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Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose: Objectivism from 1993 to 2013

While surfing the web for something last night, I accidentally stumbled on an archaeological find of interest to this blog, and couldn’t resist bringing it up here. It’s an interview, conducted in 1993, of David Kelley in the now-defunct newsletter Full Context, edited at the time by Karen Reedstrom, and later edited by Karen as well as Rick Minto. (Karen and Rick are married, so Karen Reedstrom became Karen Minto.) David Kelley and Rick Minto are, of course, Advisory Board members of the current IOS. The interview was conducted by Raymie Stata. Despite the passage of two decades since the interview, I can’t help thinking that as far as Objectivism is concerned, the interview proves the truth of that old French adage, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose–“the more that things change, the more they stay the same.” For the most part, I don’t mean that in a good way. For clarity’s sake, I’ll mark all references to the old IOS organization as “IOS-1990.”

The interview begins with Stata’s asking Kelley about IOS-1990, and in particular about the Institute’s successes up to 1993. Kelley mentions some successes, but what’s interesting is his description of the problem that IOS-1990 was founded to solve:

One of the problems historically with Objectivism is that it is a broad, systematic philosophy but often does not address the kinds of very specific technical questions that are being discussed in philosophy or psychology or economics. Now, some of these questions are just invalid from a philosophic standpoint. But as a student you want to know: All right, what do you do then if you’re asked to write a paper about a topic? We try to counsel students on proper methodology in these cases. But also, some of these questions are perfectly valid and we try to show how to build a bridge from Objectivism’s basic principles to those specific issues. And there again I think we’ve been very successful.

To what extent has any of the “historical” problem described in Kelley’s first sentence changed in the intervening twenty years? Very little. Plus ca change…

Just a bit later in the interview, Stata asks Kelley about IOS-1990’s other successes. At this point, Kelley brings up IOS-1990’s attempted (and to some degree successful) rapproachement with libertarians, particularly those associated with the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, Institute for Humane Studies, and Heartland Institute.

Now there’s been a gradual recognition in the classical liberal movement that you can’t win the debate on economic grounds alone. The Reagan years were a real lesson for people in that regard. For all the free-market rhetoric, almost nothing happened. There were some policy changes, but we certainly didn’t get back to laissez-faire. And so I think people like Ed Crane at the Cato Institute and Robert Poole at the Reason Foundation are very clear that there has to be a strong moral case for the free-market to complement the economic case.

So what I have done, and what the Institute [1990] has done, is to build some bridges back to those people and to say, “We stand for Objectivism and we are not going to compromise those ideas, but let’s talk. We can work with you to provide some of the ethical foundations for the work you’re doing.” And so over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people like Ed Crane, Bob Poole, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Heartland Institute, a number of other places. And without exception, I have found that if you approach them in the spirit of working together, a willingness to debate and a willingness to sometimes agree to disagree—if you approach them in that spirit, I have found absolutely no trace of hostility towards Objectivism. And I think we have helped restore the good name of Objectivism to a broader segment of the liberal community.

I think Kelley’s comment here is somewhat naive. I don’t know how “clear” Kelley’s libertarian allies were about moral issues, and I think that he oversimplifies the task of providing “ethical foundations” for libertarian policy initiatives. As for “no trace of hostility toward Objectivism” from libertarians, I don’t think Kelley was looking hard enough: libertarian hostility for Objectivism was there in 1993 and remains there in 2013. But Kelley’s fundamental point in this passage is unquestionably correct: Objectivists and libertarians are natural allies, and the Ayn Rand Institute‘s erstwhile policy of denouncing libertarianism as nihilism was perverse and absurd. (Actually, in a remarkable absurdity, the policy is simultaneously “erstwhile” and “contemporary,” since ARI claims not to have changed its policies vis-a-vis libertarianism.)

