Facts, Values and Moral Sanctions: An Open Letter To Objectivists

by Robert J. Bidinotto (Bidinotto@compuserve.com)

Copyright (C) 1989, Robert J. Bidinotto, All Rights Reserved

To the reader, The Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand extolls reason, justice, moral integrity and personal happiness. One would expect Objectivists to embody such traits more consistently than most people.

Yet the recent public expulsion from the organized Objectivist movement of the brilliant, prolific Objectivist philosopher, David Kelley, represents only the latest of many scandals and schisms which have rocked the movement. It follows other purges of veteran Objectivist scholars, and disturbing disclosures concerning Ayn Rand's personal life. These events have brought public ridicule upon the philosophy and divided Objectivists into bitter, warring factions.

In past essays -- "Organized Individualism," "The Oasis," and "Individualism As If Individuals Mattered" -- I have discussed some of the causes of these disquieting events. However, the Kelley affair suggests the need for a more definitive statement.

Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's heir, has published an article on the reasons for his public repudiation of Kelley. Kelley's initial evil, according to Peikoff, was his willingness to speak before a libertarian group (one which, ironically, Peikoff himself had appeared before on June 10, 1982). Kelley compounded this "immoral" act, says Peikoff, by presenting a series of rationales reeking of epistemological and ethical subjectivism. By advocating "tolerance" in the realm of cognition, but "moral judgment" in the realm of evaluation, Kelley (Peikoff writes) severs cognition from evaluation -- "fact" from "value." This, he concludes, is a betrayal of Objectivism, which permits no such dichotomies.

Peikoff's argument is complex and abstract. Given his position, past writings and abundant use of Objectivist terminology, some confused readers may give his conclusions about Kelley -- and his interpretations of Objectivism -- the benefit of their doubts.

That would be a disaster. In the following "Open Letter to Objectivists," I argue that Peikoff's interpretation of Objectivism represents a subtle, yet profound perversion of the basic thrust of Ayn Rand's epistemology -- and an unconscionable injustice against Kelley. I also argue that this same perversion of Objectivism epistemology underlies most of the other schisms and scandals that have haunted the movement.

Since Peikoff promises future purges of infidels (see note 1), and a new book interpreting Ayn Rand's philosophy to conform to his new notions (see note 2), it is time to identify what his notions actually entail. At issue is no less than the meaning and future of Ayn Rand's legacy.

Here, I count only on your independence and integrity to counter-balance Peikoff's "persuasion" by means of threatened purges.

-- Robert James Bidinotto, August 1, 1989 Note 1: This has in fact continued, most notably with the subsequent ostracism of prominent Objectivist scholars George Walsh, George Reisman, Edith Packer, Jerry Kirkpatrick and Linda Reardan.

Note 2: His 1991 book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, did indeed put a rationalistic "spin" on Objectivism. See David Kelley's review, "Peikoff's Summa," in The IOS Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, Spring 1992. The author has granted blanket permission to reproduce this open letter or make it available on any BBS.

Leonard Peikoff's and Peter Schwartz's recent replies to David Kelley's privately-circulated paper, "A Question of Sanction," represent the most clear-cut expression to date of their continuing perversion of Objectivism, epistemologically and ethically. Unintentionally, Peikoff's "Fact and Value" and Schwartz's "On Moral Sanctions" (The Intellectual Activist, May 18, 1989) also expose (for the first time so explicitly) the premises, motives and methods which have warped and sundered the Objectivist movement from its beginning, and have reduced it to an object of public ridicule.

Moral Evaluation: ProportionalityIn David Kelley's "A Question of Sanction" -- his critique of an earlier Peter Schwartz essay, "On Sanctioning the Sanctioners" (The Intellectual Activist, Feb. 27, 1989) -- Kelley explained the principles of moral evaluation as follows: When we formulate moral principles, we may abstract from...differences of degree [of good or evil]; we omit measurements... But when we apply the principles in forming moral judgments about particulars, we must reintroduce the relevant measurements. Just as one diminishes the good by praising mediocrity, one trivializes evil by damning the venial. If libertarians are no better than Soviet dictators, then Soviet dictators are no worse than libertarians. Those who indulge in moral hysteria -- condemning all moral error with the same fury, without regard to differences of degree -- destroy their own credibility when it comes to the depths of evil: the Stalins, the Hitlers, the Ayatollah.In their rebuttals, Peikoff and Schwartz nowhere address Kelley's point about "a sense of proportion." That is because the process of "moral evaluation," as they define and defend it, has nothing to do with the objective weighing of facts.

Peikoff reiterates the epistemological roots of "objective values" to show that any identification of any fact has moral implications. Values, he argues, "are a type of facts" and "every fact bears on the choice to live... [E]very fact of reality which we discover has, directly or indirectly, an implication for man's self-preservation and thus for his proper course of action." Thus there can be "no dichotomy...between the true and the good." [p. 1.] Justice, he continues, "is an aspect of the principle that cognition demands evaluation...applied to human choices and their products."

Moral evaluation, he says, "means a single fundamental issue: in the human realm, must distinguish the rational from the irrational, the thinkers from the evaders. Such judgment tells one whether a man, in principle, is committed to reality -- or to escaping from and fighting it. In the one case, he is an ally and potential benefactor of the living; in the other, an enemy and potential destroyer... Thus the mandate of justice: identify the good (the rational) and the evil (the irrational) in men and their works -- then, first, deal with, support and/or reward the good; and second, boycott, condemn and/or punish the evil. (One aspect of this second policy is the principle of not granting to evil one's moral sanction.)" [p. 2, parag. 2] But while it is true that, conceptually, we can distinguish and isolate rational elements of an idea, argument, action or character from its irrational elements, can human beings always be unambiguously designated as one or the other? Peikoff neatly divides all individuals into only two homogeneous groups: the rational and irrational, the thinkers and evaders. The former group includes only those who think consistently, perfectly and continually; the latter group includes all those who don't...to whatever degree.

This affirms Kelley's point that such "moral judgments" lack "a sense of proportion." A man may be extremely moral and rational, but once in a while do or say something stupidly petty (e.g., unfairly insult his wife).

However, by a simple-minded either- or, rational-or-irrational criterion applied to the entirety of one's character, that single blemish alone would constitute sufficient grounds to condemn him. His action would "prove" that the man is not "in principle" committed to reason -- hence, he is "in principle" irrational. And more: he is irrational just as Stalin was irrational: both crossed the only boundary line that matters, the "essential" boundary line of morality. Since the only thing that matters is the fact of a moral lapse, nothing further need be considered.

By this approach, there is no such thing as an aberration: the part is equivalent to the whole. A "moral character" is not determined by behavior that is characteristic: it is decided by the incidental -- because typical and incidental behavior are never distinguished. This, of course, spares the fanatic much time and mental effort. He need not weigh carefully a person's total moral character, balancing a lifetime of virtue against a momentary lapse. Any talk of "degrees of evil" are, to him, merely attempts to "evade moral absolutes," to "put loopholes in the laws of logic."

This means, for instance, that one should never dismiss a truly petty aberration even to salvage a valuable, life-long friendship. For "...there cannot be any 'cost-benefit analysis' of justice versus injustice..." says Schwartz [p.

7]. "Moral judgment, and not some pragmatic calculation of losses and gains, is what must precede any decision about whom to associate with." How can a mere friendship matter when principle is at stake? How can values matter when virtue is at stake?

Thus, moral evaluation is not individuated, concrete and particular: it is generic, abstract and platonic.

Particular values are irrelevant: virtue -- in the form of "pronouncing judgment" (meaning: condemnation) -- is its own reward. Such platonism, for the fanatic, provides a method of lump categorization -- particularly useful as a way of "writing off" vast portions of the human race. The psychological "pay value" of this approach lies in its usefulness in propping up the fanatic's pseudo-self-esteem, by confirming and demonstrating his own unique concern for "morality."

This is a perversion of objective moral evaluation. Either-or moral thinking is certainly obligatory when defining the right and wrong aspects of ethical situations and issues. One must evaluate each individual element of these in uncompromising, black-or-white terms. This also applies to human actions: we must always distinguish the good from the evil.

But it is a logical non-sequitur to infer that the part equals the whole -- that an isolated moral error in an otherwise good life means a totally corrupt character. Degrees of good and evil do exist, and they do matter. Our response to an individual guilty of some petty lapse should be to encourage his return to integrity -- not to gleefully damn him to eternity. (I emphasize "petty lapse": obviously, chronic or serious irrationality deserves our wholehearted condemnation.) By dismissing proportionality from moral judgment, Peikoff and Schwartz reduce Objectivist ethics to a level of sophistication more primitive than that of the Catholic Church: even the Pope, after all, recognizes the existence of "venial sins." To the self-styled keepers of the Objectivist flame, however, all sins are equally "mortal," and all sinners equally and eternally damned.

There is interesting hypocrisy here, too. One recalls that, confronted with unpleasant revelation about Ayn Rand's personal life in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand, Schwartz hastened to argue: "Ultimately, what real difference is there if any of the factual allegations made by Barbara Branden...happen to have actually taken place? Any Rand's glorious achievement is her philosophy and her literature. They stand as her testaments, as the only testaments her life requires... Her books are what she should be judged by." [Open letter by Schwartz, Aug. 20, 1986.] It seems that in the exceptional case of Ayn Rand, certain awkward personal facts don't count, and some moral "cost-benefit analyses" are okay.

Moral Evaluation: ContextBesides ignoring proportion, lump categorizing into "moral or immoral" classes also ignores context. It spares one the need to make a conscientious effort to determine all the relevant facts underlying a person's behavior before condemning him.

One need not ask such questions as: Was the act gratuitously malicious -- or was it committed under stress, fatigue, confusion or distraction? How much did the individual really know? How much could he reasonably be expected to know, under the circumstances? Instead, with a blas# indifference to all such contextual considerations, one merely lumps people into one of two broad classes -- "thinkers" and "evaders" -- and treats all residents of the "irrational" class as equally evil.

This gives one all the benefits of "moral certainty" without having to expend any of the tedious time, effort and -- yes -- thought that moral evaluation demands.

In fact, this is not "moral evaluation" at all. Valid moral evaluations require consideration of contextual matters -- as in any court of law. But it requires no "judgment" to scream mindless epithets equating all "evildoers," regardless of the nature, scale and circumstances of their actions.

Indeed, the indiscriminate equation of all individuals by ignoring personal context leads to injustice: granting people either more or less credit than they deserve. Presumably, Peikoff would be enraged if some modestly good person were to equate himself morally with Ayn Rand. Why does he have no hesitation, then, in comparing certain lousy academic philosophers with killers like Hitler and Stalin?

Wrong Ideas Imply IrrationalityThis is the heart of Peikoff's position, the argument upon which all else depends -- in fact, the one which has led to his personal Thirty-Years' War against the "immoral" human race, and to the demise of the Objectivist movement.

In method, his argument is purely rationalistic: it starts with a few asserted premises, offered as if they were self-evident truths, then proceeds deductively. In content, Peikoff disputes Kelley's point that...

"It is a gross non-sequitur to infer that because an idea is false, its adherents are evil for holding it." [Kelley, p. 3] Kelley contends -- quite in accordance with many statements from Ayn Rand -- that one cannot assume that a "wrong" idea or conclusion stemmed from irrationality. A person may be innocently mistaken, simply accepting wrong ideas through "honest error." Such "errors of knowledge" aren't morally blameworthy; only "errors of morality" (irrationality, in the form of evasions and the refusal to think) should be condemned.

Peikoff nominally accepts this -- but proceeds to shrink the realm of possible "honest errors" to miniscule dimensions. This lets him conclude that one can, indeed, infer from the results of someone's thinking whether that person was "rational" or "irrational"; that virtually all mistakes made by adults are really, at root, irrationality; and thus, that those committing such errors are immoral, and deserving of his all-too-eager condemnation.

Peikoff argues that one way to morally judge a man's action is "according to its effects: its effect, positive or negative, on man's life... But human action...is a product of a man's ideas and value-judgments, true or false, which themselves derive from a certain type of mental cause; ultimately, from thought or evasion."

