Comments from NoodleFood


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Comment #1

Thursday, April 22, 2004 at 3:58:20 mst
Name: Will Wilkinson

Why don't we just set the question aside and strive for plain old good philosophy instead?

You know, If I had a spare moment, I would attempt a Huemer "Why I'm not an Objectivist" essay. I think it would give you something to sharpen your philosophical claws against, because I think I actually understand objectivism fairly well. And I am not averse to discovering that I'm wrong. I looked at John Ku's essays, and he struck me as coming at it all in a rather unsystematic and mostly unconvincing sort of way.



Comment #2

Thursday, April 22, 2004 at 7:40:43 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Ron Merrill noticed that new objective sciences (from physics to psychology) historically separated themselves from the "philosophy" of their time when they accepted that:

1. Reality/Existence exists independently of consciousness.

2. To observe (to be aware) is to observe (to be aware of) something in reality. Therefore existence/reality is primary and prior to consciousness.

3. Specific facts of reality can be objectively identified by measurement.

4. The only valid way to objectively identify generally applicable principles, is to induce those principles from observation/measurement of the facts of reality as perceived by one's senses.

When Rand based a philosophy on those principles, she created five new objective sciences - sciences like biology and physics, in which the only truly relevant questions are, what is true? and, in what context? And this new context means that systems which correspond to the content of a specific person's consciousness ("Objectivism") or to the consciousness of a group/school ("The Randians") are, from that point on, embodiments of the error of classifying ideas by non-essentials (would Ayn Rand think this?) instead of essentials (what are the facts of reality grounding this idea?)

So if we need to distinguish the objective, Randian way of doing ethics or epistemology from the old pre-objective versions, why not just say "objective metaphysics", "objective epistemology", "objective ethics" etc? I think that this would be more honest than trying to squeeze post-Rand developments into Rand's Objectivism.



Comment #3

Thursday, April 22, 2004 at 14:34:46 mst
Name: aeon skoble

>Perhaps instead we ought to say that such later
>developments are "Objectivist" but not
>part of "Objectivism."

How about "Objectivish"? :-)



Comment #4

Thursday, April 22, 2004 at 15:02:21 mst
Name: David Rehm
URL: http://www.davidrehm.com

>..Kelley's argument that an authorized Objectivist doctrine generates conflict between the demands of Objectivism and the demands of independence and rationality is an expression of tribalism, not a repudiation of it. Rational and independent people discard labels like "Objectivist" when no longer applicable to them; they do not clutch onto them by arbitrarily weakening and redefining their terms.<

Exactly.

The definition of 'doctrine' (taken from Merriam-Webster online) is "a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief" - a doctrine is dogmatic only if it is accepted on faith.. a doctrine accepted on reason (especially when the doctrine itself states that this is the only proper method) is a wholly valid concept.



Comment #5

Friday, April 23, 2004 at 2:45:45 mst
Name: Mike Enright

I think there is something you are saying at the very end of your post where you discuss why objectivism should not be a proper noun. However, I don't think this is a side-note.

At one point in your writing you state that reality is the final arbitrator of what ideas are objectivist and what aren't. But how will that work? When you lie you contradict reality. When you make incorect philosophical conclusions you can contradict reality. However,there is no way that reality can arbitrate whether an idea is "kantian", "randian", or "aristotelian". There are no facts of reality to contradict. There simply is no way that to test what is and is not part of "objectivism" by testing it against reality. So perhaps it looks like we are creating some sort of abstraction composing only a number of other abstractions. I can't totally tease this out but it seems like we are suggesting that a number of ideas (referents) that fit into the form of objectivism. Perhaps I have just said that in a different way already.

But what is the point in spending much time determining what is objectivist and what is not? Shouldn't we determine if it is true? Does proving that an idea should be objectivist make it true? Is something true because you can construct an argument for it by quoting Ayn Rand? It reminds me of Christian apologists who argue that something is true because St. Augustine or some othe church father said so, without any other reasoning.

Determinations of what is part of objectivism and who is an objectivist seem too intertwined to me. It is a way to ostracize people w/o even questining if their ideas make sense or not.

To determine if something is officially "objectivist" or not seems too much like saying "what would Ayn Rand say" about a current issue. We just can't know. Do people like Arthur Silber and Chris Sciabarra represent what Ayn Rand would say about Iraq? Or do the more official TOC and ARI opinions represent them? How could we ever know without channeling Ayn Rand? If objectivism is a closed system, does it make sense to say that there is any opinion on Iraq that could be part of the set of ideas that make up objectivism?

Maybe what I am saying is that you can't have a closed system of objectivism without making objectivism a proper noun as well as some sort of platonic form.



Comment #6

Friday, April 23, 2004 at 19:27:35 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

Diana,

You make an important point when you say

"Kelley's argument that an authorized Objectivist doctrine generates conflict between the demands of Objectivism and the demands of independence and rationality is an expression of tribalism, not a repudiation of it."

Is this how the issue would be seen at the Ayn Rand Institute?

Robert



Comment #7

Friday, April 23, 2004 at 19:29:20 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

The "mysterious stranger" would be me, of course.

At least you don't put "anonymous coward" on nameless comments, the way Will Wilkinson does :-)



Comment #8

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 3:29:00 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/

Robert, I really have no idea how the issue would be seen at ARI. Actually, I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that. Can you clarify?



Comment #9

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 11:17:08 mst
Name: James Heaps-Nelson

Diana,

You state that you are in agreement with Peikoff's statement that the fundamental principles of a philosophy are set down once and for all by its founder. Let's look at a historical example to look at how erroneous this is: the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers. Are you saying that the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery is not an integral part of the Constitution? Clearly this is absurd.
Also I think it's pretty clear that ARI condones the kind of Nixonion "enemies list" paranoia engendered by Harry Binswanger's list policy. One of the reasons I believe Truth and Toleration is such an important work is that it documents and depicts the culture of intolerance and the unwillingness to face unpleasant facts within the Orthodox Objectivist movement. This was present to an attenuated extent under Rand, but reached epic proportions in the late 1980's under Peikoff, Schwartz, and Binswanger.
Fortunately, I can find only one example of the kind of airbrushing and historical revisionism prevalent at ARI in Ayn Rand's actual work. In Philosophy Who Needs It, under the essay Censorship, Local and Express (page 188 in the Signet edition, Rand omits an important part of Thomas Jefferson's famous quote at the Jefferson Memorial: "I swear ... eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Of course the omitted words in the ellipses were: upon the altar of God.
As Chris Sciabarra has mentioned, ARI has resorted to voice-overs which cover up the voices of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in their audiotapes. These kinds of Bolshevik-style blank outs are clearly not the hallmark of an organization devoted to the search for truth.
I believe that David Kelley's greatest achievement (with the possible exception of Unrugged Individualism) was to be the first within the movement to stand up against this nonsense publicly and in print. So if you have a comprehensive critique of Truth and Toleration, let's have it. If not, by all means continue the debate and critiques but let's lower the level of frenzied denunciations in this Blog.



Comment #10

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 16:14:21 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

What is the hidden premise in James Heaps-Nelson's comment? That moral judgment is to be condemned(!). Observe that he does not argue that in fact Kelley's philosophy is congruent with Rand's, and that therefore it was wrong for ARI et al to cut off relations with him. Instead, he simply charges Peikoff and his supporters with being paranoid, intolerant, and evasive, and calls their views nonsense and their opposition to TOC frenzied.

His only attempt at an argument comes in his first paragraph, where he equates Objectivism with the Constitution, and the Constitution with the political philosophy of the founders. But the Constitution is obviously NOT the political philosophy of the founders. Their philosophy was what it was, and while it was codified in the Constitution, later changes to the Constitution did not change their philosophy. In the same way, we are free to think whatever thoughts we wish, but that doesn't change Rand's philosophy, i.e., that doesn't change what Objectivism is.

Now, as to the claim that Objectivists are attempting to alter the historical record - that is such a massive example of context dropping I hardly think I should waste my time refuting it.

The cases you refer to are not "attempts to alter the historical record." They are attempts not to promote people hostile to Objectivism. Nathaniel Branden, in particular, has engaged in the worst sorts of attacks, not just against Rand personally, but against anyone who thinks Objectivism is true. And let's not even get started on what he says about Leonard Peikoff. What sort of moral code would demand that Peikoff promote someone who has viciously attacked him in public, not just once but on multiple occasions? Huh?

What has always astonished me is how Kelleyites are obsessed with attacking Peikoff for his treatment of Kelley and Branden and their ilk when, in fact, Peikoff DOES NOT EVEN SPEAK OF THEM. Unlike Branden, who publicly criticizes Peikoff in the worst ways, Peikoff has had the restraint to utter not a word. Even in Fact and Value, Peikoff's tone is rather respectful - he does not call Kelley names, he simply identifies Kelley's philosophy as non-Objectivist and gives his reasons for saying so. He does not even call Kelley dishonest! Is that the mark of a religious zealot? I do not think so.

The fact of the matter is, one does not have a moral obligation to promote one's detractors. On the contrary, to do so is to sanction such attacks. But the Kelley point of view comes across very clearly in comments like those of Mr. Heaps-Nelson. No where is there any concern for morality, or justice, or the integrity of Objectivism or the value of Ayn Rand. The only concern is with condemning people who pass moral judgments, who take ideas seriously, who do not recognize a dichotomy between fact and value, and reason and emotion.



Comment #11

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 18:09:05 mst
Name: Neil Parille

Diana, you state that "[s]o long as they approach ideas (including Objectivism) seriously and carefully, debate and discussion with such fellow travellers can be extremely profitable."

This seems to be a central difference. According to Peikoff and ARI, there really can't be "fellow travelers." Have you ever seen a book by an ARI-associated writer who quotes Machan? They are ignored, or attacked (namelessly). Take for example the notorious statement in Gotthelf's book that there is "little value" in secondary material about Rand.)



Comment #12

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 21:54:45 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Diana,

I was being too elliptical.

So let me put my question this way:

Could David Kelley have made his assumption that putting forward an authorized Objectivist doctrine puts pressure on its adherents to give up their rationality and their independence...because he had seen Leonard Peikoff and other principals at the Ayn Rand Institute use authorized Objectivist doctrine in precisely that fashion?

It is perhaps worth noting that Kelley was excommunicated because he had given a speech at a meeting of a libertarian organization, not because of anything he had actually said in front of those assembled libertarians.

Robert



Comment #13

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 21:54:49 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Diana,

I was being too elliptical.

So let me put my question this way:

Could David Kelley have made his assumption that putting forward an authorized Objectivist doctrine puts pressure on its adherents to give up their rationality and their independence...because he had seen Leonard Peikoff and other principals at the Ayn Rand Institute use authorized Objectivist doctrine in precisely that fashion?

It is perhaps worth noting that Kelley was excommunicated because he had given a speech at a meeting of a libertarian organization, not because of anything he had actually said in front of those assembled libertarians.

Robert



Comment #14

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 23:27:44 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/

Robert, I know very little about the events or common attitudes around the time of Kelley's ejection from ARI circles. More precisely, I've heard versions of events from the Kelley side, mostly from people who weren't even present at the time. For obvious reasons, that alone doesn't count for much.

As far as I recall, Kelley offers only abstract arguments for this either-or choice in T&T, not some plethora of particular examples to support his case. Of course, any such examples could only highlight the problems with authoritarianism and tribalism, not with the idea of an authorized doctrine per se.



Comment #15

Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 23:44:19 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/

Ah, I should also comment on one more bit. Robert, you wrote: "It is perhaps worth noting that Kelley was excommunicated because he had given a speech at a meeting of a libertarian organization, not because of anything he had actually said in front of those assembled libertarians."

Kelley was certainly strongly criticized for speaking at the Laissez Faire Supper Club by Schwartz in "On Sanctioning the Sanctioners," but as far as I understand, it was the arguments in defense of that which he gave in "A Question of Sanction" <http://www.wetheliving.com/boston/sanction.html> which were the decisive factor.



Comment #16

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 1:40:11 mst
Name: Neil Parille

If people associate only with those they: (1) agree with on everything; and (2) agree with for exactly the same reasons, then there will never be much dialogue.

I think the paleocons and paleolibertarians have taken a better approach by trying to build coalitions. I would say that they appear to be having some success in changing the attitude toward the Iraq war.



Comment #17

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 14:37:36 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Diana,

I attended the Laissez Faire Supper Club event at which David Kelley gave his fateful speech.

In "A Question of Sanction," Kelley says, "The sole purpose of the occasion was to hear my explanation of why individual rights and capitalism cannot be established without reference to certain key principles of Objectivism: the absolutism of reason, the rejection of altruism, and the commitment to life in this world as a primary value. Since I explicitly criticized libertarian ideas that are incompatible with those principles, I was obviously not endorsing them."

This is a precise, correct description of what Kelley was doing on that occasion.

I think it is incorrect to cite Kelley's remarks in "On Sanctioning the Sanctioners" as in any way decisive. His fate was sealed once Peter Schwartz denounced him in the pages of the Intellectual Activist. Schwartz played the role of the enforcer, or as we sometimes say in academia, the pit bull. By the time that Kelley circulated his response, Second Renaissance Books was no longer carrying anything that he wrote. Those two indications made it obvious that he was about to be excommunicated.

The only alternative for Kelley at the time was public penance in sackcloth and ashes, as Andrew Bernstein did in 2002 after publishing a one-paragraph reply to a review in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I'm not sure that even this would restored Kelley to the good graces of Leonard Peikoff and company, given their hyperbolic denunciations of libertarianism and libertarian organizations.

So, two questions to defenders of ARI and its institutional culture:

(1) What terrible wrong did Kelley commit by giving a speech to the Laissez Faire Supper Club?

(2) What terrible wrong did Andrew Bernstein commit by placing a one-paragraph reply to a review of his book in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies?

If there is a non-tribalist explanation, I am eager to hear it.

Robert





Comment #18

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 16:20:02 mst
Name: Neil Parille

Robert Mayhew, who is associated with ARI, is (or was) a professor at Seton Hall University, which is Roman Catholic. Since Catholicism ranked up there with Communism for Rand, isn't that worse than speaking at the Laissez Faire supper club?



Comment #19

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 17:51:54 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Rober Campbell writes:

"In 'A Question of Sanction,' Kelley says, 'The sole purpose of the occasion was to hear my explanation of why individual rights and capitalism cannot be established without reference to certain key principles of Objectivism: the absolutism of reason, the rejection of altruism, and the commitment to life in this world as a primary value. Since I explicitly criticized libertarian ideas that are incompatible with those principles, I was obviously not endorsing them.'

"This is a precise, correct description of what Kelley was doing on that occasion."

It is, and that's the problem. The implication is that the content of the speech is all that matters, that accepting an invitation to speak at an event sponsored by radical Islamists would be okay so long as one argued that Islamism was wrong. That's an error.

"I think it is incorrect to cite Kelley's remarks in 'On Sanctioning the Sanctioners' as in any way decisive. His fate was sealed once Peter Schwartz denounced him in the pages of the Intellectual Activist. Schwartz played the role of the enforcer, or as we sometimes say in academia, the pit bull. By the time that Kelley circulated his response, Second Renaissance Books was no longer carrying anything that he wrote. Those two indications made it obvious that he was about to be excommunicated."

That's an assertion, and quite a convenient one. But perhaps you should also include the fact that Kelley's disagreements with Objectivism that became public after the publication of "A Question of Sanction," were known (at least to some degree) to Schwartz, Binswanger, and others before Kelley spoke at the libertarian dinner and that, in fact, those people had spent significant time trying to help Kelley correct his confusions. It was not as if Kelley had a spotless reputation, spoke in front of libertarians, and was thrown out of the movement. That is a myth, albeit one Kelley has gone out of his way not to dispel.

"So, two questions to defenders of ARI and its institutional culture:

"(1) What terrible wrong did Kelley commit by giving a speech to the Laissez Faire Supper Club?"

The sanction of libertarianism. And if you're going to tell me, "He was explaining why they needed Objectivism!" save your breath. First of all, Kelley said he argued that Objectivism was a "better" foundation for freedom, not the ONLY foundation. Secondly, Kelley's own actions subsequent to the break disprove this myth, given the intimate degree of his cooperation with libertarians. He is dealing with them as fellow fighters for liberty - not as mistaken individuals who lack the philosophy upon which liberty depends.

"(2) What terrible wrong did Andrew Bernstein commit by placing a one-paragraph reply to a review of his book in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies?"

Bernstein answered this question himself: by lending his name (and therefore his reputation) to JARS without discovering the nature of that publication, he had ended up sanctioning something he did not wish to sanction. How that's an example of tribalism, I have no idea. Please explain it to me.



Comment #20

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 20:14:02 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

The comparison of libertarians with radical Islamists really says all that I need to hear.

There are degrees of error, and not all those who are mistaken should be treated in the same way. Thinking that all errors, no matter how minor, must always be punished by the permanent, irrevocable removal of sanction, is one of the biggest errors of the Objectivist movement itself. It's also the one that ensures Objectivism the marginal place that it now has in the world of ideas.

Much unlike radical Islamists, libertarians are often amenable to persuasion, to reasoned argument, and even to the power of a good example--but, like most people, they balk at intimidation and unfair comparisons.

Perhaps ARI has been doing loads of productive work in the time since I've gone my own way. Isn't it convenient then, that at the very moment I pop back in to look around, ARI's defenders are resorting to the same tactics they employed back then? I have a hard time believing that it's all just a conincidence.

In a sane organization, Andrew Bernstein would be politely admonished for his mistake by those who thought that JARS wasn't worth his time. He would either agree or disagree, and life would go on. What other intellectual organization would punish one of its members for enunciating the organization's ideas, and for doing so before a readership who is more likely to be appreciative than virtually any other in the world?

Can you imagine a worse way to promote a philosophy?



Comment #21

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 20:32:47 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

Let's examine Andrew Bernstein's public penance in 2002.

You say:

"Bernstein answered this question himself: by lending his name (and therefore his reputation) to JARS without discovering the nature of that publication, he had ended up sanctioning something he did not wish to sanction."

I don't know Andrew Bernstein personally, but I find it reasonable to suppose that he hadn't just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. Nor do I think he was foolish enough to submit something for publication to a journal that he had never read. (Even people who don't accept the hypertrophied doctrine of "moral sanction," for which the Ayn Rand Institute is known, generally find it to prudent to read some things that have appeared in a journal before trying to publish in it.)

On the contrary, Bernstein knew who edited the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and who had written for it up to that point. Four issues (two volumes) of the journal had been published by the time he made his submission, so he had ample opportunity to read what appeared in JARS.

Bernstein didn't get into a jam on account of failing to apprehend the "nature" of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. What he failed to apprehend was that the journal was on ARI's Index Librorum Prohibitorum. And if he'd admittted knowing what had been published in JARS, wouldn't his excommunication from ARI have become mandatory?

An organization whose affiliates aren't allowed to publish in certain journals, les they be expelled for disloyalty to the the senior leadership, is practicing tribalism.

Robert Campbell



Comment #22

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 20:34:01 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Sorry, that should be "*lest* they be expelled..."



Comment #23

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 20:53:32 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert writes:

"I don't know Andrew Bernstein personally, but I find it reasonable to suppose that he hadn't just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck. Nor do I think he was foolish enough to submit something for publication to a journal that he had never read."

Here's what's funny. You're trying to argue that ARI supporters rush to moral judgment, yet you are basing yours, not on evidence, but on supposition. Don't you find the least bit of irony in that fact? Here's a suggestion - ask Bernstein what he knew and when he knew it, and then we can continue this discussion.



Comment #24

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 21:34:15 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

The notion of Objectivism as a closed system poses complexities that are best left to a different discussion. (For instance, in Diana's treatment, one can draw out a significant implication of Ayn Rand's ideas that she herself did not draw, and the result can still count as Objectivism. But this leaves open the question why Leonard Peikoff, well after Ayn Rand's death, can claim that "Objectivism" has a "state of the art," but comparable assertions made by persons not affiliated with ARI would be unacceptable. For presumably Peikoff and his disciples aren't the only persons equipped to draw out previously unforeseen implications.)

Still, I don't see that the nuances matter much in this context. Since I've criticized some of Ayn Rand's ideas in print, I'll just say up front that I'm not an Objectivist. And I really do think that disputing over who is a "real Objectivist" ought to take a back seat to examining the specific ideas each person is advocating--and their adequacy.

All the same, I do have to wonder what being an Objectivist, or believing that Objectivism is true, means from the standpoint of a person affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute. Presumably there is some criterion for being an Objectivist beyond putting forward ideas approved by the senior leadership of ARI, in a style approved by said senior leadership, in front of an audience to which one is authorized to speak by said senior leadership.

Particularly when I read statements like this:

"Kelley's disagreements with Objectivism that became public after the publication of 'A Question of Sanction,' were known (at least to some degree) to Schwartz, Binswanger, and others before Kelley spoke at the libertarian dinner and that, in fact, those people had spent significant time trying to help Kelley correct his confusions."

Is the notion that it's OK to give a speech to a libertarian group a "disagreement with Objectivism"? Or were there "confusions" of a broader and deeper nature involved here? In that case it ought to be possible to specify them. Otherwise, we'll be left with the less-than-objective conclusion that any philosophical disagreement with Peter Schwartz, Harry Binswanger, or Leonard Peikoff is a sign of "confusion" that needs "correct[ing]." Exactly what had Kelley done, before his speech at the Laissez Faire Supper Club, to make his reputation less than "spotless"?

I'll stand by my judgment that Peter Schwartz owes his importance primarily to his enforcer role. What precisely are his significant contributions to Objectivist scholarship? Does anyone affiliated with ARI put his publications up there with Peikoff's, or Binswanger's, or Tara Smith's, or those of some other folks in the younger generation?

As for "the sanction of libertarianism" being a terrible wrong, *you've got to be kidding!* Your analogy to presenting an Objectivist critique of Islamofascism to a group of radical Islamists is inappropriate, for several obvious reasons: the Islamists are bent on the destruction of the United States, along with forced conversions to Islam and world-wide Islamic empire; they don't care in the slightest what an infidel secularist thinks; and they would never invite such a person to speak before them.

I'm not trying to discouarge critiques of various libertarian figures or groups, even inquiries into how coherent an overall category "libertarianism" is. But what you've done so far is maintain that Kelley should have been excommunicated for giving a speech in front of the Laissez Faire Supper Club--because Leonard Peikoff and company had pronounced an anathema on libertarian organizations. Unless you can do better than that, you're merely affirming that Kelley was booted out of the tribe for not obeying the tribal leadership.

As for David Kelley's subsequent collaborations with libertarian groups (mainly, with the Cato Institute), I would evaluate his success as mixed, but I wouldn't attribute the failures to some kind of overall depravity afflicting the Cato Institute (nor to some kind of overall depravity afflicting Kelley). At times, though, I wonder whether Kelley, after his expulsion from the Orthodoxy, failed to realize that the enemy of his enemy wasn't necessarily his friend.

Robert Campbell



Comment #25

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 22:13:00 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason wrote:

"The comparison of libertarians with radical Islamists really says all that I need to hear."

I did not compare libertarians with radical Islamists. I compared accepting a speaking invitation for a libertarian function with accepting a speaking engagement for an Islamist function. Is there a degree of difference between those two groups? Sure, but it's the principle that's important. And the relevant principle is the issue of lending one's moral sanction to destructive ideas.

"There are degrees of error, and not all those who are mistaken should be treated in the same way."

Qua errors, no. Qua errors you treat them exactly the same way. But I think what you mean is that we do not treat people the same way without regard for the degree of their error. And that is true - it depends on how destructive the error is, and whether the person reached that error honestly or dishonestly.

"Thinking that all errors, no matter how minor, must always be punished by the permanent, irrevocable removal of sanction, is one of the biggest errors of the Objectivist movement itself."

That is not an error, read literally. You can't, after all, be saying that Objectivism should approve of errors as such. What I think you're saying is that people who error ought not be punished by the permanent, irrevocable removal of sanction. Well, okay, but no one disputes that.

"Much unlike radical Islamists, libertarians are often amenable to persuasion, to reasoned argument, and even to the power of a good example--but, like most people, they balk at intimidation and unfair comparisons.

"Perhaps ARI has been doing loads of productive work in the time since I've gone my own way. Isn't it convenient then, that at the very moment I pop back in to look around, ARI's defenders are resorting to the same tactics they employed back then? I have a hard time believing that it's all just a conincidence."

Once again, I think you completely missed my point. I did not compare libertarians and Islamists. I think radical Islamism is inherently dishonest (although David Kelley would disagree). I don't think libertarianism is. But that doesn't mean it is okay to sanction either of them.

"In a sane organization, Andrew Bernstein would be politely admonished for his mistake by those who thought that JARS wasn't worth his time. He would either agree or disagree, and life would go on. What other intellectual organization would punish one of its members for enunciating the organization's ideas, and for doing so before a readership who is more likely to be appreciative than virtually any other in the world?"

You're assuming some intellectual organization punished him or was going to punish him, and I'm saying there's no evidence that's true.



Comment #26

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 22:37:11 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert writes:

"All the same, I do have to wonder what being an Objectivist, or believing that Objectivism is true, means from the standpoint of a person affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute."

I think your deeper question is, why is it important who is or is not an Objectivist? Well, if Objectivism is true, then it is very important who is or is not an Objectivist.

Moreover, if one believes, as I do, that Objectivism has the potential to dramatically change the world for the better, then it makes a difference who is or is not an Objectivist.

Or, if one wants to study Rand's philosophy, even if just for historical reasons, it matters whether one studies with someone who understands her philosophy, or someone who does not.

So this is an important question, and not for tribalistic reasons.

"Is the notion that it's OK to give a speech to a libertarian group a 'disagreement with Objectivism'?"

The idea that one should sanction libertarianism is at odds with Objectivism.

"Or were there 'confusions' of a broader and deeper nature involved here? In that case it ought to be possible to specify them."

I'm not sure I know what you're asking. Do you mean, were Kelley's philosophical errors extant before he codified them in "A Question of Sanction"? Yes, which is why he ended up speaking before libertarians in the first place.

"Otherwise, we'll be left with the less-than-objective conclusion that any philosophical disagreement with Peter Schwartz, Harry Binswanger, or Leonard Peikoff is a sign of 'confusion' that needs 'correct[ing].'"

This isn't an issue of him disagreeing with Schwartz, Binswanger, and Peikoff. This is an issue of him disagreeing with Objectivism, and Objectivists attempting to help him understand that. Are you thinking, "Well, how do you know THEY weren't the one's in error?" And my answer to that is: Because I've read "A Question of Sanction." Unless you're going to argue for skepticism, that is sufficient reason.

"Exactly what had Kelley done, before his speech at the Laissez Faire Supper Club, to make his reputation less than 'spotless'?"

If you're asking, which of the errors apparent in "A Question of Sanction" were known before the publication of that document, I do not know. I know only that some of them were.

"I'll stand by my judgment that Peter Schwartz owes his importance primarily to his enforcer role. What precisely are his significant contributions to Objectivist scholarship?"

Is that the only standard for who is important in the Objectivist movement?

"As for 'the sanction of libertarianism' being a terrible wrong, *you've got to be kidding!* Your analogy to presenting an Objectivist critique of Islamofascism to a group of radical Islamists is inappropriate, for several obvious reasons."

See my response to Jason. I wasn't comparing libertarianism and Islamism.

"But what you've done so far is maintain that Kelley should have been excommunicated for giving a speech in front of the Laissez Faire Supper Club--because Leonard Peikoff and company had pronounced an anathema on libertarian organizations. Unless you can do better than that, you're merely affirming that Kelley was booted out of the tribe for not obeying the tribal leadership."

That is NOT what I've maintained. I've maintained that he was and should have been excommunicated because his philosophy is at odds with Objectivism, as should be evident from reading "A Question of Sanction." Speaking before libertarians was not his offense, but a symptom of his offense.



Comment #27

Sunday, April 25, 2004 at 23:29:09 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

Apropos of Andrew Bernstein's public act of contrition for publishing in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, you said:

"Here's a suggestion - ask Bernstein what he knew and when he knew it, and then we can continue this discussion."

Do you really think that Andrew Bernstein is going to tell me that what he knew, in 2001, about the people who had published in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies? Or about the extent to which he knew some of them were taking positions at variance with those endorsed by the leadership of ARI? I was one of the people who had published in JARS--and I'm the journal's Associate Editor!

But let's suppose that Bernstein's public statement is correct. Then we're required to conclude that he submitted an item for publication in a journal that he'd never bothered to read. He did this despite his affiliation with an organization that is notoriously suspicious of unauthorized interpretations of Ayn Rand and overtly preoccupied with the issue of "sanction." He did this even though the editor who handled his submission had published a book on Ayn Rand that an ARI-affiliated reviewer had called "worthless."

In other words, we're required to conclude that he was acting like a complete fool.

This doesn't seem to help Bernstein's case...

Robert



Comment #28

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 0:05:38 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

You've said:

"I think your deeper question is, why is it important who is or is not an Objectivist? Well, if Objectivism is true, then it is very important who is or is not an Objectivist."

Sure it matters. But first, you need a criterion for what Objectivism is, as a system of ideas, and second, you need to make a detailed case for the truth of the component ideas in that system.

And in order to accomplish those tasks, you might need to engage informed critiques of Objectivism--instead of consigning those who make such critiques, as soon as they are seen to be making them, to the outer darkness.

You make a further point:

"Or, if one wants to study Rand's philosophy, even if just for historical reasons, it matters whether one studies with someone who understands her philosophy, or someone who does not."

Of course--but there needs to be an objective criterion for understanding Rand's philosophy, not just approval by Leonard Peikoff, Harry Binswanger, et al. Obviously Peikoff knows Rand's philosophy, though, contrary to his self-presentation in more recent years, I believe he has also brought some ideas of his own to it, which sometimes constitute an improvement and sometimes do not. The quality of his exposition and his defense of the philosophy has also varied over time. But--do you really think that

Tibor Machan
Douglas Rasmussen
Douglas Den Uyl
Neera Badhwar
Roderick Long
Lester Hunt
Eric Mack
Chris Sciabarra
Michelle Marder Kamhi
Louis Torres
and
Nathaniel Branden

--among others--don't understand Objectivism and aren't worth learning from on the subject?

The rest of your post I'm not inclined to quibble with. It says more about the nature and character of the Ayn Rand Institute than I ever could, and says it with greater authority.

Robert



Comment #29

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 0:23:44 mst
Name: Neil Parille

Don,

Why was Kelley sanctioning libertarianism by speaking at a libertarian group, but Mayhew is not sanctioning Catholicism by teaching at a Catholic university?



Comment #30

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 0:59:55 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert Campbell writes:

"But let's suppose that Bernstein's public statement is correct. Then we're required to conclude that he submitted an item for publication in a journal that he'd never bothered to read. He did this despite his affiliation with an organization that is notoriously suspicious of unauthorized interpretations of Ayn Rand and overtly preoccupied with the issue of 'sanction.' He did this even though the editor who handled his submission had published a book on Ayn Rand that an ARI-affiliated reviewer had called 'worthless.'

"In other words, we're required to conclude that he was acting like a complete fool."

Which could very well be the reason he was so apologetic. A reason that would have nothing to do with a tribalistic flogging by ARI supporters. But once again, this is mere speculation in which I have no interest in engaging.



Comment #31

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 1:44:27 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert Campbell writes:

"But first, you need a criterion for what Objectivism is, as a system of ideas, and second, you need to make a detailed case for the truth of the component ideas in that system."

To identify who is and is not an Objectivist? I don't think it's as difficult as you seem to think it is. An Objectivist is one who understands and agrees with all the philosophic principles identified by Rand.

"And in order to accomplish those tasks, you might need to engage informed critiques of Objectivism--instead of consigning those who make such critiques, as soon as they are seen to be making them, to the outer darkness."

