Alice in Objectivist Land, part five

NickOtani's picture
Submitted by NickOtani on Sun, 2007-07-08 15:34

Alice was still having a hard time understanding why she and the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter were being arrested. She had never been in trouble before. So, the Red Queen explained, “So far, we’ve been dealing mostly with metaphysics and epistemology, but here is where ethics comes together with them. In Objectivism, fact and value are closely related, if not exactly the same. An evaluation of the good is a fact, and every “is” implies an “ought”. If the good is that which promotes and protects life, and the bad or evil is that which threatens or destroys it; then the good is a kind of true, a form of recognizing reality. The bad or evil is a kind of the false, a form of contradicting reality.”

“How is nature, for example, good or evil?” asked Alice, “It simply is.”

“True,” said the Red Queen, “but a certain amount of sunlight is good, and too much is bad for flourishing human survival. It is our knowledge of reality which determines our proper course of action. When we know with what we are dealing, we know how we ought to deal with it. Yes, gravity is neither good nor evil, but jumping out of an airplane without a parachute is threatening to flourishing survival.

“So,” concluded the Red Queen, “in Objectivism, just as there is no dichotomy between mind and body, there is no dichotomy between the true and the good. Cognition without evaluation is purposeless, and evaluation without cognition is non-objective, wish or whim.”

“Okay,” said Alice, “but why are we considered a threat to the flourishing survival of these Objectivists? Can’t they just deal with us as they deal with sunlight or gravity?”

“They do think it makes a life-or-death difference,” explained the Red Queen, “whether one is surrounded by producers or parasites, honest men or cheats, independent men or power-lusters. As one must distinguish between good and bad in the realm of nature, so one must distinguish between good and bad in the realm of man. If they determine that we are volitionally irrational, they will be convinced that we are evil, a threat to them and deserving of condemnation and punishment.”

“But,” protested Alice, “we haven’t done anything. Don’t we have a freedom of speech or freedom to wonder?”

“Human action is not merely physical motion.” explained the Red Queen. “Someone who declares war is considered to have committed an act, even though he has only spoken. Murderers and crooks act on their thoughts. They have evaded reality. As we condemn their actions, we should also condemn the thoughts from which the actions flowed. Rand considered Kant one of the most evil men who ever lived, even though he never personally murdered anyone. He only wrote ideas which, according to her, ultimately led to Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler and unspeakable atrocities.”

“Don’t people make mistakes?” asked Alice. “Don’t Objectivists admit that they are not omniscient, that people are not infallible?”

“Yes,” said the Red Queen, “and such people would not be guilty. However, adults who embrace theories like Marxism, pragmatism, or existentialism are not the naïve neophytes just learning about philosophy. Objectivists say we are evading the fundamental truths, the axiomatic concepts, rebelling against the truth, and this makes us, in their minds, dishonest and immoral.”

“They seem very intolerant,” said Alice.

“Yes,” said the Red Queen, “this is the charge made by David Kelley against Leonard Peikoff and the later Rand. He thought it should be okay for Objectivists to at least have discussions and debates with non-Objectivists, and that it would be good for Objectivism to hear and respond to the criticisms of others. Perhaps there could even be some mutual respect among Objectivists and non-Objectivists, and Objectivism could continue to grow and become better.”

“That sounds reasonable,” said Alice.

“Peikoff would have none of it,” explained the Red Queen. “He takes is job seriously as Ayn Rand’s heir and preserver of her legacy. He knows how she hated compromise and shades of gray, so he is keeping a hard line on his narrow interpretation of the philosophy which she left.”

“In a way, I can empathize with him,” said Alice. “I’ve seen how weirdoes have claimed to be just like Objectivism but they are Satanists or Neo-Tech people who don’t have much of anything to do with Objectivism. Ayn Rand certainly wouldn’t want her name or philosophy attached to them.”

“I agree,” said the Red Queen. “but Kelley thought Objectivism should be strong enough to withstand some of the give and take in the real world. It shouldn’t need to be isolated. It should be defended with persuasion, not force, and not by avoiding anyone who may challenge it.”

