Who's on first?

waterclerk's picture
Submitted by waterclerk on Thu, 2006-06-15 04:16

Okay, so I'm a lapsed Objectivist. Haven't affiliated with any of the various branches which lead away from the original NBI/ARI trunk, nor with the original trunk. I need to be educated as to the difference between these different Objectivist followings to determine where I should be.

Can anyone objectively describe the differences and similarities in the Objectivist thinking of SOLO, TOC, ARI, OL, etc.

FYG - I first read AS when I was sixteen, 39 years ago. I've read Rand's other works, and subscribed for a few years to the Objectivist (published then by NBI). Couldn't afford the lectures at NBI back then, although I heard part of one while their office was still at the Empire State Building. Never left the philosophy, although over the years have found myself skirting between what I felt was correct and what I felt was necessary (or pragmatic). So how has thought or reasoning on Objectivism changed over the past 39 years?

My wife bought me my first hardbound edition of AS for Christmas, and I re-read it for the sixth or seventh time. I find it as re-assuring, and inspiring as I did when I was sixteen, and, as every other time, I find myself re-examining my objectivism, and gauging myself. So I'd like to see what different thought processes and growth have shaped Objectivism today (and hoping I'll find most of them to be consistent).

So...can anyone start with the basics?

( categories: )

Aah I see now. I too have

Jon Coster's picture

Aah I see now. I too have been wondering about the different objectivist camps. Thanks to all who contributed to this thread and esp for putting that affair in context Landon.

No Problem

Landon Erp's picture


Greg Mullen's picture

So "cheated" was the wrong choice of words. I figured it had to be something like that. Thanks Landon.

Where's Valliant when you need him?

Landon Erp's picture

Re: Moral Perfection, Rand and the affair.

The affair was conducted only with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. If any party happend to give consent when they did not wish to it is on them.

But the issue is that there was no breech of honesty and that not all couples hold infidelity (especially of this kind) as a moral transgression. It is all about the individual context of the couples in question.


Inking is sexy.


One question

Greg Mullen's picture

I think ARI is spot on with their ideas and strategy but can someone explain how they justify their position that Ayn Rand achieved "consistent integrity and moral perfection" when she cheated on her husband?

False Objectivism

DianaHsieh's picture

The URL for my "False Objectivism" page is actually:


(Penelope forgot the ".html" at the end.) It's not completely up-to-date at present, however.

-- Diana Hsieh

Bud and Lou were on first.

Victor Pross's picture

Bud and Lou were on first.

Some points of disagreement between the camps

Chris Cathcart's picture

Aaron suggested that you look at whether differences stem in a particular case from personality so much as from philosophy, and that may be helpful advice. Here are what I think are philosophical points of disagreement, trying to state them in as neutral terms as I can:

1. TOC (now TAS) takes the view that as a matter of strategy in arguing for Ayn Rand's ideas is one of outreach -- which is, to put Objectivist ideas in terms that can have wide appeal to the culture at large. The driving idea is that Objectivism can have a friendly and tolerant face and that through dialogue, we can discover a way to communicate ideas in a way that are mutually engaging. People will be receptive to your ideas when you give them an open hearing. The aim is one of mutual understanding, with the recognition that some people may come to understand Objectivism quite thoroughly and still reject it, which is to say: anyone from either side of the debate could come to see that -- that reason and logic could persuade a current Objectivist that Objectivism is in error, and thereby abandon Objectivism as a philosophical system. IOW, through dialogue, where the aim is truth, Objectivism might well be disproven from being true.