It depends on what you mean. Certainly we have to be able to answer challenges to our philosophy, but if by "engage informed critiques" you mean that we have some kind of obligation to debate those with whom we disagree, we most certainly do not. From where did such an oblgiation arise? And what sort of epistemology contends that truth cannot be reached except through debate?

Remember, just because we choose not to argue on terms you think we should does NOT mean we don't have arguments.

(And since I know someone will say it: No, that's not an argument from intimidation. I didn't say, "We have arguments so you should agree with us whether we present them to you or not." I said we have them so we can be certain of our own ideas.)

Incidentally, I'd say this obession with "engagement" is a consequence of skepticism, but that's a subject for another day.

"Of course--but there needs to be an objective criterion for understanding Rand's philosophy, not just approval by Leonard Peikoff, Harry Binswanger, et al."

Who said anything about approval by Peikoff? Throughout our discussion, you have consistantly tried to put words in my mouth, and in the mouths of those who agree with me (Bernstein, in particular). There is no excuse for that kind of thing, and I shall kindly ask that you not do it again or I will have to end this discussion.

"Obviously Peikoff knows Rand's philosophy, though, contrary to his self-presentation in more recent years, I believe he has also brought some ideas of his own to it..."

Of course he has brought ideas of his own to it, but he has not claimed that such ideas are part of Objectivism. If you think otherwise, please provide evidence to support your claim.

Notice that on Kelley's premises, Peikoff's new work would be part of Objectivism. And thus we would have one of two possibilities if we disagreed with Peikoff's ideas: (A) We would have to reject Objectivism even though we agreed with all Rand's philosophic principles, or (B) My version of Objectivism would be different from your version of Objectivism. Objectivism would thus be both A and non-A. Both true and false. Neither of those alternatives makes much sense to me.

"But--do you really think that [list of names] --among others--don't understand Objectivism and aren't worth learning from on the subject?"

I would have to take each name individually. I don't recognize most of them. As to the ones I do recognize - certainly they are familiar with Rand's writings, and some of them may even have interesting things to say about her ideas, but of those with whom I'm familiar, to the extent I am familiar with their work, none of them understands Rand's philosophic system (with the possible exception of Sciabarra).

Now, as for Branden, there I do have something to say. I find it astonishing you would list him among people who I should agree understand Objectivism and are worth learning from on the subject. That man lied to so many people, including Rand, on such a grand scale, and has gone on to attack in the most vicious way Rand, Peikoff, and everyone who agrees with Objectivism, that it would be the worst philosophic and moral crime to name him as someone from whom one could learn about Objectivism.

Could someone please explain to me what Branden did to be forgiven his moral crimes except disapear from the Objectivist scene for a few decades? Is that really all it takes? Is justice so malleable a principle?

"The rest of your post I'm not inclined to quibble with. It says more about the nature and character of the Ayn Rand Institute than I ever could, and says it with greater authority."

I'm sure your evaluation differs from mine, but nevertheless I agree with this.



Comment #32

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 1:50:30 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Neil writes:

"Why was Kelley sanctioning libertarianism by speaking at a libertarian group, but Mayhew is not sanctioning Catholicism by teaching at a Catholic university?"

That's actually an interesting question. I would be interested in hearing his reasons. If he should ever give them, please let me know.



Comment #33

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 5:21:06 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Robert,

Rand's ideas changed over time. My comments are in reference to time 0, which for Objectivism, as for UNIX, is January 1 1970. Over the last 4 decades I've examined every aspect of Rand's philosophical thought up to that time, and I found that in the context of the facts of reality known to her up to that point, she had made no - that is zero - errors of induction or deduction up to that date. After 1970 Rand began to omit from her analyses facts that had been brought to her attention by people subsequently excommunicated from Objectivism, which led to errors of induction etc. In the rare instances where I disagree with Objectivism of Date Zero, my disagreement is based on facts that Rand did not have at that time.

Your short list includes only two people, Branden and Sciabarra, who really understand the whole of Objectivism, and both have big disagreements with Objectivism on issues on which Rand was right. Some of the rest have had worthwhile insights, some have not. This is not just a criticism of TOC. Peikoff has major blind spots of issues that Rand worked on when Peikoff was away from New York, including some that are clearly explained in the original Rand-approved Branden lectures - and that Peikoff just doesn't get. And Schwartz, Tracinski and several others at ARI are worse.



Comment #34

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 10:10:41 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

Diana,

When physics undergraduates today study the motions of a few large objects moving slowly, they typically use a calculus notation based on the one developed by Newton's contemporary Leibniz, rather than on the alternative symbols first employed by Sir Isaac himself. But this branch of physics is still called 'Newtonian', and its essential ideas are so familiar to so many people, that no one questions what this means. There may be occasional debates about whether Newton or Leibniz discovered some element of the calculus first, but students just hear that these debates occur, without being taught anything much about them. Working physicists read about these debates (if they even do) in articles or books written by _historians of science_ (or math.) _Physics_ students spend their time learning how to solve _physics problems_. The history of the field is relegated to a few footnotes.

Similarly, I'm sure that hundreds of years from now, everyone will have such a thorough grasp of Objectivism that for most questions which come up in daily life, people will "just know" what is an Objectivist idea vs. a non-Objectivist idea. (They will call the Aristotelian and/or Objectivist ones "common sense" ideas.) And Rand will be so well known that everyone will attribute all of her _major_ ideas to her. But only someone with a specialized interest in the history of philosophy will be able to say off the top of his head if some minor point was originated by Rand herself, or by Branden, or by some later thinker, etc.

Saying then that someone is an "Objectivist" thinker will be just like saying today that someone is an "Aristotelian", or a "Newtonian", or a "Darwinian" (i.e. it will mean, depending on context, that a.) his basic approach is like Rand and the other Objectivists, and he is in overall agreement with them, or that b.) he specializes in the study of Objectivist ideas.)

In the 19th century, William Rowan Hamilton came up with a totally different formulation of physics, based on using energy as the primary and deriving force and everything else from it. This is in contrast to Newton who started with force as the primary and derived energy, etc. from that. This created a big stir at the time, but everybody today understands that Hamiltonian physics is just Newtonian physics. The problems that can be solved with one can be solved with the other and vice versa, you just usually get the answer faster and with less ink if you use the Hamiltonian.

After Hamilton, people took his basic approach and applied it to other fields, including ones that did not even exist in his lifetime: statistical physics, quantum physics, relativistic physics, etc. When 21st century condensed matter physicists today write the (quantum) Hamiltonian equation for some new optical resonance in a "non-Newtonian" optical crystal, they know that they are using the very fertile idea of the 19th century's foremost expositor of Newtonian physics.

Occasionally there is a real debate about the meaning of Newton's work, as happened as recently as 1987 when the late Petr Beckmann claimed that Newton had never used in his theoretical formulations "F=ma" as the definition of force, but only "F=dP/dt" (if you will permit me to use Leibniz notation!) If Beckmann is right, then Newton is not contradicted in principle by Einsteinian special relativity, because "F=dP/dt" was Einstein's starting point. So this is a case where library research can shed light on the significance of even a well-known scholar's work.

Similarly, people will continue to build on Rand's work, and maybe even revise it. If someone discovers that some particular theory she had on the philosophy of music was inconsistent with a full understanding of her epistemology, or that a national security policy with respect to a particular foreign power might have been disastrous, and that her preference for it was probably based on false information she read in the _New York Times_, or that (heaven forfend!) there might someday be a woman qualified to serve as President of the United States, then we will accept the correction gracefully. The revised version will be what we commonly think of as "Objectivism", and we will admit that Rand blew it on a few side issues. This is preferable to calling ourselves Objectivists, then saying this means that we are dedicated to truth, then grinning sheepishly and admitting that Objectivism is a collection of ideas, some of which we know to be true, and some of which we know to be false.

If Objectivism is a unified collection of concepts and theories in philosophy, including concepts and theories of how philosophy should be done, and it is not strong enough to improve itself in this manner, to bootstrap itself, then as a system of philosophical methods it is _not worth anything._

Aristotelianism, Platonism, Darwinism, Marxism, Mendelianism: this is the way that all major revolutions in thought, good or ill, come to be integrated into the culture. None of them refer today only to what the respective originator thought. When someone says "genetics", we think "DNA", even though Francis Crick and James Watson only made their discovery in the 20th century, whereas Gregor Mendel made his in the 19th. In considering the origin of life we lump "genetics" together with "evolution", blithely ignoring that Mendel's work was first seized upon by Darwin's contemporary opponents as a refutation of natural selection. (The union of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics did not occur until the New Synthesis of the 1930s.)

Rand herself foresaw and explicitly approved of "Objectivism" coming to mean more than just her writings and ideas. Objectivism is just too big to demand that every structural engineer, investigative journalist, petrophysicist, or poet who brings a thorough knowledge of it to his work and who benefits thereby to know every jot and tittle about it (including on questions of academic attribution and priority) before he calls himself an Objectivist. (Much less that he belong to some certain club or guild, or be anointed by the holder of her copyrights.)

The fact that the name of her philosophy isn't even derived from her own name makes me more certain that "Objectivism" will come to be associated primarily with the overall system or the overall school rather than exclusively with her. The fact that some ideas we associate with Objectivism (e.g. the Muttnik Principle) that originated during Rand's active career and are still taught without attribution at ARI were due to Branden rather than her makes me still more certain. And the folks who are in broad agreement with her need some name to call themselves, to separate themselves from the larger (and, on philosophical issues, largely irrational) society, to set a rallying point, to come together to help each other out, to have picnics. They have settled on the name "Objectivist."

Yes, people in the future will say "We owe these ideas to Ayn Rand." But before establishing that "these ideas are Rand's," their _primary_ concern will be establishing that "these ideas are true." Truths, in a reversal of ARI practice, will take precedence over personalities. I would like the future to come sooner rather than later.

When a scientist becomes a leading expert on the optical properties of one type of non-Newtonian crystal, and comes up with a theory that explains a certain property that it displays in a certain narrow range of temperatures and narrow range of pressures, for light of a certain narrow range of wavelengths, etc. we say he has done good work, and he can get published in a sufficiently specialized journal. But when a Newton comes along with revelation after Earth-shattering revelation in field after field of experimental science, observational science, theoretical science, mathematics, we say he is a genius and recognize him as someone who made the modern age possible. His discoveries changed the world, liberating his contemporaries from the humility they had felt with respect to the ancients, and creating entire new branches of knowledge that continue to enrich our lives. Scientific theories are judged on their importance, and importance is measured by fertility: how many new insights does this theory lead to? The greatest theories lead not just to new numbers in a table, or even to other new theories, but to new branches of science.

Certainly, Objectivism is so revolutionary at such a fundamental level and over such a comprehensive scope that it should become the most fertile system in 2,300 years. That is not evident empirically so far, but if this fertility is not apparent 300 years from now it will be because a.) militant Islamists have conquered the world, burning all of Rand's books and putting her followers to the sword, or b.) Rand's methods just don't help us learn anything new and interesting about the world. I don't think the former will come to pass, and no serious person could believe the latter.

People familiar with physics will notice that I have used here a number of different meanings of the word "Newtonian", sometimes mixing them in the same paragraph so thoroughly as to amount to word-play.

Part of my point is that this is how we use words: when we are very familiar with them we switch back and forth between different meanings of the same word, with the speaker and listener effortlessly following the context. Part of my point is that Newton was such a prolific thinker that his name is now necessarily used in numerous ways in numerous different contexts. But Rand was also extremely prolific: in epistemology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, literature, the philosophy of history, philosophical method, in defense of the hierachical structure of philosophy. It is inconceivable to me that her name or that of the philosophy she originated will be used in just one way in the future. Diana, you have done a great job here of exploring different possible meanings of "Objectivism." Perhaps it is so new and complex that people are still working out what it should mean, or can't follow the change of context from one usage to another. This is part of what makes this debate so fascinating to so many. That makes your effort here most valuable, in elucidating these contexts.

But I remain convinced that the primary meaning (at least for people who are not specialists in the history of ideas) will be something other than just Ayn Rand's philosophical ideas or writings. And I am also convinced that part of what has caused so many to devote so much to this topic over the years is a point made by Mike Enright. Mike writes "Determinations of what is part of objectivism and who is an objectivist seem too intertwined to me. It is a way to ostracize people w/o even questioning if their ideas make sense or not." Based on the way Peikoff, his close minions, and his local imitators/satraps have habitually treated people in the past, it is apparent that at ARI the "closed system" interpretation has an unwritten codicil to the effect that Peikoff is the final authority on Objectivism.

-Bill



Comment #35

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 10:47:40 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

Neil writes:

"Why was Kelley sanctioning libertarianism by speaking at a libertarian group, but Mayhew is not sanctioning Catholicism by teaching at a Catholic university?"

Don writes:

"That's actually an interesting question. I would be interested in hearing his reasons. If he should ever give them, please let me know."

Don,

The Laissez-Faire Supper Club that invited Kelley to speak was organized by Laissez-Faire Books. You might find it a more interesting question to ask what was Leonard Peikoff doing signing autographs on his book _The Ominous Parallels_ there on two occasions. Why didn't his sales appearances at the parent organization constitute a sanction? Could it be that David Kelley wasn't kicked out for making an appearance before a Laissez-Faire audience _per se_, but rather for making an appearance before a Laissez-Faire audience that did nothing to contribute to the number found on line 35 of the good Dr. Peikoff's 1040?

Also, what was Peikoff doing on the Brudnoy show all those years on the weekends of his Ford Hall Forum talks? This went on for several years after the break with Kelley. (David Brudnoy was a libertarian talk show host on Boston radio then. He had the largest broadcast audience of any libertarian in the world.) What's up with that? He wouldn't give me a straight answer when I asked him at the Q&A of one of his Ford Hall talks.

I would be interested in hearing his reasons. If he should ever give them, please let me know.

-Bill



Comment #36

Monday, April 26, 2004 at 23:36:06 mst
Name: Robert L. Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

I asked you whether it might be the case that the following people know a lot about Objectivism and therefore might be worth learning from:

Tibor Machan; Douglas Rasmussen; Douglas Den Uyl;
Neera Badhwar; Roderick Long; Lester Hunt; Eric Mack;
Chris Sciabarra; Michelle Marder Kamhi;
Louis Torres; and Nathaniel Branden.

You responded:

"I would have to take each name individually. I don't recognize most of them. As to the ones I do recognize - certainly they are familiar with Rand's writings, and some of them may even have interesting things to say about her ideas, but of those with whom I'm familiar, to the extent I am familiar with their work, none of them understands Rand's philosophic system (with the possible exception of Sciabarra)."

I'm not expecting you to have read all of these folks' work; I've been studying this kind of material a good deal longer than you have. But I do think you've gotten to the point where you should know who each of them is. The problem is, your education will be deficient if you read only the work of ARI-approved writers, because ARI-approved writers never mention them.

That, in turn, is because some of these folks have never sought the blessing of ARI. Others, who of course are among the older contributors (Tibor Machan is a good example), were declared *persona non grata* as far back as the NBI days. To my knowledge, ARI has never rehabilitated anyone who was excommunicated during the NBI period--even though Nathaniel Branden was the point man on many of these expulsions.

Of Nathaniel Branden, you say:

"I find it astonishing you would list him among people who I should agree understand Objectivism and are worth learning from on the subject. That man lied to so many people, including Rand, on such a grand scale, and has gone on to attack in the most vicious way Rand, Peikoff, and everyone who agrees with Objectivism, that it would be the worst philosophic and moral crime to name him as someone from whom one could learn about Objectivism."

Well, he does understand Objectivism extremely well, whether you consider him a good person or not. If you read any of his post-1968 books you will see lots of Objectivism in them. Even more to the point, he contributed to the authorized Objectivist corpus, to an extent that obviously makes ARI uncomfortable. Along with Robert Efron, whose contributions were much more limited, he helped to keep Ayn Rand oriented toward psychology (one of Adam Reed's objections to Ayn Rand's work post-1969 is that her connection with psychology was sharply attenuated after Branden got the boot; I agree with Adam on this).

How exactly has Nathaniel Branden "attacked, in the most vicious way...everyone who agrees with Objectivism"? I've read most of what he has written since 1968, and I just don't see that going on at all.

Nathaniel Branden *has* said negative things (primarily in his memoirs) about the character and actions of Ayn Rand. The first question to be asked about these is, of course, whether they are true. Calling them "vicious attacks," without addressin the substance of them, invites the audience to presume that they are false.

The same goes for his criticisms of Leonard Peikoff, the difference being that I regard *some* of these as excessive or gratuitous. (You might be surprised to learn that I have often defended Peikoff's ability as a philosopher in front of people who are so upset at his shabby personal treatment of them that they overgeneralize their negative evaluation.)

So, getting down to brass tacks here: Nathaniel Branden lied to Ayn Rand, repeatedly. And that was wrong. But I've noticed you didn't mention what the lies were nearly all concealing--his unwillingness to resume an affair with her. Are you willing to hold Ayn Rand to the same standard as you are holding Branden to? His lies were bad. But, unless she gets a special exemption from the moral standards that apply to others, so was Rand's decision that she and Nathaniel Branden were going to have an affair, while she remained married to Frank O'Connor and he remained married to Barbara Branden; that their spouses were going to have to accept the affair; and that the affair would be concealed from their other friends and acquaintances, through deception if need be. (What's more, since Rand was not what is presently called a "polyamorist," the affair was something she would have condemned, had she heard of others carrying on in a similar fashion.)

When Leonard Peikoff, or anyone else affiliated with ARI, show themselves willing to hold Ayn Rand to the same standards that they hold Nathaniel Branden to, *then* I will take their condemnation of Nathaniel Branden seriously.

I think it would have a whole lot better had Nathaniel Branden refused to go along with Rand's demands for an affair in the first place. It would have been better had he definitively refused to resume the affair when she tried to renew it in the early 1960s, and made it clear, right away, that he was in love with someone else. Almost certainly, Rand would have kicked him out of her circle. Indeed, if she'd kicked him out before 1958, there'd never have been an NBI. So be it.

You may think that when people like me attribute demands for blind personal loyalty to Leonard Peikoff, or to others at ARI, we're exaggerating, or we're failing to understand how ARI operates so many years later.

Well, back in 1972, when I was on the staff of an Objectivist-leaning student newspaper called Ergo, the editor of that newspaper had a series of phone conversations with Leonard Peikoff. Ergo, you see, had put *The Psychology of Self-Esteem* on a list of recommended reading, which ran in its first issue of the fall semester. And Peikoff was extremely unhappy with the recommendation. He and the editor (a fellow named Erich Veyhl, in case you want to check the story) went round and round: Why is it so bad to read a book by Branden? What makes it worse to buy and read such a book than buying and reading a book by Karl Marx (published by Progress Publishers, Moscow, so the Soviet regime takes a cut of the royalties)? And on and on. Ultimately, Peikoff's response was, "Because Nathaniel Branden has hurt Ayn Rand."

What Rand and her Inner circle (prominently including Peikoff) had been demanding, ever since August 1968, was that everyone join them in repudiating and condemning Nathaniel Branden *without knowing the evidence.* They not only considered themselves entitled to withhold the evidence of just what Branden had done, Peikoff (at that time) very likely didn't know what it was.

When Leonard Peikoff apologizes for his role in demanding allegiance based on faith after the Rand-Branden "break" (because an appeal to faith is what Objectivists call it when the leader of any other organization makes such demands)--when he and the ARI leadership knock off their continued campaign to Satanize Nathaniel Branden--then I will take ARI seriously when it says that its overriding goal is the promotion of a rational philosophy. And I am reasonably sure that others who know some of this history will do the same.

Robert Campbell

PS. My understanding of the copyright situation regarding articles that Nathaniel Branden published in the *Objectivist Newsletter* and the *Objectivist* (and subsequently in various anthologies) is that he signed over his share of the *Objectivist* to Rand in 1968, upon receiving her verbal assurance that the rights to reproduce his own articles would revert to him. For all I know, this was never put in writing, but *The Psychology of Self-Esteem* was published with such material in it, and Rand and her lawyers did not try to block it. I think that if the Estate of Ayn Rand tried to reissue the *Objectivist Newsletter*, the *Objectivist*, or any of the anthologies published in the 1960s without Branden's articles, it would get sued, big time. What the legalities would be, I'll have to leave to someone who knows both the law and the particulars better than I do.

As for *Who Is Ayn Rand?*, that's become a collector's item because post-break, neither Rand nor either of the Brandens wanted it reprinted, for different reasons. Again I don't know who actually owns which pieces of it.

Finally, how about those tapes where questions by Nathaniel or Barbara Branden have been replaced with voice-overs by others? As far as I know, if you have your talk taped, and you copyright the tapes and sell them, the people who asked you questions during the Q and A period do not have an ownership claim or a claim to a cut of the revenues. So I would be very surprised if copyright had *anything* to do with this particular kind of "airbrushing." Besides, why would Nathaniel or Barbara Branden seek to block the circulation of tapes of Ayn Rand lecturing, on which they could be heard asking questions?



Comment #37

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 4:37:39 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Robert,

This is a tangential issue, but I think that there is some unjustified and disrepectful ethnocentrism in your treatment of Ayn Rand's romantic relationship with Nathaniel Branden. You come from a culture in which marriage is traditionally a sacrament; Rand came from a culture in which it is a contract - and there is nothing immoral about making exceptions to a contract, as long as you have your partner's informed consent. (This, by the may, is not a twentieth-century innovation; it goes back to the eminent Talmudist Bruriah, wife of Rabbi Meir, who with her husband's consent had an affair with one of their students, some two thousand years ago.) See <http://members.tripod.com/~mozes/brwr.html>, Eyal Mozes' notes on this issue and related matters.



Comment #38

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 12:55:40 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert – Let me apologize beforehand. My response to your well thought-out post is going to be pretty rushed. On Nathaniel Branden, you write:

"Well, he does understand Objectivism extremely well, whether you consider him a good person or not. If you read any of his post-1968 books you will see lots of Objectivism in them."

That's the problem. If, as you posit, he "understands Objectivism extremely well," then his departures from the philosophy cannot be explained in terms other than intellectual dishonesty. Now, as to his post-1968 books: can anyone tell me what significant new identifications he has made since *The Psychology of Self-Esteem*, which was written while he was still on good terms with Rand? Sure, he's said more on all those topics, but the nature of mental health, self-esteem, romantic love – every psychological principle he talks about in his later work is right there in his first book.

The problem that a lot of people have understanding my point regarding who does and does not understand Objectivism is they regard Objectivism as a set of ideas, not an integrated whole. But given Objectivism's method – in particular, its demand for integration – to snatch a few, or even a whole bunch of ideas is not to have "lots of Objectivism." It's to have a few ideas of Rand's melded together in whatever way a particular person chooses. Since Objectivism is true, that is NOT a good thing.

"How exactly has Nathaniel Branden 'attacked, in the most vicious way...everyone who agrees with Objectivism'? I've read most of what he has written since 1968, and I just don't see that going on at all."

How about his argument from intimidation/authority concerning those who accept the entire system? His attacks on ARI scholars and supporters (and here I'm not referring to people involved with the break, but people who generally agree with Peikoff)?

"Nathaniel Branden *has* said negative things (primarily in his memoirs) about the character and actions of Ayn Rand. The first question to be asked about these is, of course, whether they are true. Calling them 'vicious attacks,' without addressin the substance of them, invites the audience to presume that they are false."

But that's the problem. Branden is a known liar on a grand scale. To paraphrase Peikoff in a somewhat different context: That doesn't mean everything else he says is false – it means everything else he says is outside the realm of cognition.

"So, getting down to brass tacks here: Nathaniel Branden lied to Ayn Rand, repeatedly. And that was wrong. But I've noticed you didn't mention what the lies were nearly all concealing--his unwillingness to resume an affair with her."

So what? Shouldn't that make it WORSE? He was deceiving Rand about the very nature of their relationship. He was deceiving Rand by concealing from her his affair with Patricia. He was deceiving Rand by telling her "No" over and over again when she would ask, "Do you not want to have an affair because of my age? Because I could handle that." And he was doing all this while preaching the Objectivist ethics, holding tribunals to punish people who didn't live up to the morality he was not living up to, and writing about the principles of self-esteem! Put yourself in Rand's position. What would it do to you to find out the person you loved had lied to you on that kind of scale? The person to whom you had dedicated Atlas Shrugged? The person you called your intellectual heir? I'd say her reaction was appropriate.

"Are you willing to hold Ayn Rand to the same standard as you are holding Branden to? His lies were bad. But, unless she gets a special exemption from the moral standards that apply to others, so was Rand's decision that she and Nathaniel Branden were going to have an affair, while she remained married to Frank O'Connor and he remained married to Barbara Branden; that their spouses were going to have to accept the affair; and that the affair would be concealed from their other friends and acquaintances, through deception if need be. (What's more, since Rand was not what is presently called a 'polyamorist,' the affair was something she would have condemned, had she heard of others carrying on in a similar fashion.)"

Are you seriously trying to compare Rand's bad decisions with Branden's years of systematic dishonesty? A bad decision is not a moral failing – lying to the person you profess to love across years is a moral crime.

"When Leonard Peikoff, or anyone else affiliated with ARI, show themselves willing to hold Ayn Rand to the same standards that they hold Nathaniel Branden to, *then* I will take their condemnation of Nathaniel Branden seriously."

What the hell kind of standard is that? Why should your moral judgments depend on the judgments of other men? Kind of second handed, don't you think?

"I think it would have a whole lot better had Nathaniel Branden refused to go along with Rand's demands for an affair in the first place. It would have been better had he definitively refused to resume the affair when she tried to renew it in the early 1960s, and made it clear, right away, that he was in love with someone else. Almost certainly, Rand would have kicked him out of her circle. Indeed, if she'd kicked him out before 1958, there'd never have been an NBI. So be it."

I'm not in the business of speculating as to what Rand wouldn't or wouldn't have done, especially on the basis of what Branden says she would or wouldn't have done.

"You may think that when people like me attribute demands for blind personal loyalty to Leonard Peikoff, or to others at ARI, we're exaggerating, or we're failing to understand how ARI operates so many years later..."

I don't see your point, unless you're saying, "Peikoff isn't perfect either." But that's just the fallacy of tu quoque. No, Peikoff isn't perfect, but what we're discussing is how wise it is to hold a grand scale liar up as someone who "really understands Objectivism."

As per your P.S., I really don't have much to say except I don't know why it was done and you don't either. I don't like to jump to conclusions, especially when the conclusions you are trying to draw conflict with everything else I know about the people in question. Is it really possible that Peikoff is a neurotic evader, a religious zealot, and an intellectual second hander, and yet consistently comes up with striking new integrations and applications for Objectivism? Perhaps, but that's a big claim and pointing out that Branden's voice was erased from some tapes doesn't by itself prove that.



Comment #39

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 13:47:55 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

I have been reading ~this~ thread too. Oy vey.

I'm really not going to get into this to any great extent, but let me at least make a few points about Nathaniel Branden.

Branden has, in my view, owned up to the wrongs he committed in his relationship with Ayn Rand, and with regard to the damage he did to those who were involved with NBI.

With regard to his work: Branden has made an enormous contribtion to our understanding of the psychology of self-esteem. Beyond his initial pathbreaking work with Ayn Rand (which was published after their break, as THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SELF-ESTEEM), his book, THE DISOWNED SELF, went to an extraordinary length in helping those of us who were acquainted with Objectivism to redress the imbalance that often appeared between reason and emotion, in more "rationalistic" presentations of the philosophy. (In fact, his work here predates Peikoff's similar work in "Understanding Objectivism," which I regard as Peikoff's finest lecture series.)

He has made many more connections on the relationships between psychology, culture, and politics, in such superb books as HONORING THE SELF and THE SIX PILLARS OF SELF-ESTEEM. His sentence-completion techniques of directed association are provocative and insightful, and he has shown a willingness to integrate mind-body exercises in his approach to psychology.

Those who despise Branden make the mistake of bracketing out Branden's essays---on subjects as varied as volition, determinism, emotions, repression, the subconscious, psycho-epistemology, self-esteem, the psychology of pleasure, social metaphysics, romantic love, and alienation. They do great damage to our understanding of the ~whole~ of Objectivism. In AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, I went to great lengths to try to re-integrate those contributions with Rand's work, precisely because Rand herself considered his contributions to be a part of the Objectivist canon.

And, in all honesty, I think Branden is ~still~ part of the Objectivist canon. Yes, he differs with Rand on some details, but in essentials, I think he still operates within the framework that Rand defined. I guess that makes him a "Randian" in my book (in the wider "school of thought" sense that I've suggested), but this is consistent with Bill Nevin's fine post below, which suggests that Objectivism itself might be considered an "overall school." Nearly ten years ago, I wrote that whatever the differences among those who owe a significant, essential debt to Rand, intellectual historians will probably, one day, look back on these sectarian splits and still "describe all these thinkers simply as 'Objectivists'" --- for the same reason, today, that we see Engels, E. Bernstein, Plekhanov, Bukharin, Althusser, Poulantzas, Bhaskar, Ollman, Lukacs, and others as ~Marxists~, whatever the differences among them.



Comment #40

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 14:44:38 mst
Name: Victor

Robert Campbell writes that Nathaniel Branden's "lies were bad. But, unless she gets a special exemption from the moral standards that apply to others, so was Rand's decision that she and Nathaniel Branden were going to have an affair, while she remained married to Frank O'Connor and he remained married to Barbara Branden; that their spouses were going to have to accept the affair; and that the affair would be concealed from their other friends and acquaintances, through deception if need be."

What are these moral standards that "apply to others"? Those of mid-Victorian prudery? They certainly are not the moral standards of Ayn Rand, who wrote novels where the heroes and heroines have all kinds of secret affairs that are "concealed from their other friends and acquaintances."

On the other hand, anyone who has read Ayn Rand's novels should know that she was a passionate moralist who would certainly condemn and break with a man who lied to and deceived her for years, on a matter of consequential importance.

"What's more, since Rand was not what is presently called a "polyamorist," the affair was something she would have condemned, had she heard of others carrying on in a similar fashion."

Anyone with an ear for style would grasp that Ayn Rand would never use the phrase "carrying on" in regard to what took place - even if it concerned others. It is the style of mid-Victorian spinsters - which all of the Branden apologists sound like when talking about Ayn Rand. And if one wants to take a radically prudish stand on sexual morality, then go ahead and condemn Ayn Rand for the affair. But be aware that you are doing it on the basis of *your* standards, not hers - so do not accuse her (or for that matter ARI) of a double standard.

"When Leonard Peikoff, or anyone else affiliated with ARI, show themselves willing to hold Ayn Rand to the same standards that they hold Nathaniel Branden to, *then* I will take their condemnation of Nathaniel Branden seriously."

But they are holding her to the same standard. She was not dishonest, which would have been a vice according to Objectivism. He was dishonest.

I am reminded here of a journalist, I think in the Washington Post, who wrote a few years ago that Ayn Rand did not always live up to her own virtue of rationality because she once made love in a fur coat. (I have no idea where the anecdote came from.)

To people like this journalist and Mr. Campbell one can only say that they have no idea who they're talking about!



Comment #41

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 15:38:11 mst
Name: John Enright

Adam Reed states that the Talmud allows exception clauses for agreed-upon affairs in marriage contracts, and refers us to an article of Eyal Moze's, but I can't find it in the article. Also, I haven't been able to find the story about Bruriah, wife of Rabbi Meir, getting permission from her husband to have an affair with a student. I was wondering if he could post some more info. Admittedly, I'm not sure how relevant any of this is to Rand, since she and O'Connor were atheists.

