seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Tue, 2006-05-23 17:42

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature
Greg S. Nyquist
New York, Writers Club Press
xi + 374 pp., bibliography, no index

Let me begin by announcing what a treat it was to read this work. The author, who is described on the back cover as a free lance writer, has a clear and engaging style that made this book a page turner for me. If fact, it has a narcotic quality about it. I keep turning the pages instead of thinking critically. It required a real effort to slow down and assess Nyquist’s logic and argumentation, especially in the face of his dripping sarcasm and repetitive name-calling. One must ignore those factors in order to assess this book on its merits, because he has enough arguments that prevent this book from degenerating into a mere screed.

Unfortunately his writing style is not complemented by much organizational skill. Let me give two examples from Chapters five and six respectively. On p. 209-21 of chapter five he announces the project which he will develop in the next two (or maybe three) sections, but this announcement is actually followed by nine numbered sections, the first two of which have no title, while the last seven sport italicized titles. Then on p. 223, immediately preceding section three, he announces what he will do in the next four sections, but the text contains not four but seven more sections. And there is no section 8! After section 7 titled “Honesty is the best policy, we proceed directly to section 9, “Sex as metaphysical.”

Chapter six is even worse. After telling us on p. 276 that he will divide the chapter into four sections, the text is actually numbered and titled as follows:
(1) The Objectivist Politics
(2) The practical viability of individual rights
(2) [Sic] Class-circulation [Not announced on p. 276]
(3) Capitalism
(4) Freedom
(1) Social Conditions
(2) Untitled

I think what he meant to outline was the following:

(1) The Objectivist Politics
(2) The practical viability of individual rights
(3) Class-circulation
(4) Capitalism
(5) Freedom
(i) Social Conditions
(ii) Objectivist strategies

Before I look at the eight chapters, I want to say something about the introduction. On p. xii he states his purpose in writing this book.

"As I will seek to demonstrate over the course of this book, Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is open to many serious objections. Rand was a surprisingly sloppy and even maladroit thinker who apparently believed that matters of fact can be determine by the manipulation of logical and rhetorical constructions. Indeed, some of the most important doctrines in her philosophy, such as her theories of human nature and value, are based on nothing more than a mere play on words. . . . What is most astonishing about Rand is not that she made errors. . but that she made stupid errors--the kind of errors philosophers make when they are too precipitous in their judgments and haven’t stopped to really think things through."

But don’t get the impression that he has nothing good to say about Rand. He regards her “as an important and perhaps even a great thinker.” (xiii-xiv) But after reading the book I came away with the exact opposite impression. On p. xvii he writes that Rand is “wrong about the nature of man, about the role of philosophical ideas in history, about the validity of induction, about the absolute objectivity of values, about the feasibility of laissez-faire capitalism, and about the nature of romanticism; and she is confused about philosophical idealism, the nature of consciousness, the relation between ideas and the thing they represent in reality, the psychology of altruism, and the issue of a benevolent versus a malevolent sense of life.” How much remains for her to be a great thinker about?

As to Nyquist’s method, on page xxix he tells us that he does not have access to Rand’s mind and so he will “judge her entirely by her writings.” But he immediately begins to focus on her intentions (the word occurs twice on p. xxix alone) and constantly tells us what she is consciously thinking as well as her subconscious motives.

Next he writes that he is “content to allow Rand and her disciples to define their terms in any way they see fit, provided that I am granted the same liberty in my criticism of Objectivism.” (xxix) But how is this to work in practice? If Rand can define man anyway she chooses and Nyquist can do the same, how do we know that they are referring to the same entity. Rand may define man as a rational animal, but if Nyquist defines man as an instinct driven power luster, then how can we determine who is right? And is this even a question of right or wrong? Since both terms may refer to beings that actually exist, how can this dispute be adjudicated? Won’t they be talking at cross-purposes? Given his stated allegiance to Popper, he should have simply stopped at the clause before the comma, i.e., let Rand define her terms anyway she wants, and see what happens from there. But his proviso seems to make communication quite beside the point. Let’s move on to chapter one which contains Nyquist’s critique of Rand’s theory of human nature.

