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Ayn Rand and philosophy, Part 1 (background timeline/players)

Is Ayn Rand a philosopher?  If so, is Rand a good philosopher, or even a great one, or even comparable to the greatest ever (the leading contender being Aristotle)?  What is a philosopher, exactly?  Someone who does philosophy, so the question is, What is philosophy?

Ayn Rand is a very prominent test case against which to decide on the whole question of what the philosophical endeavor is all about.  The reason for this is that, among 20th century thinkers in the English-speaking world, she has had (as far as such a class of thinkers go) perhaps at least as much influence on the mainstreams of cultural discourse as anyone.  She was not an academic philosopher, and there is some lack of overlap between what she was doing when engaging in what she considered philosophy, and what academic philosophers have been doing.  She did not write for academic publication with the usual peer-review process, for example.  Her version of (what she regarded as) philosophical writing consisted, by and large, of very concise trains of inference, involving what she said was a condensation of a vast number of observations and context that would require volumes to spell out in full detail.

The academic philosophy community has a certain sort of turf to defend, a certain gatekeeping function, to keep out either bad philosophy or non-philosophy purporting to be philosophy (which would then toxify the minds of any students of philosophy).  And a great many in the academic philosophy community have either considered Rand to be a bad philosopher or a mere superficial "pop-philosopher" (perhaps self-help dressed up with some philosophical jargon), or not really a philosopher at all, appealing to the naive and/or young who don't (yet) know how to tell the difference between writings like Rand's and (serious, sophisticated) philosophy.

One key indicator that the academic gatekeepers will point to is the extremely polemical approach she takes to the history of the philosophical canon, a leading case of such being her treating Immanuel Kant (the most prominent philosopher of the modern era) as an arch-enemy.  Her commentary on Kant consisted mainly of sweeping claims about positions he advanced, presented in a very cursory manner (again, concisely condensing what she says might require volumes to fully explicate), and probably most significantly for gatekeeping purposes, her sweeping claims contain what the gatekeepers regard as serious distortions of Kant's ideas that they believe shows that Rand simply (a) didn't do her homework and (b) didn't have a firm grasp of the key issues that so consumed Kant and those coming before and after him in the philosophical tradition.  They regard this as a key point of evidence that Rand at least probably should not be taken seriously as a philosopher in the sense of someone who has a firm grip on the issues the canonical philosophers struggled with.

Many of the gatekeepers also regard her putatively philosophical writings as suffering from what any non-peer-reviewed writings of such sort would suffer from, and that includes the brevity or concision of her treatment of difficult-to-resolve philosophical subjects (e.g., what is the point of ethical thought, or the grounding of our ethical concepts), undocumented spurious allusions to what major thinkers or schools in the tradition said, combined with grandiose-sounding claims to have solved problems that have dogged these thinkers and traditions for ages, and generally doing too little to ground or support her proposed solutions.

I was commenting in a facebook group in the past day that it would appear no one has even so much as attempted a refutation of Rand's most theoretically advanced essay in political philosophy written over half a century ago now, "What is Capitalism?" (1965), reprinted as the lead essay anchoring the rest of her 1966 anthology, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (with a couple added essays in the 1967 paperback edition).  This would seem a bit strange, considering that Rand has been widely associated with at least a popular-scale and culturally-influential defense of capitalism.

Is it because the arguments therein are so poor as to not merit a rebuttal?  That might be the view of those hostile to Rand.  Is it because the arguments are too good for a refutation to be had?  That's the view of Rand's defenders.  If the arguments are too good, we would have an example of philosophy done really well.  So it would be important to make the correct identification here, and to sort out how it is that different groups of folks would have such a different take on the matter.  But as I did a google search that might lead me to criticisms of "What is Capitalism?" it was apparent to me (as I have long suspected) that Rand's critics don't display much if any familiarity with this essay.  Now, I've seen critics have a go at her 'Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology' monograph, and they range from highly dismissive to more indepth but still largely dismissive to very indepth and extensively documented and up to this point in time the standard-setter in terms of criticism of Rand's epistemology (although - crucially from the standpoint Rand's defenders - it leaves by and large unaddressed key methodological issues covered indepth in courses by Leonard Peikoff, Rand's hand-picked teacher of Objectivism; see, e.g., her endorsement here).

