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Why Can’t Professional Philosophers Get Rand Right?

Ayn Rand’s critics fail to interpret her objectively.

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“Philosophy departments almost without exception boycott Ayn Rand disciples,” observed former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers in 2015.1 In a 2009 informal poll of the profession on the blog of philosopher Brian Leiter, 75 percent of respondents voted Rand as the person philosophers “most wish the media would stop referring to as a ‘philosopher.’”2 I once found this baffling. While working towards my Ph.D. in philosophy, I read most figures from the traditional canon. To me, it was clear that Rand made significant, original contributions to philosophy, and she deserves a place in the canon. At the very least, she deserves a fair hearing. But a boycott?

While there’s no “Why do you hate Rand?” survey of professional philosophers, we can make an educated guess as to how they would answer the question, based on anecdotes and the few published criticisms that exist: most find her political and moral views implausible, even repugnant. I think this explains a lot of the hatred, but it isn’t the only factor. To get a complete understanding of the hostility to Rand, we need to also consider the reason they would give for thinking she’s not a philosopher.

Philosophy is supposed to seek the truth no matter what. If a writer has interesting arguments for shocking philosophical conclusions, that’s even more reason to engage with her as a philosopher. The problem with Rand, they will tell you, is that her arguments are bad, if she even has arguments at all.

How do professional philosophers understand Rand’s arguments, and how good are their criticisms? When I read their analyses, my usual reaction is to wonder why their reconstructions of Rand’s arguments have little connection to her written texts. Though they often deny it, Rand’s critics show in professional journals and textbooks clear signs of contempt for their subject by failing to engage with her texts. They would downgrade a student paper which fails to engage key philosophical texts. Why do they make an exception for their own work?

My focus in this article is to show the main reason Rand’s critics consistently fail to interpret her accurately. It is not necessarily that they are intellectually dishonest (though this can be a contributing factor). It is primarily that their approach is parochial. That is, because they take for granted a philosophical framework that Rand is calling into question, they do not think of her as a real philosopher and therefore think she isn’t worth taking seriously. Their method is, in essence, a form of question-begging. In standard question-begging, an argument on one side of a dispute assumes a premise that is, in fact, the very thing in question. What I call philosophical parochialism begs questions concerning philosophy’s basic assumptions, standards, and methods.

Parochialism from Rand’s Hostile Critics

Nowhere is this parochialism more obvious than in philosophers’ commentary on Rand’s metaphysics. One semi-prominent philosopher who has written a lengthy criticism of Objectivism is Massimo Pigliucci, professor at City University of New York. His criticism begins with an especially crude parochialism. He quotes a passage from Atlas Shrugged in which Rand explains what she means by “axiom.” (In his essay, Pigliucci omits the sentence I’ve bracketed. I’ll return to that momentarily):

[An axiom is a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others, whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not.] An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.3

Pigliucci replies:

Wrong. An axiom is an assumption from which the discussion begins. It can (and should) be examined and/or challenged if the deductive consequences of the axiom(s) entail logical contradictions or any other rationally unacceptable conclusions. This is the way it works in math, logic, and philosophy.4

Pigliucci must not own a dictionary, because Rand’s account is in line with ordinary English meanings of the term.

In Rand’s view, an axiom is a basic, self-evident principle on which all further knowledge depends. As a principle it primarily functions as a norm we should reason with, though it can be a premise we reason from. Her conception of an axiom has an impressive philosophical pedigree, going back to Aristotle. For Aristotle, an axiom is a basic starting point for knowledge. A feature of an axiom like the principle of non-contradiction is that it must be assumed to be denied (Met. IV.3 (1004b20-1005a35)).5 Rand agrees, and in the text from which Pigliucci quotes, Rand refers to Aristotle on this point.

