Fact and Value
I agree completely with “On Sanctioning the Sanctioners,” Peter Schwartz’s article in the last issue of TIA. That article has, however, raised questions in the mind of some readers. In particular, David Kelley, one of the persons whom the article implicitly criticizes, has written an articulate paper in reply, identifying his own philosophy on the relevant topics. He has sent a copy of this paper to me and to many other individuals.
In my judgment, Kelley’s paper is a repudiation of the fundamental principles of Objectivism. His statements make clear to me, in purely philosophic terms and for the first time, the root cause of the many schisms that have plagued the Objectivist movement since 1968. The cause goes to the essentials of what Objectivism is. I have, therefore, decided to interrupt my book on Objectivism in order to name this cause once and for all.
In the following, I am presupposing a basic knowledge of Ayn Rand’s ideas. I am writing to and for Objectivists, whether or not they have seen Kelley’s paper.
The fundamental issue raised by Kelley concerns the relationship between the true and the good. What kind of thing, Kelley asks, can be true or false, and what kind good or evil? In other words (my words): what is the relationship between fact and value? Kelley takes a definite stand on this issue, one which leads him, logically, to uphold “tolerance” as “a virtue in the cognitive realm,” and to accuse Schwartz and others like him (myself and Ayn Rand presumably included) of “zealotry,” “hysteria,” “non-intellectuality,” “malevolence,” “closed-mindedness” and the like.
Let me begin by summarizing, without reference to Kelley, the essence of the Objectivist view on the relationship between fact and value.
Objectivism holds that value is objective (not intrinsic or subjective); value is based on and derives from the facts of reality (it does not derive from mystic authority or from whim, personal or social). Reality, we hold — along with the decision to remain in it, i.e., to stay alive — dictates and demands an entire code of values. Unlike the lower species, man does not pursue the proper values automatically; he must discover and choose them; but this does not imply subjectivism. Every proper value-judgment is the identification of a fact: a given object or action advances man’s life (it is good): or it threatens man’s life (it is bad or an evil). The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality. The evil is a species of the false; it is a form of contradicting reality. Or: values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live.
In the objective approach, since every fact bears on the choice to live, every truth necessarily entails a value-judgment, and every value-judgment necessarily presupposes a truth. As Ayn Rand states the point in “The Objectivist Ethics”: “Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every ‘is’ implies an ‘ought.’” Evaluation, accordingly, is not a compartmentalized function applicable only to some aspects of man’s life or of reality; if one chooses to live and to be objective, a process of evaluation is coextensive with and implicit in every act of cognition.
This applies even to metaphysically given facts (as distinguished from man-made facts). Metaphysically given facts, Miss Rand points out, cannot as such be evaluated. Sunlight, tidal waves, the law of gravity, et al. are not good or bad; they simply are; such facts constitute reality and are thus the basis of all value-judgments. This does not, however, alter the principle that every “is” implies an “ought.” The reason is that every 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. In relation to the goal of staying alive, the fact demands specific kinds of actions and prohibits others; i.e., it entails a definite set of evaluations. For instance, sunlight is a fact of metaphysical reality; but once its effects are discovered by man and integrated to his goals, a long series of evaluations follows: the sun is a good thing (an essential of life as we know it); i.e., within the appropriate limits, its light and heat are good, good for us; other things being equal, therefore, we ought to plant our crops in certain locations, build our homes in a certain way (with windows), and so forth; beyond the appropriate limits, however, sunlight is not good (it causes burns or skin cancer); etc. All these evaluations are demanded by the cognitions involved — if one pursues knowledge in order to guide one’s actions. Similarly, tidal waves are bad, even though natural; they are bad for us if we get caught in one, and we ought to do whatever we can to avoid such a fate. Even the knowledge of the law of gravity, which represents a somewhat different kind of example, entails a host of evaluations — among the most obvious of which are: using a parachute in midair is good, and jumping out of a plane without one is bad, bad for a man’s life.
Just as there can be no dichotomy between mind and body, so there can be none between the true and the good. Even in regard to metaphysically given facts, cognition and evaluation cannot be sundered. Cognition apart from evaluation is purposeless; it becomes the arbitrary desire for “pure knowledge” as an end in itself. Evaluation apart from cognition is non-objective; it becomes the whim of pursuing an “I wish” not based on any “It is.”