In this case, then, we have a real change in the environment, not stasis. No one in 1993 could possibly have predicted the lay of the land in 2013. No one could have predicted that the Ayn Rand Institute, which had expelled Kelley for this very rapprochement with libertarians, would wait two decades, and then do its best to marginalize Kelley while forging an alliance of its own with libertarians. No one could have predicted that a former member of ARI’s Board would, without significant pushback by libertarians or Objectivists, take the helm of the libertarian Cato Institute, simply brushing aside as irrelevant the fact that he had for years belonged to an organization that condemned such behavior in others as a mortal sin. No one could have predicted that ARI-affiliated Objectivists would, after describing libertarians as “nihilists” for two decades, become a common sight at Cato and IHS events, and take for granted the value of Objectivist engagement with libertarians. Nor could anyone, even in his most cynical moments, have conceived of the tortured, preposterous rationalization that ARI has recently produced to justify this about-face. (Incidentally, I have an email from Leonard Peikoff in my inbox expressing explicit agreement with it, which I intend to make public on this blog.) Nor for that matter could one have expected libertarians to have gone as silent on the matter as they’ve ended up being. All of it is a cautionary tale about the intellectual immaturity of both movements, Objectivist and

David Kelley

David Kelley

libertarian. Movements committed to intellectual integrity would never have allowed a series of such events to have happened. Pathetic but true: it took a leftist journalist–Gary Weiss–to bring the issues to light. And even the left has failed to grasp the significance of the events that transpired, despite the propaganda victory it would thereby have achieved against two of its natural adversaries if the facts were more widely known and appreciated. Can an Objectivist organization that behaves as ARI has really disavow the age-old charge that Objectivism is a form of Machiavellianism? Can a libertarian organization incapable of handling its own problems of organizational succession really claim to offer credible advice about how to run a government? Isn’t it odd that I’m asking these questions, but leftists aren’t?

Later in the interview, Kelley is asked about IOS-1990’s relationship to ARI, and about the “split” quite generally.

To my knowledge, no one has published any kind of response to Truth and Toleration or given a talk that was taped and made available. The last thing I know of on the subject were some remarks that Leonard Peikoff made at a Jefferson School conference, but that was before Truth and Toleration. So I guess the news is that there really isn’t any news: the two sides have gone their separate ways. There are a number of people who attend our events and their events and get what they can out of each side. I understand there has been some pressure on the student groups not to have any dealings with me or the Institute. But very little news, really. It’s been just a parting of the ways.

When we got started, it was very important for us to define our position in relationship to the movement that had been before. That’s why the first talk was my talk on Objectivism as a philosophy and a movement. At the time, we were contemplating having further lectures on this topic, but after my talk we all felt, “No, we’ve had our say, now let’s do our positive thing, let’s go about our business.” And so we haven’t thought much about what anyone else is doing these last three years, we’ve been so busy developing our own programs.

Much of this remains the same after twenty years: no one has published any kind of response to Truth and Toleration and no one has given a publicly available response to it in audio or video form. Partisans on both two sides continue to go “their separate ways.” Some people still try to attend both groups’ events and “get what they can out of each side.” There is still pressure on students affiliated with ARI not to have dealings with Kelley or his organization. One wonders, though, about the prudence of Kelley’s policy of “going about his business.” Can a business go about its business while ignoring the parties who want to put it out of business? I don’t think so. Perhaps history teaches us in this case that a more concerted campaign ought to have been mounted in defense of IOS-1990 when it was under attack.

Here is an amusing passage on a similar topic:

Q: Do you think that the Objectivist movement has been a victim of the same kind of desire to not think?

Kelley: Sure, there are people who basically have a cult-like mentality vis a vis Objectivism. Objectivism—or the pronouncements of Objectivism—become the content of their cult.

There was an example of a person—I can’t even remember the guy’s name so I don’t have to worry about not giving it—who said it was clear that I was not an Objectivist on the grounds that I said Objectivism is an open philosophy, subject to modification if someone provides evidence for it. He said that you can’t be an Objectivist and believe that. Why? He gave an analogy to a coach with ten rules; this is the coach’s philosophy, these ten rules. If someone comes along and says “I subscribe to coach’s philosophy but I don’t like rule six”, well then it’s not coach’s philosophy anymore. That’s the cult mentality—that Objectivism can even coherently be compared to a list of ten rules, you know, like the ten commandments.

