Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Why Ayn Rand was so smart

Regular readers of this blog will occasionally come across references to a woman called Ayn Rand -- confess, you've noticed haven't you. I know Bob Jones has -- and have maybe wondered why I have such a high opinion of her and her philosophical acumen.

Tibor Machan answers the question this morning:
[S]he is a very popular novelist and has in time inspired a good many scholars to explore her ideas in the various branches of philosophy and political economy. And she also made some novel and radical contributions to the discipline of philosophy, even as its practitioners mostly showed her disdain. One contribution in particular is extremely vital. This is Rand’s novel understanding of the nature of human knowledge.
Tibor briefly sketches the key to her theory of knowledge (very briefly) and also outlines the reasons for the disdain. The key is ... ah, read it yourself. :-)


  1. "A fatal error in much philosophical reflection about knowledge — from Plato to our own time — has been the belief that knowledge requires timeless certainty."

    Actually, fallibilism about knowledge is the mainstream position in contemporary analytic philosophy, and has been for a long time. Machan clearly doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. In fact, I'm not aware of any major philosopher in the past century who has held that knowledge requires certainty.

    "Most erudite thinkers shy from claiming any such knowledge — instead they posit that what we think of right and wrong, good and evil, is mostly bias, prejudice, the viewpoint of our gang, and no better or worse than the viewpoint of some other gang."

    Again, this simply isn't true of philosophy departments (as opposed to, perhaps, English departments). Nobody who has even the faintest acquaintance with the philosophical literature on meta-ethics would make such a claim.

    No wonder you have such a low opinion of academic philosophy. You're being fed misinformation.

  2. Ah, Richard, might I respectively suggest that Tibor has been in, round and about more university philosophy departments than either you or I. And if you do truly believe your own spin, then why not tell Tibor directly rather than me?

    Tibor has much more than a clue. He has the contextual certainty of first-hand evidence. :-)

  3. I don't know how to contact Tibor. But sure, give me his email address and I will happily write to him and ask why he is spreading lies about our discipline.

    This is really basic stuff. Take any intro epistemology class, and the first thing they teach you is that Descartes thought that certainty was required for knowledge. The second thing they explain is why he was wrong ;)

    Similarly for any intro ethics class. The first lesson will be on why the divine command theory is stupid. And the next will be why cultural relativism is stupid.

    If you don't believe me, just head down to your local university library and check out the standard philosophy textbooks.

    If Tibor isn't ignorant, that's even worse... he's intentionally misleading you. Though I note he's left enough wiggle-room to escape charges of flat-out lying. After all, he never explicitly claims that Ayn Rand invented fallibilism, it's merely implied. And he can always claim that his comment about "most erudite thinkers" was not about philosophers per se (perhaps instead talking about the humanities in general).

    Anyway, I just wanted to set the record straight. If you can't bear to believe me, that's your choice. But if you genuinely want to know what goes on in philosophy departments, don't take what this guy says at face value. (And like I said above, you can check me up on these points easily enough.)

  4. Richard, you don't need Tibor's email address; you can comment on his piece at SOLO if you genuinely want his response.


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