THE SAME PRINCIPLE applies in regard to man-made facts — which brings us to the virtue of justice. Justice is an aspect of the principle that cognition demands evaluation; it is that principle applied to human choices and their products. Since man is volitional, evaluation of the man-made is of a special kind: it is moral evaluation.
The virtue of justice is necessary, at root, for the same reason that evaluation in relation to any fact is necessary: the character and behavior of other men are facts, which have effects on one’s own well-being. To an individual in a division-of-labor society, it makes a life-or-death difference whether he is surrounded by producers or parasites, honest men or cheats, independent men or power-lusters. Just as one must distinguish between good and bad in relation to the realm of nature, so one must distinguish between good and bad in relation to the realm of man.
In Objectivist terms, this means a single fundamental issue: in the human realm, one 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.)
Evaluation, though it is essential in every field of cognition, is especially urgent in regard to the man-made. When, through the default of the better men, evil (evasion) wins out in a human society, man’s life is thereby doomed, however great the scientific knowledge at the time and however beneficent the conditions of physical nature. By contrast, when, through the scrupulous justice of the better men, the good (the mind) wins out, there is virtually no form of ignorance or natural disaster that men cannot successfully combat.
Justice — being an aspect of the principle that every cognition demands an evaluation — requires moral judgment of men and their works across-the-board, with no areas of life excepted or exempted. In Ayn Rand’s words (from “How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?”): “one must know clearly, in full, verbally identified form, one’s own moral evaluation of every person, issue and event with which one deals, and act accordingly.” How does one reach a moral evaluation of a person? “A man’s moral character,” Miss Rand writes in “The Psychology of Psychologizing,” “must be judged on the basis of his actions, his statements and his conscious convictions…” (The word “statements” here denotes a broad, somewhat overlapping category. All morally revealing statements imply the speaker’s premises or ideas, even if they do not explicitly assert them; but some statements do assert them — just as some statements are themselves actions: e.g., a declaration of war.)
Now let us consider what is involved in judging a man’s actions morally. Two crucial, related aspects must be borne in mind: existence and consciousness, or effect and cause. Existentially, an action of man (as of sunlight) is good or bad according to its effects: its effects, positive or negative, on man’s life. Thus creating a skyscraper is good, murdering the architect is bad — both by the standard of life. But human action is not merely physical motion; it is a product of a man’s ideas and value-judgments, true or false, which themselves derive from a certain kind of mental cause; ultimately, from thought or from evasion. Human action is an expression of a volitional consciousness. This is why human action (as against sunlight) is morally evaluated. 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. But the murderer (assuming there are no extenuating circumstances) 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.
Both these aspects, I repeat, are essential to moral judgment. An action without effects on man’s life (there are none such) would be outside the realm of evaluation — there would be no standard of value by which to assess it. An action not deriving from ideas, i.e., from the cognitive/evaluative products of a volitional mental process, would be the reflex of a deterministic puppet or of an animal; it could not be subject to moral judgment.
THE SAME FACTORS apply in regard to the other main branch of moral judgment: judging a man’s conscious convictions or ideas. In judging an idea morally, one must (as in the action case) 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 to which the idea itself leads (which means in its case: the kind of action that flows from it). In judging an idea morally, it is not relevant whether its results are enacted by the idea’s originator or by his later followers. The existential issue here is: what kind of effects — pro-life or anti-life — will this idea have by its very nature, if and when men start to act on it?
Just as every “is” implies an “ought,” so every identification of an idea’s truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates. The evaluation, to repeat, comes from the answer to two related questions: what kind of volitional cause led people to this idea? and, to what kind of consequences will this idea lead in practice?
Let me pause to indicate certain ramifications involved in answering the first of these questions. The general principle here is: truth implies as its cause a virtuous mental process; falsehood, beyond a certain point, implies a process of vice. The proper understanding of this principle, however, requires some discussion.
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. For Objectivism, an idea thus embraced is not “true” (or “false”). In relation to such a mind, the idea is without cognitive status; it is the arbitrary, and is analogous to the sounds emitted by a parrot. The true qua true, by contrast, does imply a process of understanding and integration, and therefore some degree of effort, focus, work. The degree of the effort may differ, of course, according to circumstances, such as whether one is the originator of the true idea or has learned it from others.