John Enright



Comment #42

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 18:07:10 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

John,

I've tested the Eyal Mozes link (<http://members.tripod.com/~mozes/brwr.html>) and it works. The point is that only Christians consider marriage to be a sacrament to whch God is a party, so they consider exceptions immoral even when one's partner in the marriage is fully informed and consents to the exception. To the rest of the world - Jews, atheists etc. - there is nothing immoral about making a mutually agreed-to exception to a private contract. As for Bruriah, I don't have a Hebrew keyboard to type in Rashi's commentary, but I understand that there is an English-language reference in "The Receiving : Reclaiming Jewish Women's Wisdom" by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone. The article on "Beruryah" in the Encyclopedia Judaica is a bit oblique - if you haven't read the Rashi you probably will not be able to figure it out, but when you know what it is talking about it is there. And Ayn Rand being an atheist does not make her non-Jewish: Ayn Rand herself was always clear that she did consider herself a "Jewish intellectual" in the sense of having access to, and making critical use of, Jewish intellectual traditions.



Comment #43

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 18:50:24 mst
Name: John Enright

Adam,

The Eyal Mozes link does work, and I did read it with interest. However, I did not notice anything in his article about the issue of marriage contracts and agreed upon affairs.

I do want to thank you for the pointers to the story of Rabbi Meir's illustrious wife. Your account of the Jewish attitude toward marriage varies quite a bit from most of what I find written by rabbis on the web, who are big on the "don't covet your neighbor's wife" thing. But every religion has many strands of tradition, and it is interesting to learn about this one.

Thanks,

John



Comment #44

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 19:39:07 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Chris,

The story of ARI praising your article without mentioning your name reminded me that even bad ideas sometimes have a very old history. Rabbi Elisha ben Avuyah, who held the equivalent of an endowed chair in Greek Philosophy at the Talmudic academy of Yavneh, and was a close friend and frequent collaborator of Bruriah's husband R. Meir, was an atheist, and used to rile his more Orthodox colleagues by riding his horse on the Sabbath etc. So the Orthodox rabbis tried to avoid mentioning Elisha ben Avuyah by name, even when citing his ideas with approval, instead writing "Another said" etc.



Comment #45

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 20:31:55 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

John,

Your reference to "don't covet your neighbor's wife" is amusing - in the Bible, it runs parallel to "don't covet your neighbor's donkey." It means "don't scheme to steal your neighbor's donkey." It doesn't mean "don't even think of asking your neighbor to lend you his donkey for a day's work." It gets kind of politically incorrect after that...



Comment #46

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 at 20:32:33 mst
Name: Nathaniel Branden
URL: http://www.nathanielbranden.com

I'd like to draw attention to an essay I wrote on the subject: "Who is an Objectivist?" <http://nathanielbranden.com/ess/ess05.html>

I reproduce the text of that essay here (Copyright © 2000, Nathaniel Branden, All Rights Reserved):

For some time there has been dispute over the question of whether Objectivism is a "open system" or a "closed system." More specifically, the debate has been whether Objectivism is a philosophical system that can be refined, expanded on, amplified, and applied in new directions by those who share its basic premises or whether Objectivism is confined exclusively to the positions propounded by Ayn Rand during her lifetime.
Perhaps the following recollections can contribute to this debate.

In the winter and spring of 1958, I gave the first course of lectures entitled "The Basic Principles of Objectivism" which, although I did not fully realize it at the time, was to launch the Objectivist movement. These lectures included a lengthy discussion of the psychology of self-esteem and also my theory of social metaphysics. This was work on psychology done not by Ayn Rand, but by me. Another lecture by me was entitled "Why Human Beings Repress and Drive Underground not the Worst Within them, but the Best." Again, a psychological contribution made by me. Then, in addition, Barbara Branden created and gave a lecture entitled "Efficient Thinking."

But the point is, the entire series of 20 lectures was presented to the world as "Objectivism." This was understood to mean not that Ayn Rand was the originator of every thought propounded, but that all of it, whether developed by her, by me, or by Barbara Branden, had Ayn Rand's complete agreement.

Later, I was to offer through the Nathaniel Branden Institute additional courses on what we then called "Objectivist Psychology." It was called "Objectivist" because it was perceived by Ayn Rand to be entirely compatible with her philosophy, and, in some instances, an application of her philosophy. (Later I would drop the name "Objectivist Psychology" because such a designation made little sense to me and I began calling my work "Biocentric Psychology." Later still I decided I didn't like using any such name and dropped "Biocentric Psychology" too.)

After the break with Ayn Rand, she became suspicious of any intellectual affiliation with anyone and thereafter "Objectivism" meant either work originated by Rand herself or works, such as Leonard Peikoff's, that had Ayn Rand's knowledge and full sanction.
Now, in retrospect, it is clear to me that calling work in psychology "Objectivism" was inappropriate, inasmuch as Objectivism is a philosophy. Just the same, the evidence makes clear, that Ayn Rand herself saw Objectivism as an open system in the sense that it was open to new identifications, new discoveries, new principles, providing, of course, this new material did not stand in contradiction to what had already been established.

Had Leonard Peikoff been a more generative figure, more intellectually productive, I dare say that Rand would have regarded his contributions as "Objectivism."

I might mention, in conclusion, that the fact that I wrote my first articles on psychology in an Objectivist publication, and the material was offered to the world as an aspect of "Objectivism" made it possible, years later, when I had become persona non grata, for Leonard Peikoff and his followers to talk about "The Objectivist Theory of Self-Esteem" and to use my theory of social metaphysics as if these ideas had originated in the mind of Ayn Rand. The truth is, there is no Objectivist theory of self-esteem. In her whole life, Ayn Rand wrote maybe no more than 7 or 8 sentences on the subject. I have written volumes. But that is a story for another day.

Here, my purpose is to draw attention to the historical evidence that lends support to the claim of David Kelley and others that Objectivism is and must be "an open system."

Were Ayn Rand alive, obviously she would have the right to say, "Do not describe as 'Objectivism' any viewpoint I disagree with." But when her agreement or disagreement is no longer possible, we are on our own to judge what is or is not compatible with Objectivism... and that could include even challenging some position of Ayn Rand's which we believe to be in conflict with her more fundamental premises.

David Kelley drew to my attention something I wrote in the Objectivist in April, 1965-"A Message to Our Readers." I wrote:

"In the future, when Objectivism has become an intellectual and cultural movement on a wider scale, when a variety of authors have written books dealing with some aspect of the Objectivist philosophy -- it could be appropriate for those in agreement to describe themselves as 'Objectivists.' But at present, when the name is so intimately associated with Miss Rand and me, it is not. At present, a person who is in agreement with our philosophy should describe himself, not as an Objectivist, but as a student or supporter of Objectivism."

Today I regret that second sentence as inappropriate and stultifying, but note the implications of the first sentence, which, I assure you, had Ayn Rand's full knowledge and approval. (Everything in our publication was edited by her.) We were clearly projecting a future when "Objectivism" would cover far more than the writings of Ayn Rand.

If, later, Ayn Rand pulled back from that vision it was for reasons more emotional than philosophical, and one can feel compassion for her suffering, but still... she was right the first time and wrong the second.



Comment #47

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 2:24:56 mst
Name: Mike Enright

It seems that the crux of the debate surrounding Nathaniel Branden is the Rand-Branden affair and how he decietfully ended it. But so what?

Its been 36 years. Thirty six years! Nathanile Branden did some bad things thirty six years ago. How does this affect his writings? Are they not even worthy of discussion because of his bad deeds that occurred before many Objectivists were even born?

I'm not trying to say what he did was right. I'm not even trying to say it was a little wrong. I'm saying that the world has to go on. I find absolutely unbelievable that we are still arguing this. Can't we just let the past be the past?

So here we are in 2004. Why can't we just move on and discuss his works? Or is it that one bad act, even one grossly bad act, makes the man evil? Perhaps after 36 years he just isn't so bad. After all he has done to promote rationality, egoism, purpose, self-esteem, maybe there is something good about him?

It just blows my mind that after all of these years Objectivists are still devided about this issue.



Comment #48

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 11:51:44 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com


"So here we are in 2004. Why can't we just move on and discuss his works? Or is it that one bad act, even one grossly bad act, makes the man evil? Perhaps after 36 years he just isn't so bad. After all he has done to promote rationality, egoism, purpose, self-esteem, maybe there is something good about him?

It just blows my mind that after all of these years Objectivists are still devided about this issue."

That's just the trouble--any error whatsoever, no matter how distant or how mitigated by an individual's other contributions--any error whatsoever indicates that the person is an enemy pure and simple, because there can be no compromise when the truth is concerned.

Can we please, please check a few premises here? I can think of only one other philosophy with such an exacting system of ostracism for errors, and that would be Mao Zedong Thought.

How on earth did things ever come to this?



Comment #49

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 14:39:36 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason writes:

"That's just the trouble--any error whatsoever, no matter how distant or how mitigated by an individual's other contributions--any error whatsoever indicates that the person is an enemy pure and simple, because there can be no compromise when the truth is concerned."

This is a total myth, and it is refuted by the very natural of the debate with which I have been engaged. Chris, for example, is - in my view - wrong about a great many issues. Have I concluded he "is an enemy pure and simple"? Would about Robert? Or, more relevantly, what about Diana? You might have noticed that she had the respect of many of those who agree with Peikoff even before she broke with TOC. What does that tell you?

It should tell you that Objectivists do not confuse error with evil. We do, however, condemn dishonesty, including intellectual dishonesty.

The present debate was concerned with judging the moral status of a particular individual who was held up as someone who understands Objectivism very well. Since Objectivism does not recognize a dichotomy between cognition and evaluation, or - in this case - theory and practice (because there are no such distinctions in reality), it was certainly relevant that this individual - Nathaniel Branden - is a confessed liar on a grand scale. And not just any liar - his primary victim (besides himself) was Ayn Rand.

Now, Mike Enright is correct. "Its [sic] been 36 years." But how in God's name is that relevant? What evidence is there that this man has reformed? That he's confessed to his crimes? Yeah, in the context of making Rand out to be history's greatest hypocrite. But even besides that, admitting one's wrongs is only the first step towards a full pardon (when such is possible).

Is this a stupid debate? Yes! It should have been settled in 1968, but it seems Kelley and others weren't content to reject Objectivism while calling themselves Objectivists - they wanted to forgive Branden his sins and pretend that he is some kind of authority on Objectivism. That sort of thing is disgusting. That's why this issue is important.

But if you're problem is with moral judgment as such, if you find that silly, or non-intellectual, then be up front and admit that you reject Objectivism and have no business giving advice to me or anyone else as to how to apply Objectivist principles. Deal?



Comment #50

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 15:47:23 mst
Name: Mike Enright

Don,

You make some valid points. I'm not interested in rejecting moral judgment. That is self destructive. Nor do I wish to separate theory and practice. That is stupid. But simply because he didn't or perhaps doesn't live up to his theory doesn't mean that the theory he teaches is incorrect. Because he doesn't practice what he teaches is not reason to throw out his teaching. So don't hold him out to be a paragon of moral action. But that doesn't mean that one can't proffit from his theory.

Please point out to me how his theory is incorrect. I would greatly appreciate it. Don't simply point to how he doesn't have the integrity to apply it properly. Tell me why I shouldn't read or discuss his work (and I'm not talking about his autobiography and whatnot). Or perhaps more accurately, tell me why reading his work is improper for an objectivist.

Also, if you can point out how Kelley "rejects Objectivism". Has he rejected egoism? Has he rejected Objectivist epistemolgy, art, politics, etc...? It would seem that the differences between Kelley and Piekoff are incredibly minor compared to the differences that both of them have with say Christianity, Islam, postmodernism, and the rest, no? I admit that I am relatively unfamiliar with the ARI/Piekoff side. What would be good to read?

My point is that if you read Kelley or Branden, you will find that they don't really appear to deviate all that much in content from Rand or Piekoff. At least, I haven't seen much evidence of the fact.

Finally, I have to wonder if the real problem is not what Branden did, but who he did it to. It seems that because his victim was Ayn Rand (who I have incredible respect for)his actions are treated worse than if he did it to anyone else. Why? Would his actions be any more or less condemnable if his victim were someone else?



Comment #51

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 17:24:36 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

To Diana, Don, (and Dr. Branden, who might be interested in some of this too):

First, I have not once claimed to be an Objectivist by the standard of the closed system, a standard to which I adhere, at least provisionally, out of courtesy to Ayn Rand.

I should note, though, that the use of "Objectivism" as the name for the closed system does fly in the face of all previous scholarly and academic conventions. A much more historically consistent adjective for the closed system would be the word "Randian," or even "orthodox Randian." Although it runs contrary to Rand's wishes, this usage exactly mirrors those employed with the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Marx, Freud, etc.

Using the term "Randian" also makes possible the locution "neo-Randian," which would imply a philosophy drawing some inspiration from Rand's, yet which deviates in significant areas as well. If I absolutely had to pick a category, I would probably choose this one, simply because I find calling myself an Objectivist to be mistaken under the exacting logic of the closed system.

Why do I refuse the name Objectivist? Well, I disagree with Rand's approved philosophy in a number of areas. To give an example that does not bear on the immediate questions of sanction and moral judgment, consider the following:

If Objectivism really IS a closed system, then I cannot call myself an Objectivist so long as my preferred romantic partner is another man--a condition which Rand held to be the result of an improperly formed romantic sense. So long as I deem Objectivism a closed system, and so long as my romantic attractions are entirely toward men, I cannot ever be an Objectivist. The case is closed, because Objectivism is only what Rand said it was--nothing more and nothing less.

Now, I may not be an Objectivist, but I have no intention of rejecting everything that Objectivism has to offer. As an individualist, I reserve the right to think for myself, which includes the right to pick and choose which elements of any given philosophy I deem to be rational. In this context, my critique of Objectivist practices on moral judgment is not at all an abdication of moral judgment--on the contrary, it's an *exercise* of moral jugment.

And yet I have to stress that I have not ever claimed to enunciate an *Objectivist* moral judgment on this forum. I am simply asking questions, making observations as rationally as I can, and trying to understand how present-day Objectivists think in this area. Quite frankly, even doing that sometimes has made my head spin.

My problem with Objectivist moral jugment lies not so much in the fact of moral judgment in itself, as with how it often seems to be applied. ARI and its supporters are of course always quick to defend themselves:

--ARI isn't like THAT anymore--if ever it was...

--Malcontents are just spreading nasty rumors again...

--They're all myths anyway...

--Maybe the crimes of these individuals really were so great that the punishments are all deserved.

This last seems to be your position as regards Branden, but I tend to think that 36 years of official hostility--plus a lot of interesting work in psychology since then--constitute, respectively, enough punishment and mitigation for even a far more serious error than his. To give a comparison, if someone murdered my parents, I would certainly find it hard to forgive--but I might be able to do it if I had 36 years, and if in the meantime he had done nothing particularly wrong.

Now, if Branden had wanted to make amends with Rand later on--or even to treat her differently in the first place--then it was up to him to do so, but the matter essentially lies between Rand and Branden. I doubt that anyone besides these two are ever going to know the full story, and even their understandings were probably incomplete. Because Branden is the only one still living, I can only hope that his own conscience is at peace. This is a question, though, that I am in no position to answer, just as I am in very little position to judge something that happened before I was born, between two people I have never met.

So, do Branden's transgressions say something fundamental about his character, even to us in the present day?

You would say that yes, unquestionably they do.

I find this much harder to say. Empirically, I have often observed many people whom I consider highly rational, yet who behave very irrationally in some circumstances. These people would even include Rand herself, who erred philosophically on homosexuality and who erred in practice both with regard to Branden and in her continued smoking despite the evidence that it was killing her.

Because even the most rational among us seem to exhibit periodic bouts of irrationality, I have--in true neo-Randian terms--added to my practice of moral judgment a level of forgiveness that I deem rather higher than the one apparently exercised by ARI. This level of forgiveness is a conscious decision based on the facts I have observed all around me. It comes not out of a desire to encourage evil, but out of a desire to live productively in a world where irrationality refuses to go away.

Forgiveness implies neither abdication of judgment nor sanction of wrongdoing. It implies only that exercising any further punishment based on one's moral judgments is a violation of the principle of rational self-interest. There is such a thing as cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, and such an error must be avoided to live in a rationally selfish manner.

Forgiveness is also a matter of justice, because this virtue demands that we give only as is deserved. Permanent, irrevocable removals of sanction and petty refusals to cite according to academic standards for fear of mentioning someone's name both strike me as giving that which is undeserved.

Let me give another example, one perhaps a bit further removed from the heat of the argument. If I remember properly, Nathaniel Branden himself first went to print with the Objectivist position against homosexuality, doing so in a Rand-approved publication. (I don't recall which one this was at present; I'm at school and away from my books.) Now, I disagree with Branden here, and I would invite him to consider myself and my husband as examples of gay people with genuine romantic love for each other. If he were to change his mind, I would much sooner forgive him than conclude that his character is fundamentally dishonest.

Even if he weren't willing to change his mind, I would still give great weight to what he says, particularly because it is often quite rational in other areas. Branden, like all of us, is a mixed character, with some good and some evil, some rational and some irrational. I suspect that Don and Diana will disagree with me here, both on Branden and on the nature of human character in general.

I likewise suspect that they would disagree if I were to assert that, while fundamentally there are no conflicts of interest among rational men, still, determining who is and is not rational is bloody hard, sometimes so much so that this principle has little practical applicability.

Please don't get too upset, though. Like I said, I'm NOT calling myself an Objectivist, and I'm not insisting that you call me one either. I'm not even asking to be called rational, and if being "not an Objectivist" is sufficient for you to consider me irrational, then I will judge your judgment to the best of my ability. Who knows, I might even forgive you.

To sum up: A crude binarism in moral judgment--stating that an individual is categorically, irrevocably, either good or evil--seems a dangerous method to use with such mixed beings as we all really are. I find that as practiced by many Objectivists, this form of moral judgment invites hostility to Objectivism even from those otherwise favorably inclined to it, while also doing great violence to the principle of justice itself.

I am altogether willing to judge individual moral failures, both in myself and others, but I find that generalizing from these to the global ostracism of a person is usually inappropriate in my own life. I thus find it hard to believe that ARI is not making a mistake in its application of moral judgment as well.



Comment #52

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 17:36:36 mst
Name: Nathaniel Branden
URL: http://www.nathanielbranden.com

A word on my position regarding homosexuality:

I do not regard homosexuality as a moral issue and I do not regard it as necesarily a psychological problem.

I have never seriously studied the subject of homosexuality and have no official "position." My intellectual concerns lie elsewhere.



Comment #53

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:02:40 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Mike Enright writes:

"Please point out to me how [Branden's] theory is incorrect. I would greatly appreciate it. Don't simply point to how he doesn't have the integrity to apply it properly. Tell me why I shouldn't read or discuss his work (and I'm not talking about his autobiography and whatnot). Or perhaps more accurately, tell me why reading his work is improper for an objectivist."

It's not. I have never said it is wrong for an Objectivist to read Branden's work (although borrowing his books from friends or from a library would be preferable, in my view, to buying them). What I have said, and what this discussion has been about, is not whether Branden has valid points to make - I think he does, without question. I'll go further - his work, even post break, is better than 90% of everything else that comes out of his field. But the issue here was whether or not he should be held up as someone who "knows Objectivism well."

I say, he had better not be, for two reasons. First, if Branden is correct in his claim that he understood Objectivism better than anyone beside Ayn Rand, then there is simply no possibility except intellectually dishonesty to explain his rejection of it. Second, to the extent he was not dishonest in rejecting it, he didn't understand the philosophy. So both interpretations lead to the same conclusion: Branden shouldn't be held up as an expert on Objectivism (unless you think we should allow dishonest individuals to define the Objectivist movement, which I most certainly do not).

"Also, if you can point out how Kelley 'rejects Objectivism'. Has he rejected egoism? Has he rejected Objectivist epistemolgy, art, politics, etc...? It would seem that the differences between Kelley and Piekoff are incredibly minor compared to the differences that both of them have with say Christianity, Islam, postmodernism, and the rest, no? I admit that I am relatively unfamiliar with the ARI/Piekoff side. What would be good to read?"

David Kelley most fundamentally rejects the Objectivist epistemology, in particular the concept of objectivity and the relationship between cognition and evaluation (or, fact and value). This is not a minor disagreement - Kelley's philosophy is a wholesale rejection of Objectivism. What makes it so dangerous, and why Objectivists are more angered by Kelley than Christianity is that Kelley is engaged in intellectual fraud. He is trying to pass off his philosophy as Ayn Rand's. It is not.

If you want to understand this issue, I recommend you read Kelley's article "A Question of Sanction," and Peikoff's response, "Fact and Value." Both are relatively short, and both, I believe, are available online. I know Peikoff's is. Another helpful essay is Robert Tracinski's article, "Notes on 'A Question of Sanction.'"

"My point is that if you read Kelley or Branden, you will find that they don't really appear to deviate all that much in content from Rand or Piekoff. At least, I haven't seen much evidence of the fact."

They do deviate significantly. The problem with Kelley is that he tries to pass his philosophy off as Rand's. Branden, at least, is honest enough not to do so.

"Finally, I have to wonder if the real problem is not what Branden did, but who he did it to. It seems that because his victim was Ayn Rand (who I have incredible respect for)his actions are treated worse than if he did it to anyone else. Why? Would his actions be any more or less condemnable if his victim were someone else?"

I'm glad you asked that question. You are correct - Branden's sins are that much worse because Rand was the victim. If you believe, as I do, that Rand is a great value, then it SHOULD matter to you that someone deceived her and hurt her deeply. Why? Because she is a value to you.

Put the question another way. Does it make a difference to you whether the woman cheating on her husband is some Hollywood actress? What if she is the wife of your best friend? What if she is YOUR wife? When someone deceives another person, how much we value the deceived party determines how intensely we react to the sins of the deceiver. I happen to consider Ayn Rand a deeply personal value. Her ideas have helped shape my life in the most fundamental (and positive) way. Her art touched me in a way that nothing else ever has and probably ever will. Is it any surprise, then, that I despise a man who lied to her, hurt her, and continues to drag her name through the mud?

I'll go further: I completely reject this idea that Rand, and by extension, Peikoff, were asking people to condemn Branden arbitrarily. I do not consider the testimony of Ayn Rand arbitrary, anymore than I consider the testimony of my best friend arbitrary. If you truly believe that your best friend's claims are of no more significance than the sounds of a parrot, then you have no business being his friend. If you admire Rand and her work, and yet consider her word of no more value than the sounds of a parrot, then you have no business claiming to admire her or her work.

Let's be clear. Rand's say so is not proof of an idea. Reality is the standard for proof. But her claims about facts ARE evidence for those facts (in the context of her expertise...and I think she was certainly an expert on the facts of her own life).



Comment #54

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:03:51 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

I have often been a critic of Nathaniel Branden, as some of you may know. But this is ridiculous! Most of the harsh critics in these Comments know almost nothing of the events of the 1950's and 60's, nor of Nathaniel Branden's life and work since then. I hope I'm correct, and that his critics have not committed the mortal sin of reading any of his books -- which sin would cause their immediate excommunicion by ARI. Surely they have not read my biography, THE PASSION OF AYN RAND, which is high on the forbidden list. So how do they know that Nathaniel is so terrible a sinner? They can know it only through the assertions of Peikoff, et al; that is, they have taken it on faith, on the word of their authorities. They have been forbidden to check into it and form a first-hand judgments -- which, of course, no good Objectivist should dare do.

Sorry to make you read this, since I also on on the forbidden list -- but I do want to tell you that Ayn Rand was quite willing to forgive Nathaniel for supposed "sins"for which some of you are still castigating him.

Supposedly, you people all want to see Objectivism spread through the culture and through the world. If that is so, you should be thanking Nathaniel (and, not to be modest, me) for forming the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which, against great odds, created the Objectivist movement. Ayn Rand was not willing to lead a movememt, Peikoff was not capable -- he had to be talked into forming ARI and he used other people's money and brains to do so, plus resurrecting all the years of thought and experience that had gone into NBI; he did not, of course, give credit to Nathenial or me; after all, one can lift someone else's ideas if that person is a monster.

What on earth is the matter with you people? With all the talk about who is and who is not an Objectivist, how can you even approach Objectivism when you won't make the effort to form first-hand judgments, to be independent, and to stop blindly following authority-figures!



Comment #55

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:05:44 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://wwwbarbara.branden.com

I did not mean to leave my name off my comment. It was inadvertent.



Comment #56

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:26:21 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

What Nathaniel Branden has done since the break is at least as bad was what he did in the 60's. His writings amount to a total rejection of all the essentials of Objectivism and a vicious, and shockingly irrational, attack on the person of Ayn Rand. Just consider the Benefits and Hazards paper.

As a whole the piece is unessentialized, the content is not selected for its supposed theme. Rather it consists of randomly strung together potshots at AR. But let's take some of them up and see what they add up to.

Branden criticizes AR for scorning things that didn't fit "her particular model of reality", e.g., telepathic astronauts. What is a "particular model of reality"? Isn't there only one reality? Isn't reason our means of knowing it? Is there any rational evidence for telepathy?

In his discussion of repression, Branden package-deals blatant subjectivism with non-repression, thus undermining all the essentials of a healthy emotional life. And, of course, that section totally mischaracterizes Atlas and The Fountainhead.

As with _Judgment Day_, the premises of the essay undercut the basis of morality and moral judgment as such. Contra Branden, we are not "all of us organisms trying to survive" -- how would this apply to the issue of focus and evasion? Is evasion simply a "misguided" way of trying to survive? If so, then it's an error of knowledge and there is no such thing as evil, or good. Or rather is evasion the rejection of existence as such, the sacrificing reality and survival to a whim? A key theme of Galt's Speech is that is that we don't *all* want to live. And we certainly don't all want it *consistently*. In fact isn't this just the point that Dagny needs to learn before she can go on strike? So in this position we have the rejection of a real essential of Objectivism, a denial of volition and particularly of the fact that valuing one's life is not automatic. But note that Branden's denial of volition is *covert* and *implicit*. We don't get a clear statement of the Objectivist view on volition and evaluation or an argument that it's *false*, we're just told that its "hazardous" to judge.

Brandon's position here is just an inarticulate *psychological* egoism -- the premise is just below the surface in much of the essay. Thus morality is undercut at its root, which is why we find "moral" and "rational" replaced with "biocentric" in some of his other writings. (The fact that in another piece on the web site he endorses AR's theory of volition, is of course, irrelevant; it just shows that he's inconsistent.) The whole train of his thinking runs against volition and thus against objectivity and morality as such.

But the problems with the essay don't end there, we read on further and we find all sorts of bizarre out of context criticisms of AR for things like "allowing people to believe" that non-sacrificial aid to others is "wrong or undesirable". She never said it was wrong, she wrote that it wasn't, and her novels contain examples of her heroes giving it, but somehow she is responsible for "narcissistic individuals whose thinking stops at the point of hearing that they have no obligation". So no one is responsible for anything, but Ayn Rand is somehow responsible for other people's refusal to think!

Finally, notice how much that essay focuses on AR's alleged personality flaws and not on her philosophy, which is its supposed topic. The whole thing is despicable in the same way that _Judgment Day_ is. One needn't know
*anything* about what happened in the `60's to pass judgment on Branden.
That he wrote these things (at his age and after previously having understood Objectivism) is all one needs to know about him. The essential of his life is the sacrifice of profound, historical-scale values, to fee petty, neurotic insecurities. The man is unforgivably, irredeemably evil. And this evil isn't just an issue of how he conducts his personal life, as though his ideas were sealed off from his behavior in an airtight compartment. The dishonesty, the evil, runs throughout his *teachings*.

Kelley's welcoming Branden in to TOC is perfectly logical, because TOC is, ultimately, also founded on the premise of rejecting objectivity – in the form of rejecting the objective identity of Ayn Rand's philosophy, and of rejecting the need for intellectual and moral judgment. They are pees in a pod. And this rejection of objectivity, of standards, ultimately, of reality, is on display in all of TOC's work (just as it is in Branden's writings).



Comment #57

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:34:25 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason,

"If Objectivism really IS a closed system, then I cannot call myself an Objectivist so long as my preferred romantic partner is another man--a condition which Rand held to be the result of an improperly formed romantic sense. So long as I deem Objectivism a closed system, and so long as my romantic attractions are entirely toward men, I cannot ever be an Objectivist. The case is closed, because Objectivism is only what Rand said it was--nothing more and nothing less."

Rand's views on homosexuality are not part of Objectivism. Objectivism is a philosophy and thus refers only to the philosophic principles identified by Rand - not every view she espoused. On the contrary, no Objectivist I know (including Peikoff) agrees with her on this subject, and yet we are still Objectivists.

"Empirically, I have often observed many people whom I consider highly rational, yet who behave very irrationally in some circumstances. These people would even include Rand herself, who erred philosophically on homosexuality and who erred in practice both with regard to Branden and in her continued smoking despite the evidence that it was killing her."

You're failing to distinguish between errors of knowledge and moral errors. Rand's views on homosexuality were wrong, but she wasn't dishonest in holding them. Rand's choice to have an affair with Branden may have been wrong, but even so, she wasn't dishonest in consumating it. Rand's views on smoking were wrong, but contrary to what you write, as soon as she had evidenence smoking was harming her she quit.

The larger point is, you are right - people do not always make wise decisions. But these need not be moral failings. The moral is the chosen - to fail morally means to act against your own understanding of the good (first, by evading that understanding). There is no good evidence Rand did this. Branden did, by his own admission.

"level of forgiveness is a conscious decision based on the facts I have observed all around me. It comes not out of a desire to encourage evil, but out of a desire to live productively in a world where irrationality refuses to go away. Forgiveness implies neither abdication of judgment nor sanction of wrongdoing. It implies only that exercising any further punishment based on one's moral judgments is a violation of the principle of rational self-interest. Forgiveness is also a matter of justice, because this virtue demands that we give only as is deserved. Permanent, irrevocable removals of sanction and petty refusals to cite according to academic standards for fear of mentioning someone's name both strike me as giving that which is undeserved."

I don't have any problem with this, as stated. It is certainly proper to discuss the parameters of forgiveness. In fact, I think you and I would probably agree more often then not on the issue.

"Branden, like all of us, is a mixed character, with some good and some evil, some rational and some irrational. I suspect that Don and Diana will disagree with me here, both on Branden and on the nature of human character in general."

I most certainly would, Branden aside. If the good is the chosen, and if the good is in your interest, what possible reason could you have for not doing what's in your interest? Might you err in your identification of what is to your interest? Sure. But once again, that is not a moral breach.

"I'm not even asking to be called rational, and if being 'not an Objectivist' is sufficient for you to consider me irrational, then I will judge your judgment to the best of my ability."

Please do judge my judgment, but don't think for a moment I would judge you as irrational just because you're not an Objectivist. Most people aren't - it's not crime. So long as your disagreement is honest, and I have no reason to think otherwise, it is simply that...an honest disagreement.

One of the things people don't realize is how rich and integrated a system of ideas Objectivism is. It takes years of sustained effort to fully grasp and validate. Failing to accept Objectivism, therefore, is not even evidence, let alone proof, of irrationality. On the other hand, if you claim to be an expert in Objectivism, such as Branden or Kelley, and turn away from it, I do believe that is evidence, if not PROOF, of dishonesty. It has to be because Objectivism is TRUE, and Kelley's philosophy is so obviously false (once you grasp the issues).

"A crude binarism in moral judgment--stating that an individual is categorically, irrevocably, either good or evil--seems a dangerous method to use with such mixed beings as we all really are. I find that as practiced by many Objectivists, this form of moral judgment invites hostility to Objectivism even from those otherwise favorably inclined to it, while also doing great violence to the principle of justice itself."

I disagree with this emphatically. I do NOT think we are all mixed, and if people do not like Objectivism because it demands moral judgment, then all the better. I do not want them in the movement.

But there is an implicit premise that moral judgment in Objectivism requires you to go around moralizing and demonizing and treating one's opponents as if they were Saddam. That's the myth I'm trying to uproot because it's not true. I can tell you that for a fact, and I believe Diana can as well. This myth was started by a subjectivist wing, best represented by people like David Kelley, who are opposed to moral judgment as such (and don't remind me Kelley denies this...I know he does), and therefore have an interest in making Objectivists our to be dogmatists.

