Is This What They Teach at the Ayn Rand Institute?

Robert Campbell's picture
Submitted by Robert Campbell on Thu, 2006-04-06 15:01

Since Diana Hsieh is remarkably quick to impugn the scholarship of her "detractors," I thought it might be worthwhile to go through one of her own recent public statements about Objectivist scholarship, to see what standards it actually meets.

In a SOLOPassion post on "pseudo-scholarship" dated April 3, Ms. Hsieh cited her blog entry of July 24, 2005, titled "Poisoning the Well" ( So I may reasonably assume that, by Ms. Hsieh's lights, it more than adequately meets standards of evidence, argument, and intellectual exchange.

The entry begins with an account of "charity refutations." Ms. Hsieh (following Leonard Peikoff's familiar doctrine that arbitrary assertions are to be dismissed, not argued against), claims that many philosophical arguments are arbitrary, in Rand and Peikoff's sense, and therefore do not merit refutation. But refutations may nonetheless be "offered in generous kindness to the poor souls possibly taken in by epistemological hucksters."

For instance, an assertion that there is a God who created the universe is arbitrary, because believers in such a God bear the epistemic burden of providing genuine evidence for his, her, or its existence. "So the atheist has no obligation to refute it."

"However," Ms. Hsieh continues, "regular folks are often confounded by such arguments. A person may be innocently confused by the heavy metaphysics if unskilled in the fine art of tracing implications. Or he may only implicitly grasp the need for solid evidence for claims, such that he cannot explicitly identify and reject the argument as arbitrary. In such cases, explaining how God-as-creator as merely pushes the problem back one more step or endorses the primacy of consciousness can be worthy kindness to offer. Certainly, I have gratefully received many such kindnesses myself."

What Ms. Hsieh calls "kindness" most people would also call teaching or mentoring. Or just plain intellectual exchange, so long as there is even a minimal presumption of good will on the part of each participant.

What's wrong with arguments for the existence of God is "same old same-old" to knowledgeable Objectivists (and to a lot of non-Objectivists who have attained some philosophical sophistication). And the Peikovian doctrine of the arbitrary assertion is well known to people with intermediate knowledge of Objectivism. But all of these things have to be learned. What's more, recognizing what it is about a hypothesis or theory that renders it arbitrary is not always easy, and judgments of arbitrariness have to be backed up--they themselves can be made erroneously, even arbitrarily...

Ms. Hsieh now moves into territory familiar to readers of some of Rand's essays, and especially to readers of Peikoff's "Fact and Value." "In general," she says, "as Ayn Rand clearly recognized, it is far easier for a basically rational person to get suckered into a bad argument than to originate it himself. That's one of the reasons why I'm far less likely to offer a charity refutation to the originators or pushers of arbitrary theories. Either such people know well enough that their stated reasons are no more than rationalizations or they are too psycho-epistemologically screwy to grasp the point at hand."

Since many judgments of arbitrariness require careful analysis of the claims that turn out to be arbitrary, and even rather sophisticated thinkers can produce bad arguments without recognizing the fatal flaw in them (which is one reason why it's so important for us to publish our work and for others to respond to it), Ms. Hsieh seems in rather a rush to draw conclusions about the motives of anyone who puts forward any theory that she deems arbitrary.

One might wonder, in fact, whether a rapid judgment of arbitrariness, in the face of ideas that are new to one, or that give one the impression of requiring a bunch of heavy lifting to assimilate and respond to, might function as a rationalization for avoiding intellectual labor, or dealing with evidence or argument that might run counter to one's own views and disturb one's equilibrium.

But being infected with the Kelleyite virus of tolerance, I try to reserve judgments of arbitrariness for cases where I find the defects in the theory rather blatant and its proponent seems unable to recognize them after I have gone to some effort to point them out. It will take even more evidence before I drop the J-bomb, concluding that someone is knowingly putting forth an arbitrary theory. The same goes for judgments that someone is purposely avoiding his or her intellectual homework, or refraining from engagement with arguments that may have the power to refute his or her entrenched views.

Ms. Hsieh rolls out her Exhibit A, Neil Parille's SOLOHQ essay on "Ayn Rand and Evolution" ( Referring to a critique of this essay by her ARIan co-blogger Don Watkins, Ms. Hsieh claims that most of Mr. Watkins' responses to Mr. Parille are "charity refutations." In other words, most of what Neil Parille said on the topic consists of arbitrary assertions!

Well, you can read Mr. Parille's essay in the SOLOHQ archives, and judge for yourself. I don’t consider the essay ready for publication in its current form. I find some of his arguments more persuasive than others. I would have liked to see more sensitivity to the history of evolutionary theory-- it hasn't been the same thing ever since Darwin, let alone since La Mettrie—and more of an effort to identify the views of evolution that Ayn Rand is likely to have come in contact with.. I also see places where he could have cited additional material by Ayn Rand that would have strengthened some of his claims. What I don't see is a whole lot of arbitrary stuff going on. What did I miss?

You can also read Mr. Watkins' critique in his blog archives, and judge for yourself ( Mr. Watkins deserves credit for actually grappling with some of Mr. Parille's arguments, instead of declaring, in the manner of Ms. Hsieh, that he is above all that.

However, the overall quality of his critique is amateurish.