From this either-or, "thought-or-evasion" premise, he strings a long deductive chain. "Human action is an expression of a volitional consciousness. This is why human action...is morally evaluated." This means we can draw inferences about the mind of the actor, he contends. "The skyscraper's creator, one infers in pattern, functioned on the basis of proper value-judgments and true ideas, including a complete specialized knowledge; so he must have expended mental effort, focus, work; so one praises him morally and admires him. But the murderer...acted on ideas and value- judgments that defy reality; so he must have evaded and practiced whim-worship; so one condemns him morally and despises him..."

Besides describing what one may allegedly infer from actions, Peikoff spells out further "inferences" in the realm of ideas [p. 2, col. 2]. "In judging an idea morally, one must...determine, through the use of evidence, whether the idea is true or false, in correspondence with reality or in contradiction to it. Then, in exact parallel to the case of action, there are two crucial aspects to be identified: the mental process which led to the idea, and the existential results..."

How -- apart from arbitrary psychologizing -- can one perceive "the mental process which led to the idea?" For Peikoff, "...The general principle here is: truth implies as its cause a virtuous mental process; falsehood, beyond a certain point, implies a process of vice..." (Significantly, he is never quite clear what that "certain point" is.) But what is the moral status of a person who doesn't realize the meaning and consequences of his "bad" ideas?

Peikoff refuses to concede such a person's complete moral innocence. "It is possible for a man to embrace an idea blindly, on faith from others or simply by his own whim, without the effort of understanding or integrating it. In such a case, the idea, no matter what its content, reflects negatively on the individual..."

He quickly acknowledges: "Now we must note that falsehood does not necessarily imply vice; honest errors of knowledge are possible" Yet that's all he says on behalf of "honest errors," because "...such errors are not nearly so common as some people wish to think, especially in the field of philosophy."

To illustrate, Peikoff cites the irrational ideological movements of our time. "The originators, leaders and intellectual spokesmen of all such movements are necessarily evaders on a major scale; they are not merely mistaken, but are crusading irrationalists. The mass base of such movements are not evaders of the same kind; but most of the followers are dishonest in their own passive way. They are unthinking, intellectually irresponsible ballast, unconcerned with truth or logic... People of this kind are not the helplessly ignorant, but the willfully self-deluded." [p. 2, col. 2] Peikoff does admit [p. 3, col. 1] to there being "the relatively small number who struggle conscientiously, but simply cannot grasp the issues and the monumental corruption involved." However, these victims of "a truly honest error of knowledge" are not only few in number, but "this third group consists almost exclusively of the very young...[who] get out [of such movements] as they reach maturity."

Since, therefore, the number of honestly mistaken people in the world is so negligible, he concludes: "We need not pursue the issue of honest errors any further."

Let's unpack this argument a step at a time.

"Thought vs. Evasion": A Logical Alternative?First, consider his opening premise. Ideas, says Peikoff, proceed "ultimately from thought or evasion." But is the lack of a given individual's specific thinking on particular, complex, abstract philosophical issues necessarily the same as "evasion"?

Take a common situation. A blue-collar plumber might not have thought about philosophical issues; and, as a result, he may have accepted any number of mistaken ideas or conclusions. But is this evasion? And is he therefore morally "guilty" and "irrational"?

Given the philosophical environment of the past 2,000 years, given our sorry educational system, given the immediate, narrow, life-serving demands of his own profession -- how is the plumber supposed to know: 1.that abstract philosophy (including metaphysics, epistemology and ethics) is the key to his personal happiness, 2.that the prevailing philosophical views, which he has picked up by cultural osmosis, are mistaken (let alone "immoral"), and 3.that Objectivism offers the correct alternative?

Then...is it reasonable for us to expect that he "should" know such things?

The typical plumber will probably never hear about Ayn Rand or her ideas. Even if he does, he may not be able to understand them, or have enough education or intellectual confidence to properly gauge their significance.

So he will naturally pick from among those ideas he most frequently hears. Is that "evasion"? Is that what Peikoff calls embracing an idea "blindly, on faith from others or simply by his own whim, without the effort of understanding or integrating it?" Is that what "reflects negatively on the individual"?

Fortunately for those of us who own homes, the typical plumber is professionally conscientious, common-sense-oriented and ambitious -- not a parasite or a predator. His focus is properly on his personal purpose and values; and thus he thinks only about these matters which seem to have some bearing on his own life. But no, he is not an intellectual -- by capacity, inclination or any awareness that he "should" be. In fact, most of his experience with "intellectuals" has been that they are worthless babblers. He concludes that he has no use for their world. Given his context of experience, is that an "irrational" conclusion?

Such innocently mistaken individuals are not a "small minority" of the human race. Contrary to Dr. Peikoff, I have just described over 90% of the human race. Only those sequestered in aloof isolation from general humanity, walled off in exclusive neighborhoods or ivory towers, could conclude otherwise.

Peikoff's starting premise is therefore wrong. "Thought or evasion" does not exhaust the logical possibilities.

The logical alternatives are: "thought or non-thought." But "non-thinking" is not necessarily the same as evasion. "To think" means to think about something. Like the plumber, most people do think about subjects they believe are relevant to their well-being. But they see little point in thinking about certain abstract subjects (such as epistemology, or theories of rights). And I doubt they'll be further encouraged to do so by condescending intellectual bullies, who call them "intellectually irresponsible ballast, unconcerned with logic or truth."

Inferring Thought Processes from ActionsOnce Peikoff's starting premise collapses, so do all the deductions that lead to his preposterous conclusion: that we can safely draw moral inferences about a person's thought processes based on his ideas, actions, achievements or conclusions.

Though one may draw some positive inferences about a person's character from his successful, life-serving actions or achievements, one cannot assume that he is moral in all aspects and areas of his life. I have met more than one bright, thoughtful individual whose estimable "mental processes" were never matched in action by positive moral deeds. They were platonic hypocrites, living totally in their heads, wasting their abilities by never translating them into anything productive. Are such persons better, morally, than men of modest intellectual abilities who conscientiously apply what little they know? The ancient Romans believed that courage was the most important virtue, because it made all other virtues possible. They had a point.

Similarly, one may not necessarily be able to conclude negative things about a man from his failures or even destructive actions. Why? Because while there is only one path to success and achievement (rationality), there are several paths to failure or destruction. The man who built a skyscraper must necessarily have operated on rational premises -- at least insofar as that aspect of his life is concerned. But the man who does not succeed may have failed through unforeseen circumstances, faulty information, limited abilities, innocent errors -- or, yes, irrationality. However, his failure alone implies nothing conclusive.

As in the case of wrong actions, we also get into trouble drawing firm conclusions about the moral status of those holding false ideas. False conclusions may arise from many sources: limited or invalid information, limited intellectual abilities, limited time to work out an answer, innocent errors of reasoning, etc. Depending on when an innocent error is introduced in a logical chain of deductions, it's possible that such mistakes may be unknowingly compounded, growing to huge proportions. A faulty starting premise may, for example, work its way through an entire ethical system, leading to damaging repercussions (as Peikoff's own erroneous "thought or evasion" premise has in this case). That doesn't necessarily imply irrationality. Yet Peikoff argues otherwise -- that "Falsehood, assuming it reaches a certain scale, is a product of evasion and leads to destruction." [p. 3, col. 2] To illustrate his point, he contrasts an employee offering his boss a valid idea "for improving the operation of his business," with another employee who comes up "with a stupid suggestion, which flies in the face of the facts." Peikoff concludes we would be correct to draw moral inferences about each man.

Peikoff wants to show we can reliably make moral judgments in such situations; but he shamelessly "loads" his examples to buttress this pre-ordained conclusion. His negative example is not one in which an employee comes up with, say, a plausible suggestion, which seems to be valid, but later proves otherwise. No, Peikoff conjures the image of some jerk making a patently "stupid suggestion."

It is not these obvious cases, however, that are our problem. Would anyone (other than Peikoff or Schwartz) morally condemn a person for offering a plausible suggestion which later proved erroneous? Is that what he would call a proper "inference" of "irrationality"? By this "standard," all of us who have ever made errors balancing our checkbooks are to be morally damned.

One key to Peikoff's perverse interpretation of "objective moral evaluation" is his indifference to the individual's context of knowledge. In this, he has at last displayed some originality in his writings on Objectivism.

Our criminal justice system recognizes that to be judged "immoral," an individual must have (a) acted by free choice, and (b) understood the wrongful nature of his act. These premises are even basic to Roman Catholic teachings concerning moral evaluations of individuals. But again, Peikoff's methodology hasn't even risen to the level of the Pope's. Instead, he divorces cognition from evaluation -- knowledge from moral judgment -- fact from value.

To Peikoff, determining the actor's context of knowledge is irrelevant to pronouncing moral judgments about him. Instead of carefully inquiring into an individual's context of knowledge, we may "infer" -- merely from the bad consequences of his acts, or from the fact of his holding false ideas -- that he "must have evaded" the relevant facts. In such circumstances, one is presumed guilty until proven innocent.

This leads to an interesting problem. If there can be, in effect, such a thing as an "unconscious villain" who may be blamed for doing things he didn't know to be bad, why doesn't Peikoff have a parallel category of the "unconscious hero"? Why don't people who blunder into the right ideas, or do the right things by rote and imitation, deserve any credit? Surely, many mindless parrots of Dr. Peikoff's interpretations might qualify for this honor.

Platonic "Values"Despite repeated reference to "values" throughout their essays, Peikoff and Schwartz treat them in a strangely impersonal, abstract way.

The Objectivist ethics holds that a value is "that which one acts to gain and/or keep." Values pertain to particular valuers; there can be no such thing as a "value" apart from an answer to the question: Of value to whom, and for what end? The "objective theory of values" holds that a person's particular values should be grounded in the objective requirements of human well-being.

The intrinsic theory of value, by contrast, holds that certain things are inherently valuable "in themselves" -- apart from any particular valuer. "Values" are thus floating abstractions, to be pursued by generic "man." One cannot ask "Why?" about pursuing such values: their pursuit is a general moral imperative, a duty, regardless of individual purposes, context or consequences.

Peikoff perverts Rand's objective theory of value into an intrinsic theory in several ways, starting with his definition of what a "valuer" is [p. 5, col. 2].

"The most eloquent badge of the authentic Objectivist...is in his attitude toward values... In his soul, he is essentially a moralist -- or, in broader terms, what Ayn Rand herself called 'a valuer.' A valuer, in her sense, is a man who evaluates extensively and intensively. That is: he judges every fact within his sphere of action -- and he does it passionately, because his value-judgments, being objective, are integrated in his mind into a consistent whole..."

Observe the curious emphasis. By a proper interpretation of the objective theory of value, the definitive attribute of a "valuer" would be his pursuit of values -- his action on behalf of the things he wants. But to Peikoff, a "valuer" is not primarily somebody out in the world pursuing values; he is merely someone who "evaluates" and "judges." This shifts the definitional focus from any active process of achievement, to a purely mental exercise of judgment-passing. By this view, any passive Walter Mitty can qualify as a "valuer" merely by issuing an incessant barrage of "moral evaluations" -- and thus, from the safety of his armchair, imagine himself the heroic equivalent of a Lindbergh, Edison or Francisco D'Anconia.

Such a person is not a "moralist" in Ayn Rand's sense; he is a cheap moralizer, i.e., one who substitutes verbal evaluations for the moral pursuit of personal values.

This platonic approach to ethics also emerges subtly in how Peikoff and Schwartz argue that certain of their particular values should be treated as universal and generic. Consider their following statements: "Existentially, an action of man...is good or bad according to its effects...positive or negative, on man's life [emphasis added]. Thus creating a skyscraper is good, murdering the architect is bad -- both by the standard of life." [Peikoff, p. 2] "Now take the case of Ayn Rand, who discovered true ideas on a virtually unprecedented scale... A moral person...greets the discovery of this kind of truth with admiration, awe, even love." [p. 3; emphasis added] "...[I]f you grasp and accept the concept of 'objectivity,' in all its implications, then you accept Objectivism, you live by it and you revere Ayn Rand for defining it." [p. 5; emphasis added] "These smears [against Ayn Rand] represent unjust assaults upon a profound value, and should be denounced..."

Note the elevation of two particulars -- Ayn Rand and skyscrapers -- into universal values. "Man" -- the generic, the abstract -- is treated as a real entity, who, for unspecified reasons, should value Ayn Rand and skyscrapers.

