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The last word (more or less)


I’ve decided to end the existence of the Institute for Objectivist Studies. In some ways, I suppose, it was a good idea, but I’ve come to learn that in most ways, it wasn’t.

I’ve greatly enjoyed meeting and conversing with many people here, and I’m conscious of the fact that in some cases (most notably that of commenter “djr” on moral luck), I’ve issued promissory notes on responses that I haven’t been able to deliver on.  For now, all I can say is that I’ve learned a lot from those comments, and will incorporate them–with credit–into anything I publish on the subject, but simply lack the time to respond in this forum. I’m gradually closing down all of the comment boards, and will close down any that I’ve missed in the very near future. The site will stay up–if you wish to see its monument, click around–but only as an archive. I don’t intend to add to it, and don’t intend for others to do so, either.

I’ve been skeptical for a long time of the Objectivist movement, but have until recently thought there was some way to work “within” it and “reform” it. I no longer think so. Putting aside how I characterize my own philosophical views, I see no value whatsoever in operating “within” anything that calls itself Objectivist–or libertarian–or anything but philosophical.  My advice to anyone who sees himself or herself as operating “within” Objectivism would be to get out. But that is a claim I can’t explain here, and I suppose it’s a discovery that has to be made, in each case, on one’s own.

I certainly have a deep and abiding respect for many of the people, Objectivist and otherwise, who have commented here, so please don’t take the preceding comments as a blanket condemnation. And I don’t mean to imply that I will henceforth not deal with Objectivists. That’s just silly. Nor am I repudiating some specific Objectivist doctrine. I’m simply saying: organized Objectivism in every form I’ve ever encountered is a harmful waste of time–including the form of it that I’ve tried to lead.

Please accept my apologies for any disappointed expectations–some of them, I’ll readily admit, justifiable. But I am a professor, a department chair, a pre-law advisor, the director of an ethics institute, and the co-editor of an academic journal. It’s not as though I have nothing else to do with my life. I certainly have no shortage of thoughts on Objectivist topics, but I don’t think a blog is the forum for them. In fact, I know that it isn’t.

The truth is that–on the whole–the Objectivist “milieu” is not worth the time I’ve given it. To coin a phrase, I have better things to do than deal with it. There are more worthwhile audiences and interlocutors elsewhere. If you disagree, feel free to create your own Objectivist institute, and run it as you please. If you agree…well, I’m sure our paths will cross soon. Not that they won’t cross in the first case. They just won’t cross at some specifically Objectivist function. Because I won’t be there.

In any case, I’m done. And since IOS depends on my work, it’s done. Of course, I can’t end with the cliche “It was good while it lasted.” If that were true, after all, I wouldn’t be ending it. I can only say that I tried to make it good while it lasted. If I failed, surely part of the failure is mine. But part of it, I’m quite sure, was the nature of the enterprise as such. I don’t think that an Institute for Objectivist Studies of the sort described on the main page could have succeeded.  But others can debate the relevant counterfactual conditionals. For now, I tip my hat to the critics behind the scenes who told me at the outset that the task was itself quixotic: I was wrong, and they were right. The great thing about thought, however, is that you get to learn from your mistakes. I’ve certainly learned from mine–and frankly, that’s all I’ve ever really asked of them. You get what you pay for, and I’m gratified to say that I’ve done both.

Irfan Khawaja

P.S.: I wrote the preceding note on my own, and made the decision to close IOS on my own, but I’ve cleared the decision with Carrie-Ann Biondi, its Founding Director, who–in acknowledgement of the work I’ve put into IOS–put the power of decision in my hands.

P.P.S, October 26, 2013: To respond collectively (for the moment) to some emails I’ve gotten, none of the preceding criticisms should be construed as applying to the IOS Fall Seminar that ran on September 28, 2013 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. I should have been clearer about the fact that I regarded the seminar as fun, productive, and an enormous success (if a small-scale event can qualify as an “enormous” success, which, qualitatively speaking, it can). The seminar was a real bright spot, and I enjoyed dealing with each and every one of its participants. I have no objections to continuing something like it of an informal variety–annually or biannually or whatever–but not under Objectivist auspices, not even Objectivist auspices that I’ve created and run (or co-run). (I don’t mean that the topics discussed can’t be Objectivist, just that the auspices or institutional framework shouldn’t, as far as my participation is concerned.) But I’ll be in touch with individual people about this in due course. We don’t need an “Institute” to be able to meet and talk philosophy together, and it was a cardinal mistake to think we did.

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