Re: Objectivism and Extropianism

Mark Crosby (
Thu, 7 May 1998 11:53:26 -0700 (PDT)

Technotranscendence wrote:
< 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 >

I said I hadn't read any *books* on Objectivism; but,
looking back through my Web-browsing notes, I find
that it was precisely one year ago that I first
checked out Mark J. Gardner's "What is Objectivism?"
ORG page! (

There, under METAPHYSICS, Gardner says:
"The things we observe with our senses are real and
primary; the contents of our minds -- ideas and
emotions -- are secondary, and have no independent
validity unless they correspond to the facts of the
outside world."

This sounds reasonable; but, being naturally playful,
I like to invert this somewhat and propose:
Our sensation of and embodied interaction with the
world is real and primary; there are no independent
objects and theories apart from this interaction.

Looking under EPISTEMOLOGY (Gardner is referencing:
Rand, _Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology_):
"Animals can only know what trees they have seen in
their lifetime; because of concepts, man can reach
basic conclusions about all trees -- including those
he has never seen."

I wonder how Objectivists can know this so certainly
about animals and other humans! What kind of "basic
conclusion" would I want to reach about a tree that I
had never seen? If I was a person indigenous to an
environment near the Arctic circle and had only seen
an occasional evergreen tree I might erroneously
decide that deciduous trees of lower latitudes were
not trees at all.

So, this seems somewhat contradictory to what follows
(which I basically agree with):
"Induction is merely one half of the process of
thought; true knowledge must not only be based on the
observed facts of reality, it must integrate in a
non-contradictory manner with all one's other
knowledge." In practice, I usually manage to
accomplish this well enough to survive and thrive.
In principle, though (that is, in thought), I find
this impossible, and am often perturbed by seemingly
contradictory concepts (like metaphorical Baobab
trees with their 'roots' in the air).

So, Rand's epistemology is logic. There seem to be
several types of logic, however. Some excellent
discourse on these, conducted over a century ago by
Charles S. Peirce, is 'still' available online at (cf., "Questions Concerning
Certain Faculties Claimed for Man", "On a New List of
Categories", and "Some Consequences of Four
Incapacities" - looking briefly at these again, this
last one looks especially relevant to debates about

Regarding ETHICS, bouncing back to Gardner's ORG page
on this, the first thing I see is: "Valuing is solely
an attribute of animate matter. Inanimate matter
cannot act, because it has nothing to act for;
although its form can change, matter itself cannot be
destroyed, i.e., go out of existence."

Just for fun, I'd like to contrast this with the
following excerpt from William T. Powers' essay "The
Origins Of Purpose: The First Metasystem Transitions"
(Powers has been developing perceptual control
systems since the early 1950s; this essay is
available at
"In a control-system model, a purpose is simply a
reference signal... The purpose of a control system,
in the final analysis, is to control some effect of
the environment on it, via its sensors, around a
specific state or condition or level... This concept
of purpose, of course, does not entail any cognitive
abilities or any ability to symbolize the purpose, to
think about it. It is simply an inherent property of
a control system, whether simple or complex." Powers
gives an interesting example of how even molecules in
a solution can comprise a very simple control system.

Powers' conclusion here, I think, is worth quoting:
"Knowing control theory, we can freely use such terms
as intending, having a purpose, willing, and
desiring, because we can now see that the fundamental
meaning of such terms is defined by a particular
relationship between a system and its environment, a
relationship that has nothing to do with
verbalizations, reasoning, or cognitions of any kind.
Purpose is a far more fundamental phenomenon than any
of its various manifestations. It is, I propose, the
very basis of life."

When Gardner says "Values are thus the means to
sustaining life: that which furthers life is a value,
and is the good; that which harms or destroys life is
a disvalue, and is bad or evil", I have to say that
this seems somewhat simplistic when the means to
sustaining my life sometimes involves destroying
other life.

Ah, POLITICS! Gardner refers to the chapter on "Man's
Rights" in Ayn Rand's _The Virtue of Selfishness_
and says: "Due to man's moral autonomy, no man can
have a positive claim on the life of another; rights
serve as a negative obligation, stating that a man
must be left free to live his own life by his own
mind, so long as he leaves others free to do the
same. The most fundamental right is the right to
life, and the right to property is its practical

Although this is a very brief overview, I agree with
it wholeheartedly, even as I am unsure of all its
ramifications. As an example, consider the current
debate over 'intellectual property' and the Thomas
Jefferson quote: "That ideas should freely spread
from one to another over the globe, for the moral and
mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his
condition, seems to have been peculiarly and
benevolently designed by nature..."

BTW, there was an excerpt from Michael Spicer,
"Public Administration, Social Science, And Political
Association". _Administration & Society_ (March 1998)
on the Hayek list last week (see
that made the interesting distinction between
'purposive' and 'civil' associations:

" ,,, In a purposive association, it is necessary
that individual actions be conducive to the
attainment of the substantive ends of the state... On
the other hand, in a civil association, it is not
necessary that individuals undertake particular
actions that conform to certain substantive ends of
the state because a civil association does not
explicitly posit any such ends."

What's most interesting to me here is the
implications for human knowledge (citing same article):
"In particular, given the availability of individual
discretion over actions within a civil association,
much of the information or knowledge that men and
women use in deciding on what actions they will
undertake is inevitably dispersed and is, therefore,
inaccessible to any single mind or group of minds,
including those of social scientists."

Somehow this doesn't sound like an Objectivist
definition of knowledge to me, but that may be due to
my shallow understanding of understanding in
Objectivist terms.

Last, but not least, ESTHETICS.

I'm not really comfortable with the notion of
romantic heroism, at least not with focusing on such
escapades, because, as LDC put it the other day: "The
myth of the small lone inventor coming up with a
unique and marvellous idea out of nothing in his
garage is fairy tale... A /true/ creative mind
honestly acknowledges that nothing is created in a
vacuum; every 'creation' is a synthesis of old ideas
from a thousand sources, and maybe one or two
randomly strewn new ones."

Gardner's page on this declares: "Thus the type of
art most consistent with man's nature is romantic
realism. This school emphasizes the fact that man is
a volitional being, capable of setting values and
striving to achieve them."

I, too, see no esthetic value in emphasizing despair
and negativity (I wonder: is "Crucifix in Urine" a
positive, negative or irrelevant artistic statement
to an atheist?); yet, striving *is* about overcoming
obstacles, and some of the most satisfying works of
'art', to me, are simply natural (and cultural)
scenes where decay and growth are juxtaposed.

The supposedly Balinese aphorism - "we have no art;
we do everything as beautifully as we can" - works
well for me.

I wonder if the core of Objectivism could be
abbreviated to Reality, Reason & Romanticism? John K
Clark doesn't like the magic number 3 (Extropians
debate with Tony Hollick a while back) but I always
seem to find myself thinking with triplex Peircean
logic :-)

Mark Crosby

Get your free address at