AYN RAND AND OBJECTIVISM - PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE
Starting with a critique of Ayn Rand, I move into a presentation of
Objectivism, then to a consideration of the connection between Science and
Philosophy, with some additional comments in which I try to make the
scientific mentality a little less mysterious to people who have not been
explicitly schooled in a scientific field.
* Randism vs Objectivism
* Rand's incorrect definition of selfish
* Rand's personal statist views
* Rand's failure to distinguish between politics and economics
* What is Objectivism?
* The Antagonism Between Philosophy and Science
* How Scientists Can Build Bombs
* The Connection Between Philosophy and Science
* The Scientific Attitude of Mind
* Some History of Science
* Science vs Magic
* Examples of the Scientific Attitude applied
* Some Critiques of Science
* Why Objectivism is rejected
* The Commentator Syndrome
* Objectivism in the Universities
* Randism vs Objectivism
When Nathaniel Branden was asked (after his break with Rand) if he were
an Objectivist, he replied:
"If you mean, do I agree with the broad fundamentals of the philosophy of
Objectivism, I would answer, 'Yes.' But if you mean, as Miss Rand might very
well wish you to mean, do I agree with every position that Miss Rand has
taken and do I regard the sum total of Miss Rand's intellectual
pronouncements as being equal to what is meant by the philosophy of
Objectivism, then I am not an Objectivist."
I would like to introduce these two terms:
A Randite is a disciple of Ayn Rand.
Randism is the set of ideas that were Rand's personal beliefs. (This
includes, of course, some - but not all - of the precepts of Objectivism.)
There is a very important distinction to be made between Randism and
Objectivism. Randism asserts the congruency of Rand's statements with the
principles of Objectivism: "what Rand says and only what Rand says is
Objectivism." The fact that Rand has made incalculably valuable
identifications of certain philosophical principles does by no means convey
upon her exclusive or infallible domain in the further identification or
application of those principles; nor, on the other hand, do Rand's incorrect
identifications or improper applications in the least diminish the truth or
usefulness of the principles of Objectivism. Unfortunately, the waters of
Objectivism have been muddied by Rand's repeated attempts to convert her
personal preferences into philosophical principles.
A big difference between the Objectivists and the Randites is that the
Objectivists do not view Objectivism as a dogma i.e., a set of ideas to be
accepted without question. We see it as an intellectual tool that is useful
in helping us to understand the world, in much the same way that the
Scientific Method is. From this point of view, the idea that someone can be
"an enemy of Objectivism" (one of Leonard Peikoff's favorite denunciations)
is as ridiculous as the idea that someone can be "an enemy of the Integral
There are many parallels to be drawn between Rand/Objectivism and
Newton/The Calculus. In each case an immensly powerful, beautiful and useful
intellectual tool was derived by a human being who possessed some of the
foibles of humanity. In each case the tool was jealously clung to and
possessively circumscribed by its creator. In each case the tool was
rejected and reviled by some reactionary people. And in each case (as time
will eventually demonstrate) the power and utility of the tool will outlast
the small-minded people who criticize it. Alongside these parallels there is
a significant difference: it would be rather farfetched to regard a set of
mathematical principles as a religion, but it is quite possible (and is
indeed the practice of some people) to regard a set of philosophical
principles as a religion. There are those who adulate Rand almost as if she
were a deity and who regard Objectivism as a sacred dogma. And, on the other
hand, there are many people in the world who reject a good and powerful set
of ideas simply because they associate - wrongly - those ideas with the
personal beliefs of Ayn Rand.
I believe the important aspects of her life are the philosophical
achievements, not her personal attributes. Her personal foibles will
eventually fade into the oblivion of historical forgetfulness - like
Aristotle's male chauvinism, or Newton's alchemy, or Einstein's socks - and
what will be left for future generations are the valuable philosophical
identifications she made. How Rand was buffeted by the intellectual currents
of her time is of course of interest to the historian of ideas; but it has
little bearing on the truth of her propositions.
I would say this to the Randites: Abandon the attitude that the
principles of Objectivism and the pronouncements of Ayn Rand are congruent
sets. Realize that Objectivism, like the Scientific Method, is an open-ended
set of principles rather than a closed and rigidly defined dogma. Recognize
the importance of the work being done by those scholars who are trying to
develop the ethical and political implications of the Objectivist Ethics.
Until you do this, you will only be ostracizing yourselves from the living
and powerful body of philosophy that is growing on the foundation of Ayn
Rand's magnificent achievements.
In the hard sciences like chemistry we know pretty well who is a real
scientist and who is a flake, even though there is no authoritative
organization to enforce standards. The logical nature of science
automatically makes it clear who is in and who is out of a scientific
enterprise. You can tell whether or not someone is "really" a chemist by
comparing his statements and actions with the fundamental principles of
It is the same with "Objectivists." You don't have to (and shouldn't)
take anyone's word for who they are. You must examine their principles and
judge whether or not those principles are in accord with the fundamental
precepts of Objectivism. Just as a scientist manifests certain specific
attributes, an Objectivist manifests certain specific attributes:
objectivity, rationality, libertarianism.
The hallmarks of an Objectivist are:
In Metaphysics: objectivity; the belief that there is a reality which
exists independently of consciousness.
In Epistemology: reason rather than faith; the belief that it is the
function of man's mind to perceive and understand that reality - and the
confidence that the mind is capable of doing so.
In Ethics: libertarianism; the belief that the only proper society is one
that is founded upon the non-aggression principle.
By these signs you shall know him. Any person who denies any of these
three ideas is NOT an Objectivist. A full-context Objectivist will display
another behavior also: he will have Shrugged.
To say "Ayn Rand's Objectivism" is somewhat like saying "Trofim Lysenko's
genetics." In both cases, the set of ideas referred to is limited, severely
distorted and, in some fundamentally important ways, wrong.
Those who operate on false principles have about as much to contribute to
Objectivism as Lysenko contributed to genetics.
The contention that Objectivism must be defined only by reference to the
ideas expressed by Ayn Rand is like saying that the Calculus must be defined
only by reference to the ideas expressed by Newton.
The precepts of Objectivism must be accepted (or rejected) on the same
basis as any other set of scientific ideas: on whether or not they WORK, not
on what any person (myself included) claims they are or should be.
* Rand's incorrect definition of selfish
You will observe that in my essays I do not use the term "selfish," but
use instead "self-interested." Here is why.
From the introduction to THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS, by Ayn Rand:
The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in
a while: "Why do you use the word 'selfishness' to denote virtuous qualities
of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not
mean the things you mean?".... there are others, who would not ask that
question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies....
There are, roughly speaking, three classes of people:
1. Those concerned with their own advantage without any regard for
2. Those having no concern for self at all.
3. Those who are concerned with their own self-benefit and who are also
aware of and concerned with their social context.
Rand makes a good case for altruism's having falsely divided humanity
into just two classes - the first and the second - leaving no room for the
third category, the "self-respecting, self-supporting man - a man who
supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor
others." But if you look into the history of the English language, you will
find that Rand's use of the term "selfish" to designate the third category
is not conclusively justified etymologically.
Historically, the terms most often used to designate these three
1. Selfish: concerned with one's own advantage without regard for others.
This has almost always been described as wicked.
2. Selfless: having no concern for self. This has always been described
as being ethically laudable.
3. Self-interested: concerned with one's own well-being. This has only
sometimes been described as a vice.
These three usages are quite sensible terms of classification, enabling
us to distinguish clearly among the three categories. Rand's insistence on
using the term "selfish" to designate that third category is a mistake, both
a cognitive mistake and a communications mistake.
It is a cognitive mistake because when she usurps the term "selfish" she
does not provide an alternative term for the first category. Thus she
commits the same cognitive error for which she upbraids the altruist
semantics: providing convenient terms for only two out of the three
It is a communications mistake because the three terms enumerated above
are distinctly specified also in such references as Webster's Collegiate
dictionary, and thus are the terms most likely to be considered by educated
It is certainly true that there are many people to whom "selfish" does
not mean the things Rand means, and to question her usage of the term is
not, as she so stridently claims, an act of "moral cowardice" but merely an
attempt to preserve cognitive clarity and communications utility.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that in THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS, Rand
places at the very last her essay on "The Argument From Intimidation."