Now we must note that falsehood does not necessarily imply vice; honest errors of knowledge are possible. But such errors are not nearly so common as some people wish to think, especially in the field of philosophy. In our century, there have been countless mass movements dedicated to inherently dishonest ideas — e.g., Nazism, Communism, non-objective art, non-Aristotelian logic, egalitarianism, nihilism, the pragmatist cult of compromise, the Shirley MacLaine types, who “channel” with ghosts and recount their previous lives; etc. In all such cases, the ideas are not merely false; in one form or another, they represent an explicit rebellion against reason and reality (and, therefore, against man and values). If the conscientious attempt to perceive reality by the use of one’s mind is the essence of honesty, no such rebellion can qualify as “honest.”
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 logic or truth. They go along with corrupt trend-setters because their neighbors demand it, and/or because a given notion satisfies some out-of-context desire they happen to feel. People of this kind are not the helplessly ignorant, but the willfully self-deluded.
EVEN IN REGARD to inherently dishonest movements, let me now add, a marginal third category of adherent is possible: the relatively small number who struggle conscientiously, but simply cannot grasp the issues and the monumental corruption involved. These are the handful who become Communists, “channelers,” etc. through a truly honest error of knowledge. Leaving aside the retarded and the illiterate, who are effectively helpless in such matters, this third group consists almost exclusively of the very young — and precisely for this reason, these youngsters get out of such movements fast, on their own, without needing lectures from others; they get out as they reach maturity. Being conscientious and mentally active, they see first-hand what is going on in their movement and they identify what it means; so their initial enthusiasm turns to dismay and then to horror. (Andrei in We the Living may be taken as a fictional symbol here.) The very honesty of such individuals limits their stay in the movement; they cannot tolerate for long the massiveness of the evil with which they have become involved. Nor, when such youngsters drop out, do they say to the world belligerently: “Don’t dare to judge me for my past, because my error was honest.” On the contrary — and here I speak from my own personal experience of honest errors that I committed as a teenager — the best among these young people are contrite; they recognize the aid and comfort, inadvertent though it be, which they have been giving to error and evil, and they seek to make amends for it. They expect those who know of their past creeds and allegiances to regard them with suspicion; they know that it is their own responsibility to demonstrate objectively and across time that they have changed, that they will not repeat their error tomorrow in another variant, that their error was innocent.
We need not pursue the issue of honest errors any further. As one of his examples of an intellectually honest man, to whom others should show “tolerance” and “benevolence,” David Kelley offers not a groping teenager, but “an academic Marxist,” i.e., an adult who devotes his life to the job of teaching unreason, self-sacrifice and slavery to generations of young minds. When I speak of truth and falsehood in what follows, therefore, I am presupposing a definite (adult) context. I am speaking of truth qua truth (not of the arbitrary) — and of falsehood on the kind of scale and issues that preclude honest, short-lived errors.
Now let me return to the issue of evaluating an idea morally, and of doing so by means of identifying its cause and its effects. The crucial point is that such evaluation is not something arbitrarily added to the judgment of true and false; on the contrary, it is logically implicit in such judgment. Implicit in saying that a certain idea is true is a positive moral estimate of the mental processes that led to it (a credit to the individual for having worked to grasp reality), and a positive estimate of the existential results to come (a true idea will have to yield pro-life results when men act on it). The same applies mutatis mutandis to false ideas. Implicit in saying that an idea contradicts the facts of reality is a negative estimate of the processes that led to it, and also of the effects the idea will have in practice, which have to be harmful. If one’s ideas are tied to reality at all and if one is guided by life as the standard, there is no way to identify an idea’s truth or falsehood without in some form also making such evaluations.
There is only one basic issue in philosophy and in all judgment, cognitive and evaluative alike: does a man conform to reality or not? Whether an idea is true or false is one aspect of this question — which immediately implies the other aspects I mentioned: the relation to reality of the mental processes involved and of the actions that will result. Truth is a product of effort and leads in action to value(s); hence, one says, the true idea is not only true: it is also good. Falsehood, assuming it reaches a certain scale, is a product of evasion and leads to destruction; such an idea is not only false; it is also evil.
