Jonathan Chait

Ayn Rand's Pseudo-Philosophy

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David Bentley Hart, writing in First Things, skewers Objectivism:

And, really, what can one say about Objectivism? It isn’t so much a philosophy as what someone who has never actually encountered philosophy imagines a philosophy might look like: good hard axiomatic absolutes, a bluff attitude of intellectual superiority, lots of simple atomic premises supposedly immune to doubt, immense and inflexible conclusions, and plenty of assertions about what is “rational” or “objective” or “real.” Oh, and of course an imposing brand name ending with an “-ism.” Rand was so eerily ignorant of all the interesting problems of ontology, epistemology, or logic that she believed she could construct an irrefutable system around a collection of simple maxims like “existence is identity” and “consciousness is identification,” all gathered from the damp fenlands between vacuous tautology and catastrophic category error. She was simply unaware that there were any genuine philosophical problems that could not be summarily solved by flatly proclaiming that this is objectivity, this is rational, this is scientific, in the peremptory tones of an Obersturmführer drilling his commandoes.

One of the many hilarious things about Rand is her philosophical crankery. I didn't get into this issue in my review about Randism, because the point of the piece was to focus primarily on her political impact, but her fraudulence in this realm is pretty striking. She was a true amateur who insisted on seeing herself as the greatest human being who ever lived because she was almost completely unfamiliar with the entire philosophical canon. A pulp screenwriter who had read a tiny bit of philosophy -- about as much as an average undergrad at a liberal arts college -- she developed wild delusions about her place in intellectual history, delusions that managed to seduce the members of her cult. 

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