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Online Annotation Project

Our website is home to two ongoing bibliographical projects, both currently in their infancy (as of July 2013). One of them, on a different page, is what we hope to be a comprehensive online bibliography of scholarly or quasi-scholarly material about Objectivism and/or Ayn Rand–“about” in the sense of making explicit reference to Rand and/or Objectivism in some sustained way.

The other bibliographical project, on this page, is our Online Annotation Project. The Annotation Project, as its name suggests, aims to annotate Rand’s writings by means of interdisciplinary bibliographies  that don’t explicitly discuss Rand or Objectivism, but cite works relevant to claims that Rand made. Some of this material may confirm Rand’s claims, some may contradict it, and some may indicate different ways of coming at the topics that Rand discussed, or suggest different topics or issues to bear in mind while reading what she wrote on a given topic. But all of it is somehow related to understanding the claims made on the pages of Rand’s writings by putting those claims in dialogue with authors entirely outside of “the Objectivist tradition.”

Averroes, Annotator Par Excellence

Averroes, Annotator Par Excellence

Our long-range goal  is to create a research tool that offers bibliographical suggestions for every major claim on every page of Rand’s works. A related goal is to facilitate a more critical and integrated approach to Rand’s writings. Too many Objectivists read Rand’s work but fail to ask sufficiently critical questions about it, or fail to ask what relation Rand claims bear to claims others have made on related topics. We’d like to change that. On our view, the ideal reader of Rand’s works will, while reading them, come across a controversial-looking claim Rand makes, recognize its controversiality, and wonder: Is that true? What is the evidence for it? In part, the task of answering the preceding questions—of grasping the evidence for Rand’s claims—requires the reader to ask: Who has ever discussed this topic before, what did they say, and why? Our hope is that the Online Annotation Project will help such a reader find the answers to her questions, or at least get her started on the road to an answer. Too many Objectivists think that there is something “second-handed” about familiarizing themselves with the existing non-Objectivist literature on a subject before coming to a verdict on it. That’s simply a mistake. There’s nothing “second-handed” about being well-read.

We’ll be updating the Annotation Project as often as we can manage, and we invite proposals for new annotations. Send proposals to, but be prepared for some vigorous discussion on the rationale and implementation of your project.

Our first annotation is a bibliography on The Romantic Manifesto by Kirsti Minsaas, former Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Oslo (1999-2007).

Last modified: October 19, 2013 (IK)


  1. jerryb says:

    How can I comment on this page on an “Annotation Project” when nothing is (yet) listed? Easy! Practically ALL of extent Objectivist literature lacks annotation! From Rand’s fiction andnon/fiction, to Peikoff’s “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand,” and “Understanding Objectivism” (published without even an index!), to Nathaniel Branden’s “Basic Principles of Objectivism” – a groundbreaking work only recently made available in print as “The Vision of Ayn Rand,” but which sorely needs annotation to explain its many references to events and personages of the 1950s – 1960, and to add contemporary examples), all of these works need this type of attention.

    In my mind, a near perfect model of the type of annotation and bibliography needed, can be found in Chris A. Sciabarra’s “Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.” where these types of referents greatly magnify the concepts and issues being discussed in the text.

  2. jerryb says:

    In my comment of May 21, there is an error: the corrected name for the author of “Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical,” is Chris Matthew Sciabarra. Reportedly, a new and revised edition of this work, with additional material, is being published by Penn State Press in the fall of 2013

  3. irfankhawaja says:

    Thanks again for your comment. Yes, we have big plans for this section of the site. Within the next week or two, we’ll try to generate some text explaining our conception of the project. The project itself will, I’m sure, involve liberal “borrowing” from Sciabarra’s book (with credit to him, of course).


  4. Reportedly, a new and revised edition of this work, with additional material, is being published by Penn State Press in the fall of 2013

    That’s correct; Sciabarra just finished proofing the galleys this week.

  5. Philip Coates says:

    > “[one should] ask what relation Rand claims bear to claims others have made on related topics.”

