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I've encountered this attack a number of times now. Most recently a few days ago. Enemies of Objectivism and Ayn Rand accuse her of not having a single original idea, and even more, of ripping off her ideas from elsewhere. They claim her ideas came from people like Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Aristotle and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Is this true? If not, what philosophical ideas are original to Ayn Rand?

asked Aug 21 '14 at 19:55

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy
(suspended)

I'm not sure quite what the accusation is here. Is it that Rand didn't adequately cite her sources?

Rand's philosophy was much different from that of Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzche, and anyone else I know of that came before her.

Am I wrong about that? I'm not an expert in the history of philosophy, so I can't say for sure what, if any, philosophical ideas of Rand were completely original to her. But if there was someone who integrated Rand's view on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics into a single cohesive philosophy before Rand, I've never read it.

(Aug 22 '14 at 12:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I should add that when I've seen this claim that Rand never had a single original idea, it's usually followed on by a discussion about how her conclusions differed so drastically from those who supposedly had identical ideas.

(Aug 22 '14 at 13:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

The people that mount this type of disparagement against Rand and Objectivsm, the accusation they have, or what they are getting at is this:

"what, if any, philosophical ideas of Rand were completely original to her."

(Aug 22 '14 at 14:20) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

That's not even an accusation, let alone a disparaging one.

I could turn it into an accusation, such as "Rand never had a completely original idea about philosophy." But that still wouldn't be very disparaging, as without a doubt Rand is responsible for teaching many people about her philosophical ideas, even if for the sake of argument we assume they weren't completely her own. And further I'm not sure what qualifies as a completely original idea. Rand has acknowledged that others have had an influence on her ideas.

(Aug 22 '14 at 15:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

All that said, I do think "What ideas are original to Ayn Rand?" is a good question, and one that I hope someone (presumably someone who has studied the history of philosophy) can answer. It's all the unnecessary baggage around the question that I take issue with.

(Aug 22 '14 at 15:16) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

They take it as disparaging because if she came up with nothing original, she would be worthless, since everything she thought can be gotten from somewhere else without all the severely negative baggage that goes along with the Ayn Rand story.

They take it as disparaging in the same manner that being a plagiarist is taken as disparaging of the person who does said plagiarizing.

(Aug 22 '14 at 18:02) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

They take it as disparaging in the same manner that being a plagiarist is taken as disparaging of the person who does said plagiarizing.

Plagiarism and building on the ideas of others are two very different things. If you're going to accuse Rand of plagiarism, then you need to be more specific as to whose work was plagiarized and where.

(Aug 23 '14 at 13:50) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Her fiction is unquestionably original, is it not? Even if none of her philosophy was original (and I see no reason to believe this), her fiction (and her non-fiction, for that matter) brought that philosophy to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't have known of it, probably myself included. That alone has value regardless of whether or not the philosophy itself is original.

Also, what “severely negative baggage” are you talking about? What Ayn Rand is most criticized for is her philosophy itself.

(Aug 23 '14 at 13:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

I'm not accusing Rand of plagiarism. I was just answering your statement.

"What Ayn Rand is most criticized for is her philosophy itself."

No. If you are around people who hate Objectivism and Objectivist's, which is a lot by the way, what Ayn Rand is most criticized for is being Ayn Rand.

(Aug 23 '14 at 17:16) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

No. If you are around people who hate Objectivism and Objectivist's [sic], which is a lot by the way, what Ayn Rand is most criticized for is being Ayn Rand.

Anyone with that kind of attitude can safely be ignored.

(Aug 23 '14 at 21:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

I see you put sic there. Where was the error?

(Aug 23 '14 at 23:51) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image
1

Non-possessive usage, shouldn't have apostrophe. Incidentally, if people "hate Objectivism and Objectivists," then where do they stand on issues like reality, reason, egoism, individualism, individual rights, capitalism, and metaphysical values in art? Especially their stand on reason.

(Aug 24 '14 at 10:48) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

@IdeasforLife

People's(and the word people being those that do, not meant to imply everyone hates Objectivism or Objectivists) hatred for Objectivism and Objectivists doesnt really have to do with the Philosophy, though they think that's no good too(and I'm putting that very kindly and tactfully).

It has to do with Ayn Rand's terrible behavior; It has to do with its claim that selfishness is a virtue, since selfishness is considered to be evil or seriously morally wrong, and it has to do with people thinking it's a cult, and humans feel that cults are evil, sinister and poisonous.

(Aug 24 '14 at 20:00) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

How can the hatred of a philosophy have nothing to do with the philosophy?

The "claim" that selfishness is a virtue is part of the philosophy. It's not really a small part of it either.

What terrible behavior? Another accusation with nothing to back it up.

