Philosophy, Who Needs It

ISBN: 0672527952
ISBN 13: 9780672527951
By: Ayn Rand

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sologdin

Part VI of a multi-part review series.Rand’s last work, but it’s just more of the same. Peikoff’s introduction indicates that Rand showed, in Atlas Shrugged, that bad epistemology leads to “train wrecks, furnace breakouts, and sexual impotence” (vii). Good to know! Same introduction dismisses non-randian philosophy as “a senseless parade of abstractions to fill out the ritual at cocktail parties” and “a ponderous Continental wail of futility resonating with Oriental overtones” (viii).Philosophy is broken down in the first chapter into five sub-areas: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics (3-4). Logic as a sub-area is conspicuously absent, which is of course completely indicative of the whole. There follows a schematic parade of horrible, wherein we are treated to the normal intentional straw person accounts of prior writers: Hume is boiled down as “nobody can be certain of anything”; Plato is “This may be good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice”; St. Augustine is “nobody is perfect in this world”; “nobody can help anything he does” is Hegel; and so on (4). This method is entirely consistent with her other writings: dishonest presentations of other thinkers without citation to any particular text and without quotation and rigorous analysis of anything actually written.Other defects appear quickly: “your subconscious is like a computer […] and its main function is the integration of ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind” (5-6). None of that makes any internal sense, when compared to her writings otherwise about the integration of perceptions to form concepts, nor does it make any sense regarding her bizarre theory of volition. It’s all vague and unfalsifiable and illogical. Why, after all, would the conscious mind be the programmer of the unconscious mind, rather than vice versa? Who intentionally, consciously decides I decide to repress these unapproved sexual desires?Kant is the great enemy of the collection, as he began the “dominant trend of philosophy” for two centuries: “directed to a single goal: the destruction of man’s mind” (6-7) (NB: the oddball “collectivist” singular mind in the formulation). Overall, there’s plenty of misguided broadsides against Kant in this volume, though she has venom for most other writers: Russell, Skinner (for an entire chapter!), Marx of course--but none of it is rigorous or thorough. Rawls is “obscenely evil” (33)--moral and aesthetic condemnation, two for price of one! Though she has an entire chapter on Rawls’ Theory of Justice (102-19), “I have not read and do not intend to read that book” (109). So, there it is.All of this upsidedown & backward should-be-satire-but-sadly-it’s-not is mixed in with the irritating jingoism of a recent convert: “you are accused of being a tool of imperialism--and ‘imperialism’ is the name given to the foreign policy of this country, which has never engaged in military conquest and has never profited from the two world wars, which she did not initiate, but entered and won” (8-9). (We are given a by-the-bye regarding “the military-industrial complex--which is a myth” (9).) Startling, of course, that the US did not benefit from the world wars, but we’re definitely in an alternate reality with the objection that the US never engaged in military conquest.We are told that “America is the living refutation of a Kantian universe” (9), which is why people hate it (as opposed to “love for communism.”) Cute, no? I wish the world were that cool: Let’s burn a US flag for the sake of Kant!It’s not obvious that Kant has been read or understood. For instance, she summarizes that Kant is “a systematic rationalization of every major philosophical vice” (a surreal phrasing, making philosophy itself a matter of moral vice): “the metaphysical inferiority of this world (as a ‘phenomenal’ world of mere ‘appearances’), is a rationalization for the hatred of reality” (19). Huh? That’s not what the noumenal/phenomenal distinction does, at all. She continues: “the notion that reason is unable to perceive reality and deals only with ‘appearances’ is a rationalization for the hatred of reason” (id.). Of course, one reading of Kant’s position was that noumenal reality is not knowable by the senses (that’s phenomenal reality)--but can be apprehended indirectly by reason. I don’t think that Rand’s summary of Kant’s position bears even featherweight scrutiny. Reason, after all, is not said to “perceive” anything--the senses perceive.Kant is ultimately dismissed as “the moral imperative of the duty to sacrifice oneself to duty [huh?], a sacrifice without beneficiaries [huh?], is a gross rationalization for the image (and soul [huh?]) of an austere, ascetic monk who winks at you with an obscenely sadistic pleasure [WTF?]” (19). Otherwise, “the ultimate monument to Kant and the whole altruist morality is Soviet Russia” (65).She intones, regarding “altruism” (yes, still on about this): “when a theory achieves nothing but the opposite of its alleged goals, yet it advocates remain undeterred, you may be certain that it is not a conviction, or an ‘ideal,’ but a rationalization” (20). Invisible hand, anyone? Same Dunning-Kruger effect as in other volumes: “stagnant barbarism” in reference to the humanities