And, of course, there is no small amount of literature devoted to criticizing Rand's ethical argument as spelled out chiefly in her 1961 essay "The Objectivist Ethics" (which was presented at a University of Wisconsin symposium on ethics, so she was doing at least a teensy bit of engagement with academic audiences), which performed essentially the same role for her 1964 anthology The Virtue of Selfishness that "What is Capitalism?" performed for Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.  Notable critiques of her ethical position come in particular from Robert Nozick and Michael Huemer, both prominent or leading libertarians interested in finding "the correct philosophical underpinning for laissez-faire capitalism" and testing out Rand's arguments on that basis, and both prominently positioned in academic philosophy (Nozick especially).

It's very likely worth mentioning in this context that just this month, the Ayn Rand Society (an organization of academic philosophers, not exactly irrelevant in the context of my gatekeeping remarks above) released its third volume in a series of academic volumes (from University of Pittsburgh Press) on Rand's thought.  These volumes have all had the format of a symposium with exchanges between Randians (or Objectivists) and Rand's critics.  The third volume is on Rand's political philosophy, which further ties in with my interest in what work has been done in "What is Capitalism?" in particular.  Huemer is a contributor to that volume, with an essay titled "Defending Liberty: The Commonsense Approach," and from Amazon's "Look Inside" feature it looks like "What is Capitalism?" doesn't figure much in the discussion, with more focus on "The Objectivist Ethics".  (Considerations of almost prohibitive cost of this volume combined with research priorities [my latest Amazon purchase was this] leave me with the "Look Inside" feature for now.)  Austrian economist Peter Boettke makes a contribution comparing Rand and Ludwig von Mises qua defenders of capitalism, but it doesn't appear "What is Capitalism?" is covered there.  Indeed, it's hard to tell from what I've seen so far that "What is Capitalism?" gets any serious or extensive coverage even in this volume, even though it is arguably her most important essay in political philosophy (moreso even than "Man's Rights" and "The Nature of Government" (both from 1963), both of which clearly receive a lot of attention in the volume).

The theme of Rand's largest and most famous and influential work, Atlas Shrugged (1957), is "the role of the mind in man's existence."  Applied to economic production specifically, her focus was on the human mind or intellect's fundamental role as "prime mover" in generating economic value-added, and quite self-consciously in opposition to the common anti-capitalism trope from the left about how businesses exploit "workers who create the wealth."  If the workers go on strike, where does that leave the productive potential of businesses?  Rand sought to turn that logic on its head, asking "what if the intellectual prime movers who do what others simply cannot were to go on strike, and where would that leave everyone production-wise"?  Say what you will about Atlas Shrugged, but it did seem to do a pretty good job of showing what just might happen if the brightest minds (not just industrialists, but also artists and philosophers) vanished from mainstream society.

In her introductory essay to Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand billed the book as "a nonfiction postscript to Atlas Shrugged", which more or less makes "What is Capitalism?" a nonfiction postscript to the central philosophical exposition in Atlas, the radio address in the chapter "This is John Galt Speaking."  In a previous anthology, For the New Intellectual (1961), Rand billed "This is John Galt Speaking" as an essentialized summary of her philosophy.  It's possible I just haven't dug deep enough or had my antennae out quite enough (though I've really had them out there, for a long time), but I'm not aware of any sustained or indepth rebuttal to the Galt speech, however much invective has been thrown at it - an exact parallel (except for the invective part) to the apparent non-rebuttal to "What is Capitalism?"  It's like the non-rebuttal to "What is Capitalism?" is a nonfiction postscript to the non-rebuttal to "This is John Galt Speaking?"