ARI has a different idea as to strategy. It involves a recognition that Ayn Rand's ideas represent a radical alternative to the state of the present culture, and that it does no one any service to hide that fact. Reconciling reason, egoism, individualism and capitalism with the premises that most people hold nowadays, can't be done. The correct approach is one of understanding Objectivism thoroughly enough to communicate it in the necessary detail to interested oncomers, and that those who are genuinely people of reason will, through such exchange, to recognize the truth of Objectivism once they fully understand it. Objectivism is so fundamentally and essentially ingrained with the values of reason to begin with, and with the value of life here on earth, that there is no dichotomy between understanding what Objectivism is, and recognizing it to be true. It's also the case that properly understanding Objectivism requires a method of thinking that is fundamentally at odds with that of the prevailing mainstream. Academia, for instance, is too ingrained with the practice of rationalism (of playing with ideas without fully tracing their origins in reality), and accepting the terms of debate from academia as we know it is to accept bad analytical methods. The solution is not to try to appeal to academia as we know it, but to replace the present crop of academics over time. By the time that they are full-fledged adults, they're thinking methods tend to be well-ingrained; it is more effective to appeal to and groom the young. The ARI side also thinks that attempts to dress up Objectivism in more appealing ways leads, in practice, to watering down Objectivism and compromising it with ideas in opposition to it.

2. Both TOC/TAS and ARI both espouse the value of providing ideas with an open and fair hearing, but differ as to what that means in practical reality. They differ on just what kind of forum is appropriate for airing differences of opinion, and what would constitute sanction of Objectivism's opponents and enemies by virtue of the chosen forum. In practice, TOC/TAS has invited critics of Objectivism to speak at its summer conferences in what it believes to be the spirit of open debate. ARI-endorsed conferences presuppose an understanding of Objectivism and, hence, agreement amongst participants that it is true. David Kelley, TOC's founder, accepted a speaking invitation to a libertarian function, the Laissez Faire Supper Club, which is associated with libertarian critics of Objectivism. ARI saw this as sanctioning those who make attacks on Objectivism and Ayn Rand.

3. PARC is a recent phenomenon, though it also has its roots going well back. It revoles around how one regards Ayn Rand the person. For one thing, it's a question of whether the Branden portrayals are just ones, and whether the virtue of justice thereby demands condemning the Branden portrayals. There is also the issue of whether there could be some kind of dichotomy, probably a variant of the mind-body dichotomy, between Rand's as intellectual and Rand as she lived her life. The ARI side already affirms that Objectivism is profoundly true, and that it took extreme honesty for Ayn Rand to identify, formulate and develop her ideas. It's not a matter of whether Rand ever made mistakes or errors, but whether she, for all practical purposes and meanings of the terms, achieved consistent integrity and moral perfection. Did she live according to her ideals? The facts, the ARI side would say, say, "yes, resoundingly." The TOC/TAS side is more inclined to say that Rand is a tremendously admirable and courageous woman, but that it's believable that the author of Atlas Shrugged could also do bad things. They will tend to play up the fact that Ayn Rand would blow up at questioners in seemingly cruel ways, whereas the ARI side said that this was only a passionate response to the ideas of the questioners. The split with the Brandens, the TOC/TAS side may be more inclined to say, appeared to show Rand at her worst -- acting not rationally, but emotionalistically and unjust towards them. But they will also usually say that Rand's own behavior and life is not relevant to the truth of Objectivism -- that despite Rand's intellectual heroics, she might well have compartmentalized her own actions from that, but that this wouldn't affect the ideas' truth. And so, they would say, PARC shouldn't serve as a litmus test for one's commitment to Objectivist principles. The pro-PARC folks (largley the same as pro-ARI folks), however, see it as a matter of justice, and that exercising judgment on this matter is (or at least can be) relevant to one's demonstrated commitment to principles. There is a dispute between the two camps on whether the Branden accounts actually do damage to the reputations of Rand as well as to the promotion of Objectivism, i.e., whether readers of their accounts conclude that Objectivism must be screwy or impractical if its chief founders and proponents couldn't abide by their principles.

Those are at least a few of the main points of disagreement as I understand them.