Regardless of any specific man's context, these general values should evoke equally intense value- responses (emotions) among all people.

Certainly, skyscrapers are of general value to the human race. But should a skyscraper be of particular value to all men, regardless of personal context? Should, say, a Kansas farmer value any skyscrapers as such, no matter where they are located, for no particular reason other than some presumably intrinsic symbolism about them which all men "should" share?

Likewise, an Objectivist, by definition, should feel admiration for Ayn Rand's achievements, and (if he grasps their full significance) even awe. But love? Love is our deepest response to personal traits which we value in another person -- to the many specific, particular things about him that evoke an intensely individual response.

The feeling thus presupposes personal knowledge, involvement and a degree of intimacy.

But one cannot really "love" or "revere" a total stranger -- let alone one long dead. To profess "love" for someone you have never met is to devalue both the emotion and the person. It treats the "love" object not as a real person, but as a mere abstract symbol -- a disembodied, depersonalized repository of "virtue." That, in fact, is what we call infatuation: the kind of "platonic love" typical of young adolescents (or adults frozen at the adolescent level), in which someone is valued for whatever abstract virtues they presumably symbolize, rather than for any specific personality or individuating traits.

It is one thing for a close personal friend to have loved Ayn Rand. It is quite another thing for such person to demand that all Objectivists should "love" her, whether they knew her or not -- any more than they should "love" Thomas Jefferson, Victor Hugo or Aristotle. Such moral-psychological extortion is an insult to Ayn Rand as a real person. And I believe she would have been the first to object to such symbolic dehumanization.

Platonic Inversion: Virtue Over ValueIn a similar platonic manifestation, Peikoff inverts the ethical relationship between virtues and values.

In "The Objectivist Ethics," Ayn Rand wrote: "The Objectivist ethics holds man's life as the standard of value -- and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man." And: "Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep -- virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it."

By this view, it is the ultimate purpose (the furtherance of one's own life, happiness and well-being) that gives rise to the need for an abstract moral gauge or standard ("man's life," or, a life conforming to the objective requirements of human well- being). The relationship of these elements is as follows: one's own life is the ultimate moral goal or value to be pursued; "man's life" -- a life lived in rational pursuit of the objective requirements of human nature -- is the moral gauge or standard of action in pursuit of that objective. This standard, in turn, translates into more specific "values" and "virtues." The objective requirements of one's well-being determine the specific ends, or "moral values," which one pursues; and they also determine the means of attaining those values, or "moral virtues."

While rational moral ends and means are logically inseparable and not in conflict, it is crucial to grasp which is which, and which is primary. Under Objectivism, values have primacy over virtues. Virtue is not an end in itself: it is only the pursuit of objective values that gives meaning, purpose and intelligibility to moral virtues and principles. Values -- not virtues -- are at the apex of the ethical hierarchy.

Ultimately, then, one praises an act as "good" or "rational" not for virtue's own sake, but because of its value consequences: the advancing of human life and well-being. Likewise, one condemns as "evil" or "irrational" any act whose value consequences are harmful to human life and well-being. One judges an individual's character the same way: not by what we "infer" that he may be doing or intending within the privacy of his own mind, intellectually, but by what he is doing out in the world, existentially.

Leonard Peikoff subtly inverts this hierarchy. Consider his example of why we should admire an architect. "The skyscraper's creator, one infers in pattern, functioned on the basis of proper value-judgments and true ideas, including a complex specialized knowledge; so he must have expended mental effort, focus, work; so one praises him morally and admires him." To Peikoff, then, the architect's moral status chiefly lies not in his creation of objective values, but in his (presumably) virtuous mental processes, of which his creation stands as mere evidence for our ethical inferences. A Howard Roark, therefore, should not be admired for his courageous quest to realize his esthetic vision, but for what we infer about his thought processes. We praise, ultimately, not the existential achievement of values, but the mental exercise of virtues.

If this seems peculiar, it is more clearly evident in the negative example Peikoff cites. We condemn a murderer, he argues, not primarily because he destroyed an innocent life, but ultimately because of what his act leads us to infer about his thought processes: "...the murderer...acted on ideas and value-judgments that defy reality; so he must have evaded and practiced whim-worship; so one condemns him morally and despises him..."

By this screwy, platonic interpretation of Rand's ethics, the only real crime, it appears, is thought crime. A victim's bleeding body is a mere residue of a vicious mental deed: what is morally significant is not the value of a human life, but the perpetrator's "evasion" and "whim-worship." The victim's sole importance, ethically, is to provide messy evidence of the perpetrator's Thought Crime -- grist for our deductive inferences.

This view topples value -- particularly, the ultimate value of human life -- from its paramount position in the Objectivist ethics.

But "irrationalism" as such is not some platonic sin, wrong "in itself." Irrationalism is wrong because it destroys the values of human life, happiness and well-being. In fact, only the harmful consequences of irrationalism make it subject to any objective identification or evaluation as "morally wrong." If irrationalism had no consequences for human life and well-being, it would be ethically irrelevant.

Thus, we condemn a murderer not primarily because of the means (the irrational or evasive thought processes) that enabled him to commit his act. We condemn him because of the consequences of his irrationalism: the destruction of innocent human life. We condemn him, ultimately, not for what he is doing inside his skull, but for what he is doing out in the world.

This, incidentally, explains Peikoff's curious lack of proportionality in passing moral judgments. Unlike murders, rapes and robberies, "thought crimes" cannot be quantified or ranked by degree of seriousness. All such "evils" reduce to "irrationality" -- and all irrationality is a single, undifferentiated "evil." This is why Peikoff can sweepingly equate the Libertarian Party with the Soviet regime, or compare David Kelley with Armand Hammer, or claim that meek little Immanuel Kant is more evil than Hitler and Stalin. Who is to say otherwise? If all crimes are purely mental, on what grounds can anyone objectively measure or rank such things?

Far from providing "objective moral evaluation," then, Peikoff's approach is subjectivity at its most ambitious.

It relieves him of the need to acquire contextual information about an individual, to weigh and assess confusing particulars, to gauge if the acts under consideration represent a trend or an aberration -- in short, to actually judge the individual. Since there is no way "evasion" or "irrationality" can be quantified except through objective acts, the thought-crime approach allows him to make unlimited, unsupported claims about the subject's degree of depravity. It grants him a carte blanche to plunge into the dim recesses of another's subconscious, making unlimited "inferences" and strained "deductions" from minimal evidence -- supplanting moral judgment with arbitrary psychologizing.

Intrinsic Values From Platonic EpistemologyWhat underlies such perversion of Objectivist ethics? The above examples suggest that Objectivist epistemology -- particularly, the idea of "thinking in essentials" -- has been subtly recast into a platonic weapon.

"Thinking in essentials" means grasping the defining traits which distinguish concepts from each other. This is a critical method of clear thinking, of drawing careful distinctions and making precise identifications.

But the defining, or epistemologically "essential," characteristics of a thing, are not equivalent to the entire entity -- nor are its non-defining traits metaphysically unimportant. However, the platonist acts as if epistemologically "essential traits" are metaphysically "essential traits" -- i.e., that they are the only things which matter about persons or things. To him (for example), since the defining or "essential" characteristic of man is his rationality, therefore a man's body, emotions, subconscious, etc., are irrelevant "non-essentials." Thus people should be loved or despised solely for their expressed convictions and evident intellectual qualities, and excused for any flaws or shortcomings in "non-essential" (i.e., non-intellectual) areas.

The pay-value of such cognitive selectivity lies in its usefulness in evading unpleasant facts of reality -- of simply dismissing them out of hand, as "non-essential."

As already discussed, in passing moral judgments, the platonist ignores the individuating contexts of others. He simply homogenizes men into lump categories of "thinkers" and "evaders," by reference to "essentials" (such as whether or not they agree with Leonard Peikoff's assessment of a book he didn't bother to read.) [Note: the reference here being to Barbara Branden's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand. Peikoff regarded one's response to that book as a moral litmus test; yet he publicly boasted that he himself had not bothered to read it before condemning it.] This permits unimpeded moral condemnations.

It also allows for selective moral exonerations. For instance, as previously mentioned, any of the unflattering facts about Ayn Rand which were reported in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand -- according to Schwartz's "review" of the book -- are, even if true, "non-essential" and irrelevant to any assessment of her moral character; the only "essentials" that matter about her, he said, were the books she wrote and the abstract philosophy she defined. Yet this means that Ayn Rand is to be remembered not as a fully living, breathing person, but as an abstract symbol, whose only (intrinsic) significance was as a philosopher and novelist. Her disembodied intellect was the only thing that ever counted.

Another implication of this view is that it excuses oneself from any self-development other than intellectual.

Personal hygiene and grooming, physical fitness, social civility, an emotionally balanced life -- all these are "non-essentials." One may allow himself to become a physical slob or an emotional tyrant, to behave insensitively toward his spouse or children, to indulge in poor manners or bad habits or obsessive preoccupations -- and still demand to be loved or respected by the world, solely for his intelligence and verbalized convictions. This is the cheap, undemanding ethic of the desiccated rationalist, who thinks his pathetically barren existence can be redeemed by "brilliant" pronouncements from his armchair.

The elevation of "essentials" from an epistemological to a metaphysical status is unmitigated platonism. (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, first Mentor edition, pp. 68-72.) By facilitating selective evasions of facts and relevant contexts, it is also the methodological root of Peikoff's and Schwartz's perversions and distortions in the ethical realm. It is what allows them to engage in rationalistic "deductions" solely from a handful of sketchy "essentials," and to issue "judgments" which routinely evade any "non-essential" (i.e., uncomfortable, ambiguous or conflicting) facts.

This habitual epistemological subjectivity causes one to question their general analytical reliability. How can one be sure which few facts they have retained as "essential" in their various analyses? The same methodology which told us that any unpleasant facts about Ayn Rand in Barbara Branden's book were "non-essential," also told us even more recently that there was no "essential" difference between George Bush and Michael Dukakis; that libertarians are "essentially" the equivalent of the Soviet regime; that Kant was morally worse than Hitler and Stalin; and -- perhaps most grotesquely -- that David Kelley's views constitute "a repudiation of the fundamental principles of Objectivism" equivalent to Armand Hammer's betrayal of America. Are these the people to trust on, say, Middle East politics, or the choices between candidates, or the merits of a book or film?

ConclusionThe Peikoff/Schwartz essays reveal, in condensed form, the premises, motives and methods which have long undermined Objectivism in the court of public opinion. They reveal a platonic perversion of an epistemology of reason and an ethics of rational self-interest, in which relevant facts, motives and contexts are arbitrarily excluded from moral judgments. By this means, a philosophy of reason, justice, achievement and happiness is retooled into an indiscriminately, gleefully wielded moral bludgeon.

At the conclusion of his essay, Leonard Peikoff predicted even more purges of infidels; his astonishing euphemism for such expulsions was "quality control." He reminded me of a scene in the classic film, "Ninotchka." Greta Garbo, playing a fanatical Soviet official in Paris, is asked how things are going back in Moscow. "Very good," she replies grimly. "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer, but better, Russians."

But quality is never the result of intellectual purges: the most creative and independent thinkers are the first to go. Virtually all of Objectivism's prominent past representatives (once touted as brilliant and virtuous) have been shown the door. In the wake of Kelley's expulsion, the thought confronting many Objectivists is: If even David Kelley doesn't qualify as being an Objectivist, who does?

The answer, obviously, is: those whose only talents are sycophantic nodding, agreeing and obeying. Considering the "quality" of what Peikoff now "controls" in his rapidly dwindling cult, it appears that -- analogous to the plot of Atlas Shrugged -- there is a "destroyer" loose in the Objectivist movement, draining its brains and leaving it creatively bankrupt. But that "destroyer" is not Leonard Peikoff: it is the retributive power of logic.

One's sense of life -- whether or not one loves this earth, and is confident in his ability to deal with it -- will determine how he views and utilizes the Objectivist philosophy. There are those who see Objectivism as an intellectual map or compass to help them explore a world filled with wonders and challenges. But there are others who view Objectivism as a mental refuge or shield from a world filled with evils and perils. The former see Objectivism as a key to unlock all doors to a rewarding, exciting world; the latter, as a door to slam shut against a threatening, revolting world.