Nyquist begins be chiding Rand for not including philosophical anthropology as one of the major branches of philosophy. He then goes on to recall a distinction which he had introduced in the preface between two “conceptions of human nature: the utopian and the naturalistic.” (2) He then lists the following characteristics of the utopian. “The utopian blames evil, not on man, but on environmental factors, such as unjust social conditions, abusive parents, or an improper or pernicious education.” (2) He then goes on to characterize Rand as “utopian to the core.” (3) But anyone familiar with Rand’s writings know that she blames man for the evil he commits. She regarded all forms of determinism as anti-Objectivist. Where Nyquist got this notion I cannot say. He then concludes the section by saying that “Rand believed that by changing man’s ideas she could . . . change man’s nature.” (3) But she constantly tells us that we cannot change the fact that we are volitionally rational beings. (See the reference to Atlas Shrugged below.)

On p. 9 he accuses Rand of committing the fallacy of difference. He claims that this fallacy occurs when one regards “only the qualities that differentiate a species from a genus [are] essential qualities. . . “ But this is simply wrong. We don’t try to differentiate a species from a genus, but from other species in a genus. What would it mean to differentiate man from animal? Man IS an animal.

He does make a good point on p.10 when he tells us Rand’s statement that “everything we do and are proceeds from the mind” is a bit over the top. It leads to contradictory sounding statements about man such as “he must create himself.” Nyquiest rightly asks, “how is it possible for an entity to create itself?”

Here I would like to make a general statement about the whole book. Nyquist often refers to Rand’s Journals or Letters as the sole basis for a given argument. I suppose he feels that anything she ever wrote is fair game. I tend to favor weighting the published writings more heavily than stuff she herself never saw fits to print. I didn’t like it when Heidegger in his Nietzsche, focused on Nietzsche’s 'The Will to Power,' a collection of unpublished notes, while virtually ignoring his published writings. Notice, I’m not against using unpublished material, but I think one should make it a point to inform the reader that one is using unpublished material and downgrade their importance. This may, of course, be just a personal preference.

Let us consider one last topic from chapter one; free will. He claims that regarding man’s primary choice as a first cause is tantamount to a collapse into the miraculous. (19) Now one can hardly discuss free will in all of its ramifications in a book review, but I would point out that the Objectivist position is very close to that of Karl Popper, one of Nyquist’s heroes. When he writes that “under such a view, human behavior becomes inexplicable and unpredictable” I could not help recalling Popper saying precisely that vis-à-vis a Mozart symphony. Popper challenges anyone to try to predict the g minor symphony from antecedent causes. But if you can’t do that, Popper concludes that there is novelty in the world and much of what Mozart did was unpredictable, albeit not inexplicable.

He is also wrong when he writes, “Human beings are free, she declares, to adopt any sort of nature they please.” (45) Whereas what she said was “you are not free to escape from your nature.” (Atlas Shrugged 939) His assertion that we are free to adopt any nature we please simply does not have any basis in Rand’s writings.

He then closes the chapter with the following: “Rand’s ideal society is nothing more than the puerile fabrication of a mind that has lost all connection with reality.” (47)

Chapter two examines the Objectivist theory of history. “According to this theory, the course of history is primarily determined by one major factor: philosophy. (49) Nyquist disagrees with this claim.

On p. 59 he makes the following point against Rand. “If it is really true that in ‘any historical period when me were free, it has always been the most rational philosophy which has won,’ how is it that Kant’s philosophy, which, as Rand puts it, ‘closed the door of philosophy to reason,’ ended up winning the battle of ideas during the very period of history (i.e., the Nineteenth Century) which Rand considered to the freest?

Objectivist Epistemology is the topic of Chapter three. I would agree with Nyquist that the theory should be called a “theory of concept formation, because that is the primary focus of the theory.”

In this chapter and throughout the book, Nyquist accuses Rand of being “vague” and “indefinite”. But I think he goes to far when he confounds semantics with syntax or form. Consider the following from p. 150. The “great advantage of indefinite terms is that you can use them to prove anything you like.” But this is simply false. Let us see why. He uses the variable X to stand for an indefinite term, and then he constructs the following syllogism.
Reason = X
X = B
Therefore, Reason = B.

He then concludes, “As long as X remains indefinite, we can use this syllogism to prove that reason is just about anything we please.” (151) But consider the following syllogism:
Reason = X
B = X
Therefore, Reason = B

Here we have not proven that Reason = B since we have failed to distribute our middle term, X, this despite the fact the X is just as indefinite in this syllogism as it was in the first. The difference between the first valid syllogism and the second invalid one is not the definiteness or indefiniteness of the term X, but rather the form of the syllogism. As everyone of my first year logic students know, AAA-1 is valid; AAA-2 is not. Indefiniteness is irrelevant to the validity of an argument.