First, Mr. Watkins isn't terribly careful about distinguishing what he knows from what he insists Ayn Rand must have known. "Note the implied premise: for man to be unique, he had to have a unique origin. There is nothing in logic or science to support such a view." Well, yes, Mr. Watkins knows this, and so do I. But the important question is not whether he and I have spotted and rejected this implicit premise, it's whether Ayn Rand did.

Further, Mr. Watkins indignantly rejects Mr. Parille's argument that Rand might have seen a connection between evolutionary theories, Freud's conception of dark instinctual impulses to sex and aggression, and the doctrine of original sin. Mr. Watkins’ verdict: "This is just a joke. I'm sure of it." Mr. Watkins may not know that Freud was a professed admirer of Darwin who maintained, when he was developing and promoting psychoanalysis, that he was being true to evolutionary theory. Today's evolutionary theory sharply undercuts Freud's ideas, but the evolutionary theories that prevailed in 1895 didn't rule them out. Whether Rand was aware of Freud's claim to be doing good evolutionary work is unknown to me, but in the 1950s she was discussing him from time to time with Nathaniel Branden, who claimed to have read the complete published works of Freud during that period. (Meanwhile, the notion that the Freudian id is secularized original sin is commonplace; it can be found in Branden's writings, if not in Rand’s.) Mr. Parille's suggestion should not be brushed off quite so lightly.

What Mr. Watkins really can't stand is Mr. Parille's general thesis that Rand found evolutionary ideas a little worrisome, on account of their potential relations with instincts, determinism, or original sin. "Rand," he thunders, "was not 'concerned' with anything but reality, with the facts as she was able to identify them. To claim otherwise is to label Rand dishonest and her philosophy a fraud." In his conclusion, Mr. Watkins denounces "the unstated (and unjustified) premise that Rand was irrational." If this argument (which crops up in another couple of variants that I haven't quoted) strikes you as plausible, try plugging in Aristotle's name, or Herbert Spencer's, or Bertrand Russell's, or Henri Bergson's, or whoever's, and try it again. Or imagine the argument's potential impact on a non-Randian. Leonard Peikoff's logic course covers false alternatives and arguments from authority, as Mr. Watkins surely knows.

Worse yet, Mr. Watkins is not just arguing from authority; he seems to be arguing from Ayn Rand's perfection (epistemically, if not morally). Try selling that to a non-Randian.

A constructively minded editor would tell Mr. Watkins that he has a lot of work in front of him, before his critique becomes publishable; a malicious editor would accept it without revisions.

Picking up his logical fallacies where Mr. Watkins dropped them, Ms. Hsieh declares: "...I'm quite blown away by the fact that Neil never actually considers Ayn Rand's own perfectly reasonable explanation for her hesitancy about the theory of evolution, namely inadequate study. Instead, he engages in baseless speculations about the supposed implications of evolution she wished to avoid, e.g. instinctual knowledge, determinism, and original sin. The underlying premise of the whole discussion is that Ayn Rand was not an honest intellectual. That's why we need not consider the possibility that she accurately reported the reasons for her hesitancy or that she grounded her philosophic views in observed fact rather than desired conclusions."

Neil Parille is among us, so he can speak for himself. But I don't read his essay as impugning Ayn Rand's honesty.

Yes, I'm sure Ayn Rand didn't study evolutionary theory, and I presume she thought she couldn't devote the time to do it properly while getting her other projects done. I expect she also sincerely believed that the correctness of her philosophy did not depend on whether it incorporated evolutionary constraints. I happen to think she was wrong about that, but Rand was very clear, especially after 1968, in her insistence that there is traffic from philosophy to the "special sciences," never the other way.

But all I take Mr. Parille to be saying is that something about the topic made Rand uneasy, and she never quite put her finger on it. What's more, each of the issues that Mr. Parille speculates about is known to have been a serious worry for Rand. Why isn't it possible for Rand to have been genuinely concerned to get the facts straight, while trying to avoid what she thought were entire classes of errors, by steering clear of any notions that might lead to positing human instincts, determinism regarding human thinking and decision-making, or original sin? I doubt she knew nearly enough about evolution to be confident that it didn't require instinctual knowledge, determinism, or original sin. The first two of these propositions still need arguing for. Today, a lot of knowledgeable people would argue that an evolutionary account of human beings requires human instincts, and many believe that it requires determinism; only original sin is generally understood to be ruled out. And even brilliant philosophers use heuristic procedures (try this kind of constraint; avoid that kind of explanation) that might lead to error.

As for why an essay like Mr. Parille’s is worth writing, let me note that as a young Objectivist, I took it for granted that Rand's philosophy would square nicely with evolutionary theories (indeed, I assumed it would have to) and was thoroughly mystified to read her disclaimer in that 1973 essay, "The Missing Link." Around that same time, I read Mortimer Adler's book The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes, which used to be recommended in the NBI days, and noted an undertow of doubt about the possibility that human cognitive capabilities are a product of evolution (indeed, Adler began his career with a book arguing for the fixity of species). So Mr. Parille's approach looks to me to be a completely legitimate one.