Speaking for the former, David Kelley, wrote that Objectivism "is not a closed system." Speaking for the latter, Leonard Peikoff replied, "Yes, it is" -- and Peter Schwartz added: "Objectivism is a restrictive philosophy."

I urge Objectivists to obtain, read and compare the articles by Kelley, Peikoff and Schwartz, in terms of their respective aims, tones and approaches. Then -- holding in mind images from the Renaissance or Enlightenment -- ask yourself what the cultural consequences of each would be, if implemented in reality. Which represents the true promise of Objectivism? Which represents the only method by which the philosophy can be spread successfully to the outside world?

Objectivism desperately needs benevolent interpreters and patient teachers, to help millions of confused and searching men and women rationally direct their choices and actions. But it emphatically does not need a secular Ayatollah, who props up a shaky self-image with denunciations instead of deeds. It needs no ideological policeman, whose only evident gratification is the bitter, endless, self-righteous pursuit of "evildoers" -- no matter how petty their alleged offenses, no matter what their contexts of knowledge.

In short, Objectivism has John Galt. It needs no Javert.

PostscriptFor further reading, see also my essay, "Understanding Peikoff" and also my essay "Rand Versus Peikoff". These develop themes and provide further background for points made in this essay.

Also highly recommended are David Kelley's monograph, Truth and Toleration, his own extended answer to the issues raised in this controversy; and also his monograph, Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence, a major contribution to the Objectivist ethics. Further information about both monographs may be obtained from the Institute for Objectivist Studies.

Understanding Peikoffby Robert J. Bidinotto (Bidinotto@compuserve.com) Copyright (C) 1994, Robert J. Bidinotto, All Rights Reserved Rick Minto has asked -- as many have in recent years -- a troubling question. Why has Leonard Peikoff appeared to abandon the quite reasonable position, advanced in his course "Understanding Objectivism," concerning passing moral judgment on others?

This questions forces us out of the comfortable area of pure intellectual debate, and into the murky area of personalities and motives. That is not typically an expedition which the moderator of this list, nor many of its subscribers, would welcome. And I sympathize.

I have offered an answer however, only because I think there are reasons which make this a special case.

My point in addressing these matters is not to categorize abuses and absurdities, nor to psychologize about the persons involved. My sole point is to try to grapple with the logical implications, _in action_, of the viewpoint put forth by Peikoff in "Fact and Value," and now advanced by his supporters. I personally believe that this issue -- and this issue alone -- may be of legitimate relevance to the intellectual concerns of this list.

Why? Because that mindset, and the behavior to which it leads, have persisted within the Objectivist movement for three decades now; and it is clearly not about to go away. Future generations will spawn new representatives of that mindset. We shall have to continue to confront it -- hopefully, understanding something about it.

So the question arises: How can Leonard Peikoff, a very intelligent man with lifelong commitments to reason, independence and justice, come to conclude that on some issues, at least, facts no longer matter, group-think is to be encouraged and some Objectivist scholars are to be unjustly equated with history's most evil figures? How can a significant number of others, professing similar philosophical commitments, be persuaded that such actions are consistent with their expressed philosophy?

_That_, I think, may be a legitimate province of exploration for members of the list -- even though it is, of course, difficult to address these matters with detachment, or to segregate the issues from the personalities involved, or to avoid psychologizing.

What follows, then, is simply a short chronicle of relevant events in the "tolerance" dispute, incorporating my analysis of _why_ certain premises, left unchecked, can force the logically rigorous -- _especially_ the logically rigorous -- down destructive paths of thought and behavior. That, it seems to this writer, is a province of valid concern for all of us.

Consider, then, what follows a cautionary tale.

I've enjoyed the discussion about David Kelley's Truth and Toleration, and Rick Minto's recent posting prompted me to weigh in. Minto writes: By Peikoff's own practice and words, since 1989, he appears to have rejected the position he advocated in the UO ["Understanding Objectivism"] course, esp. Lecture 11. Prof. Kelley in T&T, 76, also notes this, as did Eyal Mozes here recently.

I would be interested in hearing from any list members who heard the UO tapes if they could have anticipated this change of opinion, or if anyone can offer a plausible explanation for why Peikoff changed his mind.

Yes indeed -- Peikoff has abandoned the position taken in his "Understanding Objectivism" course. As to why, that question moves us from the realm of the logical into the realm of the psychological -- a dubious journey, to say the least. However, in this case, there is a trail of facts available which limits the need for idle speculation. I offer the following to those who'd like a coherent explanation for events which many have found unfathomable and painful. And I hope -- in the spirit of the subject -- that you all find my comments at least "tolerable."

The turning point in Peikoff's views appears to have occurred shortly after the publication of Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand. Many of you are aware of just how big an uproar the revelations in that book caused within the Objectivist movement. You may recall that his "Understanding Objectivism" course had been in circulation for some years prior to the appearance of Miss Branden's book. I took that course on tape. As Rick indicated, it offered a view of the "moral judgment" issue astonishingly similar to that now presented by Kelley in Truth and Toleration -- and now denounced by Peikoff. (BTW, I wonder if the course is still being offered in its original version these days? Does anyone know?) So...what happened?

According to a very reliable source, the publication of Branden's Passion apparently brought Peikoff to a value crisis. I choose not to name the source, only because I have not asked that person's permission to be identified.

However, the source was in an excellent position to know what was going on at the time, and is of impeccable credibility; thus I regard the person's narrative to be far above the status of mere rumor or speculation.

According to this source, Peikoff was emotionally distraught during that period. The Barbara Branden book -- which he refused to read, but whose contents he had heard about from others -- terribly distressed him. One's response to the book soon became for him a moral litmus test: it apparently carried for him all the old emotional baggage from the stormy NBI days, and provoked him to revert to that state of mind. For one thing, it helped spark the initial tension between himself and Kelley, since the latter had a more tolerant attitude toward the book.

Peikoff explained to my source that he was also being urged by both Peter Schwartz and Harry Binswanger to take a much more hard-line stand on issues of moral judgment. Peikoff explained that there seemed to be "two kinds of Objectivists" -- those who liked his approach in "Understanding Objectivism," and by contrast, "hardliners like Peter and Harry." It was clear that Peikoff at the time felt very torn between the two positions.

It is also clear which side won out. Behavior that had been common during the ugly NBI days -- demands of loyalty and fealty, moral denunciations, evaluating books without reading them, etc. -- suddenly returned to fashion. Traumatized by the appearance of Passion, Peikoff's new-found contextualism, as evidenced in "Understanding Objectivism," now seemed like a kind of moral weakness or compromise, and was abandoned.

He reverted to his old habits of the NBI days -- rule by denunciation and excommunication. Just as Greta Garbo's "Comrade Ninotchka" wanted "fewer but better Russians," Peikoff now relished the prospect of fewer but more loyal Objectivists -- and boldly promised further excommunications to approach his ideal.

It seems evident today that Peikoff simply could not let himself see Barbara Branden -- his "enemy" of twenty years -- in the framework of the kind of contextualism he was preaching in "Understanding Objectivism." But why?

I think because of what it implied -- not about judging Barbara Branden, but about judging Ayn Rand. For I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that all Barbara was trying to do in Passion was to apply the same contextualism toward judging Rand that Peikoff was advocating in his course as a general moral rule. And that Leonard Peikoff simply could not permit.

Is there any hard evidence for this interpretation of what happened?

Recall that in "Fact and Value," Peikoff declared that "every fact bears on the choice to live... [E]very fact of reality which we discover has, directly or indirectly, an implication for man's self-preservation and thus for his proper course of action." Thus there can be "no dichotomy...between the true and the good." Justice, he continued, "is an aspect of the principle that cognition demands evaluation...applied to human choices and their products." In the same vein, Peter Schwartz began his own commentary on the Barbara Branden controversy by stating, in his second paragraph, that "objectivity consists of nothing but a commitment to the truth..." [Schwartz, Open Letter, August 20, 1986.] Yet by the end of that remarkable letter, Peter Schwartz had made one startling exception: "Ultimately, what real difference is there if any of the factual allegations made by Barbara Branden ...happen to have actually taken place? Ayn Rand's glorious achievement is her philosophy and her literature. They stand as her testaments, as the only testaments her life requires... Her books are what she should be judged by."

Suddenly, some facts -- if sufficiently unpleasant, and about Ayn Rand -- were to be ignored or suppressed.

Instead, only "essential" facts were to be acknowledged and weighed. And just what facts about Ayn Rand were deemed morally relevant? Only her ideas and her books -- not her actions.

Does this represent Peikoff's view? As one who published repeatedly in The Intellectual Activist, I can confirm that every word Schwartz printed was first read and cleared by Peikoff. I have no doubt that Schwartz's statement fully represents Peikoff's own view, and had Peikoff's prior knowledge and approval (we do know that he never repudiated it).

Yet would Ayn Rand have agreed with them? Consider: "...I was shocked to discover that he [Nathaniel Branden] was consistently failing to apply to his own personal life and conduct...the fundamental philosophical principles of Objectivism...that he did not practice what he preached, that he demanded of his students a standard of conduct he failed to demand of himself. Such an attitude is not morally permissible in any writer or lecturer; it is worse in a lecturer on philosophy and psychology; it is still worse in a lecturer on morality, who has to exemplify in his own conduct the moral principles he advocates. It is intolerable in a lecturer on Objectivist morality: Objectivism does not permit any variant of the mind-body dichotomy, any split between theory and practice, between one's convictions and one's actions."

Whatever view Schwartz and Peikoff were advocating on the issue of how to pass moral judgment, it certainly did not represent that of Rand herself. But why their sharp departure from her on this issue?

Because here, the logical choice for Peikoff was: Either judge everyone, including Ayn Rand, by all the available facts, or -- in order to spare himself painful acknowledgement of any weaknesses in his heroine -- abandon the method of contextual judgment presented in "Understanding Objectivism."

In short, his alternative was: objectivity or idolatry.

We know which way he chose.

Now came the tricky task of reversing course. So dramatic a shift required an equally ambitious philosophical rationale. The goal? To define the facts "essential" to passing moral judgments so narrowly that (a) Ayn Rand would be exonerated of any possible errors or moral breaches, while (b) a strong, uncompromisingly moralistic posture could be maintained. The solution?

Focusing moral judgments on expressed ideas, rather than actions.

Clearly, there are few who could demonstrate fault in (let alone match) Ayn Rand as she appeared on paper.

Limiting all moral judgments to one's "paper persona," then, elevates Rand's moral stature, while simultaneously shrinking the stature of others. Thus, she can be exonerated -- because the only "essentials" about her are, quoting Schwartz, "her philosophy and her literature... Her books are what she should be judged by."

This also implies that the only facts of moral significance about anyone else are their verbalized or written ideas.

The new "essentials" in moral judgment-passing are not actions, but thinking; and one may draw moral and character inferences about a person's "mental processes" simply from the truth or falsehood of the person's conclusions! Hence, Peikoff's "Fact and Value" -- a summary effort to shrink the realm of honest "errors of knowledge" to negligibility, to inflate the realm of "immorality" to include errors of knowledge...and thus to transform virtually every incorrect philosophical statement (save, perhaps, for the babblings of children or idiots) into a moral failing.

Rand Versus Peikoffby Robert J. Bidinotto (Bidinotto@compuserve.com) Copyright (C) 1994, Robert J. Bidinotto, All Rights Reserved This is the third of my 3-part series analyzing the controversy over the interpretation of key aspects of the Objectivist ethics. "Facts, Values, and Moral Sanctions" is my discussion of Leonard Peikoff's essay, "Fact and Value," and of companion essays by Peter Schwartz, titled "On Moral Sanctions," and "On Sanctioning the Sanctioners." "Understanding Peikoff" is my interpretation of the reasons for Leonard Peikoff's evolving perspectives on these issues. In the following essay, I discuss other ways in which Peikoff's views diverge from those of his mentor, Ayn Rand.

It appears that -- to some, at least -- Leonard Peikoff's "Fact and Value," and Peter Schwartz's essays "On Moral Sanctions" and "On Sanctioning the Sanctioners," accurately represent Ayn Rand's perspectives on how to pass moral judgments.

