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It seems like in every discussion I have about free market healthcare, the most common response is “Well, it works in theory but not in practice.” The Ayn Rand Lexicon only has one excerpt dealing with this dichotomy, but I am not finding it helpful. How do I tell someone the invalidity of the theory-practice dichotomy in layman’s terms?

UPDATE on 1/11/2013

Here's one example of something that I think works in theory but not in practice:

Let's say that numerous studies suggest that giving specialized full body massages before a surgical operation slightly improves a patient's recovery time. This is something that sounds good in theory because a patient needing an operation could get this done before a surgery. However, it is not practical because this particular massage costs a lot of money, as it requires highly skilled massage therapists. Given that in practice the massage costs a lot and provides only a small benefit, it seems to me that it sounds good in theory but not in practice.

asked Nov 19 '12 at 23:46

user890's gravatar image


edited Jan 11 '13 at 23:02


Show how the theory relates to the practice. Or how it doesn't, and therefore how it is flawed.

Also be careful you're not giving too much credit to the theory. Free market healthcare would not, in theory nor in practice, provide everyone with everything they want. It gives people the choice to live fast and die young, and some people will choose that.

(Nov 20 '12 at 10:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Getting a massage works in practice. It only depends on the patient's choice to spend the money on that. A real example of something that works in theory but not in practice is a wormhole or time travel. The laws of physics have theories--very good theories--on how it is possible to fold the fabric of time and space to get from A to B faster than light, but we do not have the means to build a machine like that. We don't even know if it works in practice. Socialism works in theory, but not in practice. This is because it fails to ignore certain aspects of human nature. Human self-interest.

(Jan 12 '13 at 08:16) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

First, concerning the Free Markets, as Ayn Rand said numerous times, true capitalism and true free markets have never been truly applied or practiced. So, it isn't really valid to say that free markets don't work in practice. Although, in the levels that it has been applied throughout history, certainly proof that the free markets have provided great results. Take this example, I live in South America, and in this region only one country has, in the most correct way, applied this type of measures: Chile. If you do a little research on that subject you will find very nice answers. And also every other country in this region tried, throughout the '70s, to implement those kind of economic measures but they didn't do it right. They mixed them with other keynesian and socialist economic policies, so in principle, they didn't applied them in tthe way Chile did. This has resulted that in most countries here, they all think free markets and economic liberalism truly doesn't work at all. And that's why the left practically rules down here.

Second, relating to the theory vs. practice subjects, I would quote what Francisco always told Dagny in Rand's Atlas Shrugged:

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

To formulate a theory in the objectivist philosophy means that it is constructed with no contradictions. And taking that objectivism is a philosophy based solely in reason, and therefore, reality, applying theory to practice will work. Unless, of course, one of your premises is wrong.

I also think this article from The Atlas Society (http://www.atlassociety.org/poverty-capitalism-and-class) may provide you of some answers, not directly on healthcare, but on the subject on how people in a free society have the complete chance to be successful. Meaning the poor or people in need of medical treatment could, maybe not easily but they would certainly be able to, pay what they need.

Hope this helps.

answered Dec 01 '12 at 15:55

Juan%20Diego%20dAnconia's gravatar image

Juan Diego dAnconia

After saying that we should try a fully free market system, the person I'm debating with usually dismisses the argument as "too idealistic." What would you say to the dismissal of something as "too idealistic"?

(Dec 01 '12 at 22:30) user890 user890's gravatar image

I would say is not a rational response. The world would be nothing without ideas. "Idealism" is a necessary step toward "realism". Nothing in the economic or political field has ever been practiced before it was idealized, it's not even possible.

I would answer: on what grounds are you saying that free market economics are "too idealistic"? Based on what?because history has teached us that free markets have raised the standards of living of the whole world. Also, consider that this economics are the only ones that consider consumers rational.


(Dec 02 '12 at 11:39) Juan Diego dAnconia Juan%20Diego%20dAnconia's gravatar image

If you want to tackle the theory-practice dichotomy directly, I've always liked the aphorism that "there is nothing more practical than theory". How we are supposed to decide what is practical without using some kind of abstract ideas? Surely we have to consider the long-range consequences of an action, not just what happens immediately, and the only way we can figure out what the long-range consequences are likely to be is by an appeal to some kind of cause-and-effect analysis, i.e. to a theory. If you completely ignore theory you are left with nothing but your emotions to decide what is practical. How well does "do what you feel like" work as a life strategy?

People advocating government-run health care are going to be relying on theories of their own -- perhaps moral theories about the injustice of unequal access, or economic theories about scale, efficiency and 'cost curves'. Point out those implicit dependencies and ask them to defend them explicitly.

answered Dec 05 '12 at 18:23

Kyle%20Haight's gravatar image

Kyle Haight ♦

If a theory is derived from reality in a valid manner, how could it not work in practice? It would have to be an invalid theory.

If, however, one attempts to derive a theory by starting with a priori truths of some kind and then deducing conclusions about reality from those truths, why should one be surprised when the concusions don't work out in practice?

The former approach is described as 'I' (integration) in the DIM Hypothesis put forth by Leonard Peikoff. The latter approach is described as 'M1' (type 1 misintegration) in the DIM Hypothesis. M1 has been very prevalent throughout man's history and is often what people are referring to (usually implicitly) in their references to a theory-practice dichotomy. Objectivism, however, endorses and upholds the 'I' approach and rejects M1.

answered Jan 12 '13 at 12:20

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I think the difficulty is that the typical argument equivocates on the word "theory". The the scientific sense, the word "theory" refers to an inductive generalization backed by lots of facts, and which accurately predicts real events (e.g., the "theory of evolution"). However, this is generally not how someone promoting the theory / practice dichotomy uses the term. In that sense, they are using theory to mean, roughly: "any abstract notion of how things ought to behave". Of course, this vague a definition not only includes legitimate scientific theories, but also unproved hypotheses and all kinds of ridiculous things which couldn't possibly work (e.g., flying with wings made of wax and feathers).

A legitimate theory (in the proper, scientific sense) must be accompanied by a tremendous amount of observation, and a careful definition of the context in which it applies. With such a theory, there is no dichotomy between theory and practice because the theory is derived from the practice by observation, and cases where it doesn't apply are rigorously excluded from the definition of the theory.

However, in the colloquial sense, there is a legitimate concept at play: the idea that half-baked, rationalistic notions generally don't pan out. This is precisely because they aren't tied to reality in the same way a true theory is; there's no careful observation, no definition of the context where it applies, and no true understanding of what is and isn't included. It's unfortunate that the word "theory" has become involved in what is a legitimate criticism of faulty thinking, and thereby diminished in it full and proper meaning.

answered Feb 04 '13 at 01:59

Andrew%20Miner's gravatar image

Andrew Miner ♦

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Asked: Nov 19 '12 at 23:46

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Last updated: Feb 04 '13 at 01:59