    Yes. It is enormously important to integrate one’s philosophy with the rest of western thought (and in some cases, maybe even eastern.) Hypothetical example of how to ‘annotate’ (I might use the term ‘integrate’):

    “Rand’s definition of Romanticism differs in some ways from leading dictionary definitions… and from the way the term has been used to describe a school of art…. The term may have been first used….. The current usage…. Wikpedia and Britannica use the term this way… Among professional philosophers…A layman today would say that a ‘romantic’ movie is one which involves a love story…a love story clearly involves important values, so there is that connection to Rand’s use of the term….
    ….Could Rand have used another term that has no ambiguities? A term that everyone would clearly understand immediately to describe her esthetic position?” [Coates…my ellipses above indicate places where the writer would spell out and give examples for each point]

    1. It can’t just be a terse bibliography, but must provide more information than that, guide you thru the readings. No one is going to read dozens of books on each point and they need to be led thru the books and articles in the following ways:
    2. The comparison has to be broad-gauged and multi-faceted (yet you can’t write an entire book or doctoral dissertation on each claim or definition, else no one will read – or retain – it. One has to resist the academic tendency toward long-winded, compulsive perfectionism).
    3. It has to include (and often should start with, to set the context) the -history- of the term (the way the OED does when defining words) and how it has gone thru its stages. If it has.

    > “There’s nothing “second-handed” about being well-read.”

    4. The statement of the views of others should be broad-gauged in the sense that one does not simply quote philosophers or professional academics in the humanities. The writer needs to be “well-read” outside of these areas – and that usually comes with age and decades. Well-read enough to know whether poets and playwrights and novelists have had anything to say on the topic. [Example: “Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Hamlet an attitude very different from that of Rand, as well as that of Plato in the Meno and The Republic…”]
    5. Also [see my romanticism example for each of these points], one needs to include common current use [romantic means a love story; capitalism means….]

  6. irfankhawaja says:

    I agree with what you say before the numbered list. Ideally, an annotated bibliography would take the form you describe. But our annotated bibliography here is a long-term work in progress, and since contributors’ work on it is entirely unremunerated, I’ve left it to the contributors themselves to make contributions in whatever form they see fit, as long as it makes a valuable contribution, as I think Kirsti’s bibliography does.

    On point (1): yes, ultimately, an annotated bibliography must involve annotations, but everything has to start somewhere, so it makes sense for an annotated bibliography to start with a bibliography. You say “no one is going to read dozens of books,” but the point of a bibliography is not to suggest that [everyone]* read everything on the list; it’s to suggest that interested parties read something on it. Anyway, a serious scholar probably should read everything on it. The list is a test of one’s mastery of the field. To master the field, you’d need to read the whole list.

    I generally agree with (2), but I don’t think there’s any “academic tendency” here to be combated. If anything, the more urgent problem I see is the Objectivist tendency to skimp on explanation by hiding behind the need to “essentialize” everything. More often than not, when Objectivists invoke “essentialization,” they mean “hand waving refusal to deal with obvious objections.”

    I agree with (3), but that’s just a project down the road. Likewise (4) and (5).


    *Added as an after-edit. I had originally written “anyone.” I meant “everyone.”

  7. Philip Coates says:

    Subject: Keeping Up With One’s Field, Specialization, Mastery

    > Anyway, a serious scholar probably should read everything on it. The list is a test of one’s mastery of the field. To master the field, you’d need to read the whole list.

    Irfan, this is partially a side issue with regard to your worthwhile annotation and bibliography project (but not entirely, as how one -uses- a powerful resource is an important issue):

    I disagree with your above statement about what constitutes a proper scholar or ‘mastery’. First of all, there is the reality check issue: I am reminded of all those photographs of a famous professor or scientist at his desk surrounded on all side by a huge, disorderly stack of books and monographs and journals. In part, given the need to publish or perish and the explosion of people with Ph.D.’s in every field, no one can keep up with everything that has been written. Especially from modern times. So – unless you are talking about partial bibliographies – no one can “keep up with the literature”. Unless they narrow their field of specialization from, say, esthetics to the esthetics of the novel, to the major German writers, to a shorter time period. Second, in philosophy and related fields, a good percentage of what you have to read to ‘keep up’ is nonsense. If you spend all your time trying to untangle mistaken premises, unusual uses of terminology, misunderstandings or trying to trace how thinker A’s view came from B thru C and argue that there is a hidden influence of D, you will not have time — you will have spent your career largely down a rabbit hole rather than looking for the sunlight. In other words, you need most of your time trying to find the truth not in rebuttal. [EXCEPTION: Some fields are more scientific and less subjective and more precise with less need to constantly argue over terminology than others – the hard sciences would be an example where the latest reports may be new discoveries and you -do- need to keep up and balance the need for specialization with being aware of integrating material from outside in order to do that.]