But what would he have Rand do if not use logic. His reply is she should back up her “claim that reason = B with scientifically validated evidence” and this would settle the matter “once and for all.” (150) Two points about this. First he seems to be telling Rand what she ought to do; i.e., she ought to present scientific evidence. But this will not do if we are to believe Nyquist who a mere five pages later tells us, “The term ought is not compatible with the rigors of scientific thought.” So, ought we be scientific or not?

Second, he cannot, as a good Popperian be serious about positive evidence being the end of the matter, even and especially scientific matter. If one claims that all swans are white and produces a white swan, or a 1,000 white swans, as evidence for his claim, is that the end of the matter? Popper built a career on the importance of falsifiability. Has Nyquist forgotten this fact?

Nyguist closes chapter three with an examination of Rand’s position on certainty. On p. 103 he writes, “[o]ne of Rand’s most outrageous claims” is “that certainly is possible.” I take this to mean that certainty is not possible. Imagine my surprise when on p. 172 he tells us that certainty is possible after all. Here are his words: “the only time we can be certain about a theory is when we have discovered evidence refuting it.” But is theory testing the only time we can be certain?. How about sentence refutations? If I claim that there is a naked woman in my bedroom and upon entering the bedroom I find no naked women about, am I not only certain that there are no naked women in my bedroom, but also that my senses did not deceive me, and that I remember what women look like so that I don’t confuse them with aardvarks, etc. If he answers yes to these questions then we seem to have a proliferation of certainties when just a few pages ago we were told how “outrageous” is the claim that certainty is possible.

In defense of Nyquist, I do think that Rand is really a radical here. Her notion of certainty is one that challenges the usual definition of knowledge as “justified true belief,” a notion that probably goes back to Plato. This definition insists that in order to know P, P must be true. Rand, for better or worse, sees this as a variant of intrinsicism and rejects it. Therefore, and Nyquist is quite right about this, you can know P, yet P may be false. But this should not bother a man who claims he will let Rand define her terms anyway she chooses.

After exposing Rand’s concept of “contextual certainty” he asks what is the value of such a definition of certainty. To concretize this problem, Nyquist asks Would a skydiver “give a fig” if you told him that you, the parachute packer, were “contextually certain” his chute would open? He thinks not. He thinks that what the skydiver wants is a “guarantee that the parachute will open.” (177 italics added) To focus on the word “guarantee” is to highlight and get at Rand’s point, that there are no epistemic guarantees in life. God could guarantee that the chute will open if there was one, but alas, there is not. This is why Rand thinks such a quest smacks of intrinsicism. Since she is an Objectivist, this move is not open to her.

But let’s press this issue. What good is contextual certainty? Nyquist sees no value in it at all. But I would suggest that if I’m the skydiver, there is a difference between a chute that has been conscientiously packed, and one that has been shoddily packed. If I ask my packer, Are you certain the chute will open? and he says, “what are you asking me for, I was drunk when I packed it,” I would be worried. On the other hand, if he says, “I checked it twice and so did my boss” and I know that he is telling the truth, that is about the best I can hope for. And surely there is a life and death difference between the two packers. Someone who does the best that is humanly possible is to be preferred to someone who doesn’t “give a fig.” This is the value of contextual certainty. It’s the only certainty about the empirical that we humans can get. Descartes’ dream is precisely that, a dream.

If one has any doubt as to how positivistic Nyquist is, one has only to read the opening paragraphs of chapter four on the theory of metaphysics. I felt like I was back in the middle of the last century during the heyday of logical positivism. He writes, “there is no word in the language that I detest more that the term metaphysics.” (180) And just like the positivists of old, he commits the same self-referential fallacies, i.e., he does metaphysics. For example, on p. 183 he writes, “According to my philosophy [metaphysics!?] facts come first.” If this doesn’t remind you of the opening of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, the most beloved book of the Vienna Circle, then you don’t know much about 20th century philosophy. For readers who enjoy self-referential fallacies, I highly recommend this chapter.