An employee, to take a relatively modest positive example, offers a man an idea for improving the operation of his business. His idea, the boss concludes after weighing the evidence, takes into account all the relevant facts; he’s right. So far, this is pure cognition, the outcome of which is expressed in a statement like: “I agree with you.” But no decent person, whether he knows philosophy or not, would stop there; he would not say unemotionally, like a dead fish: “Your idea is correct. Good day.” On the contrary, precisely because the new idea represents a new grasp of reality, the moral kind of boss is enthusiastic, i.e., he evaluates the idea. He cannot avoid seeing two things: this employee of mine had to innovate, struggle, think to reach the idea when no one else did, and: the idea will cut my costs, increase my customers, double my profits. The boss, accordingly, is excited, he likes his employee, he praises him, he rewards him. He not only says about the idea: “true.” As an inevitable corollary, he says about it: “good.” That “good” is the evaluation or the “ought”; it represents the practice of justice and the tie to life.
NOW TAKE THE CASE of Ayn Rand, who discovered true ideas on a virtually unprecedented scale. Do any of you who agree with her philosophy respond to it by saying “Yeah, it’s true” — without evaluation, emotion, passion? Not if you are moral. A moral person (assuming he understands philosophy at all) greets the discovery of this kind of truth with admiration, awe, even love; he makes a heartfelt positive moral evaluation. He says: Objectivism is not only true, it is great! Why? Because of the volitional work a mind must have performed to reach for the first time so exalted a level of truth — and because of all the glorious effects such knowledge will have on man’s life, all the possibilities of action it opens up for the future. And this latter applies whether Ayn Rand herself actualized these possibilities or left that feat (as she had to) to the generations still to come.
There are degrees in this issue; there are modest attainments and enormous ones; but the differences pertain only to measurement. The principle in all such cases is the same: correspondence to reality (and its causes and effects) deserves and must be given a positive moral evaluation.
The same kind of analysis applies to the negative cases. An employee comes up, say, with a stupid suggestion, which flies in the face of the facts. The boss inevitably thinks not just “false,” but “bad.” Which latter means: the man must have been out-of-focus, plus: look at the grief his idea would cause in practice. Such an idea, the boss has to feel, cannot be tolerated. No rational man can tolerate — i.e., abide, stand, or put up with — that which he sees to be false, not in his own life, mind or actions, not when he has any alternative in the matter. Since dedication to reality is the essence of the moral and of the practical, the false qua false is precisely the intolerable. (In what form a boss should express his intolerance to his employee depends on the full context.)
Now consider the case of Kant, whom I take to be the negative counterpart of Ayn Rand. To anyone capable of understanding Kant’s ideas, the first thing to say about them is: “false.” But implicit in the all-embracing war on reality they represent is a second verdict: “wicked.” The cause of such ideas has to be methodical, lifelong intellectual dishonesty; the effect, when they are injected into the cultural mainstream, has to be mass death. There can be no greater evasion than the open, total rejection of reality undertaken as a lifetime crusade. And only evasion on this kind of scale, evasion as the motor of an entire philosophic system, makes possible and necessary all the atrocities of our age. (For details, see The Ominous Parallels.)
Whoever understands the Critiques, yet urges “toleration” of Kant (or his ilk), or tells us to practice cognition on his ideas but not moral evaluation, has rejected self-preservation as a goal. He has rejected the principle of justice and the entire realm of moral value. He has said that man’s life or death should not be a ruling concern in anyone’s mind.
In the final issue of The Objectivist, Ayn Rand described Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” She said it knowing full well that, apart from his ideas, Kant’s actions were unexceptionable, even exemplary. Like Ellsworth Toohey, he was a peaceful citizen, a witty lecturer, a popular dinner guest, a prolific writer. She said it because of what Kant wrote — and why — and what it would have to do to mankind. She held that Kant was morally much worse than any killer, including Lenin and Stalin (under whom her own family died), because it was Kant who unleashed not only Lenin and Stalin, but also Hitler and Mao and all the other disasters of our disastrous age. Without the philosophic climate Kant and his intellectual followers created, none of these disasters could have occurred; given that climate, none could have been averted.