I further note that Ms. Hsieh, following Mr. Watkins, avoids mentioning a section in Mr. Parille's essay that covers Rand's (self-described) speculation to the effect that some members of species Homo sapiens are, well, not fully evolved. While outwardly normal they are not entirely human, for they have not yet ascended beyond a "preconceptual" or "missing link" stage to a fully "conceptual" stage. (The speculation can be found not just in a journal entry from the mid-1940s, but also in the 1973 essay "The Missing Link," which was later included in a 1982 anthology.) The "missing link" speculation is more than a little weird, in my opinion, as well as hard to square with what can be learned from paleoanthropology or developmental psychology. In any event, Mr. Parille was well advised to draw attention to it. Should we regard the "missing link" speculation as the work of Ayn Rand at her best? Is it an isolated speculation, or does it have connections with her views about creators and parasites, leaders and followers, or human history and social dynamics? Mr. Parille doesn't offer an answer to those questions, but they are certainly worth asking.

In all, I think Ms. Hsieh is being rough and hasty in her treatment of the essay, and massively overconfident in the quality of Mr. Watkins' purportedly charitable arguments against it. But now suppose that "Ayn Rand and Evolution" truly is as weak, unscholarly, and unfair to Rand as Ms. Hsieh declares it to be. Will Ms. Hsieh's conclusion follow?

For Ms. Hsieh moves without further delay to a broad generalization, claiming to discern in this one short SOLOHQ essay the intellectual faults of most recent published work on Ayn Rand. "Unfortunately, the philosophic style of this article is not an anomaly. Too much published on Ayn Rand in recent years has all the illusion of scholarly inquiry without any of its substance. It is pseudo-scholarship: it substitutes superficial understanding, invented controversy, and detached cynicism for the clarity, depth, and care of good study."

She insists that such pseudo-scholarship lurks around every corner: "Neil's article represents no great danger by itself, of course. It's a essay for SOLO -- not some massive tome, journal article, or even newspaper column. Yet its unserious intellectual style is a symptom of the very serious problem of pseudo-scholarship on Ayn Rand and Objectivism, a problem very much worth our attention."

In fact, she maintains that the pseudo-scholarship will scare people off Ayn Rand's ideas and allow detractors to discredit them, quite likely ringing down the curtain on Western culture in the process.

Personally, I am enough of an optimist to regard Rand's ideas, and Western culture more generally, as fairly resilient: some second- or third-rate journal articles will not wipe them out. Second or third-rate articles get published in all kinds of fields every day; it does not follow that the first-rate work will be choked out unless contact between the writers of first-rate articles and writers of second- or third-rate articles is kept to a minimum.

More to the point here is Ms. Hsieh's distinct lack of interest in identifying one single journal article or "thick tome" that exhibits pseudo-scholarship, and showing us just where all that really dangerous pseudo-ness is hiding.

She names just one further instance--her own essay in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Even there, she describes none of the bad arguments or questionable interpretations or arbitrary assertions of which she now claims to be guilty. She merely pleads guilty to having the wrong attitude when she wrote it.

What, then, to bring away from Ms. Hsieh’s blog entry? If the reader has not already quit on her, after spotting Mr. Watkins' argument from Ayn Rand's perfection and his false alternative, or noting the ungrounded assertions of arbitrariness that Ms. Hsieh piles on top of them, then he or she is left to divine through innuendo where the pseudo-scholarship about Randian ideas is lurking.

Have ARI-affiliated authors produced any pseudo-scholarship? Ms. Hsieh never says, but the answer, I confidently take it, is supposed to be no.

Have authors not affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute, other than Mr. Parille (and Ms. Hsieh in her unenlightened days), produced pseudo-scholarship? Ms. Hsieh never says, but the answer, I take it, is supposed to be yes--all of them--lots of it--nearly all of the time.

Is the repudiation of an old essay merely targeted on Ms. Hsieh during her iniquitous past--or also at Chris Sciabarra, who invited her to write it, and edited the volume?

The comments section undermines any doubts that Chris Sciabarra is a target. I'll quote two. Each, in turn, pointedly quotes the same passage in Ms. Hsieh’s blog entry.:


Comment ID: #1 Name: GDavis

"So at this point, and for many years to come, even a few pseudo-scholars pose a grave danger, as do those who tolerate them. After all, today's intellectuals would love nothing more than to be able to dismiss Objectivism by means of stawmen erected by its supposed defenders"

I absolutely agree with this. Which is why I cringe at the thought of what damage Sciabarra's Journal of Ayn Rand Studies might be doing. With "friends" like those...

I wonder if it would be possible for the Ayn Rand Institute to sponsor some type of intellectual journal or publication. Perhaps it is too soon and there are not enough scholars yet. But it would be nice to see a precedent set for Ayn Rand scholarship conducted in an objective manner as opposed to God-only-knows what passes for scholarship at JARS.


Comment ID: #5 Name: Mysterious Stranger

"So at this point, and for many years to come, even a few pseudo-scholars pose a grave danger, as do those who tolerate them. After all, today's intellectuals would love nothing more than to be able to dismiss Objectivism by means of stawmen erected by its supposed defenders"

The irony is that Sciabarra and others sometimes attempt to justify their "moderate" Objectivism (i.e. the strawmen they offer to academia to be knocked down) as something that will somehow help Objectivism to be "taken seriously" by academics (!)

Would be funny if not so tragic.