So where is Pigliucci coming from? In the early twentieth century, some philosophers in Pigliucci’s tradition dropped the Aristotelian conception and substituted their own. Pigliucci assumes as unquestionable a historically novel concept of an axiom that he isn’t aware, or doesn’t care, that Rand is disputing.6

In this case, the critic is being crudely parochial about the meaning of a key term. Maybe Rand’s account of an axiom is incorrect. But to show that, you’d have to respond to her reasons. In Rand’s view, to do philosophy well, you must state your primaries. A feature of a genuine philosophical primary is that it is assumed by all knowledge and therefore cannot be denied without being simultaneously affirmed. Following Aristotle and acceptable English usage, she calls such primaries “axioms.”7 Thus, her understanding of axioms in the omitted sentence and the implication drawn out in the quoted sentence. Merely asserting a contrary view just begs the question against her. Observe that the omitted sentence directly addresses Pigliucci’s concern and ask yourself whether a philosophy professor with three PhDs is likely to have missed that out of mere error.

READ ALSO:  Why Massimo Pigliucci Gets Ayn Rand Wrong

Parochialism about Rand’s view of axioms has a long history. The first member of the profession to make public criticisms of Rand’s philosophy was Sidney Hook, then head of the philosophy department at New York University, in a 1961 review of her book For the New Intellectual (FTNI):

The extraordinary virtues Miss Rand finds in the law that A is A suggests that she is unaware that logical principles by themselves can test only consistency. They cannot establish truth. Inconsistency is a sign of falsity, but, as the existence of consistent liars and paranoiacs indicates, non-consistency is never a sufficient condition of truth. Swearing fidelity to Aristotle, Miss Rand claims to deduce not only matters of fact from logic but, with as little warrant, ethical rules and economic truths as well.8

Hook takes issue with (what he thinks is) Rand’s use of the Law of Identity (“A is A”). In Hook’s interpretation, “A is A” is a single premise from which Rand believes she can deduce ethical egoism, along with her other controversial views. Hook’s interpretation is puzzling, given that Rand’s argument for egoism in FTNI (133–38) does not take any logical principle as a premise.

Instead, Rand advocates the Law of Identity primarily as a principle you should reason with, not from.9 For Rand, “A is A” is the most fundamental principle that should guide your reasoning.10 For example, when you affirm to yourself that your friend is lying to you, despite your strong wish that the matter were a simple misunderstanding, you are reminding yourself that his action is what it is, that A is A, your feeling of betrayal notwithstanding.

Later in FTNI (204), Rand is reasoning with but not from“A is A” when she criticizes false conceptions of rights. In her view, facts about man’s nature determine whether individual rights are the proper basis for a society. She argues that philosophers who defend rights as gifts or privileges from God or society are denying human nature because they are reducing questions of proper social organization to whim (supernatural or social), as if that whim and not nature determines what is good for man. Those philosophers should keep in mind that man is what he is, and the social system we adopt will have what effects it does because of this, democratic or divine will notwithstanding.11

Surely Hook and Pigliucci know the difference between assuming something as a premise and using it as a rule, know there’s an Aristotelian tradition in metaphysics, and know Rand aligns herself with Aristotle on just this issue (she explicitly says so in the very texts under consideration).

When a critic is so obtuse that he’s not considering well-known, textually grounded interpretations which would be immune to his criticism, the criticism is merely a pretense. He’s fishing around for something to object to and counting on his audience to share a similar parochialism and hostility to Rand to prevent them from seeing how weak his objections are. I could as easily object to John Rawls’s theory of “justice” as “fairness,” because in the philosophy I advocate “justice” is “getting what one deserves.” That’s not a great objection unless I also explain what’s flawed about Rawls’s conception.

Textbook Parochialism

It’s not just overtly hostile critics who lodge parochial criticism of Rand. Her most controversial and most discussed view is her ethical egoism, not her metaphysics. It’s a view often covered in undergraduate textbooks, where overt hostility would undermine an educator’s pedagogical goals.

Most undergraduate textbook discussions of Rand’s moral philosophy are accompanied by James Rachels’s 1986 critical essay on egoism (or Stuart Rachels’s update of it).12 (Others are clearly influenced by them.) Oddly, in many texts, Rand is discussed but not quoted at all, and Rachels and Rachels are given the floor as both her critic and expositor.13

In their criticism, Rachels and Rachels cite a passage from the end of Rand’s key text, “The Objectivist Ethics” (TOE), and a few lines from her essay, “Collectivized Ethics,” (an essay which presupposes TOE).14 Their attempt at scholarship ineptly ignores the first sixty or so paragraphs of TOE, which contain Rand’s argument for egoism. Instead, they attribute to her the following line of reasoning:

  1. A person has only one life to live. If we value the individual—that is, if the individual has moral worth—then we must agree that this life is of supreme importance. After all, it is all one has, and all one is.
  2. The ethics of altruism regards the life of the individual as something one must be ready to sacrifice for the good of others. Therefore, the ethics of altruism does not take seriously the value of the human individual.
  3. Ethical Egoism, which allows each person to view his or her own life as being of ultimate value, does take the human individual seriously—it is, in fact, the only philosophy that does so.
  4. Thus, Ethical Egoism is the philosophy that we ought to accept.

