A Valediction Permitting CriticismI see, via Billy Beck, that Rand's birth centenary has come and gone. Professor Bainbridge has validated every faith that Beck has in him via the following post:
Personally, I don't get it (or, more precisely, her). I found Fountainhead unbearably obtuse and Atlas Shrugged unreadable. As for Objectivism and Objectivists, they have always struck me as being the worst of the many brands of libertarian kooks...(snip second-hand quote-EB) Mockery has always struck me as the only appropriate response to Objectivism. Fortunately, the Objectivism Mockery Page provides a slew of links to sites making fun of Rand her theories.Quite a refreshingly postmodern approach for a putative conservative academic to take, no? The Professor's professed inability to comprehend a straightforward, although admittedly radical, exposition of the classical liberal tradition in political philosophy gives me endless confidence in his commentary on man in his Aristotelian state. Perhaps Rand, with all Johnsonian gravitas, need only say, "Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding."
As for myself, the following is my standard take on Objectivism, which I post to Objectivists from time to time. I haven't gotten a satisfactory answer from them yet:
I suppose the root of my interest in Objectivism is trying to find out how someone like Rand who gives lip service to the greatness of Aristotle and Aquinas can go so horribly wrong as to attempt to marry their philosophical accomplishments to atheism. In order to do this, Objectivists have to "steal concepts" in the philosophy of religion from Hume, Kant and other skeptical philosophers. You might say that (from my perspective) there is an ironic (and "ominous") parallel between Objectivists and their putative philosophical opponents.
I thank (R)eality that I am now, and always have been, a philosophical objectivist. This has kept me from being an Objectivist (TM), and as such has put me on the road to defending the truths of the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition in philosophy against Objectivists who seek to trash the truths found there precisely for "atheistic reasons."
I don't accept their criticisms of belief in God primarily because I don't believe that it "contradicts the primacy of existence," and if Rand or Peikoff ever bothered to actually *read* Aquinas properly, they might have found that out...
The fair-minded will not that, for Aquinas, the defining character of God is his -existence-, not his -mind.- God does not "self-create" himself. This arrant nonsense may be believed by Peikoff, Spinoza and Sartre, but not by me or by Aquinas.
No one has ever shown me good reason to believe that rationality can come from arationality or the non-rational. I'm no Objectivist because I'm not a Kantian about -anything-, including the philosophy of religion. It is an unfortunate fact that Rand and Peikoff implicitly rely on critiques of the theistic proofs posited by their good intellectual soulmates, Hume and Kant. When they don't, and try to critique sound Christian philosophers using their own arguments, they fall into the worst question-begging straw-manning imaginable. I am militantly unimpressed by the quality of their argumentation on the subject. Don't even get me started on George Smith. Leonard Peikoff's book, OBJECTIVISM: THE PHILOSOPHY OF RAND, is a fairly decent overview of her thought, but it illuminates her weaknesses. The section on religion, especially pages 30-33, really show ignorance of the Thomistic heritage of the Christian religion and its influence in Western Culture, ironically enough including Rand's thought. Rand and Peikoff assert that ALL religious believers insist on "the primacy of consciousness" (i.e., reality is controlled by,and dependent on, a mind) vs. "the primacy of existence" (reality is external to any mind), conveniently forgetting that Thomas asserted that God's EXISTENCE is primary, not God's consciousness.
For Aquinas, the existence of first principles is self-evident and the existence of God is not.(Summa Theologica, Question 1, Article 2) His arguments for God's existence do not rest on the "need" for a priori validation of our sense experience. In fact, he was the most prominent critic of Anselm's ontological argument during this time period!
Unfortunately, Peikoff makes the key intellectual error of associating the notion of -causa sui- ("self-causation") with the concept of God, a fallacy also committed by Spinoza and Sartre. In orthodox Christian theology, God does not "self-create himself," such a notion is arrant nonsense. Rather, since something now exists, something has always existed, and that -always existent- something is God, contra Peikoff. (OPAR, pp. 18-22)
Aquinas's contention is that God exists, not on anyone's "say-so," but demonstrably from the facts of existence. This notion that Christianity is -based- on "faith" as "blind belief without proof" (as opposed to certain Christians mistakenly -affirming- that it is based on such "faith") is exactly the "question-begging" fallacy I object to!