* Rand's personal statist views
In the realm of politics we must make a careful distinction between
Rand's personal views and the implications of the Objectivist ethics.
The Objectivist stand is quite clear:
"The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may
INITIATE the use of physical force against others. No man - or group or
society or government - has the right to assume the role of a criminal and
initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man." (From "The
Objectivist Ethics," in THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS.)
But Rand's personal stand is fundamentally statist. We can best see this
in her answers to two questions put to her during her appearance at the Ford
Hall Forum in 1972.
Question: Have you heard of the Libertarian Party and would you consider
endorsing John Hospers and Tonie Nathan as presidential candidates?
Rand: "Look, I would rather vote for Bob Hope or the Marx brothers, if
they still exist, or Jerry Lewis - I don't know who is the funniest today,
rather than something like professor Hospers and the Libertarian Party.
Look, I don't think Henry Wallace is a great thinker but even he - he's
pretty much of a demagogue, though with some courage - even he had the good
sense to stay home this time if he wanted to some extent - if he had one
ounce of sincerity and wanted some freedom for his country. To choose this
year to start after personal publicity - and if Hospers and whoever the rest
are get ten votes away from Nixon, which I doubt, but if they do it is a
Question: Will you comment on the issue of should amnesty be granted to
Rand: "I think it is an improper question to be discussed while there is
a war going on. It is a very complex question but you cannot, when men are
dying in a war, say that you promise amnesty to those who refused. On the
other hand I do not blame those who refused to be drafted if they did so out
of general conviction, not necessarily religious, but if they oppose the
state's right to draft them. They would have a case, and they would go to
jail. And they would be willing to take that penalty."
Rand implied that the draft may be bad, but prisons are okay. Her
assumption was that the Draft Law has legitimacy and that the State can
dictate what our responsibilities are. What a distressing alternative:
either submit to the draft or submit to imprisonment. No true libertarian
would willingly accept either of these statist choices.
Both Rand and her disciples have continually asserted a strong opposition
to the political implementation of libertarianism. And her acceptance of the
legitimacy of government coercion was repeatedly expressed both in word and
* Rand's failure to distinguish between politics and economics
The last criticism I wish to present against Ayn Rand involves a failure
that was expressed not just in her personal behavior but also in her
philosophical writings. It is that she never made a distinction between
Politics and Economics. She almost always referred to capitalism as
"laissez-faire capitalism" or "free-market capitalism," thus inexorably
integrating this primary economic concept with a political institution.
In my writings I will try to make a clear distinction between the two
realms of human activity, and provide definitions that will make it easier
to think about them.
* What is Objectivism?
In considering the most fundamental ideas about the nature of the
universe, there are two basically distinct ideas:
One, known as subjectivity, asserts fundamentally that existence is
created by consciousness.
The other idea, known as objectivity, asserts fundamentally that there is
indeed a real world that has its own existence, independent of any
perceiving consciousness. The objectivity thesis controls your behavior,
even if it does not control your thoughts and speech. If this were not so,
you would already be dead: You wouldn't stop on the curb to let the trucks
go roaring past. You wouldn't cook your food. You wouldn't drive on the
proper side of the road. You wouldn't practice safe sex.... etc. The only
sincere solipsist is a dead solipsist.
Perhaps the best statement of objectivity was made by Albert Einstein:
"Out yonder there is this huge world, which exists independently of us
human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at
least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking."
In the realm of scientific endeavor, objectivity (in the form of the
Scientific Method) has predominated. But in other realms of human endeavor,
such as Psychology, Ethics, and Politics, objectivity has had much less
influence in human history, mainly because the lack of a solution to the
Problem of the Universals precluded the sort of firm and direct linkage
between concepts of consciousness and reality as exists between scientific
concepts and reality (where truth prevails in a much more immediate and
But in the late 1960s the Problem of the Universals was solved by Ayn
Rand. She showed that Definitions Are Not Arbitrary, and she demonstrated
how to derive them directly from observations of reality. The same cognitive
process that enables you to construct a correct definition also enables you
to think in principles: to identify and classify things by reference to
their fundamental distinguishing characteristics.
This epistemological breakthrough enabled objectivity to be applied to
ALL areas of human activity. The work of Rand and other philosophers who
have taken up this effort has produced a set of principles now known as the
Philosophy of Objectivism. These principles stand in distinct contrast to
most of traditional philosophy and are, by and large, rather unpopular. (But
that is to be expected of any set of ideas that is new and challenges the
existing state of affairs. It has always been this way.)
Objectivism is the only philosophy that is completely consistent with
Physics. The ideas of Objectivism are founded upon a set of Axiomatic
Concepts: Existence, Identity, and Consciousness, and are derived from those
concepts by the intellectual procedure set forth in the Objectivist
Epistemology. This is a scientific, rationalist method which subsumes the
Scientific Method of determining truth. It extends the Scientific Method to
include areas of inquiry not usually thought to be amenable to scientific
analysis. In her essay "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand applies this
intellectual procedure to identifying a rational basis for ethics and
morality. Nathaniel Branden, in his book "The Psychology of Self-Esteem,"
applies the procedure to identifying the bases of human psychology. Harry
Browne gives us a rational explanation of the nature of economics. Hospers
and Rothbard carry the procedure into the field of politics.
A philosophy is a set of principles which provides a consistent and
comprehensive frame of reference from which to judge man and his
If a philosophy is to be a comprehensive frame of reference it must
encompass the full scope of man's thoughts and activities. Especially must
it include Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Morality, Psychology,
Politics, Economics and Esthetics - since all of man's activities are
founded on one or more of these fields of study. I will give a brief
exposition of the Objectivist principles as they apply to each of these
fields. In order to clarify my presentation I will in each case contrast the
Objectivist position with its contrary or opposite. The general schema looks
Metaphysics objectivity vs subjectivity
Epistemology reason vs faith
Ethics egoism vs altruism
Morality self-interest vs degeneracy
Psychology free will vs determinism
Politics libertarianism vs statism
Economics free enterprise vs socialism
Esthetics romanticism vs anti-romanticism
Let us consider each of these terms and see what they mean.
Metaphysics is the science that deals with the fundamental nature of
reality. As I pointed out above, there are basically only two viewpoints in
this area. One, objectivity, maintains that there is a real, factual world
which exists independently of the consciousness of any perceiving entity.
This is not to say that there is no interrelationship between consciousness
and reality, or that an acting conscious entity cannot alter and transform
the entities of reality by acting in accord with the physical laws that
describe reality, but rather that the facts of reality have their own
existence whether we are aware of them or not. Subjectivity, on the other
hand, maintains that reality, in its fundamental essense, is not a firm
absolute but is instead somehow dependent on, or a function of,
consciousness. The basis of subjectivity is a denial of the Law of Identity.
(There is another, quite different, sense in which the term subjective is
used: it refers to choices or decisions which are generated by reference to
internal states of consciousness rather than by assessment of external
factors. For example: the choice between chocolate or vanilla ice cream is a
subjective choice. But the choice between an ice cream cone for me or a
bottle of milk for my hungry baby should be an objective choice.)
Epistemology is the study of the source, nature and validity of human
knowledge. Here the Objectivist says that since there is a real world "out
there" (outside myself) it is the job of my consciousness to identify it. To
do this I make use of my faculty of reason - the ability to perceive,
identify and integrate the evidence of reality provided by my senses. The
source of all my knowledge lies in the rigorous adherence to logic, the art
of non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality. The
subjectivist, however, is bound by no such procedure. Since for him there is
no firm, absolute "out there," his knowledge has its source in some form or
another of introspection (revelation) and its validity is accepted on faith
- that is, accepted without evidence or in spite of evidence to the
contrary. Subjectivism is not an issue of what a statement or conclusion is
about; it's an issue of the kind of evidence one uses to support a
conclusion. It is not only a way of adopting conclusions, but also a way of
evading conclusions by refusing to believe in them. It is not merely an
emotional state of mind - it is a philosophy. It says that we should act
upon our own impulses no matter what they are BECAUSE they are impulses. The
very fact that we feel them is not only good enough to justify our actions,
but the awareness that they are impulses is all the validation we, as human
beings, require. To a subjectivist, rational explanation of thoughts and
actions is not only unnecessary, but impossible.