I would like to think my engagement here has done something to dispell that myth. I have not shyed away from moral judgment, when the evidence has been clear. But I have not rushed to judgment it cases where it wasn't. And I have tried to be very clear on the distinction between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. If I haven't, let me know, and I will try to do better.

I happen to think that the biggest reason many people have fled the ARI side is because they have bought into the myths, half-truths, and falsehoods spread by those who have an interest in spreading them. That's why I'm here. To help dispell those untruths.



Comment #58

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:41:05 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Barbara writes:

"With all the talk about who is and who is not an Objectivist, how can you even approach Objectivism when you won't make the effort to form first-hand judgments, to be independent, and to stop blindly following authority-figures!"

Remind me: who is the one engaging in moral condemnation without evidence?



Comment #59

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 18:52:44 mst
Name: Victor

The hysteria of Barbara Branden's comment is a perfect fit for her content. She repeats, for the umpteenth time, the lie that people associated with ARI are "excommunicated" for reading her "biography" of Ayn Rand. In other contexts, she has even claimed that some ARI supporters read her book in secret. This is nonsense. No one has ever been excommunicated for reading her or any other book, nor would anyone remotely connected to ARI bother keeping their reading it a secret.

I can testify to this first hand. I have on a few occasions had the privilege of talking to Leonard Peikoff, and one of those times, I mentioned that I had read both Barbara Branden's book and Nathaniel Branden's memoir. I was not condemned, let alone excommunicated. And I have heard very prominent Objectivists discuss the content of Barbara Branden's book quite openly, sometimes in public lectures. (Of course, the expression of a positive evaluation of that piece of malicious slime would certainly cause raised eyebrows and the loss of others' respect for one's judgment, but that's another matter.)

So why does Barbara Branden keep repeating this absurd lie? She doesn't think it's true for a moment -she's been around long enough for that - and neither does her target audience. But somehow it apparently relieves her anxiety to say it, and theirs to hear it. And maybe they can fool some newbie.

It has been asked why AR's break with the Brandens is still a burning issue 36 years later. Well, Barbara Branden has just provided the answer: they still go around sliming Ayn Rand and her genuine admirers with their lies.

And they keep changing their stories. Nathaniel Branden's current web master is now claiming that Ayn Rand started her affair with Branden before telling her husband about it, and thus was as guilty of deception as Branden later was. I can only surmise he got this from Branden himself. Needless to say, there is no reason to believe this new canard, either.

In the late 1970's, Nathaniel Branden wrote an article for Reason Magazine entitled "Thank you, Ayn Rand - and Goodbye." If he had kept to this, no one would bother attacking him today. But he couldn't keep away. He keeps returning again and again, sliming her while feeding off her fame. She is his major claim to fame.



Comment #60

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 19:54:58 mst
Name: Mike Enright

Don,

You seem to believe that anyone who truely understands objectivism cannot honestly reject it. Do you really believe this? Doesn't it seem odd that you are stating that "people who don't agree with Objectivism simply don't understand it". I think it is eminantly possible that people can both understand Objectivism and honestly disagree with it.



Comment #61

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 20:12:07 mst
Name: Victor

"If Peikoff has decided that Objectivists may read my book and Nathaniel Branden's work, that is a decision of recent vintage."

No, it isn't. Dr. Peikoff has never presumed to tell anybody which books he "may" read or not, and no Objectivist would ever have listened to him if he had. *I*, who *have* read Mrs. Branden's book, would say that nobody "should" read it. It's garbage. But it's up to anyone's best judgment, in context, whether or not to take my advice.

I notice that all mention of "excommunications" has been dropped, as if the charge had never been made.

Instead we are told a new canard about when Peikoff acknowledged in public the existence of "the affair." In fact, it happened at a Ford Hall Forum speech right after the publication of Barbara Branden's book, not "years later."

In regard to debating with Barbara Branden on a public forum, I do not need Peter Schwartz's permission. Nor will I be "excommunicated." But a case could be made that it is senseless. No matter how many lies and evasions are unmasked, the Brandens will just manufacture new ones, without end.

So I'll bail out now. The sample that has been provided should be sufficient for lurkers to form an opinion.



Comment #62

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 20:22:22 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Mike Enright writes:

"You seem to believe that anyone who truely understands objectivism cannot honestly reject it. Do you really believe this? Doesn't it seem odd that you are stating that 'people who don't agree with Objectivism simply don't understand it'. I think it is eminantly possible that people can both understand Objectivism and honestly disagree with it."

If we are clear that I was talking about someone who fully understands Objectivism and claims to grasp its truth, then no, I don't think it's possible to honestly disagree with it on any significant level (although we'd probably have to work out what exactly that would mean).

Why? Because Objectivism is true, including the principle that human beings can arrive at the truth. If your understanding of Objectivism isn't rationalistic, that is, if you have fully grasped and integrated integrated it (which is probably inherent in coming to understand what it is), then how COULD you later turn away from it?

Let's be clear - I'm not talking about people who are very familiar with Objectivism. I'm speaking of a very select group of people, who fully understand the philosophy's method and content. I'd put this number under twenty, so do not think I'm speaking of anyone here.



Comment #63

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:01:23 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

The re-writing of history on display here astonishes me. The only reason that the affair was acknowledged is because Peikoff ~had~ to acknowledge it once Barbara Branden had written about it. That's akin to Clinton coming clean about the Monica Lewinsky affair only because of the ~dress~ that had strands of his DNA embedded in its fibers.

In other words, public acknowledgment of the Rand-Branden affair was not forthcoming from Peikoff without the publication of Barbara's biography.

With regard to Nathaniel's post-Randian criticisms of Rand: Whether you agree or disagree with every last criticism, they did go a long way toward helping us to distinguish between the philosophER (Ayn Rand) and the philosophY (Objectivism). There was a very real rationalist tendency in the Objectivist movement, such that many "Objectivists" tended to ~identify~ Rand's pronouncements on disparate subjects with objective reality. So pronounced was this rationalist strain that Peikoff himself (who admitted to a bit of rationalism) criticized it at length in his brilliant "Understanding Objectivism" lecture series.

If there is greater freedom today to speak about the unspeakable, that's wonderful to hear. But let's not pretend as if that freedom has come solely because of the actions of those on the inside; it has largely been a response to those who have been banging on the door from the outside.

Either way, I'm refreshed to hear about this breathtaking openness, and I hope the trend continues.



Comment #64

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:12:17 mst
Name: Mike Enright

Another question for Don!

You state that hurting Ayn Rand is worse than hurting many other people because Ayn Rand is of high value to Objectivists. So what about people you don't value at all? Perhaps its not so wrong to hurt them. If they constitute no value to me or Objective thinking people (maybe even they are anti-value or go around doing harm to our values) perhaps it wouldn't be wrong for me to hurt them? Doesn't that logically follow from your position?



Comment #65

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:14:29 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

Oh, one question: Do people still have to sign loyalty oaths to lease lectures from ARI? Or are lecture courses no longer available for leasing?

I remember that I had to sign an oath saying that I was not a member of the Libertarian Party in order to lease "Lectures on Objectivism." I actually am not and have never been a member of the LP so I didn't have to be dishonest when I signed the oath. (I always thought it funny, though, that they didn't require a similar oath of those who might have been members of the Communist Party.)

I think Harry Binswanger still requires some kind of oath for his private list. So, I'm just wondering if these kinds of oaths are now a thing of the past.



Comment #66

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:22:57 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Mike Enright writes:

"You state that hurting Ayn Rand is worse than hurting many other people because Ayn Rand is of high value to Objectivists. So what about people you don't value at all? Perhaps its not so wrong to hurt them. If they constitute no value to me or Objective thinking people (maybe even they are anti-value or go around doing harm to our values) perhaps it wouldn't be wrong for me to hurt them? Doesn't that logically follow from your position?"

That's a very good question, but the answer is no, it doesn't follow. A moral crime is a moral crime, but the intensity of one's response will depend on the nature fo the crime, your knowledge of the criminal, and your knowledge of the victim.

To put it another way, my values matter more to me than your values, but that doesn't mean it's okay for me to destroy your values, and it doesn't mean your values are non-values. Your values are values *to you* but that doesn't make them subjective. In the same way, hurting Ayn Rand is worse for me than hurting George W. Bush because Ayn Rand is a value to me.

I'm not sure if that clears up the confusion, but I'm running out the door now. Feel free to ask for clarification!



Comment #67

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:28:04 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

This from Mike: "You seem to believe that anyone who truely understands objectivism cannot honestly reject it. Do you really believe this? Doesn't it seem odd that you are stating that 'people who don't agree with Objectivism simply don't understand it'. I think it is eminantly possible that people can both understand Objectivism and honestly disagree with it."

Brought this reply from Don: "If we are clear that I was talking about someone who fully understands Objectivism and claims to grasp its truth, then no, I don't think it's possible to honestly disagree with it on any significant level...

"Why? Because Objectivism is true, including the principle that human beings can arrive at the truth....

"Let's be clear - I'm not talking about people who are very familiar with Objectivism. I'm speaking of a very select group of people, who fully understand the philosophy's method and content. I'd put this number under twenty, so do not think I'm speaking of anyone here."

Don: If you admit that you do not fully understand the philosophy's method and content, then how can you evaluate it as "true"?



Comment #68

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:36:12 mst
Name: Victor

"The re-writing of history on display here astonishes me. . . . In other words, public acknowledgment of the Rand-Branden affair was not forthcoming from Peikoff without the publication of Barbara's biography."

What on earth has this got to do with anything? There was no reason for Peikoff to talk in public about other people's secret affairs, except in this special context.

This issue was raised when Barbara Branden, in an attempt to blow smoke in order to hide that she had lied about people being excommunicated for reading her book, started talking about how Peikoff had falsely denied "the affair" for years after her book was published. I was pointing out that *this* was a rewriting of history, to put it mildly.

Now Sciabarra tries in his usual inimitable style to blow more smoke by disregarding the context completely. So much for "dialectics as context-keeping." His MO has been unmasked by a previous poster in this forum, and I will let it go at this, no matter what further nonsense emanates from him.



Comment #69

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:44:15 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

Ah yes, unmasked am I by the Mysterious Stranger who prefers to stay masked himself.

There was more than enough reason to talk about that affair prior to the Branden revelations; it would have made all that sound and fury from 1968 a lot more understandable---instead of the nonsense that we were offered as an "explanation" of what had happened.



Comment #70

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 21:50:08 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

Nataniel didn't create the Objectivist movement. Atlas Shrugged was published and Ayn Rand was famous. Everyone wanted to know about HER ideas. At best he could be Objectivism's Eddie Willers.

NBI was "for profit". ARI was to be a "unique enterprise of spreading a philosophy" and "would not bring tangible monetary benefit-but could produce major intellectual and cultural gains." All the businesses around ARI (Newsletters, book services, etc.)were around before 1985.



Comment #71

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 22:00:20 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

From Don:

"Rand's views on homosexuality are not part of Objectivism."

I've heard this before, but I reject it. The source I'd mentioned earlier is Branden's essay "Mental Health vs. Mysticism and Self-Sacrifice," in _The Virtue of Selfishness_.

The quote with which I disagree lists as one of the victims of self-sacrificing hypocrisy, "the adolescent who flees into homosexuality because he has been taught that sex is evil and that women are to be worshiped, but not desired." Such an individual is described as "human wreckage." Both quotes are from p. 47 of the paperback.

I reject this view categorically. Admitting one's homosexuality often means admitting that sex is good in itself, destined for the purpose of one's rational happiness as a human being. I consider this a part of my own philosophy of sex, and Objectivism as set forth here and approved by Rand is in conflict with my philosophy.

You would probably reply that hers is a statement of psychology, not philosophy. Yet from the cover of the book, I quote:

"Ayn Rand here sets forth the moral principles of Objectivism, the philosophy that holds man's life--the life proper to a rational being--as the standard of moral values and regards altruism as incompatible with man's nature..."

There's not a word about Objectivist psychology being offered as a secondary topic, either here or in the introduction to VOS. Indeed, the introduction describes the collected essays as intended "to provide its readers with a consistent philosophical frame of reference." It makes no mention of psychology at any point at all.

It is clear to me, then, that Rand meant the statements within this book--all of them--to be statements of Objectivist philosophy. If you wish to say that she was mistaken here, and that this is not a statement of philosophy, then once again, by closed-system logic, you would be redefining Objectivism as something that is not-Rand.

Now, if any of us happen to disagree with one or another of her statements, or hold that they are not part of the Objectivist philosophy when she said that they were, then we cease to be Objectivists in the closed-system sense of the word. That includes you, me, Peikoff, and apparently Branden as well, since none of us would now agree with the statement on page 47 of VOS.

So... I'm starting to find that the "closed system" thus produces an absurdity: If we are to define Rand's philosophy as being those things that she said were her philosophy, and if we determine whether we are Objectivists on the basis of whether agree with them, then there is at least one statement that Rand apparently considered philosophical, yet with which everyone disagrees, including all parties to the current debate. It seems that no one is an Objectivist, if only on a technicality.

(If you throw in the woman president, there might even be two statements with which we all disagree...)

But hey, it's Rand's philosophy, and her philosophy is what she says it is, not what I say it is. I'm powerless to redefine what she believed, and can only work on my own beliefs.

As to the comments on moral judgment, I'm still thinking, and I really need more time to give a better answer. To help me out, I have a question for you. At one point you state, "people do not always make wise decisions," yet later you state, "I do NOT think that we are all mixed (in our morals)."

Do I conclude appropriately, then, that anyone who makes an unwise decision is entirely and totally unwise? Surely this is not what you meant.



Comment #72

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 22:10:51 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

Yes, well, then, will somebody please explain to me just how the establishment of the Ayn Rand Institute was consistent with ~this~ pronouncement by Ayn Rand herself in June 1968?:

"I shall not establish or endorse any type of school or organization purporting to represent or be a spokesman for Objectivism. I shall repudiate and take appropriate action against any attempt to use my name or my philosophy, explicitly or implicitly, in connection with any project of that kind or any organization not authorized by me."

The only thing the Estate takes seriously from the above statement is the use of "appropriate action" (i.e., lawsuits) against those whose work it doesn't approve of. There are a list of scholars who have received those "cease and desist" threats from the Estate.

So don't tell me about a not-for-profit institute when the proprietary interest is so pronounced. When they have threatened to sue those who use the "trade-marked" Ayn Rand name because such use would introduce "unfair competition" into the marketplace... yes, the language of the antitrust act ... ah, well, all I can say is: the spinning sound you hear is Ayn Rand's body, quaking the earth in Valhalla.



Comment #73

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 22:57:35 mst
Name: David Rehm
URL: http://www.davidrehm.com

In response to Jason who says:

>> The quote with which I disagree lists as one of the victims of self-sacrificing hypocrisy, "the adolescent who flees into homosexuality because he has been taught that sex is evil and that women are to be worshiped, but not desired." Such an individual is described as "human wreckage." Both quotes are from p. 47 of the paperback. <<

>> ..Objectivism as set forth here and approved by Rand is in conflict with my philosophy. <<

There's no conflict. The example case describes a scenario that IS possible (and in which case, the person WOULD be "human wreckage") -- without saying that all homosexuals are such through that psychological error. In other words, describing a situation where a person makes a decision for the wrong psychological reasons doesn't impugn those who might make that decision for different reasons -- it was the psychology behind the choice in that particular instance that is the subject of study.



Comment #74

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 23:06:03 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

Apropos this discussion of homosexuality, which can take us far afield:

The early Objectivists ~did~ see homosexuality as a moral issue; it was only later that this was relegated to a non-moral issue. Rand herself saw homosexuality AS SUCH as the result of "psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises." She saw it as entailing a "psychological immorality" and claimed it was "disgusting." This topic is of central concern to my monograph, AYN RAND, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND HUMAN LIBERATION:

<http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/homosexuality.htm>



Comment #75

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at 23:48:20 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbara.branden.com

Mysterious Stranger writes that Nathaniel Branden didn't create th Objectivist movement. Gee, MS,Ayn Rand thought he did. When ATLAS SHRUGGED was published, yes, a lot of people wanted to know more about her ideas. Where were they to go to learn more? It was Nathaniel who found a way to fulfill that desire -- and, by running a for-profit organization, to eat at the same time. At the time, and for several years,Rand had no interest in writing non-fiction presentations of her philosophy -- until Nathaniel convinced her that such presentations would be valuable. So when you thank him for his contributions to your lives, thank him also for that.

MS also writes, "NBI was "for profit". ARI was to be a "unique enterprise of spreading a philosophy" and "would not bring tangible monetary benefit..." I can only assume that MS is joking.



Comment #76

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 0:00:29 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Chris,

You write that Rand "erred philosophically on homosexuality, and erred in practice both with regard to Branden and in her continued smoking despite the evidence that it was killing her."

Rand's stated opinion on homosexuality was the result of simple lack of knowledge, not a philosophical error. Until the late 1960s, the fact that homosexuality is as healthy and normal for homosexuals as heterosexuality for heterosexuals was only known to a few academic scientists doing research on sexuality. Rand first learned this fact from Efron shortly before his excommunication. Then, at some point she started to disregard everything she had learned from subsequently excommunicated people, including Efron. One could argue that Rand's failure to correct her earlier error was a philosophical mistake, but her earlier statement was unexceptional in the context of what she knew at the time. So I think that to correct this mistake, in the context of what is known today, does not in fact contradict Peikoff's "closed system" interpretation.

As for smoking, according to Efron Rand's physicians told him that she stopped smoking, cold-turkey, immediately on learning that she had lung cancer. I do consider it a philosophical error (like her earlier failure to correct her statements on homosexuality) for Rand to have refused to correct her earlier endorsements of smoking, as her physicians urged her to do.

And she did err in her assesment of Branden's character. But that, too, could have been, and probably was, a simple error of knowledge.



Comment #77

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 0:04:12 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Victor insists that Leonard Peikoff and others in the ARI orbit are holding Ayn Rand to the very same moral standards that they apply to Nathaniel Branden.

Victor seems to think that Rand was not making a special exception for herself when she convened Frank O'Connor, Nathaniel Branden, and Barbara Branden, and announced that she was going to have an affair with Nathaniel Branden, while they remained married to their respective spouses, and the relationship remained concealed from everyone else.

OK, let's run a little thought experiment:

Frank O'Connor convenes a meeting with Ayn Rand and a married couple who are among their close friends. He declares that his needs are no longer being met by an exclusive relationship with Ayn, so if she really loves him, won't she give him permission to carry on (ahh, that mid-Victorian phrase...) an affair with the tall gorgeous athletic blonde, 25 years his junior, whose premises are most impeccable? And, of course, the younger woman's husband, who is failing to entirely meet her needs, really shouldn't mind, either. No need for anyone to separate, or file for divorce. However, the rest of the world, including their other close friends, may not be highly evolved enough to understand this special arrangement, so all will be kept secret from them.

Don't you think the roof on that apartment building would have had to be replaced?

If Ayn Rand wanted to do the bohemian thing, and other consenting adults wished to join her in this particular form of bohemianism, fine. But thoughtful bohemians (1) allow for the possibility that such arrangements might not be equally satisfactory for all parties, indeed might blow up in their faces; and (2) are up front about their relationships, not caring what conventional people might think. Worrying about what the conventional people might think is distinctly bourgeois, though not necessarily Victorian.

The fact that Rand never wanted anyone else to know about the affair, even after she booted Nathaniel Branden out of the fold, indicates that she was a long way from being a forthright bohemian. Otherwise, why on earth would she have cared who knew about it?

Victor says:

"What are these moral standards that "apply to others"? Those of mid-Victorian prudery? They certainly are not the moral standards of Ayn Rand, who wrote novels where the heroes and heroines have all kinds of secret affairs that are "concealed from their other friends and acquaintances.""

Well, there's a lot more we could say about Rand's novels, and the extent to which portions of them provide a guide to life, or a model to be emulated. I will note that most of us have had the good fortune not to be surrounded by "sworn enemies" or by generally despicable human beings, the way her heroes often are.

Victor continues:

"But [Peikoff et al.] are holding her to the same standard. She was not dishonest, which would have been a vice according to Objectivism. He was dishonest."

But this isn't true. Rand *was* dishonest. She not only withheld information from her followers--even from her close associates--demanding that they side with her and condemn Nathaniel Branden on faith. She went beyond withholding evidence; she *actively misrepresented* what their break had been about. "To Whom It May Concern" is a grossly deceptive document. If it were honest, it would have attacked Nathaniel Branden as a faithless and deceptive lover, not as a failed "intellectual heir" guilty of an assortment of purported philosophical lapses that could hardly account for white-lippe fury of the piece. (Why do you suppose some third parties, with no prior knowledge of her or of Nathaniel Branden, read the piece and concluded, "A woman scorned"?)

Along related lines, Don said, in one of his many comments:

"I'll go further: I completely reject this idea that Rand, and by extension, Peikoff, were asking people to condemn Branden arbitrarily. I do not consider the testimony of Ayn Rand arbitrary, anymore than I consider the testimony of my best friend arbitrary."

I rather doubt that Rand regarded her relationship with most of her followers as friendship.

But beyond that, she did make assertions that were arbitrary, by Leonard Peikoff's criteria, or indeed, by mine. She insisted that people condemn Nathaniel Branden for doing great wrongs, and do so without knowing what wrongs he had done. She actually misrepresented her reasons for expelling him from the fold, and for insisting that her loyal followers shun and ostracize him. She didn't say that she loved him, and he betrayed her, because he loved another woman and didn't want her to know that he did. Rather, she went on and on (in "To Whom It May Concern") about an alleged loss of interest in philosophy, and other supposed tokens of irrationality on his part that had nothing to do with her real complaint. She even made allegations of financial improprieties that turned out to be bogus.

If your best friend asked you to shun, ostracize, and condemn someone who used to be close to both of you, and later on you discovered that your friend hadn't bothered to explain to you his (or her) real reason for wanting to shun this person, wouldn't you conclude that your friend hadn't been straight with you?

"Let's be clear. Rand's say so is not proof of an idea. Reality is the standard for proof. But her claims about facts ARE evidence for those facts (in the context of her expertise...and I think she was certainly an expert on the facts of her own life)."

By the same token, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are experts on the facts of THEIR lives. Since Rand never publicly admitted the existence of her affair with Nathaniel Branden, in fact tried to write as though there hadn't been one--yet nowadays even Leonard Peikoff is willing to acknowledge that there was an affair--should we now maintain that nothing she said about HER life is to be trusted? (If you hold Ayn Rand to the same *epistemic* standards that you've held Nathaniel Branden to, isn't that the conclusion you ought to draw?)

Bottom line: the Objectivist ethics contains no special exemptions for anyone. Ayn Rand behaved as though she was entitled to some special exemptions. Why anyone who really believes in the Objectivist ethics should want to grant her those exemptions is beyond me.



Comment #78

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 0:26:32 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Sorry, I meant Jason, not Chris - although I do think that I detect some of Sciabarra's analysis in Jason's note.



Comment #79

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 1:12:58 mst
Name: Nathaniel Branden
URL: http://www.nathanielbranden.com

And speaking of getting historical facts straight, it was Barbara Branden who initiated the idea of offering our Objectivist courses via tape transcription across the country and beyond, and that, dear people, was a major factor in making Objectivism a national phenomenon culturally. Without NBI, there would be no ARI. If you doubt me, do a little homework: begin by reading the monthly reports on "the advance of Objectism" on the last pages of The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist.



Comment #80

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 1:31:35 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Robert,

Your scenario in which "the roof on that apartment building would have had to be replaced" leads me to believe that you were never in the same room as Ayn and Frank together. Fiction writers - Jonathan Kellerman for one - have been known to write about such situations with greater realism.



Comment #81

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 2:29:23 mst
Name: mra

Ayn Rand Wrote/Co-wrote the "Basic Principles of Objectivism" for live presentation by Nathaniel-a man, young, spoke english well, etc. Nathaniel was to be the "face" of Objectivism. Ayn Rand knew what she needed to do to market Objectivism. The tape transcription series made it profitable for N.B. Lectures to be a full time business, it wasn't planned that way.

Without Ayn Rand, there would be no Objectivism, no ARI, and no Nathaniel Branden!

Nathaniel, your making my case for me. It's called the "Objectivist Calendar" not "the advance of Objectivism."



Comment #82

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 4:53:09 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbara.branden.com

MRA wrotethat "Ayn Rand Wrote/Co-wrote the 'Basic Principles of Objectivism' for live presentation by Nathaniel."

How do you dare make so ridiculous a statement when you have no first hand knowledge? Here, I am quite content to let you swing slowly in the wind, damned by your own foolishness.

You also wrote: "The tape transcription series made it profitable for N.B. Lectures to be a full time business, it wasn't planned that way." This is, by my count, the third negative mentionin these pages of the fact that NBI was profit making, as contrasted with noble ARI which was not concerned with profit. I must have misunderstood Objectivism. I really thought that profit-making was a value. Silly me!



Comment #83

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 12:27:44 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Barbara Branden writes:

"This is, by my count, the third negative mentionin these pages of the fact that NBI was profit making, as contrasted with noble ARI which was not concerned with profit. I must have misunderstood Objectivism. I really thought that profit-making was a value. Silly me!"

Wow, I have a lot to catch up on this morning, but before I do, I want to note that the people who are attacking you and Mr. Branden are not representative of those who share my position. You may not agree with that estimate, but in this case, I think I'm in a better position to know. Which is another way of saying: to those who think it is helpful to speak out of their posterior regarding NBI, or Mr. or Ms. Branden, it is not.

But it is unfortunate, Ms. Branden, that you have found it useful to response to them and not to me. I think I have made a reasonable and respectful case for my views, and have not ventured to assert facts contrary to those you and Mr. Branden have admitted to. Is that less worthy of a response than the arbitrary insults and obvious falsehoods being flung your way?



Comment #84

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 13:08:34 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

When the Bible says homosexuality is evil, that is a statement of Christian ethics. In other words, it's philosophy.

When the _Symposium_ says favorable things about homosexuality, that is a statement of Platonic ethics. It's also philosophy.

When VOS contains a statement against homosexuality, that is NOT Objectivist philosophy. It is merely psychology and has nothing at all to do with ethics.

I have to say I'm not convinced.

I'm also not convinced by the argument that the statement was an error of fact and therefore not philosophy. I thought that in Objectivism, all facts implied values, and that all errors of fact would necessarily lead to or at least imply errors of value as well. Errors of fact, then, should be considered a potential source of philosophical error just like errors of logic.

If we are to adhere to the closed system approach, we must accept that moral judgments based on factual error are also a part of that philosophical system. Either Objectivism IS the philosophy of Ayn Rand, or it isn't. You simply can't have it both ways. If Rand's errors of fact brought her to make incorrect value judgments, then those incorrect value judgments do not cease to be part of her philosophy.

Likewise, I'm unconvinced that the statement in VOS only applies to those who have stumbled into homosexuality, but who are fundamentally heterosexual. I reject that any such person exists. If you know a bit about the history of sexuality, you will recognize this as a type first "discovered" by psychoanalysis and applied to ALL gay people generally: It was argued, circa 1963, that all gay people were precisely such confused heterosexuals. It drops the historical context of the statement to argue that it now applies only to some small percentage who really are confused, while not applying to the great majority who are sure of themselves.

If I could generalize from this example, I might conjecture that Objectivism may contain additional errors of philosophy, based on additional errors of fact, where the relevant research is at present lacking to show where Rand went wrong. In one or two hundred years, we may realize that she was mistaken on a number of other issues, and this dilemma, though small at the time, could conceivably grow.

For example, when we read Aristotle today, we habitually discount all of his incorrect scientific knowledge and all of the conclusions he drew from it. These conclusions remain a part of his philosophy, like them or not. We now say that he was wrong, and find nothing problematic about doing so, even while affirming his genius elsewhere. For example, we no longer believe that women are imperfectly-formed men, and we no longer subscribe to his resultant ethical stance as regards sex differences. Generally speaking, this in no way detracts from our appreciation of, say, the Nichomachean Ethics. Why can't we treat Rand's mistakes the same way we treat Aristotle's?

I brought up the subject of homosexuality and Objectivism because I wanted to point out something in the Objectivist corpus that I thought would be agreed on as incorrect by most if not all interlocutors in the debate. I wanted to explore what I saw as a limit on the closed-system approach, even while proposing better categories of classification for post-Rand thinkers that would avoid the difficulty of open vs closed system entirely. I also must insist that I was quite ignorant of Mr. Sciabarra's work on the topic before I started this line of postings. I apologize to those who find my posts derivative, but their conclusions were arrived at independently.

I'm still content to call myself a neo-Randian, but I admit I'd start to look kind of silly if it remained an idiosyncratic usage. What would YOU call a person with the following philosophical ideas?

I agree with Rand so far as I understand her metaphysics. There is only THIS world, with no higher or lower realms of reality in any sense of the term.

I agree with Rand on epistemology and consider ITOE to be probably the best book of philosophy I've ever read.

I agree with Rand on ethics, except in the area of sexuality, where I think she made some horrendous mistakes, and in the area of moral judgment, where I apparently differ with many of her followers on the degree of forgiveness to be accorded others. I incline toward judgments of individual actions rather than judgments of an entire person, because I consider judgments of the overall character of an individual to be far more difficult than Rand would have us believe.

I agree with Rand's ideas on politics, though I sometimes disagree about political tactics and concrete applications of the philosophy in this area.

As to aesthetics, I have a number of very serious difficulties, in that my tastes have never quite aligned with what they are "supposed" to be, despite having what would seem to be generally Rand-esque ideas about many other facets of life.

If in all of these areas I were comparing myself to Plato, I'd easily be able to call myself a Platonist, or at least a neo-Platonist, based on degree of similiarity. Open-system thinkers might even call me an Objectivist.

Even so, in my own understanding, I must remain a non-Objectivist, and I can live with that. I can even live with some people calling evil, for I have studied the one true philosophy and found what I consider to be serious mistakes within it. Life goes on, but I'm curious: What would YOU call me?



Comment #85

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 13:30:02 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert Campbell quotes me thusly:

"I'll go further: I completely reject this idea that Rand, and by extension, Peikoff, were asking people to condemn Branden arbitrarily. I do not consider the testimony of Ayn Rand arbitrary, anymore than I consider the testimony of my best friend arbitrary."

He writes:

"But beyond that, she did make assertions that were arbitrary, by Leonard Peikoff's criteria, or indeed, by mine. She insisted that people condemn Nathaniel Branden for doing great wrongs, and do so without knowing what wrongs he had done."

You misunderstood my point. I'm saying that if Ayn Rand told me, "Mr. X did something awful," and provided NO futher evidence, that is NOT an aribtrary statement. Her very assertion, in this context, is evidence for that assertion.

"She actually misrepresented her reasons for expelling him from the fold, and for insisting that her loyal followers shun and ostracize him. She didn't say that she loved him, and he betrayed her, because he loved another woman and didn't want her to know that he did. Rather, she went on and on (in "To Whom It May Concern") about an alleged loss of interest in philosophy, and other supposed tokens of irrationality on his part that had nothing to do with her real complaint."

Now hold on a second. I do not think Rand had any obligation to publicize her fundamental reason for breaking with Branden - that was a private matter. So long as her derivative reasons were true, there is nothing objectionable or dishonest about limiting the information she made public. The affair and the facts surrounding it were not the public's business. The fact that one of Objectivism's public spokesmen (the second most visible one) was a grand scale liar WAS the public's business.

Moreover, I do not believe Mr. Branden's choice to deceive Rand imposed any moral obligation on her part to confess to strangers the details of her sex life.

Furthermore, as Mr. and Ms. Branden have pointed out on these very pages, it was Mr. Branden who created the Objectivism movement, and put himself at the head of it. He, in other words, was responsible for associating his name with Rand's. If it were not for his actions, in other words, Rand would have never made her break with him public, because there would not have been a public interested in Rand's relationship with Branden. Given that he was responsible for associating his name with hers, and given that his lies caused the break, by what logic must Rand have told all?