Each of these points is formulated in such a philosophically imprecise way that it’s clear Rand would not endorse them. For instance, what does it mean to hold something as “of supreme importance?” “Supreme importance to whom?” Rand would ask. In fact, she spends several paragraphs in TOE arguing that nothing is important independent of the agent to whom it is important and for what it is important. (That argument is an essential component of her argument for egoism.)

But the crucial issue is that, whether or not Rand would endorse some version of these points, the form of argument Rachels and Rachels attribute to Rand is not the form of her argument for egoism. Rachels and Rachels counter (1)–(4) by claiming that the choice between egoism and altruism “is hardly a fair picture of the choices.” Their reply works only if you interpret Rand as making an “argument by elimination.” Arguments by elimination are deductive arguments that assume an exhaustive set of alternatives, refute all but one, and conclude that the remaining alternative is true. In Rachels and Rachels’s reconstruction, (1) sets a standard to which morality must aspire: it must hold the life of the individual as “of supreme importance.” Both (2) and (3), though presented as single point, contain arguments within them. (2) argues that altruism fails to meet the standard, while (3) argues that egoism succeeds. But (3) also makes the further, unsupported claim that only egoism does. This additional conclusion, and the conclusion in (4), would follow only if altruism and egoism were the only options. Hence, Rachels and Rachels’s dismissive reply.

What’s going on here? To many twentieth-century philosophers, the gold standard for assessing philosophical merit was a concise deduction with informally defended premises. Especially in ethics, these informal defenses attempt to get the reader to accept that a premise is “intuitive” (or the implication of a deeper, intuitively true assumption). So, it’s understandable that philosophers educated in this tradition would attempt to interpret someone outside of it as making gold-standard arguments; it’s what they’re comfortable with and trained to look for. Notice that Rachels and Rachels’s first premise states a fact and then attempts to draw from it a common-sense or intuitively plausible implication: the individual is “of supreme importance.” But Rand does not argue like this at any point in her case for egoism.

Rand summarizes her argument for egoism in paragraph 21 of the introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness: “The reasons why man needs a moral code will tell you that the purpose of morality is to define man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests is the essence of a moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions.” In fact, Rand says in the following paragraphs, the issue of egoism vs. altruism is something of an afterthought: “the choice of the beneficiary of moral values is . . . [not] a moral primary: it has to be derived from and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system” [23].15

Obviously, her argument for egoism is unconvincing without a compelling argument for the proposed purpose of morality, an argument that the purpose rules out others as moral beneficiaries of one’s action, and that only an egoistic moral code fulfills the purpose of morality. This is why Rand spends more than sixty paragraphs on exactly those issues, the bulk of which is spent on argumentation aimed at establishing the purpose of morality.

Since egoism is a mere corollary of the purpose of morality, the only way to understand Rand’s argument for egoism is in the context of her argument that the purpose of a moral code is to guide a rational being’s pursuit of his life. The argument is in structure an explanatory argument. She announces this in paragraph 6 of TOE by stating that the first question of ethics is, “Why does man need a code of values?”16 (Rand argues for the fundamentality of the question in the following paragraphs).

Introductory philosophy courses commonly include instruction on “critical thinking,” the basics of textual interpretation and argumentation. One thing we teach our students about reading argumentative texts is to look for “indicator words” or “signposts” which reveal where and how an author is arguing. When Rand tells us that the primary question of ethics is a “why” question, that’s a giant neon sign indicating that explanatory argumentation will follow. And a series of explanatory arguments is just what we find in the subsequent paragraphs.