(Aug 24 '14 at 23:47) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

Well, they don't like that either(to put it mildly). But a lot of the hatred for the philosophy, if not mostly all of it, comes from the hatred for Ayn Rand. How is that possible? It's because humans tend to commit genetic fallacies and evaluate the worth or value of something based on who it comes from.

Humans tend to judge a message not just by the quality or veracity of the message, but as much if not more, by the messenger.

If they judge the messenger as bad, they will tend to judge their message as bad too, even if it's not.

(Aug 25 '14 at 00:27) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

@Anthony

"What terrible behavior? Another accusation with nothing to back it up."

I don't feel like recounting all the bad things Ayn Rand did, because I don't feel like bad mouthing a person who lived her life the way she saw fit, has been dead for 32 years, and thus is no longer here to defend herself.

I respect her philosophical achievement of Objectivsm, and that is what should be focused on. Not bashing someone who is no longer alive to defend herself or change her life's narrative.

If you care to know, go on Youtube or other places on the internet, and you will learn soon enough.

(Aug 25 '14 at 00:37) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

You already have bad mouthed her. You already are bashing her. What you don't feel like doing is backing it up.

(Aug 25 '14 at 06:42) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

"You already have bad mouthed her"

Examples.

(Aug 25 '14 at 14:06) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

If you can't figure it out from reading the last few messages, then my copy/pasting of those messages isn't going to help any.

Anyway, while we're asking for examples, where can the principles of Objectivism be learned, without all the "severely negative baggage," and without reading any works of Rand?

To be honest I can't even think of anyone that came after Rand who can teach Objectivism as well as reading Rand, let alone someone who came before.

Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche - they all had pieces of the puzzle, but Rand had the whole puzzle put together.

(Aug 27 '14 at 10:14) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony

You're exhibiting hypocrisy. As you complained that I'm not backing up accusations against Rand, and now you're not backing up accusations.

"and without reading any works of Rand"

http://wiki.objectivismonline.net/Main_Page

(Aug 27 '14 at 14:50) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image
showing 2 of 20 show all

Enemies of Objectivism and Ayn Rand accuse her of not having a single original idea....

What is "Enemies of Objectivism and Ayn Rand"? I haven't heard of any organization by that name and couldn't find a website for any such organization in a Google search. As far as I can determine, that expression appears to be a self-characterization by some who were formerly associated with Ayn Rand and/or Objectivism but who were publicly criticized and ostracized by other leading Objectivists. I.e., those who believe they are victims are using the expression as a parody by them of how they believe they have been mistreated. But if they use that expression as an accurate, straightforward description of their own goals, with conscious, malicious intent to spread enmity, and with Ayn Rand and Objectivism singled out as the principal target of their enmity, then they seem to be rejecting Objectivist principles, including reason, objectivity, Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, intellectual honesty, fairness (justice), independence, integrity, pride, rational egoism, individualism, individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, etc. -- and nothing they may say about Objectivism or Ayn Rand thereafter can be given any objective credibility. One normally does not seek to spread enmity toward ideas that one accepts and endorses. It would be helpful if the question could clarify the intent of that expression.

The question also should clarify more precisely what ideas Ayn Rand is alleged to have claimed to be her own original identifications, but which were not actually her own original work. Ayn Rand readily and frequently acknowledged intellectual debts owed to other thinkers who came before her and whose discoveries she built upon. The leading example is Aristotle. If one reads her descriptions of Aristotle and other major thinkers, one will see that she is not intending any claim of originality by her when she endorses and upholds their ideas, even if she doesn't always reiterate where those ideas originated. It is also very often the case that she integrated others' ideas more consistently and fully than anyone had ever done before, to form a complete, comprehensive philosophical system that never before existed in that form.

A fairly detailed list of Ayn Rand's most significantly new and original accomplishments can be found in OPAR, typically near the end of most of the chapters. Here are the specific examples that I found in a brief check of OPAR:

  • p. 6, "existence is identity" as a new formulation of the axiom of identity.

  • p. 36, "Objectivism" as the best term for Ayn Rand's philosophy.

  • p. 72, identifying the locus of man's will as his conceptual faculty.

  • p. 83 (Chap. 3 note 11), measurement-omission as a revolutionary principle in concept formation.

  • p. 85, "Ayn Rand's profound new answer [about 'sameness'] is that the relationship among similars is mathematical."

  • p. 109, Ayn Rand's theory of concepts.

  • pp. 150-151, intrinsicist and subjectivist vs. objective approach; proper definition of objectivity; context and hierarchy in objectivity; landmark discoveries; "Objectivism" as the best term for Ayn Rand's philosophy.

  • pp. 204-205, reason as volitional; Ayn Rand's viewpoint as revolutionary.

  • p. 237: "If one lives or deals with other men at all, their moral character is relevant to one's own survival and can be an issue of enormous significance to it, for good or for evil.... [This] principle introduces a broad new context for the pursuit of value."