"She even made allegations of financial improprieties that turned out to be bogus."

Now this IS a relevant issue. There are questions I would like answered concerning the validity of those charges, and on what basis Rand raised them if they were not in fact true. But I don't know the answers to those questions. I don't think anyone does.

"If your best friend asked you to shun, ostracize, and condemn someone who used to be close to both of you, and later on you discovered that your friend hadn't bothered to explain to you his (or her) real reason for wanting to shun this person, wouldn't you conclude that your friend hadn't been straight with you?"

First, I do not equate *non-fundamental* reasons with *unreal* reasons. Second, I do not know WHAT Rand told her friends concerning the nature of Branden's offenses. For all I know, she told them, "I cannot tell you everything he did, as it is private." And finally, not I *wouldn't* conclude my friend wasn't be straight with me. Especially if the facts concerned his or her sex life.

"By the same token, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are experts on the facts of THEIR lives."

You're comparing apples and poisen berries. Mr. and Ms. Branden are certainly experts in their lives, but we also know that, at least in Mr. Branden's case, he is a master liar as well. The epistemic rule here is that one outright lie taints the source completely. Well, Mr. Branden certainly shot the chute on that one. As for Ms. Branden, I do not remember enough of her history to comment.

"Since Rand never publicly admitted the existence of her affair with Nathaniel Branden, in fact tried to write as though there hadn't been one--yet nowadays even Leonard Peikoff is willing to acknowledge that there was an affair--should we now maintain that nothing she said about HER life is to be trusted?"

By your standards, anytime we withhold information, we're engaged in dishonesty. That's ashame because while I do not wish to be a liar, I do not wish to confess my sexual exploits in public (although I do have thirty seconds to spare :-( ).

Seriously though, Branden lied to Rand in order to gain/keep a value. To the extent Rand lied about the affair (and I don't think there's much evidence she did, although I could be wrong about that), she did so to protect her own privacy. That is a valid distinction, for the same reason that it is not dishonest to tell a murderer your daughter is not at home when in fact she is.

Now here's the big question: why does this matter? Well, I'll tell you the basic reason I'm engaging in this debate. It highlights principles of moral judgment I find interesting. But this is quite afield from the reason I came here to begin with: to defend a single proposition, that Objectivism is a closed system. My point, in other words, is that I will not continue this debate for much longer, as it is quickly deginerating into attacks on Rand's character. Perhaps that is a debatable subject, but I'm not interested in debating it.



Comment #86

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 13:36:08 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason writes:

"As to the comments on moral judgment, I'm still thinking, and I really need more time to give a better answer. To help me out, I have a question for you. At one point you state, 'people do not always make wise decisions,' yet later you state, 'I do NOT think that we are all mixed (in our morals).'

"Do I conclude appropriately, then, that anyone who makes an unwise decision is entirely and totally unwise? Surely this is not what you meant."

No, it's not, but thank you for asking. When I said we do not always make wise decisions, I was referring primarily to errors of judgment, not moral failings. In other words, if I am running late for an appointment with Dick Cheney, and I decide to speed and end up getting a speeding ticket, my decision to speed was not a wise choice, but it wasn't necessarily immoral. Not every bad decision is an immoral decision.

And immoral decision is one made in the face of one's own definition of the good. If I preach the virtue of honesty, for example, and the virtue of integrity, and then lie to my romantic partner, that is immoral.

Does that make the issue clear?



Comment #87

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 13:56:43 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason writes:

"Don: If you admit that you do not fully understand the philosophy's method and content, then how can you evaluate it as 'true'?"

Two part answer: First, there are different layers involved. To the extent I do understand Objectivism, it is true, and therefore I must regard it as such.

But as to my intial claim that brought us to this point: I discussed this with a friend last night, and I'm convinced I was wrong. I can't defend so I won't endorse the principle that it is impossible to honestly reject it once you've understood it, for the reason that your understanding could be rationalistic. Furthermore, I retract my claim that less than twenty people understand the philosophy. What I was getting at is there are less than twenty people I would name as authorities on Objectivism, but that is different claim than the one I made.



Comment #88

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 14:00:01 mst
Name: mra

Barbara, Nathaniel, Leonard, everyone who knew Ayn Rand professionally, describes her (for better or worse) as someone who kept strong control over her philosophy.

But we are suppose to believe that she's going to let some nobody with a master's degree, not in psychology but education from a teachers school, be the authority on Objectivism with no input from her. Please!

My witness, Nathaniel Branden: (Q and A from him)

Q:What unique, significant contibution did you make to Objectivist thought?

A:"I don't feel I made any great contribution to Objectivist thought ... If I ever made any important contribution, I've forgotten it."

ARI is a foundation, that means non-profit.
How do you make money from essay contests, book grants, graduate student grants, scholarships, fellowships, etc.?



Comment #89

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 14:36:36 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

With regard to this point by "mra," quoting from a question-and-answer with Nathaniel Branden:

Q: What unique, significant contibution did you make to Objectivist thought?

A: I don't feel I made any great contribution to Objectivist thought ... If I ever made any important contribution, I've forgotten it.

The only reason Branden makes that point---and he has made it to me as well---is that he has tended to identify Rand's work with Objectivism and his work with ~his~ project, rather than with any larger school of Objectivism or "Randian" philosophy.

I have criticized Branden on that score; I think his work while with Rand is fully a part of Objectivism, as she herself believed, and I think his post-Randian work is, in its essentials, an extension of that initial work. But this all comes down to "boundary drawing": Where do we draw the boundary on what constitutes "Objectivism"?

I have written on this recently; it is part of my review of Reginald Firehammer's THE HIJACKING OF A PHILOSOPHY (which, itself, is largely a response to my homosexuality monograph). As soon as the link is
available, I will post it here. It was published in THE FREE RADICAL.

In the meanwhile, I wish to bring to your attention an absolutely superb post from Arthur Silber that deals extensively with the subject of the Rand-Branden relationship and how the break affected the Objectivist movement:

<http://coldfury.com/reason/comments.php?id=P1824_0_1_0>



Comment #90

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 19:08:22 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Chris,

Arthur is not the only one who was there. When I was a student at MIT I kept my room at my parents' apartment in Manhattan, and I came for NBI events when my schedule permitted. When Rand's statement came out, Branden's lawyer was not the only one who deciphered what was quite unambiguously said between the lines. I thought that, hey, just as I thought, Ayn Rand is not quite the prude that Branden implied in his lectures. I understood - in that "victorian" pre-70s America - that the details of Ayn Rand's sex life would be likely to distract the public from more immediately important and more fundamental aspects of her philosophy, so it was quite understandable that Rand would keep those details private, even if her less worldly admirers were, well, less than worldly in what they understood from what she had written.



Comment #91

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 19:31:34 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbara.branden.com

Don writes:

"Furthermore, as Mr. and Ms. Branden have pointed out on these very pages, it was Mr. Branden who created the Objectivism movement, and put himself at the head of it. He, in other words, was responsible for associating his name with Rand's."

Ayn Rand often stated, to NBI classes, that "Nathaniel Branden speaks for me." She said that his statements to them could be considered as her statements. Does this sound as if Nathaniel was responsiible for associating his name with Rand's?



Comment #92

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 19:50:34 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Barbara Branden writes:

"Ayn Rand often stated, to NBI classes, that 'Nathaniel Branden speaks for me.' She said that his statements to them could be considered as her statements. Does this sound as if Nathaniel was responsiible for associating his name with Rand's?"

Sure, but if my conclusion was based on a single quote, it would not be a very good conclusion, would it? I did not say Mr. Branden's association with Rand's name occured without her help or against her will. Rather, I was saying only what you yourself have said: that Mr. Branden's choice to create NBI was what led ultimately to the the association of his name with Rand's. Do you disagree?

I'm still waiting for your response to my previous post, particularly my question as to the names of individuals who have been excommunicated from the Objectivist movement for reading your book. If you do not know which post of mine I am referring to, I will be happy to re-post it.



Comment #93

Thursday, April 29, 2004 at 19:59:27 mst
Name: Brant Gaede

Ayn Rand was a great, innovative, heroic genius who gave us an inestimable benefit. She was also a human being who had faults. I'd like to live in a world where I need only focus on her positives, but her admirers who tend to cultism make that impossible. I hope all and sundry come to put themselves at the center of their lives, not anyone or anything else.

--Brant



Comment #94

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 12:42:01 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

I have a question for both those who advocate open- and closed-system definitions of Objectivism. I would like all of you to consider two hypothetical people. Both of these people declare that they agree with everything Rand wrote and also believe that they understand the entire Objectivist corups.

Person A favors censorship of the Internet. He holds that because Rand never wrote about the Internet, such a view is not inconsistent with Objectivism.

Person B opposes the war in Iraq. He holds that because Rand never wrote about the war in Iraq, it does not matter what her subsequent followers may think.

To the open-system group: Is Person A an Objectivist? If you say that he is not, how can you justify this? Does he not profess the core principles of Objectivism?

To the closed-system group: Is Person B an Objectivist? Keep in mind, Rand never did write anything about Iraq, but if one considers what she wrote about Vietnam, one might be able to make a reasonable case that Iraq is a similar situation--a war where we did not have a national self-interest sufficient to justify the action.

In my own understanding, it would seem that the closed-system approach forbids ANY thought on subsequent political developments to be termed a part of Objectivism. Favoring the war Iraq and opposing Internet censorship are not, properly speaking, Objectivist positions.

This is absurd to me, because opposing Internet censorship seems a transparently obvious application of Rand's thought on censorship in general. She never once favored any kind of censorship. Person A may say he's an Objectivist, but I would hold that he does not understand how to apply the philosophy.

The Iraq war is more complicated in my mind, because Rand did identify wars that were both just and unjust. Some may argue that Iraq is obviously the one or the other, but even if we set aside this one case and look at the bigger picture, it does not seem so clear that there is a certain Objectivist position on all future wars whatsoever.

So, what do you all think?

(Hat tip, as I do so often lately, to Arthur Silber...)



Comment #95

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 13:15:36 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra

Speaking of a tip of the hat to Arthur Silber... just a point of information: Arthur includes an update on yesterday's post, in reply to several emails he has received:

<http://coldfury.com/reason/comments.php?id=P1824_0_1_0>



Comment #96

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 13:26:58 mst
Name: mra

Nathaniel Branden:
I have NEVER studied the subject of homosexuality and have no official "position."

In Reason Magazine you had a position-against. But maybe your using official the Clinton used is.



Comment #97

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 14:20:42 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason,

Great question. Here is the answer from the closed system position.

"Person A favors censorship of the Internet. He holds that because Rand never wrote about the Internet, such a view is not inconsistent with Objectivism."

That is absurd on its face. Objectivism is defined by its principles, including the principle of individual rights. One of those rights - and Rand identified this explicitly - is the right to free speech. Censorship (properly defined), she therefore concluded, is evil. It doesn't matter what you censor, or where you censor, or why you censor - those are non-essential in this context. Person A has rejected the principle that censorship is evil, and he has therefore rejected Objectivism.

In the case of Person B, there you have a situation where Objectivists can honestly disagree. It depends on why they believe what they believe. If they say, "We shouldn't go to war with Iraq because retaliatory force is wrong," then they have rejected Objectivism.

On the other hand, if they say, "We should not have gone to war with Iraq because Iran is the real threat," or if they say, "Well, if it was war with Iraq vs. war with no one, then we should have gone to war with Iraq," or if they say, "We should not engage in any war if it involves nation building as a necessary condition," those are all conclusions reached within an Objectivist context.

Let me make this clear: Even if Ayn Rand was alive and said, "We should not go to war with Iraq," one could disagree with her and still be an Objectivist, depending on his reasons for disagreeing with her. Objectivism is not defined by concretes or applications of principles but principles.

To take the most extreme example I can think of: Objectivists are uncompromisingly for the right of a woman to have an abortion. We regard that as such an important right, that Rand said on should draw the line at voting for a political candidate if he did not uphold the right to abortion. Does that make the right to abortion part of Objectivism? I say it doesn't.

Now let's be clear on what that means. Do I believe one could be an anti-abortion Objectivist? Not as such. But for a short time, a person might be in honest error. Perhaps he has not heard the Objectivist case for abortion rights and mistakingly thinks, "All human beings have rights, and a fetus is a human being, so it must have rights." So, let's say someone says to me, "I'm against the right to abortion." My first response would not be, "You reject Objectivism!" I would have to know why he rejects abortion rights. If his reasoning didn't involve a rejection of Objectivist principles, but a mistaken view on what is a human being, then I would still call that individual an Objectivist.

However, if he persisted in his view after I explained to him that rights apply to individuals, not parts of individuals, including things inside individuals, then I would say he's not an Objectivist.

But let's say a person rejects the objectivity of values, and does so through an honest error. Even though I would still deal with him, and would not consider him at all immoral, he would NOT be an Objectivist.

Is that distinction clear?



Comment #98

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 15:47:58 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

Don,

Your distinction is clear. I agree that my hypothetical person A is absurd; I intended him to be as a way of pointing out an absurdity in the open-system definition of Objectivism.

The closed system, though, would seem to lead to other absurdities, which I had wanted to plumb with person B. I have to admit I'm surprised that you admit the possibility of fundamentally rational persons disagreeing with one another. I had thought that closed-system thinking precluded such a possibility.

Thank you for giving me a lot to think about!



Comment #99

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 16:13:05 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

"This book is filled with every lie, rumor, half truth, and ugly fantasy that could be imagined, without any references nor any shame. I would say that no one should read such a book. Why? Because there could be no cognitive value to it."

Here is a text that contains some lies and errors, and Don asserts that it has "NO cognitive value". I use "some" to mean any fraction, and not to imply that the fraction is small.

I wonder where the threshold of "no cognitive value" is. Is there a critical number of incorrect statements that render the entire text valueless? A critical fraction? And by what proximity effect do the incorrect statements invalidate the correct statements alongside which they appear?



Comment #100

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 17:10:54 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

Please ignore that note, as it was posted in the wrong location.



Comment #101

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 17:28:07 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Alligators Getting Up writes:

"I wonder where the threshold of 'no cognitive value' is. Is there a critical number of incorrect statements that render the entire text valueless? A critical fraction? And by what proximity effect do the incorrect statements invalidate the correct statements alongside which they appear?"

Great question! I'm glad you asked that.

I was speaking in a very specific context. Jeff Walker's book asserts historical facts that the reader cannot verify on his own. Walker, therefore, is asking the reader to accept him as an authority regarding the reliability of these facts. I say, an authority is invalidated COMPLETELY the moment you catch him in a single outright lie or blatant contradiction.

To make this point fully clear, let me give a few examples that might help illuminate this principle.

If I am on trial for my life, and there is one witness who says he saw me at the scene of the crime, his entire testimony would rightfully be dismissed if my lawyer could show that any part of his testimony was a lie. Since he is the only source for this fact, he must be an unimpeachible source.

But let's say after his testimony is tossed out of court because of his dishonesty, he went home and wrote a philosophical treatise on the virtue of justice. His argument there would NOT be outside the realm of cognition because it could be validated or invalidated by the reader without reference to or concern for the author's honesty. Why? Because the facts used to support his case would (presumably) be universally available and verifiable. (The question of whether one should spend one's money or time on such a book is a different question.)

Now, let's take Ms. Branden's book. There you have several issues. One, you have the possibility of bias, as she plays a role in the story. That does NOT however put her claims outside the realm of cognition - bias does not inherently taint the source, so long as the source does not attempt to hide the bias. Two, most of the facts Ms. Branden recounts are independently verifiable. Unfortunately, the source for many of those facts (Mr. Branden) that aren't independently verifiable IS completely tainted, but so long as we keep that in mind, that does not impinge on Ms. Branden's reliability. Third, no biographer can get all the facts right. The standard is dishonesty or blatant disregard for the facts. I don't see that in Ms. Branden's book, although I could be wrong. It is for those reasons, I would not say her book is outside the realm of cognition (although certain parts may be, because her SOURCE is).

Now, this is quite apart from the question of the full reliability of her account, the fairness of her interpretations and evaluations of Rand and her motives, and the propriety of her biographical selectivity. Those are different issues on which I do not have a strong opinion because my access to the facts is severely limited.

But that's neither here nor there. The point I'm trying to make is that the principle I invoked is true - one outright lie places the source of unverifiable facts outside the realm of cognition.



Comment #102

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 17:36:25 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason writes:

"I have to admit I'm surprised that you admit the possibility of fundamentally rational persons disagreeing with one another. I had thought that closed-system thinking precluded such a possibility."

Oh, not at all! Rational people can disagree on all kinds of things. That's not what we dispute. We dispute the idea that honest people can disagree about everything - that intellectual honesty can lead one to any conclusion, including radical Islamism or Nazism. It cannot. Some ideas are so removed from reality, that no honest adult could reach those conclusions.

David Kelley disagrees. In his view, philosophy is so complicated that any conceivable idea besides outright nihilism can be reached through honest error. But worse than that, he thinks philosophy is so complicated WE might be wrong about everything except that which is self-evident. His is essentially a form of skepticism, which is no surprise given his rejection of objectivity.



Comment #103

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 19:09:56 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

"Jeff Walker's book asserts historical facts that the reader cannot verify on his own. Walker, therefore, is asking the reader to accept him as an authority regarding the reliability of these facts. I say, an authority is invalidated COMPLETELY the moment you catch him in a single outright lie or blatant contradiction."

1. There are no nontrivial historical facts observed only by one person and leaving no physical evidence, therefore your first sentence is quite likely false.

2. The book's Amazon page, quoting a Liberty Feb 99 review, says "[Walker] interviewed more than two dozen participants in Rand's affairs and tracked down hundreds of written sources, many of them obscure." The texts of the interviews do NOT rely on Mr. Walker's authority, unless you are asserting that the interviews are forged or doctored.



Comment #104

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 19:59:08 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Alligators are Getting Up,

If you are defending the accuracy or fairness of Mr. Walker's book, I have nothing to say to you.



Comment #105

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 20:41:13 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

I accept your concession.



Comment #106

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 20:42:53 mst
Name: James Heaps-Nelson

I agree with Don about the Jeff Walker book. It is almost unremittingly negative with no sense of fairness or balance. It also paints Objectivists in the 60's with a broad brush as if they did not possess or exercise any independent judgment.



Comment #107

Friday, April 30, 2004 at 21:49:15 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

Don:

I'm not sure what the utility of these distinctions are. Does it matter TO ME whether someone has made an honest error or a dishonest one? I suspect that my treatment of that person would remain the same in either case; I would deal with him only insofar as he continues offering value for value. When he ceases, I will cease as well.

While I agree with you that intellectual honesty cannot reach all conclusions, and that only some are within the scope of rational disagreement, I find that it is not always so easy to determine which conclusions can and cannot be based on rationality, depending on another individual's life experiences, received data, and philosophical background.

I also cannot help but wonder: Is the difference between you and Kelley merely one of degree? As you represent it, he believes that all ideas can be reached honestly except nihilism (and, presumably, its derivatives). You believe that a larger number of ideas are inherently dishonest, yet it is not immediately apparent where the boundaries should be drawn.

I agree with Kelley that nihilism cannot be held honestly, if one considers both actions and words in determining what a person believes. But there are a large number of ideas, many of which are quite important in their influence on the world, which hold for example that A and not-A can exist at the same time. I would class Christianity in this group, for example, and I have to wonder whether you would consider all Christians inherently dishonest. What about all Reform Jews? What about all deists? All socialists? All advocates of a mixed economy? All environmentalists? All Republicans?

Perhaps there is some academic utility in making up such lists of naughty and nice, but it strikes me as mean-spirited and unlikely to win any converts--thus not in our rational self-interest.



Comment #108

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 0:13:04 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Jason writes:

"I'm not sure what the utility of these distinctions are. Does it matter TO ME whether someone has made an honest error or a dishonest one? I suspect that my treatment of that person would remain the same in either case; I would deal with him only insofar as he continues offering value for value. When he ceases, I will cease as well."

Oh, thank you for bringing this up, because that gave me problems for a while. You're right, in many ways it does not matter whether their mistake is honest or dishonest. If a man accepts destructive ideas, it's often a good idea to stay out of his way, honest or not. But that's a matter of practicality, and you can still offer such a man your moral sanction. But the point is, it's never okay to sanction the immoral qua immoral. There's actually a lot to say on this topic, but I'm running out the door, so I'll leave it at that for now.

As to our differences with Kelley being one of degree: on this topic, perhaps (although I wouldn't necessarily agree to that), but this is not the whole issue, nor even the crux of the issue.

As far as what is inherently dishonest, I would say nothing on your list qualifies.

"Perhaps there is some academic utility in making up such lists of naughty and nice, but it strikes me as mean-spirited and unlikely to win any converts--thus not in our rational self-interest."

That's a backwards way at coming at it. If it's true, how could it NOT be to your interest to identify it?

I'll try to comment more in depth later, but thank you for raising important PHILOSOPHICAL questions!



Comment #109

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 0:47:12 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

I have listened to all of Leonard Peikoff's taped lectures, and heard him speak live on numerous occasions, and I cannot recall that he ever told his listeners that they "should not" read any book. It doesn't seem to me beyond the realm of possibility that he might have done so, but I can't recall it, and I note that no one has provided any substantiation for it beyond their general sense that it's probably the kind of thing he would have said if only they had been there to listen to him.

I do, however, recall him saying (verbatim quote, I think from the Philosophy of Objectivism course, with Ayn Rand in the audience): "You should read the Bible."

And I never did! If I should ever meet him, I will take great care not to reveal this fact, lest I be excommunicated.



Comment #110

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 2:15:15 mst
Name: brantUSASF@aol.com

Leonard Peikoff made it clear soon after the 1968 Branden/Rand break he wanted nothing to do with anybody who even thought about dealing with Nathaniel Branden. That's right, "thought." I am a witness. And this was before an audience of hundreds. This from a man who didn't even know the real reason for the split for many years later. I can't respect such an attitude nor the present day rationalization he calls "Fact and Value."

My essential disagreemnet with his thesis is that he overweighs his ability to know what facts are or a fact is. I am not talking about water is wet or that kind of thing, but the kind of facts he cites to justify his controlling moralizing. That he would be the kind of person to blindly take Ayn Rand's side because of the "facts" and then try to stick it onto everyone else is only rationalization for cowardice.

--Brant



Comment #111

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 2:29:59 mst
Name: brantUSASF@aol.com

My full name is Brant Gaede. BRANT GAEDE. Thank you.



Comment #112

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 6:24:20 mst
Name: Eric Barnhill
URL: http://www.musicembodied.com

What I find most bizarre about this ongoing discussion is nothing related to Objectivism per se but more an issue of how people here relate to teachers and sources of information in general. If I were to have let my moral evaluations of my past teachers influence whether and how I studied with them, I would be in a totally different line of work. For seven years of my life I sought and studied with a handful of teachers who had ideas of genius but personalities so destructive that they wrecked everything for themselves. But I left intact, got from them what I wanted, use it all myself and hope to pass it on to others in a better way.

In that vein, all this concern over the morality of actions among movement leaders forty years ago (or twelve) is something I can't begin to fathom. As Objectivists, I would think we would have our act together, more than others, in terms of knowing what we want from our lives and planning clearly how to go about getting it. We all have our work to do, and if Barbara or Nathaniel or Chris or Leonard or David writes something that aids us in our quest for a rational joyful existence, or that helps us understand more about a philosophy that we use, isn't that 99% of what's important?

Lastly, what's the impact of this moralistic concern? The ARI crowd, including the putative "heir", has been sounding a steady revisionist drumbeat for over a generation regarding what went on in Rand's life...and yet the biography section of your local Barnes & Noble probably carries Barbara, Nathaniel and Chris, the journals and maybe the letters. This is certainly a testament to the utility of a closed system: in terms of promulgating Rand's ideas, of shaping their public perception, and passing them on to a new generation, the prize clearly goes to those who absorbed Rand's ideas into their own personality and perspective. Agree with it or not, the marketplace has spoken.



Comment #113

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 12:21:52 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

In regard to Eric Barnhill's post:

Let me be clear on my reasons for spending time determining and discussing moral judgments of Mr. Branden, et al.

First, historical figures provide us with a unique opportunity to concretize our principles concerning moral judgment, since the relevant information about them can be known to parties who do not know each other. In other words, since Eric and I do not know each other, the only way for me to concretize my views on moral judgment is to apply those principles to someone we both know of.

Furthermore, I do not deal with Branden, so I have no interest in passing judgment on him as such. But I do deal with Harry Binswanger, and to a lesser extent, Schwartz, Peikoff, etc. And I most certaintly give those men my public support. Since all of them are attacked in part because of their public stance with regards to Branden, it is relevant to me personally whether their estimate of him is rational or irrational.

None of this means the matter is important enough to spend as much time on as we have been, which is why I have withdrawn from this particular discussion.



Comment #114

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 13:02:41 mst
Name: Jason Kuznicki
URL: http://www.positiveliberty.com

Jason wrote: Perhaps there is some academic utility in making up such lists of naughty and nice, but it strikes me as mean-spirited and unlikely to win any converts--thus not in our rational self-interest.

Don replied: That's a backwards way at coming at it. If it's true, how could it NOT be to your interest to identify it?

If it is true but not useful, it is a waste of my mind to spend effort on identifying it. Suppose an individual spent all of his time spying on his neighbors and cataloguing their sexual proclivities.
Clearly, this is not in his interest, even if he is making true identifications. Yes, this is a strawman argument--but I'm still not entirely clear where to draw the line between activities like these and the process of pronouncing on the inherent irrationality of various persons.

I am also frankly surprised to find that you would not necessarily hold Christians intellectually dishonest. If I recall correctly, another closed-system Objectivist told me that they were, but this was several years ago, in my earlier studies. It would appear that there are a far wider range of possible judgments than I had imagined.

So... What about Libertarians?



Comment #115

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 17:47:18 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Adam Reed has provided some unexpected revelations--I certainly had no idea that there were such juicy bits in the Talmud. And I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Ayn Rand knew about them. However...Rand did not present herself to the public as taking the view of marriage that Adam describes. (On the contrary, I expect she would have denounced those who did advocate such a view as "hippies," at the very least.) I might add that my upbringing, before I became an atheist, was in the Congregational church, which like most Protestant denominations, recognizes just two sacraments, baptism and communion. Marriage as a sacrament is a Catholic thing.

Adam reminds me that I wasn't cut out to be a novelist:

"Your scenario in which 'the roof on that apartment building would have had to be replaced' leads me to believe that you were never in the same room as Ayn and Frank together. Fiction writers - Jonathan Kellerman for one - have been known to write about such situations with greater realism."

I have no reason to think I missed my calling when I became a psychologist:-) I purposely made no effect to write period dialogue for the principals... But on a more serious note, while I was never in the same room with Ayn Rand and Frank O'Connor together, I also rather doubt that ~Adam~ was ever in the room with them, while they were conducting a discussion with those kinds of stakes. And I stand by my judgment concerning AR's reaction, had ~her~ role in a heretofore exclusive relationship with the man she loved been threatened, and doubt cast on her attractiveness as a woman.

Adam says further, about reading "To Whom It May Concern":

"I thought that, hey... Ayn Rand is not quite the prude that Branden implied in his lectures. I understood - in that "victorian" pre-70s America - that the details of Ayn Rand's sex life would be likely to distract the public from more immediately important and more fundamental aspects of her philosophy, so it was quite understandable that Rand would keep those details private, even if her less worldly admirers were, well, less than worldly in what they understood from what she had written."

As Arthur Silber has reminded us, it wasn't just Nathaniel Branden who was busy giving that impression.

Now maybe Adam is right, and Ayn Rand treated Objectivism as a set of ideas with two levels: the exoteric message, which could be safely absorbed by the unenlightened, and the esoteric message, restricted to those few who were prepared to "receive" those teachings. But if so, this two-leveled treatment, which is characteristic of some religions, or of Scientology, runs completely counter to what Rand ~said~ Objectivism was. Besides, judging from the long-term outcome, it's not clear those even those closest to Rand were truly prepared to "receive" those particular teachings about marriage.

Robert Campbell



Comment #116

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 18:35:10 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

To pick up where I think Eric Barnhill left off...

Here is a simple question for those who insist that Objectivism is a closed system,

Does the closed system include the four words: "And I mean it"?

As I presume all parties to these debates already know, the four words come from the "About the Author" note to ~Atlas Shrugged.~

"My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consist of the sentence, '~And I mean it.~' I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books--and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters."

If Objectivism includes "And I mean it," then to be an Objectivist, you have to revere Ayn Rand as a moral paragon.

If it doesn't, you can be an Objectivist and go about your business of pursuing truth and seeking to live a fulfilled life while acknowledging that Ayn Rand exhibited some character flaws, and behaved badly at times.

Now if you think about the persons who are widely revered, in one part of the world or another, as moral paragons, they have some things in common.

First, they are seen as divine (as Christians view Jesus) or as superhuman (as many Buddhists think of the Buddha), or as divinely inspired (as Muslims view Muhammad).

Second, they lived long enough ago that their lives are poorly documented, and biography is nearly inextricable from legend. In some cases, even their actual sayings can't be known with certainty (as is the case with both Jesus and the Buddha). And the sayings attributed to them in traditional sources are often contradictory (Love your enemies, but if nobody treats you well in some town, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, and on the Day of Judgment Sodom and Gomorrah will have an easier time of it than that town), so the person who reveres the paragon can pick and choose what to emulate.

It's a pretty tough chore, convincing yourself that anyone who lived as recently as Ayn Rand, and had her life so thoroughly documented, by herself and others, was a moral paragon. We all know too much about her.

My reading of Rand's life is that after 1950, surrounded by admiring disciples, she turned into something of a ~monstre sacré~. She came to expect unswerving compliance with her dictates, treated virtually all criticism as malicious, and lashed out in ferocious moral denunciation at anyone who disappointed her. That's all too bad, and I wish she hadn't behaved in those ways, but I don't see these facts as detracting from the value of her ideas.

On the other hand, if you think that those four words are an integral part of Objectivism, you'll never get finished warding off judgments about her character flaws, for they threaten the core of your belief system. Not only will you dismiss such judgments as "vicious attacks," you may even be tempted to emulate her bad behavior: for if the moral paragon did it, and the "vicious attackers" object to it, what further proof do you need that it is good?

Robert Campbell



Comment #117

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 19:35:48 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

FYI (this is primarily for Ms. Branden) - In a 1989 (I think) lecture, "Moral Virtue," Peikoff says explicitly that one cannot say that a person should or should not read a particular book. Speaking specifically of Mr. Branden's book, Judgment Day, he says that someone unfamiliar with the issues has no reason to take his (Peikoff's) word on that matter and would not be immoral for reading Branden's account.



Comment #118

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 20:09:32 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.BarbaraBranden.com

Don wrote (9/30) about THE PASSION OF AYN RAND:

"... most of the facts Ms. Branden recounts are independently verifiable. Unfortunately, the source for many of those facts (Mr. Branden)..."

I don't know why you think that the facts in my biography of Ayn Rand -- which covers her life from birth to death -- rely to any significant extent on information from Nathaniel Branden. My main sources of information were more than 40 hours of interviews with Rand that I conducted, more than 200 interviews with people who knew Rand and her husband (or were influenced by her), four years of intense discussions with Rand about how she saw Nathaniel and the disintegration of their affair, 19 years of a close personal and professional relationship with her -- and, yes, discussions with Nathaniel Branden as his relationship with Rand fell apart, much of the content of such discussions being verified by Rand herself.



Comment #119

Saturday, May 1, 2004 at 21:14:11 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Robert,

You write of Rand that "after 1950, surrounded by admiring disciples, she turned into something of a ~monstre sacré~." Do you notice how closely synchronous this is with Rand's involvement with Branden, who was very much the model for all the other admiring disciples, all those whom Branden assembled around her? How much of Rand's neurotic behavior during the Branden period was the result, not of any philosophical error, but of trying to deal with all the anti-Objectivist contradictions in Branden's character and behavior?

