Review of Robert Campbell's JARS Essay

Dan Edge's picture
Submitted by Dan Edge on Wed, 2006-04-12 21:08

This blog entry is a review of Robert Campbell's essay Ayn Rand and the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology. Mr. Campbell provided a link to this essay in another thread, encouraging review. Here is a link.

Let me begin with my first impressions of the article. This essay was a difficult read for me, in large part because I am not schooled in Cognitive Psychology. Mr. Campbell presents many concepts, theories, and theorists with which I am not at all familiar. I am assuming that Campbell's intended audience is primarily those with a working knowledge of the history of psychology.

Another first impression is that this essay is intended primarily as a critique of Rand qua psychologist. It is filled with direct or implied criticisms of Rand's scholarship (or lack thereof) in the field of psychology. I must admit that the frequent, and in my opinion inaccurate and unnecessarily harsh, criticisms of Rand distracted me from evaluating the essay from an academic standpoint.

Mr. Campbell's explicit thesis (from the introductory paragraph) is that "Rand's philosophical thought drew on the developments in the study of perception, attention, memory, concept-formation, thinking, and problem solving that have come to be known as the Cognitive Revolution." He proceeds by presenting a skeletal history of Cognitive Psychology and attempting to draw ties to Rand's philosophy (primarily her epistemology).

Campbell places special significance of Rand's "crow epistemology" example as it applies to Cognitive Psychology. He notes that these kinds of experiments were being conducted by several different theorists, and he suggests that Rand must have based her ideas, at least in part, on the results of these experiments. Campbell referes back to this point several times in the essay, at one point declaring : "It is clear that Rand made significant use of ideas from the Cognitive Revolution (most importantly, the idea of limited cognitive capacity)."

I question Campbell's focus on this relationship between Rand and Cognitive Theory. Why is it necessary to conduct exhaustive experiements in order to determine that man's focal awareness has a limited capacity? This kind of information is easily available through introspection. What's more, it is not necessary or fundamental to know the exact range of one's focal awareness in order to determine that his awareness is limited to some degree. It is much more likely that Rand had already come to the determination that focal awareness is limited, and then used the "Crow Epistemology" example as a handy tool to express her point. She could have made the same (valid) arguement without reference to any specific scientific study. I see no convincing evidence in Campbell's essay that Rand's notion of "limited focal awareness" is based on the published findings of Cognitive Psychology, in any way whatsoever.

Similarly, I am not convinced that the experiments conducted on sensory deprivation at McGill University in the 50's had any significant impact on Rand's formulation of Objectivism. Once again, Rand used the notion of such experiments as examples, sometimes in the form of metaphor, as she did in her "Cultural Value-Deprivation" speech. Campbell criticizes Rand's use of this metaphor, arguing that the culture at the time was not *entirely* value-deprived, and that "Rand overlooked many instances of positive creativity in her surroundings." In my opinion, Rand was commenting on the dominant cultural trend is music and art at the time, and did not intend her remarks to be completely exhaustive. She was making a general point, a point which I believe Campbell didn't get.

Campbell raises an interesting point concerning Rand's description (from the ITOE) of a child's epistemological progression in understanding concepts. He notes that "These assertions cannot have been based on Rand's introspection!" because Rand could not possibly have a memory of learning 1st-level concepts like "chair" or "man." I don't have a memory of these things either, and I have not studied Cognitive Psychology to any degree, yet I immediately connected with Rand's description of a child's development. I'm not sure why I felt this way, but I'm not convinced that a strong foundation of scientific experimentation is necessary to broach the subject of epistemology.

That said, I do think that observations of the language development of children could be helpful in honing our understanding of epistemology, particularly the process of induction. At least I would be interested in the results of such experiments. However, I do not consider such studies to be essential in the study of epistemology.

One of Campbell's conclusions in this essay is that Rand tries to set up a blockade between philosophy and psychology, and that many in the Objectivist community have followed suit, inappropriately separating the two disciplines. He charges that many Objectivists "fail to recognize the distinctly psychological roots of Rand’s epistemology..." For reasons noted above, I do not think Campbell has effectively demonstrated that Rand's epistemology is based in any way on developments in Cognitive Psychology. This does not imply that psychology and philosophy are inherently incompatible, only that Rand judged these particular theories of psychology to be incompatible with her philosophy on a fundamental level.

My overall evaluation of Campbell's essay is not very positive, as already may be obvious. I think the essay would have been much better as a presentation of the history of Cognitive Psychology, with recommendations of which theories may further our understanding of epistemology. The insertion of Rand qua psychologist into the essay is completely unnecessary and distracts from the positive elements of the paper, which are the descriptions of applied usefulness of Cognitive Theory.

Some personal thoughts, added later:

I kept thinking as I was reading this: What is the point of attacking Rand in this way? From my reading of his essay, Campbell does not directly challenge any specific principles of Objectivism, he merely attacks Rand's thinking style and scholarship. How does this further your point, Robert? What is the point? I mean, if your point was that we can learn from some of these Cognitive Theorists (which I consider very possible), then I don't think you made that point effectively at all. You were too focused on showing how Rand didn't learn from Cognitive Theory, or how she stole ideas from it without giving due credit, and without fully understanding it. Even if this is true, how does that teach me, or anyone, anything at all? And how does this belong in a "Journal for Ayn Rand Studies?" Is JARS a publication for personal critiques of Ayn Rand's scholarship, or is it intended to educate the academic public on new discoveries related to the philosophy of Objectivism?

Seriously, the more I think about this, the more it upsets me. Robert, you have not at all encouraged me to read more JARS articles, though I probably will anyway. Maybe just different authors. Jeez, Robert, I hate to make it so personal, but you've just helped me understand a little bit better why ARI-ians so harshly criticize your stuff, if it's more like this.

You really do seem to have a personal vendetta against Rand. In that essay, you were all over her case for no conceivable reason. I mean, goddamn, show some respect to the lady!

[Calming Down]

--Dan Edge

( categories: )

Tell Them to Come Back

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Neil -- I would welcome every last one of them back! Many of them were relatively powerful thinkers with strong opinions. Smiling I only care about good debate -- not whether or not someone agrees with me. Actually, I much prefer that someone disputes my (usually radical) views! But the cult-style "Objectivists" who like ARI have an exceptionally hard time dealing with free discussion and open debate.


Neil Parille's picture

It is too bad that many people have left SOLO. From what I remember many of the Othodox came here during the PARC wars. I dont imagine Brook would allow orthos like Amy and Valliant to return.

Dan Edge...

Olivia's picture

He pops up from time to time on Faecesbook, usually to contradict something amazing that Ed Cline has written.

He's one of those guys, we all know their type on social media: "Hi, I'm with a really AMAZING woman.....". Puke. Run a quick mile from any man who identifies himself in such a way. He has nothing to offer except how to take a pussy whipping. That's why he "loves" Rand. I suspect many men love her for the same reason. She would put them firmly in their place without batting an eyelash, if she were here to do it.

Blast from Past

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

This was a pretty interesting discussion from 11 years ago! Too bad almost all of these people have gone away. Sad

The Prof [Campbell]

gregster's picture

I recall [Peikoff] taking potshots at Quantum Mechanics in the 1970s. In his Ancient Philosophy series in the first half of that decade, he put forward a Parmenidean "proof" that there cannot be a vacuum, or completely empty region of space, "because there is no Nothing." I hope he has given up on the Parmenidean exercise. I have heard that he still expresses incredulity at QM, though I welcome correction on this issue.

