron Brook Show, it’s a question that should never have been opened in the first place.
In Ghate’s view, the question of whether Objectivism is “open” or “closed” is a smear of Peikoff’s (and ARI’s) position. He points out that “open” evokes “open-minded” and “closed” evokes “closed-minded.” As Rand argued, “closed-mind” is a smear. “Closed mind,” she says, smears the rationally certain as dogmatic, impervious to facts and arguments.
In his debate with Biddle, Hicks claimed that Objectivism is a science, and as science is open to new discoveries and corrections, Objectivism must be, too. But, Ghate notes, this is a facile conflation between a subject — philosophy — and a theory within that subject — Objectivism.
Especially because the position taken by Kelley and Hicks is so poorly supported, Brook and Ghate argue that the question of whether Objectivism is “open” or “closed” is unworthy of debate. Debating the question would legitimize it and sanction the smear. (In the Biddle-Hicks debate, Biddle fails to call out the smear and adopts a collegial tone, further compounding the sanction.)
In an interesting moment, Ghate reviews a passage from Ayn Rand in which she identified the only issue needed to settle the nature of the philosophy of Objectivism:
If you wonder why I am so particular about protecting the integrity of the term “Objectivism,” my reason is that “Objectivism” is the name I have given to my philosophy — therefore, anyone using that name for some philosophical hodgepodge of his own, without my knowledge or consent, is guilty of the fraudulent presumption of trying to put thoughts into my brain.
Interspersed throughout the discussion are Ghate’s observations of how a religious conception of philosophy affects one’s thinking about these issues. For example, Ghate argues that the accusation that someone is dogmatic for agreeing with a philosophy reveals that the accuser assumes philosophy as a religion.
After discussing the “open” vs. “closed” smear and the recent debate, Dr. Ghate spent an hour taking questions from the audience, both on the podcast’s subject and on a variety of other topics.