Monday, May 24, 2010

Part 6: Tolerance


In chapter 4, Kelley presents his view of tolerance, arguing that it is a virtue, and is required by the virtue of justice, and due to the nature of objectivity. (CLAR, p. 61) Strictly speaking, tolerance is not a virtue in Objectivism because Rand does not list it as one of the seven primary virtues that she incorporates into the Objectivist ethics. But this doesn't mean that intolerance in and of itself is the proper moral stance by contrast, something that Kelley wants us to believe is the case with Peikoff and anyone who agrees with him. My purpose is to indicate the morality or immorality of tolerance with Objectivism as a guide, and to identify the differences between my view and that of Kelley's.

Tolerance, Justice, and Objectivity

After his introduction, Kelley ties tolerance to justice, and afterward connects it with benevolence. (pp. 61-63) Regarding justice, he says that tolerance consists in not condemning individuals solely for the disagreeable ideas they hold, claiming that it would be unjust to do so. (He gives exceptions to this, as in the cases of clear irrationality from the content of a person's ideas.) Justice sets the limits of proper tolerance—and the limits are set by our consideration of the person's context, what evidence we've accumulated, and what level of tolerance we're considering. Are we tolerating an action, a trait, or the person as a whole? Later he relates tolerance to benevolence, stating that it's the "recognition and acceptance of the needs of a rational being, especially the recognition that rational knowledge is held contextually and acquired by independent thought." (p. 62) It means understanding another person's context, and realizing that they won't change their long-held philosophical views at a moment's notice, and that we should present ourselves as philosophical equals who are also open to persuasion by the facts. Interestingly, Kelley limits the discussion of tolerance to the area of honest errors: "The negative aspect of toleration is refusing to condemn people for errors that are honest; the positive aspect is valuing their honesty even when it is in error." (p. 63)

From practically the outset, Kelley is unclear on his fundamental views, as he says that, "[t]olerance is at root a negative concept; it means not condemning a person solely on the basis of his ideas." (p. 61) This is a very, very narrow definition—more along the lines of a definition of "intellectual tolerance," but even that isn't right. To see why, consider another description of tolerance by Kelley: "It means suspending judgment when we lack sufficient evidence." (p. 62) Neither of these statements capture the meaning of the term—for instance, refusing to condemn someone until one has sufficient evidence isn't tolerance per se, but strictly an aspect of objectivity and justice.

To fully appreciate this, consider the relationship between tolerance and justice. "To tolerate," Dr. Tara Smith remarks in an essay, "is to allow behavior of which one disapproves." (Tolerance & Forgiveness: Virtues or Vices?, p. 32) There has to be a conflict between the views of the person being tolerant and the action being allowed. In addition, there must exist for the relevant individual a moral right or prerogative to tolerate or not tolerate some action; what a stranger wears daily, or how a person chooses to study, are usually the kind of activities in which one is not even in a position to choose between tolerance or intolerance. An example of a circumstance in which the issue of tolerance does arise, by contrast, is when one discovers that a friend or business partner has systematically deceived one for years, because it is one's own stake in the relationship (the bond of friendship, a partner, etc.) that is questioned by considering tolerance, rather than an issue that is strictly the concern of someone besides oneself. To sum this all up, Dr. Smith reflects that a person, "extends tolerance when, holding the authority to disallow activity that he regards as wrong, he allows it." (p. 33)

How does this relate to the virtue of justice? At first glance: not favorably. Justice in the realm of morality (or moral judgment), let's again note, is the virtue of recognizing the facts and moral characters of others, evaluating them according to one's standards/principles, and acting accordingly, thereby granting to each person that which he deserves. The call for tolerance seems to fly in the face of this virtue: it essentially instructs one to identify and evaluate the actions and character of people and then not act in accordance with one's negative evaluations. "Tolerance directly contradicts the conviction that a person should be treated as he deserves. Extensions of tolerance declare (in kinder, gentler language): to hell with what a person deserves." (p. 33) In Rand's philosophical works, we see various examples of improper tolerance: the tolerance of the moral coward who abstains from moral judgment for the sake of convenience (Moral Cowardice); of the person who doesn't know how to apply his morality to others, and thus tolerates moral breaches he would never allow himself to practice; of the militant tolerationist, willing to tolerate without context or rational discrimination; of a person who represents the "sanction of the victim," who allows others to criticize him for his virtues and good character; of the person who substitutes mercy for justice, granting to the immoral or evil more than they deserve; and of the appeaser willing to tolerate the evils of others due to his own fear of them (Appeasement).

However negative this initial appraisal is, it is important to realize that tolerance is occasionally proper, and that it's propriety depends on the context. Is the disagreeable action an isolated incident, or one of many such transgressions? Does the individual attempt to own up to his mistake or moral breach, and try to make amends, or does he shrug it and/or you off as insignificant? Did the action occur while the person was under extenuating circumstances, such as a painful divorce, a mental breakdown, the influence of drugs, or a natural emergency? Is the action of such a negative scale as to be outside any rational possibility of tolerance? All of these questions (and more) are relevant to understanding the guilty person's context, and reaching a decision as to whether moral condemnation would lead one to sacrifice one's broader, well-considered interests. All such questions allow one to incorporate the benefits of being rationally tolerate while still conforming tolerant behavior to the principles of justice.

The up-shot is that tolerance is sometimes a virtue, and sometimes it is not, and this is determined by its conforming to the virtue of justice, as well as one's considered interests. Contra Kelley, there can be legitimate conflicts between justice and tolerance: to hold that there aren't any such, Kelley shrinks the meaning of tolerance in such a way as to make it fit within the broader theory of justice. (The exception is that we should be intolerant of outright irrationality.)

A closer reading shows that Kelley intends to replace some of the functions of justice with his view of tolerance. Specifically, he utilizes tolerance (instead of an element of justice) to demand that one does not reach moral judgments hastily without considering all the available facts, and the demand of justice that one hold the other person's context in mind when considering one's moral judgment of him. This, however, misunderstands the role of justice in a moral person's life. Dr. Smith reminds us that to reserve judgment until one has an adequate basis to condemn is not tolerance; rather, it is simply a realization that one is not in a position to come to a moral conclusion. This policy is neither an act of tolerance or a violation of justice, but rather is precisely the objective kind of judgment that the virtue of justice advises us to adopt. "The proper corrective to ill-founded intolerance is not the leniency of tolerance; it is a more rigorous dedication to justice," Smith advises. (p. 36)

Kelley's misunderstanding of tolerance permeates his entire chapter on it, including the section "Tolerance and Objectivity." The section is lengthy, but it can be summarized as: to reach certainty in the kind of issues being discussed, we must know and be able to refute all of the available evidence in support of alternative explanations; to access and assess such evidence, we must be tolerant and open to discussion on these alternative theories and principles with others, without condemning them for their differences or honest errors—this is the way in which objectivity requires tolerance. As one can see from reading CLAR, this is only a lengthy elaboration of the previously mentioned idea that tolerance is taking into account the context and ideas of others, including how they might have reached their conclusions. Tolerance only applies once one is certain of the actions or ideas of others with which one disagrees, and when that person is in a position to even tolerate anything. Objectively identifying and evaluating the theories and ideas of others, such as in open debate or discussion, persuading people through logic, considering alternative theories for justifying ideas that one holds—these are all aspects of justice and objectivity, not the domain of tolerance. That Kelley doesn't understand this, only reveals the depth of his knowledge on these concepts.


There are other issues involved that I won't discuss in relation to "tolerance." More than moral condemnation is a logical consequence of being intolerant, against Kelley's definition. Kelley's lengthy (and weird) tying of objectivity to tolerance through the ideas of integration, unit-economy, and certainty, is worthy of another essay in response. The main theme of my paper has been that Kelley misunderstands tolerance: we could certainly benefit from a much lengthier and more detailed presentation of tolerance and its connection to the philosophy of Objectivism. Kelley disagrees with Peikoff's interpretation of his own view (i.e., "fairness through skepticism"), but when everything's considered, Kelley's position amounts to, "fairness through context-induced skepticism." While I haven't taken up all of these issues, I hope I've addressed the fundamental conclusion in Kelley's chapter, that tolerance is required by justice and objectivity, in a way that suggests how those ideas relate to each other as approached from an Objectivist perspective. (Given what I've written about Kelley in this series, it shouldn't be a surprise that I don't consider him to be an Objectivist.)

Reference Works

Ayn Rand Lexicon: Appeasement. Accessed May 18, 2010.
Ayn Rand Lexicon: Errors of Knowledge vs. Breaches of Morality Accessed May 18, 2010.
Ayn Rand Lexicon: Moral Cowardice Accessed May 18, 2010.

Kelley, David. The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in Objectivism. – Truth and Toleration.pdf

Smith, Tara. "Tolerance & Forgiveness: Virtues or Vices?" Journal of Applied Philosophy. Vol. 14, No. 1, 1997. pp. 31-41.