My opinion of both of these writings, but especially of "What is Capitalism?"  I think "What is Capitalism?" may well be the most ironclad essay the genre of "political economy" I've ever encountered.  The reason I don't think any rebuttal to it, either from an enemy of capitalism or from a rival defender of capitalism akin to a Nozick or a Huemer, has ever even been attempted (apparently) is because there's no refutation to be had.  It's plain and clear that Rand has identified a fundamental in the realm of political economy: the role of the mind in man's existence.  And there's just no getting around it.  And I don't think there's really any getting around the central and fundamental message of "This is John Galt Speaking," and for the very same reason: the message and theme is identical.  A critic might home in on her use of "A is A" or the harshly polemical tone interspersed throughout, but that's (to put it bluntly) a chickenshit approach to critiquing the speech, a failure to address the fundamental head-on.  But that's "just my opinion."

Anyway, in search of that apparently non-existent rebuttal to "What is Capitalism?" I had a research-rabbit-hole thing that led me to various sources addressing the question of whether Rand is a philosopher or should be taken seriously as such (i.e., as a good one).   One discussion at the /r/askphilosophy subreddit grapples with the seemingly difficult issue of how otherwise serious academic philosophers (e.g., those involved with the Ayn Rand Society) can take Rand seriously.  Like, how can highly respected scholars of Aristotle('s biology and teleology) such as Gotthelf and Lennox turn around and treat Rand a worthy of serious study considering the major stylistic differences between Aristotle and Rand?  (What might Aristotle think of the theme of the role of the mind or intellect in man's existence, perchance?  Is it a fundamental that Rand was right to home in on?  Surely it's a fundamental that all these academic gatekeepers have homed in on, and explicitly so?  How about homing in on hierarchy, context and integration of knowledge, as explicitly stated themes just so there's no doubt or misunderstanding or point-missing about the centrality of these concepts to epistemology?)

Another discussion contains a lot of anti-Rand invective in the context (ahem) of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Rand, with one lone Rand-defender (philosophy professor Tibor Machan) trying to help contextualize the whole Rand phenomenon for the seemingly bewildered invective-hurlers there.  (Leiter asks below a comment: "I would like to know which important philosophers were influenced by Rand. I really can't think of any, but I am happy to stand corrected."  He probably has some sort of gerrymandered rationalization that excludes, say, Aristotle scholars like Gotthelf or Lennox or Miller (who are "mere commentators" as distinct from original-important-thesis-producing, you know, philosophers), or scholar-scholars like Sciabarra (who isn't employed as a philosopher but as a politics research scholar, despite all that scholarly coverage of philosophers on fundamental matters of method), but how would "Dougs" Den Uyl and Rasmussen not count?  Is anyone else in academic philosophy producing comparable work synthesizing Aristotelian/perfectionist and (classical) liberal themes?  Surely they might have mentioned others doing work along those lines in their own work.  Or does it have to be someone with a tenured position at a top-20 PGR program who falls into the original-philosopher as distinct from mere scholar-researcher-commentator category, and preferably someone who is cited a lot by other philosophers?  Ultimately, what is doing important philosophy, exactly?  Does it necessarily have to be academic?  We'd better be damn sure we're doing the proper differentiations and integrations here.  Far as I can tell, the "Dougs" qualify and I don't need a citation index or whatnot to see that.  Also, for later reference, I'll just raise this question: would USC in the '70s or thereabouts be a PGR Top-20 caliber program (as it is currently) if the PGR were a thing then?)

And yet another discussion (well, monologue) addresses the question, Is Rand a philosopher?, and purports to cover the topic with adequacy in the space of 24 fast-talking minutes.  It's actually a good discussion until more or less going off the rails in the last 5 minutes or so.  Here's something of a strange juxtaposition: the presenter brings up the usual complaint that Rand just doesn't seem to spend enough time justifying or grounding the things she asserts.  There's also a usual complaint about "This is John Galt Speaking" that it takes too much time spelling out her position (I guess because it's in the context of a novel? . . . except that she excerpts it in For the New Intellectual, which is not a novel but is billed in the subtitle as "The Philosophy of Ayn Rand").  The monologue also leaves the question hanging, saying that however important the Bible might be for various reasons, it's not philosophy in the same way that Descartes, Hume, Kant et al are doing philosophy.  And if Rand's work is more akin to the Bible than what those figures produced, then naturally she shouldn't be counted as a philosopher.