But what about Objectivist metaphysics? In this chapter, unlike the earlier ones, Nyquist seems to have ignored parts of the Objectivist corpus. This is particularly obvious in his examination of the concept of self-evidence. First he tells us that the concept is “scandalously vague” but since he then waives that objection, I shall also. Then, instead of doing what he said he was going to do on p. xxix and letting Rand define her own terms, he ignores her and writes, “if it has any meaning at all, [self-evidence] must refer only to those things which the self has first-hand experience of.” (192) Contrast that with what Rand says about the self-evident, to wit; it “defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in order to deny it.” (Atlas Shrugged 965) The self-evident cannot be denied or escaped. This is not original with Rand and goes back to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, but it is the meaning she uses. Rather than do what he said he was going to do and let Rand define her own terms, he ignores her explications, imputes his own meanings to her and then bashes his own poorly constructed straw man.

In his attack on Rand’s view of causality as the application of identity to the action of entities, he retorts, “If you want to know whether causality is valid, study the empirical word of facts. Only by observing the facts can you know what they are.” (195 italics added) He equates “observation” with “knowledge,” a bit of empiricism that is both bad Rand and bad Popper. Rand would point out that most of human knowledge is conceptual and that you can’t get it simply by “observing.” That observation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for conceptual knowledge.

Popper would be even more vituperative in remonstrating with Nyquist about his replacing the divine God with the divine senses. For Popper, observation is not divine--everything is subject to refutation.

But even if observation were divine, and we tried to take Nyquist’s advice on p. 195 to simply observe the facts, by the time we get to p. 201 he tells us that all we “directly perceive” are “images and feelings--and image and feeling do not constitute knowledge of the real world.” “When I turn and look at the tree outside my window, what is fundamentally given and directly perceived by the mind is not the tree existing in time and space, but only an image of the tree which my mind, in its poetic fancy, has painted across the canvas of my consciousness.” Is this not a reductio of Nyquist’s position?

He ends the metaphysics chapter in a rather curious way. After spending pages telling us how vague and vacuous are the axioms of Objectivism, he quotes approvingly Santayana who writes “the world meantime is just as it is, has been what is has been, and will be what it will be.” (203) True. But how is that different from the axiom of identity? But maybe I’m just one of “those uncritical persons who are most taken in by such piffle” as the “vacuous axiom of identity.” (204)

In chapter five he turns to her theory of morality and degenerates into silliness. To appreciate how silly, consider the following:

Her thesis is that life is the ultimate value. She tries to prove this by arguing that the concept value is “genetically dependent” on the concept life. But what on earth can this mean? [Is he ignorant of the stolen concept fallacy?] Does Rand believe that concepts copulate with one another and engender offspring? If so, then Rand is guilty of committing one of the cardinal fallacies of philosophical ratiocination: she has reified her concepts into sexual entities. (212)

Any good dictionary would have helped Nyquist here. The biological meaning of “genetic” is not the only meaning, nor even the first, listed in either the OED or Webster’s 3rd New International. What is he up to? Maybe he was just trying to be funny. But once he gets us laughing at silly counterarguments, will we not have a hard time taking him seriously.

Nevertheless I will try. Perhaps the best set of criticisms in the ethics chapter has to do with the virtue of honesty. Section (7) is titled “Honesty is the best policy” and runs from p. 258 to 265. The target in the entire section, however, is not Rand but Peikoff, who for some obscure reason Nyquist randomly calls “Leonard Peikoff,” “Peikoff” and “Mr. Peikoff,” the latter in ignorance of the fact the Peikoff has a Ph. D.

First he attacks Peikoff for saying that there is an incompatibility between dishonesty and survival by pointing out that this seems to be contradicted by the fact that “many dishonest individuals . . . have lived long and prosperous lives, . . .” (258)

Next he points out that contrary to Peikoff’s assertion that the dishonest man “wages war with reality,” the con man usually “has a better grasp of the facts of reality that the honest fool whom he cheats and bamboozles.” (259)

Finally consider what Nyquist says in response to Peikoff’s suggestion “that dishonesty is bad when it is used to ‘obtain’ a value, but justified when it is used to ‘protect’ one’s values from criminals.” (263) He asks us to suppose, “that an individual uses dishonest means to obtain a burglar alarm system for his home. Why would dishonesty in this situation necessarily be wrong?”

Chapter six is a sustained attack on Rand’s theory of politics. Nyquist is simply not willing to consider that in addition to descriptive political theory, there exists normative political theory. Most of what he says in this chapter is vitiated by his unwillingness to even consider the validity of the latter. Surely it is one thing to describe the politically sanctioned practice of clitorectomy, another to prescribe this as a great way to raise one’s daughter. Here again his positivism seems to blur his vision.