I hope the Prof has been corrected. There is no void. The universe is a plenum. Leonard remains correct. And quantum mechanics remains theoretical bullshit. I welcome correction on this issue.

You can call me Dr. Cohen...

mcohen's picture

Dan: You can call me Dr. Cohen if it pleases you, though it won't gain me admission to PhD-land. Sad

Michelle F. Cohen

Re: Cognitive Poetics

mcohen's picture

Cognitive Poetics is an offshoot of analytic philosophy and as such is not compatible with Objectivism, but it raises interesting issues which Objectivism can resolve. I recommend "Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction" by Peter Stockwell, which is available in academic libraries. The article "Aspects of Cognitive Poetics" by Reuven Tsur is available online, as well as his interview with Beth Bradburn. Just Google it.

I am not interested in pursuing a discussion on this subject at this point. My draft on "Cognitive Poetics and Objectivity" was accepted for publication in a scholarly magazine and if it survives the editorial process I will post a notice on this forum.

Michelle F. Cohen

Cognitive poetics

Robert Campbell's picture

Ms. Cohen,

Where can I find out more about cognitive poetics?

Robert Campbell

Dr. Michelle

Dan Edge's picture

Can I call you Dr. Michelle anyway? It just has a ring to it. Like Dr. Phil's Hot Niece of something Tongue

--Dan Edge

Cognitive Poetics

Marsha Enright's picture

Sigh. Well it’s obvious that Michelle is baiting me here. I only wish she had something better to do. Unbeknownst to SOLOPassion readers, she has been nagging me and badgering me about TOC for over a year because I don’t agree with her views on it, or on ARI. I stopped discussing the issues with her because, after many messages back and forth, she accused me of being neurotic because I couldn’t accept the truth of what she was telling me.

What she said happened at our club meeting, the New Intellectual Forum, is an unabashed smear. We did ask her a lot of questions and she appears to think that asking a lot of questions can shake someone’s self-confidence.

I do wonder why she decided to bring this up in a public forum, where most of the people have no first-hand knowledge of the club meeting. I’m sure if you asked NIF members who were present at the meeting, you would hear something quite different, but then, at our club, we don’t consider disagreement the same thing as hostility. We consider it a lively discussion!


"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

cognitive poetics

PhilipC's picture

Hi Michelle,

I don't have a clue what "cognitive poetics" means or what past experience you had presenting it, but -- being familiar with some intelligent and thoughtful things you've written or said before on various topics -- I'm sure I'd be fascinated to hear you explain it and whether it's a legitimate, important, separable field. And I'm sure, if you essentialized on this list, I, for one, would simply agree or disagree without incivility with regard to the other aspect: Kelley and Peikoff having a different view of objectivity and how that relates to the above topic.


Re: It's a big world out there

mcohen's picture

Robert wrote:
The works of the major cognitive psychologists, and of Jean Piaget (who called his work "genetic epistemology") are just a little bitty fraction of all that good stuff.

What's more (and I will come back to this point), there is no way to carry on the work that Rand did in epistemology--even in ethics--without consulting the work of cognitive, developmental, and neuro-psychologists.

I agree. I did an independent study of cognitive poetics, and realized that Kelley's view of objectivity is incompatible with this new field, while Peikoff's (and Rand's) view is compatible. When I attempted to present my findings at Marsha Enright's salon, I was met with great hostility from her and her group, which continued on her online discussion forum. I hope my comment here will put Marsha on the spot so that she exhibits more tolerance toward those who criticize JARS or Kelley, or agree with ARI-affiliated scholars.

Michelle F. Cohen

The crow story and psychology as filtered through Ed schools

Robert Campbell's picture


It turns out that Rand was not referring to an experiment done by psychologists, when she told the crow story in ITOE.  She was referring to observations by hunters in Western Europe, as reported by 18th century French natruralists.  Richard Shedenhelm did a great job of tracking the story, in his article "Where Were the Counting Crows?" (Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Spring 2000, Volume 1, no. 2, 189-195).

Note, however, what Rand said in ITOE--the crow story that she heard about was told by a professor of psychology.  Ayn Rand wasn't hanging out with professors of psychology in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  So why question Nathaniel Branden's account, when he was taking psychology courses during that period, and discussing what he was learning with Rand?  As for where the professor got the story, the most likely source is a book by Dantzig, which was widely cited during that period by psychologists interested in how human beings deal with numbers. (Again, see Shedenhelm's article.)

As far as Piaget is concerned, you should not hold some public K-12 teacher's notion of "constructivist education" against him.  Any more than you should hold some public K-12 teacher's notion of self-esteem building against, say, Nathaniel Branden.  And there is a difference: Branden writes well in English, in books intended for a general audience; Piaget wrote thornily in French, almost always for an academic audience.  Piaget is just plain hard to read in English, even when he's been translated well (and sometimes he hasn't been).  What's more, Branden is a practitioner; Piaget was a basic researcher who actually wrote rather infrequently about education.

If the Colleges of Education can screw up what Branden and other clinicians say about self-esteem, just imagine what they can do to Piaget.  (For the record, there are excellent Piaget scholars teaching in Educational Psychology programs here and there, and I intend them no disrespect; I'm talking about the run-of-the-mill teacher education approaches to his work, which distress them as much as they distress me.  I've heard some Ed profs put forward just hair-raisingly bad interpretations of Piaget.)

Back in 1997, I gave a couple of talks about Piaget at what was then an IOS event.  You can see my thoughts about Piaget and Objectivism at

The article needs some revising, in my opinion, but it may give you some idea of what Piaget was about--and how far he really stood from the usual rendition of him in the public school system.

Robert Campbell

Prof. Campbell,

mcohen's picture

I am not a Dr. Cohen, just a plain folk without a PhD. Smiling

Michelle F. Cohen

Crow Epistemology

Sharath's picture

"In the course of his evolutionary promotions, his sublime march toward ultimate perfection, he has been a gambler, a low comedian, a dissolute priest, a fussy woman, a blackguard, a scoffer, a liar, a thief, a spy, an informer, a trading politician, a swindler, a professional hypocrite, a patriot for cash, a reformer, a lecturer, a lawyer, a conspirator, a rebel, a royalist, a democrat, a practicer and propagator of irreverence, a meddler, an intruder, a busybody, an infidel, and a wallower in sin for the mere love of it."

I used to walk under a generously shady tree in a hot Indian city reading any one of Ayn Rand's books some years ago. I continued this practice for upwards of three years. I used to call myself the Peripatetic school...

It would have been a pretty idylic picture if it wasn't for those damn crows! I doubt there was a single day when, as soon as I ventured out, the crows didn't harass me until I gave up in frustration and retreated... Ayn Rand not withstanding, I could stand them only for that long.

I didn't perform any experiment on them--except for occasionally shying a stone at them to see if that would keep them away, but, as you must see, I am well enough acquainted with them to know that they are unusually difficult subjects to deal with.

I am not that well acquainted with the crow's American cousin, but I'd hazard a guess: crows in America aren't very different from the crows in India. They are just as unruly, suspicious, stealthy, and genreally unwilling subjects of an epistemological experiment--just like very young children. We tread on hazardous ground when we rely on experiments performed on them.