The “guy” whose name Kelley has forgotten is John McCaskeyself-expelled founder of the Anthem Foundation, and currently a faculty member at Brown University. One wonders whether McCaskey has modified or re-thought his “Coach’s Ten Rules” conception of Objectivism. One likewise wonders what his Brown University colleagues would say if his role in Kelley’s excommunication were more widely known. McCaskey has written on many topics in the years since, but not

John McCaskey

John McCaskey

on that one. Nor has anyone asked him, publicly, to come clean on his views of twenty years ago–unless you count what I’m doing now. This lack of accountability and lack of transparency is a sign of intellectual corruption in a “movement.” But Objectivists have come to take such corruption pretty much for granted. Moral indifference and agnosticism are the “price” that some are willing to “pay” for “success.”

I admire an interviewer who asks tough questions, and Stata is by that standard an admirable interviewer. He asks Kelley the awkward question of why Objectivist scholars seem to have produced so little in the way of scholarship. I won’t reproduce Kelley’s response verbatim; I don’t at all find it plausible. First Kelley suggests that it’s “extremely difficult” to produce high quality work. That’s true, but non-Objectivist academics seem to have found a way of surmounting this problem. Then he suggests that “innovation has to some extent been discouraged in the Objectivist movement.” I agree that it has, and yet I don’t find that fact explanatory. Innovation has been discouraged, especially within the more dogmatic precincts of ARI, and yet it hasn’t been sufficiently discouraged to have prevented ARI-affiliated Objectivists from producing a fair bit of good scholarship. Kelley goes on to say that he intends to put a few volumes of Objectivist work together (which he did do), and ends by saying: “Actually, it’s kind of pathetic, but even three or four volumes will significantly expand the body of literature that’s out there.” I agree with that, and it remains true twenty years after he said it.

I don’t want to end on a sour note. There is something wonderful and refreshing about this interview, and it comes out best in some of the passages I haven’t quoted here. The interview is an archaeological document from a time before the Internet and interwebs, before social media and blogs–from a time, in other words, when there were far fewer independent opportunities for thought and expression than there now are. IOS-1990 did a remarkable job in that environment to put Objectivism on the intellectual radar screen. For years, it was the only voice of a sane form of Objectivism, and virtually the only voice of a scholarly one with interests in engaging a wider intellectual audience. The interview captures the phenomenology of IOS Objectivism ca. 1993–the excitement, the sense of novelty, the sense of liberation, the prospects for the future.

We now face a radically different milieu involving a 180 degree shift–one in which ARI has become the rising, mainstreamed public and scholarly face of Objectivism, and Kelley’s organization has become relatively marginalized, even with its erstwhile libertarian allies. It would take an intellectual historian with a strong stomach and powerful capacities of integration to explain how and why that happened. Having read some recent histories (or historical discussions) of Objectivism–Doherty, Burns, Heller, Weiss–I’m not holding my breath. If it took twenty years to get where we are, it could take twenty more years before historians come up with an explanation that does justice to the facts. I can’t hold my breath that long. I’ve held it long enough already.




  1. Irfan,

    I think you and David missed the parable of my story about “Coach’s Ten Rules.” Let me try a different example.

    Let’s say a fellow named Irfan is very committed to this one doctrine: “A man should take care of his wife.” He calls it the Marriage Mandate (capital M, capital M) and insists the MM is this statement, his ten-step justification for it, and nothing else. He promotes the Marriage Mandate, gives lectures on it, writes books about it. He makes it famous. Then old-man Irfan dies. Then gay marriage becomes common.

    I say it would be wrong for Marriage Mandatists to say the Marriage Mandate is “A spouse should take care of a spouse,” given that old-man Irfan insisted the MM was what he said it was and nothing more. The Marriage Mandatists could split into two groups, those who stick to Irfan’s dictum and those who don’t. But the second group should let the first group keep the name and the second group should make up a new one, even if it’s just Open Marriage Mandate, OMM.

