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Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand's Epistemology

3.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0595267330
ISBN-10: 0595267335
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Scott Ryan has been a musician, a mathematics teacher, a writer, a database production editor, a husband and father, and a libertarian gadfly. He holds a master's degree in mathematics and has had a lifelong interest in philosophy. At the time of this writing (2003) he is working toward a professional law degree, intending to specialize in intellectual property law, cyberlaw, and alternatives to litigation. He lives in Silver Lake, Ohio, with his family.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (January 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0595267335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0595267330
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,289,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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For those who have been impressed by Rand's intellect, this may demonstrate that you have yet to scratch the surface. Scott Ryan's credentials may not be superlative but his thoroughness and precision are.
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Mr. Ryan says he admires Brand Blanshard. In an online article he chides Ayn Rand fans to learn about graciousness from Blanshard. He does not emulate Blanshard with this book. He is the opposite of gracious to Ayn Rand. The book is full of derisive remarks like "Rand failed to consider ... ", "she carelessly thought ...", "she wasn't entitled to think ...", and all her ideas simply stem from a "fear of religion." He regularly and ungraciously misrepresents her, e.g. having her perceive an abstraction (p. 48). Witness the title. It's not 'Objectivism and Rationality'.

Much of the book is about the theory (or problem) of universals. Ryan raises the topic repeatedly, beyond annoyance. He claims it is an ontological, not an epistemological problem. Wrong, it's both. He asserts Rand is a nominalist in ontology but a moderate realist in epistemology. How can that be if the theory of universals is, as he says, only ontological? I offer two reasons. First he confuses the two aspects. Second, he portrays her that way to try to make her look ridiculous. He calls Ayn Rand's solution an "optical illusion."

He claims Rand didn't understand the problem. Given what Ryan writes about it, she understood it better than he does. He says he agrees with Blanshard on universals. However, Blanshard's position is far from Ryan's own confused one he calls "realist", and Ryan's use of "generic universals" and "specific universals" does not match Blanshard's. I think Ryan fails to understand Blanshard's theory.

Blanshard rejected the Platonic theory and the Aristotelian theory, both realist. He rejected "generic universals" (Reason and Analysis, IX, 28, 29, 34) and non-specific, qualitative universals for lack of sameness (RA, IX, 14). Ryan does not.
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Objectivism's intellectual bankruptcy has led to there being few worthwhile critiques. This book is about as good as I've seen, even though it does at times devolve into psychobabble and ad hominem. These are fine techniques within the sphere of objectivism, but in the wider world it's not enough. Even so, I'd recommend it before moving on to the other options.
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What bizarre reviews appear on this page! If they are genuine reviews at all, they have surely been submitted by disgruntled Objectivists who don't want this book to be read.
No wonder, either. Mr Ryan has delivered a powerhouse philosophical critqique of Objectivism in this work. I'm not at all surprised that Rand's followers are having trouble refuting it (in part because it's written well over their heads; Ryan is considerably more expert in real philosophy than Rand was, let alone her acolytes).
Ryan demonstrates consistently, time after time, that Rand's explicit philosophy depended implicitly on unacknowledged premises that were at odds with it. In summary, and with an irony not at all lost on Ryan, Objectivism itself is a huge "stolen concept."
Ryan is not Rand's enemy; on the contrary, he expressly states that he enjoys much of her fiction and agrees broadly with her political philosophy. He just doesn't think she was much of an epistemologist. Any unbiased reader of this book will come to agree, after watching Ryan deconstruct and decimate her theories on page after page of careful exposition and analysis.
There aren't very many competent philosophical critiques of Objectivism in print. This is one of the best. Its detractors either don't know what they're talking about, or just don't want you to read it, or (most likely) both. Don't let them turn you away.
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It seems the key concept of the book is that our absolute reality and perceptions of absolute reality are dependant on each other. It is stated very clearly in the Afterword. I think that if you read this book with the understanding the Ryan discounts the fundamental belief that reality exists in and of itself and all of our perceptions, categorizing, abstracting, formulations, etc. do not change that fundamental fact, then you will get some interesting arguements out of the book. It is very tiresome though to continually hear that the belief that reality exists trivializes any philosopher that believes in it. Once you argue that your mental constructs are part of reality you are free to build just about any complex architecture you want. This, then, allows you to create mental constructs that are nearly incoherant when matched with a real perceivable world but, if you don't believe that world actually either exists without your construct or can be perceived accurately and therefor discounted, you can look like a great thinker. Since it's complex, some people think it is then automatically smarter. Ok, your free to your thoughts. I believe the simplest answers are most likely the truest and I certainly do not believe that my thinking is somehow superior to reality. Reality is, my job as a rational person, is to figure out how to make sense of that which is there regardless of my sense of it.
There are some interesting challenges Ryan would make to whomever thinks Ayn Rand was infallible. She does seem to have an almost fanatical obsession with casting as many behaviors as possible in the light of self interest only. "I don't want you to think I'm giving this to you for your benefit, it's for my benefit only", "I wouldn't accept it if I thought that".
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