“I agree with that,” said Alice. “I hope the jurors we picked will be more like David Kelley than like Leonard Peikoff.”

After several hours in the county jail, Alice observed that she and her two accomplices, the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter, were arraigned. They had to go in front of the judge and plead, and the only choice they had was to plead guilty to the charge of violating the law of identity. They had violated the law of identity by entertaining ideas of pragmatism and existentialism, by criticizing Objectivism and taking about alternatives. The only reason for a trial now was to determine if there were any mitigating circumstances which should be taken into consideration before sentencing.

Alice knew, from her paralegal training, and watching Perry Mason, that there is often a preliminary trial before the jury trial, to see if there would be enough reason to have a jury trial. Otherwise, the judge could just make a summary judgment.

But the lawyers were working behind the scenes, making deals. The prosecution wanted a summary judgment, which very likely could have come after a preliminary trial, but the defense convinced them that a big jury trial would be more public and more rewarding to the winners and more devastating to the losers. At first, the prosecution, fearing that perhaps the defense could score some points, offered to allow all three defendants to leave Objectivist Land, as the sentence the prosecutors would recommend to the judge, if they simply accept a summary judgment, but Alice, the Red Queen, and the Mad Hatter choose to have their day in court. And, Alice even agreed to share the fate of her colleagues, whatever sentence the jury prescribed, even death.

So the prosecution agreed, still thinking they had the leverage. After all, the defendants were guilty. They pleaded guilty. All they could do now, thought the prosecutors, would be to show the extent of their irrationality. The trial should be a slam-dunk.

The lead attorney for the prosecution was a rumpled and heavy set older gentleman who kept sticking his pen in his mouth, as if he were smoking it. He reminded Alice of a caterpillar, for some strange reason. His name was Dr. P.

The attorney for the defense was a smiling young man who reminded Alice of a Cheshire Cat. He was very charming, if somewhat shifty, but he did seem competent and articulate. His name was Dr. K.

During Voir Dire, jury selection, Dr. K got to ask some interesting questions. He asked one potential juror if she admired Ayn Rand’s creativity and individuality, and the juror answered “Yes.”

Then, he asked the potential juror if she admired creativity and individuality in other people, and the potential juror answered, “Yes.”

Finally, he asked if the potential juror thought someone could be creative and independent if he or she blindly followed Ayn Rand, and the potential juror didn’t quite know how to answer. It was as if she had never thought about that before.

He accepted this juror, but the prosecution, Dr. P, rejected her.

Dr. K asked another potential juror if he was aware of Rand’s teaching about how man has to choose to be rational, that humans cannot be rational automatically, and the potential juror answered confidently in the affirmative.

Then, Dr. K asked this potential juror what guided that initial choice, was it reason or something else? The juror didn’t know how to answer.

He accepted this juror also, but Dr. P rejected him.

Dr. K asked one potential juror how he could reconcile free-will with fixed natures and cause and effect, but the potential juror went into the standard Objectivist response. “It is an entity caused free-will,” he said, “not an event caused effect. It doesn’t contradict causation. It is merely a different kind of causation.”

Dr. K tried to dismiss this juror, but Dr. P enthusiastically accepted him.

Dr. K asked one potential juror who he was, and the potential juror answered that his name was Bill.

Dr. K smiled, like a Cheshire Cat, and told the potential juror, “No, that is what you are called. I asked you who you were.”

The potential juror looked perplexed and said, “I am a man.”

Dr. K said, “No, that is what you are. I asked you who you were.”

The potential juror now seemed frustrated and said, “I am who I am.”

Then, Dr. K said, “Well this just goes around in a circle. Yes, you are who you are, but who are you?”

At this, Dr. P objected, and the judged intervened. He couldn’t see the point of this questioning and thought it was some kind of joke.

Dr. K accepted the juror and declined to explain himself, but Alice could see what he was going for. The law of identity says that A is A, a thing is what it is. However, if something is in the process of becoming, it is what it is not and is not what it is. It violates the law of identity. It would be too early to make this point now, but Dr. K was cleverly planting some seeds he intended to nurture and develop later.