Given this, he endeavors to “avoid any concern with what ought to be, preoccupying myself entirely with what is.” (274) This causes him to totally misunderstand the logic of the social sciences vs. the natural sciences. All social sciences are like the natural sciences in their descriptive parts--after Kepler discovered the ellipticial orbits of the planets he did not have to agonize over whether they ought to go round in circles.

But in the social sciences we do have more work to do after the descriptions are in. By their very nature, as the postulations of ideals, one cannot expect them to be actual. This means that they will deviate in part or in whole from what is the case. Given this, laissez-faire capitalism is more of a goal to be aim at than anything that may actually be. This makes possible criticism of the status quo. If Rand is right and the 19th century approached nearer to this ideal that, say, the 20th or 10th centuries, then good for the 19th century and bad for the other two.

But the chapter is not a total disaster. He does refer to historians who seem to refute Rand’s rose-colored picture of men like Vanderbilt and J. J. Hill. If this causes Objectivists to check their history as well as their premises, then so much the better. And I say this no matter who turns out to be right.

Next we come to aesthetics. This short chapter (329-344) is divided into three sections: (1) Sense of life; (2) Rand the philistine; (3) conclusion. He spends three pages on “sense of life,” a concept Rand explored in two essays in The Romantic Manifesto. But he spends nine pages on “Rand the philistine!” This space allotment should come as no surprise from a man who tells us in the Introduction that his “fiercest antagonism towards Rand is inspired by her views on aesthetics. None of Rand’s views on human nature, epistemology, history, ethics, or politics bothers me [as much as her] shallow, uninformed, uncultivated, arrogant and thoroughly appalling” views on art. (xxvii-xxviii) He then concludes, “Rand’s aesthetics is merely a rationalization of her own idiosyncratic tastes.” (343)

In chapter eight we get his “Final thoughts.” I will allow him to have the last word. “No one who is well educated in these matters and is endowed with the ability to think critically can ever regard Objectivism as anything but a mistake.” (367)

(This review originally appeared as Fred Seddon, "Nyquist Contra Rand," The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 4, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 361 72.

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James S. Valliant's picture

I am sure that you are capable of nothing but empty insults, bluster and arguments from authority.

I quote folks all of the time in posts, thanks. I just don't let citations substitute for my own thinking or the substantive case that I make.

But who knows where you get the stuff you seem to just make up out of thin air?

I am also now sure that you shot off your mouth about Objectivism in total ignorance of what it actually says about thought and emotion.

In every way, par for the course.

Identify the problem[s], devise solution[s] . . .

William Scott Scherk's picture

James, I have figured out that you don't like to quote people in your replies. Nothing wrong with that.

I should point out to you that when you write "Then he would seem to agree with all the psychologists" -- I am reasonably sure you refer to Damasio, but cannot know who is meant by 'all of the psychologists' influenced by Rand.

In any case, I doubt you have the time or inclination to acquaint yourself with the neurology of emotion or the work of Damasio and his peers. I doubt you have interest in philosophical works that attempt to grapple with emotion, and I doubt you could sustain interest in the enmeshed fields of study that give these works meat to chew.

If you have this interest, you will find links in my earlier note below. Any of Damasio's books are good starts (I recommend "Looking for Spinoza"). He includes excellent citations and wide-ranging reference sections.

If you want to save the dollars for sound recordings, you could also explore the edges of philosophical engagement through some of the papers collected via Mindpapers. A small selection is here. Many are open-access, most others accessible through a decent university library.



James S. Valliant's picture

Then he would seem to agree with all of the psychologists influenced by Rand. They've all said something similar for many years now. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand makes a point to show that her hero-in-growth, Hank Rearden, should've listened to his emotions precisely to that end.

Of course, that's entirely beside the point Mike made about "tools of cognition."

But by all means do feel free to actually argue the substance of this (or any other) point if you think otherwise.

A little detail

William Scott Scherk's picture

This old thread features Seddon, Mike Mazza and Neil Parille.

In the penultimate post, Mike notes:

Emotions are rewards, emotions are products of (conscious and subconscious) ideas, emotions are motivators, and emotions influence how we think and what we think about. At the same time, we can't emote our way to truth (which is what emotions are not tool of cognition means). I've yet to encounter anything in psych classes that contradicts this.

Mike, a salutary bit of work from Antonio Damasio is in "Looking for Spinoza" and also in the previous "The Feeling of What Happens" (this has a subtitle that captures for me the near-ineffable gestalt of his speculations: "Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness).