Any remaining doubt was dispelled when Ms. Hsieh's post of April 3 cited "Poisoning the Well" and made the point explicit: "All of that criticism very much applies to JARS. Moreover, it was my reason, then and now, for thinking the journal unworthy of submissions from genuine Objectivists."

I'm not going to emulate Ayn Rand so far as judgments about motives are concerned; nor am I encouraging anyone who has stayed with me this far to drop any J-bombs. But just imagine how Ayn Rand would have responded to an article that alleged rampant pseudo-scholarship in some area of philosophy, offhandedly mentioning a couple of minor works by less well-known authors without getting into any specifics about what was wrong with them--but kept signaling to those in the know, with confirmation by a noisy pack of claqueurs, that Rand herself was a major offender. At a minimum, she would have called it "the intellectual equivalent of hit-and-run driving." And she would have called the claqueurs an "intellectual goon squad" (both are quotes from "The Argument from Intimidation").

So is Ms. Hsieh's blog entry an instance of good scholarship, or an effective vehicle for promoting good scholarship? Has the Ayn Rand Institute been teaching its students and affiliates that false alternatives, arguments from Ayn Rand's perfection, arbitrary assertions of arbitrariness, and arguments from intimidation are marks of good scholarship? Whether ARI encourages such practices or not, should anyone who argues in these ways, and appears to believe that they are good ways to argue, be lecturing the rest of us about what's good scholarship and what's pseudo?

I would like to hear your answers.  In the meantime, you won't need to guess my own.  They are: Neither. Quite possibly. And absolutely not.

( categories: )

All Darwinians here...

Casey's picture

I'd be surprised, that is, if anyone wasn't -- when it comes to biology, of course!


JennaW's picture

FYI: If anyone has the interest and the time, here's Intro to Evolutionary Biology; Evolution is a Fact and a Theory; and Evidences for Evolution.

Hear, hear!

Casey's picture

And well said.

Compare and Contrast

DianaHsieh's picture

Without a doubt, I learned more about Objectivism in six months of listening to most of Leonard Peikoff's major lecture courses than I learned in all my ten years with TOC. (And believe me, I missed a great deal in my first listen!) The same goes for my OAC classes. And even for my not-yet-complete reading of the philosophical essays in the stellar Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem anthology.

I regret all that I failed to learn due to my wasted years at TOC, but not nearly as much as I regret all that I mislearned. DK's obvious departures from Objectivism on issues of sanction, tolerance, and moral judgment are easy enough to identify. The bigger problem is that the "Objectivism" standard at TOC is wrong in so many other ways, including on the arbitrary, the choice to think, the choice to live, hierarchy, reduction, principles, and more. I cannot count the number of times that I've realized "Oh, I got that totally wrong." And when I ask myself where I learned it, the answer is almost always "David Kelley." I'm still working through those errors.

That distorted understanding of Objectivism was one of the reasons why I saw so many bright, young, and enthusiastic students enter TOC, grow more skeptical of Objectivism over a few years, and then distance themselves from Objectivism -- often embarrassed about that "youthful indiscretion" of supposing that Ayn Rand had something powerful and important to say. They were learning and then rejecting a weaked and corrupted version of Objectivism.

And Mike, I have no doubt whatsoever that you know more about Objectivism than Ed Hudgins. Then again, who doesn't?

-- Diana Hsieh

ARI v TOC re supporter conduct

Mike_M's picture

Actually, one of the reasons I became involved with ARI in the first place was the writing of Bidinotto and the conduct of TOC supporters on HPO.

Bidinotto's piece (of crap) Understanding Peikoff was such a terrible evasion of the issues I was shocked to find out that Bidinotto was heavily involved with TOC. I was looking on the internet for philosophical criticism of ARI and I found mostly personal insults of Leonard Peikoff.

HPO contained mostly bickering. I remember being particularly appalled when I read an attack on Dr. Peikoff's daughter, of all people. She's my own age, I think, which would make her about 16 when I read this. Think of that: big bad TOC supporter picking on a 16 year old girl. The comments from ARI supporters weren't always good (some of them were terrible), but I read very few (in fact I can't remember one) personal attacks on any TOC leaders.

This was all more than enough for me, so I came to the conclusion that I didn't know enough about Objectivism to decide the issue, but the moral is the practical, so this constitutes a major piece of evidence. (I also remember thinking that a lot of TOC defenders reminded me of the liberal kids at my school who hated Bush. You know: "Bush is stupid!" "What policy don't you agree with?" "Um... Bush is stupid!")

When I returned to the Peikoff/Kelley debate two years later (after having thoroughly studied Rand's works), I happily realized that I had had the right gut feeling to begin with.

A frequent comment from the other side of the isle is that ARI is scaring people away from Objectivism. Barbara Branden has made this numerous times, including on Diana's blog while she was getting trounced by Don Watkins. Let's look at a few facts, shall we? How many newbies flocking to RoR vs Objectivism Online? In fact, I'd be willing to wager that OO and the Speicher forum have more registered users than TOC has donors. There are 15 books being written by ARI intellectuals. Does TOC even have 15 students? Yaron Brook is on TV dozens of times each year. Has TOC had a dozen op-eds published in the last year? There are 13 Anthem fellowships across the country. Does TOC even have 13 employees? ARI has an academic program with over 100 students. Has TOC even given 100 hours of schooling to its students in the last (I'll be generous) 3 years? ARI is growing at such a rapid pace that Yaron Brook confidently predicts 100 new students in the OAC each year within five years. Will TOC even have 100 supporters in 2011? The TOC wing of Objectivism is a JOKE. They do not do ANYTHING that CATO doesn't do better. They are pointless at best.

