Sunday, December 26, 2004

Aristotle "versus" Ayn Rand

Here's a reference to an interesting exploration of what the author believes that Ayn Rand should have understood with regard to the philosophy of Aristotle, in support of perhaps a more complete and consistent development of her own thought.

An Auburn University professor of philosophy offers new interpretations of Aristotle and Ayn Rand in ethics and epistemology.

Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand, by Roderick T. Long, Ph.D.

The Author says:

Two of the central questions in philosophy are: What are the foundations of knowledge? and What is the nature of human well-being?

Ayn Rand regarded herself as a follower of Aristotle. I argue, however, that in answering the above two questions she unfortunately deviated from Aristotle in ways that subverted her own philosophical intentions.

In particular, I maintain that Rand's rejection of Aristotle's coherentist, testimony-based epistemology in favor of her own version of foundationalist empiricism both opens the door to a corrosive skepticism that she rightly wishes to avoid, and forces her into defending an instrumental survival-oriented conception of the relation of morality to self-interest, even though a constitutive, flourishing-oriented relation along Aristotelian lines would more closely match her basic ethical insights.

Hence Rand's admirers may still have something to learn from Aristotle, their "teacher's first teacher."

About the Author:

Roderick T. Long is a professor of philosophy at Auburn University, as well as Editor of the Free Nation Foundation's journal Formulations. His principal research interests are moral psychology, Greek philosophy, and libertarian thought.


Blogger Peter Wizenberg said...

I've always wondered how Randian egoism would explain precisely why one should not violate the rights of others to further one's self-interest. (E.g., seizing the property of others.)

If, on Rand's view, one's primary duty is to advance one's own self-interest, it's unclear to me why, on that view, one ought to respect the rights of others.

If one somehow argues that another value, in addition to egoism, is respect for the rights of others, then one needs a way to adjudicate any conflicts beween egoism and respect for others' rights. Moreover, if respect for the rights of others sometimes trumps egoistic considerations, is it a philosophy of egoism?

Finally, I've never understood whether or how, Rand's epistemology defeats skepticism. I'm going to add Long's book to my list. Thanks, Mike.

December 27, 2004 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Mike Gorman said...

I would say that, on Rand's view, respect for the rights of others *is* an egoistic consideration, recognizing quality of life issues in relation to social contracts. Dependent, of course, upon the fulfillment of "proper" social contracts on the part of responsible others.

I have long felt that Aristotle had realized a deeper perspective on this issue, in the context of his notions of "proper ends", actualizations and purposes, the proper end of human beings of course being virtuous pursuit of what is "fine and excellent" (and truly self-interested, for the fine and excellent man, not possible for just anyone) as functions of rational intellect.

I can't resist a couple of quotes here, one from Nicomachean Ethics (books 8 and 9 most relevant, IMO)and another seemingly derivative from a much more casual offhand seasonal note from a modern mover and shaker within the Objectivist movement.

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
Therefore the good man should be a lover of self (for he will both himself profit by doing noble acts, and will benefit his fellows), but the wicked man should not; for he will hurt both himself and his neighbours, following as he does evil passions. For the wicked man, what he does clashes with what he ought to do, but what the good man ought to do he does; for reason in each of its possessors chooses what is best for itself, and the good man obeys his reason. It is true of the good man too that he does many acts for the sake of his friends and his country, and if necessary dies for them; for he will throw away both wealth and honours and in general the goods that are objects of competition, gaining for himself nobility; since he would prefer a short period of intense pleasure to a long one of mild enjoyment, a twelvemonth of noble life to many years of humdrum existence, and one great and noble action to many trivial ones. Now those who die for others doubtless attain this result; it is therefore a great prize that they choose for themselves. They will throw away wealth too on condition that their friends will gain more; for while a man's friend gains wealth he himself achieves nobility; he is therefore assigning the greater good to himself. The same too is true of honour and office; all these things he will sacrifice to his friend; for this is noble and laudable for himself. Rightly then is he thought to be good, since he chooses nobility before all else. But he may even give up actions to his friend; it may be nobler to become the cause of his friend's acting than to act himself. In all the actions, therefore, that men are praised for, the good man is seen to assign to himself the greater share in what is noble. In this sense, then, as has been said, a man should be a lover of self; but in the sense in which most men are so, he ought not.

And Edward Hudgins:
Goodwill Toward Men

Christmas is a season of beautiful lights, parties, gifts, food, family, friends, songs and sentiments. Among the latter "goodwill toward men" is a favorite, and we are urged to keep such sentiments not only during the holiday season but all year round. But what lessons from these sentiments should we really take from December to July?

Often goodwill can mean a general sympathy for others. As self-conscious individuals, we can imagine what it's like to be in another's situation. When we see someone else stub their toe, we ourselves wince and cry "Ouch!" When we see someone in misery we want to ease their pain. During the holiday season many think of goodwill means giving food, gifts, donations or making visits to those who are in need.

In some cases - the death of a loved one, sickness, mental illness, the rigors of old age - the cause of suffering might be beyond the individual's control and our sympathy for them as fellow human beings is quite appropriate as is reminding them with a visit or a gift of the good things still left in life.

In other cases - drug addiction, broken families, poverty - the causes might in part or whole be within one's power to change. In such cases, true goodwill would mean eliminating the causes, not merely treating the effects. Ultimately it is those who suffer who must show goodwill to themselves. They must appreciate that they have the power to resist that which is harmful to them and to change bad habits. Other persons of goodwill can help such individuals by urging them to hold to the best and highest within themselves, by showing them, especially during this season, what beauty and joy life holds.

One can ask them to imagine future Christmases in which they, who are often the denizens of soup kitchens and homeless shelters, will no longer be objects of charity but self-sufficient, proud and prosperous individuals who will celebrate their regained lives in this most wonderful time of year.

Then they will join the rest of use in practicing a more personal form of goodwill through an active appreciation of those individuals in our lives whom we enjoy, respect, admire and love, not only in December but all year round. These are our colleagues at work; the paperboys, garage parking attendants or others who serve us during the year; neighbors whom we see on the run but with whom we'd really like to spend more time; friends with whom we go to movies, ballgames or shopping malls; relatives with whom we've shared important parts of our lives; and those we truly and deeply love - parents, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives.

We will express our goodwill to these individuals in different degrees as they are of personal value to us: small gifts as tokens of appreciation for some; extravagant or extremely thoughtful presents for others; parties for many or intimate meals for others.

Benevolent men and women recognize the value to themselves of living in society with others. They recognize the need to foster a harmony of interests that arises when each individual respects the humanity and independence of others. We each will show appreciation for those we value in our own ways and as others do the same, we will understand why this is indeed the season of goodwill toward men.

Copyright, The Objectivist Center.

December 27, 2004 at 12:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home