Now, to really contextualize this topic for reference in subsequent posts, I need to provide a timeline of key players in the realm of philosophical and scholarly activity in relation to Rand.  So we'll start in the 1950s, when Rand reached an advanced maturation point as a thinker/theorist/intellectual (putative philosopher).

1950 - Rand corresponds with, then meets, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, who become her chief intellectual acolytes.  Barbara will attain an M.A. in philosophy, Nathaniel pursues psychology to bridge Objectivist theory with contemporary psychology theory/research.

1951 - Rand meets Leonard Peikoff, along with a few others (including Alan Greenspan) who join her inner circle (ironically dubbed 'The Collective').

1954 - Rand and Nathaniel begin romantic affair.

1957 - Rand publishes Atlas Shrugged; Peikoff pursues a Ph.D. in Philosophy at NYU under the direction of Sidney Hook.

1958 - Nathaniel begins presenting a lecture series on 'Basic Principles of Objectivism'.  He eventually organizes lecture series and other events via the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI).  His affair with Rand goes on hiatus.

1960 - Rand meets, corresponds with, and carries on extensive discussions with philosopher John Hospers.  Rand's letters to Hospers are printed in Letters of Ayn Rand (1995) with Hospers' accompanying albeit reluctant permission.  (That is, we see only one side of the conversation.)  Hospers' memoirs of his conversations with Rand are at his website.

1961 - Rand publishes her first nonfiction book (mostly excerpted speeches from her novels, with an opening title essay), For the New Intellectual.  Prof. Hook negatively reviews FTNI.  Hook and Hospers are friends, and tension arises when Rand appeals to Hospers to denounce the review (Hospers refuses).

1962 - Rand begins The Objectivist Newsletter co-edited with Nathaniel.  Nathaniel and Barbara co-author Who is Ayn Rand?, the first Rand-authorized book on her ideas by a non-Rand author.  Around this time Rand and Hospers have a falling out after his commentary on her aesthetic theory (deemed disrespectful by Rand) at a gathering under the auspices of the American Society of Aesthetics.  Around this time, Harry Binswanger and Allan Gotthelf enter the ranks of the Objectivist movement.  Binswanger is present at the ASA meeting where Rand and Hospers have their falling out.

1963 - Peikoff completes his Ph.D. thesis, The Status of the Law of Contradiction in Classical Logical Ontologisms.

1964 - The Virtue of Selfishness is published. Gotthelf prepares the index.  Without Rand's knowledge, Nathaniel begins affair with a young NBI student.

1966/1967 - Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is published.  A series of articles/chapters (chapters 1 and 2 are online) comprising Rand's 'Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology' is published in the newsletter (now titled The Objectivist).  Peikoff (1967) publishes 'The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy' in The Objectivist.

1968 - Rand breaks with Nathaniel after a web of deceptions by him concerning his feelings for her and for the younger woman he's been having an affair with.  Branden retains copyrights over his Objectivist articles, which he is culling for book publication (as The Psychology of Self-Esteem, 1969).  Rand also breaks with Barbara Branden.  (She refuses to see Nathaniel ever again, but meets with Barbara once more in 1981).  Psychologist Albert Ellis writes first book attacking Objectivism, with Is Objectivism a Religion?  (Objectivists find it unimpressive.)  Hospers becomes chair of the philosophy department at the University of Southern California.

1969 - Rand publishes The Romantic Manifesto, her anthology on aesthetics.  She begins her 'epistemology workshop' which runs occasionally between 1969 and 1971; attendees include Peikoff, Binswanger, Gotthelf, and George Walsh.

1970 - Rand's newsletter is now titled The Ayn Rand Letter.  Peikoff is working on a book titled The Ominous Parallels, focusing on the philosophic origins of Nazi Germany.  Introducing his essay on Kant's ethics titled "The Ethics of Evil," Rand declares Kant to be the most evil man in mankind's history.  Nathaniel publishes an article "Rational Egoism," in the journal The Personalist, edited by Hospers.  Notable subsequent articles in the journal include "How to Derive Ethical Egoism" (1971, a reformulation of the metaethical argument in "The Objectivist Ethics"), "Egoism and Rights" (1973), and "Egoism and Rights Revisited" (1978) by Eric Mack"On the Randian Argument" (1971) by Nozick; and "Nozick on the Randian Argument" by "Dougs" Den Uyl and Rasmussen (1978).  Peikoff delivers part 1 (with part 2 in 1972) of his History of Philosophy lecture series.