Concerning Ethics and Morality I make this distinction: Morality
describes intra-personal actions whereas Ethics describes inter-personal
actions. For example: dope addiction is immoral (it is self-destructive) but
it is not unethical. Stealing to support one's addiction is, however,
unethical. Drunkenness is merely immoral; blocking the sidewalk with your
stupefied body is unethical. Refusing to think is immoral, but failing,
through this intellectual laziness, to fulfil your obligations as a
husband/father or wife/mother is unethical. As you probably infer, I believe
that most unethical actions have their basis in immorality. I will save you
the trouble of consulting your dictionary by telling you that this
distinction is etymologically unjustifiable. Cicero was the first to use the
term "morals" and as he did so he noted that he meant this term to have
precisely the same meaning as the Greek term "ethics." Since that time the
two terms have been used synonymously, but I think it clear that there is a
distinction to be made between two kinds of behavior, and the most
appropriate terms to use in labeling this distinction are Ethics and
In the field of Ethics the Objectivist position is egoism: that man is an
end in himself, not a means to the ends of others, and that each man should
live his own life for his own sake. The contrary position, altruism, holds
that man must make the welfare of others the primary goal of his social
relationships and that self-sacrifice is the highest virtue.
At this point I am sometimes beset with an argument that starts out: "Do
you mean to say that you're the sort of wretched brute who tramples all over
other people to gain your ends?" and continues by proposing a kind of false
dichotomy which divides all human intercourse into two categories: sadism
and masochism, and then tries to sell me masochism on the grounds that
sadism is my only alternative. Most people posing this argument refuse to
recognize the existence of a third type of man - the independent, self-
supporting, profit-making trader, who neither sacrifices others to himself
nor himself to others.
Morally, this sort of independently existing man is a self-interested
person. That is to say, he is a man who is CONCERNED WITH HIS OWN BENEFIT.
This implies, of course, that he knows what his own benefits actually are.
Is it in my own physical self-interest to be a drunkard or a dope fiend?
Hardly, for these activities are clearly self-destructive. Is it in my own
psychological self-interest to be a liar or a thief? Again, no, because
these actions, although not as obviously self-destructive as alcoholism or
other drug addiction, are saboteurs of the mind's most basic function:
integration. You cannot integrate a contradiction, and both lies and thefts
are contradictions. (My second examples - liar/thief - are not merely
immoral but unethical as well, and you can see from considering them that
unethical actions are associated with immoral conditions.) What I'm trying
to point out is that many actions which are usually called "selfish" (lies,
thefts, or the wretched brute trampling on his poor fellow creatures) are
not IN FACT in one's self-interest at all, and that the truly self-
interested man is one who has carefully examined and rationally analysed his
nature as a proper human being and thereby determined just what is IN FACT
in his self-interest. The liar, thief and brute are not self-interested,
they are actually self-destructive. They are degenerate. Genuine self-
interest requires an awareness of the larger context that makes it possible
to achieve one's values.
Objectivist morality has two fundamental bases: the acceptance of life
itself as the standard of values; and the identification of the actions that
are required by our nature to maintain that standard - to sustain life. The
primary task of morality is to identify the conditions that must be
satisfied to live successfully. We prove that something is a proper moral
value by showing that we need it in order to live properly. We prove that
some course of action is a virtue by showing that it is required to achieve
a proper moral value. The concept of value is inextricably linked to the
concept of life. The two concepts cannot be separated in practice. Each
requires the other. Just as value presupposes a living valuer - "of value to
whom and for what" - so life requires values, for without values the process
of life is impossible: a man dies if he does not achieve values.
In the realm of Psychology, Objectivism holds that man is a creature of
free will. This is to say that he is capable of making choices which are
causal primaries. Determinism, on the other hand, is the principle that all
of man's choices and actions are determined by forces (usually heredity
and/or environment) which are outside of his control.
In political issues Objectivists are promoters of the libertarian ideal.
Their political goals are based on the ethical principle that no man or
group of men has the right to engage in coercion against the person or
property of other people. We hold that there are only three proper functions
of a governing agency: the military, to protect men against aggression by
foreign criminals, the police, to protect men against aggression by domestic
criminals, and the courts, to resolve disagreements which can at times arise
even among just and rational men. We hold that a governing agency has no
right to restrict a person's activities in the moral area (thus we oppose
drug laws, laws forbidding sex acts between consenting adults, and all other
"victimless crime" laws) and that it can rightfully act in the ethical area
only when force (or its derivative, fraud) have been initiated. Thus we
oppose all subsidies to businessmen or farmers, all tariffs and
import/export restrictions, licensing laws, and all other laws restricting
the freedom of production, transportation and trade. In brief, we advocate a
political system wherein each individual has the right to do anything
whatsoever which does not initiate force or fraud against anyone else, and
in which the role of a governing agency is strictly restrained to the
protection of that right. This is in contrast to the statist system, which
is widespread and becoming ever more prevalent today, in which the State
exercises predominant control over the actions of individuals, continually
increasing the scope and intensity of its regimentation and by "a long train
of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariable the same Object, evinces a
design to reduce them under absolute Despotism."
Corresponding to its political system, a society has an associated
economic system. Considering the nature of libertarianism, it is clear that
its associated economic system must have a strong foundation in the
individual's right to own, control, use and dispose of his private property.
Libertarians advocate a capitalist economic organization in which the means
of production - land, capital, etc. - are owned and controlled by
individuals (or voluntarily associated groups of individuals), and in which
there are no restrictions on the freedom of production, transportation and
trade. The opposite form of economic organization, socialism (of which
fascism and communism are variants), is a system in which the economic
resources are controlled by the State and in which individuals have little,
if any, economic freedom.
The last philosophical category I will consider is that of art forms.
Here, as before, I divide the field into two major domains. One, subsumed by
the term romanticism, includes all those works which are based on the
recognition that man is a volitional creature - that he has the power to
make choices and that those choices are major determinators of his life. The
greatest portrayal of romantic heroism can be found in the novels of Ayn
Rand. The major task of a romantic work of art is, as Aristotle said, "to
show things as they might be and ought to be." The other esthetic domain
(which, for lack of a suitable general label, I will simply call "anti-
romanticism") shows things as they "must be" (or are seen to be) and depicts
man as a creature who has, essentially, no power over his destiny. Anti-
romanticism began with classicism, evolved into naturalism, and is in turn
evolving into absurdism. The best such work of great classical literature is
the Greek drama "Oedipus Rex." A good example of naturalism is "Death of a
Salesman" and a typical representative of absurdism is "Waiting for Godot."
Esthetically, an Objectivist is a romantic realist. Existentially, he is
a practical idealist.
If I were asked to express the essence of Objectivism in one short
statement I could do no better than to paraphrase Ayn Rand, the foremost
identifier and expounder of these principles:
Man is a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his
life, non-aggression as his standard of social behavior, productive
achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
* The Antagonism Between Philosophy and Science
Scientists are very devoted to the scientific method, and they find that
the scientific method is to be applied most successfully in the world that
can be observed. That is not the world of moral values or the world of
philosophical thought, but in the laboratory where ideas can be tested. They
regard science as the only really genuine form of knowledge. This leaves
them with an empty spot in their lives. They're not practiced in applying
logic and reason to questions of value or philosophy, so they move this area
of thought over to the realm of faith. Their very devotion to the world of
fact leaves them hungry for some sort of clear guidance as to their conduct
for the remainder of their lives. Scientists stay so long in the educational
process, become so involved in their chosen, often quite narrow,
specialties, that they come to the realities of everyday life much later
than other people. Indeed, many scientists never come to grips with those
realities at all.
On the other hand, philosophers spend their entire lives dealing with a
world of imaginings, conjectures, and fantasies, NOT with the physical facts
of reality - at least not beyond the faucet in the sink and the switch on
the wall. They look with disdain upon the world of the physicist and the
engineer as being one of "crass materialism" - beneath the dignity of their
lofty intellectual position and not worthy of any serious consideration. The
result is that their ideas are usually entirely separated from reality and
produce a distortion when applied to the real physical world.