Explanatory arguments begin with a putative fact and argue that it is the effect of a postulated cause. Most of us are familiar with this form of reasoning from (good) detective fiction. A crime scene and all the evidence gathered from it constitute the facts in need of explanation. (Jones has been stabbed to death. Who did it?) In searching for the culprit, a detective is trying to demonstrate (to explain) that the facts are the effects of a particular person’s actions, that this person’s actions explain the effects. Often, the detective must first establish a general claim (only a skilled knife fighter could make these kinds of wounds) to demonstrate that a particular postulated cause/suspect (Smith, skilled with a blade) is the culprit. In other words, explanatory arguments often require sub-explanatory arguments. When the detective can show that all the evidence points to Smith (and the evidence rules out other suspects), he has the culprit. When we can show that a possible cause is the only one supported by the evidence, we have our explanation.

Explanatory arguments should be familiar to anyone trained in the history of philosophy. Plato wondered what explains the uniquely human power to hold general ideas. Perhaps, he hypothesized, we do this by cognizing a hidden element common to all things of a kind.17 Early modern philosophers wondered how it is possible that we can have experiences which seem like perceptions of an external world but aren’t. Perhaps, Descartes answered, we are aware of an internal representation of the external world created by our minds.18 And so on for most original thinkers in the history of philosophy. Even philosophers who extol the deductive rigor of mathematics (as both Plato and Descartes did) were concerned with what is the phenomenon and whether the concepts and principles they offered provide the correct explanation of it.

The explanatory argument is a familiar argument form in ordinary life, the sciences, and the history of philosophy. But Rachels and Rachels are blissfully unaware that this is how Rand is arguing, despite her telling the reader that this is how she is going to argue at the very beginning of her key ethical text. To shoehorn an unfamiliar argument into one’s preferred form is just more of the same parochialism we’ve been discussing, now about argumentation, not content.

Another widely reprinted textbook interpretation of Rand’s argument for egoism is Louis Pojman’s, which also attributes an eliminative argument to Rand.19 Like Rachels and Rachels, Pojman accuses it of the fallacy of false dilemma, exhibiting the same parochialism about argumentation as Rachels and Rachels. Pojman elaborates on the case that egoism and altruism are not exhaustive options. He writes:

There are plenty of options between these two positions. Even a predominant egoism would admit that sometimes the best way to reach self-fulfillment is for us to forget about ourselves and strive to live for goals, causes, or other persons. Even if altruism is not required (as a duty), it may be permissible in many cases. Furthermore, self-interest may not be incompatible with other-regarding motivation. Even the Second Great Commandment set forth by Moses and Jesus states not that you must always sacrifice yourself for the other person, but that you ought to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:19; Matt. 23). Self-interest and self-love are morally good things, but not at the expense of other people’s legitimate interests. When there is moral conflict of interests, a fair process of adjudication needs to take place.20

What actions count as egoistic and what count as altruistic are substantive philosophical questions, as is the question of what actions are sacrificial. Pojman entertains only a conventional answer to these questions without acknowledging that Rand is bringing this very conventionalism into dispute. For example, Pojman writes that “self-interest and self-love are morally good things, but not at the expense of other people’s legitimate interests.” But, because of her unconventional view of self-interest and sacrifice, Rand disputes that another person’s legitimate interests will conflict with one’s own legitimate interests.21 Furthermore, she adamantly rejects the claim that other-regarding generosity and benevolence is identical to altruism.

Rachels and Rachels’s and Pojman’s parochialism is inexcusable. Though their style does not communicate hostility to Rand, their complete lack of concern with Rand’s text and the fabrication of a weak argument on her behalf reveals that their dispassionate style is a pretense. They should know better, and, since they are writing as educators for beginning students, they should care even more to do better.