The Vampires of Objectivism

I completely understand why Diana Hsieh had to practically put everything else down she was doing in order to write the majority of her "False Friends of Objectivism" series! I wanted to resume my Inductive Quests posts, but my mind is still racing with the issues that revolve around The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics.

Here's a couple:

(1) David Kelley's hypocrisy. Kelley roundly criticized Peikoff and the ARI when they turned a mostly blind eye to the substance of Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand. He said:
The most damaging aspect of idolatry is the feeling that any flaw in Ayn Rand as a person means a flaw in the philosophy, with the implication that any evidence of such flaws is metaphysically threatening. In effect (to paraphrase [Dostoevsky]), people felt that if Ayn Rand is not perfect, then everything is permitted. I’m convinced that this explains some of the virulence of the reaction to Barbara Branden’s book.

It is clear to me that Ayn Rand was a woman of remarkable integrity, who largely embodied the virtues she espoused. But it is also clear that she had certain other traits often found in great minds who have waged a lonely battle for their ideas: a tendency to surround herself with acolyte from whom she demanded declarations of agreement and loyalty; a growing sense of bitter isolation from the world; a quickness to anger at criticism; a tendency to judge people harshly and in haste. These faults did not
outweigh her virtues; I consider them of minor significance in themselves. But they were real, and I thought Branden’s book, whatever its other shortcomings, gave a reasonably fair and perceptive account of them.

All of this is arguable, of course. But it should have been argued, and it wasn’t. When the book appeared, I was shocked by the refusal of many prominent Objectivists to discuss the issues it raised, and their tendency to condemn anyone who did. [Italics mine]
But Kelley can't make this argument anymore, now that PARC exists, and has so for nearly five years. As James Valliant himself said: "That's what I was trying to do: start a critical discussion, one long overdue."

What was it met with? Ironically, the same mound of silence Kelley and his supporters criticized the ARI for committing.

In five years, Kelley has not said a word, from what I've researched.

Asked if he would respond to PARC, Nathaniel Branden said: "No. What for? If a reader can't see what's insane about that book on his own, I doubt that help from me would accomplish much."

Barbara Branden has become absolutely bored by the entire spectacle of Objectivists digging into Rand's life, conveniently when the facts being uncovered reveal great immoralities and conscious evils on her part. As her lies have come more out in the open than they were, something unsurprising happened: she lied some more.
In her book, Barbara claimed she heard [the origin of the name "Rand" coming from a Remington-Rand typewriter] from Rand’s first cousin, Fern. For his part, Nathaniel later claimed that he heard it from Rand herself. On SOLO, we were treated to Barbara suddenly recollecting, after her memory was refreshed by Nathaniel, that she had, indeed, heard this from Rand herself and not just from Rand’s first cousin. Those who had relied on the veracity of her book and its sourcing were dealt the first blow to its credibility.
Also, based on zero evidence, she accused Lindsay Perigo, creator of Sense of Life Objectivists (SOLO), of being an alcoholic: the same charged she levied against Frank O'Connor in her biography, thereby revealing her level of scholarship in the process.

Neil Parille, Robert Campbell, and other TOC-supporters have nothing positive to say at all about PARC, despite the far higher standard of scholarship that it has over both of the Brandens' works, and, most shockingly, even though it contains primary material from Rand herself. Instead, they attack it piecemeal, similar to Daniel Barnes of the "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" blog. Shouldn't we be worried when the alleged Objectivists are in substance no different from the anti-Objectivist, Rand haters?

(2) (This is taken from an e-mail I sent that I haven't edited, but may do so in the future.)

It vexes and angers me that this is the state of self-styled "Objectivists," who feel free to embrace subjectivism and pass moral judgments on little to no evidence whatsoever (or with deliberate lies).

Finishing PARC has brought to my attention so much information I've been storing since my early days reading SOLO, or participating on the [Objectivism Online] forum, all the while learning about Objectivism. The Brandens and their ilk (Dr. Robert Campbell, Michael S. Kelly, and so forth) are hell-bent on defending their main criticisms and positions:

(1) Their conspiracy theory that Leonard Peikoff has stifled independent thought (much like the Brandenian criticism of Rand), creating Objectivist robot zombies out of anyone involved with ARI, including OAC students [Campbell is especially adamant on this issue.]. This includes an alleged shift after Understanding Objectivism experienced by Peikoff, from being "tolerate" and "benevolent" to becoming a rationalistic moralizer, due to the publication of PAR. [This was brought up by Kelley in "Truth and Toleration," p. 92.]

(2) It was Rand who maligned and wronged the Brandens. Everything that the Brandens said about Rand was undoubtedly true--and that we all owe a lot to the Brandens for revealing the truth.

(3) Corollary to (2): PARC is useless nonsense, and is even worse than Peikoff's non-response all these years(!) [This is what Robert Campbell holds.] This, after the Brandens's side has criticized Peikoff/Rand's side for years for being dishonest and not presenting their views, even if it aired out dirty laundry. (N. Branden basically dismissed Rand's private journal entries before they even came out(!) as a pile of lies. This is probably the same attitude taken by those who side with the Brandens and Kelley.)

(4) The conspiracy theory that the ARI (specifically Peikoff) is guilty of "airbrushing" or "rewriting" the history of Objectivism, removing literature or works of those who have been "purged," i.e. the Brandens, Packer, Reisman, Kelley, etc. The counterpoint that it might be for legal reasons is only a convenient cover-up for the ARI's self-serving rewriting.

(5) Peikoff is wrong on every issue he debates with Kelley, and Kelley is completely right.

(6) Corollary of (5): The closed system must result in the treating of Rand as an infallible Goddess, and the works of hers as true dogma, to be accepted on faith in order to be an "Objectivist." Objectivism must be accepted in total or in part, and the philosophy includes all of Rand's views, philosophic or not.

All of these are arbitrary: Anyone who seriously holds any of them is either grossly ignorant of Rand, of Peikoff, or of the fields of philosophical scholarship or copyright law, or (more likely) is a habitual evader on the kind of scale that precludes an honest understanding of Objectivism, even before the evasions. Instead of learning the merits of their opponent's view, they spend their time insulting them on the internet, with no appreciation for the opposition's actual views (or a care to even appreciate). Dr. Campbell is a case in point: he's a professor of psychology, yet he totally dismisses the closed system viewpoint: is his position then that we're free to change the content of previous psychologist's theories at will, which is the (underlying) purpose of the open system regarding Objectivism? I bet he would say "no," and would rationalize this in some way so as to not show a contradiction when the same logic is applied to Objectivism's connection to Rand as its originator. [...]

B. Branden apparently gave a speech on "Objectivist Fundamentalists," last month, and one of its main points was summarized as: "They believe it is their duty to carry on the great battle of modern history, the battle of God (i.e., Rand) against Satan (i.e., the Brandens), of light against darkness, and to stamp out all dissenters who attempt to undermine Objectivism."

In a sense, they're guilty of the worst sort of criticisms of us (of anyone who agrees with Peikoff), condemning us for following Objectivism, which necessarily involves passing moral judgments (it is their own fault that these judgments are mostly negative when applied to them).

But in another sense, they're right: If Rand is right about philosophy's role in history, if Objectivism is true, then this Rand (and Peikoff)--Branden and Peikoff-Kelley controversy is a great battle of sorts, a war that will determine the future prospects of the philosophy. If the Brandens (and their side) have their way, then Rand will be rewritten in accordance with their biographies and summarily dismissed, with them becoming the very "Popes" that they criticize Peikoff for representing. (As we know from PARC, the Brandens are more than capable of being autocrats when the opportunity presents itself. See: Objectivist Living. See also the case of Brant Gaede, who read PARC and disassociated himself from B. Branden, and then shifted his position back to pro-Barbara--which is simply bewildering.) Objectivism will be followed cautiously, if not abandoned entirely, as the Brandens's (false) criticisms of the philosophy will be fresh in every student's mind. If Kelley wins, then a principled Objectivist will be seen as nothing but a hopeless sycophant, incapable of independent judgment or intellectual agreement; Objectivism will turn into the philosophical mess that libertarianism currently enjoys, merely a grab-bag of philosophic systems--with similar practical results in reality (which are few and far between).

If we (by that I mean any Objectivist wishing to defend the truth) believe that ideas matter, we can't let their nonsense go unchallenged, it'll only reduce the credibility of Rand and of Objectivism (which, I'm now convinced, is their deep, underlying and unexpressed purpose). We have to stand up and fight them.