Consider Immanuel Kant, for example. He went to school, then he was a
tutor, then he was a professor at university for the rest of his life. As
far as I know he never even did so much real-world engineering as to draw a
bucket of water up out of a well. Thus whereas Thales (who was a bridge-
builder) gave us Aristotle, John Locke, and the United States of America -
Kant (who was a pure philosopher) gave us Fichte and Nazi Germany, Karl Marx
and the Soviet Union.
But I cannot place all the blame on the shoulders of the philosophers.
After all, the philosopher does only half the job - he just conceives the
ideas. It is the scientist who creates the means of implementing those
ideas. Both men are equally responsible for the effects of their joint
Just as the philosophers are guilty of not knowing science - and thereby
of failing to test their ideas against reality, so the scientists are guilty
of ignoring philosophy - and thereby failing to understand the principles
underlying their actions.
* How Scientists Can Build Bombs
Interviewer: "You must feel good, working for peace like that." [on the
Richard Feynman: "No, that never enters my head, whether it is for peace
or otherwise. We don't know. You see, what happened to me - what happened to
the rest of us - is we STARTED for a good reason, then you're working very
hard to accomplish something and it's a pleasure, it's excitement. And you
stop thinking [about principles], you know; you just STOP."
Another scientist, at age 89, had a similar realization:
"People should be taught when they are young that they HAVE to consider
the value of the experiment before they start in on it. It is absolutely not
enough to be interested. But you get so carried away with interest that you
lose all sense of proportion."
Enrico Fermi was a hero-figure to many scientists. He designed and
supervised the first nuclear reaction in the history of the world - in the
squash court at the University of Chicago. He was dapper. Jaunty. My God, he
even had a sense of humor! Then he built the first nuclear bombs and started
this whole nuclear misery. You expect him to look and act like
Mephistopheles, but here was a marvelous little guy making jokes, while
doing everything better than everyone else. I wanted to be like him, but I
couldn't. I didn't have whatever it takes for a man to enjoy himself while
perfecting these weapons.
When I first heard a Nazi scientist tell of his work on weapons, I
wondered if it were possible to be so completely divorced from the
consequences of one's work. It seemed to me that no matter how subtle the
problem a given weapon presented or how challenging its contemplation might
be, the ashes and the bones resulting from government's use of that weapon
would, in the end, be the same. Was it his responsibility that the rockets
he helped design had fallen on London, killing helpless civilians? He
claimed it was not, that he had never been accused, that in fact the
Americans were glad to whisk him away to work for them before the Russians
could get hold of him. He had been happy to come, and never regretted it. In
this rich country the stories about postwar conditions in Germany had seemed
very unreal. As had the War Crimes trials. People had followed orders - yet
they appeared to have committed crimes. This troubled his orderly mind and,
in the end, he had stopped reading about it or even thinking about it.
But not all of them manifest this absence of ethical responsibility in an
implicit "non-thinking" manner; for some the renunciation is quite
"They believe that they are not obligated to judge whether they are being
asked to work on the best research problem, but only whether they are being
asked to do valid research. They believe that it is the responsibility of
those who provide the funds to establish the directions of research. These
typical scientists act according to their own beliefs and thus they have
integrity. The process of producing new, valid knowledge in any area is very
difficult and is typically all-consuming for those who undertake it. Those
who work hard and well to this end will have little time, or intellectual
firepower, to spare for issues that are beyond their area of focus. The
division of labor requires that they depend upon others to evaluate the
importance and broad implications of the new knowledge they produce."
Those words came from R. Paul Drake, Director of the Plasma Physics
Research Institute, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
One might well wonder if their abdication extends outside the laboratory
to their ordinary daily behavior. Do they consider themselves responsible
for the safe operation of their automobiles? For exercising due care when
target shooting with their hunting rifles? Or are these things, as is the
morality of their professional conduct, considered to be "beyond their area
Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department, said Wernher von Braun.
John Galt described these men:
"The guiltiest among you are the men who HAVE the capacity to know, yet
choose to blank out reality, the men who are willing to sell their
intelligence into cynical servitude to force... who reserve their logic for
inanimate matter, but believe that the subject of dealing with men requires
and deserves no rationality... who sell their souls in exchange for a
laboratory supplied by loot.... they deliver their science to the service of
death, to the only practical purpose it can ever have for looters: to
inventing weapons of coercion and destruction."
* The Connection Between Philosophy and Science
Since the time of Aristotle, the scientist has known how to apply reason
to the realm of inanimate objects (and to living objects which have no
volition), and since the time of Galileo the scientist has known how to
verify those applications of reason. But the scientist has never had the
fundamental principle (an explication of the basic connection between "is"
and "ought") necessary to apply reason to those areas of behavior that rest
on volitional choice. This is what the Objectivist ethics provides. Thus
Objectivism is the only philosophical frame of reference which can provide a
rational comprehension of such realms as psychology, morality, ethics,
economics, and sociology - of all those areas of study which rest upon
chosen values rather than upon physical facts.
The primary obstacle in developing any ethical philosophy is the lack of
a starting point. The scientist sees a set of "ought" terms: good, well,
right, proper, virtue, should, bad, wrong, etc. - each of which can
evidently be defined in terms of the others, but none of which has an
independent, non-relative existence. Rand's genius was to identify the
connection between the "ought" of volitional judgment and the "is" of
It is no accident that many of the early Greek philosophers were
practicing engineers, architects, bridge-builders, harbor designers. They
were men whose minds were intimately tied directly to the facts of reality,
and that's why so many of their philosophical ideas are so profound.
In an attempt to link science and philosophy, a reasonable question to
ask is "Where can we find a starting point - a foundation stone of certitude
as the ultimate basis of human knowledge? A place where we can stand in
unquestionable certainty and from whence we can build a structure of sure
For the scientist this is no problem - he starts by looking at the
objects around him - the things that are observed by his senses. His
contemplations eventually lead him to the fundamental notion (the First Law
of Thermodynamics) that entities do indeed exist autonomously - they can
neither be created nor destroyed. This is the starting place of the
scientist. But is there something that is fundamental even to this notion of
the scientist? Yes, there is, and we can approach it through such questions
as "What is the fundamental nature of all the things that exist?" "What laws
or principles underly all things - and all the behavior of all the things?"
There is an answer to these questions. It was given to us by Aristotle, and
it is the Law of Identity.
The Law of Identity is one of the fundamental, axiomatic concepts
identified by Aristotle. In his Metaphysics, Book 4, Part 3, he observes:
"...for these truths hold good for everything that is.... And all men use
them, because they are true of being qua being.... For a principle which
everyone must have who understands anything that is, is not a hypothesis....
Evidently then such a principle is the most certain of all; which principle
this is, let us proceed to say. It is, that the same attribute cannot at the
same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect."
Stated as a tautology: A is A. A thing (ANY thing and EVERY thing) is
what it is. This idea is the foundation stone of all human knowledge. It
serves to tie human consciousness to the facts of reality. That it is indeed
fundamental can be seen when you observe that it cannot be escaped, that it
is implicit in all knowledge, and that it has to be accepted and used even
in any attempt to deny it. For example, suppose you say "The Law of Identity
is invalid." Observe that you have made a specific statement and that it has
a specific meaning. (Even within your own mind, you do NOT intend it to have
the opposite meaning!) Therefore your statement is what it is - it complies
with the Law of Identity - in spite of its own contention to the contrary.
This is a situation which you cannot escape, no matter how cleverly you
might attempt to rephrase your contention. The Law of Identity always
prevails, in everything that you think, that you say, and that you do. It is
truly fundamental. It is, as Aristotle said, "the most certain of all" - it
is the foundation of certainty.
The Law of Identity is a foundation of objectivity. Any scientist who
probes beneath the First Law of Thermodynamics will soon encounter the Law
of Identity, and there he will find the doorway into the philosophy of
Objectivism. That doorway is the link between science and philosophy.
