Dialectical Objectivism?/ was Re: Public Funding vs Free

Technotranscendence (neptune@mars.superlink.net)
Fri, 22 May 1998 22:08:10 -0400 (EDT)

At 08:05 AM 5/20/98 -0400, Daniel Fabulich <daniel.fabulich@yale.edu> wrote:
>> As long as one is able to verify their truth and their lies outside of what
>> they say. My point, however, was that poststructuralist, postmodernists
>> and hermeneutics is equivalent to lying.

Oops! Typo! I meant to write "is NOT equivalent to lying.":)

>> At least, not all of it is lying.
>> Surely, some of it -- like any philosophy -- is off the mark.
>Well, this is a tricky point. As you must know, Rand herself was quite
>hostile towards post-structuralism in particular, and I'm fairly certain
>that political postmodernism, at the very least, wouldn't sit well with
>her, though I can't recall her writing anything in particular about the
>postmodernists herself. On the other hand, she was also quite hostile
>towards libertarians, a position which I find puzzling to say the least.

I would rather think of Objectivism as a philosophy originated by but not
forever tied to Ayn Rand. Rand is wrong about many things, including
where her philosophy would lead. Thus, her tendency to paint with a
very broad brush -- with libertarians, for exampel -- can and must be
rejected. In fact, a major camp in the Objectivist movement -- the IOS
camp -- rejects Rand's take on libertarians in particular. See David
Kelley's _Truth and Toleration_.

>As for hermeneutics, as I seem to recall, one of its central ideas was
>that supposedly contradictory elements within a text would coalesce into a
>meaning by virtue of the fact that they contradict. Depending on which
>hemeneutic school you're addressing, this is either a restatement of
>Rand's flavor of the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction or its
>very antithesis. Is hermeneutics trying to say that the contradictions
>never truly existed, or that they are able to agree despite the fact that
>they contradict? Different writers have answered this question
>differently; I think most modern academics would agree more with the
>latter than the former, and that Rand would disagree passionately.

I'm not saying that all of hermeneutics is great and fine. It's just that
some of its methodology is worth looking into. Some of it can definitely
be removed from the wider corpus, just as not everyone who uses a
syllogism agrees with Aristotle's whole philosophy. (Bertrand Russell,
for instance, used syllogisms, yet he disagreed with Aristotle's meta-

>Anyway, I don't assert that poststructuralists are lying to try to get
>themselves better funding; rather that they may simply be wrong. :)

A point with which I can agree upon. There is also a lot of sloppy
thinking going on out there and a lot of postmodern philosophy is
just that.

>> The thing to do is to look dispassionately at the methods and ideas.
>> For example, it seems that Sciabarra is onto something when he says
>> Objectivism is dialectical in method -- even if Objectivists don't know
>> it. It might disagree with other dialectical philosophies, such as
>> Hegelianism and Marxism, but this doesn't change his point. Both
>> Newtonian and Einsteinian physics lead to different conclusions
>> despite having similar methods.
>I'm having a hard time reconciling these ideas in my mind, especially with
>respect to individuality vs. collectivism.

Sciabarra's take would be, I believe, that the above is a false alternative,
a dualism of social atomism and of social organicism. The first view sees
individuals as totally separate from and with little need for society, while
the latter sees individuals as totally constituted and in need of society.
Individualism transcends this dualism by defining the proper relation
between individuals, which allows them to benefit from living in society
without being smothered by it (as in collectivism) or destroying it (as in
social atomism).

(For another take on this, see Marsha Familiaro Enright's "Why Man
Needs Approval" in _Objectivity_ 1(2) [1991]. This article covers the
psychological needs for a social life in humans. This goes beyond
economic arguments. Details on _Objectivity_ can be found at:
http://www.bomis.com/objectivity/ )

Robert White, in his "Racism: A Radical Critique," applies Sciabarra's
take on this to the problem of racism in New Zealand. He shows how
racism as a form of collectivism emphasizes social contradictions --
antagonisms inherent in the structure of society. He also calls for the
adoption of individualism to overcome these antagonisms. This paper
was printed in _The Free Radical_ and can be found at:


I don't know if I buy all of this, but it does seem to show that dialectics
do not necessarily lead to left-wing (a la Marx) or right-wing (a la
Hegel) politics. If Sciabarra (see also his _Marx, Hayek, and Utopia_)
and White are correct, then various strains of libertarianism are no less
dialectical than Marxism et al.

>Applying the dialectic to
>politics, as Marx points out, seems to lead us to a certain inevitability
>in history. I'm quite certain Rand would disagree with this, emphasizing
>instead the role of the individual in historical events. Maybe I'm
>looking too much at the philosophy itself rather than its methods, but in
>my mind the two seem inseparable.

Rand's view of history is the topic of the last third of Sciabarra's _Ayn
Rand: The Russian Radical_. Also, see her _For the New Intellectual_.
Her theory wasn't so simple as you portray it. She believed that
philosophy determined culture which in term determined politics. She
did not think this determination was total, however, she did feel that
lone individuals could only do so much. Hence her efforts to spark
philosophical change. Even so, she did not think this would happen

Her novel, _We the Living_, is in a way a testament to the individual's
need for a free society to flourish and even survive.

As far as how her view was dialectical, though a society's overall
philosophy determines the type of society on lives in, each person
can, to a degree, choose her or his philosophy and shape the
wider culture. This back-and-forth influence is dialectical, is it not?

But the question here should be: Do dialectics imply historical
determinism of any sort? I do not think they do. Dialactics are a
method of ascertaining the truth. It just so happens that Marx
was a determinist. This no more means that dialectics must be
determinist than the fact that Einstein believed in God implies
General Relativity Theory must be theistic.


Daniel Ust