Yet Bob Bidinotto and Barbara Branden love to shoot their mouths off about how "damaging" ARI has been to the movement. And they are right. ARI has done major damage to the movement. The TOC movement. How did they do this? By doing NOTHING and going about their own business while Bob Bidinotto talked shit on message boards and Will Thomas sent out emails which contained LITERAL LIES about the OAC.

Beautiful. To paraphrase David Kelley, Peikoff/Binswanger/Schwartz/ARI have all had BETTER THINGS TO DO. And look at all they've done!

Whatever their faults may be, whatever complaints people here may have about them, there is no denying how MUCH ARI has done over the course of its short existence. The ultimate refutation of the likes of Bidinotto/Brandens TOC in general is the fact that I, a 21 year old nobody only in the 3rd year of the OAC program probably know more about Objectivism than the executive director of The Objectivist Center. This is all thanks to the work done by Dr. Peikoff, who single handedly taught an entire generation of intellectuals who can now teach me. If you want to see bitter hatred at work, look at some of the awful things Bidinotto and Branden have said about Leonard Peikoff. Look at the email Will Thomas sent out about the OAC. Everything great that Objectivism has become would not exist today if it wasn't for Peikoff and Binswanger and the generation of Objectivist they taught and continue to teach. Whatever mistakes you think they have made, or explanation you think they owe you, it is more than likely that SOLO, TOC, RoR and JARS (not to mention ARI) would not now exist had Peikoff died with Rand and Binswanger closed The Objectivist Forums in 1982.

Whatever issues you may have with them, these men, particularly Peikoff, deserve praise and thanks. Not the campaign of rumors, smears, and lies that Branden and Bidinotto have created.

I'd rather be known as a mindless Peikovian than a friend of the two Brandens or the two Roberts.

- Mike

No, That's About It

James S. Valliant's picture


I keep waiting for any substantive case to be made against ARI. The certainty of ARI's critics always has such a sense of smug assurance and condescension, we are supposed to assume the monstrous guilt of ARI from what I can gather.

But this forum has served a vital goal. Someone like Casey -- who until recently has existed outside of the Objectivist culture -- is seeing the full picture drawn out clearly.

A cloud of smug

Casey's picture

A familiar pattern -- personal snubs that result in vendetta's against ARI (while others are lured to TOC by little plums behind the scenes in exchange for going along with the agenda).

There should be a whole thread on the latest South Park -- in terms of the Cartoon Jihad, it puts to shame what TOC me-tooed in the latest issue of Bidinotto's mag.


DianaHsieh's picture

That was darn funny, Mike. Smiling (Dear Lord of SoloPassion, please don't make that smiley emoticon too dorky.)

But I think you're missing a very necessary bit about our desperate need to worship Ayn Rand... And also, "We disagree completely, and that's great -- it proves that we're INDIVIDUALISTS!" (The standard TOC line is just slightly more subtle: "I disagree with Ayn Rand for any old reason, and that's great -- it proves that I'm an INDEPENDENT thinker!")

I like the scurry scurry scurrying.

-- Diana Hsieh

Oops, you're a fraud

Mike_M's picture

Robert Campbell on RoR: "Don't worry. Whether it's because I quit posting, or because Lindsay Perigo throws me off the board, I don't expect to be active on SoloPassion for very long."

Yeah, it's pretty hard to get away with the kind of manipulation you traffic in when there are people around to expose you. You're probably just wasting your time here. Luckily, RoR doesn't seem to attract any newbies, so you won't be able to catch ignorant victims in your web there, either.


to those who think ARI supporters don't have a sense of humor

Mike_M's picture

Person A: Hey, those ARIans sure are dogmatic, don't you think?
Person B: Oh yeah! This one time Harry Binswanger was mean to me, total dogmatist.
Person A: One time I saw Peikoff on TV. He even had beady eyes! What a nut!
Person B; Yeah, they are such coward guttersnipes who are afraid of our philosophical prowess. They should really live the philosophy, rather than be so mean!
Person A: Yeah, like us! We're living the philosophy.
[cloud of smug begins to build]
Person B: Yeah Objectivism is a philosophy for living, doncha know? Those ARIans don't know how to live.
ARI Supporter: Hey guys. Why do you think ARI is so dogmatic?
Person A: Because Andrew Bernstein is a jerk! Read all about how he conducted himself at dinner a decade ago.
ARI Supporter: Um, ok. Hey do you guys have any real arguments or just a bunch of disconnected rumors that have little to do with how ARI actually operates?

[scurry scurry scurry]
[new forum]

Person A: Hey, those ARIans sure are dogmatic, don't you think?
Person B: Oh yeah! This one time Harry Binswanger was mean to me, total dogmatist.

I couldn't resist stealing the "smug" joke from South Park. Did I miss anything?

- Mike

Amen to that, Mike.

Casey's picture

Solopassion is something new.

For the first time we're seeing both sides engage.