in general (26).She has a serious problem in setting up straw-persons to knock down, as when she discusses a hypothetical professor who insists on the insufficiency of proving “that something is” but rather “one must also prove that it had to be--and since nothing had to be, nothing is certain and anything goes” (28). Who said that? Oh, no one actually said that? Well, why then are we arguing against a position no one ever held? That’s Rand in a nutshell.Some bad conceptualization (no surprise!) in an untheorized distinction between “metaphysically given facts” and “man-made facts” (31): “a skyscraper is a man-made fact, a mountain is a metaphysically given fact.” Alrighty then!Defective self-awareness: “The anti-conceptual mentality takes most things as irreducible primaries and regards them as ‘self-evident’” (38). Kinda like objectivism, no? This text is really a string of dogmatic pronouncements and non-sequiturs built on same--typical of the other writings. Instead of rigor, we get citations to Atlas Shrugged.Similarly, we see a repeated default in her selective historicism: “Never mind the low wages and the harsh living conditions of the early years of capitalism. They were all that the national economies of the time could afford. Capitalism did not create poverty--it inherited it” (66). This is not an objection that she would allow regarding economic systems that she does not like. Can it seriously be contended that she would allow the objection that the Soviet Union was dicked up in its initial years because the Leninists inherited a raw deal from tsarism, or that the Maoists inherited a bad situation in post-WW2 China?Neo-spenglerian pronouncements: “Staleness is the dominant characteristic of today’s culture” (162), an essay written in 1972, the year of The Godfather, Deliverance, Pink Flamingos, and Deep Throat, as well as books of 1972, and whatever music and art and whatnot. It really is ludicrous.But: “the symptoms of today’s cultural disease are: conformity […], timidity […], and a pall of fear” (162). “Psychologically, this is the cultural atmosphere of a society living under censorship. But there is not censorship in the United States” (id.). She is of course complaining about market censorship, but she wouldn’t refer to it that way. It is all rather a symptom of altruist-collectivist-mystical conspiracy. And how does the conspiracy function? “As a mixed economy, we are chained by an enormous tangle of governmental controls” (163). Okay! And who is at the head of the conspiracy of non-censorship that nonetheless through market mechanisms causes conformism? University researchers, of course, who are enemies of the system, but take public funds. Private funding is fine, of course, as a foolish venturer allegedly “harms no one but himself” and “the money he spends is his own” (168-69). We will just brush under the rug the fact that the money that is “his own” may not have the most clear title or may have been derived from sweatshoppe labor or whatever; and we will just ignore the anti-democratic nature of private charity--significant decisions will be made by the property owner without any democratic decision-making. When that venture fails, it is likely to harm more than the capitalist. But Rand doesn’t care to think through anything--it’s all heroic individualism, &c.Lengthy chapter on Supreme Court rulings on obscenity is comical: “what is called ‘hard-core’ pornography” she regards as “unspeakably disgusting”--even though “I have not read any of the books or seen any of the current movies belonging to that category” (173). This is the constant refrain: I do not have any experience with X, but I know that I hate X. It’s childish beyond measure. I don’t want to eat broccoli! I don’t like it even though I haven’t tried it! Like any four-year-old, before she’s permitted to be heard, Rand should be made to sit at the dinner table until she finishes her hard-core pornography (or broccoli).Her readings of the obscenity cases are surprisingly not horrible (for a non-attorney). She attempts to raise questions that she apparently regards as dispositive: “The intellectual standard which is here set up to rule an individual’s mind […] is the judgment of an average person applying community standards” (174), which is language of First Amendment case law for obscenity--except it is specifically not to rule the mind, but to rule publication. She picks at “community standards” as undefined, and at “community” as unidentified. This is the problem with non-attorneys (not to be a dick or anything): that’s all a cipher for the jury drawn from the jurisdiction in which the dispute will have arisen. Same with average person, reasonableness, prurience, seriousness, and so on. She wants some a priori definition to all this, and I don’t necessarily disagree with her--but the objections she raises are worked out by the jury system. Then she twists any good points she has about obscenity law into a rant about “the living hell of antitrust” (184). It’s a joke--and it only gets worse because “the clause giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce is one of the major errors in the Constitution” (id.). By contrast, NB she never raises criticism of the US constitution for its approval of chattel slavery.Recommended only for bloody socialists, those who want to enter the Augean Stables, and readers with so profound a hatred of mankind.