I submit that an experiment on crows such as described in ITOE--is impossible. For what it is worth, I challenge anyone to repeat the same experiment under the same conditions.

Here is my considered judgment on the issue: the source-story for the crow-epistemology, is more legend than fact.

The idea that we can apprehend only a given number of perceptual units at any given time is as old as recorded history. Its evidence is present when any number of cave-dwellers separated notches on a stick to keep track of quantities; when someone, a long time ago determined to keep track of "the landscape of time" by dividing his days into "7" weekly ones--a system that doesn't follow any externally observable natural cycle. Its evidence is present each time a politician talks about a "3" or "5" point program, a bureaucrat comes up with a "5" year plan...

One could make sense of these phenomena, if only one could introspect (study one's own consciousness as it EXTROSPECTS)to make explicit what was implicit all along: the reason why we need a base system for counting, a grammatical system for naming and telling, and, one might add, an ultimate philosophical system for establishing truth corresponding to the myriad facts of reality.

Ayn Rand was one of those who could.

Any one who claims that the conclusions of the cognitive psychologists of the 50's and 60's were otherwise crucial in determining "Rand's epistemology" (I take it that this phrase means "Objectivist Epistemology".)has, perhaps, only the word of Nathaniel Branden for it. Having just finished reading Valliant's PARC,I'd put as much store in Mr. Branden's word as I would in a person resembling Mark Twain's paean to a murder (flock, it seems) of Indian crows.

(Talking about one way streets, here is another: from Dr. Montessori to Piaget--insofar as Piaget is relevant to Objectivists. Otherwise, he is part of academese--"experts" quoting "experts" quoting "experts" in a rather nebulous, seemingly weighty way. He is very popular nowadays with public school teachers.--which means that his writings could be used to support just about anything. As far as I know, despite the fact that he was the President of The Swiss Montessori Society, and despite the fact that he wrote about children, he is hardly relevant to the Modern Montessori Movement.)

Preferences and constraints

Robert Campbell's picture


A preference indicates which directions to travel in; a constraint rules out or works against directions not to be traveled in.  They're complementary.

Developmental psychologists talk about constraints a lot.  We do get odd reactions occasionally, when using this language with nondevelopmentalists.

I'm glad you and I agree that psychology has a lot to offer epistemology.  I wouldn't rule out potential contributions to ethics.

The Objectivist ethics is basically a eudaimonistic theory, consistently individualistic where Ancient theories were not.  But Rand left out something that Aristotle et al. thought was important: phronesis (pick a translation: prudence, practical wisdom, practical intelligence...)  How do you make contextually appropriate decisions without phronesis?   I think psychological studies of decision making will have something to contribute here, and I'm encouraged that some in the Positive Psychology movement have rediscovered practical wisdom.

I also believe that some traces of the Ancient doctrine of "the unity of the virtues" (if you've truly attained one virtue, you've attained them all) are still clinging to Rand's conception.  Contemporary psychology offers little support for anything like the unity of the virtues.

Not to mention what psychology might still be bringing to the table concerning the cardinal value of self-esteem.

Robert Campbell

How would the rejection of cosmology apply to epistemology?

Robert Campbell's picture


As you noted, the rejection of cosmology was Rand's way of separating metaphysics from physics.  If consistently implemented, it bars armchair speculations about physics.  The alternative would be allowing that metaphysics might have to change in some respect, as a consequence of future developments in physics.

I must say, though, that although Leonard Peikoff stated in his lectures that Objectivism doesn't do cosmology, he didn't always get with the program.  I recall him taking potshots at Quantum Mechanics in the 1970s.  In his Ancient Philosophy series in the first half of that decade, he put forward a Parmenidean "proof" that there cannot be a vacuum, or completely empty region of space, "because there is no Nothing."  I hope he has given up on the Parmenidean exercise.  I have heard that he still expresses incredulity at QM, though I welcome correction on this issue.

The question I meant to ask was, if metaphysics needs to be separated from physics, does epistemology also need to separated from psychology?  And what are the consequences of doing so on a consistent basis?

I address the issue in some detail in my JARS review of Tibor Machan's book on Ayn Rand:

ITOE presents a theory of concepts.  I've heard the suggestion that "concept" is strictly a logical notion, not a psychological one.  Whether that works or not (I suspect not), Rand thought we use logic when we think rightly, so she wouldn't have been able to frame her theory as logical but not psychological.

However, if concepts are psychologically real, then a theory of concepts will intrude into the territory of psychology, and be subject to testing using psychological data (which will have to come from behavioral or even physiological sources, not just from introspection).

In fact, when I was an undergrad (in ancient times, i.e., the early 1970s) I did an independent study with a psychology professor who had collected data on children's early word usage, their responses to word meaning tests, observations of how their mothers named things for them, and so on.  I thought that such data could test some predictions derived from Rand's theory in ITOE, and that Rand's theory could inform the explanation of the results.  Rand's theory did quite well in comparison with the psychological theories current at the time, though the predictions were usually not unique (i.e., there was at least one other theory that would predict the same data pattern).

In any event, there is no way that Rand could have gotten her accounts of cognitive functioning in babies and young children from memory (although the phenomenon is still not well understood, once we pass age 4 or so, most of us can't remember what happened before that age, and hardly anyone has genuine, accurate memories of what happened before age 2).  Nor could casual observation give her all of the information about babies and children that she needed. 

Developmental psychology started out with "baby diaries," over 100 years ago.  Piaget and his wife's observations of their children, in the late 1920s to early 1930s, were far more sophisticated, and the adoption of preferential looking procedures, habituation experiments, and other such techniques, starting in the late 1950s, enables us to learn things about babies that we simply couldn't have known without them.  Procedures that work with children old enough to talk have also grown much more sophisticated over the past century.

You say:

Robert, here again your view of Rand is extremely negative, and unjustly so. You have suggested that Rand purposefully limited her own philosophy because she feared the responsibility of considering scientific evidence. This would require such a massive act of evasion on Rand's part, throughout her entire life, it would make her a fundamentally irrational, evil, horrible person. The day I start thinking in terms of artificially limiting my principles so that I can ignore new scientific evidence, just shoot me in the face, because I've already embraced the anti-life. How can you read ITOE and get this impression in any way?

Rand inspires so much bipolar thinking: either she was damn near perfect, or she was a hopeless, fraudulent wretch.


How philosophy relates to psychology is a tough issue, on which there has been tremendous confusion. Philosophers of many different schools have yielded very slowly to what has always struck me as a strong case for psychology.  Think, for instance, of all the analytic types struggling with Frege's rejection of "psychologism."

Rand had an advantage over a lot of other philosophers in that she was a naturalist (she recognized that how human beings ought to act, in order to gain knowledge, depends on the ways that human minds actually function) and she had no fear that naturalism would abolish norms in favor of "brute facts" (because she believed that "oughts" could be derived from "ises" and maintained that there was necessity in nature).

But, as Jon Trager has suggested, psychology looked to her to be grossly underdeveloped, lacking in a coherent general set of questions, let alone a general theory--and she regarded many of the positions that she criticized as frankly irrational.  (Even Freudianism didn't start out irrational, but once Freud became a tribal leader and lost interest in testing his hypotheses with anything except "clinical experience," it degenerated.  Behaviorism, I would agree, was frankly irrational from the git-go, but it was an outlier.  Usually bad theories in psychology are just inadequate theories about phenomena that are tough to explain.)