    My point has nothing to do with the form, justification, virtue, truth, or complexity of the doctrine, whether it’s in ten commandments or an argued treatise, whether Irfan was wise or foolish to ask that his doctrine be set in concrete, whether Marriage Mandatists are rational or freaky cultists. My point is just about integrity and respect for Irfan. He asked that MM remain as he left it. I say we should honor his request.

  2. irfankhawaja says:

    I’d prefer to stop dealing in “parables” and hierophantics and just get a straight answer to the following: do you think Leonard Peikoff and Peter Schwartz’s expulsion and denunciation of David Kelley (and those whose views “resembled” his) was morally justified? It’s about time for those of you long associated with ARI and now dealing with libertarians–and employed by them–to come clean on that moral-historical issue. (And yes, you’re still associated with ARI in the relevant sense–until you publicly repudiate them.) I accused you of participating in Kelley’s denunciation and expulsion from the Objectivist movement. That’s what your original “parable” was. I hereby repeat the charge. Your appeal to a “parable” doesn’t address the underlying purpose of having offered the parable in the first place. But that’s what I was writing about. The problem with “Coach’s Ten Rules” wasn’t just the absurdity of the analogy it offered, but that it was your willing contribution to a campaign of vilification. And since Peikoff had said that the target of ARI’s campaign was not just David Kelley, but all those whose views merely resembled his, I consider myself included in the campaign of vilification. If you intend to continue that campaign, say so out loud. Say it in such a way that if I were to forward this discussion to anyone outside of Objectivist circles, they would clearly understand exactly what it is that you are doing, and wish to say.

    So before we even get to the meaning of the “parables”–and the appropriateness of the analogy they involve–I’d like to know their purpose. Are they or are they not part of the same campaign of denunciation and explusion as was begun by Schwartz and Peikoff in 1990 and has been continued to this day by Yaron Brook and ARI? On the face of it, it’s hard to see what else they could be. Your parable describes a “split,” by analogy with a mutual decision to part ways. I wasn’t talking about a “split.” I was talking about a denunciation and expulsion. Before we pretend to have a collegial discussion about your “parable,” I’d like to know whether your purposes are in fact collegial. On the face of it, what you’re doing here is continuing a campaign of vilification, but doing so in a collegial tone of voice. What is this, but an exacerbation of the original offense?

    You refer to “David” as though the two of you were on a friendly, first-name basis. Really? Are you? You refer to me that way, too–but I know damn well that we aren’t on anything resembling a friendly, first-name basis. So let’s stop pretending that our relationship is something that it isn’t. You people associated with ARI have spat your venom in our faces for the last 24 years–whether by spitting, or sanctioning the spitting. If you think a pseudo-collegial appeal to a “parable” is enough to wipe your spit off of our faces, trust me: you’ve got another thing coming. The sanction of the victim ends here.


  3. I merely wanted to clarify my parable for anyone who comes upon it here. Thank you for posting my reply and the links to my web site.

    I apologize for my informality. You are right that it is no longer appropriate.

  4. irfankhawaja says:

    It’s not that your informality “is no longer appropriate,” as though it had been appropriate before this exchange. It hasn’t been appropriate since the year 1989. What planet have you been inhabiting since then?

    As for links, here’s one I’d like “anyone who comes” here to see. I’ll post the first 11 items on the IOS blog itself at some point. It deserves a wider audience.

    Let me remind you and other readers that the letter in that link is one that bears your endorsement as well as Yaron Brook’s and Leonard Peikoff’s. You haven’t repudiated it. So no one should construe your current quasi-“dissociation” from ARI as affecting the essential content of my claims. You were willing to sign on to their policies in more than one way. I was their target. So you’re morally responsible for that. Did you really think I was going to let that ride, in a spirit of charity, mercy, or magnanimity? I may teach at a Franciscan College. That doesn’t mean I’m a Franciscan.

    After reading that letter exchange, I’d also suggest reading (or re-reading) David Glenn’s “Advocates of Objectivism Make New Inroads,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/13/2007. It’s behind a paywall at their site, so here is the relevant quotation from the middle of the article:

    “While researching the objectivist world online, Ms. Raphael began to fear that Anthem’s grants were given only to a narrow range of scholars associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. No Anthem grants appear to go to scholars associated with David Kelley, a former Vassar College philosophy professor who broke with the institute in 1990 amid a personal and ideological dispute that concerned, among other things, whether it is appropriate for objectivists to speak at events organized by libertarians. Mr. Kelley, who now directs the Atlas Society, an objectivist group in Washington, says he can understand that the institute might not want anything to do with him personally. But he believes it is absurd for the institute to demand that its associates “repudiate” any and all scholars who “tolerate” him — a formulation that often appears in objectivist blog posts.

    “Mr. McCaskey, the Anthem president, says that Ms. Raphael’s concern about narrowness is unfair and unfounded. Many of the Anthem Foundation’s grants, he points out, go to institutions like the University of North Carolina, where there are no objectivists on the faculty. And Mr. Gotthelf noted that he himself has historically had an arm’s-length relationship with the institute. In 2000, four of its leaders declared that they felt “morally obliged” to criticize Mr. Gotthelf’s book On Ayn Rand (Wadsworth) for being written in inaccessible academic language. Ms. Raphael is correct, however, to note that the foundation has never supported any scholars associated with Mr. Kelley, some of whom have published extensively in objectivist philosophy.”

    Unfair? Unfounded? Really? If it was unfair or unfounded, do you mind describing the policy on Kelley that obtained at Anthem at the time of the CHE interview? And how you reconcile that policy with the verbal legerdemain excerpted above? Apparently, David Glenn didn’t know what questions to ask you. But rest assured: I do.


  5. If Objectivism is all about showing respect for Ayn Rand by following her 10 rules (or her 100, or her 1000)…

    And ARI always shows respect in the manner demanded…

    And shunning post-1969 libertarians was one of Rand’s rules (as the employment, in Mayhew’s rewritten volume of Q&As, of 10 different items slamming libertarians would strongly indicate)…

    Then it follows that David Kelley should have been expelled from ARI, for giving a talk sponsored by Laissez-Faire Books.

    But it also follows that Leonard Peikoff should have been pre-expelled from ARI, for placing his own book with LFB.

    And, of course, that John Allison, Yaron Brook, and Leonard Peikoff (having dodged the penalty at least once already) should all be expelled for associating with British libertarian organizations, the Cato Institute, etc. etc..

    Surely John McCaskey is able to work out some of these implications.

  6. irfankhawaja says:

    Those unfamiliar with the facts in this dispute might benefit from seeing an excerpt of a passage from a denunciation of Kelley (and IOS-1990) that John McCaskey wrote in April of 1991. I was myself a senior in college at the time, in the process of applying to my first IOS-1990 Summer Seminar, which I attended in June or July of that year. Implicitly, I too was a target of this denunciation–and remain so.

    To use the name Objectivism for a philosophy with which Ayn Rand would
    have disagreed is thievery…. Imagine you are a youngster who is known by
    neighborhood kids as a friend of—and sometimes spokesman for—the baseball
    coach. The baseball coach has led his team with ‘Coach’s Ten Rules for
    Winning Ball Games.’ Now Coach leaves town and you step in to guide the
    team. It would be wrong for you to change Rule #6 and still call the list
    ‘Coach’s Ten Rules,’ knowing that Coach would not approve the change. A
    kid in a playground can understand this. And a layman can understand that
    professing to teach Ayn Rand’s philosophy while changing it is wrong. [Bay
    Area Students of Objectivism Newsletter, April 1991, John P. McCaskey,

    Note that the original claim involves accusations not just of error but of intellectual wrongdoing: of theft and of deliberate deception. Note also the implication that the issue is sufficiently simple as to be understood by a child. Is McCaskey then lecturing us here in a spirit of parental admonition? And note that both accusations extend beyond David Kelley himself to those who sided with him on this particular issue (whether affiliated with Kelley’s organizations or not). I’ve given McCaskey every opportunity to repudiate the claims in this passage. Indeed, he’s had 22 years to do so. (My earlier use of the phrase “24 years” comes from the original publication dates of Schwartz’s and Peikoff’s denunciations in 1989.) If such a repudiation exists, McCaskey should have no difficulty pointing us in its direction (which he hasn’t done). If it doesn’t exist, and isn’t forthcoming, readers should draw their own conclusions from his refusal to repudiate his earlier views. But McCaskey cannot expect to call his interlocutors liars and thieves and then expect a welcoming reception here.