Mary Ann Sures once said that when Rand died, someone somberly stated that anger had gone from the world. If that's so, then I'm going to bring anger back, and I'll argue with every ounce of my intellect as to why such anger is warranted. I'll pick up and proudly wave Rand's banner, in whatever form is available to me, for as long as her name and philosophy needs a defender.
There's more where that came from.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Part 5: Errors vs. Moral Breaches


Among all the issues that must be confronted in the Peikoff-Kelley split, the most difficult is surely the topic of error vs. evil, of errors of knowledge in contrast to breaches of morality. Fortunately, it is also the most philosophically revealing. As in the topics of my previous essay, I agree with Peikoff's view. To see why, I'll describe my understanding of the error/evil distinction, and compare it to the statements of both Peikoff and Kelley, adding my own comments and polemics when needed. As this isn't a topic that's discussed much, online or anywhere else, I hope my essay here improves the reader's understanding on this technical issue.

My View of Errors of Knowledge vs. Breaches of Morality

The Objectivist view is that an error of knowledge is not a moral vice and must be given every possible tolerance and allowance, while breaches of morality cannot be forgiven or tolerated or accepted. The basis for this view is an aspect of human nature, including our need to pursue our self-interests.

We are beings of volitional consciousness: we have the power of free will, of choosing our actions and thus of bearing the responsibility of our actions' results. We have to choose to exert the effort required to live our lives, and we have to do so by means of our reason, our fundamental means of dealing with reality. This means that we are not omniscient, and it means that we do not automatically live by reason. In Objectivism's view, reason is free will: acting in accordance with reason, and correctly or incorrectly applying one's reason, is a matter of choice. Having reason doesn't entail the possession of knowledge, or even the proper method of gaining such knowledge: the mind is born "tabula rasa" ("as a blank slate") in Rand's view: there is no mental content, and thus no method that is dependent on such content. Because reason isn't automatic, we are capable of errors, of evasion, of distorting what our reason is identifying. Accordingly, we have to choose to discover the proper means to be rational—we must learn how to reach correct conclusions, how to identify truths and falsehoods, and how to determine what counts as knowledge. (Ayn Rand Lexicon: Epistemology)

Whether it is the character and minds of others or of one's self, the Objectivist morality asks (and leads one to answer questions such as): how does a person use his tool of rationality? Is he focusing on the facts, applying his knowledge, forming principles and sticking by them? When he makes errors, does he strive to identify them and correct them, or does he ignore his mistakes or evade them or rationalize them into nonexistence? Does the person practice the Objectivist virtues (even implicitly)? These questions matter because the Objectivist morality is designed to promote those beings of free will who have chosen to use their reason to the best of their ability.

Because humans are not omniscient, morality can't declare that a person is morally flawed for making errors and mistakes, and that he must be judged according to the standard of omniscience, of knowing everything at once. Such a principle would ignore how humans live in reality, and would ignore our need to reach conclusions through the fallible process of reason, even if we occasionally make mistakes and reach contradictions. Engaging in thought and making a mistake along the way is immensely more practical than evading the responsibility of thought, provided that the person continues along a reality-oriented train of thought, as this is the way in which mistakes are corrected. Objectivism is opposed to impractical theories and irrational standards such as omniscience: they contradict reality, and offer only genuine losses for those who try to adhere to them.

Objectivism's censure of irrationality has another form (among others): the refusal to advocate willful immorality. A breach of morality is an conscious choice to go against what one deems to be good, to act in some way that promotes what one regards as evil, to evade one's knowledge of the good. To act against what one knows to be the good, is to act against what one considered in the past to be beneficial behavior and against one's values. Such an action would necessitate that a person judge this person as (at least) immoral. To understand why, let's consider this distinction in regard to the virtues most concerned with the moral character of others and of oneself: justice and pride.

The virtues of justice and pride recognize the basic facts about humans I mentioned above, regarding our volition and need to discover how to use reason correctly. Justice tells us: other people's ideas and actions matter to one's self-interest and life, so determine what kind of person they've chosen to be and their personal context, determine whether they are good or evil according to your standards and principles, and act according to that evaluation. Pride tells us that our principles matter to our self-interest and life, and that we should strive for moral perfection, practicing our virtues and judging our own selves as good or evil according to our morality and our personal context, and pursuing only rational courses of actions, correcting ourselves when we deliberately do otherwise (whenever and to what extent this is possible).

Justice informs us to understand the people we deal with (or, at least, acknowledge the moral characters of people we learn about) due to their effects on our own lives and values. Intellectually, this means discovering facts about other people's lives, especially how they use their mind, and toward what ends. At first, one gives a stranger the moral benefit of the doubt, due to one's acknowledgment of another's nature as a human, that is, as someone who possesses a rational faculty and from whom benefits can be expected. As the relationship is extended or becomes wider in scope and relevance (for example, a daily acquaintance, a friend, a business partner), an awareness of the person's moral standing becomes selfishly obligatory. In the relevant context, this means determining whether the person makes mistakes honestly, struggling to grasp the facts and comply with them, or if the person is practicing evasion, and determining whether rationality or irrationality is the ruling factor in the person's character. This is another way of protecting one's clarity of vision: the rationality of giving one's car keys and car to a parking valet depends on whether the person is a dependable and reputable driver, is known to be (unintentionally) accident-prone, or is a suspected vandal or thief.

In action, justice here means respecting the fallible nature of human reason, and not altering the moral evaluation of those who make honest mistakes. This includes brushing the mistake off as insignificant, helping the individual to correct his actions, or changing one's goals in order to achieve your values (such as, kindly suggesting an honest (but bad) cook to let you do the cooking for an upcoming meeting, or offering cooking lessons). It also means not tolerating, "brushing off," or otherwise ignoring a breach of morality or an act of evasion; immorality, in the Objectivist view, is the path to failure, value-loss, destruction, and death, and is precisely the line where "allowance" and "permissibility" must be drawn. "Tolerating" a gangster, a pathological liar, a swindler, or a hypocrite is an assault on one's values and an injustice to those who are virtuous, including the honestly mistaken among them. "To abstain from condemning a torturer, is to become an accessory to the torture and murder of his victims," Rand says. (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 83.) The proper response to breaches of morality is to withhold one's sanction of the activity, and even the person if he proves to not desire to change his behavior in hopes of bettering himself and earning one's forgiveness.

Pride is "moral ambitiousness," it is striving to adhere to one's moral code, creating one's optimal moral character, and taking the actions needed to make one's life worth living—to make one worthy of positive self-esteem. Pride is working towards moral perfection, which is, "an unbreached rationality—not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute." Intellectually, pride means taking moral issues seriously, seeking to understand them and acting as one's moral code dictates, to be "good" by one's moral standard and principles. By the same token, this means consciously refusing to engage in willful evil, to create flaws in one's character. The proud man is one who recognizes that one's virtuous or flawed character is a result of one's own volitional actions, and is therefore capable, in principle, of being changed for the better. As Peikoff puts the point (and several other points), the fact of volition's role on character and it's importance in regard to pride means that:
There is no excuse, therefore, for a man who resigns himself to flaws in his character. 'Flaws' does not mean errors of knowledge, which involve no evasion; it means breaches of morality, which do involve evasion. The moral man may lack a piece of knowledge or reach a mistaken conclusion; but he does not tolerate willful evil, neither in his consciousness nor in his action, neither in the form of sins of commission nor of sins of omission. He does not demand of himself the impossible, but he does demand every ounce of the possible. He refuses to rest content with a defective soul, shrugging in self-deprecation 'That's me.' He knows that that 'me' was created, and is alterable, by him. (Peikoff, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 304)
In action, the proud person engages in rational actions unwaveringly, earnestly practicing the virtues he regards as true. He does not fault himself for honest mistakes, but rather accepts his fallibility and moves forward, correcting them whenever the means are available to do so. He doesn't accept unearned guilt, faulting himself for failing to fully practice something that is impossible to accomplish. Nor does he motivate his actions by evasion or other forms of evil. Despite this, Objectivism is opposed to the view that moral perfection is a "one-shot thing"; if a person does become guilty of a vice, he doesn't sit in moral helplessness, but rather uses his rationality to redeem himself. He, "condemns his improper behavior, analyzes its roots (identifying in the process the underlying evasions), makes reparation (where applicable), and works to reshape his mental policy; he thereby retrains his character for the future." (OPAR, p. 305)

In the cases of both justice and pride, moral innocence is the crucial virtue to consider. Whether a person thinks he's committed a moral crime or not, or whether he thinks this is the case in regard to someone else or not, are important facts to consider in determining errors of knowledge versus breaches of morality. Honest errors are not to be confused with evils, and Objectivism's moral code upholds the innocent, including the rational but mistaken, while condemning the willfully evil.

Ideas as True or False, Good or Bad

In several important respects I've maintained that Kelley is misrepresenting the Objectivist view in epistemology and ethics. This series of distortion is in full force in his chapter on "Error vs. Evil."