Even supposing that it was OK for Rand et al. to use traditional philosophers' methods to fill an explanatory vacuum left by contemporary psychologists (and that's not exactly what she was doing, in the 1950s and the early 1960s), presumably psychology would get its act together after a while, and come up with better theories.  And then where would Objectivism be, occupying psychological turf but claiming that it had nothing to learn from the data that psychologists collect, the technical procedures they use, or the arguments they make within their discipline?

Robert Campbell

Limited Awareness

Marsha Enright's picture


I see you're point. Thanks.

"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

Michelle, You seemed to have

Marsha Enright's picture


You seemed to have read an entirely different set of messages than I wrote. I don't see anywhere in which I used unfamiliar lingo; if you're referring to 'mnemonist,' that is an English word that is easily enough looked up if one doesn't know it. Further, aren't you imputing motives to me when you claim I'm trying to undermine his confidence? Some Objectivists would call that psychologizing but I, like Robert, have my reservations about that whole concept.

In fact,I'm merely asking him to explain his ideas further and give me the evidence for them. That's how a tolerant discussion between civil people proceeds.

"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

F&V and T&T

James Heaps-Nelson's picture

Robert C,

That was a terrific post! I have one minor quibble with how you characterized objections concerning how the open system of Objectivism in T&T is inadequate. I think T&T is a terrific piece of philosophy. However, what is lacking is not constraints but a method for preferentially directing inquiry into those areas which are most fruitful.

For example, I think correct revisions or additions to her epistemology are much more likely than correct revisions to her ethics. If we encourage everything equally, we will be spending lots of time answering every skeptical objection to Objectivism and not on more discoveries and teaching students Objectivism.

I don't have a completely worked out method yet, but one clue as to areas that might be fruitful is the amount of new inductive data coming into that area of inquiry. Those areas which have more new inductive data coming in are more likely to yield discoveries and corrections in accord with that data.


F&V, T&T?

Robert Campbell's picture


On this issue, we may not be so far from agreement.

Here's the bottom line to "Fact and Value," as I understand it. The bottom line isn't quite explicitly stated, but it isn't hard to infer, either:

If you are a reasonably well educated adult, of normal to above normal IQ, and you've been exposed to Objectivism (Peikovian brand), you can either

* honestly embrace its truth and join the Blessed


* dishonestly deny its truth and join the Damned

What is hard to find is any room left for honest error-- except among the young, the ignorant, or the intellectually underpowered.

"Fact and Value," as you say, is a vehicle for asserting control.

"Truth and Toleration" has been criticized by others on SOLOHQ/SOLOPassion (e.g,, Jim Heaps-Nelson, Bill Perry) for not identifying adequate constraints on the future development of the open system, or on what should be tolerated and what not.

I can see something to those criticisms.

For instance, I do not consider believers in all variants of Islam to be irredeemably rotten. But I can also see, from my own reading of the Qur'an as well as what I've learned about the life of Muhammad, that there is an imperialistic or militant strain in Islam which goes all the way back to the founder. It can't be eradicated so long as the Qur'an is venerated as holy scripture, etc. etc. What's more, it hasn't been weakened by centuries of progress and secularization, the way that the militant aspects of Christianity have been. Imperialistic Islamic belief should not be subject to persecution (crimes committed by believers are of course another matter)--but neither should it be morally tolerated. Imperialistic Islamic belief is extremely bad and dangerous regardless of the motives of the individuals who share that belief (and of course some of them evidently are acting from evil motives).

If "Truth and Toleration" isn't clear enough on this kind of issue, then it needs amending to make it more clear.

As to whether "Truth and Toleration" supplies enough constraints to allow open-system Objectivism to progress without losing its identity as Objectivism along the way, I'm not entirely sure. But I don't find the ambiguity terribly distressing. I just don't have a dog in that hunt.

Ultimately, shouldn't we all be seeking the comprehensive truth concerning ourselves and the universe we live in?

I think Rand's ideas have more than a little to contribute to this search, as well as to living good individual lives and to bringing about a juster political order. (If I didn't think so, I wouldn't study Rand's ideas or write about them.) But who knows whether the outcome of another 100 years of successful inquiry into these matters (another 500... another 2000...) is going to be labeled Objectivist or not?

And why should anyone care?

Robert Campbell

Fact & Value

eg's picture

Robert, I think Peikoff uses his essay "Fact and Value" to maintain that control. He simply assumes that through it he can know more than he is likely to actually be able to and launches moral attacks on outsiders or those he feels should be outside. "Truth and Toleration," on the other hand, goes the other way with what ultimately seems to be way too much toleration. The only principled way of addressing this objectively that I have found is to combine F & V with individualism, meaning I don't recognize or let myself be a part of any cult, Objectivist or any other, but so far I haven't found a way to embrace toleration as a moral principle or way to action without logically ending up tolerating the intolerable. I think Objectivism should be an open system plus reason.


Piaget and Montessori

Rowlf's picture


~~ I've read Piaget through his Structuralism and Genetic Epistemology subjects and a couple even more...for me...abstruse, and I read only Montessori's semi-auto bio ('memoir') where she outlined her discoveries and operations and a couple others outlining her attitude and methods.

~~ But I never ran across the semi-'professional' close connection between their lives that you point out. Wow. Thanx for the tidbit.


Keep in mind when ITOE was written

Robert Campbell's picture


More later about the issues you just raised.

In the meantime, please keep Adam's points in mind.

Rand wrote ITOE in 1966-1967; the first booklet publication was in 1967.

Rand made her statements about one-way traffic between philosophy and the sciences between 1969 and 1971 (in workshop transcripts that were added to ITOE only in the 1990 edition).

In between, it is pretty clear that she changed her views on the relationship between philosophy and psychology. I think she was wrong to change them as she did, but wouldn't even start down the road toward accusing her of "massive evasion" in so doing.

Robert Campbell

It's a big world out there

Robert Campbell's picture

Dr. Cohen,

I don't see anyone here trying to undermine Dan Edge's confidence.

I certainly don't read Marsha Enright's contributions that way.

Beyond the immediate question I was trying to address in my article (which ideas from cognitive psychology influenced Rand's thinking in the 1950s and 1960s), here's what I think is the wider issue.

It's a big world out there.

There are tons of good ideas and piles of relevant evidence, out beyond the boundaries of Rand-land.

The works of the major cognitive psychologists, and of Jean Piaget (who called his work "genetic epistemology") are just a little bitty fraction of all that good stuff.

What's more (and I will come back to this point), there is no way to carry on the work that Rand did in epistemology--even in ethics--without consulting the work of cognitive, developmental, and neuro-psychologists.

This is a good part of the reason why I'm willing to let the closed-system advocates keep control of the Objectivist label--since Rand sometimes talked that way herself, and the closed-system advocates want such control so badly. For what the closed-system advocates end up controlling is a historical artifact: a body of claims that can't be added to or corrected. Which in turn implies that they will miss on out all of the good work and all of the real advances, which will be non-Objectivist.

Unless, of course, they start making a distinction between Objectivism (the closed system) and Objectivist philosophy (additions and maybe even corrections, so long as they are done by members of their own club). But this just seems to be a covert concession to the dreaded open-system mentality, done in the interest of maintaining control.