You may already be familiar with Damasio's work. While not necessarily contradicting any Randian axioms, it makes a strong case that emotions are essential to rational thought and decision (this sqeezes his theses into a very small tube).

Damasio's first best seller was "Descarte's Error."


I, too, am interested in why

Mike_M's picture

I, too, am interested in why Neil thinks AR's view of emotions is naive. Emotions are rewards, emotions are products of (conscious and subconscious) ideas, emotions are motivators, and emotions influence how we think and what we think about. At the same time, we can't emote our way to truth (which is what emotions are not tool of cognition means). I've yet to encounter anything in psych classes that contradicts this. Isn't a large part of cognitive psychology discovering a patient's conscious and subconscious false or damaging beliefs, and then demonstrating to the patient that the beliefs are damaging? I don't get the "naive" charge, so perhaps Neil can enlighten me with a little detail.

Fred on Getting back to Fred

seddon's picture

Fred to Fred,



Just getting back to Fred

Fred Weiss's picture

Just getting back to Fred S.'s original review of Nyquist's book, I just wanted to mention to him that I've been reading his interchange with someone called "Dragonfly" in O-Llie Land (where he also posted the review) and enjoying it. I particularly liked Fred's response on the subject of hallucinations:

"...I don’t have to respond to arbitrary assertions for which you admit that you don’t have any evidence. The question is not 'are hallucinations possible?'

"The question is 'But how do you know that YOU’RE not hallucinating?' It is that statement that is arbitrary and for which you admit not having any evidence. Not only that, it sounds more like an ad hominem than a serious question and invites the obvious tu quoque, 'How do you know you not a moron?' "

Love it.Smiling

You tell him!

Lanza Morio's picture

It's pretty clear you're just getting your rocks off looking for reasons to call Ayn Rand naive.

You tell him, Penelope! It's the fundamental question of volition. Are human beings capable of making measurable changes in their lives? Can they gain knowledge or are they stuck in pre-ordained patterns. Rand thinks we can be heroes. 40 measly IQ points is nothing compared to that.

Actually, one of the

Fred Weiss's picture

Actually, one of the remarkable things about these lists of supposed errors - at least from those who purport to have some respect for her - is how small they are. Much is made of so very little. But of course from their perspective, one error is enough if your objective is to prove that "no one is perfect" and that therefore one "shouldn't put Ayn Rand on a pedestal" or if it is of urgent importance for you to prove to yourself that you are "independent" (ignoring the far more important fact that you've never had a significant original thought in your life).

lifting - heavy or otherwise

Boaz the Boor's picture

Nothing is easier than unearthing errors, real or imagined, in someone else's entire lifetime trajectory of reasoning. Not if one is intent on finding them, and seemingly dedicates every waking hour to the task. That's certainly how I like spending my time, though I won't presume to speak for others. For instance, I found seventy-one errors in my copy of Hume's dialogue on natural religion. Seventy-one! And that was just this morning!

That was exactly my thought,

Fred Weiss's picture

That was exactly my thought, too, Rick. I suspect she also intended an element of humor. I didn't even know the context from which Neil extracted it (an example of "heavy lifting" if ever I saw one) and I appreciate Penelope providing it.


Rick Giles's picture

Yeah, listen. It's pretty clear to me that Ayn Rand's inquisitor hadn't determined by IQ calculation to whom the text was avaliable or unavaliable. It's a metaphore which Ayn Rand picked up and ran with in characteristic adeptness.

To believe mathematical IQ calculus and a literal figure of 40 points is the explicit topic of this that's obtuse!

Ayn Rand naive?

Penelope's picture

From Niel P. "Some of her views on emotions seem rather naive to me."

That's twice you called Rand naive in this thread. The other time you did it based off this:

"Q: Could you write a revised edition of ITOE for people with an IQ of 110, or will it remain available only to people with an IQ of 150?

"A: I'd prefer that people raise their IQ from 110 to 150. It can be done."

It's pretty clear you're just getting your rocks off looking for reasons to call Ayn Rand naive. In that last quote, what Rand is obviously saying is that people don't use all their mind's potential. Her way of saying that was simply more pithy!

And has for her views on emotions which "seem" naive to you...well, could you cite some studies please?

Me, I think it's ghastly that anyone should look at Ayn Rand's achievements and think, "If only she had footnotes!"