  • p. 243, "The result of such reduction [of "value" to its conceptual roots] was her [Ayn Rand's] discovery of a new code of morality."

  • pp. 248-249: "Ayn Rand was the first moralist to say no to the dogma of self-sacrifice -- to say it righteously, consistently, and with full philosophic objectivity. She is thus the first to identify in completely rational terms what that dogma is doing to the human race and what the alternative to it is. This marks a historic turning point." Also, "A handful of Western thinkers did reject this code [of sacrifice]. The two with the best and fullest ethical systems were Aristotle and Spinoza, each of whom sought in his own way to uphold the value of life, the virtue of rationality, and the principle of egoism. But even these rare dissenters were influenced, both in method and content, by Platonic and by subjectivist elements."

  • pp. 348-349, regarding happiness, comparing Ayn Rand's view to Aristotle's view.

  • pp. 359-360: "The rights of man, Ayn Rand holds, can be violated by one means only: by the initiation of physical force (including its indirect forms, such as fraud.).... Although earlier thinkers, including the Founding Fathers, often implied the above, they did not identify it explicitly. This represented a lacuna in the theory of rights that made its consistent application to reality impossible.... Ayn Rand's discovery that rights can be violated only by the use of physical force is historic. It is essential to the proper completion of the theory of rights, giving men, for the first time, the means to implement the theory objectively.... Ayn Rand's grasp, in politics, of the relationship between rights and force flows from her grasp, in ethics, of the moral evil of physical force."

  • p. 450, romanticism in art (which existed before Ayn Rand): "Ayn Rand identified, all the way down to fundamentals, why man needs the unique form of nourishment which is art. Then, to a starving century, she provided a banquet."

  • p. 460:

To the end of her life, Ayn Rand upheld her distinctive "benevolent-universe" premise. The good, she maintained, can be achieved; "it is real, it is possible, it's yours." So long as there is no censorship, she taught, there is a chance for persuasion to succeed.... this is Ayn Rand's unique perspective -- the task ahead is not difficult.

To save the world is the simplest thing in the world.

All one has to do is think.

For further insight on Ayn Rand's view of the history of philosophy and the role of philosophy in history, refer also to her article, "For the New Intellectual," in her book by the same title; refer, as well, to the Epilogue in OPAR and the topic of "History" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, along with the cross-references which the Lexicon topic provides. These references together survey the whole context of Western civilization and Ayn Rand's view of where her own philosophy fits in, along with the major philosophical alternatives put forth by others.

Update: Originality in Psycho-Epistemology

In the comments, several remarks by the questioner raise the issue of the relation between man's conscious mind and his subconscious -- as well as what, if anything, Ayn Rand said about that relation and whether or not Ayn Rand's observations were original.

It has been recognized for centuries that man has both the faculty of reason and an emotional capacity. There has also been a long philosophical tradition of mysticism toward both, dating back to Plato in ancient Greece. Reason has been viewed as an attribute of man's conscious mind, and emotions have been viewed as emanating mostly from his subconscious. The relation between reason and emotions has traditionally been seen as an inexorable, inexplicable conflict, encapsulated in "dichotomies" such as the moral versus the practical, theory versus practice, and, most broadly, the soul-body dichotomy. For an overview of Objectivism's appraisal of these dichotomies and related issues, refer to The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the following topics:

  • Soul-Body Dichotomy
  • Theory-Practice Dichotomy
  • Moral-Practical Dichotomy
  • Reason
  • Emotions
  • Subconscious
  • Consciousness
  • Automatization
  • Psycho-Epistemology
  • Sense of Life
  • Introspection

Ayn Rand recognized that man has a subconscious, and she offered a fuller and deeper explanation of it than any previous philosophers and psychologists had done. She especially focused on the interactions between the subconscious and man's conscious mind. The Lexicon topic of "Subconscious" explains, in part:

Your subconscious is like a computer—more complex a computer than men can build—and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don’t reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance—and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions—which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn’t, you don’t.

Many people, particularly today, claim that man cannot live by logic alone, that there’s the emotional element of his nature to consider, and that they rely on the guidance of their emotions. Well, . . . the joke is on . . . them: man’s values and emotions are determined by his fundamental view of life. The ultimate programmer of his subconscious is philosophy—the science which, according to the emotionalists, is impotent to affect or penetrate the murky mysteries of their feelings.