In view of Ayn Rand's own words on these subjects, however, I find that interpretation astonishing.

I have already pointed out (in "Understanding Peikoff," and in my 1989 open letter, "Facts, Values and Moral Sanctions") that Peikoff and Schwartz contradicted Ayn Rand on the issue of whether she ought to be judged in toto (i. e., by both her expressed convictions and her actions), or simply by her ideas, as expressed in her books.

Schwartz and Peikoff argued the latter, while (in her famous "To Whom It May Concern" essay of 1968), Rand argued exactly the opposite.

But this is not the only aspect of Rand's position that Peikoff and Schwartz have distorted. At the end of this post, I have compiled two detailed excerpts of answers given by Ayn Rand herself to separate interviewers on these matters.

There are certainly a few ambiguities in her statements -- not surprising, given the fact that she was thinking out loud, and not writing out a final position paper on ethics. Yet even granting that Miss Rand was speaking "off the cuff," it is absolutely clear -- taken in full -- that her contextualist position on moral judgment is precisely the opposite of that since expounded by Peikoff and Schwartz, allegedly in her name.

For example: 1.Inherently Evil Ideas. Peikoff argued in "Fact and Value" that untrue philosophical ideas are also evil -- that there can be "no dichotomy... between the true and the good." In fact, he said there are "inherently dishonest ideas" (his emphasis). "Falsehood, assuming it reaches a certain scale, is a product of evasion and leads to destruction; such an idea is not only false; it is also evil." In "On Moral Sanctions," Schwartz refers to ideologies "honest and dishonest alike," alludes to "the inherent irrationality" of Islam, Kantianism and Marxism, and calls "Libertarianism an evil doctrine." In short, both men believe that many false ideas can be intrinsically dishonest, and many philosophical systems intrinsically evil.

But would Ayn Rand have agreed?

In her interview with Day, the example of religion is raised. Is believing in God "morally evil"? Rand explicitly denies this: read her own words, in context. She draws a distinction between a belief which is "false" and a belief which is "evil." Belief in God, per se, is wrong, she says, because of the harm it will do the individual. But she does not regard the untrue idea of God as "evil" in itself.

There are probably a few -- a very few -- ideas whose acceptance may be regarded as evil virtually on their face: for example, nihilism, or explicit assaults on reason and logic and morality as such -- things on that level of fundamentality. Why? Only because the context of knowledge available to almost any mentally sound adult is probably sufficient to see through the holes in such ideas, or at least to realize their destructive consequences. But complex, abstract philosophical doctrines and intellectual systems are not on this same level of the "self- evident." And yet it is clearly these which Peikoff and Schwartz intend to paint as "inherently dishonest" and "inherently irrational." This gives them a simple, shorthand method of morally repudiating the millions of proponents and adherents of such doctrines, sight unseen.

The notion of an "inherently" good or evil idea, or system, is the same as saying that ideas can be intrinsically good or evil. It is intrinsicism, not Objectivism, that Peikoff is here propagating, in Ayn Rand's name.

2.Evil Ideas = Evil People. In "Fact and Value," Peikoff declares that one can reliably infer what he calls evil (irrational thought processes) by reference to the truth or falsehood of the ideas a person advances. This proceeds from his notion of "inherently" bad ideas. If there are such things, then those adults holding and propagating false ideas safely can be judged as immoral. After all, "Falsehood, assuming it reaches a certain scale, is a product of evasion..."

But would Ayn Rand have agreed?

Though she tells Ray Newman that a person who "goes about the country preaching immoral ideas" may be regarded as immoral, she immediately qualifies this: one's moral status depends upon "the degree of knowledge a given person has." In fact, she says, people ought to be judged mainly "in action," rather than by their expressed ideas alone, "because most people do not really speak very exactly."

In short, Rand's position on judging individuals appears to employ criteria not unlike that advanced by Senator Howard Baker during the Watergate Hearings, in reference to President Richard Nixon: What did he know, and when did he know it? That's simple common sense. But it's also entirely against the thrust of Peikoff's theory of drawing inferences about character from one's "inherently dishonest" ideas.

Would one's holding a "mixture" of good and bad ideas be sufficient to regard that person as immoral?

No, Rand says to interviewer James Day. If a person is confused, "well, that's their problem." But morality would demand, she says, only that they "struggle to the best of their ability to do good and to never do evil consciously. If a man does that, I would regard him as completely good -- if he never does evil consciously, deliberately."

We might sum up Rand's position on moral judgment, then, as entailing the following considerations: How much do they know? How much can they reasonably be expected to know, in their context? Are they really showing a conscientious effort to understand? Yet one searches in vain in "Fact and Value" for any statement by Peikoff suggesting that, in judging someone, one ought to consider any such factors.

Rand's stress on contextualism was ironically the hallmark of Peikoff's "Understanding Objectivism" course, in which he made an all-out attack on "intrinsicism" (meaning, on this issue, the belief in inherently good or inherently evil ideas or actions.) These interviews, in fact, show Rand stressing reasonableness in her criteria for judging people.

But is this the stress that one gets from "Fact and Value"? Is it the stress that Peikoff intended us to get?

3.No "Balancing" of Virtues and Vices. In his companion essay to "Fact and Value" ("On Sanctioning the Sanctioners," TIA, 2/27/89), Schwartz argues that "...there cannot be any 'cost- benefit analysis' of justice versus injustice..." He adds: "Moral judgment, and not some pragmatic calculation of losses and gains, is what must precede any decision about whom to associate with." And since ideas -- not actions -- are the real basis for moral evaluation, evil intellectuals are far worse, ethically, than mere thugs and killers.

One recalls, in this vein, Schwartz and Peikoff's moral equations of libertarians with the Soviet regime, of David Kelley with (late Soviet apologist) Armand Hammer, and their view that Kant was morally worse than Hitler and Stalin. Weighing the moral stature of such individuals hierarchically, in terms of their relative knowledge, contexts, intentions and actions, would be mere "cost-benefit analysis," you see, and hence an improper moral calculus. Such comparisons of stature are irrelevant. There are only the "thinkers" and the "evaders" -- and all the latter class are equally to be damned.

But would Ayn Rand have agreed?

Reconcile their view with Rand's own words to Newman -- that...

...in judging people of mixed premises, as most people are, you have to balance, in effect hierarchically, the seriousness of their virtues and of their vices, and see what you get in the net result.

These are just a few of the more obvious ways in which Peikoff and Schwartz have been distorting Rand's views on how to pass moral judgment. In my opinion, they have utterly abandoned Randian contextualism for a crude, neo-platonic intrinsicism.

Here are the interview excerpts. Judge for yourselves.

From the Ray Newman interview with Ayn RandNEWMAN: When do you classify someone as immoral?

RAND: Only when he has done...done, in fact, some immoral action... When someone in action [Rand's emphasis] does something which you know, can prove, is an immoral, vicious action -- a sin, not a value; or a vice (whichever you want to call it) -- then you have to judge him as he has proved.

You never judge a person on mere potentials, and you seldom judge him on what he says, because most people do not really speak very exactly; and on the basis of some one inadvertant remark you would not judge a person as immoral. If, however, he goes about the country preaching immoral ideas, then you would classify him as immoral.

NEWMAN: Well, there are people whom I meet who are mixed. In other words, they hold certain virtues, but then in particular situations they may act against the virtue -- or the sin or the evil.

RAND: Yes.

NEWMAN: Is that like, you can't be a little bit pregnant? Which is that if you're a little bit immoral, you're immoral? Your...your character is rated as immoral?

RAND: In fact, yes. But the important thing here is the degree of knowledge a given person has.

If you do not know exactly the nature of what you are doing, then you can't be considered immoral -- particularly if it's a young person and it's correctible. A person can make a mistake and correct it.

But it would have to be a major crime -- for instance, a person lying. Let's use that as an example. I would never forgive that at all. I would regard that as a top immorality, and regard that person as immoral, regardless of what kind of virtues he or she might have. Needless to say, if you have a robber or a murderer, or a person who is systematically breaking the rights of other people, you would call him immoral, no matter what lesser virtues he might have.

So you, in judging people of mixed premises, as most people are, you have to balance, in effect hierarchically, the seriousness of their virtues and of their vices, and see what you get in the net result.

From the James Day interview with Ayn Rand on "Day at Night" (video)[In response to a question about values being absolute.] RAND: ...Values are contextual. They depend on the context of a given situation.

Now there are, unfortunately, too many people who are part good, part bad. Well, that's their problem. But what would morality demand from them? To struggle to the best of their ability, to do good and to never do evil consciously.

If a man does that, I would regard him as completely good -- if he never does evil consciously, deliberately.

However, if he does just one action which he knows to be wrong, but permits it to himself, then he's evil absolutely. The rest is only a matter of time.

DAY: You've written that the concept of God is morally evil.

RAND: I didn't say it's morally evil -- not in those words. I said it is false.

DAY: False.

RAND: I said it's a fantasy. It doesn't exist. I would say that religion can be very dangerous psycho-epistemologically, in regard to the working of a man's mind. Faith is dangerous, because a man who permits himself to exempt some aspect of reality from reason, and to believe in a god even though he knows he has no reason to believe in a god -- there is no evidence in a god's existence -- that is the danger, psychologically. That man is not going to be rational, or will have a terrible conflict. It's wrong in that way.

Judging Environmental "Experts"by Robert J. Bidinotto (Bidinotto@compuserve.com) Copyright � 1994, Robert J. Bidinotto, All Rights Reserved This is a follow-up to postings on ozone depletion published on the Moderated Discussion of the Objectivist Philosophy electronic mail list. Some names in the text refer to individuals who posted comments online in this discussion.

Tim Starr is absolutely right that ordinary people and generalists can't normally spend the time to become experts in specialized controversies (such as the ozone depletion issue), and thus must rely on experts. The question then arises: How can one gauge the reliability of the "experts"?

One way that the non-expert can pass judgments on the reliability of his sources is by asking himself whether they are truly experts, or in a position to have acquired expertise, about the controversy in question. For instance, Roger Maduro (co-author of The Holes in the Ozone Scare) is not an atmospheric scientist, and neither was Dixy Lee Ray (she was a zoologist). The same could be said, alas, of the late Dr. Petr Beckmann, who relied on secondary sources and a lot of deduction for his conclusions about the ozone issue. Does this inspire confidence, in the face of the contrary views of legions of scientific specialists and experts?

No -- I'm not saying "always trust the experts." I am simply advising caution when amateurs and non-specialists contend that experts are wrong in their own areas of expertise. At minimum, one must get the "other side of the story" -- the reasons which the experts cite for their views.

A second methodological "check" on expertise is to examine footnotes carefully. In this case, you'll find that Dr.

Ray relied heavily on Maduro for her ozone conclusions (see the footnotes in Trashing the Planet). Rush Limbaugh's books, in turn, rely on Dr. Ray! In other words, the most public skeptics on the subject have relied, directly or indirectly, on a non- expert, LaRouchie conspiratorialist for their basic understanding of the ozone depletion issue. Doesn't this set off warning bells?

A third check (assuming enough time and interest) is to go to primary, not secondary or tertiary sources. This means, at the least, a reading of opposing viewpoints -- not just those that support one's ideological predispositions.

Maduro, for example, cited an impressive array of scientific papers and studies which he quoted to support his interpretations. They certainly impressed me when I first read his book. However, I then took the next steps: I acquired the original papers he cited, to see if he was quoting them accurately and in context; I also obtained and read a variety of other scientific papers not cited by Maduro, but bearing on the same topics, in order to put those he quoted in context; and finally, I contacted directly many of the authors and scientists involved in the specific issues under discussion (vulcanologists, UV experts, atmospheric chemists, Antarctic biologists, etc.) for further information and perspective.

It was in this research, for example, that I discovered that Maduro had been stubbornly resisting any evidence that refuted his main claim: that natural sources of chlorine dwarfed man-made CFCs in the atmosphere. The fact that natural chlorinated compounds usually "wash out" in the lower atmosphere was noted in numerous papers Maduro didn't bother to cite. Similarly, he ignored papers showing the actual presence of CFCs and their breakdown products in the stratosphere, and in ever-increasing percentages. The casual reader, of course, would have no way of knowing this without doing a bit of homework that went beyond what appeared in Maduro's book.