Kelley repeats his dual-standards of human life and rationality, now applying it to the evaluation of ideas, and states that there are two characteristics which apply to ideas, one more essential than the other: the content of an idea, and its relation to some action. He states:
Whether an idea is true or false, and whether it is good or bad, are related issues. But they are distinct, and the issue of truth is primary. The essential characteristic of an idea is its content, the claim it makes about reality. The first and essential question to ask about any idea, therefore, is whether the claim it makes is true or false. Truth or falsity is a feature that an idea has by virtue of its content. An idea is good or bad, by contrast, in virtue of its relation to some action. As I indicated in 'A Question of Sanction,' there are two categories of relevant action. We can evaluate an idea by its effects—the actions it leads people to take—as measured by the standard of human life. And we can evaluate an idea by the mental actions that produced it, as measured by the standard of rationality. In either case, the value significance of the idea is a derivative property, which depends not only on the content of the idea but on the nature of the relevant action. And in either case, as I said, 'the concept of evil applies primarily to actions, and to the people who perform them.' It applies only in a derivative way to the ideas themselves. (CLAR, p. 39)
I won't repeat my criticism of the standards of human life and rationality I made in part 2, but I will comment on some of his other views.

My first point is that Objectivism has no content/action dichotomy, in which the truth of an idea flows from the content, and the moral rightness (or wrongness) of an idea flows from its effects—the actions or consequences of the idea. If this is literally what Kelley believes, then he's completely abandoned the Objectivist view of truth, and thereby of objectivity. The truth of an idea depends not only on what it claims about reality (its "content"), but also the mental processes used to reach it by a given individual, and its practical consequences. (I'm opposed to Kelley redefining "content" here as basically the definition of an idea, since a lot more information than that is relevant to determining an idea's truth.)

An idea's relation to action, including its ethical significance, is part of the content of the idea. It's one's knowledge of the idea, including relevant practical consequences, the reasoning that led to it, and value-judgments made, that constitute the content of the idea. Speaking of this sort of integration, the same kind of reasoning applies to the truth of an idea—the effects in reality of an idea partly determine its truth or falsehood. There's no reason in Objectivism to separate a part of the content of an idea and declare it to be a derivative trait, as far as the value significance of that idea goes. In fact, there's no reason for the content/action split in the first place: Kelley merely introduces it, claims that one corresponds to a primary trait (truth), and that the other applies to the secondary trait (value significance).

Diana Hsieh presented the criticism that Kelley embraces the mind-body dichotomy in moral judgment: well, here it is, in full form, in his discussion of value significance and its application to actions. Notice what Kelley says: "Had the same actions [i.e. Stalin's mass-murder motivated by Marxism] been committed by an Attila, whose power did not rest on ideological justifications, the actions would have been equally wrong." (p. 40) That quote implies that ideas don't matter in evaluating actions; so long as the scale of destruction is the same, then the actions are equally evil, no matter the ideological justification (or lack of it). That's entirely opposed to Objectivism.

First, it's ridiculous to suggest that anyone could've performed the same actions as Stalin without any ideological justifications. Mass murder, conquering other nations—these could be actions of force-wielders without a specific philosophy. Erecting a command economy, contributing to socialist theory and then putting it into blood-soaked practice, purging one's ranks of potential enemies, forcing scientists into labor camps or outright killing them, and so on, couldn't possibly have happened without an ideology driving it, a very definite ideology. If not, then what does Kelley take to be the relationship between ideas and actions, between the mind and body?

Second, Kelley's ignoring the fact that the scope and level of evasion plays a significant role in determining the amount of evil in a given action; indeed, evasion is the source of evil, its basic form. From what I said in Part 3, it should be clear that I think that it takes a greater amount of evasion to believe and practice Marxism to the extent that Stalin did than to commit the actions of Attila. Precisely because of Stalin's ideas, and how he reached them, then, his actions would have been far worse than those of Attila, even if they led to the same number of deaths or other superficial similarities in reality.

Peikoff vs. Kelley on the Role of Philosophy in History

In the next section, "Ideas and Original Sin," Kelley presents what he takes to be his differences with Peikoff on the role of philosophy in cultural events.

The Objectivist theory of history is that philosophy, i.e. the realm of ideas, is the prime cause of the course of history, the cause that influences all of the other causes, social, political, economic, technological, and so on. This isn't to say that history doesn't have many factors which can account for historical events, but it does conclude that not all such factors are primary. Philosophy is capable of this because of its broad range of abstractions, because of the importance of philosophical issues to human life. (Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 452) A philosophy first influences a small group of individuals concerned with philosophical issues, commonly known as intellectuals, and these individuals pass the philosophy down in ways that begin to influence the culture, affecting the fields of art, science, government policy, law, and countless others, in both subtle and stark ways.

As Kelley presents what he takes to be Peikoff's view, I can't help but notice that he treats "Fact and Value" as some sui generis article, as if Peikoff hadn't described his (and Rand's/Objectivism's) view of history in The Ominous Parallels, or even Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. As we're about to see, Kelley is going to say things that Peikoff does not hold, and thus his critique will be that much weaker.

Kelley's portrait of Peikoff's view is a variant of ideological determinism: as soon as you inject a philosophical idea or system into a culture, the result will necessarily lead to certain consequences consistent with that idea, rendering the free will of the people who live under this idea or culture moot. The philosopher thus takes the blame for the transmission and effects of his ideas, as Peikoff notes in F&V with regard to Immanuel Kant. Kelley notes, "[t]hese individuals must, in effect, be helpless and unwitting carriers of the intellectual virus." (CLAR, p. 41) He also comments (rightly) that Peikoff's view is that the majority of people are not in the position needed to exercise their choice regarding fundamental philosophical ideas, and thus are shaped and influenced by these abstractions without their knowledge. Kelley draws the deduction: if such ideas are so embedded into the culture that they are never explicitly identified and challenged by the majority of people (the non-intellectual, the "ordinary"), that they are never issues about which one could choose to think about or not, then one cannot be accused of evasion or irrationality for accepting them. Trying to catch Peikoff in a contradiction, Kelley remarks that Peikoff holds those influenced by ideas they hadn't even thought about to be responsible for the consequences of the idea. Kelley ties this belief to Peikoff's (alleged) principle that an idea's falsehood "immediately implies" irrationality in the persons who accept the idea. Kelley then completes his "reduction to the absurd" argument, noting that if we hold them responsible, then we haven't negated their free will, and they are partially responsible for the disasters of practicing bad philosophical ideas; therefore, the originating philosopher does not really take the blame of such consequences, or only a diluted share of it. (p. 42) He then restates the argument:
In short, Peikoff cannot have it both ways. Ideas necessitate historical results only to the extent that people do not freely choose all of the intellectual contents that govern their values and behavior. Ideas necessitate results only to the extent that artists, journalists, politicians, and people in other walks of life operate within an intellectual context that they necessarily take for granted. But to this extent, they are not responsible for the effects of the premises that make up that context, and cannot be condemned as irrational. To the extent that people are responsible for thinking about their premises, and choosing to accept or reject them, the link between the originators of the ideas and the ultimate consequences is not one of causal necessity. We cannot hold the originators fully responsible for those effects, any more than we can hold a bartender fully responsible for the drunken behavior of his patrons. (ibid.)
Kelley concludes that Peikoff is espousing a form of original sin applied to culture: that Peikoff is claiming that ideas will influence individuals no matter what, free will aside, and that we share moral blame for the negative consequences of these ideas.

Unfortunately for Kelley, his argument has several flaws, some more glaring than others.

(1) Peikoff's discussion of history and philosophy in Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand:
Philosophy determines essentials, not details. If men act on certain principles (and choose not to rethink them), the actors will reach the end result logically inherent in those principles. Philosophy does not, however, determine all the concrete forms a principle can take, or the oscillations within a progression, or the time intervals among its steps. Philosophy determines only the basic direction—and outcome." (OPAR, 452)
Ideas necessitate certain results in reality due to the actual casual connection between ideas and action, a fact that is outside the power of human choice. Ideas, when practiced, can only lead to certain results, following the logic of the idea. What is open to human choice is whether and to what extent such philosophical ideas are practiced or rejected. Which brings us to the next topic:

(2) The limits of free will. In Objectivism, free will is the capacity to control and direct one's consciousness, to regulate it towards focus or non-focus, towards thought and non-thought, and direct certain physical actions that are under our conscious control. It's a very delimited faculty: exercised in a certain way, it can lead to great things, but it does not grant one the power to do everything or to be omnipotent. This is the basic reason why we must rely on the knowledge and trade of others who specialize in different fields in order to live, the basic reason for the need of the division of labor.

In "Fact & Value," Peikoff states that, "[t]o an individual in a division-of-labor society, it makes a life-or-death difference whether he is surrounded by producers or parasites, honest men or cheats, independent men or power-lusters." The implication of all of this is that if the specialists or experts are corrupt in their field, the innocent people who rely on them will pay the negative consequences for following their ideas. As examples in psychology, Freud's theories of the id, ego, and super-ego and the theory of behaviorism have been derided by Objectivists for decades precisely because of the damage to human life those ideas have caused, because the non-specialists rely on the faulty views of the specialists. It would be grave context-dropping to blame these negative consequences on the victims as much as those who should have known better. Free will does not mean: go out and discover and do everything by yourself, and if you act on someone else's mistake or deception, then it's your fault, you had free will and could have prevented/ceased the blame-worthy action, but you chose not to.