When you find, in the Objectivist Ethics, the TANSTAAFL principle (There
Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch): the idea that "You can't get something
for nothing, unless someone, somewhere, sometime, is getting nothing for
something", you see the direct link between Ethics and the First Law of
Thermodynamics. The same physical law, applied to the field of Politics,
leads to the realization that no matter how the government enhances the
choices of some people, it can do so only by diminishing the choices of
Objectivism is the only philosophy that is completely consistent with
Physics. Indeed, Physics is a subset of Objectivism, for the fundamental
principles of Physics (the Laws of Thermodynamics) are themselves founded
upon the Axiomatic Concepts identified by the Objectivist Epistemology.
Objectivism starts with fundamentals and builds knowledge on a solid
foundation, from the ground up. Adherents of many modern philosophical
perspectives hate this very approach, and reject the need for "foundations"
of any kind. They point out that philosophers have been trying to establish
foundations for centuries but cannot agree on anything. Therefore, they
argue, what's the use? And so THEY start in midair, with contentions that
allegedly are agreed upon, but which in fact are controversial, derivative,
and even arbitrary. The result is usually a ramshackle mess which
presupposes an enormous amount that is never discussed, leads nowhere, and
solves nothing. What Objectivism has is a consistent, comprehensive
philosophical framework from which to ask questions about reality, and a
consistent, comprehensive scientific framework in which to seek answers to
those questions. Only this scenario can lead to a useful understanding of
Philosophers have had a great deal of difficulty with the problem of what
constitutes truth and how to recognize whether something is true or not. But
this is a difficulty that philosophers have no business trying to impose on
other fields. In other words, the fact that philosophers are still debating
the nature of truth should have no more effect on the practice of science
than the fact that the average business person is ignorant of the details of
accountancy should have on the day-to-day behavior of a CPA. The proper
attitude of the scientists (and of Objectivists) should be: "We will be
limited in our work strictly by the problems WE can't solve, not by the
problems YOU can't solve."
* The Scientific Attitude of Mind
Science is not a body of knowledge but a way of thinking - a process - a
method. The body of knowledge is what results from that process. And a
Scientist is not necessarily someone who has a PhD in physics, but is anyone
who practices that way of thinking. It is characterized primarily by being
reality-oriented and flexible. A scientist assumes, as Einstein put it, that
"Out yonder there is this huge world, which exists independently of us
human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at
least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking."
This is the fundamental premise of science.
The other primary element of scientific thought - flexibility - is the
ability and willingness to alter one's ideas so as to bring them into
correspondence with that "independently existing world." Nature does not
necessarily comply with the parameters established by human conjecture, and
when she does not, we must accept the necessity of modifying the conjecture.
* Some History of Science
Thales made the extraordinary assumption that the world is a thing whose
workings the human mind CAN understand. This led subsequent Greeks to
conclude that the material world is fully real, and to begin to treat nature
as an object for careful consideration. Over the course of several
centuries, the Greeks progressed from mystical tribesmen inhabiting a
chaotic universe they believed was god-driven, to rational individuals in
control both of themselves and of a comprehensible world. These were the men
who, starting with nothing, created the philosophic foundations for all
In the seventeenth century, there arose a mode of scientific procedure
usually associated with the names of Galileo and Francis Bacon. It was based
upon observation, reason, and experiment. Galileo's work established the
priority of experiment over deductive science (which was itself a great
advance over the use of myth and religion to explain natural phenomena).
Furthermore, Galileo's conclusions could not be ignored as a mere
intellectual oddity, for they had to be used in the practical business of
pointing cannons at the correct angle to compensate for the fall of
cannonballs in flight.
It has sometimes been maintained that Galileo's greatest contribution was
his method of thinking about the physical universe. Unfortunately the great
majority of philosophers were (and remain) unable to understand his method.
They still possess the deductive habit of reasoning from what SEEM to be
valid basic assumptions and rarely believe it necessary to check their
conclusions against the real universe.
By insisting on the experimental verification of scientific conjectures,
Galileo and his successors established a general test of scientific truth
which enabled scientists specializing in widely different disciplines to
accept and use each other's results. The shared method created an organized
scientific community, with a division of labor among scientists in various
specialized fields, all contributing to the accumulation of a demonstrably
valid body of knowledge. By the close of the seventeenth century, the scale
of Europe's scientific effort was already overwhelmingly greater than that
of any contemporary or earlier culture, and so too was the European
civilization's progress in understanding natural phenomena.
We are so much accustomed to think of organizations solely in terms of
hierarchical bureaucracies like armies, governments, or corporations that it
is difficult to realize that an enterprise so individualistic and non-
hierarchical as modern science can properly be said to be highly organized.
But such a narrow impression of organization must be dismissed as misleading
on the basis of the history of science. Without a formal hierarchy, Western
scientists created a scientific community within which they pursued shared
goals of understanding natural phenomena with dedication, cooperation,
collective conflict resolution, division of labor, specialization, and
information generation and exchange at a level of organizational efficiency
rarely matched among large groups, hierarchical or nonhierarchical. Western
science had another advantage over contemporary and antecedent sciences: it
arose at a time when political and religious authorities lacked the power to
suppress new ideas incompatible with conventional beliefs, though they often
* Science vs Magic
Every day we take for granted things that people 500 years ago dreamed
about, but could only think of in terms of magic. We can fly through the
air, stare into magic mirrors and watch things going on in other places,
even talk to people all over the world. We made all those things happen, but
we've used methods of doing so that people from way back could never have
imagined - because they had no comprehension of the natural principles
underlying these phenomena. Once you understand the principles involved,
what remains is merely a question of engineering. They imagined flying but
had to talk about levitation, because they couldn't see in advance the kind
of engineering needed to make the idea work.
Arthur Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable
If you learn what this world is, how it works, you automatically start
getting magic - what will be called miracles. But of course nothing is
miraculous. Learn what the magician knows and it's not magic anymore.
But it does no good to try to explain something as being a product of
science rather than magic, in speaking to people who have no idea what is
meant by "science" and who have a culturally-induced antipathy to rational
thinking. They lack the basic conceptual machinery that makes any rational
account of an objective world possible. They don't seem to share the
ordinary, commonsense notions of causality and consistency that are
necessary to even begin understanding the universe. They don't grasp that
the same causes always produce the same results. They don't see anything
natural about predictability at all. They act as if it were mysterious.
Machines - especially computers - baffle them. They talk instead about magic
and mysticism. They rely on some intuitive process that dwells deep below
This is not necessarily the fault of the ignorant people. Although there
is a vast untapped popular interest in the deepest scientific questions, for
many people the shoddily thought out doctrines of borderline science are the
closest approximation to comprehensible science readily available to them.
The popularity of pseudoscience should be a rebuke to the schools, the press
and commercial television for their sparse, unimaginative and ineffective
efforts at science education. This unfortunate situation is compounded by
the popular media's obsession with controversy and sensationalism. In its
rush to expose "dangers" to the public health and well-being, the
distortions and outright falsehoods it presents as "science" serve only to
corrupt what little factual knowledge the public does possess. To top it
off, we are beset by the quantum mystics, whose dim comprehension of
physics, and abysmal ignorance of philosophy do not in any way inhibit their
subjectivist metaphysical pronouncements. (In fact, the ideas of quantum
mechanics do not contain any reasons whatsoever for giving up the concept of
a reality that is independent of the mind.)
Amid the utter darkness of mysticism, scientific reason is a candle
lighting the way to sense. Science is an attempt to understand the world, to
get a grip on things, to get hold of ourselves, to steer a safe course. In
contrast to mysticism, the scientific method has been mostly successful:
microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was
considered sufficient cause to burn women to death.
In every country we should be teaching our children the scientific method
and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. This is all that stands between us and
the barbaric darkness of mysticism.
Goethe: "Nature understands no jesting; she is always true, always
serious, always severe; she is always right, and the errors and faults are
always those of man. The man incapable of appreciating her she despises and
only to the apt, the pure, and the true, does she resign herself and reveal
T.H. Huxley: "Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune
of evey one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing
a game at chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a
primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to
have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and
getting out of check? Yet it is a very plain and elementary truth, that the
life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less,
of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of
the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It
is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us
being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is
the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the
game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is
hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just and patient. But
also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the
smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well, the highest
stakes are paid, with that sort of overlflowing generosity with which the
strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated -
without haste, but without remorse."