    The excerpt above comes from Kelley’s Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, p. 109, note 17. The book is now available free and online (and is easily found via Google etc).


  7. irfankhawaja says:

    Well, a day has passed, and John McCaskey hasn’t offered a further response, so I don’t know whether or not to infer that he’s gone from thinking that informality is inappropriate to thinking that a response is itself inappropriate. But to leave nothing to implication, let me go beyond what I said yesterday, and reject the first move in McCaskey’s “argument,” such as it is.

    Apart from the moral issue I’ve raised, the dispute here concerns the legitimacy of McCaskey’s comparison of Objectivism to something like “Coach’s Ten Rules.” McCaskey has now decided to “clarify” matters by changing the “Ten Rules” example to a second one only trivially different from the first. Unfortunately, that doesn’t “clarify” anything: it merely begs the same question all over again, and does so in the same way. Both examples default on an answer to the obvious question: why conceive of Objectivism (or any philosophical theory) by analogy to a numbered list in the first place?

    In order to make any sense of either of McCaskey’s examples, an interlocutor would have to ask a long series of questions intended to clarify the examples themselves, each question intended to ascertain the similarity of the example to the original analysandum—namely, Objectivism. For instance: Note that the Coach’s Ten Rules example had no “justifications” attached to it, while the Marriage Mandate example does. (The ten rules in the “Coach” example were simply ten rules; no mention was made of justifications for any of the rules. Lists of rules don’t typically include justifications, especially when intended for children.) Obviously, the inclusion of a ten-step justification makes a difference to our understanding of the Marriage Mandate example. So does the Marriage Mandate include the ten-step justification, or does it consist simply in the one doctrine detached from its ten-step justification? Suppose the former (as McCaskey’s wording implies, even if it involves a disanalogy with the “Coach’s Ten Rules” example). In that case, is there really such a thing as a merely ten-step justification of a moral proposition? What if the ten steps imply (or presuppose, or derive justification from) an eleventh? Or a twelfth? Or a seventy-first? Do none of the ten steps of “the” justification themselves have a justification? In that case, how can they be justified? Etc.

    Since none of these questions are answered in either of the examples as stated, the questions would merely be the opening steps of a long conversation. That in turn means that every answer to every question about each example would require a transformation of McCaskey’s examples: in other words, as we clarified each example in answer to the questions, the examples themselves would have to change. Note the absurdity, however, of engaging in such an inquiry. By the time we’d gotten through it, we’d have to transform the examples as stated so that they came to resemble Objectivism as I (Khawaja) conceive of it. If the dispute is precisely whether the examples as stated bear any resemblance to Objectivism, transforming the examples so that they do so is an utterly pointless exercise. We might as well just discuss Objectivism from the outset.

    Suppose, then, that we take the examples exactly as stated. In this case, I find them underspecified. That’s why I would have insisted on asking questions to specify them. But if McCaskey really insists that we take his examples exactly as stated, with no clarifications and no modifications, the problem is that they bear no discernible similarity to Objectivism (as I conceive of it). From my perspective, they’re simply red herrings. If we were to discuss them, then, once we were done, we’d face the further task of establishing their connection back to Objectivism itself. But Objectivism itself is the very subject of the dispute. In that case, one wonders: why not just start by directly discussing the actual analysandum—Objectivism—and by dispensing with such question-begging and irrelevant examples as a list of rules or an inscrutable “marriage mandate”? If the disagreement is about Objectivism, why are we discussing Coach’s Ten Rules and the Marriage Mandate at all? The whole point of the position that McCaskey is disputing (and describing as “theft”) is that Objectivism is not like either example. Far from clarifying anything, McCaskey’s examples beg the question from the outset and set the stage for confusion.