Peikoff is not dropping the context here: his position is that people can't be blamed for ideas that they couldn't have been expected to know, given their own time, energy, and need to work in some specialized field; this field will typically be something outside the discipline of philosophy or even the humanities. Since this is the case, once a certain philosophical climate sets into a culture, its consequences will influence the individuals of a culture, not due to determinism, but due to the limits of free will and knowledge. (I have to thank Paul Hsieh for quoting some of Peikoff's take on this issue from "The Art of Thinking, lecture 2" in a Noodlefood comment. Not only is the above what I take to be the correct response to Kelley's charge of Peikoff endorsing a version of idea-determinism with respect to a culture, but it also summarizes Peikoff's own words, in which he was showing how an argument about free will much like Kelley's can be met with integrating one's knowledge from other fields and disciplines, with the example being the division of labor and the knowledge of specialists.)

With that said, I'll comment next on the "reduction to the absurd" stage of Kelley's argument, where Kelley insinuates that Peikoff does hold the average person responsible.

(3) Peikoff's notion of "inherently dishonest ideas." To actually make his argument, Kelley has to take elements from Peikoff's section on "inherently dishonest ideas," expanding conclusions made regarding that set of ideas to all ideas in general, with the suppressed premise that this is what Peikoff does in his article (pages 41-42 of CLAR). In particular, he rips these sentences out of their context: "The mass base of such [inherently dishonest] movements are not evaders of the same kind [as the idea's originator(s), leaders, or intellectual spokesmen]; but most of the followers are dishonest in their own passive way. They are unthinking, intellectually irresponsible ballast, unconcerned with logic or truth.” On this count alone, this step in Kelley's argument should be considered context-dropping and summarily dismissed.

Peikoff's view is that unwitting followers of ideas typically are not to blame for relying on the ideas in their cultures, that they are not aware of the issues at stake. “Millions, billions, of men may be oblivious to the mind, they may be ignorant of philosophy, they may even be contemptuous of abstractions. But, knowingly or not, they are shaped ultimately by the abstractions of a small handful of individuals.” ("Philosophy and Psychology in History," Objectivist Forum 6 (Oct. 1985). pp. 14; quoted in CLAR, p. 41) But the followers of "inherently dishonest ideas" are a special case.

In Fact & Value, Peikoff says that "inherently dishonest ideas" are forms of openly rebelling against reason and reality, and in the 1983 lecture course "Understanding Objectivism" (UO) he states that such ideas can have no basis in reality. He says that, "[i]f the conscientious attempt to perceive reality by the use of one’s mind is the essence of honesty, no such rebellion can qualify as 'honest.'" (F&V) In UO, he specifies three kinds of "inherently dishonest ideas": (1) those explicitly against reason and reality, (2) those against values as such, and (3) those which advocate totalitarian states. In any event, Peikoff holds that the area of "inherently dishonest ideas" is filled with notions that couldn't be honestly understood and accepted. Even with such dishonest ideas, Peikoff excludes the very young, the retarded, the illiterate, and a small number of adults of the charge of evasion and irrationality; these are people who, for various reasons, cannot grasp the issues involved or the corruption that results from advocacy of these ideas. Kelley slyly forgets to mention the exceptions that Peikoff makes in F&V, but we should not follow suit.

The topic of "inherently dishonest ideas," as presented in "Fact & Value," is merely a summary of his views; these views are introduced and elaborated upon in the UO lecture course. This fact is something which Kelley also conveniently never discusses in the present issue. But the fact that F&V's discussion is only a summary doesn't mean that Kelley is free to quote statements out of the context that gives them meaning. Unfortunately for Kelley, his "reduction" falls due to Peikoff's actual views on the moral responsibility of cultural innovators/intellectual specialists versus that of ordinary people, and Kelley's quoting material out of context.

(4) Falsehood "immediately implies" irrationality. Kelley continues his "reduction," stating that (his misrepresentation of) Peikoff's views are a result of his general principle that "the falsity of an idea 'immediately implies' irrationality on the part of those who accept it." (CLAR, p. 42) This is false, as Peikoff doesn't hold this view. What he says is that falsehood is a contradiction of reality, and (within a certain range or scope) is the result of honestly mistaken, rational thinking; beyond this range, falsehood does imply irrationality, evasion, a process of vice. "Now we must note that falsehood does not necessarily imply vice; honest errors of knowledge are possible." (F&V) And later:
There is only one basic issue in philosophy and in all judgment, cognitive and evaluative alike: does a man conform to reality or not? Whether an idea is true or false is one aspect of this question—which immediately implies the other aspects I mentioned: the relation to reality of the mental processes involved and of the actions that will result. Truth is a product of effort and leads in action to value(s); hence, one says, the true idea is not only true: it is also good. Falsehood, assuming it reaches a certain scale, is a product of evasion [i.e. irrationality] and leads to destruction; such an idea is not only false; it is also evil. (Italics and brackets mine.)
Peikoff is saying that falsehood "immediately implies" irrationality only if his views are exaggerated, and this is precisely what Kelley does.

Relatedly, Kelley misrepresents Peikoff's views on honest errors, or falsehoods which imply rationality. Kelley says: "Honest errors, especially in regard to philosophical issues, are thus very rare; he suggests that they are essentially limited to the retarded, the illiterate, and the young." (CLAR, p. 40) Actually, the retarded, illiterate, and the young are the honestly mistaken followers of "inherently dishonest ideas" in Peikoff's view, not the representatives of honest errors in general. Indeed, the whole "reduction to the absurd" that Kelley's argument consists of is merely Kelley quoting Peikoff out-of-context and expanding his claims beyond their valid scope, outside the confines of Peikoff's notion of "inherently dishonest ideas."

Now, let's put it all together: Men have free will, but this doesn't mean omnipotence: for countless reasons and in countless situations, we need the specialized skills and labors of others, and we benefit greatly from this division of labor. But our reliance on corrupt specialists, particularly in philosophy, can lead to us creating disastrous events, disasters which are logically consistent with these ideas. This is the way that philosophy is the primary cause of history: the wrong ideas will be accepted and picked up, and people who don't know any better will act on them, to everyone's loss. In the case of "inherently dishonest movements" the philosophic originator of the movement is primarily responsible, as it is his ideas that are being carried out, and the blame is extended to his intellectual followers and spokesmen to a lesser extent, and base followers of the movement to an even lesser extent.

If my presentation of Peikoff is correct here, then Peikoff's view here certainly doesn't represent a "cultural version of the doctrine of original sin," as Kelley claims. (p. 42)

Kelley on the Degree and Kind of Moral Responsibility

Kelley, in the next section "The Role of Ideas in History," reintroduces the topic of Soviet tyrants and academic Marxists, an issue he initially discussed in "A Question of Sanction." He states that Stalin and his henchmen are primarily responsible, as they're the proximate cause of the mass deaths in Russia. The intellectuals were responsible for creating the cultural conditions (or shaping the ones which already existed) making it possible for Stalin and his kind to gain power, and abuse it on a monstrous scale. But there's an important difference in degree of responsibility, Kelley warns. Stalin was personally responsible for the deaths, as he used his political power to instigate the murders and torture. But the intellectuals are not in such a position: it took the effort of many Marxist intellectuals to create the cultural climate suited for Stalin's machinations. As a result, the charge that the academic Marxist is guiltier than Stalin is fallacious on two counts: "first in attributing causal agency to the ideas themselves, and secondly for investing that agency in every individual adherent of the ideas, treating each one as fully responsible for effects that occurred only because millions of other people embraced the same ideas." (p. 49)

Actually, the claim that Marxist intellectuals or academics are guiltier than Stalin or any dictator (which I agree with) doesn't involve either of those fallacies—both are non sequiturs. The Marxist intellectuals are guiltier than the dictators because of their practice with the ideas, not due to any causal efficacy on the idea's part. The intellectuals and dictators share varying degrees of responsibility, with the intellectuals holding the greater share. There's a number of reasons why the intellectuals are guiltier than the dictators.

(For some of the reasons stated below, see Diana's Hsieh's post Marxist Dictators Versus Marxist Intellectuals)

-The Marxist intellectuals presented the moral rightness of the rise of the proletariat, and the takeover of the means of production. They argued that it was morally obligatory, the rational, scientific thing to do, even historically inevitable. Even anti-Marxist practices, like Lenin's New Economic Policy (i.e. which brought private profits to the agriculture industry, instead of outright nationalization), were justified on grounds of historical necessity: it was argued that such policies were needed to implement "state capitalism" (fascism), the last stage before the evolution of socialism could be completed. On economic grounds (and on moral grounds pertaining to the proletariat's historical struggle), it was supposed to bring about prosperity and wealth beyond any of the capitalist's countries' wildest imaginations. The opponents of Marxism were thus faced with the nearly impossible task of combating a carefully crafted doctrine, one that was defended on moral, social, political, economic, and historical grounds. The fact that there were many Marxist intellectuals doing this only made the task of standing against the seemingly universal support for Marxism that much more difficult—their numbers do not absolve them of moral culpability or the degree of blame that they individually deserve, which is what I take Kelley to be implying.

