Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why I Am A Neo-Objectivist

In a recent discussion with Objectivists, I asked about their reasoning on core essentials such as why they bothered to wake up in the morning and why they cared about the well-being of their children. After repeated questioning in a fashion after the Socratic Method, I began to suspect I was dealing with an "is-ought" issue and I stated so.

In this discussion, I had asserted that my religion is faith-based in that I had "faith in Humanity". I held this position as I concluded that our love of life, i.e., survival of Man qua Man, was a core value that was not derived through a rational thought process. It was something we simply accepted and was therefore a matter a faith.

My reasoning was that this love of life was a genetic predisposition shaped into us by evolution through the forces of natural selection. One of the Objectivists pointed out to me that this was not faith. I immediately realized that I had erred in assuming that this value must be faith because it was not derived rationally. I had been overlooking a third source: instinctual knowledge. I then conceded on this basis.

Later than night I read in Wikipedia that "Some Neo-Objectivists stick relatively close to Objectivism, merely rejecting (for example) Rand's 'life-to-value' argument in ethics". By typing in "life-to-value Rand" into a search engine, I came across an essay by William H. Stoddard, "Life and Value in Ayn Rand's Ethics", Section 4 "What is Life?" in which he concludes:

Rand's statements about the nature of living organisms may well reflect her training in Aristotelian philosophy and Aristotelian metabiology. For Aristotle, the telos of an oak tree, the that-for-the-sake-of-which the oak tree exists, is the full grown tree. But Aristotle's biology has been replaced by Darwin's, in which an oak tree is an acorn's way of making more acorns. And Darwin's theory has more explanatory power than Aristotle's. If Rand is claiming to base her ethics on the actual facts of biology, she's picked the wrong statement of those facts.

At about the same time, I also read an article by Nathaniel Branden, perhaps the first Neo-Objectivist, that stated that Ayn Rand never accepted the Theory of Evolution. I made a connection and a number of puzzle pieces suddenly fell into place. This explained why Rand and many of her students reject animal intelligence and human instincts, assert that homosexuality is a choice, minimize parenting as self-actualizing, and are oblivious to the selfish gene hypothesis. Ayn Rand never accepted the Theory of Evolution and therefore never factored in the consequences of such a theory into her philosophy.

The purpose of the acorn is to make more acorns. I asked myself retrospectively, had I not just said the same thing recently when I wrote that "Persistence persists", "Children give life meaning", and, in my sermon entitled "The Virtue of Selfish Genes" in which I paraphrase Dawkins, that "the individual unit of survival is not an individual human being, but rather the individual genes that comprise a human being"?

Some of my fellow Objectivists have suggested to me recently that my disagreements with Objectivism are due to a lack of complete knowledge of Objectivism and that, with further study and time, I will eventually come to realize that the philosophy of Objectivism is correct in all aspects. I reply that in just a year of study I have come to understand Objectivism sufficiently to identify the flaw at its root. While I am proud to state that I discovered this independently through my own reading of orthodox Objectivist philosophy as written by its leading proponents, Rand and Peikoff, I am also happy to accept validation by discovering that others besides myself have analyzed, identified, and published this misstep long before me.

Ayn Rand never integrated the Theory of Evolution into her context. Until that day when the human animal no longer is forced to exist within a body and mind shaped by evolution, I will never accept orthodox Objectivism. This is why I am a Neo-Objectivist.

I conclude with this quote from the article "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement" by Nathaniel Branden:

Ayn Rand has an incredible vision to offer -- in many respects a radiantly rational one. I am convinced that there are errors in that vision and elements that need to be changed, eliminated, modified, or added and amplified, but I am also convinced that there is a great deal in her vision that will stand the test of time.


Heather said...

Is there an Ayn Rand book that is less than a jillion pages? All this discussion has gotten me curious as to what the hoopla is all about, but I could never stomach the idea of force-feeding myself Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead.

David Wallace Croft said...

I recommend Anthem.

The CrazyHumanist said...

Anthem is very short, very easy reading.

I started with "We The Living" myself. I found it pretty easy to read. Its a good novel. While it is NOT an autobiography, it describes very much the way things were while she was living in Russia. It is a good read. If you haven't read any Rand, I think David's suggestion is a good one, and do yourself a favor, read Fountainhead BEFORE Atlas Shrugged. It will mean more, I think. At least it did for me.