Robert Campbell


Dan Edge's picture

I am not very familiar with Rand's "rejection of cosmology," though I may have read about it at some point years ago, I don't remember. In any case, I can see why Rand would want to draw a distinct line between metaphysics and physics. Even so, there's plenty of armchair physics going on in the Objectivist community. I've never been comfortable with that. Back in the day, some might have dismissed Einstienian Physics or Heisenburg's Uncertainty out of hand because they are so seemingly counterintuitive. Speicher considers the Big Bang to be impossible based on cosmology, and discounts the red-shift effect of all the other solar systems and galaxies with respect to ours. I wouldn't be so quick to do that.

As for the possiblilty of Rand's "limiting" epistemology, I seriously doubt it, but I try not to "armchair psychologize" Rand's motives for such things anyway. I will say that Rand's ITOE is the single best work of philosophy that I have ever read (and I've read hundreds and hundreds). I've read ITOE 20 or more times, and I still learn something new every time I read it. I don't see the principles in ITOE as "limiting," but all-encompassing, revolutionary, and beautiful in their logical structure.

Robert, here again your view of Rand is *extermely* negative, and unjustly so. You have suggested that Rand purposefully limited her own philsophy because she feared the responsibility of considering scientific evidence. This would require such a massive act of evasion on Rand's part, throughout her entire life, it would make her a fundamentally irrational, evil, horrible person. The day I start thinking in terms of artificially limiting my principles so that I can ignore new scientific evidence, just shoot me in the face, because I've already embraced the anti-life. How can you read ITOE and get this impression in any way?

Yet, you casually suggest that Rand is guilty of such sweeping evasions and complete lack scholarly integrity. This is what upset me about your paper, that you make these extraordinarily harsh personal accusations of Rand without giving it a second thought, and without providing sufficient evidence.

--Dan Edge


Dan Edge's picture

I don't take Marsha's questions as malevolent. I generally expect the best out of folks. For all I know she may think I'm an idiot and is asking technical questions hoping I'll slip up and display my blinding ignorance for all the web to see. On the other hand, she may be asking technical questions to encourage intellectual precision in my writing, which is why I want to write in a public forum anyway. I don't know either way, so I'll assume it's the latter until she gives me good reason to think otherwise.

Thank for thinking of me, though, you're a sweetheart Wink

--Dan Edge

Marsha - Limited Awareness

Dan Edge's picture

Marsha writes:

"Therefore, I don't see how you can assert that the limits of focal awareness are a non-essential aspect of Rand's theory."

Earler, I wrote:

"The fact that I have a limited focal awareness is realted to some of these essential principles, but the question of whether my focal awareness can grasp 5 vs 6 units at a time is not essential."

I still agree with this. The fact that my awareness is limited *is* essential, the exact range of that awareness is *not* essential. I argued that ordinal measurement and introspecition are sufficient to determine the former, while scientific expermientation is required to determine the latter. Where do you think I went wrong here?

--Dan Edge


Jon Trager's picture

Robert: "Is it mere coincidence that when Rand's epistemology resembles certain ideas in cognitive psychology, they are ideas that were prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s--not the pre-behavioristic psychological theories of the late 1800s, or conceptions like neural net modeling and dynamic systems theory that gained adherents among research psychologists in the 1980s and the 1990s?"

I'm not a psychologist. But given that psychology is still a young discipline and earlier thinkers such as Freud advanced theories that are blatantly irrational, I'm not surprised that AR's rational approach to philosophy would coincide with the development of a similar approach to psychology. AR was clearly aware of at least some cog. psych. experiments during this time, as she cited them in her work to provide examples of what she was talking about. But she did *not* clearly rely on such experiments in creating her own philosophy.


mcohen's picture

As a champion of tolerance you are very harsh toward Dan Edge on this thread. Dr. Campbell complained that people criticize JARS without reading it. Dan took the time to read Dr. Campbell’s article and to write a review about it. Dan is a 27-year-old with no training in cognitive science, eager to learn about it as he indicated to Adam. Yet you keep bombarding him with intricate questions designed to undermine his confidence, utilizing your familiarity with the lingo of non-Objectivist psychological theories. So much for the virtue of benevolence.


James Heaps-Nelson's picture


One of the interesting things about abstraction and concept-formation is that it is a small, extremely important subset of pattern recognition which is a very important function that our brains perform when we are thinking.

Also extremely important is structured memory storage and associational retrieval. Mnemonics are really a poor substitute for mentally recreating and associating our stored knowledge. Often our stored knowledge is sequential. For instance, we remember the alphabet in order as a sequentially linked chain. Musical memory is also sequential. It's clear that time sequence is an important aspect of how we store memories. Also important are the mental cues we get from sensory input and those also stir associational memory.

Jeff Hawkins has a terrific discussion of all these aspects of cognition in On Intelligence.



Marsha Enright's picture


You might be interested to know that Piaget did his observations for Language and Thought of the Child at the Jean Jacques Rousseau Montessori School in Geneva, and he was head of the Swiss Montessori Society.

As you probably do know, Montessori recognizes and nurtures the fact that the child is a philosopher, especially with the big-picture approach used in the Method.


"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

Dan,You said "The examples

Marsha Enright's picture


You said "The examples he offered represented non-essential aspects of epistemology, at best. That's why I was picking on the "limited focal awareness" experiment so much, because he refers to it so many times as a critically important element of Cognitive Psychology that has been integrated into Objectivism."

Rand argued that Man needs abstraction in order to deal with the myriad particular instances of existents - because his mind cannot hold all those instances at once. That's because Man has limited attentional resources, i.e. limited focal awareness. Therefore, I don't see how you can assert that the limits of focal awareness are a non-essential aspect of Rand's theory.

According to the scientific evidence, we can be aware of more particular instances than crows, but not an unlimited number, as we can by using abstractions.

In fact, Alexander Luria found that a mnemonist he studied, who could hold hundreds, even thousands of individual facts in his mind, could not think well because his mind was so crowded with perceptual facts.

It seems clear to me that science, the systematic observation of facts and drawing of conclusions, is an iterative process with philosophy.

Take epistemology: Aristotle was a remarkably scientific observer of nature, famed for the meticulous detail with which he collected facts about and observed living things. He derived his laws of logic after years of careful observation and analysis regarding human thought.

Once they were derived, men used these laws of logic to infinitely improve their observations and conclusions of nature; during the Renaissance and after, this led to the development of complex systems of measurement and eventually to the discovery of the principles of experimentation and what, today, we call scientific method.

The importance of measurement became a dominant theme of investigation into nature. Rand recognized the importance of measurement in her theory of concept formation. Do you think she would have recognized this in pre-Aristotelian, or pre-Pythagoran Greece? How about if she lived with cave men who had not developed the concept of number or means of measurement?

Rand's genius, as all genius, lay in her integration of so much into a new way of looking at reality - including plenty discovered by others.


"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

Dan,You say "The

Marsha Enright's picture


You say

"The esssential characteristic of a concept is the characteristic that is most fundamental, and most responsible for the concept's distinguishing characteristics... what is essential in epistemology? I would say inductive and deductive logic, the theory of concepts, and the hierarchical/contextual nature of knowledge (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list). " Further on, you list experimental evidence which you say is not essential, and introspective experience that is.

How did you decide what were the essential characteristics? With what evidence and what is your reasoning about it?


"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

For those who accept Piaget...