IN SOME CONTEXTS, a man is properly held blameless for an unreasonable idea, so long as he himself does not act on it. For example: if I conclude that, though you are innocent of any wrongdoing, your death would be a wonderful thing, but I then remind myself of your rights, hold myself in check and refrain from killing you, I may be free of blame and can even be given a certain moral credit: “He kept his idea within his own mind,” one could say, “he did not allow it to lead to the destruction of the innocent; to that extent, in actual practice, he was moved by the recognition of reality.” But this kind of analysis does not exonerate the philosophic advocate of unreason. In regard to him, one cannot say: “He implicitly advocates murder, but does not himself commit it, so he is morally innocent.” The philosopher of irrationalism, though legally innocent of any crime, is not “keeping his ideas within his own mind.” He is urging them on the world and into actual practice. Such a man is moved not by the recognition of reality, but by the opposite: by the desire to annihilate it. In spiritual terms, he is guilty of a heinous crime: he is inciting men to commit murder on a mass scale. Advocacy of this kind is a form of action: it represents an entire life spent on subverting man’s mind at its base. Can anyone honestly hold that such advocacy pertains not to “action,” but merely to the world of “ideas,” and therefore that verdicts such as “good” and “evil” do not apply to it?
Yet such is the essence of David Kelley’s viewpoint. “Truth” and “falsity,” he says, apply primarily to “ideas”; “good” and “evil,” to “actions, and to the people who perform them.” In regard to evil, he says, we must not be tolerant; but in regard to ideas, moral judgment is a mistake. In the cognitive realm, he says, the virtue to be practiced in regard to all comers, no matter what their viewpoint, is “tolerance” and “benevolence,” i.e., cool, open-minded, friendly discussion among civilized moral equals. Stalin, in this view, has killed people, so he is evil and intolerable; but Kant or “an academic Marxist” — he is merely a thinker of a different school, with whom one happens to disagree (and from whom, Kelley adds, we might even learn something “if we are willing to listen”). In regard to Kant and his academic progeny, therefore, moral judgment is inapplicable and even “hysterical.”
Kelley adds that if, after a discussion, a particular intellectual proves to be “not open to reason,” then we no longer have to be tolerant of him. But a man’s viewpoint as such, he insists, no matter what its content, does not justify such a negative verdict. What then does or ever could? If the content of a man’s ideas, even when they are openly at war with reason and reality, does not necessarily indicate a process of evasion on his part, how can we ever know that a man who disagrees with us after a discussion is being irrational? How can we know that he is not merely “honestly mistaken” still? Kelley does not address such questions, because the only answer to them is: on Kelley’s premises, one never can know that a man is being irrational and, therefore, one never does pronounce moral judgment.
Kelley’s viewpoint is an explicit defense of a dichotomy between fact and value, or between cognition and evaluation, and thus between mind and body. If ideas cannot be judged morally in terms of their causes and effects, why and how can a man’s actions — his bodily movements — be judged morally? No answer. If justice is a crucial virtue, how can the base and ruler of man’s life — his mind and its intellectual products — be outside of justice’s domain? No answer. If value-judgments do not flow inexorably from the judgment of truth or falsehood, if the “ought” does not flow inexorably from the “is,” where do value-judgments come from and on what are they based? No answer. What then is left of the objectivity of values, and thus of the whole Objectivist ethics, politics, esthetics? Nothing.
FOR DECADES, onetime advocates of Objectivism who have turned into champions of “tolerance” (or “kindness” or “compassion”) have leveled a specific accusation against Ayn Rand and against anyone else who pronounces moral judgment. (Kelley a few years ago accused Ayn Rand and me of it to my face, and I broke off all relations with him.) The accusation is that we are “dogmatic moralizers” or “angry emotionalists.” Up to now, I could explain these attacks only psychologically, in terms of the attackers’ cowardice or psychopathology. But now I understand the basic cause; I see the attacks’ philosophic meaning. In the minds of the “tolerance”-people, there are only two possibilities in regard to moral judgment: moralizing or emotionalism, dogma or whim, i.e., intrinsicism or subjectivism.
Such people literally have no concept of “objectivity” in regard to values. Their accusations, therefore, are expressions of their own actual philosophy and inner state. The typical (though not invariable) pattern in this kind of case is that the accuser started out in Objectivism as a dogmatist, cursing or praising people blindly, in obedience, as he thought, to his new-found “authorities.” Then at last his pent-up resentment at this self-made serfdom erupts — and he becomes an angry subjectivist, denouncing the “excessive anger” of those who make moral judgments. The swing from intrinsicism to subjectivism, however, is not a significant change; these philosophies are merely two forms in which the notion of “non-objective value” rules a man’s brain.
The intellectual corruption involved here goes deeper. The good, as I have been stressing, derives from facts; i.e., “objective value” is a logical consequence of “objective truth.” The man whose ideas are tied to reality, I have said, cannot avoid grasping at least their obvious value-implications. The man who can (or wants to) avoid it does so only through one means: his ideas are cut off from reality. In regard to theoretical issues, his very process of cognition is corrupted: it is rationalistic, floating, detached from fact.
To such a person, intellectual discussion is a game; ideas are constructs in some academic or Platonic dimension, unrelated to this earth — which is why, to him, they are unrelated to life or to morality. Inside this sort of mind, there is not only no concept of “objective value”; there is no objective truth, either — not in regard to intellectual issues. What this sort knows is only the floating notions he happens to find congenial, out of context, at and for the moment. Ideas severed from evaluation, in short, are ideas severed from (objective) cognition; i.e., from reason and reality. (Those who know formal logic will recognize that the last sentence is merely the contrapositive of my main point in this article: if cognition implies evaluation, then non-evaluation implies non-cognition.)
The absence or rejection of the concept of “objectivity” on this profound a level means the rejection not only of Ayn Rand’s ethics, but also of her epistemology: it is the rejection of her view of truth, of her theory of concepts, of her fundamental position on the proper relationship between a volitional consciousness and existence. In methodological terms, it is the rejection of her view of logic, which demands that one integrate every idea with perceptual data and with all one’s other ideas, including one’s code of moral values. To tear values from facts and concepts from percepts is to explode any such integration and thus to defy the essence of the philosophy which demands it. Such is the result of trying to combine Objectivism with “tolerance” (or with “compassion” or “kindness” in the Brandens’ sense).
“Tolerance,” as used by Kelley, is a concept (or anti-concept) out of the modern liberals’ world-view; it is a further expression of the philosophy of subjectivism; it conveys the notion that one must be fair to one’s opponents by means of not judging them, by being “open-minded” and saying, in effect: “Who am I to know? Maybe I have something to learn from this person.” The term means, in essence, “fairness through skepticism.” So crude a package-deal does not need much analysis. (In a political context, the term could be taken to mean that no one may initiate governmental force against others. But the proper concept to identify such a political condition is “rights” or “freedom,” not “tolerance.”)
IN HIS LAST PARAGRAPH, Kelley states that Ayn Rand’s philosophy, though magnificent, “is not a closed system.” Yes, it is. Philosophy, as Ayn Rand often observed, deals only with the kinds of issues available to men in any era; it does not change with the growth of human knowledge, since it is the base and precondition of that growth. Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system — its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch — is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author. If this applies to any philosophy, think how much more obviously it applies to Objectivism. Objectivism holds that every truth is an absolute, and that a proper philosophy is an integrated whole, any change in any element of which would destroy the entire system.
In yet another expression of his subjectivism in epistemology, Kelley decries, as intolerant, any Objectivist’s (or indeed anyone’s) “obsession with official or authorized doctrine,” which “obsession” he regards as appropriate only to dogmatic viewpoints. In other words, the alternative once again is whim or dogma: either anyone is free to rewrite Objectivism as he wishes or else, through the arbitrary fiat of some authority figure, his intellectual freedom is being stifled. My answer is: Objectivism does have an “official, authorized doctrine,” but it is not dogma. It is stated and validated objectively in Ayn Rand’s works.
“Objectivism” is the name of Ayn Rand’s achievement. Anyone else’s interpretation or development of her ideas, my own work emphatically included, is precisely that: an interpretation or development, which may or may not be logically consistent with what she wrote. In regard to the consistency of any such derivative work, each man must reach his own verdict, by weighing all the relevant evidence. The “official, authorized doctrine,” however, remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand’s books; it is not affected by any interpreters.
The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence state the “official” doctrine of the government of the United States, and no one, including the Supreme Court, can alter the meaning of this doctrine. What the Constitution and the Declaration are to the United States, Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s other works are to Objectivism. Objectivism, therefore, is “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded.” If anyone wants to reject Ayn Rand’s ideas and invent a new viewpoint, he is free to do so — but he cannot, as a matter of honesty, label his new ideas or himself “Objectivist.”
Objectivism is not just “common sense”; it is a revolutionary philosophy, which is a fact we do not always keep in mind. Ayn Rand challenges every fundamental that men have accepted for millennia. The essence of her revolution lies in her concept of “objectivity,” which applies to epistemology and to ethics, i.e., to cognition and to evaluation. At this early stage of history, a great many people, though bright and initially drawn to Ayn Rand, are still unable (or unwilling) fully to grasp this central concept. They accept various ideas from Ayn Rand out of context, without digesting them by penetrating to the foundation; thus they never uproot all the contradictory ideas they have accepted, the ones which guided the formation of their own souls and minds. Such people are torn by an impossible conflict: they have one foot (or toe) in the Objectivist world and the rest of themselves planted firmly in the conventional world. People like this do not mind being controversial so long as they are fashionable or “in”; i.e., so long as they can be popular in their subculture, or politically powerful or academically respectable; to attain which status, they will “tolerate” (or show “compassion” for) whatever they have to.
The real enemy of these men is not Ayn Rand; it is reality. But Ayn Rand is the messenger who brings them the hated message, which, somehow, they must escape or dilute (some of them, I think, never even get it). The message is that they must conform to reality 24 hours a day and all the way down.
THIS, I FINALLY SEE, is the cause of all the schisms which have plagued the Objectivist movement through the years, from the Brandens in 1968 on through David Kelley, and which will continue to do so for many years to come. The cause is not concrete-bound details — not differences in regard to love affairs or political strategy or proselytizing techniques or anybody’s personality. The cause is fundamental and philosophical: if 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. If you fail fully to grasp and accept the concept, whether your failure is deliberate or otherwise, you eventually drift away from Ayn Rand’s orbit, or rewrite her viewpoint or turn openly into her enemy.
The most eloquent badge of the authentic Objectivist, who does understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy, is his attitude toward values (which follows from his acceptance of reason). An Objectivist is not primarily an academician or a political activist (though he may well devote his professional life to either or both pursuits). 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, which to him has the feel, the power and the absolutism of a direct perception of reality. Any other approach to life comes from and pertains to another philosophy, not to Objectivism.
Now I wish to make a request to any unadmitted anti-Objectivists reading this piece, a request that I make as Ayn Rand’s intellectual and legal heir. If you reject the concept of “objectivity” and the necessity of moral judgment, if you sunder fact and value, mind and body, concepts and percepts, if you agree with the Branden or Kelley viewpoint or anything resembling it — please drop out of our movement: drop Ayn Rand, leave Objectivism alone. We do not want you and Ayn Rand would not have wanted you — just as you, in fact, do not want us or her. As a matter of dignity and honor, tell yourself and the world the exact truth: that you agree with certain ideas of Ayn Rand, but reject Objectivism.
It is perhaps too early for there to be a mass movement of Objectivists. But let those of us who are Objectivists at least make sure that what we are spreading is Ayn Rand’s actual ideas, not some distorted hash of them. Let us make sure that in the quest for a national following we are not subverting the integrity of the philosophy to which we are dedicated. If we who understand the issues speak out, our number, whether large or small, is irrelevant; in the long run, we will prevail.
If we engage in quality-control now, refusing to sanction the rewriters of Objectivism whatever the short-term cost and schisms, the long-range result will be a new lease on life for mankind. If we don’t, we are frauds in the short-term and monsters long-range.
Let us not cohabit with or become alchemists in reverse, i.e., men who turn the gold of Ayn Rand into lead.
Paraphrasing Marx: in demanding intellectual consistency, we have nothing to lose but our deluders — and we have the world to win.
The Intellectual Activist, Volume V, Number 1 (May 18, 1989)
Copyright © 1989 Leonard Peikoff.