Instead (or before) reading her books, see if you like what she has to say about Objectivism:
Rand said that most (or all?) of modern philosophy is Kantian or derivatives of Kant. And that Kantian philosophy is the reason that American Universities are bad (in the 1970’s). I think its still the same today.
What do you think of Ayn Rand or Objectivism?
I think Rand is creative, I enjoy her iconoclasm, I don’t admire her scholarship/exegesis of other philosophers. Her bugaboo Kant doesn’t much resemble Kant. I’m familiar w/the Rand quote that Kant’s philosophy is ‘on every fundamental issue . . . the exact opposite of Objectivism.’ And, she believed her philosophy had logically refuted him.
What are the main Objectivist charges against Kant. There’s lots of ranting from Rand about Kant’s deleterious effect upon intellectual history, I’ll put that to one side. I suppose that we might consider metaphysics and ethics, let’s start with metaphysics. Rand’s generous comments on Kant’s metaphysics, are so useless as to be a moral issue, possibly, in any case. This is worth considering, if you want to get a handle on the relative lack of regard in which Rand is held by ‘the professionals’. On metaphysics, Piekoff offers Kant’s view as being that ‘[r]eason is impotent to discover anything about reality’.
Rand: ‘His argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears—deluded, because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.’
In essence, eh? Thanks for boiling it down, Kant can seem rather complex. In essence, I’ll boil it down further, man is limited..therefore, his consciousness is not ‘valid’. I have a hard time taking offense, though, at the idea that man is ‘limited’. I don’t know how one can seriously argue otherwise. Let’s see, man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others. I still don’t know how one seriously can argue otherwise. What does ‘the things he perceives do not exist’ mean? That Rand can seriously attribute this view to anyone, let alone to a putatively important philosopher, well, at the least, I’m thinking ‘strawman’. I’m amused, perhaps that’s her only goal, she’s provocative, which turns out to be very easy to do. I might allow that Rand is, shall we say, the smartest out of a typical batch of 3 million people, but that’s still nowhere near doing her justice, perhaps?
Here’s a longer Rand quote on Kant:
‘The “phenomenal” world, said Kant, is not real: reality, as perceived by man’s mind, is a distortion. The distorting mechanism is man’s conceptual faculty: man’s basic concepts (such as time, space, existence) are not derived from experience or reality, but come from an automatic system of filters in his consciousness (labeled “categories” and “forms of perception”) which impose their own design on his perception of the external world and make him incapable of perceiving it in any manner other than the one in which he does perceive it.’
I say that I don’t admire Rand’s scholarship/exegesis of other philosophers. I note the ‘said Kant’ in the first line. But that’s not a quote, you’re to trust her executive summary. What is this about the ‘phenomenal world’ not being real? I won’t quote Kant, contradicting this, I expect you to offer a quote from Kant contradicting this, if you want to prove to me that you can use Google. The notion that reality, as perceived by man’s mind, is a distortion, turns out to be a bit softer, but is still a rather contentious interpretation of Kant (one that might have supporters, the point being that I’m not one). I note something a bit sloppy here, as well, in the way that Rand has Kant saying that man’s basic concepts (such as time, space, existence) are a not ‘derived’ from experience or reality. I think she means that according to Kant, they are, but they are derived imperfectly, and thus, reality as perceived, is a distortion, see? Sad day when Rand contradicts herself, a grave sin, she sees lots of flaws in others’ thinking, she is not impressed. Should I be? Also, ‘forms of perception’ is in quotes here, I wonder what translation of Kant she is using. Perhaps the ‘forms of perception’ are space and time. One might w/more justice refer to space and time as pure intuitions of our faculty of sensibility, if one wants to do justice to Kant. I wouldn’t quibble at ‘pure intuitions’, or maybe even ‘pure forms of intuition’. I think Rand would reply that she gets it, but she gets Kant as being very uninterestingly wrong, she’s not putting much effort into this. They are pure intuitions because they represent single individuals rather than classes of things, if you’re more curious than Rand was, about Kant. They are pure forms of intuition because they must precede and structure all experience of individual outer objects and inner states. I note, as well, about space and time being pure forms of intuition, and pure intuitions, that Kant tries to prove this. There’s something (perhaps this is familiar? I don’t want to belabor the point) about how both our a priori knowledge about space and time in general and our synthetic a priori knowledge of geometrical propositions in particular need to be explained. Space and time are knowable independently of the experience of particular objects. This is how it comes to be, for Kant, that they are of subjective origin. I find this reasoning to be rock solid.
Anyways, I have grave difficulty, in the first place, with the notion that Kant was articulating precisely this notion of an ‘automatic system of filters’, but that might be a debate. They are not labeled “categories” and “forms of perception”. There is discussion of categories in Kant (the categories of the understanding)—he proceeds from the categories to the foundations of natural science.
The key to Kant’s argument is the claim that knowledge is always expressed in a judgment; he then argues that there are certain characteristic forms or ‘logical functions’ of judgment, and that in order for our judgments to be about objects, these logical functions of judgments must also provide the basic concepts for conceiving of objects. I could say more, but who is interested? And I should cite something.
My Rand quote can be quoted further:
‘This proves, said Kant, that man’s concepts are only a delusion, but a collective delusion which no one has the power to escape.’
Again, ‘Kant said’. I’ll let you guess how I feel about that. And further:
‘Thus reason and science are “limited,” said Kant; they are valid only so long as they deal with this world, with a permanent, pre-determined collective delusion . . . but they are impotent to deal with the fundamental metaphysical issues of existence, which belong to the “noumenal” world . . . [which] is unknowable; [but] it is the world of “real” reality, “superior” truth and “things in themselves” or “things as they are”—which means things as they are not perceived by man.’
Again, ‘Kant said’. But let’s see. Reason and science are ‘limited’. And I should hope so? When are they valid, in other words? Well, they are valid ‘only so long as they deal with this world’. Well, I can deal with that. Why is that objectionable? There is something of Kant’s comportment in this, at least, that reason and science are impotent to deal with the fundamental metaphysical issues of existence, but rather than ‘the fundamental metaphysical issues of existence’, I might say, in the case of science, that it can’t deal with ‘scandalously irrelevant otherworldly speculations’. It can deal with issues of existence. And in the case of reason, well, there are issues of existence that science can’t deal with, but, according to Kant, reason can. There are some traditional metaphysical issues that arouse Kant’s impatience, too (but none for Rand?)
My point being not so much to debate Objectivism, but to cry foul at Rand’s ‘understanding’ of Kant, I think this is enough for a reply.
I’m glad you’ve resurrected this orphaned thread, DBP. You’ve said a lot, and I’ll just add that Ms. Rand, toward the end of part 1 of the Tom Snyder interview, claims that her objectivism occurred to her when she was just two years old and that during her lifetime, stayed fundamentally the same. Somehow I have a feeling that E. Kant’s central insights into epistemology took place sometime after age two. Terrific post, DBP.
I don’t expect novelists who turn to philosophy to be any more convincing than anyone else capitalizing on celebrity. That doesn’t in itself make Rand wrong, but her arrogant dismissal of the great philosophers with (as you well illustrate) inadequate attention to what they said was doubly unconvincing, since there was no guarantee from her prior work that she must have at least known what she was talking about.