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Dave Rubin and Harry Binswanger on The Rubin Report

The Rubin Report: Objectivity Is Possible and Necessary

In a recent series of videos, produced in collaboration with the Ayn Rand Institute, talk show host Dave Rubin interviews Objectivist intellectuals to explore Rand’s view of what happiness is and what’s needed to achieve it. But how can anyone know what happiness is? How can anyone know the truth of any complex viewpoint? Is there any objective truth to know? If there is, why doesn’t everyone know how to find it, or even care to try? These are basic questions in the theory of knowledge (or epistemology), an important branch of philosophy.

In the latest episode of the series, Rubin sits down for a one-on-one with Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger, an associate and friend of Ayn Rand during her lifetime, and a venerable scholar of her philosophy, especially her epistemology. Objectivism is literally named for the idea that we both can and must know objective reality if we are to live successfully. Rubin’s discussion with Binswanger helps highlight some of the crucial reasons Objectivism regards objectivity as both possible and necessary. And Binswanger conveys these admittedly technical ideas with his typical warmth and aplomb.

Binswanger begins by recounting some of his initial impressions upon meeting Rand for the first time in the early 1960s. While he perceived the culture around him as rejecting black-and-white judgments, he was impressed by how she was willing to make “very firm and absolute” statements about religion (she was an atheist) and morality (she rejected sexual hedonism). Be sure to catch his humorous anecdote about the professor who took the diametrically opposite tack (except when such skepticism was, shall we say, personally inconvenient).

Still, Rubin wonders, how is it possible to be so firm and absolute about such contentious issues as religion and morality? Binswanger grounds his answer in ordinary examples about which most people would think we can be certain, and he emphasizes that the source of this certainty is not some mysterious dogmatic revelation but a tool available to everyone: the senses.

Using ordinary examples about which most people would think we can be certain, he emphasizes that the source of this certainty is not some mysterious dogmatic revelation but a tool available to everyone: the senses.
Of course, this answer itself raises a plethora of questions. Rubin and Binswanger pursue at least two of the bigger ones. Do our senses ever fool us? And if our senses give us access to objective facts, why then do so many people disagree about so many contentious questions? To answer each, Binswanger draws on some of Rand’s distinctive contributions to the theory of knowledge, views he has explained in detail in his clarifying book How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation.

Among the most contentious issues in philosophy are questions about morality. In a previous episode, Binswanger and Gregory Salmieri reviewed the Objectivist case for how even morality can be grounded in observable facts. In this latest interview, Rubin and Binswanger discuss the obstacles people face in grasping the facts on which this theory is based.

The interview covers a variety of questions connected to both the epistemology of objective truth and the morality of self-interest. Why are people tempted to go by faith rather than reason? Why is self-sacrifice evil? How often are we really asked to engage in self-sacrifice — only in emergency situations, or is the call issued every day, in the most ordinary of circumstances? How can a civilized society be organized around the morality of self-interest?

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To answer these questions in a world in which we are relentlessly called to sacrifice requires real intellectual self-confidence that the truth is knowable. Lately it’s popular for commentators to claim that we live in a “post-truth” culture. On one side, politicians and pundits avoid accountability to objective facts through spin and propagandistic talking points. On the other side, activists say the truth is only a “social construct.” In such a climate, it is refreshing to see a philosopher like Harry Binswanger point the way toward cutting through this fog.


Objectivism on Happiness (Rubin Report episode list):

In this episode, Onkar Ghate and Tara Smith delve into the question of how selfishness could possibly be a good thing — and why Rand is the only thinker who has dared to challenge the basic moral premises that have animated our culture for more than two thousand years. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Onkar Ghate explains why free will matters for one’s own life and happiness, and how human free will is consistent with the Law of Causality. He and Dave Rubin also discuss the effects of genes and environment on a person’s nature and choices of actions. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Dave Rubin has an in-depth discussion with Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate about tribalism as a low form of collectivism. They examine its manifestations on the left and the right today, including “intersectionality” and “the oppression Olympics,” explaining how these are consequences of the moral code of altruism. They contrast all of that with the original American system, which was geared toward the rational, productive person pursuing his own happiness. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri join Dave Rubin to discuss the moral and practical considerations involved in achieving one's own personal happiness. They discuss the Objectivist perspective on happiness as a flourishing and successful state of life and provide guidance on how to create a happy life that is a purposeful, meaningful and integrated whole. In discussing free will, they examine what is and what is not within an individual's control. The discussion also encompasses related topics such as how a deep sense of meaning is possible in a world without God. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Gregory Salmieri and Harry Binswanger talk with Dave Rubin about Binswanger’s experience knowing Ayn Rand personally, why Ayn Rand’s ideas continue to generate the strong reactions they do — and Objectivism’s novel view of the relationship between facts and values. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Tara Smith talks with Dave Rubin about what it means to take one’s happiness seriously. Smith discusses the objective requirements of flourishing, the role of the ideas one accepts in one’s pursuit of happiness, and what it means to be self-interested in the pursuit of team goals or relationships. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher. For more perspective see the New Ideal announcement.
In this episode, Yaron Brook and Gena Gorlin talk with Dave Rubin about what it takes to live a meaningful life. Among the topics discussed: why a career purpose is so important, and how to navigate the challenges inherent in a career; why deep engagement with art can be such a powerful inspiration; and why rationality is not only compatible with romantic love, but a necessary condition for it. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Harry Binswanger speaks one-on-one with Dave Rubin about Objectivism’s view of truth, objectivity and self-interest — and why these concepts matter outside the philosophy classroom. Other topics of discussion include Binswanger’s experience hearing Ayn Rand speak for the first time, and how that lecture affected the course of his life; how to answer a skeptic who claims there is no objective truth; and why Objectivism considers self-sacrifice to be immoral. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Yaron Brook joins Dave Rubin to discuss why Ayn Rand and her ideas matter today. Brook explains the unique value Objectivism brings to today’s intellectual landscape — and how Rand’s vision of what it looks like to achieve a truly happy, fulfilling life has inspired generations of idealistic young people to gravitate toward her. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, philosopher Gregory Salmieri and psychologist Gena Gorlin talk with Dave Rubin about the psychological requirements of happiness. Among the topics discussed: what it means to treat happiness as a process, not just an outcome; the difference between Rand’s view of the pursuit of happiness and the “hedonic treadmill” notion of pursuing shallow pleasures that never truly satisfy; how having a central purpose can resolve internal conflicts; and how to find a sense of meaning in life. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, John Allison and Dave Rubin discuss the role of philosophy in Allison’s business success. Ranked by Harvard Business Review among the world’s 100 most successful CEOs over the last decade, Allison explains how a business culture built upon Objectivist virtues helped his company, BB&T Corporation, to successfully navigate the 2008 financial crisis, growing in assets from $4.5 billion to $152 billion during his tenure. Audio podcasts are available at iTunes and Stitcher.
In the final episode of the series, philosopher Gregory Salmieri joins Dave Rubin for a big-picture discussion of today’s political culture. Salmieri compares the ugly aspects of our political situation with those of the past and gives advice about how to navigate it in a more positive way. Among other topics discussed: whether it’s important to “get good people into politics,” how to think about the “lesser of two evils,” whether the media is more biased today than in the past, and how to be a better consumer of news. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
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Ben Bayer

Ben Bayer, Ph.D. in philosophy and formerly a professor, is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

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