* Examples of the Scientific Attitude applied
Nearly four centuries of experience since Galileo's time has shown that
it is frequently useful to depart from the real and to construct a model of
the system being studied. Some of the complications are stripped away, so a
simple and generalized mathematical structure can be built up on what is
left. Once that is done, the complicating factors can be restored one by
one, and the model suitably modified. To try to achieve the comlexities of
reality at one bound, without working through a simplified model first, is
so difficult that it is rarely attempted, and usually does not succeed when
Newton started with a mathematical construct of the solar system that
represented nature simplified: a point mass moving around a center of force.
Because he did not assume that the construct was an exact representation of
the physical world he was free to explore the properties and effects of a
mathematical attractive force even though he found the concept of a grasping
force "acting at a distance" to be abhorrent and not admissable in the realm
of good physics. Next he compared the consequences of his mathematical
construct with the observed principles and laws of the external world, such
as Kepler's law of areas and law of elliptical orbits. Where the
mathematical construct fell short Newton modified it. He made the center of
force not a mathematical entity but a point mass. From the modified
mathematical construct Newton concluded that a set of point masses circling
a central point mass attract one another and perturb one another's orbits.
Again he compared the construct with the physical world. Of all the planets,
Jupiter and Saturn are the most massive, and so he sought orbital
perturbations in their motions. With the help of John Flamsteed, Newton
found that the orbital motion of Saturn is perturbed when the two planets
are closest together. The process of repeatedly comparing the mathematical
construct with reality and then suitably modifying it led eventually to the
treatment of the planets as physical bodies with definite shapes and sizes.
After Newton had modified the construct many times he applied it to the
entirety of nature, asserting that the force of attraction, which he had
derived mathematically, is universal gravity. Since the mathematical force
of attraction works well in explaining and predicting the observed phenomena
of the world, Newton decided that the force must "truly exist" even though
the philosophy to which he adhered did not and could not allow such a force
to be part of a system of nature. And so he called for an inquiry into how
the effects of universal gravity might arise.
In 1830, the Swedish chemist Jakob Berzelius, who didn't believe that
molecules with equal structures but different properties were possible,
examined both tartaric acid and racemic acid in detail. With considerable
chagrin, he decided that even though he didn't believe it, it was
It was generally believed that radio waves, like any other form of
electromagnetic radiation, ought to travel in straight lines only, and
therefore, like light, should be able to penetrate no farther than the
horizon. Marconi noted, however, that radio waves seemed to follow the curve
of the earth. He had no explanation for this, but he did not hesitate to
make use of the fact. On December 12, 1901, he succeeded in sending a radio
wave signal from England, around the bulge of the earth, to Newfoundland.
Charles Darwin: "In October 1838, fifteen months after I had begun my
systematic enquiry (into the mutability of species), I happened to read
'Malthus on Population,' and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle
for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of
the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these
circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and
unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation
of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work."
* Some Critiques of Science
Critic: "There is no poetry in science."
Isaac Asimov: "Not all the soaring genius of Shakespeare sufficed to lift
him to such empyrean heights as to reveal to him the vision of the universe
that bursts in upon the dullest scientist who now lives. In every branch of
science fascinations lurk, ready to burst out upon even the most plodding
soul. Peeping from behind the symbols of the mathematician are formulas,
such as the Mandelbrot Set, so beautiful in their subtle symmetry that no
artist could improve on them. Where can one come across forms of things not
only so thoroughly unknown but so majestically unknowable as in the quantum
world within the atom? All the dictates of "common sense" - based upon the
ordinary world about us - break down in the face of the ultimately tiny.
Imagine the poetry of a science that calmly abandons common sense in order
to preserve sense; a science that admits into its fold an ineluctable
uncertainty in order to be more nearly certain. What mysteries, what
clanking chains, what dim ghosts of Gothic romance can compare with the
mysterious muon-neutrino? There is poetry everywhere and in everything, and
it is most clearly present in the world that scientists dwell in."
"I question the accuracy and validity of the Scientific Method - Science
is young and clumsy - still too gross to truly measure some things."
Let us examine the accuracy, validity, and gross clumsiness of science by
taking a look at just a few of its actual accomplishments.
To begin with, here is a measure of the accuracy between a theoretical
prediction and its corresponding experimental measurement:
Experiments measure the electron's magnetic moment at 1.00115965221. The
theory of Quantum Electrodynamics puts it at 1.00115965246. To give you a
feeling for the accuracy of these numbers, consider them this way: If you
were to measure the distance from Los Angeles to New York to this accuracy,
it would be exact to the thickness of a human hair. I believe we can
conclude that the theory is reasonably close to reality.
As for the validity of scientific hypotheses - surely the most
outrageously unbelievable hypothesis of modern physics is the Quantum
Mechanics, and yet a clever application of the uncertainty principle (which
places a limit on the precision with which position can be known) yields
very fine-tuned control over a type of electron flow known as quantum
tunneling. The resulting device (the Scanning Tunneling Microscope,
manufactured by Digital Instruments, Inc.) uses the quantum tunneling effect
both to view, and to perform mechanical operations on, very tiny objects.
Right down to the level of individual atoms. At the IBM Zurich lab,
researchers used a Scanning Tunneling Microscope to cleave a single benzene
ring off of a dimethyl phthalate molecule.
In its practical application (where the validity of the Quantum Mechanics
can be measured by its commercial utility), an STM is used to monitor the
production quality of an optical-disk stamping machine.
And as for gross clumsiness, these three examples should suffice to
dispel that erroneous view:
The optical telescope on Palomar Mountain can detect a 10-watt light bulb
on the moon. This telescope could also measure the width of a needle - at a
distance of 5 miles. The best infrared telescopes could record the heat from
a rabbit on the moon - were it alive and hopping.
Using very long baseline interferometry, maser images can be made
accurate to 300 microarc-seconds. Were the human eye to have this resolving
power, you could read these words from about 3000 miles away.
Workers at the National Bureau of Standards used a Paul electromagnetic
trap to detect a single quantum jump of the outermost electron on a mercury
ion from its ground state to an intermediate state. That's one single
quantum jump of one single electron! Not quite the sort of thing you could
reach in and fondle with your finger.
Look again at the criticism - and consider the principle underlying it:
She really should not "question the accuracy and validity of the
Scientific Method" while she is writing with a ball-point pen on a sheet of
paper, probably supported by the plastic surface of a desktop, and
illuminated by an electric light bulb. You see what's happening - the author
is using the very thing she denies, in the act of denying it. This is an
excellent example of the Stolen Concept Fallacy: she is using the thing
while she is rejecting the thing.
If you have difficulty grasping the Uncertainty Principle, consider this:
It is easily possible to construct a square, having specified exactly the
length of a side. When you have done so, you will find that you cannot
measure the diagonal with exactness (because it is a function of the square
root of 2).
It is equally easy to construct a square having specified exactly the
length of the diagonal. But in this case you will be just as unable to
measure the exact length of the side.
Thus we are in the position of being able to specify one or the other of
two quantities - but not both simultaneously.
This exercise in simple geometry is a good example of the Uncertainty
Principle in action: the universe is built in such a fashion that we humans
are not omniscient - we can't know everything.
If you have difficulty with the notion of "mere chance being the
instrument of creation" try this experiment:
Take about a dozen teaspoons and drop them (randomly but with handles up)
into a soda glass. Tilt the glass to about a 45 degree angle and shake it.
You will see the spoons begin to nest together. This nesting is the
inevitable consequence of energy dissipation - of the interplay of the laws
of physics - as the spoons settle into a "least energy content"
configuration. When you consider that the fundamental morsels of matter
(atoms and molecules) are sets of identical objects (every water molecule,
for example, is exactly identical to every other) just like the spoons -
then it is not too hard to realize that they would fit together in certain
ways. Just like the spoons. This fitting together - on a larger and larger
scale - can account for many aspects of the world of living things we see
Always remember this: the words "chance" and "random" do not really
describe the world of Reality. What they DO describe is the state of human
knowledge. To be precise, they are terms that describe a state of human
ignorance. When I say that an event happens by "mere chance" all I am really
saying is that I do not precisely know what are the causal factors of that
event. Personally, I would much rather admit to my own ignorance of the
world than to invent, as an absolution for that ignorance, a Divinity to
account for things I cannot yet explain.