We probably agree that what Branden gave Rand (access to the breadth of an American liberal education, expertise in psychology, contact with some of the best scientific intellectuals of the time) had a tremendously positive impact on her philosophical system. But are you willing to examine, with the same insight, the effect of Branden's personality on Rand's?

I think that Branden grew up assimilated to the North American bourgeois complexes - the belief, for example, that the moral man is a prig, and the sophisticated man a cheater. And he lived the tragedy of trying to be both.

If Rand really practiced the Objectivist virtue of "dreaming with open eyes", she would have identified the contradictions much sooner than she did. There was, as she ought to have realized, considerable exaggeration in her "and I mean it", at least in so far as she permitted her romantic sentiments to hide, from her mind, Branden's contradictions. But this does not create some kind of moral equivalence between Rand's errors and Branden's. At most, it demonstrates the destructiveness of the cultural contradictions the Nathaniel Branden brought into Ayn Rand's life.



Comment #120

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 1:08:07 mst
Name: Brant Gaede

Adam,
You are speculating things about Nathaniel Branden you cannot possibly know. Ayn Rand, too.

--Brant



Comment #121

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 2:15:18 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

To Adam Reed:

Your speculations about the influence of Nathaniel's personality on Ayn Rand would make a fascinating story. The only problem is that they have nothing whatever to do with the facts.



Comment #122

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 2:15:24 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

To Adam Reed:

Your speculations about the influence of Nathaniel's personality on Ayn Rand would make a fascinating story. The only problem is that they have nothing whatever to do with the facts.



Comment #123

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 3:46:27 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

To Barbara Branden:

I've read Nathaniel Branden's accounts. I've compared his descriptions of the same events between his two books, and in some cases between the books and his published (and in one case unpublished) interviews. I've compared the answers he gave to questions after his lectures with what he wrote afterwards. And I can recall being personally victimized by how he answered, in public, a question I had asked, when I expected an honest and Objectivist answer. I know from how he treated me that evening, that he was corrupt in exactly the way I describe. The effect of his corrupt personality on Ayn Rand is speculation on my part, but given what I observed in person - and the fact that my subsequent education includes a PhD in psychology, with all the required survey courses in specialties other than my own, including clinical, so that my interpretation of NB's observed behavior is not exactly uninformed - I am quite confident that my speculations are likely to be correct.



Comment #124

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 4:21:11 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

Dr. Reed, buried in your summary is the observation of the nearly infinite human capacity to rationalize lies and contradictions to themselves. It is most strikingly observed in the seamless rationalizations uttered by those who are under the influence of post-hypnotic suggestions, of which you are quite possibly familiar professionally.

It is permitted because English is not a formal system. I wonder if such hypnotic rationalizations would be observed if the subject was working in a formal system.



Comment #125

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 5:02:38 mst
Name: Brant Gaede

Adam,

You have only provided us with an argument from authority, an ex post facto argument to boot. I am sorry Nathaniel Branden once hurt your feelings because of the way he answered your question; I understand you aren't the only one. I remember how my brother hurt my feelings numerous times when I was a kid. It didn't stop me from getting a life of my own or cause me to speculate on how he damaged my other siblings and Mother because of his this or that personality.

--Brant



Comment #126

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 5:02:56 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Barbara Branden writes:

"I don't know why you think that the facts in my biography of Ayn Rand -- which covers her life from birth to death -- rely to any significant extent on information from Nathaniel Branden."

You're right, I didn't mean to imply that. In fact, I explicitly said otherwise in a paragraph that I ended up deleting in haste and thus missed the implication. Certainly, most of your book was not based on Mr. Branden's testimony. My point was that those that were, cannot be trusted, but that that does not necessarily reflect on your believability.

Nevertheless, I will retract my claim without reservation so long as you retract your claims about Peikoff saying that Objectivists should not read your book, based on the evidence I offered this morning.



Comment #127

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 5:07:59 mst
Name: Brant Gaede

Alligators:

Thanks for the psychologizing, but no thanks.

--Brant



Comment #128

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 6:41:42 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

To Adam Reed,

You wrote:

"And I can recall being personally victimized by how he [Nathaniel] answered, in public, a question I had asked, when I expected an honest and Objectivist answer."

I hope you will believe that I enormously regret -- I cringe at the memory -- that such things happened to students at NBI. But it was not only Nathaniel, it was Ayn Rsnd as well, who attacked students personally if they believed there was something "wrong" with a question. Without question, it was totally unfair for them to do so. (I remember that it was Rand who told me, long before there was an NBI, that: "There are no stupid questions; there are only stupid answers.

But surely, as a psychologist, you know that because a person behaves badly -- even disgracefully -- in one respect, does not mean that he or she is without value as a person. Surely you know that one can make dreadful mistakes,but that those mistakes are not necessarily the last word on a person. You wrote:

"I know from how he treated me that evening, that he was corrupt in exactly the way I describe."

I think it is impossible to know this. Surely, as a psychologist, you do not judge a person on the basis of a single event, without knowing the context of the person's behavior,the reasons for the behavior, and so forth. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that people are very complex indeed, and the rush to judgment is both too easy and too fraught with error.




Comment #129

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 7:06:30 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Don, you asked me to retract my claim that Peikoff said no Objectivist should read THE PASSION OF AYN RAND, You wrote:

"In a 1989 (I think) lecture, "Moral Virtue," Peikoff says explicitly that one cannot say that a person should or should not read a particular book. Speaking specifically of Mr. Branden's book, Judgment Day, he says that someone unfamiliar with the issues has no reason to take his (Peikoff's) word on that matter and would not be immoral for reading Branden's account."

I believe, by the way, that he was speaking at Ford Hall Forum when he talked on "Moral Virtue," and not to his own students at ARI. In any event, I cannot retract
my claim. His assertion that it was immoral for Objectivists to read my book was reported by too many people who heard him say so at ARI lectures, in question periods, and in personaL, rather hysterical, conversations.

Further, although I cannot locate it right now, I am almost certain that he said as much in his so-called "review" of my book -- in which he denounced it as immoral, said it was full of lies, and added that he had not read it and would not. (I must tell you that when I read this statement, I said to a friend, "By saying that no Objectivist should read it, he's selling
a lot of books for me." And he did. Few Objectivists were as subject to authority as he expected.)

You said something that rather puzzled me.I want to explain why I'm puzzled. I had written to you:

"I don't know why you think that the facts in my biography of Ayn Rand -- which covers her life from birth to death -- rely to any significant extent on information from Nathaniel Branden."

You replied:

"You're right, I didn't mean to imply that. In fact, I explicitly said otherwise in a paragraph that I ended up deleting in haste and thus missed the implication. Certainly, most of your book was not based on Mr. Branden's testimony."

But you end by saying:

" I will retract my claim without reservation so long as you retract your claims about Peikoff."

Either you meant that your claim was mistaken, or you didn't. Why should it depend on what I do or do not say about Peikoff?
,



Comment #130

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 12:57:30 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Barbara Branden writes:

"I believe, by the way, that he was speaking at Ford Hall Forum when he talked on "Moral Virtue," and not to his own students at ARI."

That is not the case. It was a lecture series for Objectivists.

"In any event, I cannot retract my claim. His assertion that it was immoral for Objectivists to read my book was reported by too many people who heard him say so at ARI lectures, in question periods, and in personaL, rather hysterical, conversations."

Considering that I've offered irrefutable evidence of his actual position, I think this speaks for itself.

"Further, although I cannot locate it right now, I am almost certain that he said as much in his so-called 'review' of my book -- in which he denounced it as immoral, said it was full of lies, and added that he had not read it and would not."

Oh, well that's a different issue. He said as much in "Moral Virtue," but he said that is true for HIM given his knowledge. But he was explicit on the point that he did not expect others to take him on faith, and that therefore there was nothing wrong with THEM reading books such as Mr. Branden's and yours. This EXPLICITLY disproves your claims.

If you wish to continue to make them, that's your right, but at least tell people you don't have independently verifiable evidence for it, and that Peikoff is on record taking the opposite position.

"Either you meant that your claim was mistaken, or you didn't. Why should it depend on what I do or do not say about Peikoff?"

It shouldn't. You're right.



Comment #131

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 15:47:45 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

Don wrote "In a 1989 (I think) lecture, "Moral Virtue," Peikoff says explicitly that one cannot say that a person should or should not read a particular book. Speaking specifically of Mr. Branden's book, Judgment Day, he says that someone unfamiliar with the issues has no reason to take his (Peikoff's) word on that matter and would not be immoral for reading Branden's account."

But he also recently scoffed "Sure, but if my conclusion was based on a single quote, it would not be a very good conclusion, would it?"

Meanwhile, Barbara writes "His assertion that it was immoral for Objectivists to read my book was reported by too many people who heard him say so at ARI lectures, in question periods, and in personal, rather hysterical, conversations."

How many choices now remain?

1. Barbara is a flagrant liar.

2. Barbara did hear the reports, but the reporters were a bunch of flagrant liars.

3. Peikoff changed his mind.

4. Peikoff holds both views. It is moral for someone completely unfamiliar with the facts to read the book, but the Objectivists whom Peikoff was presumably addressing in Barbara's reports were assumed to be familiar with the facts, and therefore it would be immoral for them to read the book.



Comment #132

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 16:03:27 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

To Barbara Branden:

Of course I do not judge a person on the basis of a single event. The function of such an event is to trigger the integration, of a plethora of already observed evidence, into a judgement that explains prior evidence and predicts more. And when the predictions are confirmed by additional evidence, one is justified in a measure of confidence in the correctness of the judgement.

As for the claim that "it was Ayn Rand as well, who attacked students personally," I never observed such a thing, and I had had ample opportunity. Rand would often point out contradictions implicit in a question, but never in a manner designed to inflict public humiliation on a questionner. And, as long as he was in the presence of Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden didn't either, at any event at which I was present.

In 1966, I had a summer job in Palo Alto, and drove into San Francisco for Nathaniel Branden's appearence. The lecture was one that I had already heard from a recording in Boston, so the Q&A was my main reason for going. And at the Q&A, Nathaniel Branden displayed a nasty personality unlike anything that I had ever seen in New York. It was as though the man had a whole other life that he kept completely concealed from Ayn Rand.

Now at that time I had absolutely no idea that there was also a sexual aspect to this concealment. But Nathaniel Branden's behavior fit in exactly with the assumptions of American bourgeois culture. In the presence of his social superiors and equals, he maintained a very strictly controlled image - the moral man as a prig. He behaved himself in the presence of Ayn Rand the way a bourgeois American would behave himself in church. When in front of an audience of presumed inferiors, he had a whole different personality, much like a bourgeois American away from church and home, in a bar or a brothel.

And the predictions from that realization were eventually confirmed with more evidence over the years. My speculation, about the effects of Nathaniel Branden's contradictions on Ayn Rand is, I think, very well grounded.



Comment #133

Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 18:29:13 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Alligators Getting Up:

I'm not sure your list is exhaustive (it is possible the people misunderstood Peikoff and/or Ms. Branden misunderstood them). Nevertheless, no matter which is correct, intellectual honesty would demand that Ms. Branden at least qualify her claims about Peikoff's position, and quit with the absurd accusation that Peikoff said Objectivists such as myself are forbidden to read her book. She indicated in her last response to me that should would not do so. I will allow readers to draw their own conclusion as to what that means.



Comment #134

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 4:15:52 mst
Name: Kate Herrick

"[I]ntellectual honesty would demand that Ms. Branden at least qualify her claims about Peikoff's position, and quit with the absurd accusation that Peikoff said Objectivists such as myself are forbidden to read her book. She indicated in her last response to me that should would not do so. I will allow readers to draw their own conclusion as to what that means."

Ms. Branden's allegation was that Peikoff has been saying that nobody should read her book. On hearing evidence that Peikoff no longer sends this message, she said that "[i]f Peikoff has decided that Objectivists may read my book and Nathaniel Branden's work, that is a decision of recent vintage."

I don't understand what else Mr. Watkins wants her to admit. If Mr. Watkins flatly denies that Peikoff ever said something like that to Objectivists, then he should say so. The proper epistemological course for someone interested in clearing Peikoff of having said this is not to morally strong-arm the messenger, but to look to see if anyone else heard him make this pronouncement between the book's publication and 1989. Why not ask Leonard Peikoff directly?



Comment #135

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 4:17:36 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

I wanted to second an aspect of Adam Reed's comments here--about Nathaniel Branden's way of handling questions from people he regards as his intellectual subordinates. As it happens, my little anecdote, eerily similar to Reed's, does not come from the NBI days. It comes from 1997.

In the summer of 1997, directly after the IOS Summer Seminar in Charlottesville, a bunch of us were having an email discussion about various philosophical issues, re-hashing some of what had gone on at the conference. Somehow, Nathaniel Branden got onto the recipient line of this discussion, and the topic moved (at his intiative) to the question of "anomalous perception," i.e., perception of persons and events via non-sensory modalities (or perhaps I should call it "quasi perception of persons and events via quasi-sensory modalities": the concept was never defined).

Some of us--including yours truly--were pretty skeptical of the idea of "anomalous perception," and came up with some criticisms likening it to ESP. In particular, my criticism was that even if there were such a thing as "anomalous perception," it wouldn't be a species of *perception* in the sense defined by David Kelley in "The Evidence of the Senses." It would have to be treated as some totally distinct phenomenon.

This criticism--a not particularly wild criticism, I'd say--brought down a torrent of ad hominem abuse on me from Branden, some of it directed not to the general list but to my personal email. Meanwhile, on the general list, Branden began to backpedal his assertions, so that the earlier defense of "anomalous perception" became a kinda defense of anomalous perception which then became a defense of perception that was kinda anomalous, and then not really a DEFENSE of it but a description, and so on and so on, until the original defense of anomalous perception evaporated away like breath off a blade, and Branden was safely off the hook.

In 16 years of working in universities and engaging in philosophical discussions--as an undergraduate, as a grad student, as faculty--I've never seen a larger discrepancy between claims, evidence, and posturing. HUGE claims--NO evidence--incredible authoritarian posturing. I haven't forgotten it.

I don't remember exactly who else was on that list, with one exception--David Potts, if any of you happen to know him. I don't know if he shares my appraisal of what happened, but he was there. I also forwarded a good deal of the exchange to my friend Jim Lennox. So he's a witness to it too. (At a certain point, Lennox told me to stop flooding his inbox with what I was sending him because he'd "had enough.")

Nor is this particular experience of mine anomalous, so to speak. My friend William Dale, now at Pitt Medical School, then at U Chicago, reported a similar encounter with Branden in a face to face meeting in Chicago. So Adam Reed's report very much coheres with my experiences with Nathaniel Branden as late as 1997--and with my friends' experiences in the 1990s as well. It is not something that can easily be waved away--as I gather that some people on this thread would like to do.




Comment #136

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 5:41:16 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Adam Reed wrote:

"As for the claim that "it was Ayn Rand as well, who attacked students personally," I never observed such a thing, and I had had ample opportunity. Rand would often point out contradictions implicit in a question, but never in a manner designed to inflict public humiliation on a questionner."

You're a lucky man if you never observed Ayn Rand attacking students personally and were not yourself attacked. You need only ask people who attended NBI courses for any length of time-- or even attended some of her university lectures -- to know the extent of the humiliation she visited upon hapless questioners. After such events, when Nathaniel and I would discuss her manner of answering questions she didn't like, we often would convince her that it was a mistake, and she would agree not to do it again. (This is not to deny that Nathaniel was guilty of the same kind of attacks; perhaps he saw the error more clearly when it was someone else who was doing so.) But always, after a few minutes, she would return to the subject angrily and say: "I will not change. Don't you know that I am first and foremost a moralist!"

It was hopeless to argue further.



Comment #137

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 12:43:28 mst
Name: Per

Diana wrote in August 2003: "I should at least mention that the comparison of the TOC and ARI conferences was very revealing -- and in unexpected ways. I have my comments on the two conferences almost finished... I'll be posting them later this week."

Are her comments still available, and if so, where can one find them?



Comment #138

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 12:43:35 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Kate Herrick writes:

"I don't understand what else Mr. Watkins wants her to admit. If Mr. Watkins flatly denies that Peikoff ever said something like that to Objectivists, then he should say so."

I want her to do exactly what I said I want her to do: to qualify her claims in accordance with the evidence I've provided. You seem to think, "People told me Peikoff said X," is as epistemologically valid as verifiable evidence Peikoff said Y. It is not.

Furthermore, the evidence I offered is not "of recent vintage." It was recorded around 1989, within three or four years of the publication of Ms. Braden's book, and almost fifteen years ago. If Peikoff's views changed, they changed pretty darn quickly.

All I expect from people is intellectual honesty. For years, Ms. Branden has made this claim about Peikoff - that he said Objectivists shouldn't read certain books, hers in particular - as well as many other claims intended to belittle and attack him. In all that time, she has provided NO evidence to support her accusations.

What does she offer in place of the independently verifiable evidence I have offered? Only her say so. It is she who is asking us to take her on faith. Faith that she really did hear from people who really did hear Peikoff say things that contradict Peikoff's public claims. What would be more irrational than listening to that and saying, "Okay! Sounds good! Down with Peikoff the Terrible!"?

You say, "Why not ask Leonard Peikoff directly?" Because I consider it IMMORAL to ask someone if arbitrary accusations made against them are true, especially when the source has an agenda, as she does in this case (that's not to say having an agenda is inherently wrong). If someone for whom I have no respect says to me, "Your mother is a whore," it would be a moral corruption from me to call my mother up and ask her if that's true. The same is true in this case.

Finally, you say, "The proper epistemological course for someone interested in clearing Peikoff of having said this is not to morally strong-arm the messenger, but to look to see if anyone else heard him make this pronouncement between the book's publication and 1989."

This is a complete epistemological inversion. If someone goes around making aribtrary claims about people I respect and value, especially when these claims conflict with what I know of that person, it is up to the accuser to provide evidence. I need not and should not go on a crusade to verify or unverify such claims. And I sure as hell will not.



Comment #139

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 13:46:35 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Don wrote:

"I want her to do exactly what I said I want her to do: to qualify her claims in accordance with the evidence I've provided."

I'm happy to do so -- and I'm glad that Peikoff, as early as 1989, stopped telling Ojectivists that they should not read my book or anything of Nathaniel Branden's. I have no desire whatever to be right in thinking he continued to do so, and I'm happy to be corrected.



Comment #140

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 18:40:35 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

Though I don't have a dog in this fight (and I'm glad I don't), I wonder if I might intrude on the three-way discussion between Don, Kate Herrick and Barbara Branden. It started with this assertion of Branden's:

"Further, although I cannot locate it right now, I am almost certain that he said as much in his so-called "review" of my book -- in which he denounced it as immoral, said it was full of lies, and added that he had not read it and would not. (I must tell you that when I read this statement, I said to a friend, "By saying that no Objectivist should read it, he's selling a lot of books for me." And he did. Few Objectivists were as subject to authority as he expected.)"

I wasn't aware that Leonard Peikoff had written a review of The Passion of Ayn Rand. What I remember is that a quasi-review of it was written by Peter Schwartz. Schwartz had in fact read the book, but had told readers that it was not worth reading, and not worth reviewing; additionally, he added, its factual claims were not worth refuting. These claims bear a resemblance to the ones that Ms. Branden ascribes to Peikoff.

I don't know for sure whether Peikoff wrote a review of the book, but it would be rather odd by his own standards if he did. Why write a review if your trusted subordinate has just said that the book wasn't worth reviewing?

In any case, the matter can't be judged until someone actually cites the Peikoff review and offers a direct quotation from it (or some other direct quotation from him). It's possible that the whole discussion is proceeding from a mistaken factual premise.




Comment #141

Monday, May 3, 2004 at 20:07:20 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Mysterious Stranger,

In your comment of April 28th, you assert that everything that Nathaniel Branden has done since 1968 is a repudiation of essential tenets of Objectivism, a "vicious, and shockingly irrational, attack on the person of Ayn Rand," and proof that he is evil.

I'm not going to try to refute this stuff point by point. I doubt that the sorest of former members of TOC, annoyed with Kelley's management decisions or disillusioned with his lack of a worked-out program to help Objectivist scholars get into academia, ~really~ thinks that David Kelley has chucked out objectivity. Or that Nathaniel Branden got his invitations to speak at TOC events because Kelley recognized him as a fellow chucker-out of objectivity.

I also draw your attention to the question I asked the other day: Are the four words "And I mean it" part of Objectivism or not? If they are, any information to the effect that Ayn Rand was not a moral paragon must be fought off as "vicious attacks."

But there are a couple of issues of detail that I think deserve closer attention.

You said:

"As with _Judgment Day_, the premises of the essay [on Benefits and Hazards] undercut the basis of morality and moral judgment as such. Contra Branden, we are not "all of us organisms trying to survive" -- how would this apply to the issue of focus and evasion? Is evasion simply a "misguided" way of trying to survive? If so, then it's an error of knowledge and there is no such thing as evil, or good.... Or rather is evasion the rejection of existence as such, the sacrificing reality and survival to a whim? A key theme of Galt's Speech is that is that we don't *all* want to live. And we certainly don't all want it *consistently*. In fact isn't this just the point that Dagny needs to learn before she can go on strike? So in this position we have the rejection of a real essential of Objectivism, a denial of volition and particularly of the fact that valuing one's life is not automatic."

First:

Is all this wanting to live (or not wanting to) conscious? According to an interpretation that has a lot of support from Rand's text, it is. But defenders of this point of view run into trouble because when people make irrational decisions, they rarely do so while conscious of not wanting to live. (Nor, when making rational decisions, are they conscious of wanting to live.) In the justification of the Objectivist ethics, there is a cognate problem posed by the "premoral choice to live." Again, proponents of the premoral choice to live, like Leonard Peikoff, often write as though such a choice must be made consciously.

I'll go farther: I don't think ~any~ psychologist who has thought much about the issue (Nathaniel Branden included) is going to find the doctrine of a conscious premoral choice to live psychologically plausible.

For more about the problems posed by a premoral choice to live, see

Rasmussen, D. B. 2002. Rand on obligation and value. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, 4(1), 69-86.

and

Campbell, R. L. 2002. Goals, values, and the implicit: Explorations in psychological ontology. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, 3(2), 289-327.

In the latter article, I propose an alternative in which the choice to live (or not) is normally implied by other choices, and is usually a long way from being conscious.

If my alternative isn't satisfactory, you are welcome to submit an article critiquing it to ~JARS~.

Second:

I don't find the "organisms trying to survive" account entirely satisfactory, because, as you noted, such a theory of human motivation is a form of psychological egoism. But I don't read ~Judgment Day~ as a theoretical treatise.

I think ~Judgment Day~ is better read as the kind of story people tell when they are trying to explain how they got into an abusive relationship--and why they stayed in it as long as they did.

Robert Campbell



Comment #142

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 3:09:17 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Irfan Khawaja wrote:

"I wasn't aware that Leonard Peikoff had written a review of The Passion of Ayn Rand. What I remember is that a quasi-review of it was written by Peter Schwartz. Schwartz had in fact read the book, but had told readers that it was not worth reading, and not worth reviewing; additionally, he added, its factual claims were not worth refuting. These claims bear a resemblance to the ones that Ms. Branden ascribes to Peikoff.

"I don't know for sure whether Peikoff wrote a review of the book, but it would be rather odd by his own standards if he did. Why write a review if your trusted subordinate has just said that the book wasn't worth reviewing?"

What Peikoff wrote was not a full review; it was only a couple of paragraphs, in a black border, as I remember. It did not say what was in PASSION, only that I was immoral, that my book was full of lies, that he had not read it and would not, but that he had been told about it by people he trusted (who had read the uncorrected galleys).

Schwartz' spitoon of venom appeared somewhat later. It was not part of the magazine, but a separate insert. I assume he did not want the magazine sullied by making the review an integral part of it. What would posterity think!



Comment #143

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 9:16:59 mst
Name: Chris Matthew Sciabarra
URL: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/notablog.htm

For the record: At the very end of the June 26, 1986 issue of THE INTELLECTUAL ACTIVIST (Vol. IV, No. 7, page 5), Leonard Peikoff was quoted within the usual black border of the periodical:

===
In Response to Inquiries . . .
Editoral board member Leonard Peikoff has asked us to publish the following statement, which he issued on May 26: "The forthcoming biography of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden was undertaken against Miss Rand's wishes. Miss Rand severed relations with Mrs. Branden in 1968, regarding her as immoral and as an enemy of Objectivism. Being aware of Mrs. Branden's longtime hostility to Ayn Rand, including her public attacks on Miss Rand after her death--attacks interlarded with protestations of adulation--I have refused for years to meet with Mrs. Branden or to cooperate on this project. I had no reason to believe that the book would be either a faithful presentation of Ayn Rand's life or an accurate statement of her ideas. Advance reports from several readers of the book in galley form have confirmed my expectations. Therefore, I certainly do not recommend this book. As for myself, I have not read it and do not intend to do so."
===

Thereafter, as a separate insert for (or supplement to) THE INTELLECTUAL ACTIVIST August 20, 1986 issue, Peter Schwartz wrote a two-page letter "with reluctance, in response to the letters asking about Barbara Branden's book, THE PASSION OF AYN RAND."



Comment #144

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 16:58:30 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

Thanks, Chris--you are a bibliographical machine. (In the New Jersey dialect I speak, that is a compliment.)

But doesn't that quote from Peikoff settle the whole Watkins-Herrick-Branden debate? Peikoff didn't forbid anyone from reading PASSION; he "recommended" that they not do so. His claims are unjustified (you can't judge the contents of a book by the sort of evidence he cites), but they don't amount to a proscription. Combined with Don Watkins' claim about Peikoff's "Moral Virtue" lecture, I don't see any evidence that P. prohibited anyone from reading the book. So case closed on that issue. Indeed, I think it would be worth acknowledging that there was no "case" to open in the first place.

On a separate subject, in reading some back comments on this thread, I noticed a question that has so far gone unanswered but that really deserves an answer.

A few people asked: if David Kelley was to be excommunicated for speaking to the Laissez Faire Supper Club on grounds that his doing so violated the principle of sanction, what about Robert Mayhew's presence in a Catholic University? Catholic Universities have a specifically Catholic mission; it is a condition of employment that one will not violate it. The condition is very broadly interpreted and not always enforced, but it is there.

If speaking before the LF Supper Club is ipso facto sanction of its mission, then signing an employment contract with a Catholic University ought to be ipso facto sanction of its mission. And if it's not sanction in the Catholic U case, then it's not in the LF Supper Club case. If there is some principled distinction between LF Supper Club and Seton Hall University, what is it? More generally: how does the principle of sanction apply to such cases?

This question (these questions) can't so cavalierly be dismissed. After all, those of you (e.g. Mr Watkins) who have so energetically defended Peikoff's "Fact and Value" ought to remember that according to its conception of moral judgment, ALL facts bear on life, and EVERY fact within one's "sphere of action" is of necessity an object of moral judgment. When a person asks questions like the preceding one in the context of a discussion about moral judgment, a judgement-worthy fact (and aren't they all?) has now landed within your "sphere of action," and you are OBLIGED to judge it on pain of violating Peikoff's principle.

So what, then, is the answer?



Comment #145

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 17:32:53 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Irfan Khawaja writes:

"A few people asked: if David Kelley was to be excommunicated for speaking to the Laissez Faire Supper Club on grounds that his doing so violated the principle of sanction, what about Robert Mayhew's presence in a Catholic University? Catholic Universities have a specifically Catholic mission; it is a condition of employment that one will not violate it. The condition is very broadly interpreted and not always enforced, but it is there."

I asked Dr. Mayhew just this question, and although I'm not at liberty to discuss his answer, I will say that you do not correctly state the facts of the case. I know that's not very helpful to you, but it's the best I can do.



Comment #146

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 18:13:29 mst
Name: Alligators Getting Up

With that evasion, Don, compounded by your refusal to point out which facts Irfan has in error, you've placed yourself far beyond the dignity of good-faith attempts at rational discourse. And that's without recognition of all the embarrassing un-noticed and un-corrected logical mistakes you've made so far in this very thread!



Comment #147

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 18:24:19 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Alligators Getting Up writes:

"With that evasion, Don, compounded by your refusal to point out which facts Irfan has in error, you've placed yourself far beyond the dignity of good-faith attempts at rational discourse. And that's without recognition of all the embarrassing un-noticed and un-corrected logical mistakes you've made so far in this very thread!"

Wait a minute! I thought I was supposed to be the one rushing to moral judgment without sufficient evidence? I thought I was supposed to be the one who morally condemned people for honest disagreements? You're stealing my thunder, good sir!

Seriously, though, stop with the nonsense. I did not evade the question. I answered as best I could without breaking my promise to keep my conversation with Robert Mayhew private. I did NOT say that Irfan should take me on faith either. I simply told him he lacked the necessary information to reach a judgment. He is free to contact Mayhew on his own, and he is free to draw conclusions based on the evidence available to him. I, too, may draw conclusions based on the (greater amount of) evidence available to me. I do not equate being able to prove *to others* the truth of one's judgments with being able to prove the truth of one's judgments.

That aside, your undefended assertions about my logical mistakes and lack of good faith fly in the face of the evidence available to anyone who has followed this thread. I will not dignify those charges, nor any other charge you wish to make, with further responses. You, sir, should grow up.



Comment #148

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 18:40:23 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

When was David Kelley excommunicated for speaking to the Laissez Faire Supper Club?



Comment #149

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 19:46:25 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

To Don Watkins: Your answer is not the best you "can" do; it's the best you're *willing* to do. Let's not confuse the metaphysical with the man-made.

The question I've asked does not turn on what Mayhew says or doesn't say; asking him is not relevant to the essential issue. (Digression: How many ARI Objectivists ever asked David Kelley for *his* side of the story? How many abused him in public in lieu of doing so? How many STILL do?)

The question is one of consistency: what is the difference between the Kelley case and the Mayhew case? Seton Hall University is a Catholic University. Its mission is Catholic. Like all Catholic Universities, it is governed by the terms of the papal encyclical Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which sets the terms of academic life at Catholic universities. Different universities interpret its dictates differently, but this is how SHU interprets it: "Since this University is free and autonomous, it chooses to commit itself to a ground of values, that is the enabling vision of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Teacher." Hence freedom and autonomy come from non-rational obedience to God. Not exactly what I would describe as a "vision" sanctioned by Objectivism.

Interested parties should read the university's description of its "fundamental identity and purpose":

<http://president.shu.edu/shucatholic.html>

I grew up in West Orange NJ, five miles from Seton Hall (which is in South Orange), and I knew any number of people who went there. No one could mistake the Catholic character of the institution. There was nothing esoteric, hidden, or muted about it. Nor is there.

You can split unseen hairs about unspecified facts to your hearts' content, but there is no gainsaying the facts I've identified, and they are sufficient to complete the analogy I've made. The point is that Seton Hall is as Catholic as LF is libertarian. If a speech critical of libertarianism is "sanctioning libertarianism," why isn't an employment contract at Seton Hall "sanctioning Catholicism"? Why is such a contract not an endorsement of Jesus Christ as Lord and Teacher, and "ground" of moral values?

To be clear: I am not saying that Mayhew is violating the principle of sanction by teaching at Seton Hall. The question I am asking is just the reverse: assume that Mayhew is NOT violating the principle, by what inference do you then say that Kelley WAS? What is the principle that differentiates the two cases?

If you now claim not to be at liberty to discuss this matter in public, I must ask: in what sense, then, are you qualified for public discussion of this subject at all? Having made such a big deal of "moral judgment" all along, it is strange to find that when you are called upon to produce one, you adduce the excuse of not being "at liberty" to do so. THIS is moral judgment? You confront a fact demanding judgment--and then make a promise to a third-party that binds you not to reveal it?