And the results are quite illuminating.

just another quick point

Mike_M's picture

If you look at the pro-ARI forums (Objectivism Online, The Forum for Ayn Rand Fans), prominent ARI intellectuals don't even post there. So it's no surprise they didn't want to post on old SOLOHQ or RoR. In fact, now that I think about it, HBL doesn't see as many (or at least not as many as I wish) prominent ARI-affiliates posting frequently. Since there are currently fifteen books being written by ARI scholars, it's no surprise that they don't spend time on internet forums. So all this talk about not wasting time debating "silly" things like Rand's personal life, or, ahem, "Living" Objectivism are doubly hypocritical. ARI intellectuals aren't “wasting” their time debating the Branden/TOC/JARS issues and are living the philosophy.

Linz - It's OK to be afraid to debate the issue. A few years ago I didn't know much philosophy at all and would probably have been buried by Campbell or Bidinotto. Truth be told, I'd feel a little intimidated to debate the issues surrounding F&V and T&T with David Kelley, who is obviously a very smart man. So I have no beef with people who know their own limitations. But Bidinotto and Campbell talk so much shit I can smell the stink in NJ (and it does smell in north Jersey). Worse still, some of their smack talk is of the form "you are too afraid to debate me." Having known two manipulative liars in my personal life, I find the behavior fairly easy to identify at this point. Hence my challenge to Bidinotto.

- Mike

What now, indeed!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Mike—RoR, born of fraud, is effectively the webface of TOC. Not surprising to see the folk you mention featuring there, particularly to say things they daren't say (but would have the freedom to say) here. I once referred to TOC as "cowards," but withdrew & apologised in the face of remonstrations by Bidinotto. Their behaviour over the last few months has shown the epithet to be more than justified. What's going on right now underscores the fact. I don't resile from my own criticisms of ARI, but in the current exchange it's ARI on the high ground, no question—& just about game, set & match to ARI already.


And what now?

Mike_M's picture

For as long I have been lurking on the various TOC friendly forums, I've seen posters continually ask the question "Why don't any knowledgeable ARI supporters ever come and defend ARI?" The answer that is usually offered? They are too scared because they know they will be defeated. The actual answer, at least in the case of me, is that I have no desire to be ganged up on by a dozen people who cheer each other while launching ambiguous insults at me. Finally there is place like SOLO, where it appears that a person from either side of the isle will get a fair hearing. What happens? Well for one, Robert Campbell runs over to RoR to say things he doesn't have the nerve to defend here. And then there is Robert Bidinotto, who has long been a champion of the "they are too afraid" answer. What does he do?

Bidinotto says,

I am very faintly curious about what anyone hopes to accomplish in spending time on those sites, and addressing the rants of those particular people. After all, "closed" does not describe just their attitude toward Objectivism.

I've noticed that Mr. Bidinotto, as well as someone else who has lowered himself into slinging petty insults at Diana and ARI supporters, have accounts here on SOLO.

As soon as he realized I wasn't going to sit and let him spread his manipulative double talk, Robert Campbell ran away to RoR, announcing that he is taking a few days off. Bob Bidinotto now decides he's 'above' the debate he has been demanding for some time.

WHAT GIVES, GUYS? Now in addition to Jim Valliant, Casey Fahy, and Holly Valliant, we have Diana Hsieh and me. All of us competent defenders of ARI. All of us willing to engage in reasonable discussion. Hell, Diana and I are ARI students. Diana is friendly with a number of well respected Objectivist intellectuals. And where is Bidinotto? He is cowering on RoR, too afraid to argue on a site that doesn't include the goon squad to cheer at his every pseudo-point. He is equating ARI supporters with jihadists on his blog. And he is not engaging any of his opponents on neutral ground.

Bidinotto, who I'm positive will read this, has launched some rather disgusting entirely baseless attacks on Peikoff and now Diana Hsieh. Will he defend them here? No. Now he is "faintly curious about what anyone hopes to accomplish in spending time on those sites." Making absurd claims about contradictions between Fact and Value and Understanding Objectivism is probably pretty easy if you say it to people who either haven't heard UO or haven't heard it since the 80s. Why don't you bring up the supposed contradiction between F&V and Rand's statements in Ayn Rand Answers here, where you will be challenged? Are you afraid to make those claims in a place that isn't populated by your sycophants? The saying "All bark and no bite" comes to mind.

Of course, Bidinotto isn't breaking any new ground in this respect. He and a few fellow travelers used to harp on the fact that ARI was quick to dismiss the Branden bios without arguing their substance. And now, as Bill Perry has indicated, his institute has decided to ignore those arguments when they’ve finally been presented. Did Bidinotto ever really want an open debate? Or was it all just propaganda he knew his supporters would eat up?

Hypocrisy has never been so blatant.

Still disgusted (and still not shocked),

missed something

Mike_M's picture

"The brasher ARIans' claims to esoteric knowledge of Objectivism and superiority over the rabble generally pertain to this kind of material."

This might not even refer to me, but for the record:

I didn't learn any of the ideas I argued for (proper names, abstract particulars) from OAC classes or ARI lecture material. That was a product of my own understanding of ITOE, using the term I learned from the Axiomatic interview.

Here is an odd paradox: "Closed sytem" Objectivism discourages and prevents new philosophic identifications. ARI affiliates have esoteric knowledge about Objectivism never addressed by Rand. These seem to be contradictory ideas, no?