To the extent that ARI vs

Aaron's picture

To the extent that ARI vs TOC is philosophically based, it revolves around 'Truth and Toleration' by David Kelley (relevant parts might be publicly online) and 'Fact and Value' by Leonard Peikoff (the link Penelope supplied). Read those, decide.

SOLO, OL, and a couple other sites have some different views and mainly different personalities among their founders. The predominant viewpoint/slant present on a given site can be guided by this, but all are officially tolerant of allowing dissenters on a site - if they can stand not fitting in.

Much of the modern fighting that surrounds the factions and sites is driven by factors other than philosophy - personal alliances, a view on a given book or movie, what other individuals or groups someone talks to, etc. And if Alice and Bob have a disagreement and Alice slights Bob - then Bob's friend Cheryl chimes in against Alice, Alice's friend Dan condemns Cheryl as evil, and around it goes and grows.

Read the sites and material from ARI, TOC, SOLO, OL, etc. and draw your own conclusions. The only slant I suggest is that if you find yourself getting drawn into a factional battle, keep considering how much it is driven by philosophy vs personality.

Who's on first.

waterclerk's picture


Thanks. You've been helpful. I'll do some more reading.

What particular ideas has

Penelope's picture

What particular ideas has David Kelley dropped from his vernacular.

Moral judgment and objectivity, to name two. Of course, he doesn't come out and admit it. To do that he would have had to honestly admit he rejects Objectivism. Here is Leonard Peikoff answer to Kelley's article: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_fv. You might also want to read Diana Hsieh's extensive commentary on this issue: http://www.dianahsieh.com/misc/toc .

Does James Valiant (who is he) support one group or another? (which)?

He's supportive of ARI, but I don't think he's associated with them officially. He is the author of PARC, i.e., The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. It's a critique of Nathaniel and Barbara Brandens' dishonest attacks on Ayn Rand.

How disparate are the views of each of these groups - just off-center, or radically.

They are fundamental differences.

Is there someone everyone respects (other than Rand)?

Well, that's just it. Everyone doesn't respect Ayn Rand...certainly not TOC! But short answer: no. Except maybe Tara Smith! (An Objectivist intellectual associated with ARI)

Who's on first?

waterclerk's picture

What particular ideas has David Kelley dropped from his vernacular.

Does James Valiant (who is he) support one group or another? (which)?

What is PARC ?

How disparate are the views of each of these groups - just off-center, or radically.

Is there someone everyone respects (other than Rand)?

Obviously don't take our

Penelope's picture

Obviously don't take our word for it...but....

The Ayn Rand Institute was started by Leonard Peikoff in the early 80s. It is currently the largest Objectivist organization by far. It holds the view that Ayn Rand's philosophical system is a true and great achievement, that Ayn Rand is a heroic figure, and that while it is proper and important to expand our knowledge, including our knowledge of philosophy, that new knowledge is not part of Objectivism. Objectivism is only what Ayn Rand herself wrote or approved during her lifetime. See: www.aynrand.org.

The Objectivist Center, or I guess, now, the Atlas Society, was started by David Kelley in the late 80s after he was run out of the Objectivist movement for writing a paper that contradicts fundamental Objectivist principles. He thinks Objectivist is anything consistent with a handful of Ayn Rand's ideas, and that Barbara Branden's biography (which James Valliant has conclusively proved to be a bunch of lies and distortions) attacking Ayn Rand was aok. The Atlas Society is currently scraping by, writing articles that try to "soften" Objectivism so that it won't intimidate people.

Objectivist Living is basically where all the dishonest people who've been run out of the Objectivist movement go to die. It is just a website, though...thank gawd!

SOLO, well, I'll let Linz speak to that! I view Solo simply as a neutral ground, where people from all views can come to get a fair hearing.

Most of these fights are beside the piont, though. ARI is doing amazing things, producing amazing intellectuals, and is a couple decades in my humblest of opinions from changing the culture. While all of us are wasting time fighting on the Internet, they are making things happen!

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