Rowlf's picture

~~ Correct me if I, neophyte to the totality of the subject of Cognitive Psychology I therebe, am wrong here, but...Piaget's conclusions were borne out by his concentrated longtitudinal studies and 'observations' upon children, deriving his conclusions therefrom. It's what THEY did which he studied...and wrote about.

~~ It's been a while since I've read him, but, I learned much from

     The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence

     The Construction of Reality in the Child

     Psychology of Intelligence

     The Origins of Intelligence in Children

...etc. He even wrote one on the development of the sense of 'morality', but I forget much there.


~~ I used to have a couple other books that specifically dealt with the child's acquisition of 'object permanence' (ie: identification of the idea of 'identity') and 'causality', but I believe they're out-of-print now.

~~ I say all this, not that I'm any expert on his studies so much as to point out that the very titles of the books I listed show how much is going on...regardless what official 'education' (contemporary or medieval) a child a child's mind that does seem to corroborate what Rand argues re the mental development of, on average, children; from what he and his followers call Pre-Sensorimotor to Formal Operational levels/stages.

~~ I'd say that Rand was definitely not really off-base here arguing the non-necessity for certain basic knowledge ('philosophical or scientific'-type, if you will) acquisitionable without formal 'education.' We must all agree (I hope) that if Rand commented on children, she must have 'observed' them in a...can we say objective/scientific/analyzing way? Further, I'd say she was one hell of a better 'observer' on most subjects than most people are/have-been...dare I add, even some scientists?

~~ An ironic thing about this whole subject, though, is, I was at a FHF  lecture she gave (don't ask me which), and, at the random Q&A period I do believe that someone asked her what she thought or read of Jean Piaget and she said something akin to "I'm not familiar with him"!!!  Maybe she checked him out and wrote this stuff about children after that; maybe not. Also ironically, it wasn't until later (after reading Montessori's books) I 'discovered' Piaget and found him relevent to my interests, academic then...experientially useful now. ---  Anyhoo, maybe someone remembers something of this Q&A? Or do I have the question/answer mis-remembered and it was of someone else?

~~ An interesting sidelight to this: checking Wikipedia for 'Jean Piaget' (to get the relevent book-titles correct; I no longer have them), in the short section titled "Piaget's view of the child's mind" the writer starts off with "Piaget viewed children as little philosophers and scientists building their own individual theories of knowledge."

~~ Rand couldn't have agreed more. And with my experience with kids, neither can I.




P.S: For what it's worth, my wife had told me, years ago, that at age 5-6, little Joey started asking my wife (while she's driving him to school) "Why are we here?" "What happens to you when you die?" and after her ad-lib responses then..."How do you know that?" --- Why he didn't ask me, I dunno, but, point is: kids ARE little 'philosophers'; I just suspect that most parents miss the cues.

Rand and Psychological Revolutions

wsscherk's picture

I was impressed by Robert Campbell's essay . Instead of adopting a snitty critical tone and then applying pseudo-Randian jui-jitsu to his target, he seems to have simply asked questions: Was Rand influenced by the Cognitive Revolution? If so, how?

His answers are historically interesting and make me want to read more about those decades. My interest in objectivism is primarily psychological/historical, so I felt Campbell opened some doors to inquiry.

As to the vexed chicken/egg questions about the Queen of Sciences and her reigning over all subsequent unrollings of knowledge, one half of me says "Of course" while the other half says "My goodness, no" and the third half says "It depends." Campbell doesn't ask this sort of question, so I don't see its bearing: although without an epistemology, there would be no knowledge, this should not force us to presuppose any particular constraints on the scope of inquiry (especially scientific inquiry, which to my mind is a bristling tour-de-force tool/product of human reason, applied to the nth, and delivering rich fruits via subsidiary and ancillary technologies).

In other words, if some avenue of science someday refuted a small assertion of objectivism, then that assertion need be set aside for re-examination and possible excision from the body of reliable knowledge. It's that simple for me. In this world as she operates, science is arbiter, final razor of reason, utterly disregarding philosophic conceit (in practicum; in any other sense but that of method, ingrained precepts, honed reason and a kit-bag of reason's tested tools).

I've heard it said that science really doesn't give a shit about philosophy these days, and hasn't in a good long while (although the Sokal affair shows that science-philosophers and pseudo-philosophers sure as hell care what science thinks of them). This is unfair and monocular, but captures reality as might a cartoon (Jody Allen Gomez notes an opposite grotesquery -- rubes railing against quantum effects they only dimly comprehend -- over at the evul RoR).

Science cares about Philosophy almost the same way Science cares about Religion, more often the way Math cares about Bowling. This may make Philosophy sad and lonesome and unfulfilled at times, but them's the facts. The varied sciences of today may owe their life to the Queen of Sciences in the way we all owe our life to the African Eve -- but the sciences have long since incorporated and embodied the best of practical philosophy and relegated the rest to a rather dusty shelf (Dennett and Rorty and other triumphalists notwithstanding -- as most scientists don't keep their Rorty in the lab, but in the lounge).

It bears remembering then that the revolutions in psychology tagged as cognitive do continue. One revolution sought to overturn dogma and rationalistic solipsism in favour of rigourous inquiry. Another sought to overturn the stale inflexibility of ultra-empiricists within the behavioural community. Another sought to topple the dead weight of Freud. And so on. Some of these revolutions against unreason have been all but won -- but for all the other revolutions we can only say, "Not yet. Lawd Jeezuz Marg, not yet awhile . . ."

(Theoretical constructs of towering bogosity such as Freud's still exist [viz NLP, EMDR, TIR, TFT, RMT etc . . . ], still exert influence -- psychology's broad tent contains buttloads of fraud and bullshit and assorted dangerous remedies and notions . . . at the same time, the brilliant work of a Kandel, the cutting edge hypotheses of a Damasio, and other fresh strides make me have hope.)

Susan Haack has a book covering the Queen and her subject sciences which I am inclined to think Campbell has read or would enjoy. This is Defending Science -- "Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism" (Prometheus, 2003) [amazon reviews, excerpt below]. She has also written the O-positive "Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays" (Chicago, 1998)[amazon reviews.

Dan, I appreciate your review and your grappling with the essay. If you care to take a suggestion, I think you would enjoy reading Haack, and it would help you place not only Campbell's and your own positions, but that of other stellar contemporary thinkers who are concerned with the same things you are. If not Haack then Damasio, or maybe the Churchlands (neurophilosophy?) or even a weekend at the beach with a couple of big fat hardback Pinkers. Please give Campbell the benefit of the doubt and see if you can't appreciate his sense of historical inquiry, and his zest for reason and coherence.

Thank you all for a lively reminder that psychology matters very much. For those who haven't had acquaintance yet with the O-friendly Haack, here's a link to her page at the University of Miami. Of interest is the interview and her notion of foundherentism. As an heuristic, her crossword analogy is tight.

Finally, I like that Campbell is open to inquiry, to refutation -- and sets himself an even tone. Although I appreciate the Grand Guignol of the enraged discussant here wishing him to roast in Hell (or Heck, or the Randian equivalent: Ottawa), I still don't know why people are so belligerent and oafish here on occasion.


for John Newnham

** Reviewer: Kevin S Currie (Eldersburg, MD United States)

This book by philosopher of science Susan Haack focuses itself around a metaphor - a good metaphor. Many have already resorted to metaphor to describe and encapsualate science - for Popper it was biological evolution; for Kuhn it was the paradigm; for Feyerabend it was anarchy; for Haack it is the crossword puzzle. Along with Popper's 'evolutionary' model, I think Haack's is neck-and-neck for the best metaphor. Every essay herein, though not exclusively concerned with it mentions this metaphor.