- Mike

and it gets better

Mike_M's picture

Robert Campbell continues to grossly misrepresent Diana (and now me). This time he does it on RoR, where he knows he will not be opposed.

Writes Campbell -

While you are correct that Machan, Mack, Rasmussen, Den Uyl, Hunt, et al. (and we could add Mimi Gladstein, Rod Long, Steve Cox, and some other folks you didn't mention) are not Kelleyites, and some of them wouldn't want to be called anything with "Objectivist" in the title, I find it interesting that the zealous closed-system advocates treat them exactly the same as the Kelleyites--either pretending they don't exist or furiously anathematizing them. Certainly Sciabarra and I have both found that calling ourselves non-Objectivists hasn't made the zealots one bit more eager to coexist with us.

What's more, if you read some recent posts from Diana Hsieh and Mike Mazza over on SOLOPassion, you may note an apparent shift in the official line coming out of ARI. Read the fine print in their distinction between "Objectivism" (which has to have been written by Ayn Rand or handed down from the mountain via Lenny Peikoff) and "Objectivist philosophy" (which can be anything done by ARI-approved scholars, so long as it doesn't blatantly contradict the Randian corpus after the "nonphilosophical" remarks have been trimmed off). Trying to make sense of what this could mean, I've concluded it's really just an open system, but it's closed to persons not approved by ARI.

I'm taking a day or two off from SOLOPassion; I want to let the zealots froth over my new essay taking Ms. Hsieh to task for her copious, irresponsible charges of "pseudo-scholarship." But I will try to take up this curious development at ARI in a few days. I never understood how a strict closed-system approach could keep working--imagine where Objectivism will be in 500 years, if it's truly a closed system--and it might just be that this has started dawning on the ARIans as well.

For the record, I've read Mack, Rasmussen, Den Uyl, Rod Long, and some Machan. I'd bet that most ARI affiliated intellectuals have read most of them, also, based on the fact that every ARI intellectual I've met has made comments suggesting familiarity with their work. Campbell should take Lester Hunt off his list. Hunt is quoted on the back of Viable Values, hardly being ignored.

Campbell wrote: "Read the fine print in their distinction between "Objectivism" (which has to have been written by Ayn Rand or handed down from the mountain via Lenny Peikoff) and "Objectivist philosophy" (which can be anything done by ARI-approved scholars, so long as it doesn't blatantly contradict the Randian corpus after the "nonphilosophical" remarks have been trimmed off). Trying to make sense of what this could mean, I've concluded it's really just an open system, but it's closed to persons not approved by ARI."

There really is no fine print, and I (and Diana) have been very clear on what we mean. "Objectivism" refers to Ayn Rand's philosophic system. Any new discovery would not be part of that system, but still within the Objectivist tradition, and could be called "within the Objectivist tradition" or, more simply, "an Objectivist approach to topic x." So Peikoff has presented an Objectivist theory of induction, rather than the Objectivist theory of induction.

"...which can be anything done by ARI-approved scholars, so long as it doesn't blatantly contradict the Randian corpus after the "nonphilosophical" remarks have been trimmed off..."

I love how you've put "nonphilosophical" in quotes, Rob. Are the quotes there to suggest that there really isn't a difference between the philosophical and non-philosophical? Probably not; you'd have to be really incompetent to hold that view. Most likely you meant to imply that some Objectivists have rejected parts of Rand's philosophy on the incorrect grounds that those parts were non-philosophical. I hope that is what you mean. If it is, who did it and to what philosophical issues?

Oh, I also love how you keep saying that our position is that only ARI scholars count. Of course, you have yet to back that up with any evidence. Maybe if you repeat it one more time someone will be gullible enough to buy into it.

From what I've seen here over the past few day, and on the old SOLOHQ before your accident, and when I first noticed the name "Robert Campbell" in the comments section of Diana's blog three or four years ago, you are either a scheming manipulator, an incompetent intellectual, or some combination of the two. Few, if any, of your posts seem to have been made "in good faith," to steal a phrase from Linz.

If anyone is curious as to why there aren't more ARI defenders posting on SOLO, I give you exhibit A: Robert Campbell. Very few people with a serious interest in philosophy want to put up with having their positions constantly distorted and lied about. Especially when this is done by someone who, in addition to being a professor, is the editor of an academic journal.

Still disgusted,

An afterthought:

What would be the response if Diana or I offered the following as a serious argument:

"Robert Campbell's defense of Chris Sciabarra's work is obviously motivated by a desire to see Sciabarra as morally perfect and epistemologically infallible. His position on JARS and TOC clearly amounts to saying that only those who publish in JARS or work with TOC are able to treat Ayn Rand as a real human being whose ideas are worth critical evaluation. Of course, the last issue of JARS didn't directly address every idea every person affiliated with ARI every said, so this only proves the point that the JARheads won't discuss the issues honestly.

[Mike and Diana then run to another forum where they know they won't be opposed and speculate about the psychology of Sciabarra and Campbell with their friends.]"

Obviously, this is absurd, yet it is no different from what Campbell has been doing, only this time with the roles reversed.

Prof. Campbell

Neil Parille's picture

Prof. Campbell,

Thanks for rescuing my article on Rand & Evolution from obscurity and for your comments. My goal in writing the article was to provoke conversation on these issues, hopefully from those more knowledgeable about evolution than I am. I've written several articles and I try to pick an issue that hasn't been discussed much.