    And ‘mastery’ of one’s field would be: (a) knowing the major topics – not what anyone ever said about them …plus(b) knowing what is most important and true and needs to be emphasized – not every error that has been made in that topic …plus (c) knowing and being able to prove, argue, demonstrate, illustrate what is -true- in that area.

    [MORE EXCEPTIONS: I realize that for some people a legitimate specialization, might be the history of esthetics rather than normative work, so that is a partial exception to what I just said.]

    Yes, someone will come and ask you “you mean you haven’t read the five most recent journal articles in these six publications” and in many cases, to get anything productive done, to be able to see the forest above the trees, the answer has to be “no”.

  8. irfankhawaja says:

    Well, to some degree we’re arguing past one another here, because I was talking about a partial bibliography–I was specifically talking about (and defending) Kirsti’s bibliography. To achieve mastery over “romanticism,” I do think you’d need to read all of the texts in her bibliography. (You’d need to do more than that, but at least that.) It’s not my field, and I may have read six or seven of her texts, but looking her bibliography over even with that relatively cursory level of knowledge, I can see the rationale for every item she put on it. I can articulate to myself what I wouldn’t know if I didn’t read that.

    True enough: no one can keep up with literally everything that’s written, even in a given field. But I wasn’t suggesting that. What I’d say is that you do have to make a good, sustained effort to keep up with a certain theme or topic as it emerges in the literature over the course of your career.

    I don’t know how anyone could know that a “good percentage” of the output in a given field was “nonsense” if he hadn’t read a good percentage of it. Have you? I can’t say I have, even in philosophy, and I’ve been in the field for 25 years. A verdict on the field presupposes extensive and intensive acquaintance with it. (More than “acquaintance,” actually.) It can’t be waved away in lieu of reading it.

    Let’s say that much of that output involves the defense of claims that are false. It doesn’t follow (at all)–and it isn’t true–that “it’s nonsense.” A good deal of philosophical discovery requires the untangling of false premises. A person who doesn’t find that activity fun–pleasurable–is ill-suited to philosophy. For one thing, you have to take a good, long, hard look at where others have erred to know how to avoid their mistakes. For another, you need to test your ideas against worked-out contrary ideas. You need other people to remind you of what you may have missed (will have missed) on your own. And if you’re going to publish professionally, you need a sense of your audience’s context–what they believe, why. That activity doesn’t lead down rabbit holes; all of it is an important part of the process of discovery.

    I think Rand is agreeing with this basic point in “Philosophical Detection,” by the way: you don’t know that something is nonsense unless you can refute it. But you can’t refute it if you’ve never encountered it.


  9. Philip Coates says:

    > ” you do have to make a good, sustained effort to keep up with a certain theme or topic . . .” [Irfan]

    > “. . . I may have read six or seven of [Kirsti’s] texts, but looking her bibliography over even with that relatively cursory level of knowledge, I can see the rationale for every item she put on it. I can articulate to myself what I wouldn’t know if I didn’t read that. ”

    It would help this conversation enormously, and move some much further to understanding and agreeing wholeheartedly with your position (as well as further you own purposes of producing these kinds of resources and getting people ‘on board’ with them) — if you could be rather ~specific~ on that last point. . .

    If you could concretize it, give it substance:

    (A) name which were the six or seven works you read and saw those benefits in, and at least one of the following:

    (B1) what – as specifically as possible – you “wouldn’t know” that seems particularly relevant, or helpful, or important if you “didn’t read that” –> pointing to or even quoting a specific passage** if you still have the book around is enormously helpful when one makes a strong claim about a text,

    (B2) where you don’t have a specific passage readily available** in your notetakings (or if you’ve underlined heavily in the texts, which is what i tend to do), at least -where- in the book — e.g., what chapter? what section? — this material appears — that way readers can judge your claim and can go and find and benefit from the material.