I realize that this third step -- doing your own independent study -- is something for which few people have the time or inclination. But in such cases, it's important for the layman to realize the limitations of his own research. He must keep an open mind, realizing that he may not be qualified to come to hard conclusions. And he must acknowledge that precisely in these matters, his philosophical predispositions can bias his perspectives.

I recall a phone conversation with Dr. Petr Beckmann in which I tried, in vain, to share with him some of the factual data I had been acquiring about the impact of CFCs on ozone. But he refused to accept any of it. He told me that he simply couldn't believe that Man's measly activities could have any sort of profound impact on the environment.

This is an example of the "armchair" approach to empirical questions which I criticized in my earlier post. Now I much admired Dr. Beckmann. He did a great deal to combat the rampant pseudo-science of our time. But even he apparently allowed his philosophical presuppositions, at times, to filter out facts which might tend to support intellectually uncomfortable conclusions.

In summary, here are a few basic rules an amateur or layman might use to sort out specialized issues: (1) consider the source's expertise, (2) check their documentation, (3) read the best representatives of all sides of a specialized controversy, and (4) acknowledge the limitations of your own research and expertise.

Let me also enthusiastically agree with Tim Starr in his recommendations of Ron Bailey's EcoScam and Mike Fumento's Science Under Siege. I know both of these fine journalists, and can attest that they have diligently followed the "rules" I outlined above in their exhaustive researches of environmental controversies. Of all the people I encountered while examining the ozone issue, Bailey impressed me most for his meticulous research and good judgment. His book is a clear-headed dissection of environmental scaremongering. Likewise Fumento. He and I independently researched pesticide safety and the "Alar" scam, and he also impressed me as a very diligent and careful journalist who actually investigated primary sources, rather than simply rehashing secondary sources. His book is a marvelous unmasking of the pseudo-science underlying modern cancer panics and health scares. I couldn't recommend EcoScam and Science Under Siege more enthusiastically.

I would add to the short list of truly wonderful environmental "skeptic" books Edith Efron's monumental The Apocalyptics (on cancer scares); Dr. Patrick Michael's Sound and Fury and Dr. Robert Balling's The Heated Debate (both outstanding refutations of the "global warming" scare); Dr. Julian Simon's brilliant antidotes to "overpopulation" scares, especially The Ultimate Resource; and Dr. Elizabeth Whelan's fine demolitions of food safety scares, including Toxic Terror and Panic in the Pantry.

And to this list let me again humbly include my own brief overview and primer on the environmentalist philosophy, movement and scare campaigns: The Green Machine. It is written from an Objectivist perspective; but unlike Dr. George Reisman's "The Toxicity of Environmentalism," The Green Machine is based on first-hand reporting, and is also heavily footnoted for those who want to do further research on their own. (I also address, in part, questions that Tim posed -- about why regulatory agencies have become captives of radical environmentalism, and why radical environmentalists are so influential.) Survive or Flourish? A Reconciliationby Robert J. Bidinotto (Bidinotto@compuserve.com) Copyright � 1994, Robert J. Bidinotto, All Rights Reserved IntroductionFor some time now, a very important debate has raged among Objectivists and Aristotelians concerning the final end in ethics. The key matter under dispute: whether or not the Objectivist ethics -- grounded in the natural requirements of "life" and "self-preservation" -- is sufficient to provide Man enough guidance to lead a full, rich, happy and distinctively human life.

The debate was joined when David Kelley critically reviewed (in the July 1992 Liberty magazine) the book Liberty and Nature, by two Objectivist-influenced (but Aristotelian-oriented) philosophers, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl. It has continued since in these pages (see, for example, Henry Scuoteguazza's "Man's Life and the Fulfilled Life" in the April 1993 Full Context); and it has spilled over into protracted electronic mail arguments in the Ayn Rand discussion forum that Jimmy Wales moderates on the Internet.

In his review of Liberty and Nature, Kelley summarized clearly the essential differences between the Objectivist position which he endorses, and the Aristotelian position upheld by Rasmussen and Den Uyl. Writes Kelley: The point of departure for their argument is Rand's insight that values arise from the fact that living organisms must act to stay alive -- to preserve their own existence. Because anything that exists has a specific nature, they go on to argue, the "natural end" for a living thing is to remain in existence as the kind of thing it is. Man is a rational animal -- that is our distinctive essence -- so our natural end is to live as rational beings. In this way, the authors give the Objectivist ethics a distinctly Aristotelian spin. The ultimate value is not life per se, in the sense of survival, but living well, "flourishing," actualizing our potentialities... [A]long the way the authors mention such items as friendship, wealth, and productive work, as well as the exercise of such virtues as rationality, courage, and integrity.

In any case, they regard flourishing as an objective value, with objective requirements for its realization... Moreover -- and more importantly -- they claim that the exercise of reason and reasoned choice is not merely a means to the ultimate end. It is a constituent of the end itself.

Why do Rasmussen and Den Uyl feel the need to depart from Rand? Kelley goes on: The concept of flourishing is introduced as an Aristotelian amendment to the Objectivist ethics...

Rasmussen and Den Uyl are concerned...that life in the sense of "mere" survival will not give us much of an ethical code. "Flourishing" is supposed to be a richer concept: it means living well, through the realization of a wide range of our capacities.

The "Survivalist" camp, represented by Objectivists, argues that "Flourishers" fail to ground their ethics in any objective requirements of nature and reality. "...[H]ow do we determine what is involved in flourishing?" Kelley asks in his review. "In Ayn Rand's approach, every value and every virtue that goes to make up a good life must be shown to have a bearing on survival; in one way or another, it must enhance the prospects for self- preservation... [O]nly the alternative of existence or non- existence can sustain a nonarbitrary normative judgment that something is good, right, or virtuous. So far as I can see, the concept of flourishing is an attempt to skirt the problem. By incorporating all the cardinal values and virtues into the fundamental end, the concept attempts to escape the need of proving that they are necessary means to the end."

For their part, the "Flourishers" tend to deny that moral virtues are only a means to any more ultimate end; rather, they are simply part of the end, which is "human flourishing." As one prominent Flourisher put it in an e-mail message to me: ...man's life qua man is a way of living that is defined by the possession and use of certain virtues (they are inherent to that way of living), and that is what one should be doing. Living virtuously -- the life proper to man -- is the good. It is the end in itself, the standard of value. What else could Rand be saying when she says life is an end in itself? There is no necessary pay off in longer life, money, power, pleasure, sex. These things are not bad, and they are usually either means to or results of living the life proper to man, but these are not what human living is all about.

At first glance, most Objectivists would read the preceding paragraph and immediately reject the Flourisher position as an instance of "intrinsicist" or deontologically-based ethics. Flourishers are arguing that there are natural requirements for all entities -- that human virtues and values are intrinsic to human nature. Just as a horse must live qua horse, a man must live qua man. Man is the rational animal; hence man should exercise his rational capacity. It's his nature. The "pay value" of living virtuously is secondary: virtues are not an means to an end, but are part of the end, which is "Man's life." Virtue, in a sense, is its own reward: the reward of being human. We exist not for external rewards, but to be the kind of entity we are.

In sum, Flourishers seem to be saying, "a man oughta do what a man oughta do."

However, that is clearly circular. Consider the quotation: "Living virtuously -- the life proper to man -- is the good." Translated, this means: the good is that which is proper, which is living virtuously. This sort of formulation leaves all virtues vulnerable to a single question: Why? To what in reality -- the Survivalists rightly reply -- do such normative terms refer? Where are the Flourishers' "roots"?

In fact, the Flourishers are trying to find some sort of a "natural end" in ethics, some objective grounding. That aim they share with Survivalists. They believe that simply by incorporating human virtues into their definition of human nature, they have done so. Theirs is a strained, and ultimately unsuccessful effort to provide an alternative to the Objectivist, survival-based case for ethics.

But why? Why do Flourishers feel the need to reject the Objectivist way of grounding ethics in survival?

Because, they say, rooting ethics merely in "life" or "survival" per se cannot logically lead one to the kind of living -- the "flourishing" -- that Ayn Rand seemed to celebrate in her novels. It is to salvage those qualitative aspects of human life -- life as an heroic, impassioned, fulfilled experience -- that they feel the need to go beyond what her argument offers.

On mere survival grounds alone, Man needs just the basics -- food, clothing, shelter, etc. Why, then, should Man go for more than that -- as Ayn Rand indicates they ought to? Does Man really "need" lobster rather than beef, evening gowns rather than denims, Roarkian architecture rather than a lean-to? Even if we concede Rand's case for basing ethics in the needs of "self- preservation" or "life," how can we go beyond that? Why extol the lives of heroes above that of ordinary people? Why Roark over Guy Francon? Why Rachmaninoff over Elvis? And why have some of her characters take profound physical risks, and contemplate or commit "justifiable" suicides, if "survival" is the only or ultimate end?

How then, on grounds of mere "survival," can Rand go beyond pursuing the basic necessities of survival, to justify and validate the pursuit of these higher-order values?

It's a good question. In his review, even David Kelley admitted that "Establishing these connections is a very large task, and I don't think Objectivists have fully carried it out." Indeed, Henry Scuoteguazza has argued persuasively in his essay, "Is Self-Interest Enough?," and elsewhere, that Objectivism has not yet provided sufficient ethical guidance for many ordinary aspects of living.

So before we dismiss the Flourishers' case out of hand, we should confront the fact that neither side has done a complete job of providing answers to some of the most basic questions of ethics. While Survivalists make a good case that Flourishers haven't properly grounded their ethics, Flourishers reply with some justice that Survivalists haven't established the basis for anything more than "brute survivalism."

Ayn Rand on Survive Vs. FlourishCan a reading of Ayn Rand's own words on the subject break this impasse? Alas, by selective quotation, she can be regarded as endorsing either side of this debate. Here are her own words, plus words which, though coming from others, she had explicitly endorsed while she still lived, and which may be taken as reliable commentary on her own position.

Rand qua "Survivalist" In John Galt's Speech, Rand wrote: It is for the purpose of self-preservation that man needs a code of morality. The only man who desires to be moral is the man who desires to live.

The reason of man's need for morality determines the purpose of morality as well as the standard by which moral values are to be selected. Man needs a moral code in order to live; that is the purpose of morality -- for every man as an individual...

Man, like every other living species, has a specific manner of survival which is determined by his nature. Man is free to act against the requirements of his nature, to reject his means of survival: his mind -- but he is not free to escape the consequence: misery, anxiety, destruction. When men attempt to exist by a means other than reason, it becomes a matter of little more than chance who lasts a decade and who lasts a year, who is wiped out by whom and who is able to consume some part of his gains before the club descends on him. Man's life depends on thinking, not on acting blindly; on achievement, not on destruction; nothing can change that fact. Mindlessness, passivity, parasitism, brutality are not and cannot be principles of survival; they are merely the policy of those who do not wish to face the issue of survival.

"The moral revolution in Atlas Shrugged" (part of Who is Ayn Rand?), Nathaniel Branden wrote: "Man's life" means: life lived in accordance with the principles that make man's survival qua man possible.

In the same essay Branden also wrote: Some philosophers ascribed to man, as a metaphysical attribute, a particular desire or conatus; they declared it to be universal and innate; then they stated that an objective ethics, one genuinely based on man's nature, would be one that enabled man to achieve this desire or striving. Aristotle spoke of the universal desire for eudaimonia (happiness or well-being); Epicurus -- of the universal desire for pleasure...

In no sense does Ayn Rand regard any particular value as a metaphysical given, as pre-existing in man or in the universe. She begins by observing the facts that create the need for values. The basic facts of man's nature from which her ethics proceeds, are: that man's life, like that of any other organism, must be sustained by self-generated action; that the course of action required is specific, as it is specific for every species; that man is a being of volitional consciousness; that man has no automatic code of behavior, but must discover the actions and values his life requires; that reason is man's basic means of survival. She answers the question "What are values and why does man need them?" by analyzing man's distinctive nature in the context of the universal class of living organisms. That is the great originality of her approach. She does not advocate a single moral principle that cannot be traced back, by an unbroken logical chain, to the demonstrable requirements of man's survival qua man.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Such statements abound in the Objectivist literature, and their point is that the concept of life is the root of the concept of "value" -- both epistemologically and existentially. All this would seem to buttress a very narrow "survivalist" reading of Rand's ethics. That interpretation has certainly been abetted by more recent formulations, e. g., those of Peikoff. Consider this from Leonard Peikoff;s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (p. 211): Goal-directed entities do not exist in order to pursue values. They pursue values in order to exist.