To be continued...

Bis bald,


( categories: )

Ideas and consequences

Brendan Hutching's picture

WWm: “…I don't need anybody to to reject altruist ideas and see the world as it is in order to truly flourish.”

So you can truly flourish in the world just as it is? I think what you’re saying is that if altruism were wholly voluntary, that is, it were confined to the ethical sphere, there would not necessarily be any conflict between altruism and egoism.

Whether or not that would be the case is an empirical question, so not immediately resolvable. But it is possible to point to a tension that would exist in a society where altruism were confined to the ethical, private realm, but egoism and its consequences enshrined in the political, public realm.

Some Objectivists would probably be relaxed with this situation, including, presumably, the people on this site, which to its credit allows a range of contrary opinions to be aired. But not all Objectivists would be so tolerant, and some may want to resolve that tension. NickOtanis’ trial scenario is based on this notion.

Another way to look at the issue is to ask: at what point do certain ideas become threatening enough to prohibit? I don’t think there’s a pat resolution, and since it’s not just Objectivists who desire to integrate their thought and action, it’s an issue that taxes all human societies, highlighted by the fate of the likes of Socrates.

You seem to have come down on the side of the defendants in this trial. That’s fine, but the problem is not your admirable attitude so much as those Objectivists who may desire a more ‘integrated’ approach to ideas and their consequences.


Just Leave Me Alone

Brendan I don't need anybody to to reject altruist ideas and see the world as it is in order to truly flourish. I just need them to leave me alone and free to act according to my own judgment. I will leave them to act to theirs and we can both flourish or not based on our own choices.


Islam insofar as it is directed by governments, and as a measure enforced from above by any government, is to be done away with.

I think therefore I survive

Brendan Hutching's picture

NickOtani: “If they determine that we are volitionally irrational, they will be convinced that we are evil, a threat to them and deserving of condemnation and punishment.”

Human beings probably invest a good deal of survival value – whether physical or psychological – in the ideas they hold. Hence, any challenge to those ideas is experienced as an attack on the body or psyche.

In that case, it’s not hard to see why throughout human history people have reacted with torture and death to those who have dared to think differently. Unfortunately, the persecution of heretics has almost always been elevated to not just an optional virtue but also a moral requirement.

Rand provided her own justification to “Judge and prepare to be judged” in her ethics. If the good is whatever furthers my life, and if ideas have consequences, bad ideas threaten my life, and those ideas must not only be judged but also actively resisted.

And if it’s true that altruism is parasitic on egoism, the egoist can only truly flourish when altruist ideas are eliminated from the world. It’s a short step from this line of reasoning to the physical suppression of not only ideas but also their carriers.


For anyone curious about the

JoeM's picture

For anyone curious about the nature of this Alice series, consider the source:

Nick Otani, From Objectivism Online:

"I am not an orthodox Objectivist and am sure that Rand and Peikoff would not approve of me. However, I do respect Rand's individualism. I'd like to be my own individual and can't do that as her complete follower.

I like her emphasis on reason and egoism, and I can support capitalism and natural rights. However, I have problems accepting unbroken cause and effect and also free-will, as Rand does, even though I think it can be done with the incorporation of a little Sartrian Existentialism. I have problems with her rejection of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy and its many varients, which I think are helpful in understanding metaphysics and epistemology. I think she and Peikoff have problems rejecting both idealism and materialism, and I think Peikoff is wrong about defining all agnostics as cowards afraid to take a position. He is not taking into consideration the distiction between belief claims and knowledge claims and the real burden of proof issue, but perhaps I can talk more about these things later, if I am not promptly kicked off this board.

I would like to challenge Objectivists on this board and invite them to challenge me in proper debates without insults, derision, and evasion (or deletion and banning). The so-called "Objectivists" on those other boards couldn't do this. Can you?

People really tend to dislike me on those other boards. I don't know why. I hope not to have personality problems here. Can you get along with a critical non-Objectivist, a Neo-Objectivist?"


Spaceplayer Sight and Sound

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