    ** Clearly, some of what you said is from memory of reading years ago, so some ‘vagueness’ is understandable. I am not going to say, “ha ha, you didn’t give me all six or seven”. I am not looking to nitpick nor find fault with omissions. But I (and probably not myself alone among your readers) would like to do some more reading in this area, but can’t work my way through every book mentioned.

    And this will help us judge if there is substance to your broad claims, such as in the second quote above.

  10. irfankhawaja says:

    I don’t mind being specific, but I have to ask you to read more closely, because you’ve so far managed to misconstrue both of my comments. My first comment was about Kirsti’s bibliography, and you managed to read it in terms of an image you had of a professor surrounded by books, laboring to read everything ever written on a subject. There was no connection between your image and what I actually said. Without having admitted that, or commented on it, you’ve now moved on. OK, fine.

    But my second comment says that the items on Kirsti’s list are well-chosen, and that even without having read them, I can see her rationale for putting them there (or I can at least see a good rationale for them, which is likely to be hers). You’re now asking me for the benefits I saw in the books I read. Well, what does the one thing have to do with the other? I was saying: I read some of the books on the list but not others, and I see why the others are there even if I haven’t read them. You’re now asking: so what about those books that you read? The question comes across as a complete non-sequitur. The books I have read have no necessary bearing on the books I haven’t read. (Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.) Anyway, I’m happy to be more specific, but I really don’t see the logical connection between the claim I made and the question you’re now asking.

    Section 1: I’ve read Aristotle, Nussbaum, Plato.

    Section 2: I’ve read (and taught) Kivy and read Scruton. I’ve read sections of Halliwell and Kaufmann.

    Section 3: I read part of Carroll but never finished it; part of Kant but never finished it; I’ve read the Nietzsche; I skimmed Scruton but didn’t read it.

    Section 4: I skimmed Abrams, and read Wordsworth.

    So I guess I read seven, half-read a bunch more, but always seemed to run out of time with respect to the latter.

    I’m not going to point to “passages,” because my use of “that” wasn’t a reference to passages but to works. That was the whole point of saying I hadn’t read them. But I know enough about them to know why someone who had read them (e.g., Kirsti) would put them in a bibliography.

    Section 1: Abrams-Harpham is a glossary of terms; it’s useful for a student to have access to the authoritative conceptions of various literary terms. A serious scholar ought to know them.

    Booth, Bradley. and Brombert are 20th century classics in the field. There’s so basic that you couldn’t pass for a scholar without knowing them.

    Hugo, Shelley, and Sidney are classics of the field as such. They practically define what the field is.

    I haven’t read any of the preceding six, but one comes across references to them so often that one eventually would have to read them to know what the references were about.

    Section 2: I know this field better than the preceding one. Kivy and Scruton are the two big contemporary rivals in philosophy of music. Levinson is a close competitor. I’ve read Kivy and Scruton. Both have views incompatible with Rand’s. Neither takes very seriously the idea that imagery is central to the aesthetics of music. I don’t think Levinson does, either (something I know through Kivy and Scruton, not by reading Levinson). To defend Rand’s view, one would have to come to grips with what these authors say. I know less about Ridley’s views, but I assume Kirsti put him there for similar reasons to Levinson. (That’s still “seeing the rationale.”)

    Section 3: Kant, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche are among the main competitors to Rand’s aesthetic theorizing. All of the Kant references are there to give the student a sense of what Kant says. Likewise Tolstoy and Nietzsche. The other works listed are mostly broad introductions to the field. Rationale: every student needs a broad introduction or two to the field. I’m guessing Scruton is there because Kirsti is partial to him, and thinks that his views are a worthy rival to Rand’s. That’s fine by me. His presence doesn’t need more of a rationale than that. I don’t think of Schiller as precisely a competitor to Rand, but I don’t know what Kirsti thinks. I guess the book is listed because it makes a worthy contribution to the aesthetic education of human beings. Also a perfectly good reason.