Ayn Rand observed that the subconscious can greatly affect a person's habitual cognitive methodology. This led her to the whole field of "psycho-epistemology." The Lexicon topic of "Psycho-Epistemology" explains, in part:

Psycho-epistemology is the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.
“Psycho-epistemology,” a term coined by Ayn Rand, pertains not to the content of a man’s ideas, but to his method of awareness, i.e., the method by which his mind habitually deals with its content.
The subconscious is an integrating mechanism. Man’s conscious mind observes and establishes connections among his experiences; the subconscious integrates the connections and makes them become automatic [through consistent repetition over time].
This is a crucial discovery of Miss Rand’s—the discovery of psycho-epistemology, and of its roots, forms, and errors. Without such knowledge, men would be left at the mercy of unidentified mental habits that they hardly even suspected—habits that perhaps derived unknowingly from childhood errors that they long since had consciously renounced. Psycho-epistemology represents a whole science, a new branch of psychology.
Men’s epistemology—or, more precisely, their psycho-epistemology, their method of awareness—is the most fundamental standard by which they can be classified. Few men are consistent in that respect; most men keep switching from one level of awareness to another, according to the circumstances or the issues involved, ranging from moments of full rationality to an almost somnambulistic stupor. But the battle of human history is fought and determined by those who are predominantly consistent, those who, for good or evil, are committed to and motivated by their chosen psycho-epistemology and its corollary view of existence.

For a more in-depth discussion of psycho-epistemology and the closely related topic of sense of life, refer to the first three chapters of The Romantic Manifesto, along with the following sections of OPAR:

  • "Emotions as a Product of Ideas" in Chap. 5
  • "Reason as Man's Only Means of Knowledge" in Chap. 5
  • "Reason as Man's Basic Means of Survival" in Chap. 6

In light of the foregoing, consider some key comments by the questioner:

People's(and the word people being those that do, not meant to imply everyone hates Objectivism or Objectivists) hatred for Objectivism and Objectivists doesn't really have to do with the Philosophy, though they think that's no good too(and I'm putting that very kindly and tactfully).

It has to do with Ayn Rand's terrible behavior; It has to do with its claim that selfishness is a virtue, since selfishness is considered [by many] to be evil or seriously morally wrong, and it has to do with people thinking it's a cult, and humans feel that cults are evil, sinister and poisonous.

[...]

[As for the philosophy, many people] don't like that either (to put it mildly). But a lot of the hatred for the philosophy, if not mostly all of it, comes from the hatred for Ayn Rand. How is that possible? It's because humans tend to commit genetic fallacies [fallacies based on genetics?] and evaluate the worth or value of something based on who it comes from.

Humans tend to judge a message not just by the quality or veracity of the message, but as much if not more, by the messenger.

If they judge the messenger as bad, they will tend to judge their message as bad too, even if it's not.

In other words, the people whom the questioner describes are acting on their unidentified sense of life, which is a product of conventional philosophical traditions which those people have habitualized during the course of their lives by cultural-social "assimilation." Their judgments are not products of rational deliberation or logic.

At one point, the questioner is quick to mention:

I respect her [Ayn Rand's] philosophical achievement of Objectivsm[sic], and that is what should be focused on.

The logical implication here regarding "people who hate Objectivism and Objectivists" was nicely summed up in a comment by Anthony:

People with that kind of attitude can safely be ignored.

Why, then, doesn't the questioner ignore them? Only the questioner himself can answer that, but the implication is that he, too, is acting on his own sense of life without examining it more closely -- specifically, on the premise that the emotions of others are important to consider and always to show deep "concern" for, without regard for what the emotions may or may not indicate about the sense of life of the haters.

Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism offers nothing less than a fundamental, wide-ranging alternative to the whole tradition of mysticism, altruism, collectivism and statism that too many others endorse, either explicitly (on principle), or by unthinking cultural-social "assimilation." It is not surprising at all that Ayn Rand's ideas would strike many people as radical and vehemently controversial. But there is no reason for the questioner or anyone else to pay any further attention to such people if they are not open to reason. One will be better off to focus, instead, on those who are open to reason.

A large part of Ayn Rand's spectacular originality is precisely in showing the world how to shrug off the chains of the mind-body split and related life-diminishing traditions. If it seems a daunting challenge to go against a world that hasn't "shrugged" yet, perhaps the process can at least begin with the glimpse that Ayn Rand has given us of what is possible to man.

answered Aug 22 '14 at 23:15

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

edited Aug 28 '14 at 00:15

@IdeasforLife

"It would be helpful if the question could clarify the intent of that expression."

Enemies of Objectivism is not some sort of organization. The word enemy was capitalized because it was the start of a sentence, and Objectivism was capitalized because it's a proper noun.

It simply means people who are hostile and vehemently opposed to Objectivism and Ayn Rand.

(Aug 23 '14 at 17:21) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

Also, you would likely find the following presentation enlightening in this regard: Ayn Rand's Philosophic Achievement, by Dr. Harry Binswanger (downloadable MP3, 3 hours, $2.50).

(Aug 23 '14 at 19:15) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

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Asked: Aug 21 '14 at 19:55

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Last updated: Aug 28 '14 at 00:15