-The dictators, soldiers, and force-wielders in general, merely cashed-in on their position's moral superiority, as established by the intellectuals. As a consequence, the intellectuals rationalized the delusions of grandeur held by corrupt men, bringing them into power over hapless citizens.

-The intellectuals manipulated people's understanding of altruism, history, economics, and political systems. In a response to supposed fears of potential espionage, Stalin began the "Great Purge," rounding up alleged saboteurs, "corrupt" members of the Communist Party, and social groups which were accused of acting against the Party, all with the intellectuals' full support and sanction. They preached historical determinism and involuntary altruism, topics that ordinary people couldn't be expected to know or defend against. Together with their economic criticisms of capitalism and advocacy of communism and socialism, the citizens were not intellectually prepared to combat these ideas—anyone that was surely would have died in the Purge and similar political persecutions, if that person were foolish or careless enough to let that kind of intelligence become public knowledge. If the citizens didn't accept the intellectuals' arguments due to confusion, evasion, or faith, then they most likely accepted it due to fear, fear of being killed for not conforming.

Given that, I find Kelley's distinction between the intellectuals who persuade versus the dictator who uses force to be complete dropping of the context:
More important, however, there is a difference in the nature of their responsibility. Stalin was a murderer; he intended to kill, and he carried out his intention. His victims had no choice in the matter; he did not have to persuade them to volunteer for immolation. The academic, by contrast, was an exponent of ideas. Even though his ideas were incompatible with man’s nature as a rational being, the office he occupied in the causal chain was consistent with that fact: he was engaged in persuasion, in the effort to provide reasons for his political views. Even if he was intellectually dishonest, and his views were caused by evasion, his advocacy of Marxism could have an effect only by eliciting the willing assent of his listeners. If we believe in free will, we must assume that they freely endorsed and adopted his position, that his arguments were not causes affecting them willy-nilly. I am not denying that such advocacy is a form of action, as Peikoff seems to think. I am simply noting the difference between two kinds of action: murder and persuasion. Objectivists, of all people, should be alive to that distinction. (p. 49)
Note the rationalism at work here. Force-users such as Stalin are presumably more culpable than intellectuals because force negates the mind and can kill us. The intellectuals, by contrast, espoused ideas and engaged in persuasion, providing reasons for his beliefs; unlike Stalin, they didn't use force and allowed people to decide for themselves, in effect.

Even if the citizens had a choice, it's preposterous to conclude that they could uncover the evasions and distortions committed by their intellectuals. But it's not more absurd than Kelley's belief that, because of free will, we must assume that they "freely endorsed and adopted [the intellectual's] position." (p. 49) This was a totalitarian state: whatever the nature of their "agreement" with the intellectuals, there was always the threat of physical force, even in private conversations with friends and family. Further, it's important to stress that Marxist intellectuals are certainly not advocates of "persuasion," Kelley's points to the contrary: all Marxists advocate the initiation of force on a massive scale, engulfing the entire globe. That's essential to the moral and political philosophy of Marxism: it's Marxism 101. Consequently, the intellectuals posed as advocates of civilization, using the methods of persuasion and open debate while actually advocating mass murder, and sanctioning the political oppression of dissenters.

Kelley criticizes Peikoff's claim in F&V that a young follower of an "inherently dishonest idea" (Kelley fallaciously expands this to "bad ideas" in general) would seek to make amends for his honest errors as a follower. Kelley appears indignant, calling Peikoff an "intrinsicist" for suggesting that the follower should feel guilt and seek to atone for his past transgressions, even if undertaken honestly. (pp. 49-50) But Kelley is mistaken: Peikoff isn't resorting to religion or intrinsicism in making this point, but rather causality and social objectivity. When a person does make a mistake with regard to "inherently dishonest ideas," it's an expression of causality for others to pay attention and determine if the person is seeking to correct his errors. If they've known of his previous support of communism or ideas of that sort, they can't simply take on faith that he's changed for the better, and they shouldn't tolerate a stance akin to "I've got nothing to prove to anyone." They have a self-interested reason to know if the person was honestly mistaken, and if he truly is trying to reform (even if, in the full context, he's done nothing morally wrong). A perfectly moral man can still have qualities that will turn people away from him, including honest errors of the scope being discussed. In accordance with that, it isn't religion but objectivity and justice that demands that he make his change of view known to those who associate with him, as it is pertinent for them to consider changing their views regarding him just as it was in his own case.

Lastly, Kelley refers to Peikoff's stance that academic Marxists can not be honestly mistaken. In Understanding Objectivism, Peikoff mentions the fact that Marxism rejects Aristotelian logic, and also points to the academic Marxist's necessary evasion of historical knowledge about socialism, fascism and communism. Scholars are supposed to know the historical facts about their field of study, and the history of Marxism is filled with failed states and the deaths of millions of lives, whether the lives of the capitalist bourgeoisie or the proletariat. I agree with Peikoff—there is simply too much literature in history, in economics, and political theory for any knowledgeable Marxist to be actually honest—too many facts to ignore, too many dictators, too many actual tactics of the intellectuals of the past, and far, far too much blood.

I won't discuss most of Kelley's criticisms of Peikoff in the sections "The Scope of Honest Error" and "Inherently Dishonest Ideas" because I've more-or-less answered them when I elaborated on Peikoff's notion of "inherently dishonest ideas." Kelley notes that he isn't clear on what Peikoff means when he discusses philosophical errors and evasions, and their relation to "inherently dishonest ideas." Indeed, I think the same belief applies to a lot of supporters of Kelley's views. But that doesn't stop him from grossly ignoring or misstating Peikoff's views on such ideas, expanding his view of evasion far beyond what he genuinely holds.


"Errors of honest vs. breaches of morality" is a technical topic in the Objectivist ethics, but no less important to understanding the morality's role regarding a person's character and moral judgment. The issues of philosophy's role in history, the moral evaluation of ideas, and the Objectivist idea of free will are no less difficult to understand and appreciate. A thorough study of Objectivism, however, can reveal valuable knowledge pertaining to these ideas and their interrelationships, their larger context, and their applications. I think such knowledge leads to the conclusion that Peikoff has accurately represented Objectivism on all of these issues, while Kelley continually shows himself to stray—perhaps in accordance with his earlier thesis that Objectivism has little to say on judging a person morally in terms of his motives, such data being relevant to the verdict of an honest error or willful evil. More than anything, I hope this essay has given readers enough reason to consider listening to Peikoff's lectures again (or for the first time, as will be my own case) to consider his more detailed views on subjects like "inherently dishonest ideas," and why a non-expert can blame an expert for bad or destructive advice or instruction. The main problem with Kelley's chapter here is his ignorance of Peikoff's actual views on the topics being debated, as it is these criticisms that make up the bulk of it.

Reference Works

Ayn Rand Lexicon entry: Epistemology
Ayn Rand Lexicon entry: Errors of Knowledge vs. Breaches of Morality

Branden, Nathaniel. The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism. Gilbert: Cobden Press, 2009.

Kelley, David, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in Objectivism. 2000 (1990)

Peikoff, Leonard. Fact & Value. Accessed May 2nd, 2010.
Peikoff, Leonard. Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Meridian, 1993 (1991).
Peikoff, Leonard. "Philosophy and Psychology in History," Objectivist Forum 6 (Oct. 1985).
Peikoff, Leonard. Understanding Objectivism. 1983.
Peikoff, Leonard. The Art of Thinking. 1992.

Rand, Ayn. The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. New York: Signet, 1964.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On "Being One's Self": a Review of James Valliant's "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics"

"The discovery of actual evil in a specific person is a painful experience in a moral person." (The Voice of Reason, "The Psychology of Psychologizing," p. 25)
(Books are abbreviated as follows: The Passion of Ayn Rand--PAR; Judgment Day--JD; My Years with Ayn Rand—MYWAR; The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics--PARC.)

I've been a student of Objectivism for nearly 4 years now, and I've only recently dove into the issues surrounding Rand's personal life and her affair with Nathaniel Branden. Almost since I learned that there was such a philosophy, I stumbled upon personal attack after personal attack on the internet in regards to Ayn Rand's character, the events of her life, and her faked adherence to her own philosophy in light of her life-choices. Without an intimate knowledge of her history, such as provided by a biography, I couldn't make any judgments regarding them, effectively giving Rand the moral benefit of the doubt. I thought that I should work to understand the philosophy first: the issues under dispute were charges of immorality, and I had little understanding of Objectivism's view on morality. Nonetheless, the issues kept rearing up their heads over these years: Rand the repressor? Rand the intolerant authoritarian? Rand the moralizer? Rand the self-centered narcissist, oblivious to the personal context and needs of others, including her friends? Frank O' Connor, the alcoholic whose marriage with Rand was largely a fraud? (Among many other issues, to be discussed in the foregoing.) Was any of it true?