    Section 4: These are among the standard texts on romanticism, stating the traditional way of understanding that term from a variety of perspectives (including the traditional contrast with classicism, alluded to in Rand). Anyone wanting to defend the Objectivist view would have to know that it departed from this traditional understanding, and write accordingly. It’s an added bonus that the Wordsworth is just plain beautiful.

    That’s a lot of work to respond to a query. Having done it, I have to point out in all fairness that you’ve barely responded to anything I’ve so far said.


  11. Kirsti Minsaas says:

    Irfan, thanks for posting an interesting interpretation of my “rationale” for selecting the books listed in my Romantic Manifesto bibliography. You get pretty close, though of course much can be added. So I’ll add a few points.

    You’re right that I’m partial to Roger Scruton, though I’m not equally enthusiastic about everything he writes. I do not, for example, share his enthusiasm for Wagner or his religious views. But generally I enjoy reading him, even when I don’t agree with him. Most importantly, I think him a rarely articulate countervoice to the postmodernist trends that have dominated the humanities in later decades, especially through his writings on aesthetics and the decay of modern culture. So this is why I thought at least one of his books belonged in the general aesthetics section, in addition to his book on musical aesthetics.

    As for Schiller, he is on my list for several reasons. One is that Rand saw him as one of five top-rank Romantic writers, praising him for his dramas. But he was also important because of his writings on aesthetics. Here he poses a serious problem for Rand’s claim that there was no significant connection between Romantic philosophy and Romantic art. The more so since he was deeply influenced by Kant, and so represents a link between Kantian aesthetics and the Romantic movement in art and literature. This, in turn, is difficult to reconcile with Rand’s terse denunciation of Kant as the father of modernism, which totally ignores his influence on Romanticism. A further reason for including Schiller, however, is that his book is not simply about aesthetic education but, more specifically, about moral education through art–not didactic art but art that has the power to develop a person’s capacity for what he calls the play impulse (Spieltrieb), i.e., the ability to balance formal and emotional impulses, and the sense of freedom yielded by attaining such balance. By cultivating our aesthetic sensibilities, he believed, we also refine our moral sensibilities. This is a thesis Schiller developed from his reading of Kant, and it contrasts starkly with the current trend, also embraced by some Objectivists following Rand, to relate the development of both modernist and postmodernist art to the influence of Kant. It is true that some influential twentieth century aesthetic theorists (most notably Greenberg and Lyotard) draw on Kant, but they do so by severing Kant’s aesthetic ideas from their roots in his overall philosophical system, especially his moral philosophy. This is why I have also included Paul Guyer’s monograph on Kant’s aesthetics, which, in tune with Schiller, places particular emphasis on the moral dimension of Kant’s aesthetics. It therefore offers a valuable antidote to the highly dubious use of Kant that can be found in postmodern theory. Together these books make for some heavy reading, but I believe it incumbent on anyone seriously interested in assessing the validity of Rand’s denunciation of Kant’s aesthetics to read them, or else keep silent about the terrible effect Kant, according to Rand, is supposed to have had on modern art.

    Finally, a word on Philip Sidney. His Apology is included because it is perhaps the most important book about the moral value of the poetic arts written during the Renaissance period. But in addition, it is of special interest for an appreciation of Rand’s literary aesthetics, since it offers the closest historical antecedent I know of to Rand’s personal aesthetic credo that fiction should present “things as they might be and ought to be.” Sidney actually uses a very similar formulation, exalting poets who “borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but range…into the divine consideration of what may be and should be.” In line with this, he hails the heroic epic as the highest form of poetry, regarding it as superior to tragedy. So Rand would have done better to quote Sidney rather than misquote Aristotle in support of her view. Despite her obvious misquote, however, many Objectivists continue to hold up Aristotle as the originator of Rand’s literary ideal, ignoring, like Rand, the simple fact that Aristotle in his Poetics was writing about the art of tragedy, a genre that traditionally does not aim to depict things as they might be and ought to be but how they may go terribly wrong. In fact, Rand’s literary ideal lies much closer to the anti-tragic sentiments about art and poetry Plato voiced in his Republic, a topic discussed in Stephen Halliwell’s The Aesthetics of Mimesis.