Only self-preservation can be an ultimate goal, which serves no end beyond itself.

But is this last interpretation a full and reliable one? Consider now...

Rand qua "Flourisher"Again in Galt's speech Rand Wrote: You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards.

Now please compare: * Peikoff: "Goal-directed entities do not exist in order to pursue values. They pursue values in order to exist."

* Rand/Galt: "We seek the achievement of happiness...We exist for the sake of earning rewards."

So which is it? Peikoff seems to be saying that the sole point of seeking rewards (values) is to sustain life. Rand's own words seem to say the opposite -- that life becomes worth living as it becomes rewarding or fulfilling. In fact, in other passages, she become absolutely explicit about it. For example, again from Galt's speech: ...that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining [emphasis added]... that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has no automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational being he is born able to create, but must create by choice... a soul that seeks above all [emphasis added] to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself.

And in "The goal of my writing" (part of The Romantic Manifesto): Just as man's physical survival depends on his own effort, so does his psychological survival. Man faces two corollary, interdependent fields of action in which a constant exercise of choice and a constant creative process are demanded of him: the world around him and his own soul (by "soul," I mean his consciousness). Just as he has to produce the material values he needs to sustain his life, so he has to acquire the values of character that enable him to sustain it and that make his life worth living. He is born without knowledge of either. he has to discover both -- and translate them into reality -- and survive by shaping the world and himself in the image of his values. [Emphasis added.] Or consider the remarkable implications of this statement of Howard Roark's in The Fountainhead: We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form.

These passages make clear that Rand was concerned with more than physical survival. She argued explicitly that man had to acquire the kind of character values that sustain his life-serving activities, but more: "that make his life worth living." Obviously, to Rand, any life per se was not necessarily a "life worth living." Her fiction lends ample corroboration: the suicides of Andrei Taganov, Gail Wynand and Cheryl Taggart. These characters portrayed lives which could have continued for some time, but which were no longer "worth living." (I include Wynand since Rand had him commit suicide in her film script.) John Galt, Rand's premier exemplar, gives unmistakable testimony to this in the following passage from Part III, Chapter 8 of Atlas Shrugged. Galt is talking to Mr. Thompson, the nation's "leader," who has been making veiled threats about using physical force against Galt, perhaps even killing him: "Don't you want to live?" [asks Thompson.] "Passionately" [replies Galt]. He saw the snap of a spark in Mr. Thompson's eyes and smiled. "I'll tell you more: I know that I want to live much more intensely than you do. I know that that's what you're counting on. I know that you, in fact, do not want to live at all. I want it. And because I want it so much, I will accept no substitute."

"...I will accept no substitute." Can there be any doubt that Galt is here acknowledging that -- yes -- if he submits, he may be permitted to continue to exist indefinitely; but -- no -- he doesn't want that kind of existence.

True, it is the need to live that gives rise to the need for values; virtues are simply means to the achievement of life- serving values, and not ends-in-themselves. But observe that there is more at stake than mere physical survival. In Rand's view, enjoyment of life plays a crucial role.

Another part of Galt's Speech makes clear that "The purpose of morality is to teach you...to enjoy yourself and live." And: "Virtue is not an end in itself. Virtue is not its own reward or sacrificial fodder for the reward of evil. Life is the reward of virtue -- and happiness is the goal and reward of life." [Emphasis added.] For man, happiness -- not just survival -- is the final goal, and reward, of a specifically human life. The ultimate rewards she hoped men would gain from adopting her ethics were (surprise!) emotional. The experience of passionate engagement with life -- of meaning and purpose -- of spiritual grandeur, exaltation, joy...this state, to her, made "life worth living."

Yet Rand did not take the state of happiness and well-being as an irreducible primary. She viewed it biocentrically. In "The Psychology of Pleasure," an essay published in Feb. 1964 under Rand's auspices in The Objectivist Newsletter, Nathaniel Branden writes: Pleasure, for man, is not a luxury, but a profound psychological need. Pleasure (in the widest sense of the term) is a metaphysical concomitant of life, the reward and consequence of successful action -- just as pain is the insignia of failure, destruction, death. Through the state of enjoyment, man experiences the value of life, the sense that life is worth living, worth struggling to maintain. In order to live, man must act to achieve values. Pleasure or enjoyment is at once an emotional payment for successful action and an incentive to continue acting... Thus, in letting man experience, in his own person, the sense that life is a value and that he is a value, pleasure serves as the emotional fuel of man's existence.

Objectivism is emphatically a biocentric philosophy: it is concerned with the values -- including psychological values -- Man needs to sustain his life. There is no doubt that it is in basic survival that the Objectivist ethics has its roots.

But these roots aren't the entire tree.

Problems with Survival and FlourishingThere are serious difficulties with both the Survivalist and the Flourisher positions, as usually put forth.

Problems with SurvivalThe fundamental problem with the Survivalist position commonly put forth is that it doesn't get us very far down the road of ethics.

First, it's not quite accurate to describe Objectivism as a strictly Survivalist philosophy. If survival alone is the true focus of the Objectivist ethics, then Ayn Rand's emphasis on projecting heroes and exalting human character becomes unintelligible. Billions of people have managed to survive -- not always very happily or well, perhaps, but at least survive -- with no heroes or ideals worthy of the name. Yet this was no peripheral concern of Rand's: it was her raison d'etre. "The goal of my writing," she often said, "is the projection of an ideal man."

Similarly, Rand advocated not just the sustenance of life through a productive career; she held an exalted view of such a career. To survive, an architect surely needs clients; but he doesn't need to produce a Stoddard Temple.

To survive, a single woman may need a job; she doesn't need to run a Taggart Transcontinental. Yet Rand's heroes and heroines treat their work not as "a job" -- not even as "an adventure" -- but as a sacred mission.

That, in fact, is the view of life I get from virtually every page of Ayn Rand.

What makes her heroes and heroines distinctive is not that they are self-supporting, but rather, how they are self-supporting -- how they see themselves, their lives, their values, their work. It is this exalted sense -- the view of actualizing one's full potential on earth -- that makes Rand's characters, and her ethics, utterly unique.

And for Rand, when the quest to pursue exalted human values is impaired in some irreparable way, then life is truly no longer "worth living."

Contrary to base Survivalism, Rand simultaneously argued something more. She acknowledged that there were degrees of pleasure, and that -- ideally -- man's ultimate reward for heroic action in service of human life and values was a state of exaltation. While pleasure had life-serving motivational force (and hence a biological grounding), the kind of intense, exalted pleasure she celebrated also served, for those who earned it, as an ultimate end and reward for successful living.

No, it was not mere "survivalism" that drew to Ayn Rand an audience of millions, especially of young people, yearning for some ideal that made sense to them. She clearly intended something more than a subsistence ethics. Try reading her Introduction to The Fountainhead from that perspective -- or her tribute to "Apollo 11" -- or her passage about the radiant joy on a child's face in "Requiem for Man" (Capitalism the Unknown Ideal) -- or her entire Romantic Manifesto. Try reading the opening passage of Part II, Chapter 8 of Atlas Shrugged -- in which Dagny is trying desperately to "survive" without a long-range purpose, in a cabin in the woods -- and consider the emotional torture she's undergoing. Try reading the part of The Fountainhead where Roark has to abandon his architectural career for lack of clients, and what he emotionally must endure. Physical survival, these passages shout, is not enough.

Thus, I reject interpretations which suggest that Rand's aim was only to improve our long-term survival odds, to move us as far as possible from threats to our survival, or to provide a basic moral calculus for designing survival strategies. I do not see, in her fictional heroes, any cool calculations of careers and actions along such narrow lines.

Does this move Rand into the camp of the Flourishers, then? Not really.

Problems with FlourishingThe arguments put forth by prominent Flourishers suffer from circularity and arbitrariness. If we ask, "Why should Man reason?" -- it is not sufficient to answer, "Because he's a rational animal" -- which only translates to: "Because he reasons." Answering the question, "Because it advances self- preservation" may not be a fully complete or elegant answer; but at least, it's an answer. Though (contrary to the Survivalists) Rand clearly wanted people to aspire to more than mere physical survival, she also saw (contrary to the Flourishers) that such aspirations required biocentric (survival) roots.

There are other basic problems with the Flourishers' position as well.

One prominent Flourisher wrote to me that "virtue" means "how well a living thing performs its natural function. A living thing's natural function is not merely to live but to live as the kind or sort of thing it is. For a human being this means that one needs to live as a rational animal."

The Aristotelian/Flourisher case, in sum, is this: "Man is a rational animal; hence, in accord with his nature, he should reason." It proceeds deductively from a definition of Man that stresses his rational nature, and thus seems to imply a kind of metaphysical imperative to reason. Hence, Man's "natural function" (to reason) may be inferred from his definition ("rational animal").

Put another way, the Flourisher way of "grounding virtue in nature" begins by metaphysicalizing essences: by treating the essential or defining traits of a concept (e.g., rational animal) as if they are actual metaphysical existents "out there" in nature, rather than contextual, epistemological identifications.

On this basis, the "natural function" of a man, a squirrel or a knife is reduced to its defining trait alone. Because the defining trait of Man is his rational capacity, Flourishers conclude, in effect, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" -- literally. But as Rand put it in "Causality Vs. Duty," the only thing a man's gotta do is die.

The error here is two-fold. First, treating entities as only their defining characteristics (rather than as the entirety of their attributes); second, viewing those defining traits as a "natural deontology" -- that is, holding that an entity has a kind of natural duty ("natural function") to behave in accordance with its defining (essential) traits.

Definitions consider only selected attributes. These "essences" are not metaphysical; they are epistemological.

They do not exist per se in nature, thereby "naturally" obligating the entity possessing them to behave this way or that. Rather, the "essential" or "defining" characteristics of a concept are simply those which human beings have identified as contextually essential for purposes of drawing useful distinctions among concepts. They are human identifications, not metaphysical existents of intrinsic significance.

For example, the concept "Man" subsumes everything about him, not just his "essential," defining attribute (i.

e., his rational capacity). Among his other attributes is his volitional capacity. Now consider what happens if, in defining "Man," we substitute (for "rational animal") the phrase: "a being of volitional, conceptual consciousness." In the appropriate contexts, either definition could be valid, focusing on equally real and significant aspects of human nature. However, by substituting the definition "a being of volitional, conceptual consciousness," suddenly the apparent metaphysical imperative to "be rational" vanishes. A definition that focuses on volition does not suggest that man "should" do anything in particular: volition precludes any metaphysical "shoulds" or "oughts."

Man is also the only creature (to our best knowledge) equipped by nature with esthetic sensitivities. Why can't we say, "man's natural function is to create and appreciate art"? Why can't we also say it's his "natural function" to be musical, to play baseball, or to go out on dates?

Clearly, the aim of the Flourishers is to try to reduce morality, by definitions, to simple commandments of nature. But nature, as such, issues no commandments -- least of all to entities whose "essence" must be exercised by volition. There is no commandment of nature that says that "a man must think." Even if we were to posit, for sake of argument, that "a fish must swim" or "a bird must fly," given Man's unique volitional capacity, he would remain an exception to this list of natural "musts."

To say that "My morality...is based on a single choice -- to live" (Galt's Speech) is very different from saying, "a living thing's natural function is...to live as the kind or sort of thing it is." The latter view of "essences" and "natural functions" is an example of intrinsicist, not Objectivist, epistemology. It is the idea that certain attributes are intrinsically significant to an entity, rather than contextually significant.

An Objectivist Synthesis?Objectivism is a kind of synthesis of both Survivalist and Flourisher concerns: the Survivalists' concern about grounding ethics, and the Flourishers' concerns about providing men with more-than-subsistence moral guidance.

Yet a problem remains. Rand herself obviously meant her ethics to lead us to more than just survival. Why?

Because man is more than just a physical body. His "soul" (consciousness) also has a certain identity -- a nature which cannot be ignored or violated with impunity, any more than can his physical nature.

