Re: Objectivism and Extropianism

Technotranscendence (
Wed, 6 May 1998 20:33:22 -0400 (EDT)

On Mon, 4 May 1998 12:16:28 -0700 (PDT) Mark Crosby
<> wrote:
>I haven't read any works of Objectivism (capitalized
>or not),

Let's establish a convention here. Small-o objectivism
will stand for the standard dictionary defintion of the
term, while large-O Objectivism will stand for the
philosophy of Ayn Rand and those in her tradition
(regardless of whether she or they accept this:) such
as Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Peikoff, David Kelley,
George Walsh and Chris Sciabarra.

Basic tenets of Objectivism are, as Rand and others
put it:

Metaphysics: Reality
Epistemology: Reason
Ethics: Rational Self-Interest
Politics: Laissez-faire capitalism
Esthetics: Romanticism

>but I'm mostly attracted to the free-market
>libertarianism that seems to result from such
>thought. On the other hand, I'm also attracted to
>some of the (predominantly) European science and
>philosophy that emphasizes constructivist aspects of
>human knowledge and 'non-Cartesian cognitive science'
>\1, even though (unfortunately) many of these same
>sources seem to gravitate toward socialistic
>economics & politics \2 \3.

>From the wording above, do you think that Objectivism
or objectivism are Cartesian? What do you mean by
Cartesian? I tend to think of it, simply, as stuff
stemming from Descartes philosophy with its emphasis
on an ontology of mind-body dualism and a skeptical
view of epistemology.

>More coherent objections to Objectivism (than those
>mentioned in note 3 ;) are raised by Hungarian
>physician, chemist, and philosopher Michael Polanyi
>(whose major work - _Personal Knowledge: Towards A
>Post-Critical Philosophy_ - I am trying to read
>sporadically). Polanyi's work describes what he
>calls 'tacit knowledge'.

I have the book, but have not managed to read it.

>A good online intro to
>Polanyi's thought is Richard T. Allen's 1996
>Polanyiana article \4, "Polanyi's Overcoming of the
>Dichotomy of Fact and Value", where Allen declares:
>"Life then is a realm of achievement and not of mere
>processes and events... there are no neutral facts,
>nor mere descriptions of them, in the realms of
>machinery and devices, organisms and organs, and
>conscious beings and intelligent and intentional
>activities. The facts here are complexities of
>success and failure, correctness and incorrectness,
>and can be understood only as such".

Before reading Allen's essay, I'd like to mention two
things. One, Objectivism does not posit a dichotomy
between fact and value. In fact (no pun intended),
Rand and others in her camp believe value to be
derived from fact. Some Objectivists -- Leonard
Peikoff, for example -- believe there are no neutral
facts for seemingly the same reason: conscious
things being living things must pursue values and
therefore all things either help or harm them. Two,
objectivism of the small-o kind is often applied to
the field of ethics to mean that there are objective
moral standards, and usually honesty is one of

>This Allen article is strongly critical of what he
>calls 'Objectivism'. I think what he means by
>Objectivism follows Polanyi's usage and primarily
>refers to behaviorist psychology and Marxist
>sociology, plus strongly reductionist science that
>attempts to reduce everything to the physico-chemical
>level of description, and (perhaps) not necessarily
>(at least not explicitly) to the Objectivism
>enunciated by Ayn Rand and her elaborators.

Rand and her cohorts were/are critics of behaviorism,
Marxism and reductionism too.

>Let me cite a passage from the end of Polanyi's
>_Personal Knowledge_ (I skipped ahead ;) which, I
>think, shows the extropic nature of his thought \5:
>"Let me now introduce the concept of a heuristic
>field... The lines of force in a heuristic field
>should stand for an access to an opportunity, and for
>the obligation and the resolve to make good this
>opportunity, in spite of its inherent
>uncertainties... Can we see then all the works of the
>human mind invisibly inscribed already in the
>configuration of the primeval incandescent gasses?
>No, we cannot; for the capacity of coming to life is
>due to the power of a field to consolidate centres of
>first causes. Each such centre bears a possibility of
>achievement which, however limited, uncertain, and
>unspecifiable in its outcome, characterizes this
>centre as an essentially new and autonomous prime


>\3. I am also morbidly fascinated with the radical
>philosophy of Deleuze & Guattari (I would say
>extropian, *in some respects* - see, for instance,
>the surplus-value semiotics described in the Guattari
>interview mentioned below), despite their avowed
>communism; because, I think this politics is
>sometimes the result of social situations and, in
>another life (or if they'd paid attention to the work
>of Friedrich Hayek), they might have been
>anarcho-capitalists rather than anarcho-socialists.

Perhaps. It might be that free market viewpoints
aren't really taken seriously because they are
traditionally associated with socially conservative
types and because of the typical intellectual
[elistist] attitude toward everyday life and business.

Also, given that in mixed economies businesses
often collaborate with governments -- e.g.,
regulatory capture, subsidies for industries, and
support of laws which limit competition (such as
import quotas, tariffs, bank portfolio requirements),
it is often hard to separate the market from the

>For example, Felix Guattari noted (see
>) "this left-right split is absolutely evident in
>social struggles, in power relations ... But on the
>level of thought, it's not at all clear." He then
>goes on to cite, for example, how he agrees with
>Milton Friedman on the legalization of 'drugs'.

The problem here is that many on the left would agree
with the libertarian view on legalizing drugs. However,
that's merely one position out of many. (Which is one
reason to think in principles. We get to see why people
who differ in other areas agree in this one.)

Overall, I do not see tacit knowledge as anathema to
Objectivism or objectivism. Or vice versa. Nor do I
confuse Cartesianism -- which here I take it you mean
a form of philosophy that maintains "all knowledge is
not tacit" -- with Objectivism or objectivism.

The beginning of many philosophical debates is often
a narrowing of choices such that one idea (or philosophy)
is confused with others, than a whole category is rejected
without being examined. While dialectical thinking might
held us to clean up this mistake, given that we are finite
(for now:), I urge caution.

Daniel Ust