You can't have it both ways. If you want to discuss moral judgment, then DISCUSS it. If you want to keep your judgments to yourself, then you CAN'T discuss it. But there is no permissible middle ground in which you make the moral judgments it's ideologically convenient for you to make, but then clam up when it would be inconvenient to do so. This last is not an indulgence you have permitted anyone on this list. Nor is it an indulgence anyone should tolerate in you.



Comment #150

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 20:21:47 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

I'm running out the door so I don't have time to address Irfan's fundamental question: "The question I am asking is just the reverse: assume that Mayhew is NOT violating the principle, by what inference do you then say that Kelley WAS? What is the principle that differentiates the two cases?" But I do want to make a few side observations in the meantime.

Irfan writes:

"To Don Watkins: Your answer is not the best you 'can' do; it's the best you're *willing* to do. Let's not confuse the metaphysical with the man-made."

Fair enough, although the reason it's the best I was willing to do was because I keep my promises.

"The question I've asked does not turn on what Mayhew says or doesn't say; asking him is not relevant to the essential issue."

On the contrary, grasping his intentions and his understanding of the nature of his own actions are most certainly relevant in evaluating his actions morally. Objectivism does not endorse intrinsicism. I mean, are you really slighting me for refusing to form moral judgments on the basis of insufficient evidence?

"(Digression: How many ARI Objectivists ever asked David Kelley for *his* side of the story? How many abused him in public in lieu of doing so? How many STILL do?)"

Perhaps you are not aware, but David Kelley published an essay explaining his reasons and repudiating fundamental Objectivist principles.

"The question is one of consistency: what is the difference between the Kelley case and the Mayhew case? Seton Hall University is a Catholic University. Its mission is Catholic. Like all Catholic Universities, it is governed by the terms of the papal encyclical Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which sets the terms of academic life at Catholic universities. Different universities interpret its dictates differently, but this is how SHU interprets it: 'Since this University is free and autonomous, it chooses to commit itself to a ground of values, that is the enabling vision of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Teacher.' Hence freedom and autonomy come from non-rational obedience to God. Not exactly what I would describe as a 'vision' sanctioned by Objectivism."

No. In fact, the issue is so clear cut that no one would mistake Catholicism for Objectivism, would they? People don't go around describing the Objectivist metaphysics as "mystical", or its ethics as "altruistic". But they DO describe the Objectivist politics as libertarian, which is most certainly is not. This, by the way, is not the central argument for why Mayhew is not guilty of Kelley's error, it is merely a side observation.

"If you now claim not to be at liberty to discuss this matter in public, I must ask: in what sense, then, are you qualified for public discussion of this subject at all? Having made such a big deal of 'moral judgment' all along, it is strange to find that when you are called upon to produce one, you adduce the excuse of not being 'at liberty' to do so. THIS is moral judgment? You confront a fact demanding judgment--and then make a promise to a third-party that binds you not to reveal it?

"You can't have it both ways. If you want to discuss moral judgment, then DISCUSS it. If you want to keep your judgments to yourself, then you CAN'T discuss it. But there is no permissible middle ground in which you make the moral judgments it's ideologically convenient for you to make, but then clam up when it would be inconvenient to do so. This last is not an indulgence you have permitted anyone on this list. Nor is it an indulgence anyone should tolerate in you."

I must admit, I'm baffled by your logic. I don't see how my choice not to discuss one application of a principle forbids me from discussing the principle, for the same reason that my refusal to discuss my sex life forbids me from discussing sex. Nor have I held anyone to a higher standard than I myself have lived up to. As I explained to Barbara Branden, she is free to hold whatever views on Peikoff she wishes, but she is not (morally) free to make her views public without regard to conflicting evidence (and I thank her for her abiding by the evidence per her last response to me).

I have held myself to that same standard, which is why I made it clear that I do not expect anyone to draw the same conclusions in the Mayhew case that I have drawn, given the evidence at their disposal. I have not made any public statements condemning or praising Mayhew. I have chosen to remain more or less silent on the issue.

See, the thing is, I don't give a damn about anything except the facts. Whether or not I can publicize those facts DOES NOT MATTER to me. My judgment is objective and that is ALL I care about.

But I do wish to discuss the philosophic issue here raised, but if you're going to say I'm not allowed to discuss the principle unless I discuss this particular application of it, then we can end this discussion right now. If, on the other hand, you wish to continue it, then I *will* discuss the moral difference between Kelley's actions and teaching at a Catholic University, so as to further clarify the Objectivist position on moral sanction.

It's up to you.



Comment #151

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 20:22:25 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

I wrote that "Rand would often point out contradictions implicit in a question, but never in a manner designed to inflict public humiliation on a questionner." Barbara Branden responded that "You need only ask people who attended NBI courses for any length of time-- or even attended some of her university lectures -- to know the extent of the humiliation she visited upon hapless questioners."

My problem is that I know many such people, and I've never heard, from any of them, of anything comparable to Nathaniel Branden's "dark side moments." Whenever I mention the latter, I hear additional reports of them. Irfan Khawaja's is from 1997, twenty-nine years after Nathaniel Branden's separation from Ayn Rand. If this were something Nathaniel Branden learnt from Ayn Rand, he would have unlearnt it over the course of three decades.

When Ayn Rand pointed out contradictions implicit in a question, she was clear and direct - and it is possible that a third party could have misinterpreted that. But she always made a point of answering also the question that the questioner would have asked, if he or she had been aware of the contradiction that Rand had just pointed out. And I've never heard directly from a person who claimed to have been verbally abused by Ayn Rand, or even by Nathaniel Branden in her presence. If such a person exists I'd like to know. I will not divulge any individually identifiable information from e-mail to areed2@calstatela.edu.



Comment #152

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 20:24:01 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

I wrote:

"I don't see how my choice not to discuss one application of a principle forbids me from discussing the principle, for the same reason that my refusal to discuss my sex life forbids me from discussing sex."

Of course that should have read "...that my refusal to discuss my sex life does no forbid me from discussing sex."



Comment #153

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 21:36:40 mst
Name: Jordan Zimmerman
URL: http://www.jordanzimmerman.com

"Diana wrote in August 2003: "I should at least mention that the comparison of the TOC and ARI conferences was very revealing -- and in unexpected ways. I have my comments on the two conferences almost finished... I'll be posting them later this week."

Are her comments still available, and if so, where can one find them? "

They were never published that I'm aware of. Also, her public statement breaking from TOC prominsed "A longer, more detailed commentary will be available in a few weeks." It's a lot more than a few weeks and this commentary is also not available.



Comment #154

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 1:27:54 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Irfan wrote, about David Kelley speaking to a libertariam group and Mayhew teaching at a Catholic University:

" I am not saying that Mayhew is violating the principle of sanction by teaching at Seton Hall. The question I am asking is just the reverse: assume that Mayhew is NOT violating the principle, by what inference do you then say that Kelley WAS? What is the principle that differentiates the two cases?"

I can't begin to think what principl might differentiate the two cases. And it is relevant to say that Peikoff, who denounces Laissez Faire Books as a libertarian organization, himself, when THE OMINOUS PARALLELS was published, attended a party in his honor at -- Laissez Faire Books.



Comment #155

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 1:39:12 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/

Jordan is right that I never published my promised comparison of the ARI and TOC summer conferences. Last year, such details became irrelevant -- even distracting and misleading -- in light of my growing philosophic objections to the basic philosophy of TOC. So let me summarize my views thusly: I will most certainly not be attending the TOC Summer Seminar this year. I will be at the second week of OCON in July.

As for my longer commentary on T&T... all in good time. My basic objections to the open system are quite well-developed, but I'd also like to address the other major issues raised in T&T, namely moral judgment, toleration, and sanction. Since I have not yet examined all the gory details of those issues, I'll be working through them on the blog as time permits. (That process clarifies my own thinking, as well as helps answer questions and correct errors.) The longer commentary should be published sometime this summer.



Comment #156

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 1:47:59 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

When I suggested to Adam Reed that he ask former NBI students if Ayn Rand often insulted students in question periods, he replied:

"My problem is that I know many such people, and I've never heard, from any of them, of anything comparable to Nathaniel Branden's "dark side moments."

Okay, Adam, I will not rely on my own observations during the numerous question periods at which I was present over a period of ten years, since apparently my word is not good enough. I am writing to three former NB students to ask their opinionons of how Rand dealt with questioners.

In order that you not think I am loading the dice, here is the e-mail I'm sending out:

" Someone in a discussion group I'm involved with insists that Ayn Rand never denounced people in NBI question periods. I say that often she did. Would you tell me what you observed in those question periods, since you were present at so many of them?"

As soon as I hear back, I'll let you know.



Comment #157

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 2:32:42 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

I want to add a postscript to my comments to Adam Reed on the subject of Rand's treatment of questioners at NBI lectures. When I was researching THE PASSION OF AYN RAND, I interviewed as many people as I could locate who had known her. One of those people was Margit von Mises, wife of the great economist. It is relevant to say that the couple had seen Rand socially before the event of which Margit speaks, and certainly liked her. Here is a quote from my book:

"Margit von Mises was to say, 'Lu and I attended one or two of the Nathaniel Branden Institute lectures, and I was shocked at Ayn Rand's behavior. She was on the podium, smoking one of her cigarettes in that long black holder. Someone asked her a question, and she answered in such a rude, disagreeable way that I couldn't understand how anyone could take it. She just killed the questioner with her reply. You can do indescribable harm to people that way. I couldn't understand how she could hurt people, and I disliked her terribly for that."

I want to quote a paragraph that follows the ahove, so that perhaps you will see that I was not attempting to denigrate Rand:

"And yet, when one looks at the life of Ayn Rand, one must wonder if the dogmatic absolutism of her certainty, the blinding conviction of her own rectitude and her special place in the world, the callousness of her intolerance for opinions that were not hers, the unwavering assurance that she was alone to know the truth and that others must seek it from her -- the eyes that looked neither to the left nor to the right, but only at the path ahead -- the savage innocence of her personality -- was not the fuel required for the height of achievement she attained. Just as when one looks at history's great achievers one so often encounters the desperate loneliness and alienation which is perhaps the emotiional price paid by men and women who see farther than their brothers, so one encounters these qualities in Ayn Rand. And one must wonder if they are not precisely the qualities that make possible the courage and uncompromising dedication of those who forge new paths through the unknown, enduring and persevering,shouting defiance at tne enormity of the opposition which follows them at each step of their lonely journey,and adding new glories to our world."



Comment #158

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 3:11:45 mst
Name: Kate Herrick

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Khawaja that the Catholic University affiliation is a far more relevant issue, but I think epistemological issues remain regarding Barbara Branden's allegations.

Don Watkins writes:

"You seem to think, "People told me Peikoff said X," is as epistemologically valid as verifiable evidence Peikoff said Y. It is not. ... It is [Ms. Branden] who is asking us to take her on faith. Faith that she really did hear from people who really did hear Peikoff say things that contradict Peikoff's public claims."

What would that say about human nature if humans were so inherently incapable of judiciously processing information we get third hand that to do other than reject such information as arbitrary was an actual vice, i.e., faith?

Validity and strength of evidence are different. I would agree that hearing someone say "Peikoff told me X" is not as strong evidence as reading a statement from Peikoff in the pages of TIA, but the former is still better than arbitrary, as in "Green men on Mars prefer Froot Loops to Apple Jacks."

Don, you ask: "What does she offer in place of the independently verifiable evidence I have offered? Only her say so. It is she who is asking us to take her on faith. Faith that she really did hear from people who really did hear Peikoff say things that contradict Peikoff's public claims. What would be more irrational than listening to that and saying, "Okay! Sounds good! Down with Peikoff the Terrible!"?"

I think her anecdote of the cowed ARI students by itself would be too weak to support any conclusions by itself, but there is also no reason to actively expunge her entirely from the stockpile of information one has ever encountered. Focusing on the status of third-hand information as such, if you were at a party and had to pick a partner for a game, and you had to choose between a person your friend heard had cheated his brother in a business deal, and another person, does justice require you to regard the two candidates as equivalent? I personally might pick the impugned person to learn more about his character, but if the stakes were higher--say, whom to share a lifeboat with--I would definitely consider the hearsay welcome if scant evidence.

The strength of the hearsay evidence would depend largely on my knowledge and evaluation of the people in the chain. If my father told me my mother told him a stranger mugged her, it would not occur to me to doubt the allegation.

I thought, from the context of your conversation with Ms. Branden, that you did have a positive regard for her. On the other hand, you also have evidence that Peikoff has a good character. But that is not synonymous with having evidence that Peikoff is flawless. I don't think the discrepancy in their characters, whatever it is, justifies throwing out Ms. Branden's evidence at all, as you would throw out a comment from a spiteful acquaintance calling your mother a whore.

Don wrote:

You say, "Why not ask Leonard Peikoff directly?" Because I consider it IMMORAL to ask someone if arbitrary accusations made against them are true, especially when the source has an agenda, as she does in this case (that's not to say having an agenda is inherently wrong).'

How do you know she has an agenda in this case? I've heard her discuss Ayn Rand and Objectivist history a number of times on the Atlantis list, and her observations have been clearly motivated by a benevolent desire to share information with those who want to know, usually sharing some of the power or beauty of knowing Ayn Rand personally. I've only heard her speak of Peikoff here, and that's because it's very relevant to the future of Objectivism, and because people want to know.

Don finishes with this response:

"Finally, you say, 'The proper epistemological course for someone interested in clearing Peikoff of having said this is not to morally strong-arm the messenger, but to look to see if anyone else heard him make this pronouncement between the book's publication and 1989.'

"This is a complete epistemological inversion. If someone goes around making aribtrary claims about people I respect and value, especially when these claims conflict with what I know of that person, it is up to the accuser to provide evidence. I need not and should not go on a crusade to verify or unverify such claims. And I sure as hell will not."

I did mean what I said: If one wants to clear Peikoff of the charges, one should seek disconfirming evidence for one's hypothesis, and rely on the comprehensiveness of the search to give weight to finding none, if one in fact did. If you don't want to get into this--- and I didn't think you did--- then accept that Ms. Branden has presented some evidence for her claim that Peikoff ever sent such a message, and that you have no evidence that he did not during that crucial, emotional four years after the publication of her book.

Kate



Comment #159

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 3:17:29 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

TO Adam Reed:

I have received the first answer to my question to NBI students, which was:

"Someone in a discussion group I'm involved with insist that Ayn Rand never denounced people in NBI question periods. I say that often she did. Would you tell me what you observed in those question periods, since you were present at so many of them?"

Here is the response:

"You are right. She was quick to seize on a question, assuming
it had one unambiguous meaning that was hostile to her or
her ideas. She never asked anyone to clarify or rephrase.
Instead she attacked. One such victim was Alan Margolin,
who asked a seemingly innocuous question and was answered
by withering anger and contempt. As more examples come to
mind, I shall send them to you."



Comment #160

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 3:21:33 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Adam, here is the second answer:

"Well, of course she did. I don't think anyone who was at those lectures, no matter how great their admiration for her, would deny that. There were many young, naive people in the audience, and Ayn would get very angry when she thought a question indicated an immoral premise on the part of the questioner. She denounced many people for harboring such ideas.
Maybe the problem you are having involves differing understandings of the word denounce. Some people might think it meant something like "any good person would have nothing to do with you," or "I hope you rot in hell," or words to that effect. I never heard her say anything like that, but she certainly did become quite angry at various questioners and she did angrily accuse many people of harboring/advocating immoral ideas. She would often continue by analysing peoples' psychology in front of the group, to show how badly a person's thinking processes had to be to have led to the Q that the person asked. I think it's reasonable to use the word "denounced" in such situations.
Again, these are not controversial statements. Anyone who took the courses (if they attended enough lectures) heard these things."



Comment #161

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 3:41:08 mst
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

To Barbara Branden:

I think that your question goes beyond loading the dice, into serious misrepresentation. I do NOT "insist that Ayn Rand never denounced people in NBI question periods." Ayn Rand certainly made moral judgements, and in some instances those moral judgements did amount to "denounciation." The difference between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden's behavior is that Rand's statements were always made in the context of a rational analysis of what was being asked - and a moral statement in that context would not be perceived as abusive by a rational person. There is no need to add Margit von Mises' impressions to yours - I already wrote that "it is possible that a third party could have misinterpreted" Ayn Rand's clarity and directness in those contexts.

My experience with Nathaniel Branden's behavior in 1966 - and Irfan Khawaja's in 1997 - is something entirely different. It was NOT moral judgement in the context of a rational analysis. It was more like an encounter with a second, hidden personality inside the same person. I was once told that a recipient of an unexpected abusive e-mail from NB notified the ISP of the mail server that someone was forging e-mails so that they appeared to come from NB - so different was this second personality from what NB normally presents. The ISP analysed the headers and checked the logs and found that the abusive e-mail did in fact come from NB's computer.

If there is anyone who ever asked a question of Ayn Rand and got back, instead of the clear analysis that Ayn Rand normally gave, the kind of verbal abuse that I have experienced and several others reported experienceing from NB, I want to hear about it from the person who remembers experiencing it first-hand, NOT yet-another third-party interpretation please.



Comment #162

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 3:59:24 mst
Name: Kate Herrick

Ayn Rand wrote:

"The title of this book [the Virtue of Selfishness] 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?'

"To those who would ask it, my answer is: 'For the reason that makes you afraid of it.'

"But there are others, who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, yet who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved. It is to them that I will give a more explicit answer."

This must be the kind of thing that was going on in the NBI days. I disagree entirely with Ayn Rand in the way she convicts the questioner of moral cowardice for this articulate and in fact benign question. Those who could not ask this question of Ayn Rand were the moral cowards, and she encouraged them mightily in their cowardice. It is they who deserved to live on in their cowardly ignorance. Why struggle to "formulate [her] actual reason or ... identify the profound moral issue involved" if one feels so bound up in moral self-doubt that one is incapable of asking another human being to clarify their reasons for an action of theirs one honestly does not understand?

Enough with this cloud of moral intimidation and fear. I have no idea what honest good intentions could be behind it, but the unintended consequences are to be feared by any serious Objectivist.

Kate



Comment #163

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 4:07:55 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Adam, I cannot understand why you accuse me of "serious misreprentation." I answered your statements as I understood them. The way Rand often behaved in question periods was not "moral judgment in the context of a rational explanation" -- it was furioue indignation and disapproval, often followed by a refusal to answer the qustion at all. I heard it, and shuddered, more times than I can remember.

However, clearly you and I not getting anywhere in this discussion. I believe you recently said that this conversation could be continued through e-mail -- so I am writing you an e-mail.



Comment #164

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 5:22:27 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

Kate,

For your latest post: Brava!

I never met Ayn Rand or heard her speak in person, but I am aware first-hand of one other example of the behavior in question:

On Peikoff's Philosophy of Objectivism taped course, Ayn Rand appeared for at least some of the Q&A sessions. This is an introductory course, so presumably a large fraction of the live audience would be relative newcomers to the philosophy.

One question from the audience was read aloud and I heard it "straight" (i.e. as I believe the anonymous questioner had intended it.) It struck me as completely benign, as in your example from the VOS. Sorry, I can't remember the actual question or answer as I only heard this course once, in the summer of 1986. But the observations I made at the time have stuck with me.

Ayn Rand objected to the wording of the question and inferred a hidden premise that I had not detected. She proceeded to criticize this premise in pretty strong terms. I almost fell out of my chair from the vehemence of the presumptions and negative emotions that were unleashed against the questioner. She completely ignored the central thrust of the question (as I had heard it) and seized on something that I thought was at best a side issue. And she completely ignored the what I had thought was the _spirit_ of the question.

In considering this display afterwards, I tentatively concluded that there was something going on to which I was not privy. I guessed that maybe she had read the written question herself and recognized the questioner from his handwriting. If that was the case, she might have had outside personal knowledge that the way he had asked it did represent a moral failing on his part. If so, she had merely put on a poor show in front of a large group of beginners to whom the questioner would have been an anonymous classmate, and risked puzzling them with her reaction.

After one of the lectures on esthetics, someone asked why Kira had to die at the end of _We The Living_. She gave what I thought was a very histrionic reply, to the effect that this question "hurt [her] deeply" and that the questioner in this case knew nothing of how novels are written. I chalked up this performance to Rand having spent too much time in Hollywood, or perhaps to having been raised in an exotic European capital, and thereby developing a "prima donna" attitude towards her art.

Over the next year, as the fire ignited by the _Passion_ raged on, (remember, this was the summer of '86,) people I knew in the MIT OSG and the Ergo staff debated all of the accusations in the book, including the ones about Rand denouncing people during the Q&As. I found those claims very credible, based on what I remembered of her answers on Peikoff's tapes.

-Bill



Comment #165

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 5:44:50 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

Also relevant to this discussion:

Does anyone reading this have first-hand knowledge of the incident in which Ayn Rand attempted to stop the distribution of the Ergo student newspaper on the Northwestern U. campus on the occasion of one of her Ford Hall Forum talks? Unfortunately I have only heard about it third-hand (albeit via multiple sources.) If so, please chime in with your account, or contact me privately.

Thanks,

Bill



Comment #166

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 5:53:00 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

Oh, I meant the campus of Northeastern University. This would have been in Boston in the '70s.

-Bill



Comment #167

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 6:54:38 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/

Bill, I recently finished listening to the "Philosophy of Objectivism" lectures... just today, in fact. So my memory is quite fresh. And based solely upon your description, I have no idea to which question you might be referring. In my judgment, Ayn Rand did nothing even close to what you describe in answering any questions. (Notably, the course was not for beginners, but presupposed a fairly substantial background knowledge of the Objectivist literature.)

However, one of her responses to a question did strike me as potentially inappropriate. The question concerned the role of humor in the lives of her heroes -- or rather the lack of it as a "major value." Ayn Rand began by labeling the question as dishonest. She seemed to think that some professor had put the questioner up to it. Her voice took on a slight edge of anger, but only at the beginning of her comments. My impression was that she had heard that sort of superficial objection to her novels so often as to be thoroughly disgusted with it. (And rightly so, since it's not as if hostile intellectuals would have embraced her work if only Howard Roark had cracked a few jokes.) She did proceed to answer the question in full. She pointed out that humor adds "spice" to life but cannot be considered to be a major value, that her novels do contain humor but never the heroes laughing at themselves, and so on.

The question was undoubtedly thoughtless. The concretization of humor as a "major value" in the novels would have been philosophically absurd, utterly ruined the characters as we know them, and undercut the seriousness of the life-or-death battles at hand. All that is required to see that is mere concretization, e.g. imagining Howard Roark cracking blonde jokes in the quarry with the other workers after seeing Dominique for the first time.

I have absolutely no problem with Ayn Rand challenging people to *think* before squawking. My only concern is that perhaps the questioner was a newbie who heard this objection, but didn't know what to say in response. But in such a case, calling the question dishonest wouldn't reflect back upon the student so much as the person who put forth the objection to him. In fact, that Ayn Rand answered the question in detail indicates that she thought honest confusion on the issue was possible.

In any case, all of that is far from your description of "the vehemence of the presumptions and negative emotions that were unleashed against the questioner."



Comment #168

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 12:35:43 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

"And it is relevant to say that Peikoff, who denounces Laissez Faire Books as a libertarian organization, himself, when THE OMINOUS PARALLELS was published, attended a party in his honor at -- Laissez Faire Books."

And what fact might make that different? Peikoff did it in 1982, just after new ownership took over and assured him there was no ideology at work, no connection to the libertarian movement, etc. David Kelley spoke at a LFB function in, what, 1988? 1989? There was somewhat more evidence to go on by then.



Comment #169

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 13:22:02 mst
Name: Aeon Skoble

"It's a lot more than a few weeks and this commentary is also not available."

Frustrating as it may be, you're going to have to cut Diana some slack -- it's not like she has nothing else to do but blog. Last I checked, she was hard at work keeping up with her graduate program, to which it's correct for her to assign highest priority. When she has time, she'll elaborate.



Comment #170

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 13:24:01 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Kate Herrick writes:

"The strength of the hearsay evidence would depend largely on my knowledge and evaluation of the people in the chain. If my father told me my mother told him a stranger mugged her, it would not occur to me to doubt the allegation."

This is the crux of the issue. When do we take someone as a reliable source? Before I examine the general principle, consider the facts of this case:

- I do not know Barbara Branden personally
- I DO know Ayn Rand denounced her, as does Peikoff
- She is, by her own admission, on a crusade against Peikoff and those who support Peikoff (this is a paraphrase from a 1998 posting she made to the We The Living email list)
- Her claims about Peikoff contradict everything I know about him
- Her specific claims about Peikoff's stance with regard to her book contradict verifiable evidence

Now, what do I conclude from that? I do NOT conclude that Ms. Branden is dishonest, or immoral, or anything like that. But I DO consider that enough reason to regard any claim she makes that conflicts with what I know and that cannot be backed up with independently verifiable evidence as arbitrary.

What, then, is the general principle? That the stength of hearsay evidence is *contextual*. It depends on the trustworthiness of the source, and the nature of the issue.

The first point is obvious - if someone is dishonest, any assertion of facts he or she makes that is not backed up with indepedently verifiable evidence is arbitrary and must not be considered.

The latter point is where context becomes crucial. Are the facts being claimed controversial? Does the source have a likely bias? Do the claims contradict what you do know? Do they contradict objective evidence? Is the source claiming first hand knowledge, or is he or she passing along things he or she heard? Is the claim important? There is a big difference between the claim, "I saw Don buy swiss cheese," and the claim, "I saw Don poking chickens with sticks."

Once you've taken reliability and context into account, then you can decide whether or not you should accept hearsay evidence. It is my position that, in this case, as applies to Ms. Branden, I cannot.

"I did mean what I said: If one wants to clear Peikoff of the charges, one should seek disconfirming evidence for one's hypothesis, and rely on the comprehensiveness of the search to give weight to finding none, if one in fact did. If you don't want to get into this--- and I didn't think you did--- then accept that Ms. Branden has presented some evidence for her claim that Peikoff ever sent such a message, and that you have no evidence that he did not during that crucial, emotional four years after the publication of her book."

With all due respect, I will accept no such nonsense. I will not concede that aribtrary assertions that conflict with objective evidence call into question the moral status of Leonard Peikoff. I do not believe the victim of such assertions has any obligation to prove a negative. And I will not attempt to.



Comment #171

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 13:53:28 mst
Name: mra

Barbara Branden wrote:

"In order that you not think I am loading the dice, here is the e-mail I'm sending out:"

Who is she sending this e-mail to...blank out.



Comment #172

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 14:41:28 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

Explain to me how this statement isn't special pleading for Leonard Peikoff:

"Peikoff [appeared at a Laissez-Faire Books function] in 1982, just after new ownership took over and assured him there was no ideology at work, no connection to the libertarian movement, etc. David Kelley spoke at a LFB function in, what, 1988? 1989? There was somewhat more evidence to go on by then."

No connection between Laissez-Faire books and the libertarian movement? Who are you trying to kid? I've been a subscriber to their catalogues for over 30 years. They've always had an affiliation with the "libertarian movement," in a general sense. Not to mention with concrete individual libertarians like Roy Childs who were completely unacceptable to Peikoff for many years.

Isn't the real difference that Peikoff had the authority, and the inclination, to excommunicate those who displeased him, and Kelley had neither?

Why Robert Mayhew's comments about working for a Catholic university would need to be kept confidential, I have no idea. But that's between you and him.

A wider question, as yet unaddressed in over 200 comments, is why ARI appears to loosen its requirements for those of its affiliates who work in academia. Isn't every actual existing university that has humanities and social science programs (not just the ones with explicit religious affiliations) the kind of institution that ARI would be instructing every one of its members not to "sanction," if ARI's strictures were applied consistently?

Robert Campbell



Comment #173

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 15:48:14 mst
Name: Don
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Robert Campbell writes:

"No connection between Laissez-Faire books and the libertarian movement? Who are you trying to kid? I've been a subscriber to their catalogues for over 30 years. They've always had an affiliation with the 'libertarian movement,' in a general sense. Not to mention with concrete individual libertarians like Roy Childs who were completely unacceptable to Peikoff for many years. Isn't the real difference that Peikoff had the authority, and the inclination, to excommunicate those who displeased him, and Kelley had neither?"

The real difference is exactly what I said it was. That the period where he did his book signing was during a change of ownership and Peikoff was told that it was no longer affiliated with the libertarian movement.

You don't believe that? Then you have to drop everything you know about Peikoff, his (and Rand's) view of libertarianism, and his (and Rand's) view of moral sanction. You have to say that just one time in almost seventy years, he decided to knowingly appear at a libertarian function. I think that's a rather fantastic claim.

And what's this about Peikoff having the power to excommunicate people and Kelley not having that power? Peikoff's "power" is no different than Kelley's or anyone else's (including yours and mine) - he has the power to choose with whom he will deal. The only sense in which his power, in this regard, is greater, is that Peikoff actually has something to offer Objectivists, while Kelley does not.

"A wider question, as yet unaddressed in over 200 comments, is why ARI appears to loosen its requirements for those of its affiliates who work in academia. Isn't every actual existing university that has humanities and social science programs (not just the ones with explicit religious affiliations) the kind of institution that ARI would be instructing every one of its members not to 'sanction,' if ARI's strictures were applied consistently?"

Once again, you're dropping context. What is the significant fact about the university system that doesn't apply to, for example, Laissez-faire Books?

The university system, in fact, the entire education system, is governed by force. If you want to teach, you have to do so at a state-sanctioned university, on terms it sets. To claim teaching at a university is to sanction it, is to claim that handing a mugger your wallet is to sanction his vicious act. So long as Objectivist professors are not compromising with evil by teaching at universities, then they are morally innocent.

***********************

You know, the longer this thread continues, the more I suspect these disagreements are ultimately epistemological. What's fascinating, however, is that unlike most arguments I have with Objectivists, where as time goes on, the issues become more and more fundamental, this discussion has become more and more pointless. With the exception of Kate, who was able to identify a fundamental philosophic issue at work in this debate, no one has grappled with anything except out-of-context journalistic details. Even Irfan Khawaja, who brought us close to a discussion of what moral sanction as such consists of, decided it was more important to attack me for not discussing one particular application of that principle. And this is what we are supposed to regard as "intellectual"? This is what rationality is supposed to consist of?

Emotionalism, moralism, jumping to conclusions, a disdain for facts and evidence, context dropping, tribalism, name-calling, and intellectual dishonesty are charges that have been hurled at my side for years, and yet what we've seen on the pages of Diana's blog is precisely the opposite. Frankly, I am sick of it. I've made my point, and any further discussion along these lines will be a waste of my time.

To Diana: I will continue to comment on your future posts, of course, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.



Comment #174

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 16:08:38 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

Diana wrote:

"In my judgment, Ayn Rand did nothing even close to what you describe in answering any questions."

Fair enough, Diana. I'll withdraw my claim pending a chance to listen to the course again. For now I'll tentatively assume that the tapes you listened to in 2004 are identical to the fee-per-listen, club-sponsored course tapes I heard in 1986, and count it as an exageration due to faulty memory on my part.

Did you hear the question about Kira's death? I dimly recall that Rand's response to that one may have been conveyed to the audience by Peikoff, rather than directly from her.

-Bill



Comment #175

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 at 19:12:21 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

I'm responding here to Don's comment of 14:31, May 4, which ends "It's up to you."

No, no Don, I insist: it's up to YOU. You don't need my permission to proceed in any fashion you like. You can answer the questions I asked in dialogue form or free verse for all I care. That won't constrain me from addressing the matter in any fashion I like, and I see nothing wrong in asking the question precisely as I did. Every generalization derives from inductions of particular cases, and I happen to know something about the particular cases I raised, so whether you want to discuss them or not is up to you. There is no epistemological reason NOT to discuss them, and no valid epistemological reason to stipulate in advance that they may not be discussed.

If for your own idiosyncratic reasons, you've decided to make a promise that prevents you from discussing this or that particular application of a principle, that's your issue and your problem. It doesn't reflect on the way I have put things, and in any case, whatever you say in general terms will inevitably have consequences for the particular cases I mentioned, including Mayhew's case.