1971 - Rand publishes her anthology The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.  A respectfully critical book on Objectivism, William F. O'Neil's With Charity Toward None, is published.  (Objectivists find it unimpressive.)

1972 - Hospers runs for president of the United States on the first Libertarian Party presidential ticket, after having written his political treatise, Libertarianism, the year earlier.

1973 - Binswanger completes Ph.D. at Columbia; his thesis is titled The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, in part recasting Rand's grounding of 'value-significance' in life-based goal-directed activity.

1974 - Nozick publishes Anarchy, State, and Utopia; in its comprehensive (for the time, for political philosophy) list of references, three of Rand's books are cited.  Calvinist theologian John W. Robbins publishes a critical book, In Answer to Ayn Rand; Objectivists are most unimpressed with this and with Robbins' 1997 follow-up, Without A PrayerTibor Machan edits The Libertarian Alternative, which includes Hospers' heavily Rand-influenced essay "What Libertarianism Is" and Mack's "Individualism, Rights, and the Open Society," a reworking of "Egoism and Rights."

1975 - Gotthelf completes his Ph.D. at Columbia.  His article "Aristotle's Conception of Final Causality" receives academic notice and acclaim.  Around this time, David Kelley enters the Objectivist ranks and receives his Ph.D. at Princeton.

1976.  Rand closes the Ayn Rand Letter.  Peikoff gives his Philosophy of Objectivism course, with Rand's endorsement (as "the only authorized presentation of Objectivism's entire theoretical structure") and in her presence.

1979 - Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is published in book form; it also contains Peikoff's "Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" article.

1982 - Rand dies.  Philosophy: Who Needs It, in preparation at the time of her death and containing mostly articles from the Ayn Rand Letter years, is published.  Nathaniel Branden delivers his lecture, "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand."  (The main hazards he cites are emotional repression and falling short of the awe-inspiringness of Rand's fictional heroes.)  Jeffrey Paul edits Reading Nozick: Essays on Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which contains Rand-related material reprinted from articles in The Personalist: Nozick's "On the Randian Argument," Den Uyl and Rasmussen's response to Nozick, and Mack's "How to Derive Libertarian Rights" (a combination of "How to Derive Ethical Egoism" and "Egoism and Rights Revisited").

1983: Peikoff delivers his Understanding Objectivism course, the main goal of which is to combat rationalism (manifested in such things as emotional repression and psychic conflict arising from falling short of the awe-inspiringness of Rand's fictional heroes).

1984 - Den Uyl and Rasmussen edit the first book on Objectivism from an academic press, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand (University of Illinois Press).  Contributors include the editors, Mack, Machan, and non-Objectivist philosophy professors Wallace Matson and Antony Flew.

1985 - Peikoff publishes an academic journal article, "Aristotle's Intuitive Induction" (The New Scholasticism).  He founds the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI).

1986 - Kelley publishes The Evidence of the Senses, defending a Randian direct-realist theory of perception.

1987 - The Ayn Rand Society is co-founded by Gotthelf and Walsh.  Gotthelf and James Lennox co-edit Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge U. Press).

1989 - The Peikoff/Kelley schism; Kelley forms the Institute for Objectivist Studies (IOS) (later renamed The Objectivist Center and then the Atlas Society) and is joined by George Walsh.  IOS Board Advisers include Aristotle scholars Lennox and Fred Miller; IOS conferences include (on occasion) Hospers and Mack.

1990 - The second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, edited by Binswanger and Peikoff, is published; it includes extensive excerpts from the 1969-1971 workshops.  Jimmy Wales starts the first free-of-charge email distribution list on Objectivism, The Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy (MDOP).  Contributors include Machan, Rasmussen and Chris Matthew Sciabarra.