Heisenberg: "The laws of nature which we formulate mathematically in
quantum theory deal no longer with the elementary particles themselves but
with our knowledge of the particles."
A commonly encountered criticism is "How can you believe in something -
like an electron - which you can't possibly see?"
No one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the
brick, you see only the surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple
assumption which helps us understand things better. The theory of electrons
The ultimate justification for the ideas of science is that logical
conclusions drawn from these ideas have led to useful solutions to real-life
problems. From science have flowed all those great inventions by means of
which mankind in general is able to exist with more comfort and in greater
numbers upon the face of the earth. Hence arise the great advantages of men
above brutes, and of civilization above barbarity. The acre of ripe wheat
that once took a dozen men and a dozen horses all day to cut and thresh is
now gathered up in six minutes as the combine rolls, one person at the
How can science achieve fantastic things in the material world and yet
you suppose for one minute that what we are doing is arbitrary and has no
absolute, unquestionable relationship to the facts of reality? How is it
possible that what we do works, if it doesn't correspond to reality?
Many scientists who are exposed to philosophy come away with the
realization that if their work were to be attempted within the muddy, vague,
and contradictory intellectual frame-of-reference of the philosophers, they
would never achieve anything useful. So they simply abandon all
philosophical considerations and confine their lives to the realm of clear,
precise and meaningful scientific investigation. Thus it is that during the
past 300 years the human race has gained an immense store of practical
knowledge about the natural world while the philosophers are still
struggling to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Steven Weinberg: "I know of NO ONE who has participated actively in the
advance of physics in the post-war period whose research has been
significantly helped by the work of philosophers."
Their talk is vague nonsense. At times their terms are so loosely defined
that what they say cannot help but be partly true. Unfortunately, the sort
of language that is admired by many philosophers does not, in fact, mean
anything at all. All too often, they use language not as a means of
communication but as a way to establish and defend an academic reputation.
But there is nothing surprising here. In the mind of a professional
philospher rhetoric is always more important than reality. Perhaps it would
be more accurate to say that in his mind rhetoric IS reality.
It was difficult for Satan alone to mislead the whole world, so he
appointed prominent philosophers in different localities.
* Why Objectivism is rejected
Max Planck observed: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by
convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because
its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar
A whole generation of adherents must frequently die off before an old
theory can be replaced by a superior version. This is in part because humans
invest so much self-esteem in their ideas (as opposed to their thinking
process) that any challenge to the ideas assumes the threat of a personal
attack on their ego.
Objectivism, in revealing much of the nature of psychological reality,
has also disclosed why many of its own important findings are still
rejected: the ego of man sees that what the Objectivists have found - if
analyzed and digested - would change ego itself. And man's greatest fear
then rises to defend ego: the animal dread of any change in his personal
identity. Only those courageous enough to master that primordial fear have
been able to understand, and to benefit by, Objectivism. Even where the ego
itself is not threatened, an unacceptable burden of self-responsibility is
laid on the individual. It is easier to reject the philosophy than to bear
In a popular work of fiction, the story is often designed mainly to
provide entertainment: the pleasure of observing the characters and events
for their own sake, with no deeper significance intended. This is why
popular fiction so often seems to satisfy what Rand describes as "the
psycho-epistemological role of art" much better than many serious works that
may give us great insights but little entertainment. And this is why Rand's
own fiction is so frequently classified as merely popular fiction, since her
works, like popular works, offer exciting stories that involve the reader
emotionally and imaginatively in the story world. But this does not mean
that her works should be dismissed as superficial fiction, or that they
should be read just for pleasure.
Rand is frequently reviled, not just because she was an egoist, an
atheist, and a pro-capitalist, but because she did not present her ideas in
a "scholarly" fashion. This is very unpalatable to most philosophers. They
want someone who documents what she says, defends it, and deals with
contrary positions. Their focus is not on physical reality but on statements
made by other philosophers. Rand pretty much dismissed other positions and
went directly on to make her own identifications of reality. She was usually
right to dismiss them, and the reasons she gave were usually correct, but to
most scholars encountering her for the first time her dismissal is
personally upsetting. Some find her style so offensive, in the sense of
being non-scholarly, they refuse to read anything else she wrote. She did
not play by the rules of their game. She did not deal with their arguments.
She just brushed them aside and proceeded to make accurate identifications
of fundamental truths - not merely responses to other people's
But this process by which Rand is rejected is merely part of a technique
that has been used for centuries to advocate philosophical ideas that have
no relation to reality. It works like this:
The conclusion must be brazenly clear, but the proof must be shrouded in
unintelligibility (this is the "scholarly fashion" of presentation mentioned
above). The proof must be so tangled a mess that it will paralyze a reader's
critical faculty. To provide a veneer of sophistication, the author may
include many pages of abstruse technical notes, which generate an almost
impenetrable aura of erudition. The students will believe that the
professors know the proof, the professors will believe that the commentators
know it, the commentators will believe that the author knows it - but the
author is self-blinded to the fact that no proof exists and none was ever
offered. Within a few generations, the number of commentaries will have
grown to such proportions that the original work will be considered a
subject of philosophical specialization requiring a lifetime of study - and
any refutation of the author's theory will be ignored or rejected if
unaccompanied by a full discussion of the theories of all the commentators,
a task which no one will be able to undertake. This is the process by which
Kant and Hegel acquired their dominance. Many professors of philosophy today
have no idea of what Kant actually said. And no one has ever read Hegel,
even though many have looked at every word on his every page. (As J.S. Mill
remarked: "Conversancy with Hegel tends to deprave one's intellect.")
This process is not necessarily a deliberate attempt to defraud people.
It may be merely the inevitable consequence of how a certain kind of people
handle ideas. As Branden observed, genuine self-esteem results from
comparing oneself not with other people (or their opinions) but with the
facts of reality. A person who lacks genuine self-esteem builds a pseudo
self-esteem by comparing himself with other people. The most obvious example
is the braggart who does NOT say "I can do it well," but says "I can do it
better than YOU can!" When the braggart becomes a philosopher, his main
intellectual focus is not on understanding, developing and expanding ideas
which are the expressions of TRUTH - his main focus is on interacting,
either positively or negatively, with statements made by OTHER PEOPLE (his
own personal "significant others").
Rand is rejected because she did not fit into this category. Her focus
was directed toward the identification of facts, not to the analysis of
other people's opinions.
Objectivism is not a philosophers' fantasy, but a real-world functional
philosophy. This may be why so many philosophers ignore it, reject it out-
of-hand, or insist on dealing with it in a nit-picking manner. Picking nits
in each other's fantasies is what professional philosophers do for a living.
They are merely playing word games. Objectivism is outside their
People focused on facts will tend to enter fact-oriented fields and
become scientists, engineers, technicians, or mechanics, depending on their
level of intellectual power and their specific area of personal interest.
People with a more social-metaphysical focus will tend to become
philosophers, scholars, politicians, or journalists, in a similar manner.
Of course there are people who buck this trend: Ayn Rand as a philosopher
is an outstanding example.
There are two significant critiques of Rand's presentation of the
One is based on the observation that creatures such as lemmings and the
male mantis (who dies in the act of copulation) refute Rand's claim that
living creatures always act to preserve their lives, and therefore
everything Rand based on this claim must also be false.
The other makes the contention that Rand's argument can equally well be
used as the basis for a "human" morality founded on the desire for theft,
mass murder and suicide. (I'm not really sure these people are serious. I
suspect that for them philosophy is not something useful but is merely a
game they play with words, having no practical relevance to their lives.)
Rand: "There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe:
existence or non-existence - and it pertains to a single class of entities:
to living organisms." Rand should have stopped when she said this, rather
than continue with an attempt to encompass the behavior of plants and non-
human animals. By doing so she strayed from the hard road of factual
analysis, thus rending her highly useful remarks on HUMAN life susceptible
to refutation. The Objectivist Ethics is meant to be a guide to human
behavior, not the behavior of other creatures. The fact that Rand was not a
biologist and did not include the qualifiers that might have enabled her
presentation to accomodate the conditions of existence of the mantis, the
lemming, etc. does not diminish its applicability to the conditions of HUMAN
life. In establishing a moral code, what we must consider is human life and
human choices, not the behavior of other forms of life.