I finally decided to find out, and I found the prime sources for the majority of these criticisms to be none other than Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, two of Rand's former associates, friends, and key members of the early Objectivist movement. Upon discovering this a few years ago, earlier this year I purchased Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand and James Valliant's The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. (I was planning on buying Nathaniel Branden's memoir Judgment Day, and his revised My Years with Ayn Rand, but the internet is choke-full of quotes from those works, along with interviews of N. Branden which correspond to my understanding of his account of Rand and Objectivism.)

Finishing the books left me with feelings of anger and sadness I've rarely felt. My anger was reserved for the Brandens; my sadness was for Ayn Rand.

The Brandens would meet Rand and Frank O' Connor in 1950, both couples becoming mutually impressed with each other, personally and intellectually. As they learned about the mind and the philosophy of this woman that they admired, they simultaneously began to suppress their true selves, in order to fit something that Rand would better accept and support. They became the greatest of friends, helping Rand in the process of finishing Atlas Shrugged, and becoming part of the reason why Rand pursued non-fiction writing outside of her novels, forming the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) as a result. It would even lead to a romantic affair between Nathaniel Branden and Rand that was agreed upon by everyone involved, Frank and Barbara included. But they weren't being true to themselves, or to Rand and Frank and to other students of Objectivism; they tried to live a life of lies, to fake and wipe out reality—instead, reality wiped out the wipers, destroying the romantic, personal, intellectual, and financial relationships that they worked hard, if dishonestly, to build. What followed was "the Break" of 1968, with Rand's "To Whom It May Concern," outlining her reasons for banishing N. and B. Branden from all aspects of her life, the end of their status as eminent Objectivists, and the end of the NBI. Both of the Brandens responded with their "In Answer to Ayn Rand, Part 1 and 2," basically accusing Rand of lying or distorting the truth in all of her accusations regarding them. This line of argument would continue in both of their biographies/memoirs, published years after Rand's death, presenting her as a highly intelligent and a great, if enormously flawed, woman.

As Valliant shows in PARC, both of the Brandens deceived Rand and other Objectivists since the beginning of their nearly 20 year relationship with her, all the while feigning an advocacy for Objectivism. (I'll note that both of the Brandens partially admit to their explicit dishonesty in their biographies.) By considering the claims of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in their memoirs/books, and comparing them with other evidence, Valliant seeks to expose the Brandens for the liars that they really were, and still are. Part 1 of PARC presents practically all of the claims made by the Brandens about Rand--those regarding her psychology, her adherence to her own philosophy, and her relationship to the Brandens themselves, and others—and shows them to be either contradictory, fabricated, or insufficiently proven. Part 2 presents a synopsis of Rand's affair with Nathaniel Branden, criticizing both of the Branden biographies and offering Rand's private journal entries which chronicle her romantic relationship with Nathaniel Branden, and its slow disintegration due to psychological sessions he requested her to administer. This part culminates with Rand the detective summarizing her romantic relationship with Nathaniel, unraveling his psychology, and realizing that he's holding some dark, important secret that is the real cause of his (alleged) celibacy-inducing "sex problem" and of his distancing from Rand and the philosophy. (The secret was his 4-year affair with Patrecia Gullison (Scott, and then Branden), meaning that he had no "sex problem" in reality, and that the psychology sessions were designed to distract Rand from learning about all of this.)

In Barbara's PAR, and Nathaniel's JD and MYWAR, they present a definite psychological description of Rand, and like any good rationalist, they use this portrait to deduce all sorts of actions she must have taken, motivations she must have possessed, and the kind of character she must have created within herself. (A rationalist in Objectivist terminology is a person who relies and focuses on abstract reasoning and concepts and stresses deduction, considering conceptual interrelationships, but failing to relate them to concrete reality. The result is a person's whose thinking is "floating," not integrated with facts, and non-objective.) They present her as an alienated person, from the needs and contexts of other people, from the practical aspects of the world, and from physical reality itself. A repressed person who was pained by the negative events in her life, she thus becomes in need of "control," an authoritarian who creates a culture of conformity with her views. This need to dominate explains why she chooses Frank O' Connor, a passive man, and why she demanded complete agreement, especially philosophical agreement, with those whom she befriended. Her snap moral condemnations stifled independent thought and the expression of her students' true selves. She practically made repression a requirement of those around her, and such repression is implicit in her philosophy's view of reason and emotion. And her narcissism was reflected in her inability to accept any "breaks" with Nathaniel Branden romantically for any reason, including their age difference, that this would have to lead to a complete break, personally and professionally.

From this portrait, the Brandens give examples, alleged quotes, and sources detailing Rand's actions and events of her life which fit to this psychological profile. Valliant examines an extensive amount of their claims and evidence, several dozen by my count, and either shows evidence to demonstrate the falsehood of their claim or the lack of evidence needed to reach a decision either way.

To get an idea of what I mean, let's consider some of the things Valliant proves in PARC:

(1) The origin of Rand's American name. Both Nathaniel and Barbara Branden claim that Rand (originally Alice/Alyssa Rosenbaum) changed her name to that of her Remington-Rand typewriter which she brought with her from Russia, with Rand's cousin Fern Brown as Barbara's source. Barbara even claims that Rand never told her family her new name, suggesting a kind of callousness and betrayal of a family who had cared for her enough to help her get out of Russia—fitting perfectly with their portrayal of Rand as manipulative. But these are all lies. As Valliant demonstrates, the Rand Kardex company didn't merge with the Remington company (i.e. the one which manufactured typewriters of the two) until 1927, a year after Rand arrived in America with her typewriter; in fact, Remington-Rand typewriters weren't even made in the 1920's, according to the Remington-Rand company itself. In a letter to a fan, Rand states that her first name is an American version of a Finnish name, and in a New York Evening Post interview she states that her last name is an abbreviation of her Russian surname. (Evidence of this is provided at the ARI site.) In any event, there's no proof that she took her name from a typewriter that didn't even exist at the time she had actually invented the name "Ayn Rand," (sometime around 1925), besides the claims of the Brandens. Furthermore, there are letters from Rand's family in 1926 that explicitly call her "Rand," which were sent before she communicated with them in America, meaning she told them her new name before leaving, contrary to Barbara's claims. A small point, but that the Brandens felt the need to lie about this, and to even suggest that Rand was unfair to her family and left them in the dark about her life in America, is unforgivable and revolting. (PARC, p. 12-14; "How do you pronounce "Ayn?" and "What is the origin of "Rand?"; the "Objectivism Reference Center" speculates that Rand herself may have spread the story of the typewriter, if N. Branden's story is correct. His dishonesty generally, and her accounts of her name being an abbreviation of her Russian name to both the Evening Post and The Saturday Evening Post, however, suggest another instance of Branden simply lying.)

(2) Rand's ignorance of psychology. During his association with Rand, Nathaniel Branden praised Rand for her fictional characters and philosophy, as both provided valuable information about, and the philosophical underpinning towards, a new science of psychology, particularly in the areas of self-esteem, and the relationship between reason and emotion. (See, for instance, Who is Ayn Rand?) In the years after his break, Branden repeatedly claimed that Rand, in fact, had little to no insights into psychology, and that this was a problem as far as practicing Objectivism is concerned. (One of Branden's criticisms of Objectivism, reflective of this ignorance of psychology, is that the philosophy encourages repression and thus is detrimental to psychological health.) This is a gross misrepresentation. According to Branden himself, Rand discussed psychology with him countless times, and they had identified, in some terms, what I view as the Objectivist equivalent of a "philosophy of psychology," discussing the role of the conscious and subconscious mind, the importance of reason, volition, and emotions regarding psychological health, and the need of "psychological visibility" (mutual understanding of one another's self) between romantic partners. (Though this did not apply exclusively to romance, as friends and business partners, to name a couple of examples, would need such visibility as well.) And in her fiction and non-fiction, we're given evidence of Rand's impressive understanding of mental functioning, identifying the nature of rationalization, of evasion, of different kinds of motivations for action, of one's view on sex being an expression of one's highest values, and of acting on one's whims (on emotions that one doesn't understand, and doesn't care to understand), to name a few. (See the Ayn Rand Lexicon entry on "Psychology" in the Conceptual Index.)