Knowledge of Fundamentals

James S. Valliant's picture


Mr. Seddon just mentioned "knowledge," and it is this that Rand held is tabula rasa, at first (and not the nature of the emotional mechanism itself, for example), and, again, on this score, I don't see how studies will help us. That being said, no, philosophy cannot be "bracketed" from other subjects, and certainly no item of knowledge can be compartmentalized/insulated from others. Rand called for total integration. But, she also held that basic questions of philosophy stand in a certain hierarchical relationship to the rest of knowledge.


seddon's picture


You're welcome.

By the way, her canonical definition on p. 45 of ITOE is, "'Knowledge' is a mental grasp of a fact(Drunk of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation."


Neil, what aspect of

Fred Weiss's picture

Neil, what aspect of neurology has any bearing whatever on the *philosophical* questions concerning the interrelationship of the mind and body?

And yeah, dreams and hallucinations get brought up in discussing the evidence of the senses. So? Who doesn't know what a dream or an hallucination is? And let's not forget illusions.

And will you stop already with the IQ stuff. That is a question that can be resolved by experimentation and is a legitimate area of study (improving thinking skills).

genius and IQ

eg's picture

A high IQ does not mean you are a genius. A rather low IQ does not mean you are not. IQ tests do not measure or identify any genius save IQ genius, which is next to meaningless.



Neil Parille's picture


I would say questions of IQ, the emotions, whether people have instincts and the like go to Rand's view of human nature and the claim that people are "tabula rasa." She seemed to think they were rather important. I would say it's hard to "bracket" questions of psychology, cosmology and the like from philosophy. For example, I don't think one can discuss the mind/body problem without some discussion of neurology. Likewise, any dicussion of the evidence of the senses must take into account dreams and hallucinations, and how we differentiate them from non-dream/non-hallucination states.

If Rand truly believed that one could raise his IQ from 110 (high normal range, roughly 16% of the population) to 150 (genius, less than 0.5% of the population) wouldn't you find that slightly naive? This statement might have been off the cuff, but Mayhew apparently thought it was worth publishing.


Boaz the Boor's picture

Well, I would be a little more comfortable if you would cite some studies to back up your claim that Luther's alleged hostility to Reason was really just a rebellion against Scholasticism. (I take it you don't profess to be an expert on history, either.) But I guess my main quibble is that you seem to revel in pointing out how obtuse a thinker AR was. Why? Ok, we get it: Ayn Rand was an amateurish, vulgar philosopher (albeit a good polemicist - sort of like Voltaire, then?). Now that you've torn down her philosophical house, I would suggest you go find something you do think is worthwhile, unless you just take pleasure in refuting things.


James S. Valliant's picture

Fred says it well. Can I construct a "study" to valdate the evidence of the senses, the premises of logic themselves, or the introspective awareness that thought takes effort, etc.? My study itself will rely on these things.

Also, normative advice that can apply to anyone just 'cause he or she is a human being has got to based on ordinary human experience, don't you think?

I've read the same things about "I.Q. change" you have, but what about Rand's philosophy really depends upon this?

Rand's theory of concepts

Fred Weiss's picture

Rand's theory of concepts HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH PSYCHOLOGY. Epistemology is not a branch of the special sciences. It is the science upon which all of the sciences must rest (if one is to regard them as science at all) - including psychology.

Furthermore there are no "experiments" one can conduct to prove or disprove philosophical theories. The level of abstraction is far too great for that but yet it is accessible to any intelligent person who is willing to look. The evidence is the world we all live in and the human nature and cognitive capacities we all possess and have always possessed, i.e. the questions are universal and timeless.

The evidence therefore of Rand's theory of concepts is YOUR INTROSPECTION JUST AS IT WAS HERS.

If you do not think that's the way you form concepts, as she said it was hers, please tell us how you do it. Of course that presupposes that you can form concepts, Neil. I have my doubts. That little incoherent hodgepodge of objections you have to Objectivism being one example of it. (Among other things, questions about IQ are NOT philosophical. That is a subject for the special science of psychology, so it's purely a matter of curiosity what AR may have thought of it. For what it's worth, I happen to agree with her. I think people can improve their thinking skills, at least up to a point. Though I doubt that applies to you.)


Neil Parille's picture


The claim that Capitalism raises people's standard of living is clear enough. Bernstein's book is good in that regard, although not particularly original.

When it comes to Rand's statements about psychology (such as concept formation) there isn't much defense of Rand's ideas that I'm aware of in print. (I think David Kelley wrote a defense of Rand's 'theory of abstraction'.) Some of her views on emotions seem rather naive to me.

