Atlas Shrugged, Lecture 1 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Atlas Shrugged, Lecture 1 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Atlas Shrugged Lecture 1 Metaphysics and Epistemology
  2. 2. Overview of Rand’s Philosophy • Ayn Rand is best known for her novels defending capitalism and also for her defense of ethical egoism, “the virtue of selfishness”. But these views were not the basis of her philosophical system. • She thought that they were the consequences of more fundamental principles.
  3. 3. The Key Principle of Rand’s Philosophy • The underlying principle of her thought is best grasped from the name of her philosophy, “Objectivism.” • By this name, she meant to signify that her philosophy had as its primary goal the accurate grasp of existence. • At first, this seems an odd point to emphasize. Who, aside from a few unusual figures, would deny that they sought to attain truth?
  4. 4. Opposition to Subjectivism • Rand did not see matters this way at all. In her view, the history of philosophy can be seen as a battle between those philosophers who give primacy to existence and those who defend what she calls “the primacy of consciousness”. • To make her view of the history of philosophy plausible, we have to grasp what she meant by “existence”.
  5. 5. Enemies of Existence • By “existence”, Rand meant primarily the physical world, the world disclosed to the senses and studied by science. • She did not deny the mental; to the contrary she affirmed the existence of consciousness. But she did not believe in a separate mental realm that exists apart from the physical. • She rejected idealism, a philosophy that claims that only mind exists. She also rejected views that postulate a separately existing realm of universals.
  6. 6. Heroes and Villains • Given this way of looking at things, it isn’t surprising that Rand condemned Plato. He thought that there was a separately exiting world of Forms, and that the sensory world was just an inferior copy of these forms. • Rand takes this to be a denial of reality, and she considers the Platonic tradition a key source of irrationalism throughout the history of philosophy. • She takes it to be a type of mysticism: there is insight to gained superior to that gained through the senses.
  7. 7. Still More Heroes and Villains • Despite her atheism, she surprisingly takes a favorable view of Thomas Aquinas. He revived Aristotle’s philosophy and broke with the Platonism of the earlier Middle Ages. In her opinion, the revived Aristotelian philosophy was principally responsible for the Renaissance. • Descartes is another “bad guy”, He began from his own consciousness and thus rejected the primacy of existence.
  8. 8. Heroes and Villains Continued • Plato’s main enemy, and the source of the good tradition in philosophy, was Aristotle. Although there are Platonic residues in his thought, he emphasized knowledge gained through the senses and denied the independent existence of a world of universals. • As the earlier critical reference to mysticism suggests, Rand rejects belief in God. Atheism is a fundamental principle. If God exists, then the physical world is controlled by God’s mind. This rejects existence.
  9. 9. Kant and the Nazis • A fundamental point of Objectivism, which has already been suggested several times, is that philosophical ideas are not merely of theoretical importance. • To the contrary, ideas are the primary factor in human history, and philosophical ideas are the most important. • Thus, in Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff traces the growth of Nazism to Kant’s philosophy.
  10. 10. Ideas in Atlas • We can see the importance that Rand gives to ideas from the basic plot of Atlas Shrugged. • The whole novel revolves around the ideas of the creators and inventers, like Galt and Rearden, in a struggle against the destructive ideas of Jim Taggart, Wesley Mouch, Dr. Ferris, and Mr. Thompson.
  11. 11. Rand and Epistemology • Rand’s philosophy has distinctive doctrines in epistemology as well as metaphysics. • The mind begins as a blank slate (tabula rasa) The senses grasp similarities and differences among concrete entities. • From these percepts, the mind acquires concepts through a process of abstraction. These abstractions can be built up into a highly complex and ramified system, but all true concepts must ultimately stem from the senses. Those that do not are meaningless.
  12. 12. Rand and Ethics • If our aim in philosophy is to respond adequately to reality, this has definite consequences for ethics. • A reality-based ethics is based on human biology. Man, unlike other animals, does not survive by relying on instincts. He must use reason. The goal and standard of ethics, for each person, is his own survival.
  13. 13. Rand, Politics, and Economics • If man wants to survive, he needs to establish a political system that recognizes individual rights, in particular property rights. • Establishing such a political system is essential for the functioning of the only productive economic system, laissez-faire capitalism. The government must be strictly limited to defense and justice. However, anarchism is not a desirable alternative. Within each territory, there should be only one legitimate protection agency
  14. 14. Rand’s Metaphysics: The Law of Identity • With this overview completed, we will now look more closely at Rand’s metaphysics and epistemology. • The fundamental principle of Objectivist metaphysics is the Law of Identity, A=A. Together with this is the principle of Non-Contradiction, Nothing is both A and not-A. • Almost all logicians accept these laws, but in the non- controversial sense they are purely formal laws. They say that no proposition that has the form a and not-a is acceptable
  15. 15. Galt on Identity • In Galt’s radio broadcast, Part Three, Chapter VII, Galt says: • “Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers [Aristotle], has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself.
  16. 16. Galt Continued • You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it. Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”
  17. 17. Objectivism and Necessity • For Objectivists, all of the properties of an entity are part of its essence. If light travels at 186,000 miles per second, it must do so: this is a defining characteristic of light. Their understanding of A=A is all-embracing. The Law of Identity requires that all of an object’s properties hold of necessity.
  18. 18. The Nature of the Universe • If an entity’s properties are necessary, its causal properties are also necessary. • Further,nothing can come into existence without a cause. • If this is so, the ultimate material constituents of the world have existed eternally. No other set of ultimate existents is conceivable. The set we actually have necessarily exists.
  19. 19. • If an entity’s properties are necessary, its causal properties are also necessary. • Further,nothing can come into existence without a cause. • If this is so, the ultimate material constituents of the world have existed eternally. No other set of ultimate existents is conceivable. The set we actually have necessarily exists.