    In any case, the propriety of a discussion intended to clarify the examples would presuppose a moral context appropriate to a collegial discussion—which is what we lack here, care of 24 years of ARI-inspired well-poisoning, well-poisoning that comes with John McCaskey’s participation, and which he’s so far done nothing to repudiate or correct.

    (A digression: Interestingly, the precedent for describing Objectivism as a list derives in a certain sense from Derek Parfit’s procedure in Reasons and Persons (1984), where he describes objective-value egoistic theories of morality as “Objective List” theories (p. 4). But while Parfit uses the word “list,” he places relatively little overt emphasis in his discussion on the (supposedly) list-like character of what he calls “the Self-interest Theory.” Interestingly, Parfit had read “The Objectivist Ethics” in preparation for writing Reasons and Persons, and might well have had Rand in mind when he wrote the critique of egoism in the opening pages of that book. The preceding bibliographical point is made by the philosopher John Gardner, who inherited Parfit’s copy of The Virtue of Selfishness. See here, and scroll down to note 37: Parfit doesn’t cite Rand, however, and none of Rand’s works appear in his bibliography.)

  8. Thank you, Dr. Khawaja, for reprinting that paragraph. Though I’ve long ago lost any copy, I still rather like it. And I stand by it. Whether we’re talking about a set of laws, a philosophical system, a syllabus, a religious doctrine, a novel, a poem, or a theory of electromagnetism, whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, brilliant or full of errors, if the author gave it a name and asked that nothing be changed (as Rand did with her philosophy and the term “Objectivism”), then I say it would be wrong to change the content and keep the name. That’s all. I have no idea whether you yourself have done this.

  9. irfankhawaja says:

    Is “Objectivism” a name or is it a term? You’ve said both things above. But a name isn’t a term, and no one has the moral or intellectual right to dictate the content of a term by fiat. Which of the two “Objectivism” is–name or term–can’t be settled by fiat, either. You may recall that Ayn Rand said that “reason accepts no commandments.” That include the commandments put in her mouth by self-declared proxies. So your hand-waving parenthetical can’t resolve this dispute. If by “term” you just meant “name,” you can’t fail to know that that is precisely the issue under dispute. Begging the question won’t resolve anything, either.

    The whole issue is whether Kelley was in fact changing “the content” of Objectivism, so don’t expect I’m going to let you get away with claiming that he was changing the content and retaining the name. Or are you now trying to say that your 1991 essay had nothing to do with David Kelley’s denunciation, had nothing to do with Peikoff’s “Fact and Value,” and had nothing to do with Schwartz’s “On Sanctioning the Sanctioners”? No one has ever read it that way, but now is the time to clarify.

    It’s remarkable that you haven’t noticed that the view you’re now taking is incompatible with the view to which you signed your name earlier–I mean the letter to me written by Yaron Brook (to which you’re a signatory). That letter had said:

    Since the philosophic claims made in “Fact and Value” are to be found in Ayn Rand’s philosophic work and form part of her philosophy, an inability to understand those claims is certainly relevant to employment as a staff intellectual at ARI. Outright rejection of those claims, which you state is your position, is incompatible with such employment.

    According to this passage, “the philosophic claims made in ‘Fact and Value'” are “part of her philosophy.” Did Ayn Rand write “Fact and Value”? No. How then did it become part of Objectivism? If she asked that “nothing be changed,” how did an essay written seven years after her death and without her knowledge become an addendum to her own philosophy? You say that adding unauthorized content is wrong. But you are the co-author of the above passage. Who is adding unauthorized content, then? You claim now that you have no idea whether I’ve committed the sin you excoriate. But you earlier inferred that I rejected Objectivism because I rejected “Fact and Value.” You seem to want to have things all ways at once, don’t you? But reason doesn’t allow that. And neither do I.


  10. Oh, right. I forgot that. Scratch my last sentence.

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