1991 - Peikoff publishes Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand ('OPAR'), a reworking and refining of his 1976 course.  He regards OPAR as the definitive statement of Objectivism.  (A 1990 seminar uses a pre-publication version of OPAR.)  Ronald Merrill publishes The Ideas of Ayn Rand; reception from Objectivists is mixed: they don't consider it a distortion of Rand so much as falling well short of the OPAR standard.

1992 - Peikoff delivers his The Art of Thinking course, covering materials he didn't get to in Understanding Objectivism.

1993 - Around this time, the ARI begins its Objectivist Graduate Center (OGC, now Objectivist Academic Center or OAC) for training academic philosophers in conjunction with their academic training; among the OGC students under the guidance of Binswanger is Tara Smith, who would later become philosophy professor at University of Texas, Austin.

1995 - Tara Smith publishes Moral Rights and Political Freedom (Rowman & Littlefield), an academic recapitulation of Randian political themes.  Sciabarra publishes Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (ARTRR).  The Kelley/IOS group is generally more receptive to its treatment of Rand as a 'dialectical' thinker, while the Peikoff/ARI group is by and large hostile to its approach which ties her to a tradition she likely associated with Hegel and Marx.  For instance, ARI-aligned history professor John Ridpath (York University) blasted it for purportedly attempting to "deconstruct" Rand into something alien to her views in order to make it "academically acceptable."  James Lennox, writing in the IOS Journal, was also skeptical of the value of Sciabarra's book.  Sciabarra's book is the second book on Rand from an academic press (Penn State Press), contained the most extensive sources-cited section of any book on Rand up to that point, including the full slate of Peikoff courses up through the 1990 OPAR seminars.  Discussion on Sciabarra's book on MDOP is vigorous.

1996 - Huemer publishes "Why I'm Not an Objectivist" as an online essay.  Some Randian/Objectivist responses to Huemer on the ethics portion include that of Richard Lawrence (2000) and - indirectly through another interlocutor but on point - my article (2006) on how (Randian) egoism "fits" with rights (qua side constraints, etc.).

1997 - Peikoff delivers his last major course on Objectivism, Objectivism Through Induction.  Reaction to Peikoff's courses on Objectivism from Objectivism's critics has been essentially non-responsive to non-existent (a rather telling fact given Rand's stamp of approval for Peikoff as teacher of Objectivism, and given the material he covers that Rand hadn't gotten to covering in print).

1998 - Reason Papers publishes a symposium on Rand & Philosophy; contributors include Miller, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Neera Badhwar, Lester Hunt, Kelley, Roger Lee, Hospers, and prominent libertarian philosopher Jan Narveson.  Aside from Narveson, the essays are generally positive.  In the same issue, Mack recasts his "Egoism and Rights" argument as presented at an IOS seminar.

1999 - Sciabarra co-founds the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (now published by Penn State Press).  Philosophy professor Roderick Long is a co-editor.  Advisers include philosophy professors Den Uyl, Hospers, Hunt, Mack, and Rasmussen.  Generally the Kelley/IOS group is supportive of the JARS endeavor; the Peikoff/ARI group is hostile.

2000 - Tara Smith publishes her second academic book, Viable Values (Rowman & Littlefield).  Sciabarra publishes Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.  He identifies Aristotle as the 'fountainhead' of dialectic, and places Rand (along with Mises and Hayek) atop the 'dialectical libertarian ascendancy.'  On the book's cover, Sciabarra mentor and Marx & dialectics scholar Bertell Ollman praises Sciabarra's work on dialectical theory.

2001 - Greg Nykvist publishes Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.  It's not apparent that Objectivists should be impressed.

2003 - Scott Ryan publishes a comprehensive critique of Objectivist epistemology, Ayn Rand and the Corruption of Rationality (discussed above, as the third example of critiques of Rand's epistemology, the "very indepth and extensively documented" one [link again]), from the standpoint of a supporter of Brand Blanshard.  Objectivist reaction to this book has been essentially non-responsive or non-existent (a rather telling fact given that Objectivists are often very keen to state and show how a critic misrepresents or distorts Rand and/or provides poor documentation).  (However, note again what I said above, about it not getting to the meat of the method-issues covered in the Peikoff courses.)  (But the Objectivist non-response to this book is like a dialectical thread hanging; it's the only non-shitty book-length critique of Rand out there.  What gives?)

