Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics?

  • This is a question in response to this other one that I asked. I didn't really get a satisfactory answer, mostly because it seems like Rand's work is largely ignored by academics. The highest voted answer starts with "you'll be hard-pressed to find a serious philosopher who takes Ayn Rand seriously". Why is this the case? To a layperson like myself, her ideas seem pretty well thought out, self consistent, and thought provoking, if a bit black-and-white. Is her work lacking rigor? Is the problem that her work takes the form of fiction rather than non-fiction? Are the ideas presented flawed in a way that is not obvious to me?

    Again, wikipedia offers some helpful context: "The tenor of the criticism for her first nonfiction book, *For the New Intellectual*, was similar to that for Atlas Shrugged, with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her certainty to "the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union", and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint "nearly perfect in its immorality". Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers."

    @JosephWeissman So the rejection was based on her presentation and not the ideas themselves? Have the ideas themselves ever been addressed academically? What I'm really looking for with this and the previous question is some suggestions on reading material for investigating Rand's ideas further. Literature either in support or against her ideas would be helpful.

    @jkohlhepp - It's just not very good philosophy. Not very insightful. Contains basic errors that anyone trained in philosophy (and some who have not) should be able to catch pretty easily. For example: http://www.kiekeben.com/rand.html

    @RexKerr - I would up vote that as an answer to the original question. And I think it fits here as well.

    @Chad - An answer deserves somewhat more depth than was found in my comment.

    I think most critics are responding to her fiction work as other's suggested. However I have not found many reviews of her non-fiction work "Philosophy: who needs it?" which does bring up many philosophical arguments and her conclusions in chapter 3 "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made" where she talks about consciousness, rational faculty, volition .. It would be interesting if there was any academic reaction to that.? Was Rand's view unique or were there any criticisms.?

    @RexKerr: As to the contradiction between libertarianism and determinism, Isaac Beshevis Singer used to say "We have to believe in free will, we have no choice." Acceptance of the effects of the free-will concept does not necessarily conflict with determinism.

    @RexKerr: Also, it seems like the article sets up a strawman argument. He declares a premise on Rand's philosophy that isn't necessarily so (determinism). He then proceeds to shoot down his own premise. Although, I must admit that I have only read Atlas Shrugged.

    She's just blurring her fiction with reality and vice versa, then defending it as truth....so whats new about that..

    If you want to understand why Academics don't tend to take Rand seriously, you probably need to familiarize yourself with the impact German philosophy has had on American intellectuals, including those who made up the pragmatist school like Sidney Hook and John Dewey. And then read about Eric Hoffer and his criticism of modern intellectuals, and you'll probably be able to put two and two together to understand why academics don't like Rand.

    @RexKerr The argument presented in the article is itself very flawed. It takes Ayn Rand's words completely out of context.

    @SamparkSharma - If you wish others to share your opinion, perhaps it would be advisable to give some evidence?

    it's pretty simple. they don't like Rand because she disagrees with them and criticizes them.

    @curl - Maybe you should read her. She is not a philosopher but a propagandist. She appears to have had little interest in philosophy.

    philosophers disagree with each other, that's the job in a nutshell right @curi

  • Lucretius

    Lucretius Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Ayn Rand isn't well liked because her work doesn't fit into the mold of what academia deems acceptable philosophy. This makes perfect sense when you understand that Ayn Rand's view of philosophy is different (she wasn't trying to meet the standards of academic philosophy). Rand views philosophy as an indispensable component of human life, while academics treat philosophy like more of a discipline one does simply because one can. If you were to ask an academic what the purpose of philosophy is they're likely to be confused by the question.

    Often her conclusions are misrepresented (as they are in the highest voted answer in this thread by Jaime Ravenet, and by Robert Nozick's work On The Randian Argument). Even more often people treat her works of fiction as philosophical arguments and attempt to extract an argument from some character's dialogue, or they attack her personal life and don't even try to hide their ad-hominem.

    Example of dismissal:

    She relies on absolute self-certainty where she should be relying on well-reasoned arguments.

    This attempts to ignore or dismiss her arguments on the foundations of philosophy. Specifically, beginning from the beginning by establishing the absolute baseline of what must be taken as a given. Irrefutable absolutes she referred to as axiomatic concepts. These were not "absolute self-certainty", they were where she argued one must begin because that is the point at which no further reduction is possible... and because any attempt to refute them fails by first affirming them. Every argument has its premises, Objectivism as a whole is no different.

    Here is an example of misrepresentation:

    there are still WAY too many questions left unanswered for us to stop doing philosophy.

    This implies that it was Ayn Rand's goal to answer all possible questions such that we "stop doing philosophy" right? Actually Ayn Rand argued in Philosophy: Who Needs It? that Philosophy is a fundamental part of everyday life for every human being, and you need it badly like it or not.

    So you can see even in the "popular" view in this thread you've got dismissal and misrepresentations. Most of the people I attempt to discuss Objectivism with are like this. They read one of her works of fiction at some point and fancy themselves knowledgeable enough to speak on the subject.

    In reality it's become fashionable to dislike Ayn Rand.