Connie

Life changing.Ayn Rand... anyone who calls her a Communist just proves they have absolutely NO idea what she's about since she's actually the complete opposite.Again, life changing. Changes perspective on life. Makes you think outside the box we've been taught, no, forced to think inside of.The first couple of pages are enough to make your head expand. Amazing woman.

Otto Lehto

No small contribution to philosophy; in fact, no contribution whatsoever.(It does get better by the end, though, and there are a couple of good essays between long, uninteresting diatribes against Kant, Hegel, American pragmatism and every other kind of philosophy not written by Ms. Rand herself.)PS. If you want to read Ayn Rand at her best, read Virtue of Selfishness instead: it's succinct and doesn't stray too far from Rand's strengths (Romantic hero worship of strong individuals, and proselytizing for capitalism). She was never a good philosopher, let's admit it; but she was, at times, a decent writer. After Virtue of Selfishness, you might as well do better by just reading Atlas Shrugged. All her other works are merely footnotes to her magnum opus (which I found unbearably tedious and overlong). This book, an amateur's scribbles on philosophy, is perhaps her weakest, because she doesn't understand any other philosopher except herself: she doesn't, for example, have a clue of Kant's philosophy, American pragmatism - or even of her only philosophical hero's, Aristotle's, philosophy, beyond a few stale slogans. She has the grasp of philosophy of a first-year undergraduate student. Psychologically, she fails even more miserably: she fails to understand the intellectual motivations of her enemies. She simply imagines motivations to people where they don't exist. She substitutes malevolent paranoia for a real attempt at understanding differences of opinion. She categorizes people as evil - i.e. everybody except herself and her disciples. That's as close to a totalitarian doctrine as any "liberal" ever came. She was truly unique: the only true totalitarian liberal in the history of the world. She was a powerful woman, worthy of admiration; but her philosophy doesn't deserve such a lengthy book of exposition, since it can be best expressed in a few powerful slogans - and one 1000-page book.I judge this book to be superfluous.

Nathan Titus

The philosophy of Ayn Rand changed my entire mindset when I first read Atlas Shrugged. For that reason, I enjoy all her non-fiction writing: it shows how it works in the real world. It also shows the power that philosophy of any kind has over every aspect of existence. As Rand says, we need it to deal with our daily lives. As she further explains, we can't help but have a philosophy, we can only choose to make it ourselves, or to let it self-assemble inside our subconscious. The later choice (or default) will inevitably result in contradictions and errors which will, in turn, follow us into our daily life.Philosophy has always been my favorite subject, but before Rand, I did not identify it as such. I called it "mind set," and the term was vague and full of contradictions. she helped me build a stable, consistent, PRACTICAL "mind set." In the process, she challenged almost every belief I ever had. I didn't just build a philosophy, I REBUILT one.This is the book I would most recommend to people who do not especially like Ayn Rand. At the very least, it will tell you that you need A philosophy, even if Objectivism isn't the one you choose. People, and hence the world, could benefit greatly from consistent thinking, and from knowing WHY they think certain things. Even if you don't agree with her, you can agree to that much.

Taylor

I love the severity of her novels and can almost hear her reading the dialogue to me with a great intensity. But to have to deal with that narrative intensity outside of fictional characters and to imagine this rigid capitalist immigrant sitting next to me prattling about the evils of babying your brother.. well I just find it easier to absorb through the analogy of her fictions.

Kevin

Ayn Rand is completely misunderstood in the popular culture- she was not a heartless selfish individualist without a care for her fellow man. Ayn Rand was a principled philosopher in the tradition of Aristotle- who realized that human beings are ends in themselves and can only flourish by being free to act according to the dictates of reason and conscience. Ayn Rand isn't opposed to love, to friendship, to organized groups of people with a common purpose. She was opposed to coercion in all forms, and as such Ayn Rand was an optimist and a champion of human dignity. Unlike most modern intellectuals, Ayn Rand realized that pure capitalism is good and natural and right. We are men, not ants- and free market capitalism, not socialism or communism, is part of our nature. Let human reason flourish, let markets flourish, and humanity will flourish. I'm not saying I agree with everything she said- I'm just saying that her world is not some kind of dark, dog-eat-dog, man-against-man hell. In fact, her world is one of human flourishing and human dignity where men are free to participate in their own creation- to become persons of character, worthy of love, confident in their own human goodness.

Lollie

Nope. just not going to happen.The only people I can see this book appealing to are one's with the same psychopathic tendencies and Rand herself.This book would resonate with people looking for a way to make selfishness justifiable in every aspect of life, for those who have a complete lack of empathy and think compassion an unnecessary weakness... or those who have no idea what either of those actually are.This was just too depressing to finish, especially when I realised there is a whole mess of people who follow this way of life like a religion.maybe one day, for purely academic purposes, I'll return to it... but I hope that day never comes.