But though Ayn Rand was correct in rooting the Objectivist ethics in human survival, it is a big logical leap from those Survivalist roots, to such Flourishing branches and blossoms as the Stoddard Temple, "man-worship," Apollo 11 and Rachmaninoff. This is the criticism and concern of the Flourishers, and in my view, it's a legitimate one. How, then, do we resolve this problem?

A possible clue can be inferred by juxtaposing two quotations from Rand. The first, from Galt's speech, we have already seen: "It is for the purpose of self-preservation that man needs a code of morality. The only man who desires to be moral is the man who desires to live."

The differences between Survivalists and Flourishers exist largely because both sides are interpreting the terms "self- preservation" and "live" in a physical way only. Since both sides assume Rand meant to ground all her ethics in pure life-or-death subsistence, the only choice was to agree with her or not. Survivalists do, while Flourishers don't think it's morally adequate.

But what if their premise is mistaken?

As evidence, consider the second quotation, from Part IV, Chapter 2 of The Fountainhead, where Roark meets Gail Wynand for the first time. Roark is explaining to Wynand the symbolic meaning of productive work. He says: We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form.

If we take this formulation as giving wider context and meaning to the first, then a question occurs: In using the terms "self- preservation" and "life" what meanings did Rand intend? What if the "self" and "life" Rand alluded to was something much more than one's mere physical survival?

Consider her position on abortion. In that area, she views "selfhood" far more broadly than just a physical life. It is "self" in the sense of "person" -- selfhood in the sense of personhood. Human rights, to her, are not rights of a mindless body, arising from physical processes alone, but rights of selfhood, or of personality. The realm of ethics does not apply to entities which do not possess a human level of consciousness -- hence, neither do rights.

That's why Rand regards the mother, not the fetus, as possessing rights: only the mother is truly, fully human (i. e., a "self").

In fact, anyone familiar with the entire body of her work would have to conclude that the "self" at the root of Rand's ethics is not "self qua physical body," but "self qua human being." And if we interpret "self-preservation" in Rand to mean "selfhood- preservation," or "personhood-preservation" -- then the false alternative of "survive versus flourish" simply evaporates, permitting a possible reconciliation or synthesis between the two sides: 1.First, we meet the Survivalists' valid concern about grounding ethics in nature. "Life" is indeed the source of values for all species, including man. But the specific basis for moral values is human life.

Rand's formulation about "life being the genetic root of values" was only a broad epistemological linkage; it was never intended to be an ultimate grounding for ethics, whose roots are not in generic "life" per se, but specifically in human life.

"Man, like every other living species, has a specific manner of survival which is determined by his nature," wrote Branden in his authorized interpretation of Rand. Yet for Man, "survival" or "self-preservation" is more than survival or self-preservation at the animal level. Man's basic level of survival is -- unavoidably -- a human kind of survival. One cannot reduce "self-preservation" for man back any further, to mere animal- level functioning, because that's simply not Man's nature.

This, then, is the key to resolving the survive/flourish dichotomy. Rand's ethics does not begin with plant life, or animal life -- but solely and exclusively with human life. Why? Because subhuman life is outside the realm of ethics. Morality is exclusively a human concern. Put another way: her intention wasn't to reduce ethics back to "life qua life," but only as far back as "man's life."

So, the "self" she referred to in "self-preservation" means: the human self. It does not mean merely saving one's skin; it means preserving one's personhood -- all that one's person has, aspires to or values.

Thus understood, the "preservation of Man's life" tranlates, for each person, into the specific aspects which makes his own life "worth living."

For a Roark, "self-preservation" could well include the terms and conditions that would enable him to build a Stoddard Temple -- because if he couldn't, the entity we call "Roark" would no longer exist, or find his life worth living. Likewise, for a Dagny, "self-preservation" would be intimately bound up with the welfare of Taggart Transcontinental -- for without it, she would no longer be able to function happily as the unique "person" we call Dagny Taggart. For others, it would mean those personal values in which they have invested their own "selves": their careers, families, homes, financial well-being, etc. The broad principles of rational self-interest tell us only that these values must be objectively consistent with human well-being; but within those rational limits, the specific values each individual chooses (and thus incorporates into his "self") can vary almost infinitely.

2.Second, we meet the Flourishers' valid concern that ethics guide us beyond mere brute subsistence.

Understood expansively, "self-preservation" would include the entire realm of personality: one's ideas, thoughts, emotions, values -- all that contributes to one's "self" qua human being. If Rand meant this, "rational self-interest" or "survival qua man" would thus mean something like: "that which objectively contributes to the survival of a 'self' or human personality -- including its objective interests and rational values." So conceived, Rand would be positing an ethics for survival of the individual person -- which closely resembles the notion of "flourishing."

Under such an interpretation, the distinction between "rational self-interest" and "flourishing" largely disappears -- which means that the distinction between "surviving" and "flourishing" also disappears.

The same actions that, for man, advance "self"- preservation, are those entailed by "flourishing." Why?

Because for man, "survival" means "survival as a human being" -- and so does "flourishing."

The Flourishers almost have it right. Rand's ethics is very close to their own, except that hers is far more clearly grounded in nature. Rand shares the Flourishers' concern with the activity of being human. But Rand begins by grounding that concern in nature: in that which objectively sustains one's human-ness -- one's "self."

Now -- is Bidinotto saying that the "good" is anything that contributes to the survival of any "self" -- no matter what that person thinks, values, believes, feels, does, etc.? If self- preservation is the core of ethics, is the "self" of a John Galt morally equivalent to the "self" of a James Taggart? Are all "selves" created equal? Or is there an objective basis for Bidinotto's kind of self-preservation?

ConclusionsA self is a specific consciousness or identity, and its survival and well-being is not arbitrary. Just as the existence of life is conditional, so is the survival of a self. Self-preservation, in the human sense, depends on a rational course of action. Some values, ideas, emotions and actions objectively contribute to the creation and sustenance of a "self," or a human identity; others demonstrably erode and undermine one's identity, bringing one nothing but confusion, conflict, turmoil, anxiety, pain, guilt, grief, despair and -- yes -- even physical destruction, in extreme cases.

An objection might be raised as follows: "Okay, you've just described what it takes to sustain a rational personality. But suppose I'm an irrationalist and want to stay that way. I'm a malicious fiend, and love it.

Clearly, the ideas and values that will sustain my kind of 'self' don't have to be rational ones. In fact, they would have to be irrational ones."

This notion treats an "irrational self" as just another kind of "self." But it isn't. Irrational ideas and values are not just other items on the moral menu. Irrational ideas and values are those which collide with reality. They lead to destruction -- not to some "alternative" kind of life.

Self-preservation ethics is not relativistic about what a "self" can be. An "irrational self" is a contradiction in terms. You either have a personality, an identity, a self, and are working to maintain it -- or you don't and aren't. One does not sustain an irrational personality: an irrational personality is not a stable personality at all. It is precisely the absence of a self -- or at best, a self in chaotic disintegration. To continue to flout reality, an irrational person would be guaranteeing the eventual destruction of any remaining remnants of his battered identity. Irrationalism is, psychologically, "self"-destruction.

So it is as meaningless for one to speak of the "self- preservation" of a non-self as it would be to speak of the "preservation of a void." A Peter Keating, for example, is not simply an alternative kind of self: he's the flotsam of a self that was not rationally sustained. He in fact has no identity. He's a non-entity, masquerading as an entity. (For support of this view, see Nathaniel Branden's Psychology of Self-Esteem.) But there are other interesting implications of this view of selfhood.

"Self"-Objectification"We live in our minds," says Roark, "and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form."

Human life, this suggests, consists of the objectification of one's values in the external world, making it over in the image and likeness of our internal "world." That internal world is the "self." We are each God, in a personal quest to tranform the world into the shape and form of our ideal internal world, or self. Projecting, objectifying or externalizing our values gives us pleasure, because we are actualizing our vision of how things ought to be, remaking reality in our own image and likeness.

We do this in countless ways, through our own creativity. Whether we raise a garden or a child, tidy up our house or our philosophical premises, write a novel or a letter to the editor, we seem to be striving ceaselessly to shape the "out there" in the image of our private "in here."

The life aim of each person may be described as "the objectification of the self." As long as one's "self" (e. g., ideas, values, ends, etc.) is consonant with reason and reality, what I would call "rational self-objectification" more or less describes the proper human enterprise.

Rational self-objectification may be seen as the Flourishing aspect of life, while "rational self-interest" is the Survival aspect. The survival aspect stems from our need, as biological entities, to create, gain and keep life-serving values; it's essentially based on appropriation of life-serving values from the world. But the flourishing aspect of life goes in the other direction: it entails the projection of our own created values back into the world.

There are still other, more subtle implications of this viewpoint. Consider, for example, how rational self- objectification might modify brute Survivalism.

Psychological "Self"-DefenseI have often thought of how I might react if confronted by the sight of a criminal attacking some stranger. I am virtually positive I would get involved, even at grave risk to my physical survival. But why? In examining my feelings as to why, here's what I come up with.

I view such a matter as a core issue of my personal symbolism about how the world should, and shouldn't, be.

The criminal is not just attacking a stranger; he is attacking all that I value. He is attacking my world...me. He fills me with indignation, because he and his sort are undermining the world I wish to create, the world I want.

I can't walk past such a sight indifferently; and the fact that I don't know the stranger personally is irrelevant. It is not the stranger I so intensely value here: it is my world as I want it.

Similar considerations go into my risking my neck to save a stranger in peril during an emergency. I don't know anything about the stranger. I do know that I am making my personal statement against the triumph of raw circumstances over human life -- and over my volition. What jumps into my head is not, "I have a moral obligation to the stranger," but rather, "Not if I have anything to say about this!" You see, it's my world that's under assault.

There's a scene in We The Living in which young Kira sits with a girl who's being mistreated by all the other girls in the school, if my memory serves me correctly. She explains that she's not doing it so much for the harrassed girl, as she is taking a stand against the behavior of the mob. That is the sense I'm speaking of here.

Now, some might ask: "Isn't this irrational? By what standard do you project your personal value onto things which, objectively, have nothing to do with your personal survival -- things which, in fact, could actually jeopardize your personal survival?" My reply would be: "Why do you project your personal value onto your wife, your child, your house, your wedding ring, your pet, or anything else?" As humans, we do that all the time. A man who doesn't -- who has no external values -- can hardly be said to have a "self" in the human sense. One's self, in fact, incorporates all manner of external values, many having only the most remote connection to physical survival as such. We appropriate such values, in a psychological sense, making them "part of us," part of our world, part of our selves. After all, Objectivism teaches that our lives are not exclusively "in here" or "out there": they are a relationship between the two.

I would also ask: "Couldn't Rearden survive without Rearden Metal? Couldn't Roark survive without architecture? Couldn't Dagny survive without Taggart Transcontinental? Why did Dagny intervene and save the bum on the train? Why did Kira intervene on behalf of the abused girl?" If what I'm suggesting grossly misinterprets Rand, why did she have Roark tell Wynand not to give up his crusade on his, Roark's, behalf -- even though Wynand's crusade, objectively speaking, was harming Roark himself? On strictly Survivalist grounds, this act by Roark is outrageously irrational.

Only if we interpret Roark's "selfishness" in a manner as I am suggesting, does it make any sense: his "self" has incorporated Wynand's well-being as crucial to his own well-being. He will be damaged far more by Wynand's destruction, than by public outrage, or even a prison term. He is acting, I would argue, in psychological "self"-defense.

I simply cannot understand the full corpus of Ayn Rand's work -- especially her fiction -- to mean something very different from what I am suggesting here. As far as I can see, it is the only interpretation fully consistent with all that she wrote. And -- unless I'm missing something very subtle -- it is the only interpretation which simultaneously grounds ethics in nature, while extending ethics beyond considerations of mere subsistence.

It's time for a truce between the Survivalists and the Flourishers. For properly understood, Objectivism can bridge the legitimate concerns of both camps.

Our common aim? To offer the world an ethics that is firmly rooted in reality, yet rich enough to span all the important contextual considerations of human life on earth -- an ethics that supports and sustains human life, but which also makes human life worth living.

And what greater gift could we offer the world than that?



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