Sympathetic Parochialism

Rand has also received criticism from sympathetic critics who also fall into the trap of parochialism. Robert Nozick, a significant figure in late twentieth-century academic philosophy, was politically sympathetic to Rand and a fan of Atlas Shrugged. Yet, he begins his analysis of Rand’s argument for egoism with this puzzling statement:

I would most like to set out [Rand’s] argument as a deductive argument and then examine the premises. Unfortunately, it is not clear (to me) exactly what the argument is. So we shall have to do some speculating about how steps might be filled in, and look at these ways.22

Unlike Rachels and Rachels or Pojman, Nozick does not pretend to give us Rand’s argument. Nothing in his text suggests hostility and his Objectivist friends reject the claim that he was hostile to Rand.23 But also unlike Rachels and Rachels’s or Pojman’s reconstruction, Nozick’s does touch on the essential facts Rand uses in her case for egoism. The likely explanation of his approach is a misuse of the principle of interpretive charity: Nozick wants to give the best possible case for Rand’s views, and to him such a case would be an iron-clad deduction. He can’t find one, so he provides his own. But it’s worth repeating: Rand begins TOE by telling us that she is answering a series of “why” questions, a clear broadcast that explanatory reasoning will follow. Nozick doesn’t consider this as a possibility, doesn’t attempt to work out a text-based interpretation, and the “Randian Argument” he critiques is his, not Rand’s, creation.24 Given this, there’s little value in going into it in any detail.25

Another sympathetic critic of Rand is University of Colorado professor Michael Huemer, whose essays criticizing Objectivism have been circulating online for twenty years. Unlike Nozick, Rachels and Rachels, or Pojman, Huemer’s critique of TOE tries to textually support its reconstruction.26 His reconstructed premises are more plausible interpretations of Rand’s text than the interpretations so far considered, and he justifies his interpretations by citing paragraphs so the reader may check his work. In these respects, he treats his subject with genuine seriousness. But, like Rachels and Rachels, Pojman, and Nozick, Huemer insists on forcing Rand’s argument into a form alien to its actual structure. The result of Huemer’s approach is that he does not recognize essential parts of the text as argumentative and is left unable to correctly interpret the propositions he considers.

For example, Huemer gives as the argument’s first premise that “Value is agent-relative; things can only be valuable for particular entities.” He then criticizes this premise as a question-begging assertion that rules out the possibility of “absolute value” (the idea that some things are valuable independent of their being valued). But this reveals a deep misunderstanding of Rand’s argumentative strategy.

Explanatory argument must begin with some description of the phenomenon to be explained. Rand’s goal is to explain why we need (any) moral theory, and she begins to do this by first explaining the fact that we pursue values. In her argument, she first characterizes value as “that which one acts to gain and/or keep” only to indicate the reference of the term. She then offers an explanation as to why we act goal-directedly. Based on this explanation, Rand only then does give an argument to support her conclusion that value could not be absolute, because the concept of “value” is grounded in the concept of “life.” The argument begins in paragraph 17 of TOE and concludes in 24: “To speak of ‘value’ as apart from ‘life’ is worse than a contradiction in terms. ‘It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible.’”27 An absolute “value” would be cut off from this grounding and, therefore, would be a pseudo-value in conflict with the very thing that makes values necessary to begin with.

The argument that the concept “value” depends on the concept “life” is an essential component of her explanatory argument because it establishes that only life explains the fact of value-pursuit. But, since Huemer doesn’t entertain the possibility that Rand is engaged in explanatory reasoning, he doesn’t recognize these paragraphs as related to her argument against absolute value. Even though Rand indicates she’s offering a philosophical explanation, Huemer doesn’t consider reconstructing her reasoning that way. Again, we see that a critic’s misunderstanding of Rand’s argument is explained by a parochial view of philosophical argumentation.

Why Philosophers Can’t Get Rand Right

Philosophical parochialism is a theme running through Rand criticism, hostile, neutral, and sympathetic. What philosophy is as a subject and what methods it should use are themselves philosophical questions, and answers to them affect how we think about philosophies that do not share our answers to those questions. The critics I discussed in this piece take for granted the concerns and methods of twentieth-century “analytic” philosophy, which prizes what it regards as deductive rigor and is skeptical of system building. Rand rejects this conception of philosophy, and therefore any attempt to reconstruct her reasoning as if she does not will be a misinterpretation.

So why does this happen to Rand, while other philosophers outside of the analytic tradition are treated with more seriousness?

