Let us all nod our heads sagely . . .
The Axiom of Existence: “Existence exists.”
The first axiom states that something other than one’s own consciousness exists. If it did not, according to Rand, consciousness itself would be an impossibility. Rand believes that this principle is self-evident (its truth is given in perceptual experience) and such that any attempt to refute it implicitly assumes it. This axiom entails metaphysical realism, the view that things are what they are independently of the mental states (beliefs, desires, etc.) of individual cognizers.
— exposition of Ayn Rand
Now . . . you tell me. I think I’ve just been told that a tautology entails “metaphysical realism”. In other words, if you’ve ever scratched your head wondering if maybe you haven’t lived your life in a dream, or in the Matrix, you can rest assured you have not, because, well, “existence exists” and whatnot. This is heady stuff! Ice cream headspike heady.
That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom. This is the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character.
— Ayn Rand herself
I enjoy being told that my character is “determined” by my “only freedom” (drum roll please): the freedom to not think. Self-improvement with a good mallet. Well, it worked for Harrison Ford in “Regarding Henry”, though he needed a bullet.
On the list of sentences I get a real kick out of, the first was pointed out by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison: the Frugal Gourmet reminding us that “Irish immigrants came to this country wishing to maintain their love for the potato.” But, “Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival,” is a close second, for sheer moxie. Objectivists do like their “reason”, dontcha know.
One would have thought that a person willing to trumpet her view as “Objectivism” would have the decency never, ever, to say that “reason” is the “only source of knowledge”. The world can go take a hike, apparently — a hike in an objective park, I hope. Love dem objective boids.
(Continued . . .)
Whatever “reason” is supposed to mean to Objectivists, they also like to say “facts” and “evidence” a lot — as if everyone else were taking a bath in pure stupid. Devoted expositor of Rand, “Dr. Leonard Peikoff” (the surest sign that you’re about to get bamboozled by a white guy is an insistent reference to a non-medical doctorate) writes:
Its [Objectivism’s] opponents are all the other major traditions, including Platonism, Christianity, and German idealism. Directly or indirectly, these traditions uphold the notion that consciousness is the creator of reality. The essence of this notion is the denial of the axiom that existence exists.
In the religious version, the deniers advocate a consciousness “above” nature, i.e., superior, and contradictory, to existence; in the social version, they melt nature into an indeterminate blur given transient semi-shape by human desire. The first school denies reality by upholding two of them. The second school dispenses with the concept of reality as such. The first rejects science, law, causality, identity, claiming that anything is possible to the omnipotent, miracle-working will of the Lord. The second states the religionists’ rejection in secular terms, claiming that anything is possible to the will of “the people.”
For those of you keeping score at home, neither Platonism nor German idealism say anything at all about “the will of [here come the scare quotes] ‘the people'”. And none of the philosophical or religious views at the receiving end of the above grande mal, “dispenses with concept of reality as such”. Plenty of Christians think God is bound by the rules of logic — and they may well have an account of how God isn’t if God isn’t. Existence and the all the existing and the shizzle with the bizzle. It’s all good.
Neither school can claim a basis in objective evidence. [Here we go!] There is no way to reason from nature to its negation, or from facts to their subversion, or from any premise to the obliteration of argument as such, i.e., of its foundation: the axioms of existence and identity.
I read this and get the vague impression I’m supposed to shove something metal up my ass.
The spirit is life.
The mind is the builder.
The physical is the result.
But nobody reads Edgar Casey and then claims a heady, smoggy-skulled right to fuck the working class.
New York Times — September 15, 2007, “Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism” by By Harriet Rubin:
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the largest banks in the United States.
“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” he said.
Some people read “A = A” (Rand’s “Axiom of Identity”, dontcha know) and think they’ve learned something. The read “A = A” and suddenly feel gloriously oppressed by the ignorant masses: the vast swathe of humanity who doesn’t know that “A = A”. What are you supposed to do with boobs like this? People who not only read Atlas Shrugged in high school and thought it was neat, but hang on to it like grim death for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of “The Fountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles. Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met every Saturday night in her New York apartment. Rand did not pay much attention to Mr. Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples, according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.”
When you’re writing serious philosophy, as a general rule, it is a good idea to write sentences that meet, at a minimum, three conditions. Your sentences had better:
(1) Be meaningful — have some sort of clear unambiguous sense to them.
(2) Not be obviously false.
(3) Express ideas with which someone, somewhere in the world, might conceivably disagree.
A sentence with violates (1) is nonsense. A sentence which violates (2) is wrong. A sentence which violates (3) is trivial.
“Existence exists” manages a three-bagger, I think. It’s, to put it mildly, ambiguous; it’s utterly trivial (who is supposed to disagree with “existence exists” on some interpretation or other?); and since Randites think it leads straight like a bonk on the head to metaphysical realism (a substantive technical claim in serious philosophy), it’s false.
There are various kinds of writing that are sometimes called “philosophy”, but which at various points stupendously violate one, two, or all three of the above strictures. These kinds of writing we generally call “fuzzy headed mysticism”; “soothing nonsense”; “obscurantist triumphalism”; “motivational speaking”; “bullshit”.
Which would then be a five-bagger for Objectivism, if I’m counting correctly.
I understand the allure of the fake everything. It can be innocuous fun, as when we read a fantasy novel with a coherent and all-encompassing world-system that describes everything at once — everything, that is, in a fantasy world. It’s engaging. Such fake everythings are attractive because they are graspable, they are coherent, they make sense, and they do it in less than a lifetime. But one ought to be very careful about one’s everythings in real life.
Philosophy means “love of wisdom”. It does not mean, “Go thyself and molest an axiom.” People who have no idea what wisdom is tend to get the two confused. I don’t mind that they do. I mind that they are so smarmy about it. And I especially mind that they think because they’ve read “Existence exists” they can thereby lower taxes on the super-rich.
Cigar-lounge play is fine. I don’t begrudge the right-wing rich their yachts. I do begrudge them their isolation, their freedom from correction of small-mindedness and simple error. And I feel disgust at their feeling that a novel they read in high school is all there is to philosphy, or wisdom, or, dare I say, reason.