I believe Rand said in her Q&A that you could raise someone's IQ from 110 to 150. That goes against a lot of evidence that people's intelligence is pretty much fixed at birth.

I don't profess to be an expert on psychology, but I would be a little more comfortable if Rand had cited some studies.


James S. Valliant's picture


Does Bernstein's "Capitalist Manifesto" count?

For some issues in basic philosophy, the "empirical evidence" must be so universal as to need little except pointing. I would also distinguish between assertions like the "I.Q." statement, which reads like a "guestimate," and on which nothing else in her thought depends, from the stuff on which her philosophical ideas actually depend.

Fred Seddon

Neil Parille's picture

You make some good points, but as I see it the main point of Nyquist's book (which has its flaws) is that Rand's philosophy, when it deals with something that is empirically verifiable, lacks support. For example, Rand states in her Q&A that a person's IQ can be increased 40 points. There is no evidence to support such a claim. Nor does Rand provide evidence that people form concepts the way she asserts. As a final example, Rand says somewhere that we don't need a draft because free countries have always had plenty of volunteers when attacked. But what about WW II when the US was attacked and felt it necessary to have a draft.

Rand was something of a polemicist so she should be given some slack, but I haven't seen Objectivist philosophers rushing to provide empirical support for her ideas.

Thanks Fred S

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I too enjoyed the review. Thanks for sharing, as the Touchy-Feelies say!

I especially enjoyed the quoted rantings & railings about Rand's esthetics. Esthetics is like a cashing-in, & the shudders of nihilist jerks repulsed by Rand's (& the hilarity for onlookers occasioned by the shudders) are part of it!

Knowledge is *grasp* of *facts* surely?

Except that Objectivism

Fred Weiss's picture

Except that Objectivism doesn't hold that truth is intrinsic. The best discussion of this I believe is in AR's letter to Hospers on the subject where she distinguishes "truth" from "facts". (See Letters of Ayn Rand).

However, I agree with you that knowledge as "justified true belief" is not the Objectivist position either. "Justified" has a ring of subjectivism to it. Justified to whom and by what standard? I define it instead as "a grasp of what is true". "Grasp" conveys the element of certainty, which I believe is necessary, though it has to be a grasp of what is true, otherwise it is not yet knowledge.

Contra Human Nature

seddon's picture


I can recall if he gives an explicit definition of philosophy, (and with no Index I'm not about to search for one) but he does devote a chapter to each of the five branches of philosophy that Rand recognized, so that was good enough for me.


That is in my first paragraph. But I agree with you that for most Objectivists, this would be a waste of time.

Fred W

You wrote,

"Objectivism *does* maintain "that in order to know P, P must be true".

This was a bit of a hot topic in Objectivist circles in the 60s. If one puts the adjective "intrinsic" before the work "true," then it does seem to follow that knowledge defined as 'justificed true belief" is not the Objectivist position. But I would like to see more discussion on this topic.


'Treat'? Really?

Rowlf's picture


~~ I missed exactly 'why' you consider this book a treat. Given your review/analysis, I'd consider it a waste of time! --- UNLESS, like analyzing chess-problems, you consider it worthwhile as a mere mental exercise in sharpening one's analytical acumen. Is THAT what you meant?


Fred, I enjoyed reading your

Fred Weiss's picture

Fred, I enjoyed reading your review and you made a number of very nice points against Nyquist's critique of Objectivism. I was unclear though about your discussion of the Objectivist view of knowledge. Is it your understanding that Objectivism rejects the idea "that in order to know P, P must be true", maintaining that such a view is intrincisist? First of all, I don't believe that Objectivism rejects that view.
Objectivism *does* maintain "that in order to know P, P must be true". Actually, the surprise would be if Nyquist holds this view because Popper rejects it. For Popper, knowledge is only "tested conjecture" and is always subject to falsification, thus could be false.

Objectivism maintains that all knowledge is contextual and its truth is conditioned by that context of knowledge. If it is in fact actual knowledge, future knowledge does not contradict it. (See Peikoff's discussion of "blood types" in OPAR).

Don't confuse knowledge with certainty. Certainty is a necessary but not sufficient condition of knowledge. It is of course possible to be certain and wrong. It is however not possible to know and be wrong. One cannot know what is false. That's a contradiction in terms. As I said, certainty is a necessary but not sufficient condition of knowledge. The other necessary condition is truth. Knowledge is a grasp of what is true, thus requiring both certainty and truth.


eg's picture

And what did he say his philosophy is?


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