It is because man can make choices that are not available to the mantis,
the lemming and other creatures that he requires a moral code. If the life
of a human being were not something to which the consequences of his choices
could ultimately make a difference, then there would be no need for, or even
possibility of, moral principles. Because man is a creature whose life
depends on his choices, not on instincts, every fact of reality which he
discovers has, directly or indirectly, an implication for those choices and
thus for evaluating his proper course of action. Rand began constructing a
system of morality by observing the fact that creates the need for values.
She let this fact be the foundation stone for a derivation of HUMAN
morality. Therein lies the strength of her presentation.
(See Chapter 3 * To Survive or to Flourish for an analysis of the
Objectivist views of "human life.")
Rand: "In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be
established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me
stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates
the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living
entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be
achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity
IS, determines what it OUGHT to do." The alternative of existence or non-
existence is what bridges the is-ought gap, it enables us to base our
"ought" (morality) on "is" (reality). If you're going to ground your
morality in facts, you have to trace everything back to survival vs. non-
survival, because that's where you face the fundamental alternative.
Reality confronts man with a great many "musts", but all of them are
conditional to the achievement of goals. The formula of realistic necessity
is: "You must ____ if you want to achieve a desired goal." All moral virtues
and values are necessitated by the law of causality. A moral code is a means
to an end; it identifies the causes we must enact if we are to attain a
The alternative of life vs. death creates the context for morality, but
it does so only if the entity's desired goal is to preserve its life. The
concept "life" is the root of the concept "value". It is from basic survival
that the Objectivist morality takes its blueprint. But this blueprint is not
the entire edifice. A belief system is always part structure and part
blueprint, a combination of the is and the ought, as we continually strive
to bring our ideas into a closer and closer correspondence with the facts of
reality. Our goal should be, not to choose the one true, right and proper
path as opposed to the only other bad, false and wicked path, but to choose
the BEST path among a range of possible alternatives. We should regard
Rand's description as being of the two extremes of a wide range, not as
being of two all-inclusive alternatives.
Just as there is a "lifeboat ethics" (See VOS Chapter 3), so there is a
"suicide morality." A morality based on its ability to accomodate suicide
rather than on its ability to engender a successful life. The idea of "moral
principle" is a tool which can enable us to choose among different courses
of action. It can enable us to choose life-enhancing actions or it can
enable us to choose life-destroying actions. Some critics focus only on this
destructive potential and reject the Objectivist Ethics on this basis,
refusing to recognize its creative actuality. They are left with nothing,
whereas Objectivists make good use of a valuable tool.
Observe that critics of Objectivism do not provide any alternative
principles of guidance. Indeed, if you examine their works, you will find
that many explicitly eschew ANY principled foundation for the conduct of
human affairs. Some even go so far as to assert that there is NO WAY to
distinguish right from wrong. But you must have a guide for your actions,
lest in your blind efforts to live you end up slaying yourself accidently.
And you must choose to strive for a successful life, else you will end up
slaying yourself deliberately. Objectivism provides you with the means to
make choices among actions that can result in a successful - or unsuccessful
- life. But the choices are YOURS to make.
Rand was correct: you can choose life and a morality based on life-
enhancement, or you can choose the dim, dismal and negative alternative - in
which case rational moral principles will be of no interest to you. Or even
have no existence within your philosophy.
* The Commentator Syndrome
The commentators I mentioned above usually have an encyclopedic
familiarity with the writings of virtually everyone who has written
critically about an idea. They at times show great skill in synthesizing
passages scattered throughout a multitude of sources. But in spite of this,
they may have little or no comprehension of the factual essence of the idea
that was the original object of their commentary. They deal not with
reality, but with other people's interpretations of it. They dream of
achieving "definitive" texts and seek to determine which one of many
versions of a manuscript is the most authentic. Quite often they are so
bogged down with word apprehension that simple facts escape them.
They focus on arbitrary academic distinctions and disputes, rather than
on underlying principles. Without fundamental principles to refer to, the
commentator is totally dependent on the words of previous scholars.
Consequently debate becomes increasingly attenuated into a series of false
alternatives. The context of discussion becomes more and more nebulous,
always requiring that everybody's thought be tacked onto some previous,
established thought rather than attempting to refer to reality. Debate on a
subject becomes lost in an argument over what so-and-so actually wrote, what
he meant, how he has been interpreted, etc. Like a swamp that engulfs a
myriad of streams, the commentators are tolerant, all-embracing, and
From the introduction to an essay by Fred Seddon in a recent issue of a
"The purpose of this study is to examine Adolf Grunbaum's claim that
F.S.C. Northrop's interpretation of Newton's concept of relative space is
You gotta go through Seddon to get to Grunbaum, go through Grunbaum to
get to Northrop, and then go through Northrop to get to the concept of
relative space. It would require a lifetime of study to dig through this
mountain of commentary.
Here is a complaint from a commentator (a well-known professor of
philosophy), expressing his dissatisfaction with a discussion in which the
participants were attempting to identify the nature of the concept
"It is rather perplexing to see supposedly morally upright people
embarking on sketchy discussions of the issue, ones in which no quotations
are used, no careful reproductions of the arguments of their adversaries.
Most of those who are critical of anarchism manage to omit reference to the
actual statements of the arguments advanced by those they criticize. I have
dealt with [other's] versions of anarchism, in ways that I think adhere to
scholarly caution and precision - i.e., I have used their words to
characterize their views and then examined these views with those words in
mind. To just jump in there and state the views without reference to the
words of those who advance them is, well, irresponsible."
He was dissatisfied because of the lack of a detailed examination of the
commentary. I was dissatisfied because of the lack of contemplation of
* Objectivism in the Universities
For thirty years now we've had Objectivists trying to get established in
the universities. They've had very little success. Why? Not because they're
stupid or incompetent, quite the contrary. The problem is that Objectivism,
being a scientific rather than a scholarly approach to philosophy, can never
gain real acceptance in academia unless it gives up the very essence of its
Philosophy is a "scholarly" subject, rather than scientific. There are
competing schools of thought - Aristotelian, Plationist, Kantian,
Positivist, etc. - and there is an implicit but inescapable relativism: at
any given time, although one particular school of thought may be in the
ascendant, the idea is never considered that one view could be permanently
accepted as being absolutely correct and unchallengeable. As one philosopher
put it, "OF COURSE philosophical problems are unsolvable." If you look into
the typical philosophy textbook, you'll find it stated as a truism that
philosophy can never, never achieve the kind of certainty that science has.
So, for Objectivism to triumph in the universities, we would have to do
something far more difficult than getting other philosophers to accept
Objectivist ideas. We would have to get them to renounce the philosophical
relativism that is fundamental to their scholarly culture. (See the *
Newspeak section of Chapter 2 for some thoughts on a similar epistemological
relativism.) That's why the whole approach of gaining credibility in the
universities is futile.
But why should the best Objectivist thinkers focus on the existing
universities, where our enemies are most entrenched, most intolerant, and
most secure? We should instead be building a whole new intellectual culture
of our own, from the grass roots. The abolition of the Nathaniel Branden
Institute was a tragic error.
The Objectivist university would be an institution in which there would
be respect for the customers. The professor would cease to be an ivory-tower
intellectual. He would be immediately responsive to the real-life practical
needs of his students. A diversity of intellectual interests would be
fostered, and these would reflect REAL needs, needs that people would be
willing to finance for themselves, not whatever passing, subsidized,
intellectual fad exists at the moment. (In any case, with modern computers
it may not be long before the university, as a physical entity, becomes
The academic opponents of Objectivism are more realistic than its
advocates. They know quite well that in a rational, individualistic, morally
judging, free-market culture they would not be able to dominate the
universities. They would be out of a job, out of prestige, and out on their
ass. Objectivism will win out, not by winning debates, but by filling the
growing intellectual vacuum (both in and out of the university), by offering
practical working solutions where no one else can.
We'll know Objectivism has succeeded when, and only when, thinkers like
Kant and Hegel are considered part, not of philosophy, but of the history of
philosophy; just as the ideas of the alchemists are taught today only as
history of chemistry, not as part of the science of chemistry.
On to Chapter 2
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