Christopher

This book changed my life! The first work I read by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, (author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead") is the stunningly clear rationality I’d always been searching for in her philosophy of Objectivism. Objectivism, according to Miss Rand is: "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."Rand's ability to reduce the most complex of issues to simple-to-understand fundamentals is unparalleled in history, except for perhaps, Aristotle.This particular book focuses on proving the crucial need of philosophy in everyone’s lives, of the necessity of a reality-based philosophy knowable by reason, and that regardless of whether or not one has a conscious philosophy that everyone operates by some kind of philosophy. Reading this book was the most important thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t recommend it more highly.

Antonio Lopez

It was interesting to see how current still are Rand's concerns. The book also opened the door of other authors who she critique. Important to understand the roots of the opposite views.Since the book is a collection of essays it is easy to read and reflect one at a time.In the end the battle for freedom is an intellectual battle. Lots has been said about other sciences yet the enemies of freedom get stronger under the shade of indifference and ignorance. "Philosophy Who needs it" is an invitation to be active learner and defender of freedom.

Nerine Dorman

While I’m a big fan of Ayn Rand’s works I am, by equal measure, aware of the fact that she can and does froth a little when she hits particular topics. While my own knowledge of philosophy is still very sketchy at best, I did find this slim volume to be a somewhat useful supplement to her other titles that I’ve read, though don’t feel as if this collection of essays covered any fresh ground.She examines why we need philosophy (of course we do) and the realisation that this is an integral part of our existence if we are to live rational, moral lives. Most importantly she stands for taking pride in one’s own labours and not settling for anything less than the best. She makes a big deal about freedom, and personal freedom to think and trade as one wishes without feeling ashamed of one’s strengths. Also, that one should deal with truths and that which is, instead of that which one imagines something *should* be.Mostly, Rand encourages people to think for themselves without blindly following conventions, and to encourage the development and application to reason. She advocates intellectual honesty – in admitting what one knows and what one does not know, then working from there. She advocates sticking to one’s convictions and looking at living a life that has integrity on a basic level. And not, thankfully, to proselytise. She is harshly critical of some of the philosophic and political efforts of her day, and it’s somewhat frightening to see how some of her observations are very much apt for this day and age.

Roslyn Ross

Rand is a pleasure as always. So glad she said finally explained to me the draw of chess! Was a little disappointed with her response to Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity. She complains that no one has refuted him by defending man's mind, yet she doesn't really do much to defend man's mind. She just makes fun of all the dumb he things he says in his book and is appalled that anyone would fall for it. But people DO. And they need a better response than the one she provides. Guess that's where I come in, but wouldn't have minded more help from her!

Петър Стойков

На мен лично ми бе изключително трудно – докато оформях начина си на мислене, трябваше практически сам да измислям базисната постановка на идеите, в които вярвам, тъй като не я откривах в нито една философска книга, в нито една лекция по философия...Прочети цялото ревю: http://kaka-cuuka.com/knigi/filosofia...

Kelly Murray

The bottom line is, we all live by a philosophy- whether or not we're aware of it. This book shows you why it's so important to know what kind of philosophy you're living and making choices by, and makes one aware of how their pattern of coming to conclusions affects everything about their being. A must read for anyone interested in understanding their inner workings better.

Danielle Mccormick

It's true that I am a huge fan of Rand's therefore, I am a bit prejudiced in her favor. This is more a conglomeration of essays addressing a variety of topics than it is a single philosophical work. Each essay is interesting in it's own way and each shares the underlying theme of individual rights (naturally, it's Ayn Rand) I particularly enjoyed the essays entitled "The Metaphysical versus the Man-made" and "Egalitarianism and Inflation"I am convinced that everyone should read at least one piece of Rand's philosophical works at some point in their lives, weather they agree or disagree with her philosophy if only to better understand what they oppose. And everyone should read her fictitious works, as they are classics and weather you love or hate her (there's usually no in-betweens with Rand) she is a fantastic writer with excellent command of language. All that being said, this just isn't her best work. I recommend starting somewhere else, perhaps with THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS or one of her novels. Only when you've read all of her larger works should you come to this one. And just be aware that this was written in her old age, it gets a bit bitter sometimes, especially with her STRONG hatred of Immanuel Kant.

Shea Mastison

This book was a little weaker the second time around. Rand manages to stay as vitrolic as ever; and her approach to philosophy makes you wonder if she wasn't perhaps a gladiator in a prior life. Her letter to Boris Spatsky is particularly powerful because it shows the arbitrary nature of statism, as well as the dangers inherent in all forms of collectivism. On the downside, her final essay is a little too nationalistic for me; but perhaps it was a different time in America. You can never go wrong, reading Rand. If this book is accessible to you; grab it.

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