(Further point of observation: Nozick's 1971 ethics-focused article and the ethics portions of Huemer's 1996 essay have received rebuttals from Rand-defenders, e.g., Den Uyl and Rasmussen 1978, Lawrence 2000 and me 2006.  Rebuttals to Huemer and Ryan on the epistemology topics don't seem easy to dig up.  If one doesn't know how to rebut Huemer and Ryan on epistemology then one shouldn't hold Rand's epistemology (as a whole) to be a correct account of knowledge.  At the same time one could find the Peikoff treatment of Rand's epistemology, e.g., on methodological matters of hierarchy, context, integration and related topics - topics covered indepth in, e.g., Sciabarra 1995 - to be of great significance and value, and hold these elements of Rand's epistemology to be correct.  This holding-so would be that much more reasonable given a seeming absence of criticism by Rand's critics on these matters, particularly if criticism on these matters might inevitably be self-undermining.  How does one make a successful coherent case against a policy of keeping context, say?  It is also noteworthy that it is these methodological matters that Rand and Peikoff take to be fundamental to 'understanding Objectivism' - chiefly as a means to combating the "rationalist" tendency toward holding mental contents as "floating abstractions" as opposed to proper condensations of concrete/empirical data.  Rejecting any tendency toward clarity-and hence efficacy-undermining duality between the abstract and the concrete in cognitive practice is of utmost concern here.  Holding, e.g., "wealth-creation" as a floating abstraction to such an extent as to fail to identify the root cause of wealth-creation in the activities of the creative intellect, as one could determine through a painstaking effort to observe the fundamentals of the wealth-creating process across a very wide range of concretes, might lead one to support bad economic policies.  Contrast how leftists/anti-capitalists conceptualize the wealth-generation process with how it's conceptualized in Atlas Shrugged, or in "What is Capitalism?"  It can't be that both the leftists and Rand have correctly kept context and hierarchy, avoided "floating," etc.  The leftist will attack the capitalist as selfish and exploitative, whereas Rand identifies the human requirement to direct the output of one's own consciousness/intellect in order to so much as function.  How does Rearden Steel so much as function under the weight of looters and regulators unleashed by leftists on the premise that the head (almost literally) of the Rearden Steel operation is the exploiter?)

2006 - Tara Smith publishes Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist (Cambridge University Press), arguing for a stellar place for Rand in the virtue-ethics tradition.  Philosophy professor Robert Mayhew (Seton Hall) edits Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (Rowman & Littlefield).  (Rand-bashers begin, scum-like, taking full advantage of the opportunity to studiously ignore the nearly steady stream of higher-profile academic books between that time and now.)

2009 - Mayhew edits Essays on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (R & L).  ARI releases 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand.  Gotthelf, in his interview, says that Rand's presence during the epistemology workshops was "like having Aristotle in the room."  (Rand-bashers focus their attentions on two other books - not written by philosophy professors - released that year, historian Jennifer Burns' The Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (OUP), but most especially the bashers focused their attention on intellectual lightweight and gossip-monger Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made, mining it for all and only the negative anecdotes/gossip contained therein.  The bashers also selectively exploited 100 Voices for the one interview in it which recounted Rand's decision to accept government old-age benefits, and then pretended to know that Rand was being hypocritical in doing so.)

2010 - the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Rand (co-authored by Badhwar and Long) is published.  (It contains an extensive bibliography that the unnamed "senior philosopher" quoted at Leiter's blog has the temerity to suggest is highly "embarrassing," chock full of "outlets of questionable merit at best, etc."  That 2010 blog post and assessment is before the 2012-2016 updates - before the Blackwell Companion for example - so maybe at that time such an assessment wouldn't be so daring, but now here we are, about a decade later, with the Companion and the rest listed below, which Rand-supporters wouldn't have been all that surprised to see emerge but which the Rand-bashers wouldn't have seen coming.  What does this say about the chutzpah of Rand-bashers?)  A collection of essays, Being, Nature, and Life in Aristotle: Essays in Honor of Allan Gotthelf (CUP), edited by Lennox and Robert Bolton, is published.