Kant has infected modern theology as well as philosophy. This, combined with horrible religious education in this country (paralleling the bad secular educational establishment) has given rise to this something-for-nothing -faithism-, which I reject on Biblical and philosophical grounds.
In order to accept the Kantian refutations of the Thomistic arguments, you must accept Kant's premises about the limits of the human mind's knowledge of reality. This is not only the conclusion of the vast majority of Kantian scholars (who may otherwise be wrong), but the express statement of Kant himself, as we shall see.
Let's begin with the standard quote from Leonard Peikoff:
"God" as traditionally defined is a systematic contradiction of every valid metaphysical principle. The point is wider than just the Judeo-Christian concept of God. *No argument will get you from this world to a supernatural world.* No reason will lead you to a world contradicting this one. *No method of inference will enable you to leap from existence to a "super-existence."* (187, emphasis mine)Note that Peikoff is making an -a priori- argument that excludes -in principle- any argument for the existence of God drawn from experience. This is a very unusual thing for an Objectivist to do, unless they buy into the restrictions on human consciousness propounded by a certain Prussian philosopher. (or are engaging in a straw-man argument)
Just who is being more faithful to reason and reality here? To quote from a philosopher that Objectivists despise:
[W]e must assert that it is necessary that there should be an eternal unmovable substance. For substances are the first of existing things, and if they are all destructible, all things are destructible. But it is impossible that movement should either have come into being or cease to be (for it must always have existed) ...It appears that The Philosopher substantially disagrees with Peikoff on this issue, and in fact this version of the cosmological argument is the one that inspired Aquinas.
... [S]ince there is something which moves while itself unmoved, existing actually, this can in no way be otherwise than as it is. For motion in space is the first of the kinds of change, and motion in a circle the first kind of spatial motion; and this the first mover produces. The first mover, then, exists of necessity; and in so far as it exists by necessity, its mode of being is good, and it is in this sense a first principle.
On such a principle, then, depend the heavens and the world of nature.... God's self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.
(Aristotle, METAPHYSICS. Book XII, chs. 6-7)
Turning to a philosopher that Rand and Peikoff love:
We should no doubt gladly desist from wishing to have our questions answered dogmatically, if we understood beforehand that ... it would only increase our ignorance ... This is the great advantage of the sceptical treatment of questions which pure reason puts to pure reason. We get rid by it ... of a great amount of dogmatical rubbish, in order to put in its place sober criticism which ... removes successfully all illusion with its train of omniscience. If, therefore, I could know beforehand that a cosmological idea [is] either *too large or too small* for any *concept of the understanding*, I should understand that, as that cosmological idea refers only to an object of experience which is to correspond to a possible concept of the understanding, it must be empty and without meaning, because the object does not fit into it, whatever I may do to adapt it. And this must really be the case with all cosmical concepts, which on that very account involve reason, so long as it remains attached to them, in inevitable antinomy. ... We have thus been led at least to a well-founded suspicion that the cosmological ideas, and with them all the conflicting sophistical assertions, may rest on an empty and merely imaginary conception of the manner in which the object of those ideas can be given ... (Kant, 343-45, emphasis Kant's)Kant's attempted refutation of the cosmological argument is thus based on the categorical limitations arising out of his phenomenal/noumenal split, and thus the cosmological argument fails (on -his- terms) since it uses sense phenomena to come to a conclusion about the noumenal (i.e. God). Why are (alleged) realists such as Peikoff and Rand getting into bed with Kant on this issue? My experience has led me to the conclusion that Objectivists prefer to betray their own best philosophical impulses (those which derive from the truths of the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition) in favor of atheism, even when it means "reifying the zero" and "stealing concepts."
For reason and reality
Against Rand and Kant,
Works Cited ~~~~~~~~~~~ Aristotle. Metaphysics. Trans. W. D. Ross. Public domain electronic text.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. F. Max Muller. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1966.
Peikoff, Leonard. "God." The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Ed. Harry Binswanger. New York: Penguin-Meridian, 1986. 187