Incidentally, imagine the hue and cry about moral agnosticism that would have arisen had I made the same stipulations in the reverse case: "David Kelley has asked me not to discuss his talk with the Laissez Faire Supper Club, and so I can only say that all objections to his doing so are based on factual errors. Alas, I cannot tell you what they are." The fact is, David Kelley would not have said such a thing, and even if he did, I would not have accepted his terms.

As for your sex life analogy, if you had brought up an issue relevant to your sex life (or mine), and I was conversant with the relevant facts, I would not have assumed that our sex lives were ipso facto immune from public discussion. Sex is a part of life like any other, subject to moral standards and moral judgment. If a person's sex life is relevant to a matter of public discussion (think of Bill Clinton), he cannot use scruples about privacy as a way of evading public discussion of the issues. But there is quite a distance from any topic I have raised and the subject of sex lives. We aren't talking about sex; we're talking about ideological sanction. Examples pertinent to that subject are fair game. And mine were precisely pertinent.

As for the miscellaneous points in your post:

When I asked how many ARI Objectivists had ever asked about Kelley's side of the story, you reminded me that Kelley had "published an essay explaining his reasons..." I'm aware of that. Perhaps you are not aware, but the essay does not discuss the events that led to his excommunication in very much detail. "A Question of Sanction" discusses them in a few (as yet unrefuted) paragraphs, and Truth and Toleration has a somewhat different aim than discussion of the particular events.

The point is that a person might well be left with questions about precisely what happened on the relevant occasion, and such a person (if concerned with objectivity and fairness) would want to know Kelley's side of things. So the writings by themselves do not dispose of the issue. They are a part of it, not the whole.

As for your claim that Kelley repudiates fundamental principles of Objectivism, it's a bluff of the sort I have heard many, many times over in the last decade. I don't agree with all of Kelley's views (or actions), but he has not "repudiated fundamental principles of Objectivism," and your repeating the mantra is not going to make it so. (I should add that I am not a member of Kelley's TOC and have no connection to it.)

As for the claim "no one would mistake Catholicism for Objectivism," it has no relevance to anything under discussion, and certainly no relevance to the principle of sanction. No sane person would mistake the Ku Klux Klan for Objectivism either, but that wouldn't justify a choice to sign an employment contract with the U of KKK, if such a thing existed.

As to your "bafflement" by my logic, I've partly addressed the issues you raise earlier in this post, but perhaps your "bafflement" is a function of your having read me too hastily as you were "running out the door." I've offered an argument by analogy. I think the analogy is rather precise. If you would rather discuss the general principle behind the analogy, do so. But your arrangement with Robert Mayhew is not a reflection on the cogency of my analogy.

As for your "giving a damn" only about the facts, I can only say that I don't give a damn about what you give a damn about. I wasn't, after all, asking about your biography.

Ball's in your court--as it was in the first place.



Comment #176

Thursday, May 6, 2004 at 12:12:31 mst
Name: Mysterious Stranger

Irfan, concerning Robert Mayhew, envy makes a stinky cologne.



Comment #177

Thursday, May 6, 2004 at 14:36:43 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

Don,

Comparing David Kelley's appearance at the Laissez Faire Supper Club, which got him denounced by Peter Schwartz and excommunicated by Leonard Peikoff, and Peikoff's own appearance at a Laissez Faire book signing party around 6 years earlier, you said:

"The real difference is exactly what I said it was. That the period where he did his book signing was during a change of ownership and Peikoff was told that it was no longer affiliated with the libertarian movement."

"You don't believe that? Then you have to drop everything you know about Peikoff, his (and Rand's) view of libertarianism, and his (and Rand's) view of moral sanction. You have to say that just one time in almost seventy years, he decided to knowingly appear at a libertarian function. I think that's a rather fantastic claim."

What Peikoff told himself about the 1982 book signing, I of course am not privy to. But, yes, he was appearing at a libertarian function, and had every reason to know that he was.

Frankly, I find it pretty sad that Leonard Peikoff's steadfast adherence to an extreme version of the doctrine of "sanction," and to shunning libertarianism, is being appealed to as proof of his superior moral character.

Here's an alternative explanation that I've heard from a number of sources: From the late 1970s until 1986 (when he learned that The Passion of Ayn Rand was going to be published), Peikoff went through a period in which he was a little less invested in the sectarian attitudes for which he has so long been known. His Laissez Faire Books appearance in 1982 also took place after the death of Ayn Rand, who I expect would not have approved had she known about it.

I really think that good old-fashioned sectarianism is the real reason why ARI cuts more slack to ARI-affiliated academics (working at religious universities, state universities, or universities run by just plain bad people) than to ARI members who want to speak at libertarian functions, associate with non-approved Objectivist organizations like TOC, or publish in journals like JARS.

Religious sectarians hate and distrust those who supposedly share their religion, but differ from them on some dimension of belief or practice, more vigorously than they hate and distrust nonbelievers, or adherents of other religions. The same dynamic is evidently at work here.

I should add that I haven't heard from you on the status of "And I mean it"--part of the closed system, or not? But perhaps my raising that question is ipso facto a "vicious attack on the person of Ayn Rand."

(In response to Bill Nevin's query about Ayn Rand's negative reaction to seeing copies of Ergo distributed at Northeastern: I worked for Ergo from 1971 to 1973. There was a complicated dance going on between the top people at Ergo, mainly Erich Veyhl and Frank Peseckis at that time, and members of the Inner Circle, mainly Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger. The editors of Ergo wanted approval for the newspaper, but never really got it--it was always, "We really like this or that article, but..." And they would occasionally distribute Ergos at Northeastern, though it was never listed on masthead alongside MIT, Harvard, and BU. But I don't recall a specific negative reaction by Ayn Rand during or after a Ford Hall Forum appearance. It could, of course, have happened later in the 1970s. By the way, an outside observer would have considered most of the Ergo staff during that period to be True Believers. Indeed, Bob Bidinotto and I were among those who left Ergo eventually, because we realized we weren't. So it is ironic that even a bunch of True Believers couldn't please Leonard Peikoff during that era. )

Irfan, Adam, Kate, Bill, and Diana,

I have no experience of Ayn Rand's treatment of questioners after lectures at NBI--I was too young, and too far from New York to be part of that scene.

What I can speak to is her treatment of questioners at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston, in 1972 and 1973. I heard the first address over a local radio station, and attended the second in person. On both occasions, she tore into questioners during the Q and A period. I get the impression she had trouble hearing the questions herself (partly normal hearing loss for a woman in her upper 60s, partly the sound system not being set up properly for that), so they were relayed to her by Reuben Lurie, the moderator, who was a good deal older and obviously hard of hearing. This meant that sometimes questions that the audience could hear clearly were getting to her in somewhat distorted form. Even so, I don't recall many requests for clarification, and I do recall many angry dismissals, sometimes accompanied by gratuitous diagnoses of the questioner's motivations. A friend of Doug Rasmussen tried to ask her a question about the work of Henry Veatch at one of these events. Instead of saying, "I don't know who Henry Veatch is," or "I'm not familiar with that book," Rand responded explosively, as though the questioner must be talking about some nonentity who had written negligible rubbish. To my knowledge, all of the recordings have been preserved, so you ought to be able to check for yourself.

Meanwhile, it's a fair question whether Rand would have behaved the same way in the 1950s and after, had her initial group of disciples consisted of different people. Her Inner Circle was small enough that the individual personalities of the principals would have an impact. (But any such judgment is further complicated by the fact that Rand would tend, sometimes for reasons that she didn't fully understand herself, to attract certain kinds of people as followers and not others.) But for those who want to blame all of the bad stuff in NBI or the Inner Circle on Nathaniel Branden, there are some obvious considerations that haven't been brought to the fore:

* To use Adam's terms, isn't it distinctly possible that Ayn Rand also harbored "cultural contradictions" (albeit not of North American origin)?

* Wasn't Ayn Rand obviously in charge of what her followers were doing? If she really disapproved of NBI policies, or Nathaniel Branden's behavior, or the behavior of anyone else in the Circle, wouldn't she have expressed her disapproval of the policy, or told that person to knock it off--and expected to be heeded?

For example, if Nathaniel Branden was primarily responsible for excommunicating people from the fold--and we know he was often the point man on excommunications during the NBI days--does anyone really conclude from his role that Ayn Rand ~disapproved~ of kicking people out for asking the wrong questions?

And, if it was all NB's fault, why haven't Leonard Peikoff and the other ARI types ever sought to rehabilitate anyone who was kicked out during the NBI days? Tibor Machan, for instance, has said he was given the boot because he had asked some question that was taken as proof of his philosophical corruption. Has ARI ever gone to Tibor, or anyone else who was shown the door back in the NBI days, and said: "You were kicked out, but we're inclined to think that this was Nathaniel Branden's fault, not yours. We are convinced that Nathaniel Branden often exercised bad judgment on these matters. So we're giving you a second chance, and hoping you will give us a second chance"?

Leonard Peikoff has had the good judgment to suspend Rand's practice of morally condemning people, or positing bad premises deep in their souls, whenever they failed to share her tastes in art (the "esthetic policing" described by Arthur Silber a while back was very real). No doubt Peikoff remembers having to "explain himself" for liking horror movies, or the music of Johannes Brahms, and genuinely doesn't want to perpetuate such practices. But he hasn't, to my knowledge, ever sough reconciliation with anyone who was given the boot during the NBI days. If the excommunications were primarily the fault of Nathaniel Branden, or of others now anathematized, wouldn't Peikoff be motivated to right wrongs and repair damage?

Robert Campbell



Comment #178

Thursday, May 6, 2004 at 14:38:51 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

Mysterious Stranger:

Envy certainly does make for "a stinky cologne." In that respect, it is a vice similar to the one expressed when a person engages in malicious innuendo while choosing to remain anonymous.



Comment #179

Friday, May 7, 2004 at 2:49:24 mst
Name: Robert Campbell
URL: http://www.robertlcampbell.com

I need to retract something that I said in my comment of May 3, in response to Mysterious Stranger.

In response to Mysterious Stranger's assertion that David Kelley had rejected objectivity (indeed, had joined Nathaniel Branden in doing so), I said:

"I doubt that the sorest of former members of TOC, annoyed with Kelley's management decisions or disillusioned with his lack of a worked-out program to help Objectivist scholars get into academia, ~really~ thinks that David Kelley has chucked out objectivity."

I was wrong about this. At least one former member of TOC, my friend Diana Hsieh, ~does~ believe that David Kelley has rejected objectivity.

I do not know in any detail why Diana believes this--on that score, I await her analysis of Kelley's ~Truth and Toleration~,as I'm sure many readers of this blog do. But I accept it as her sincere view, and I therefore retract my statement, which could be read to imply that it is not.

Robert Campbell



Comment #180

Friday, May 7, 2004 at 5:22:43 mst
Name: Kate Herrick

Don, I think your latest posts are a poor show. People have called on you to be consistent, and you reply that they only deal with "journalistic" details, as if that means they are insignificant. Can't you see the principles involved? The question they have is, how does a loyalist like you (you being the one willing to talk) deal with evidence that challenges the orthodox interpretation of certain facts as those raised, which call for a clearer discussion of the principle of sanction and its application, not an even more strident, unelaborated evocation of it?

I'm also disappointed with the attention you gave the point of my whole last post regarding Ms. Branden's allegation, which was to distinguish weak from arbitrary evidence. If Ms. Branden's moral status and mental ability are not in question, then the information she has brought forward is not arbitrary. It can't be swept under a rug. At best, you can say you have much evidence for one conclusion (through your broad appeal to Peikoff's character... though such is obviously made up of particular choices like the one in question) and some scant evidence for the other, and you simply are not interested enough to resolve the discrepancy.

For many, many people in this world, disinterest in this is quite rational--but not for all. I don't know your life plans well enough to tell how destructive it would be for you to ignore this evidence, but there's a very good chance you ought to be more curious and less defensive about the way people at the ARI relate to each other and to outsiders.

I'll address my reaction to Don's epistemological points to the readership at large.

***
Essential principles from Don's post:

"What, then, is the general principle? That the stength of hearsay evidence is *contextual*. It depends on the trustworthiness of the source, and the nature of the issue."

On trustworthiness: dishonest = arbitrary

On the nature of the issue: context becomes crucial.

"I will not concede that *aribtrary assertions* that *conflict with objective evidence* call into question the moral status of Leonard Peikoff." [Emphasis in that last sentence is mine –K]
***

Don says that the following points lead to the determination that Barbara Branden's allegation is arbitrary.

"- I do not know Barbara Branden personally
- I DO know Ayn Rand denounced her, as does Peikoff"

I take these as going together, to say that Barbara Branden has a general bad character. But Don denied this directly, so I wouldn't know how to figure these points in.

"-She is, by her own admission, on a crusade against Peikoff and those who support Peikoff (this is a paraphrase from a 1998 posting she made to the We The Living email list)"

Does anyone have the citation for this? 1998 was a long year. I wish I could proceed with this point, but I need to read it for myself, since Don offers an interpretation that I daresay is different from how Ms. Branden would have worded it.

Finally,
"- Her claims about Peikoff contradict everything I know about him
- Her specific claims about Peikoff's stance with regard to her book contradict verifiable evidence"

The contradictions Don refers to are, I think, the crux of his position, and I have a number of points about his concept of contradiction and its application.

First, contradiction is a technical concept, not something ascertainable by feeling. Thus one can't simply appeal to Peikoff as someone one knows personally and whom one holds in general high esteem because it's not nearly specific enough to speak to this issue. We could throw out an allegation that Leonard Peikoff pokes chickens with sticks, or even less controversially that he could have murdered his mother and buried her in his backyard. I think Peikoff would never do those things because that does contradict the level to which he is known to have a character compatible with Objectivism, in an easily identifiable way.

But the issue of appropriate or inappropriate use of moral sanction is not so obvious an issue that one can immediately call the wrong option incompatible with what is generally known about Peikoff's character and personality. The allegation that Peikoff would, at one point in his life, have tried to use a little moral intimidation to stop people from learning all about a matter Ayn Rand intensely desired to keep private cannot be regarded as flatly inconsistent with his personality. Ayn Rand used moral intimidation herself--which is very tragic to me personally, but there it is. (See my post here on May 4.) I am not tempted to evoke the good she has done for my life and for the potential rationality and overall goodness of humanity as even partial justification for rejecting as arbitrary a claim that she used moral intimidation, because it's just not relevant.

If a person's actions sometimes contradict his or her admirable traits, remember that contradictions are possible in one place: the human mind. That is my second point.

If it's contradictory that Leonard Peikoff condemns all things libertarian (excluding things Objectivist), and Leonard Peikoff sees attendance at events as moral sanction, and Leonard Peikoff attended a libertarian function, this is not proof that Leonard Peikoff must not have known or even suspected what he was doing. Whether he did is a factual matter, not a logical one.

(I find Don's information that there had been a change of control and an assurance that Laissez Faire was no longer libertarian both relevant and extremely weak exculpatory evidence as far as it goes, because 'libertarian' refers to a very loose affiliation of freedom-oriented thinkers, and it would be hard to exit this sphere short of taking the orthodox Objectivist position of condemning every freedom lover who is not an avowed Objectivist, or becoming more statist. I can't imagine what Peikoff could have been told to convince him Laissez Faire was no longer under the "small l" libertarian big tent. Their work is to sell liberty-oriented books to as wide a readership as they can!)

The third, last, and simplest point regarding Don's use of the concept of contradiction: Don says "- Her specific claims about Peikoff's stance with regard to her book contradict verifiable evidence[.]" Don is referring to evidence that in 1989, Dr. Peikoff said one should not proscribe people from reading particular books. I think part of Don's case is that, even apart from the issue of integrity (the subject of my previous point), for Peikoff to say one shouldn't do something would contradict Ms. Branden's allegation that he himself did it, because Peikoff couldn't both hold and not hold this position. The law of non-contradiction is "that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect...." There is no outright contradiction to appeal to here since there is a difference in time between Peikoff's public rejection of the principle and the time of his alleged remarks to the contrary.

I don't have time to comment similarly on Don's list of general considerations regarding the "nature of the issue" criteria for evidence, though I'd point out that he has "trustworthiness" issues mixed in there.

Kate



Comment #181

Friday, May 7, 2004 at 5:42:21 mst
Name: Kate Herrick

I said "I'll address my reaction to Don's epistemological points to the readership at large."

This was because I understand that Don doesn't intend to participate any longer, which is a loss.



Comment #182

Friday, May 7, 2004 at 22:08:16 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Kate, my congratulations on a very fine post to Don (Thusday, May 6).

I want to comment on some of the points you made

KATE: Don, I think your latest posts are a poor show. People have called on you to be consistent, and you reply that they only deal with "journalistic" details, as if that means they are insignificant. Can't you see the principles involved? The question they have is, how does a loyalist like you (you being the one willing to talk) deal with evidence that challenges the orthodox interpretation of certain facts as those raised, which call for a clearer discussion of the principle of sanction and its application, not an even more strident, unelaborated evocation of it?

BARBARA: I'm afraid -- and I truly do say this with sadness -- that the above is a phenomenon I have found to be true of many ARI Objectivists. And let me say, at once, that it also was true of many NBI Objectivists in the early days of Objectivism. I feel nothing but regret that I once had a part in creating this true believer mentality. One of the reasons why I wrote THE PASSION OF AYN RAND was precisely to warn people influenced by Ayn Rand how dangerous to them and others it was to fall into this error.

KATE: I am not tempted to evoke the good she [Rand] has done for my life and for the potential rationality and overall goodness of humanity as even partial justification for rejecting as arbitrary a claim that she used moral intimidation, because it's just not relevant. . . . If a person's actions sometimes contradict his or her admirable traits, remember that contradictions are possible in one place: the human mind.

BARBARA: I know, because I have seen -- and personally experienced it -- that Ayn Rand did in fact use moral intimidation. But there are two points I want to make here.

First, I do not think that intimidation was Rand's deliberate purpose, although it was the inevitable consequence of her often strident and unjustified moralizing, especially as it was directed at her impressionable and mostly youthful admirers. I believe, for reasons too lengthy to go into here, that what she experienced was rage and moral indignation -- and the powerful need not to allow what she saw as evil to go unchallenged. (If this is "psychologizing," so be it. It is necessary to look into her psychology in order to account for her actions. In my biography, I explain, at greater length, what I believe to be the causes of such actions. Surely, to explain the psychology of a subject is an important part of a biographer's task.)

Second, my claim does not imply that Rand was a worthless person or that her great achievements are somehow invalidated. I believe that Rand had remarkable qualities of character -- a lifelong dedication to her professional and personal purposes, an unshakeable intransigence, a courage in the face of unending professional rejection and vilification that we are not likely to see surpassed, and other qualities of this woman's spirit that should evoke our most intense admiration. And there is no question in my mind that she was a seminal genius, whose work has had and will continue to have a significan part in shaping the course of history.

But, as you say, contradictions can exist in the human mind -- and in the human spirit.

KATE: I can't imagine what Peikoff could have been told to convince him Laissez Faire was no longer under the "small l" libertarian big tent.

BARBARA: I can't either. And I seriously doubt that he was told anything to that effect. However, I do not intend to leave the issue here; I shall contact Andrea Millen Rich, the owner of Laisez Faire Books then and now, whom Peikoff dealt with when he agreed to accept her invitation to attend a party in his honor, and ask her for the facts of the case. I will let her you know her answer.



Comment #183

Friday, May 7, 2004 at 22:22:25 mst
Name: Irfan Khawaja

Robert Campbell writes:

"I was wrong about this. At least one former member of TOC, my friend Diana Hsieh, ~does~ believe that David Kelley has rejected objectivity."

I left IOS in 1997 (when it was called that), and I've taken strong exception with some of David Kelley's views and policies since then--strong enough to say "no" to every overture I've received from TOC in the last 7 years to become a member.

But to say that someone "rejects objectivity" is essentially a wholesale assault on his character. It's to say that he is living his life in outright evasion of reality and brazen defiance of epistemic/ethical standards. I find it almost impossible to believe that that is what is being asserted here of Kelley. But I'm not sure what is being asserted. Just to be clear: I am NOT party to any such claim about Kelley and don't want to be associated with it in any way.

Nor, I should add, was I casting aspersions on Robert Mayhew in comparing his employment at Seton Hall to Kelley's talk at LFB. (I've privately been told that my remarks were widely taken that way.) I don't think that EITHER Mayhew (vis a vis Seton Hall) OR Kelley (vis a vis the Laissez Faire Supper Club) are/were guilty of a violation of the principle of sanction. That was the whole point of my comparison in the first place. But I think that should have been clear enough from the way I put the point when I first formulated it.



Comment #184

Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 0:30:32 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

Irfan wrote:

"Nor, I should add, was I casting aspersions on Robert Mayhew in comparing his employment at Seton Hall to Kelley's talk at LFB. (I've privately been told that my remarks were widely taken that way.) I don't think that EITHER Mayhew (vis a vis Seton Hall) OR Kelley (vis a vis the Laissez Faire Supper Club) are/were guilty of a violation of the principle of sanction. That was the whole point of my comparison in the first place. But I think that should have been clear enough from the way I put the point when I first formulated it."

I can't understand why your views were taken as aspersions on anyone's character. I found your comments perfectly clear.



Comment #185

Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 6:30:29 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

In an earlier post, I told Kate that I would contact Andrea Rich, the owner of Laissez Faire Books, and ask her to let me know if -- as has been alleged -- Peikoff had agreed to an autograph party at LFB only after being told that LFB, which had been a libertarian organization, had now ceased to be libertarian.It was Andrea who invited Peikoff, and arranged the party.

Here is Andrea's response, followed by my email to her.

ANDREA:

Dear Barbara,
This is such an old story, dating back to 1982 or whenever it was when Leonard's book first came out. He did come down to LFB on Mercer Street for an autograph party. He never asked me if I were libertarian, and I assumed he knew that LFB was a libertarian bookshop.
As I remember, someone asked him later that evening why he had agreed to sign books for us and he said something to the effect that he would sign books for Attila the Hun in order to get his message out. That doesn't sound like he thought we were "no longer libertarian," does it?
A few months later he signed books for us again in New Orleans at the NCMR (Natl Cmte for Monetary Reform) hard-money investment conference (Jim Blanchard headed it), and hung around our booth for quite awhile in case people came over to chat with him.
Yes, he signed a book for me personally, as you describe. I'm in San Francisco at the moment so can't give you the exact wording.
Poor Leonard; this has haunted him for 20 years!
Andrea

----- Original Message -----
From: BBranden1@aol.com
To: andrea.rich@lfb.com
Sent: Friday, May 07, 2004 7:19 PM
Subject: Query

Dear Andrea,

Would you answer a question for me? It seems that some of Peikoff's admirers say that he agreed to attend a Laissez Faire Books party for him (as I remember, in 1982) because he was told, by the NEW owner, that LFB was, under that new owner, no longer libertarian. Is this true? If you have no objection, I want to send your reply to the discussion group where this issue has been a subject of controversy.

I have a dim memory that he appeared twice at your book party. Is my memory correct? And that he signed one of his books, for you, with a thank-you for having the party. Perhaps you'd give me the wording of that thank-you.

Barbara



Comment #186

Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 6:39:58 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

A Postscript to my statement about Peikoff, Andrea Rich, and autograph parties:

It is not my view that Peikoff was in any way immoral in attending parties in his honor at Laissez Faire Books. But obviously -- according to his oft-stated attitude towards lihertarianism and his expulsion of David Kelley for addressing a libertarian group (where Kelley explained what he believed to be the mistakes of libertarianism) -- it was and is Peikoff's conviction that to do so is morally wrong, and a sanction of evil. In my mind, the issue is not one of morality, but of hypocrisy.

Barbara



Comment #187

Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 15:16:16 mst
Name: William A. Nevin III

A couple of years ago Ms. Rich kindly faxed me a reproduction of the frontispiece to her copy of _The Ominous Parallels_. It reads:
{begin quote}

June 10, 1982

To Andrea Rich,

With my thanks for your support of this book.

Best wishes,
Leonard Peikoff.
{end quote}

BTW, from 1974 to 1977 Ms. Rich served as Co-chair of the Libertarian Party National Committee. So much for the new ownership of her bookstore not being libertarian.

Suppose I were to claim that the Democratic Party was the most evil force in the world today and that no one should grant it respectability by even debating its rank-and-file members in social settings. If you were then to find out that I had spent the previous evening talking politics with Terry McAuliffe over steaks at the 21 Club, you might have grounds to doubt my intellectual integrity and my general trustworthiness as someone you would want at your side in any organized endeavor. But I guess that Peikoff's attack on libertarianism took a "shotgun" approach, being based more on conjecture, abstract theory, and trust in his buddy Schwartz than on a factual analysis of who was actually in the intellectual movement or leading the Party.

Peikoff used to have a tradition of giving interviews to David Brudnoy on Brudnoy's libertarian radio talk show in Boston. He would do this on the Friday evening before each of his annual springtime Ford Hall Forum talks. I don't know in what year he first appeared on the Brudnoy show or when he stopped, but I did hear him on the air for a lengthy interview sometime _after_ he had excommunicated Kelley. When my girlfriend at the time called in to the show to challenge him on this, he replied that he hadn't known that Brudnoy was a libertarian (surprise, surprise.) Then he went on to claim the appearances were a benefit to him because it allowed him to reach Brudnoy's large audience which he would not otherwise be able to reach!

So, no, I don't believe that Peikoff ever really believed his own principle of sanction. In the version in which he applied it at the time of the Laissez-Faire Supper Club incident it is not rationally believable. It was just something he made up ad hoc to tar David Kelley, so that his own True Believer followers would continue to buy their books and tapes from ARI rather than from Kelley.

If you have a Microsoft .NET passport, you can go the MSN group 'Objectivist Debates' and follow the message thread 'The Split' to read more about this controversy. Msgs. #93, 98, and 100 are my contributions with more details on the above.

-Bill



Comment #188

Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 21:42:38 mst
Name: Barbara Branden
URL: http://www.barbarabranden.com

One more postscript about Peikoff and libertarianism: I just received another brief email from Andrea Rich telling me that the group to which David Kelley spoke -- and for which appearance he was expelled by Peikoff -- was none other than the Laissex Faire [Books] Supper Club. I myself had not fully realized before exactly how ridiculous, in view of his own behavior, is Peikoff's sanction of all things libertarian.

Barbara



Comment #190

Monday, May 8, 2006 at 9:47:07 mst
Name: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com

Diana,

1. Did Rand ever err in her published works?

2. Does Objectivism incorporate such errors?



Comment #191

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 11:23:56 mst
Name: Dave Harrison

John T. Kennedy asks:

"1. Did Rand ever err in her published works?"

Yes. One example: On page 1016 in Atlas (the larger print), in Galt's speech, he says, "Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his (man's) senses."

Reason does not "perceive;" the senses do.

"2. Does Objectivism incorporate such errors?"

No.



Comment #192

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 14:28:08 mst
Name: Tony Donadio

Dave Harrison writes (regarding the question of whether Rand ever erred):

"Yes. One example: On page 1016 in Atlas (the larger print), in Galt's speech, he says, "Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his (man's) senses."

Reason does not "perceive;" the senses do."

I'm afraid that criticism is just plain wrong. Specifically, it's premise is rationalism; it treats reason as though it were a *separate* faculty from the faculty of sense-perception, rather than a faculty that *incorporates and builds on* sense-perception. Sensory perception of reality is part of the process of reason -- it provides the material about and from which we reason in the first place. If you doubt it, then consider what would be the nature of a process of "reason" absent and apart from sensory data.

Ayn Rand put those words into her definition of reason to counter and ward off *precisely* the fallacious concept of reason as separable from sense-perception that you describe.



Comment #193

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 14:43:00 mst
Name: Dave Harrison

Tony Donadio writes:

"I'm afraid that criticism is just plain wrong. Specifically, it's premise is rationalism; it treats reason as though it were a *separate* faculty from the faculty of sense-perception, rather than a faculty that *incorporates and builds on* sense-perception. Sensory perception of reality is part of the process of reason -- it provides the material about and from which we reason in the first place. If you doubt it, then consider what would be the nature of a process of "reason" absent and apart from sensory data.

"Ayn Rand put those words into her definition of reason to counter and ward off *precisely* the fallacious concept of reason as separable from sense-perception that you describe."

On the ARI Site, in A Brief Summary of Objectivism, Page 2, Peikoff states the following:

"Reason is defined by Ayn Rand as 'the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses.'"

"Perceives" is omitted, I'm sure for the reason I mentioned. Rand likely later corrected herself.



Comment #194

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 15:04:16 mst
Name: Tony Donadio

Dave Harrison,

The definition you cite is simply a restatement of Ayn Rand's. To "identify and integrate the material provided by man's senses" *includes* the process of perception (that's where the "material provided by man's senses" comes from). No perception, no material; no material, no identification and integration of it, and thus no reason.



Comment #195

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 15:06:28 mst
Name: Tony Donadio

P.S. The point is that "perceives" is a (useful) redundancy in this context -- NOT an error.



Comment #196

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 15:08:50 mst
Name: Dave Harrison

Tony, we'll agree to disagree, then.



Comment #197

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 15:23:15 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Ayn Rand changed her definition of reason between "Galt's Speech" and "The Objectivist Ethics." In the former, she says, "Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses" whereas in the latter, she says, "Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses." As far as I know, she never returns to that early definition in any of her later work, nor says anything at all like it.

I do think it's an error to say that "reason... perceives... the material provided by [the] senses." Man perceives reality via his senses and perceptual faculties, then conceptually processes that data via reason. Reason isn't doing any perceiving -- and sense data is not the object of any perception. To put the point as AR did originally very much implies a representationalist theory of perception. It's clear that she didn't hold that view at the time of Galt's Speech, so my suspicion has always been that she altered the definition to rid it of that unwanted false implication.

So I don't think the change in definition was the result of a change in Ayn Rand's philosophic views, but I do think the change was necessary.



Comment #198

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 15:38:28 mst
Name: Tony Donadio

Diana,

That's an interesting point. You're right that strictly speaking, "the material provided by man's senses" is not the object of perception (reality is), and that the initial wording could be taken to imply representationalism. I'll give that some more thought, but my initial reaction is that you're probably right.



Comment #199

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 18:48:32 mst
Name: Betsy Speicher
URL: http://forums.4aynrandfans.com

I don't think Ayn Rand's original wording was wrong, but it could be confusing. It depends on the context in which "perceive" is being used.

Usually the word means sense perception, but sometimes it means ANY awareness of reality -- including a conceptual conclusion. For instance, we sometimes say of an important identification, reached by a very difficult and abstract process of conceptual thought, "That was very perceptive!"



Comment #200

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 18:48:59 mst
Name: Betsy Speicher
URL: http://forums.4aynrandfans.com

I don't think Ayn Rand's original wording was wrong, but it could be confusing. It depends on the context in which "perceive" is being used.

Usually the word means sense perception, but sometimes it means ANY awareness of reality -- including a conceptual conclusion. For instance, we sometimes say of an important identification, reached by a very difficult and abstract process of conceptual thought, "That was very perceptive!"



Comment #201

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 5:22:05 mst
Name: AH

Happy anniversary!

I don't know if you've discovered this since your interviw with _Axiomatic Magazine_ (published in the January 2006 issue), but Ayn Rand does discuss the issue of abstract particulars in print. However, apparently because the printed source is a transcript of a discussion which Ayn Rand did not intend to publish, Dr. Peikoff does not consider it to be a part of the official Objectivist doctrine.

See the second subsection under the section "Concepts as Mental Existents" in the appendix of the Second (which I believe is the latest) Edition of _Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology_. In my copy, the pages are 153-4.

-AH



Comment #202

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 5:44:20 mst
Name: semi-honest1

Anything I could assert here is outside the realm of cognition, because I've
told innumumerable lies.