2011 - The Ayn Rand Society releases the first volume in its Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies (ARSPS) series, Meta-Ethics, Egoism, and Virtue.  Contributors include Darryl Wright, Gotthelf, Irfan Khawaja, Paul Bloomfield, Helen Cullyer, and Tara Smith replying to critics Cullyer, Christine Swanton, and Lester Hunt in regard to her 2006 book. 

2012 - Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism appears in book form.  (Rand-bashers focus their attention on Gary Weiss's mediocre Ayn Rand Nation instead.)  Gotthelf publishes a collection of his Aristotle essays, Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology (OUP).  In his introduction Gotthelf discusses Rand's philosophical treatment of life, goal-directed action, and value.  In the Oxford Handbook of Aristotle (also 2012), David Charles, author of the 'Teleological Causation' essay, credits Gotthelf for many years of discussion on the topic.

2013 - Volume Two of ARSPS, Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology, is published.  (I'm starting to get worn out posting links to all these names; see link.)

2016 - The Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand (co-edited by Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri) is published.  (Roughly speaking, Salmieri is to the present generation of students of Objectivism what Peikoff was to the previous generation.)

2019 - Volume Three of ARSPS, Foundations of a Free Society: Reflections on Ayn Rand's Political Philosophy, is released, as mentioned/linked previously.  (Link again.)  Currently in preparation: Volume Four of ARSPS, provisionally titled Ayn Rand and Aristotle.  (The scholar with the most authority on this topic would be Gotthelf, having been a student of Rand's for close to two decades; however, he passed away in 2013.  Too bad Aristotle passed away at age 62 than the 80 of Plato and Kant, or Spinoza and Nietzsche(-as-philosopher) at age 44, else we'd not only have avoided Nazi Germany but also be at the end of history already?)


So we now have perhaps two dozen or so philosophy professors or Ph.D.s listed above, who've spent a considerable amount of time (some much more than others) inquiring into Ayn Rand's ideas.  Now, if Ayn Rand isn't a philosopher, or just isn't that good of one, then it seems quite naturally to follow that these people have not been spending their time wisely.  The plain implication of what the Rand-bashers have been saying is that these people are time-wasters, that they got sucked in somehow by Rand's unphilosophical (or bad-philosophical) approach to ideas.

That, or the Rand-bashers have been doing a poor job at doing a proper, context-keeping, job of differentiating and/or integrating this or that feature of Rand that they've picked out to make their "Rand isn't a philosopher or has made negligible important/original contribution to philosophy" case.  The leading (as in most-clicks-getting) philosophy blogger, Leiter, has advanced that thesis time and time again.  Numerous moderators and regular contributors on the philosophy subreddits have done so, time and time again, while treating defenders of Rand there like they're philosophically ignorant trolls to be downvoted, time and time again.  We're not talking about hit-and-run clickbait writers with no discernible Rand or philosophy credentials at intellectually tiny "news and opinion" sites like, HuffPo, The Nation, NYMag, PBS, Medium, Quora, and various other nasty-Rand-bashing-hosting sites that show up in relevant google searches.  We're talking here about the professed gatekeepers of the philosophy profession.

And these professed philosophy-gatekeepers are saying - in an indirect fashion, of course - that John Hospers was a time-waster and aesthetic ignoramus.  To a relevantly informed person, how plausible is that?

We'll see in due course, using this here post as a unit to reference in subsequent inquiry.  If I were to bet, I'd bet that the Rand-bashers, i.e., the Rand-isn't-a-serious-philosopher crowd, won't come out looking all that good or superior upon a contextually-full analysis.  I think it'll be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that they'll have some act-cleaning to do.  (I also think that a contextually-full analysis will likewise show that Rand, particularly in her polemical mode, has some act-cleaning to do.  And not only will a great many Rand-defenders likewise need to clean up their polemical act and make things a two-way street fairness-wise, they'll also have to get accountable about Ryan 2003.)


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