But none of this prepares the reader of PARC for the revelation that Branden uses Rand as a psychotherapist for years right up until the end of their relationship (Part 2 of PARC), something that Branden (for decades, on up to the present) never discusses when he is dismissing Rand's understanding of psychology. In fact, her private journal entries reveal her to be very good at psychological analysis, tying together statements and actions of Branden's over the years in order to discover the cause and solution for his admitted "sex problem" and repression (a task that he asked her to undertake under ulterior motives)—instead of a solution finding in Branden bad epistemological standards, a "Kantian"-duty approach to his beliefs in Objectivism which opposed the interests of his "true self," an indifference to the needs and context of the women in his life, and finally, covert dishonesty and breaches of morality.

(3) Rand as authoritarian/Mullah Rand. Another long-standing accusation of the Brandens is that Rand demanded total agreement from those around her. Nathaniel Branden even goes so far as to say that the implicit beliefs of the NBI (which were conveyed to the students) were that a "good Objectivist" is one who admires and condemns exactly what Rand admires and condemns, and that she was the arbiter of what is moral, rational, and appropriate to man's life in reality. By claiming that these beliefs were "implicit," Branden has to mean that no one ever stated this, including Rand. Mary Ann and Charles Sures, Barbara Branden, and Leonard Peikoff (among others) have offered discussions with Rand that show her ability to analyze issues, clarifying the aspects involved. When Rand thought that her friend was mistaken about something, she would draw out the person's thinking, reaching definite conclusions. But no one ever quotes Rand as saying that she demanded that they agree with her reasoning, that her's was the only rational argument. In fact, Peikoff says quite the opposite: "She never suggested that I accept what she said on her say-so; on the contrary, she was working diligently to get me to see the truth with my own eyes and mind..." (The Voice of Reason, p. 335) "Unquestioning agreement is precisely what Ayn Rand did not want," Mary Ann Sures informs us regarding Rand. (Facets of Ayn Rand) As the Brandens themselves admit, they repressed their true values and emotions in order to fit what they, not Rand, thought Objectivism requires, and later blame Rand for it. It's interesting that other close friends of Rand's were not complaining of repressing their true selves to be "good Objectivists" but were learning how the philosophy applies to their contexts.

Peikoff's thirty years with Ayn Rand is an instructive example against the claims of the Brandens. Peikoff's early years with Rand were spent unraveling all of his confusions and bad mental methods, particularly rationalistic thinking. (Peikoff states in one of his podcasts that he had written various essays on the phenomenon of rationalism and ways to combat it.) She didn't want Peikoff's blind obedience, or the agreement of a second-hander, she wanted him to learn the right method of thinking. He didn't distort or repress what he knew: if he had a disagreement or counter-point or confusion, he let Rand know up front, and thus was a paragon of intellectual honesty. When Nathaniel and Barbara Branden had confusions or criticisms of Objectivism, they never told Rand about them, but repressed their ideas and feigned agreement; for years, this meant that every meeting with Rand was filled with role-playing and deception. Rand's psychological counseling notes prove that once she had discovered Branden's self-admitted repression in his sex life, she constantly tried to help him find ways to derepress, to identify and experience his emotions and values, all the while reassuring him that he hasn't betrayed his values. (So much for the Branden charge that Rand and Objectivism encourages repression, as N. Branden alleged (and still does). Of course, unbeknownst to her for years, betraying his values was exactly what he did, at least regarding his professed intellectual values in the presence of Rand and as intellectual heir of Objectivism.)

Other issues raised were Frank O'Connor's (non-existent) alcoholism, Rand's intolerance towards those who disagreed with her, her moralism, her view on intelligence and moral virtue, and her alleged literal attempt to destroy N. Branden after the break. In all these cases and more, we witness the lies, the omissions, and the selective memories of the two individuals closest to Rand besides her husband, the ones who had the most to lose when their personal and professional relationships came to an end.

The most important of all issues confronted was the issue of the affair between Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand. The Brandens lie about nearly everything concerning the affair. Frank secretly resenting Rand and N. Branden for initiating it; Nathaniel's claim that it was Rand who wanted the affair and that she kept reinvigorating it; that Rand would instantly break with Nathaniel in all areas if he revealed the "age" issue (the 25-year age gap between them, which Rand knew very well of, offering Nathaniel many “outs” in their affair on that basis alone); Nathaniel's claim that Rand was "obsessed" about him after the break; that their relationship before the break hadn't been nothing but "psycho-therapy"; that Rand would never accept a "Miss X" (another woman in addition to herself and Barbara). Rand's journal entries reveal all of these to be self-serving lies. These entries show a concerned and generous Rand, a Rand understanding of another's context, exactly the kind of person that would be impossible in the Brandens' portrait of her.

In PARC, we learn that near the end of her relationship with Nathaniel, she would learn of the deceptions regarding their romance, their psychology sessions, and even the values of the man himself (and she even got an inkling of the deeper truth concerning Nathaniel's cheating on her with Patrecia). She realized that Nathaniel Branden became "the deadly enemy I had been fighting all of my life: not those who do not see the good, but those who see it and don't want it (because they lack the courage for it, and the self-confidence)." (Valliant, PARC, p. 374, July 12, 1968 entry). To her, Branden was a person who admired her ideas, but who tries his best to pretend that she isn't real, that she isn't a real person that should be dealt with honestly or that she should remain “invisible” (an ignorance of another's self); in this vein, she calls him the real enemy of Atlas Shrugged, "the man who wanted Rearden Metal without Rearden, in the deepest, metaphysical meaning of that concept, much deeper than I could ever have imagined possible." (ibid.) She repeatedly discusses the psychological torture Branden was putting her (and Barbara) through in those years. In light of what their relationship evolved into, and of how Nathaniel Branden portrays things to this day, one can certainly understand Rand's assessment that in regard to him she feels "the strongest contempt I have ever felt—and I regard him as the worst traitor and the most immoral person I have ever met." (PARC, p. 349, July 4th, 1968)

Besides demonstrating the truth about Rand's character and the Affair, PARC also discusses some nuances of Objectivism in its applications to one's life. Learning about terms like "meta-selfishness," "stylized universe," and of two technical meanings of "being oneself" was totally unexpected, and a real treat for me. A "stylized universe" results from the actions of a "stylized person," which Rand describes as a "person who lives in reality according to his highest values, who takes nothing less, accepts no substitutes, and struggles to translate his values into reality, no matter what the difficulties.” Since Objectivism advocates pursuing ones values and furthering one's life as a moral endeavor and as morally right, an obvious extension of that fundamental view would be a principle counseling one to work to live in reality according to one's values. "Meta-selfishness" is an extension of the Objectivist idea of a “hierarchy of values”—of an interrelation of higher, more important values and of lesser values: when you're choosing a particular value, like a car or job or a girlfriend, the actual propriety or prudence of that choice depends on the end-goal of acquiring that value—on what's really in it for you, as Valliant clarifies. Lastly, "being oneself" has two different meanings, depending on the perspective being personal or social. In the social realm, being "oneself" means being "psychologically visible" to someone else, someone who is understood and appreciated for one's character and values; in other words, we allow a person to “be himself” when we understand a person for who and what that person is, and thus he doesn't have to engage in conscious actions to give us evidence of who he really is. In the personal realm, being "oneself" means a person insofar as he relies on the automatized processes of his mind, on his present knowledge subconsciously held, including his sense of life perspective.

Knowing what I know now from PARC, I wouldn't identify their dishonesty as the fundamental cause of their destruction of their relationship with Rand, though it was a significant factor. By their own admission, they were never really Objectivists: within months of meeting Rand, they were suppressing their "true selves," they weren't relying on their subconscious processes, and thus weren't being "themselves" around Rand or Frank, or even among the students of Objectivism they would later teach. They weren't identifying or pursuing their "meta-selfishness," merely parroting the values and views of Rand in order to keep their appearances as good Objectivists. As a result, they didn't have a "stylized universe," they didn't work for their true values, but instead lived with a kind of mind-body split—their professed "Objectivist" values and views experienced in the public, outside world, and their repressed "true selves" and true values which they refused to experience and kept in their own consciousness. Despite Nathaniel being once Rand's intellectual heir, and Barbara having a technical knowledge of the philosophy as well one would presume (18 years spent with Rand, one must remember), the point must be made that they never understood Objectivism in the most important sense—in how it applies to one's own life. Later, they would blame their repression and betrayal of their real values on Rand and on the philosophy, including their dishonesty (which they never reveal to its full extent)--when the real cause always was their erroneous approach to the whole philosophy. And now I can fully understand why that approach led to the events in their lives that it did, thanks to PARC and Rand's journal entries.

All in all, I wish such a book had not been necessary. I wish Barbara Branden hadn't felt the need to "break the presumed link between the validity of Objectivism and the perfection of Ayn Rand," as she says in an essay defending her book from 2005. I wish the Brandens' hadn't felt the need to present Rand's imperfections, if that meant resorting to the kind of dishonesty we're now in the position to appreciate. The facts, however, are the facts. To know the validity of Objectivism, one must consult the works, and judge it for oneself. But to understand that Rand had achieved moral perfection as Objectivism understands it in her own life and person, PARC is certainly without substitute. I whole-heartedly recommend it.