Certainly I did not question Rand's honesty. My argument was that Rand's published and unpublished statements on evolution indicate some hesistancy on her part toward the theory, at least as traditionally understood. I then suggested some reasons why this might be the case. I think Rand believed her theory consistent with some version of biological evolution, but was unsure if it could be reconciled with the current theory. Perhaps I could have been a bit clearer on that final point.

Incidentally, I'm not the only one who sees a question here. Greg Johnson in a JARS article noted a tension between Rand's philosophy and evolution. He referenced "The Missing Link" article and also the statements from the Journals, from what I recall.

Roger, wilco.

Duncan Bayne's picture

Roger, wilco.

Go for it Duncan... I just

Jason Quintana's picture

Go for it Duncan... I just sent Robert a private message asking him if he could do it. I'm sure he wouldn't have any problem with you doing it. I tried and couldn't figure it out. In the mean time I've removed it from the front page. It was skewing that as well. If you can get it fixed can you promote it back to the front page again?

- Jason

Robert, do you mind if I

Duncan Bayne's picture

Robert, do you mind if I edit that post to fix whatever it is about the contents that's causing it to appear so wide? Obviously I won't actually change the text, just whatever it is about the markup that's broken.

RE: Diana's Scholarship

Dan Edge's picture

Robert and others,

I'd like to offer my personal impression of Diana's work as represented in her blog. First, most of what she presents on Noodlefood isn't in the form of professional academic papers, and I don't think they're intended to be. When she does present formal, academic work, I am stuck by the degree of professionalism and clarity. Several of her essays have incited very interesting discussions between me and my freinds.

Robert, I contrast this impression of Diana's work with my impression of your above article criticizing her. I honestly have no idea what you're talking about! I've only read it through once, but I wasn't able to retain much at all about your points because they were so disorganized and unclear. I understand you probably weren't offering this article as a formal, professional piece of work. But considering the length of the post and the degree of importance you place on the subject matter, I don't think you did a very good job.

Diana does a good bit of TOC bashing, more than I care for, because I hardly care about it at all. But her philosophical articles on issues relating to ARI vs TOC are excellent, in my view. The degree of malice in those essays is excessive for my taste, but it harldy detracts from the well-organized and reasoned arguments.

Most of Diana's fire-beathing with respect to TOC is personal stuff she writes on her Blog. It's her personal impresions and reactions based on her experiences with TOC and ARI. I don't see those kinds of posts as technical persuasive arguments, and I don't think they're intended to be. I respect Diana's academic work, and I consider her opinions on these issues to be important, but I don't just take her word for everything. Maybe she's got a reason to get so pissed of sometimes, hell I don't know. It makes more sense to me now that I see how fire gets tossed her way over here. If you pour hell all over somebody for an extended period of time, expect a little backlash.

--Dan Edge

Diana beat me to it

Rick Pasotto's picture

I refuse to read any thread that requires left-right scrolling.

Just so people know...

DianaHsieh's picture

I'm not even going to bother reading this post until the HTML is fixed. It's bad enough to wade through the contents of Robert's dishonest posts about me without the additional annoyance of incompetant formatting.

-- Diana Hsieh

I continue to be impressed

Mike_M's picture

Here are is a collection of comments you have made on SOLO recently:

But only among existing Randians who have been insecure in their convictions so long as they doubted that Ayn Rand was morally perfect.

But any response short of outright Rand-worship will prove disappointing to the ARI crowd.

Mr. Valliant will never succeed in convincing the wider world that Ayn Rand was a moral paragon before whom they should get on their knees.

Worse yet, Mr. Watkins is not just arguing from authority; he seems to be arguing from Ayn Rand's perfection (epistemically, if not morally).

Has the Ayn Rand Institute been teaching its students and affiliates that false alternatives, arguments from Ayn Rand's perfection, arbitrary assertions of arbitrariness, and arguments from intimidation are marks of good scholarship?

You have consistently equated any denial of a specific fault of Rand’s with a claim of perfection. What did Valliant do? Argue that a specific set of claims about Rand made by the Brandens is false. But by employing Sciabarran dialectics, we can unify the thesis with its antithesis and learn that Valliant’s true motive was to argue the moral perfection of Ayn Rand, I suppose. Don Watkins argued that one specific claim (that Rand wasn’t enthusiastic towards evolution for motives outside her stated ones) was arbitrary. Somehow this translates into an argument for her infallibility.


Image if Neil wrote an article claiming that Aristotle defended slavery not because of his argument about natural slaves, but because he really didn’t like foreigners. Now imagine that I pointed out that there isn’t any evidence one way or the other concerning Aristotle’s attitude towards foreigners, so Neil’s discussion is arbitrary speculation. Using the method you’ve employed to characterize Valliant’s project in PARC and Don’s in his essay, my argument would be an argument for Aristotle’s perfection.

No, ARI isn’t teaching us that false alternatives make good scholarship. Luckily the editor of JARS is an expert at constructing them, so perhaps he can fill me it. Robert, how does one consistently make hypocritical two-faced comments like yours and still manage to edit an academic journal?

- Mike


eg's picture

Diana has posted more than once that she is not very proud of her TOC work.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.