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The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand Paperback – September 1, 1987
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Top Customer Reviews
The text is divided into three sections,; metaphysics and epistemology, ethics and politics. Each section has an introductory essay by the editors. With only two contributions the segment discussing metaphysics and epistemology is the shortest and least interesting part of the book. While there is a rich philosophical tradition in these areas , Rand appears to have a limited interest in these subjects aside from the role they play in underwriting her ethical and political views. Consequently, there is not a lot of source material to use. Rand seems to advocate naïve/common sense realism, positing the existence of an agent-independent world and our ability to access and understand it via our senses and cognitive abilities. While helpful in highlighting some of Rand Aristotelian views the essays in this section are rather weak.
Rand's writings in the areas of ethics and politics are much more extensive and, as a consequence the related essays are accordingly more interesting. Hollinger's essay discussing Rand's connection to Aristotle and the virtue ethics tradition is well written and insightful. The notion of human flourishing evident in the virtue tradition is helpful in understanding Rand's view of value. From my perspective, the best essay in the collection is from Charles King, Many readers approaching Rand for the first type find her work difficult as a result of her emotive language and rather esoteric use of terminology. King is helpful in clarify Rand's terminology and identifying her underlying contentions. Flew's essay on Rand's politics is also worth a look, in particular, his thoughts with regard to strengthening her argument for capitalism are interesting.
Despite its limitations I enjoyed the book - Rand's work has been largely overlooked by the philosophical world and this small anthology provides some rare and critical insight into her thought. That said, it is a modest collection of essays from minor philosophers (with the exception of Flew). I would, however, not want to sound overly critical of the contributors. While Rand is a colorful character with some interesting thoughts she is a `philosopher' only in the broadest sense of the term. As noted by several of the commentators, Rand seems to have limited awareness and interest in the broader philosophical world - this is unfortunate as it limits her effectiveness. Rand is an accomplished writer of romantic fiction and many of her ideas (for good or bad) are not presented in a clear and systematic way that lends itself to easy analysis.
Overall, the text is largely a period piece and is likely of interest to a limited audience.
The essays included fall into two very distinct categories: those written by independent Ayn Rand scholars, like Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Machan or Mack, who show a real familiarity with Rand's published works (or, to be more precise, those works published prior to the publication of the book in 1984); and essays written by generally unsympathetic philosophers who merely took the trouble of reading a few Objectivist essays before refuting what are mostly misunderstandings of Rand's statements or arguments.
One example is Anthony Flew, whose pompously titled essay "Selfishness and the Unintended Consequences of Intended Action" combines a very cogent defense of the free market with a completely inept treatment of Rand's rational egoism. Flew takes the following statement from *The Fountainhead*: "No man can live for another... It is impossible in concept"; interprets it as meaning that no action can be unselfish and self-sacrificing; easily refutes the latter; and then blames Rand for her "false conclusion", her "lapse" and the "mess" she got herself into. Unfortunately for him, Rand was not saying that it is impossible ever to *act* in a self-sacrificial way, but that it was impossible consistently to *live* for another, which is totally different, and which I do not think Flew would be able to refute. As for his comment that "Rand is... mistaking it that all human relationships are or should be trading transactions", I surmise it is based on too literal an interpretation of the "trader principle", which is the Objectivist alternative to predatory egoism and altruism. Finally, the refutation of the Objectivist principle that there is no conflict of interest among rational men is based on an unjustified reading of "interest" as synonymous with "desire".
But the nadir of this collection is probably Wallace Matson's "Rand on Concepts" which claims to reformulate the Objectivist theory of concept-formation in a way that "preserves what is of value in Rand's treatment" and then proceeds to get rid of concepts altogether, claiming they are a dispensable "mysterious and subjective... third entity between word and thing"!
Of the ten essays included here, I would say that the five written by the better-informed Ayn Rand scholars are worth reading and often contain interesting observations and criticisms (though none that are so earth-shattering as to really threaten the structure of Objectivism), while the other five, when they are not off-topic, are generally lame.
And some of them didn't think much of her at all. Jack Wheeler, for example, tries to be nice but argues that she didn't really understand Aristotle very well. And Antony Flew, who has said elsewhere that he thinks her contribution to philosophy was 'zilch', makes mincemeat of her understanding of 'selfishness'.
The essays in here aren't all negative (nor should they be; Rand wasn't *completely* batty). And they *are* all thoughtfully and carefully written. But Rand's 'philosophy' won't withstand fifteen minutes of careful scrutiny by anyone who knows anything about the field from any non-'Objectivist' source.
If, as it appears, Rand is going to get some academic attention after all, then this volume should be kept handy. At least SOME of the attention should be negative.