Playing with 1%

AdamReed's picture


I'm glad we straightened that out. A good introduction to the Cognitive Revolution against the then-dominant doctrine of Behaviorism can be found in Noam Chomsky's critique of Skinner in the New York Review of Books (and I agree with everything Rand wrote about that critique.) And of course everything by Robert Efron, the "father of Cognitive Neurology," and for many years a close intellectual associate of Ayn Rand. Then, Piaget...

Can What Dan Don't Know About Cognitive Psychology Hurt Him?

Dan Edge's picture


You're right, I'm not in a position to determine whether or not Cognitive Psychology can help form an intellectual foundation for Objectivist Epistemology. I am certainly open to the possibility. My point was that, if a realtionship does exist, then Campbell did not effectively demonstrate this in his essay. The examples he offered represented non-essential aspects of epistemology, at best. That's why I was picking on the "limited focal awareness" experiment so much, because he refers to it so many times as a critically important element of Cognitive Psychology that has been integrated into Objectivism. If I take Campbell's word for it that this is the most important relationship between Cog Psy and Oism, then I must tentatively conclude that the relationship is tenuous at best.

I don't want to hijack my own thread, but I'm curious about this statement of yours, Adam:

"[W]e know that even ordinal and nominal scaling is acquired in extrospective experience, and relatively few people ever apply cognitive skills acquired in extrospective experience to introspection."

What you wrote there just doesn't seem obvious to me. Hmm... I see where you're coming from, but I don't understand it as well as I would like. Could you extrapolate?

Also, I would be interested in reading your article on Object Oriented programming. The relationship to Oist Epistemology is so obvious, I've just been waiting for someone to write an article about it. I've got several programmer geek friends who would really like to read it too. Is it available on the web, or only in a back issue of JARS?

--Dan Edge

The way I understand it,

Chris Cathcart's picture

The way I understand it, epistemology as a domain of inquiry lays down principles that are "prior" to specialized study (like in the sciences). By which I mean, epistemology is a domain accessible to all competent human minds whatever their specialized knowledge or discipline, or their time and place in history.

On a very similar note, I understood Rand's theory of concepts, qua theory in the domain of epistemology, to be laying out the principles for validating human knowledge. It's up to a specialized field like cognitive psychology to study how, e.g., mental processing goes on at an early stage in life. But that's an empirical study of how people develop along some timeline in their life cycle. I take Rand's theory to be a product of a logical investigation into the content of conceptual knowledge, and the means by which we, as adult investigators, can trace that content back to perceptible reality. It's a theory about how knowledge is validated -- which is the core subject of epistemology -- and not a theory about how we, historically or in the span of our lives, came to acquire our knowledge or form concepts, or by what *specific* means it turns out that we perform measurement-omission.

All that she needs to do is, inductively (per her short history on the last page of ITOE 2nd ed.), establish the fact that measurement-omission occurs (implicitly or otherwise) in the formation of concepts, or *at the very least* that measurement-omission is essential to forming concepts *objectively*, which again gets back to validation of knowledge rather than investigation of whether everyone does in fact form or hold concepts objectively via the process she describes/prescribes.

So I take it that when Rand describes the process a child goes through in developing the concept "man," she is not speaking qua epistemologist -- that is, unless maybe she's presenting one hypothetical history of how the meaning of a valid concept is refined according to a hypothetical development of a context of knowledge. I took her example to be more illuminating, not about how children might have developed a concept, but about the philosophical principles that the meaning of a concept subsumes non-essential characteristics, and that later discoveries subsume earlier ones.

Thanks, Adam...

Dan Edge's picture

I was hoping I could have a productive conversation with you because you seem like a knowledgable guy. I think you'll find that I can be quite the little learning sponge. 27 years old, been studying Oism for 11 years, and I'm still not *completely* full of myself. Only about 99% full. But you can play with the other 1%. Thanks!

--Dan Edge

Rand on one-way traffic between philosophy and science

Robert Campbell's picture


You said:

I didn't read in Campbell's essay a challenge of Rand's notion that "Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true."

But I did intend to challenge Rand's claim (which was made, as Adam has pointed out, in 1969 or later).  However, I didn't spell out all of my reasons for challenging it in that single article from 1999.

Here's one:

Are you familiar with Rand's "rejection of cosmology"?

That was Rand's rationale for holding the Objectivist metaphysics to a narrow range of ontological issues, so Objectivist philosophers wouldn't be attempting to do physics or astronomy (or some other natural science) from the armchair.

Do you believe that Rand applied an analogous principle to limit the scope of the Objectivist epistemology, so it would never amount to armchair psychology, and could never come in conflict with the findings of psychology (or economics or some other social science)?

Or, if she didn't limit the scope of the Objectivist epistemology in that fashion, could she have proceeded successfully without consulting any psychological findings?

Robert Campbell

PS to Mr. Trager: Is it mere coincidence that when Rand's epistemology resembles certain ideas in cognitive psychology, they are ideas that were prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s--not the pre-behavioristic psychological theories of the late 1800s, or conceptions like neural net modeling and dynamic systems theory that gained adherents among research psychologists in the 1980s and the 1990s?


Jon Trager's picture

Great article and responses, Dan.

No one has to prove that cognitive psychology did *not* influence Rand's thinking, just as no one has to prove that God does *not* exist. It's the positive claim that requires proof. And as Dan said, merely citing the examples of cog. psych. experiments that Rand used to concretize her espistemic ideas doesn't logically do it.

Rand's philosophical genius lied with her extraordinary ability to mentally isolate the essential facts of existence that underlie concepts such as "knowledge," "morality," "government," and "art," and then to logically induce the principles that constitute her system. Such a method doesn't require any specialized scientific knowledge. It does require a mind that's willing to face reality with ruthless honesty and is capable of such an exacting process of thought.

Apology, and more on ITOE

AdamReed's picture


Since you began your thread by disclaiming knowledge of cognitive psychology, I wanted to suggest that you study it - at least to the point of being able to evaluate Campbell's article. I apologize for putting it the way I did. However, I still think that you cannot evaluate the actual influence of the "Cognitve Revolution" on ITOE without some substantive knowledge of the content of modern cognitive psychology.

As for measurement, we know that even ordinal and nominal scaling is acquired in extrospective experience, and relatively few people ever apply cognitive skills acquired in extrospective experience to introspection. We know that when Branden studied Piaget, Rand and Branden had long discussions about the psychology of cognitive development nearly every evening for several months. We know that the very detailed structure of knowledge representation presented in ITOE is exactly the same as that in Object-Oriented Programming, and that the facts of cognitive development that Piaget observed and described require precisely that structure (and I suggest that you read my article in JARS for details.) The supposition that this intricate structure of knowledge representation could have been deduced without input from Piget's observations, by mere introspection, and "any teenager's" introspection at that, is so mind-bogglingly speculative that I see no need even to discuss it without actual evidence.


Dan Edge's picture

Ergo....uh.....what? Tongue

--Dan Edge


eg's picture

Dear Leader:

I have yet to receive your instructions. Whom and what should I attack next? BTW: Who the heck are you?