Philosophical parochialism is commonplace. It’s the default. In other words, it takes work to identify our own frameworks. Good philosophers shake us out of our parochialisms. This is one point on which Rand and one of the founders of analytic philosophy, Bertrand Russell, agree: philosophy done well helps us to become self-conscious of our deepest premises and to call them into question.28

It takes additional work to identify the premises and methods of a figure who does not share ours. When we aren’t fully self-conscious of our own basic frameworks, and we encounter someone who rejects ours, they appear amateurish, stupid, or both. That might be a problem with their framework, but it could be a problem with ours. It takes work to sort out where the problem lies.

When we encounter a philosopher who doesn’t share our framework and defends views that we find morally repugnant, we have still a further obstacle to overcome. We must step outside of our initial repugnance to fully grasp where the philosopher is coming from and to fully evaluate the merits of their perspective. Professional philosophers are supposed to excel at this. As scholars and teachers, their value to us is that they help us to overcome our prejudices and to check our deepest premises and values. Unfortunately, critics of Rand have so far been unwilling to overcome their own prejudices and to live up to the standards their profession should aspire to.

Of course, there is a division of labor in philosophy. Not everyone can spend their time investigating every philosophical figure and tradition. Scholars do us a great service when they take figures like Plato and Descartes, whose assumptions and methods, as well as historical contexts, are alien to us and translate them to a more familiar context. When scholars do this, they make it easier for us to overcome our parochialism and to evaluate those philosophers objectively.

'Until professional philosophers engage with Rand’s actual arguments, their pat dismissal of her philosophy remains an unprofessional prejudice.' Click To Tweet

Canon figures who do not share mainstream, twentieth-century frameworks and values benefit from decades of scholarship aimed at making them intelligible to those who do, which is why parochial misinterpretations and criticisms of their philosophies are rightly called out and dismissed as unprofessional. But when a philosopher with radical new ideas comes onto the historical stage, the first scholars of their thought tend to be advocates or sympathizers. Therefore, the forces behind the profession’s rejection of a new figure also work against their scholars. Recall Larry Summers’s statement: it’s not only Rand who is under boycott but also her disciples. Rand’s most knowledgeable student, Leonard Peikoff, wrote the work that set the standard for subsequent scholarship on Rand, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, yet it received no academic attention. Recently (2016), Wiley-Blackwell, a well-regarded academic press, published A Companion to Ayn Rand, which contains essays on Rand’s thought by leading Rand scholars. It has received no reviews in mainstream academic journals and the few, critical scholarly discussions of Rand since published have failed to cite it. If scholars ignore the best secondary literature on a controversial philosopher out of the same contempt for its subject, the few critical treatments she receives will also be poor.

So, Rand has three marks against her. She defends views the profession finds repugnant, from a framework alien to it, and the few competent scholarly expositions of her thought aimed at the profession’s context go ignored.29 This last point allows critics like Pigliucci and Pojman to engage in the pretense of having given her a fair and thorough hearing without fear of professional criticism and makes it possible that academic presses do not notice and are not called out for incompetent treatments in their textbooks. Until professional philosophers engage with Rand’s actual arguments, their pat dismissal of her philosophy remains an unprofessional prejudice.

Image credit: IMG_191/Shutterstock.com.


