Thomas Sowell postulates that a problem among intellectuals and philosophers is that they have all these ideas but the standard of their success is not whether they are empirically correct but that they are popular. so is the ultimate test for philosophy whether it works in the real world?
asked Aug 12 '12 at 13:10
Objectivism is not empiricism.
A proper philosophy is formed by observation of reality, and of history. Given enough observations of reality, and of human action in reality, one can begin logically to form principles about the nature of reality and of man. If one forms these principles rationally, then they are true.
There is not some subsequent empirical "test" that needs to be performed on these principles in order to verify them. History itself, as well as present-day observations, are evidence enough for the correctness of philosophical principles.
Specifically, to know whether Objectivism is true, we do not have to first create a society based on Objectivism, and then see if it succeeds by some standard. The belief that such is required is a variant of empiricism and of pragmatism.
Empiricism holds that concrete evidence is the standard of truth. Empiricism holds abstraction and logic in contempt.
Pragmatism holds that concrete results are the standard of correctness of a policy. Pragmatism holds moral principles, i.e. abstract moral ideas, in contempt.
Objectivism upholds abstraction from concrete evidence, in both truth and morality. Abstraction is a uniquely human mental ability, which is of immense value in the identification of the true and the good.
Once an abstraction or principle is formed, it is validated not by reference to the future results of its application. It is validated by reference to the past evidence from which it was logically formed.
Once one has a valid principle, one simply applies it. If things, then, do not go as expected, one does not immediately reject or even doubt the principle. One looks to form another principle which will explain this special case.
For more information about the proper formation of principles, refer to Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, specifically the discussion about certainty, regarding the theory of human blood types.
answered Aug 12 '12 at 13:37
John Paquette ♦
The question understates the power and pervasiveness of philosophy. Philosophy is everywhere and inescapable. For example, if there is an "ultimate test" for philosophy, what branch of human knowledge does it belong to? Is there a branch of knowledge that is more fundamental than philosophy and outside of philosophy? If so, what is the name of such a branch, and how does it arise? What determines its content? How can one even define what an "ultimate test" or "standard of success" of ideas would consist of, except by reference to philosophy of some kind?
The Objectivist view of philosophy is summarized in more than three pages of excerpts in the topic of "Philosophy" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. One excerpt explains (from PWNI):
As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a phlosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown.
The wider cultural and historical consequences of man's fundamental need for philosophy are summarized in another Lexicon topic, "History." Here is a sampling:
There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty -- the power of ideas. If you know a man's convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course. But convictions and philosophy are matters open to man's choice. [...]
In her long essay, "For the New Intellectual," Ayn Rand elaborates further on the precarious alliance of "Attila" and the "Witch Doctor" throughout history, and asks (p. 15 in the Signet Paperback edition of FNI):
Against whom is this alliance formed? Against those men ... who produce. In any age or society, there are men who think and work, who discover how to deal with existence, how to produce the intellectual and the material values it requires ... the men who are the first to discover any scrap of new knowledge ... the men who deal with reality, with the task of conquering natue, and who, to that extent, assume the responsibility of cognition: of exercising their rational faculty.
FNI traces the historical influence of Attila, the Witch Doctor and the producers in considerable detail.