Dan Edge's picture

The teenager's identification of his limited capacity for focal awareness does involve a kind of measurement: ordinal measurement. I don't need to know the exact range of my focal awareness to determine that it is limited. When I was a teenager, I was well aware that my focal awareness was limited; I was not able to focus on the entire contents of my consciousness simultaniously. I can ordinally measure and compare the range of my focal awareness to that of my subconscious without "crow" experiments.

I'm really not sure where you're coming from Adam. Are you saying that a teenager is not aware that his focal awareness is limited? I mean, it would have to be a severely retarded teenager who didn't know that. 6-year-olds know it, at least on some level.

RE: "Please go back to school." I'm in school right now, incidentally. I graduate next month. If you can teach me something then I will thank you, but I don't respond well to snide comments. More specifically, I don't respond to snide comments at all. Please be more respectful.

--Dan Edge


AdamReed's picture

To be valid, introspection must be carefully structured, as a form of measurement. (I am using the concept of measurement here in Rand's generalized sense.) Without knowledge and deliberate control one has no way to distinguish introspective illusions from reality. The structuring of introspection into knowledge is a skill that very few members of Don's "any teenager" class have mastered, or ever paid attention to.


Casey's picture

I disagree if you are saying that knowledge about human epistemology can not be discovered by introspection(!) and that the only way to ascertain such facts is with some kind of elaborate scientific measurement. Just because some people make observations about epistemology through faulty introspection that is easily refuted does not mean that such ascertainment through introspection is impossible. In fact, it is impossible without introspection! Do I sense a rationalistic gremlin in the works? No one has to go to school to honestly introspect into the nature of how they know what they know.

Knowledge requires measurement. There is no way t

AdamReed's picture


There is no way to reconcile your reference to "facts that can be ascertained introspectively by any teenager" with Rand's epistemology. Knowledge is identification. An entity's identity consists of the measurements of its attributes. Therefore (true, objective) knowledge can only proceed from measurement. The idea that unmeasured introspection constitutes knowledge is absolutely contradicted by objective epistemology - and by every actually measured in objective investigations of introspection. The results of naive introspection are known to be unreliable, and are often false. It is possible for introspection to be processed by objective measurement - and thus become knowledge - but that requires controlled techniques far beyond the ken of "any teenager." Please go back to school.


Dan Edge's picture

Some good questions. I was hoping to spark some debate.

I didn't read in Campbell's essay a challenge of Rand's notion that "Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true." I don't think Campbell was really arguing against this point, hopefully he will correct me if I'm wrong. If Campbell *does* argue that science is in some way more fundamental than philsophy, I would take him to task on that, but again, I don't think that's what he was arguing.

I would certainly concede that Rand may have been influenced or inspired by some scientific experiment or other, in the same way that reading Nietzche or some other philsopher may have inspired her at some point. But one does not formulate an entire integrated system of epistemology based on such limited, non-essential information. Campbell seemed to be arguing that Rand borrowed heavily from Cognitive Psychology in forming her epistemology, and he attemps to marginalize Rand's accomplishments and originality.

Marsha writes:

"Could you please outline the methods and evidence that you think are necessary to determine such principles? You said: "At least I would be interested in the results of such experiments. However, I do not consider such studies to be essential in the study of epistemology." How did you decide what is essential and what isn't? "

Very good questions. I use them term essential in basically the same way it is used in the ITOE with respect to definitions. The esssential characteristic of a concept is the characteristic that is most fundamental, and most responsible for the concept's distinguishing characteristics. When discussing the study of epistemology, I decide what is essential in basically the same way. I ask "What are the broadest, most fundamental principles in this discipline of study?", and "Which principles of this discipline are most responsible for explaining the distinguishing characteristics of the discipline?"

So, what is essential in epistemology? I would say inductive and deductive logic, the theory of concepts, and the hierarchical/contextual nature of knowledge (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list). The fact that I have a limited focal awareness is realted to some of these essential principles, but the question of whether my focal awareness can grasp 5 vs 6 units at a time is not essential. The fact that consciousness is an active process is realted to essential principles, but the amount of time it takes in a deprevation chamber for one to lose touch with reality is not essential.

Note that the two essential facts I listed above (limited focal awareness and consciousness as an active state) are both facts that can be ascertained introspectively by any teenager. Scientific experiemention is not required to determine whether or not man's focal awareness is limited, it is required to determine the exact range of that awareness.

I think Campbell argues in his essay that the Cognitive Revolution was essential to Ayn Rand's development of her epistemology. In Campbell's view, it is not merely a question of subtle influences or handy examples, as I have suggested. In this case, the onus of proof lies with Campbell, because he's the one who wants to prove that Rand was significantly influenced by the theories he mentions. The fact that she was aware of them, and used some particular experiments as examples, is not sufficient evidence to conclude that Rand treated this information as fundamental. Campbell has more work to do if he wants to demonstrate this, especially considering that Rand explicitly rejected the ideas of several Cognitive Theorists.

--Dan Edge

Adam, I, myself, was not

Marsha Enright's picture


I, myself, was not arguing for the idea that Rand did not believe science influences philosophy. I was trying to get clarification from Dan on his objections to Robert's arguments. Dan was taking the position that Rand was not and need not have been influenced by science to come up with her theories. 

The evidence speaks otherwise.


"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori

When did Ayn Rand change her mind about the scope of philosophy?

AdamReed's picture


Your citation ("Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science") is NOT from ITOE, which Rand completed in 1966 and published in The Objectivist in 1966-1967. It comes from the edited transcript of a discussion session on the philosophy of science, added as an appendix to the 1989 (i. e. posthumous) second edition of ITOE. While the date of this specific discussion is not given, the discussions appended to the 1989 edition are said by Peikoff to have taken place between 1969 and 1971. Half a decade is plenty of time to change one's mind. I am therefore very skeptical of the claim that Ayn Rand's use of facts of cognitive psychology in grounding ITOE - in 1966 or earlier - contradicts Ayn Rand's view on the scope of philosophy that she held at that time. As late as The Art of Non-Fiction, published in 1969, Ayn Rand viewed philosophy as "the integration of all of Man's sciences." The more restrictive view came later - probably in 1970 or 1971.

Dan,I'm a bit confused as

Marsha Enright's picture


I'm a bit confused as to how you're reading Robert's article. In ITOE, Rand says "Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is available to the knowledge of any man with a normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true." Robert's article takes issue with this point and gives concrete evidence that Rand did know some of the findings of experimental psychology, and that this evidence influenced her philosophical thinking.

What is your evidence that these facts did not influence her thinking, since she refers to them and incorporates them in her arguments on various issues? Whether you think it is unnecessary to conduct experiments to determine the limits of conscious awareness is immaterial - she used the evidence in her arguments. The same with sensory deprivation. And she did it well, on both counts. Your argument seems to be: well, she didn't have to use that evidence, so it doesn't matter that she used it in her arguments, it didn't influence the formation of her ideas.

Further, you make any number of assertions about what is or isn't needed to establish epistemological principles, but without argument. Could you please outline the methods and evidence that you think are necessary to determine such principles? You said: "At least I would be interested in the results of such experiments. However, I do not consider such studies to be essential in the study of epistemology." How did you decide what is essential and what isn't?


Marsha Enright

"Imagination is a force for the discovery of truth." Maria Montessori


JoeM's picture


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