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  1. Lawrence H. Summers, “Academic Freedom and Anti-Semitism.,” Remarks to the Columbia Center for Law and Liberty, 2015.
  2. Brian Leiter, “Now here’s a tough poll to answer!” Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, March 7, 2009. Leiter is a philosopher and legal scholar at the University of Chicago School of Law. His blogging on the profession is widely read by philosophers. Leiter is the founder of the “Philosophical Gourmet Report,” the gold-standard ranking of philosophy departments.
  3. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Centennial Edition (New York, NY: Dutton, 2005), 1040.
  4. Massimo Pigliucci, “About Objectivism, Part I: Metaphysics.” Rationally Speaking, October 25, 2010.
  5. Aristotle’s word is “ἀξιωμάτων” (“axiomaton”) (1005a20).
  6. Pigliucci seems to be on a mission to get Rand wrong. See Aaron Smith’s piece on Pigliucci’s most recent criticism of Rand.
  7. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1015–16, 1040. Cf. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York, NY: Dutton, 1991), 7–12.
  8. Sidney Hook, “Each Man for Himself,” New York Times, April 9, 1961, BR3. Rand’s then-collaborator, Nathaniel Branden, took out an ad in the May 28, 1961, edition of the New York Times to reply to Hook. Branden’s reply elaborates on several of the points I make here.
  9. Suppose you reason as follows: “If it’s raining out, it will be wet out; it’s raining out, so it must be wet out.” Your reasoning is valid because it follows the logical rule modus ponens: “If P, then Q. P, therefore Q.” Your reasoning assumes modus ponens, but that rule is not one of your premises. The point should be well-known to twentieth-century philosophers; it was famously made by Lewis Carroll in his 1895 essay “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.”
  10. From the same passage in Atlas Shrugged “. . . the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A” (1016) [emphasis added]. While the passage is clearly referring to Aristotle’s discussion of the Principle of non-Contradiction, James Lennox traces the formula “A is A” to Antonius Andreas. “Who Sets the Tone for a Culture? Ayn Rand’s Approach to the History of Philosophy” in A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), edited by Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri (Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2016, 341). See Lennox, 2016, 332–37 for discussion of Rand’s relationship to Aristotle.
  11. For excellent discussion of these issues, see Jason Rheins’s chapter “Objectivist Metaphysics: The Primacy of Existence” in Gotthelf and Salmieri A Companion to Ayn Rand, 247–53.
  12. The criticism was first published in James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 1986), 70–71. Editions 5 through 10 were edited by Stuart Rachels. Here I cite James Rachels and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 10th edition (New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2023), 75–77. The 2023 Rachels and Rachels formulation differs from the original Rachels 1986 formulation but retains the original’s structure.
  13. This pattern is extensively documented in Irfan Khawaja, Khawaja, “Randian Egoism: Time to Get High.” Reason Papers 36 (1), 2014, 211–23.
  14. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (New York, NY: NAL, 2005), 13–39; “Collectivized Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness, 93–99.
  15. Ayn Rand, “Introduction” in The Virtue of Selfishness, x.
  16. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” 15–16.
  17. Phaedo, 72c-82e.
  18. Meditations on First Philosophy, II.
  19. Louis P. Pojman and James Fieser, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 8th ed. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016), 86–88.
  20. Louis P. Pojman and James Fieser, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 87.
  21. Ayn Rand, “The ‘Conflicts’ of Men’s Interests” in The Virtue of Selfishness, 57–65.
  22. Robert Nozick, “On the Randian Argument” in Socratic Puzzles (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 249–64.
  23. According to Shoshana Milgram (p.c.), friend of Nozick and author of a forthcoming biography of Rand, Nozick was personal friends with several Objectivists, whose views he disagreed with respectfully.
  24. Nozick’s paper on Rand was originally published in 1971. Ten years later, Nozick would argue against philosophers’ overreliance on “knock down” deductive arguments. Philosophers, he notes, also give explanations, which are far more valuable than “knock down” arguments. Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 4–18.
  25. For a contemporaneous response to Nozick, including a documentation of his misreading of the primary texts, see Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, “Nozick on the Randian Argument” in The Personalist, 59, 1978, 184-205. Rand’s friend and student, Harry Binswanger, wrote a letter to Nozick which raised some of the same methodological issues I discuss in this article.
  26. Michael Huemer, “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics.’” Huemer repeats some of these criticisms in his article “Defending Liberty: The Commonsense Approach” in Foundations of a Free Society, edited by Gregory Salmieri and Robert Mayhew (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), 237–60. Readers are encouraged to look at the original article for Huemer’s full reconstruction.
  27. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” 16–18.
  28. Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997), 153–61.
  29. Among recent Rand scholarship and criticism that does not fall into the trap of parochialism are the Ayn Rand Society’s book series, Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies, the series of volumes on Rand’s novels edited by Robert Mayhew, and the Blackwell Companions to Philosophy edition on Ayn Rand (edited by Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri). The Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies books contain critical essays which are often laudable exceptions to the parochial norm. Unfortunately, these volumes, too, have been ignored by the profession. Note that the scholarship on Rand in these books is authored by contributors who, with few exceptions, either work outside the profession, work without stable academic employment, or only began producing Rand scholarship late in their careers.
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Mike Mazza

Mike Mazza, PhD in philosophy, is an associate fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and a member of the Ayn Rand University faculty.

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