    I actually do not know of any particular arguments she did offer, but I...

    ...but you're going to write another few paragraphs on why she can be safely disregarded.

    Ayn Rand had an unfortunate disposition. Originally from Russia, she wasn't a very good communicator verbally or on paper unless you spent some time listening to her. On top of English being her second language and the subject being often complex, it required too much effort to really get a grasp of what she was trying to communicate.

    The time period she lived in has a lot to do with it also. The "collectivist" counter-culture was on the rise; the political atmosphere and governmental policies in the United States (she felt) were pushing the nation in the same direction as Russia, the country she fled. She felt a very immediate threat from the direction the country was moving in, both culturally and politically, because of what she experienced in Russia first hand. This first hand experience provided a lot of the motivation behind strong positions against things she would come to call "evil" etc...

    So when you mix together someone who is an outspoken critic that holds strong unpopular positions and someone that isn't a very good public speaker you end up with the common view of Ayn Rand. "An angry tirade occasioned by mistaking philosophical disagreement for a personal attack and/or evidence of unspeakable moral corruption."

    Is there any chance I might be able to persuade you to back up some of this with citations or references?

    Sure, what else would you like referenced? I gave direct links for her input on Axiomatic Concepts, and a reference to quotes from Philosophy: Who Needs It?, and a link to what I think sums up common perceptions of Ayn Rand. In addition to those three citations I quoted three examples from Jamie (representative of the majority view in this thread with the most up votes) to support the point I was making that most dismiss or misrepresent Rand's work. You going to dismiss my references and ask for references?

    I still think this might be more robust if you provided a bit more support to your argumentation in terms of cites. Anyway, I am not trying to dismiss your sources; I would just encourage you to to try to add a bit more value here in terms of backing up your larger argument

    A response with 7 references would be more "robust" than a response with 6. The same criticism could apply to a response with 7 references because a response with 8 references would then again be more "robust." Your criticism just shows you're going to be disagreeable under all circumstances (since more citations would always be possible). My answer was more than adequate to communicate my position, and sufficiently answers the question in the thread.

    My issue is really just that you cite one source three times for over seven paragraphs of argumentation -- though the Rand lexicon is certainly on point in a *general discussion* on Rand, it doesn't really seem to effectively support your larger argument... I would really encourage you to step up and try to provide more explicit backing-up of your argument -- opinion by itself is after all just noise. To be clear I am really just trying to encourage you, as I said already, to add a bit more value here

    Joe, have a look at the top response from Jamie. Count the references. You'll find one unrelated link. Why not respond to him? Bias... The Ayn Rand lexicon is a very relevant source in this discussion because that site is simply quotations from her. Jamie seems to think she based her arguments on nothing, I gave a link to her own words on her basis for her philosophy. The question is about why her arguments are ignored by academics, and I linked her view of philosophy to contrast it with the view of philosophy from academics. You saying that this is "opinion" makes no sense.

    Thanks for clarifying your concern; I'll try to do the same: the issue here is not the absolute number of citations, it's about *value*. Your larger argument -- that it's merely "fashionable" to dislike Rand -- feels unsupported to me, as do what I think I can safely call your strong implications of misrepresentation on the part of other answerers. I get that you don't like Jaime's answer -- but it does seem to me to try to objectively and from a *neutral point of view* respond to the question -- which I guess I'm saying I think citing outside sources may help your post with.

    The issue is that personal interpretations grounded in axiomatic concepts are not philosophy. Such criteria make Deepak Chopra as much a victim of academic fashions as Ayn Rand. I think we all agree that she wasn't engaging in academic philosophy.

    @JaimeRavenet: How did we come from "Why is Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy dismissed by academics?" to "I think we all agree that she wasn't engaging in academic philosophy"? Moving the goalposts?

    "If you were to ask an academic what the purpose of philosophy is they're likely to be confused by the question." — How true is this? I'm reminded of Bertrand Russell's The Value of Philosophy.

    So if it's not "philosophy", how do you decide whether or not it's true or false, or superior or inferior to other belief systems? What happens if you represent the position of Rand 100% correctly and fully?

    @mike3, I encourage you to start a new question along those lines. Answering here in the comment section would require too much detail but I think it would address a crucial point about the value of "academic philosophy" vs. "functional philosophy" intended specifically for the purpose of living a human life.

    @lucretius The first two sentences of this answer are really all that's relevant. Academic philosophers dismiss Rand because she wasn't doing academic philosophy. Are there other kinds of philosophy than academic philosophy? Maybe, but it's going to be very tough for the hobbyist to convince the professional. There is certainly room in philosophy for those kinds of interactions (c.f. Kripke) but looking at Rand's writing, a professional philosopher sees more attempts than successes at doing what she seems to be aiming for.

    I agree with the sentiment of this answer (that Rand is unfairly dismissed) but this statement is incorrect: "Rand views philosophy as a detrimental component of human life". Rand explicitly argues in much of her work that philosophy is *indispensable* to life. She is very clear on this point.

    You're absolutely right, I'm not sure how I got confused on the meaning. I'll update my answer. Thank you.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM