Am I an Objectivist?

I have deleted my previous post. It had served its purpose. No one pressured me (to delete it or to keep it either). It was my own decision. I had given a hint about the fact that it might be gone too. (What I had actually said was something like: I am going to keep this post at least for a while.) Regardless, if you are a friend, don’t put this blog on any archiving service, whether for paid or for free. If you are not, read and understand the copyright line.

And, regardless, I am now in this post going to write a bit about another controversy-prone topic. The difference for this (present) post is: I am going to keep it.

The topic is the title line: Am I an Objectivist?

The complete answer, in principle, is: no. The partial answer is: both yes and no. Allow me to explain. [And if you are the kind to whom no explanation is necessary, please stop reading this post. It will bore you.]

A philosophic system is judged in reference to its most fundamental principles, not the derivative ideas (no matter how important or valuable in certain narrower contexts). In case of Objectivism, the case is straight-forward. Ayn Rand did write down her system in a very logical manner. So, the task of knowing what her fundamentals are, was always easy (at least relatively speaking).

I do not know whether she in her lifetime agreed to the idea that (a) Existence, Identity and Consciousness are the axioms of her system, and (b) they form the complete set of axioms for her system.

However, Dr. Peikoff had begun delivering his lectures on her philosophy right back in 1976, when she was still alive, and indeed, with her knowledge of the material and her permission (and I suppose even presence (at least during some Q&A sessions)). This course indeed had put forth this above-mentioned idea.

My interest in philosophy is only as an amateur, as a “hobby.” The latter description, of course, must have told you that I take philosophy seriously. This conclusion is true. It’s just that I have no professional interest in philosophy. I never wanted to make a career in anything other than engineering. But while “hobby” does imply seriousness, it does not imply expertise.

Within whatever understanding I have developed of philosophy in general, and Objectivism in particular, I believe that Peikoff’s presentation of the three axioms as the complete set of axioms is, indeed, valid. If you know Objectivism, there is no way you can delete any one of the three. And, if you know Objectivism, there also is no way you can think of any other ideas for the choices of its axiom.

My trouble rests right there. (I do have some serious issues with Objectivists—and God knows I continue to do—but I have enough of clarity not to confuse principles with practitioners—the “attempting” practitioners included. Here, I remain concerned only with the sin, not the sinner, so to speak [with the tongue firmly held in the cheek].

My trouble is that I agree with all the three axioms, and, simultaneously, I also do not agree that these three exhaust what, in my opinion, ought to be the fundamentals of a system of philosophy. My further trouble is that Ayn Rand herself does not show enough evidence of these other ideas that I was looking for. As a matter of fact, in my amateurish philosophical way, I can even condense down this cluster of ideas and bring it down to just one additional axiom: Soul.

But of course, you cannot slap yet another axiom on an existing philosophy and give it a better appearance—a system of philosophy is not a wall; a coating of plaster won’t help. [A true Objectivist would rather allude to the practice of painting graffiti on someone else’s wall.]

To incorporate the fourth axiom is to change everything, and to actually create an entirely new system of philosophy. And, I have neither the competence nor the desire to do so. However, I do have a good mind, and I certainly have studied general philosophy for 3+ decades, and so, I do have some inklings of how such a system might look like.

No, I haven’t tried my hand at writing anything about these inklings in a systematic manner. Neither am I likely to.

But let me tell you one thing: In just thinking of this additional axiom of Soul (and the related matters: spirituality, for instance, and the ancient Indian traditions for another thing), I always found myself getting drawn to this temptation of wanting to integrate those ideas of mine (in the sense that I took them) with Ayn Rand’s.

Initially, I didn’t care: I was just reading about these other things (the soul, re-birth, spirituality, why, even astrology!) simply because I could. (Just the way I am very talkative, and usually can talk with almost any one, similarly, I am also readative, and usually can read almost anything.)

Later on came a period of years when I thought an integration would be possible. These years have in part overlapped with my blogging years, and so, my regular readers would have some idea about it. (I also made comments at other blogs during this time.)

It’s only recently, while drawing some notes on these matters, that I realized that, no, integration of something like Soul with Ayn Rand’s system isn’t at all possible. It impacts and changes everything about her philosophy in such profound manner that you couldn’t possibly recognize the new system as Ayn Rand’s.

Consider, for instance, the axiom of Existence. What does it mean? Go through the Objectivist literature. Make sure you know what Ayn Rand means. (Take years, if you wish.)

Now, consider this idea: Do inanimate beings carry a soul-related attribute?

From whatever I know of Ayn Rand, she would have dismissed this idea out of the hand. Ditto, for Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Dr. Harry Binswanger and Mr. Peter Schwartz. [BTW, also, most physical scientists would do the same.]

However, if it is possible to entertain this idea, then take care to realize that the wording is exact: ascribing a soul-related quality to inanimate objects is not tantamount to animism, really speaking. One is not talking of the rocks and the minerals carrying life.

One is only wondering about the idea that since the soul is “outside” of space and time (and fields and everything physical), but since it exists, and since the only evidence for existence as such is what you perceive, and since you perceive yourself too, and since your own self or the soul is, at least during this life-time, associated with your body, it’s not all that radical an idea that a soul can be associated with something that exists in space and time.

Now, if the soul (by which I always mean the individual soul) must persist after death (and that’s because the soul is “outside” of space and time), what is it to which you would then ascribe it? If something is in space and time, but is no longer limited to any particular sub-region thereof (viz. the body), then it would have to be everywhere (and for all times when it has not taken a birth). It would have to be taken as being associated with the inanimate matter, too—all of it (may be with varying intensities, including possibly zero for some regions for some individual souls, but the point is, in principle, the soul would be associated with all of matter, including the inanimate matter). Why do we use a weak term like “associated”? Because, there is no direct evidence for it. It’s an inference, based on certain observations and certain premises.

Yet, the point is clear: If it is possible to think of the idea of a soul without life, it is possible to ascribe a soul-like attribute to inanimate matter. Nay, the former logically and unavoidably leads to the latter.

It does not make the universe alive, in that celebrated Californian retards’ tradition(s). It makes it soulful.

Now, go back to Ayn Rand. [Peikoff, Binswanger et al. would find exhilaration at this point; allow them that—who are we to take away some one else’s happiness?—indeed, the latter action is proscribed also in our [as yet unwritten] books!]

Existence has primacy over consciousness, says Ayn Rand. I agree. Consciousness is an attribute of living beings. I agree.

But, if I am going to integrate the idea of soul into Ayn Rand’s system, here is what happens. Since soul also is put forth as an axiom, a question arises about its hierarchical place within the existing axioms. Clearly, it is before Consciousness. Consciousness requires life, but soul can exist without life. So, the question becomes: Does it come before, or after Existence? Or is it that, just like the physical world (which is better put here as “realm”), there also is a spiritual realm?

Here, Ayn Rand would agree that the soul is an aspect of Existence. Indeed, she would maintain that it is a part of Existence. To her, if all living beings were to be annihilated, not only the principle of life but also the principle of soul, would go out of existence.

But the attempted “integration” indicates that the soul is not a part of Existence, it is an essential aspect of it. Everything that exists comes with a plenum for the soul. Ayn Rand would immediately deny that. To her, this would mark a beginning of mysticism. She would criticize me for having taken mysticism to the most fundamental level.

So, alright. The attempted integration doesn’t work out. It has to be a new system. Peikoff’s argument concerning the completeness of Objectivism is valid.

Now, does that make me a mystic? Return me the favor, please; entertain the idea, not the ideator!

Mysticism is an issue in epistemology. It concerns a purported method of gaining knowledge—a method whose nature is not accessible to any rational understanding. That’s what mysticism is. In particular, it is not an idea in metaphysics.

But we were entertaining only metaphysics. The universe is what it is. Whether you get it—the universe—via rational means or otherwise is an issue orthogonal to what is being discussed here. What you get, is the matter under consideration, not how.

Thus, if I can rationally demonstrate that the universe is soulful, I don’t actually become a mystic. Indeed, in just entertaining this idea, by this sheer fact alone, I do not at all become a mystic. (Dear Objectivists, mark the difference of emphasis in the preceding two statements.)

So, how would you refute the idea that the universe is soulful?

What was the technique that Ayn Rand used in matters like this? Not her usual method of induction, really speaking. In matters like this, what she actually used was her invention of the “arbitrary.”

But, more on it, later. Just while typing this post (on the fly, as usual), I got a telephone call regarding a promising position for an engineering professor’s job in another town (requiring yet another trip outside of Pune). Therefore, my current “avataara” of the amateur philosopher, so limited in space and time (as all “avataara”s always are) must end. Now.

Ok. It has. It has gone.

But anyway, that’s an indication of the reason why, I am not an Objectivist.

More on that, later.

In the meanwhile, follow the master’s advice. (Ayn Rand was a master, esp. of method. To say that she might have limitations too, isn’t to take this quality away from her.) Check your premises and watch your implications, she advised. Let’s follow that.

Entertain the thought as to whether a soulful universe goes towards validating astrology—the very idea of it, not this system vs. that system, but just the basic idea of it. … Entertaining, no?

 


 

From this post onwards, sections at this blog would be separated by the HTML horizontal line. (The wordpress editor seems to have changed. If I type stars separated by space, it automatically creates an itemized list, and I don’t want to get into the hassle of turning that feature off. And, the horizontal line is just a button-click away, so it’s much more handy.)

It is also possible that the section on a song I like may return. Who knows? You twiddle your fingers.

[I may come back after two days or so, and edit this post a bit, though I am not likely to add a lot to it.]

[E&OE]

 

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One thought on “Am I an Objectivist?

  1. Nice post Ajit.

    Just for the sake of opening up another view I would suggest that we must abandon Existence, Identity, Consciousness and Soul as axioms, as advised by the Buddha. When these are our axioms philosophy becomes intractable. Rand’s philosophy (if we call it that) fails due to these axioms. Metaphysics has been pre-empted by arbitrary assumptions.

    I liked the point about amateurs taking philosophy seriously. I suspect that they are often more serious than the pros., who are saddled with mortgages to pay and students to teach.

    Coming from Pune I’m a little surprised you take all this talk of existence seriously. It feels odd to be promoting the view of the Upanishads to an Indian philosopher. 🙂

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