    These are some of the considerations that went into my selection for the bibliography. It’s impossible to discuss all the books in equal detail, but on a general level I wish to point out that each work was included because it represents, in my view, an important contribution, not just to the field of aesthetics in general, but to the particular aesthetic issues covered in The Romantic Manifesto. In some instances it lends support to Rand’s aesthetic doctrines, in others it reveals their flaws and weaknesses. Whatever the case, I believe all these works are of indispensable value in providing the kind of general background knowledge necessary for anyone who wants to conduct a serious study and evaluation of Rand’s aesthetic theory.

  12. Philip Coates says:

    > That’s a lot of work to respond to a query. [Irfan, 9/22]

    I appreciate that. Thank you for not just ‘blowing off’ my comments the way the The Atlas Society people tend to do. [[ see the following. it’s been up since the middle of the summer and, as usual, they blow off criticisms, even from allies, and don’t feel they should respond or clarify –> [[, bottom of page: “Webmaster’s Note: Comments on this page have been temporarily disabled because staff do not currently have time to respond to them all. Some were injudicious, and contained false information about TAS and demands that staff respond. The comments have been saved and will be responded to after the Atlas Summit, at the discretion of staff. We support open and candid discussion on our web property, but we encourage commenters to excercise sound judgment and civility. Commenting privileges are extended solely at our discretion.” —> The material TAS deleted was quite extensive. They deleted the entire thread – many complaints and criticisms of a wide range of points made over a number of months, made not just by me but yourself as well. If ‘some’ were injudicious or false, isn’t it better to point that out specifically? And not obliquely threaten the posters with loss of posting privileges? ]]

    Irfan, just the fact that you are willing to engage and energetically so, makes your approach better than TAS’s limpness, and perhaps one reason they are shrinking. And your long response makes it clear knowledgeableness regarding many of those sources.

    (However, I still found Kirsti’s response to be a bit more detailed and specific regarding actual -content- of the sources — see my next comment).

    > Having done it, I have to point out in all fairness that you’ve barely responded to anything I’ve so far said. [Irfan, 9/22]

    I have to say that often a commenter on a website (like me in this case) has less interest in a dialogue which discusses and addresses every point made than the person whose website or major project it is. A commenter (like me), may be less interest in – or even be somewhat skeptical of – the whole project and have only one point he wants to comment on or respond to. And that’s as it should be – and I think you should expect that. The person undertaking a project will naturally be likely to invest more time in debate, and probably should. But in my case, silence doesn’t mean agreement with every point or claim you make as well as perhaps not having commitment enough to respond to argue against each point or claim. (I’m already more engaged, at least on this thread, than other visitors to the site.)

  13. Philip Coates says:

    I am grateful to Kirsti for her detailed and specific response about the actual content and views of five or six of the writers she mentioned, (alos a bit on how they fit into the wider centuries-long conversation and relate to Rand and Kant): it is quite illuminating.

    Even though I am neither a scholar in the field, nor have a primary interest in aesthetic theories, it is enough to motivate me to look further into some of the writers she mentions. One reason is that, as someone who currently leads and moderates three “Great Books” discussion groups, I am often puzzled by the criteria used by many in our groups – especially a couple with Phd’s in the humanities (classics and psychology) – for assessing what constitutes literary vs. ‘genre’ writing, and what makes a great or not-great book. – I wonder if some theories of some of the authors she cites may be at work.

  14. irfankhawaja says:


    I’m glad you don’t think we’re blowing you off, but I do have some reservations about how you’ve gone about both sets of conversations, the TAS one, and this one.

    First, on TAS: I am–after my recent experiences at their summer seminar–the last person to defend TAS at this point. Having said that, let me remind of some rather elementary facts: I was the one who told you at the time of the conversation in question that the topics you were raising were not appropriate to the location in which you were raising them. You blew off my advice, and decided to raise general questions about the mission of TAS on a page dedicated by TAS to the discussion of the manuscript of The Logical Structure of Objectivism. I invited you to have that discussion here. You blew that off as well. Now you are somehow surprised that they’ve deleted your (obviously off-topic) comments. What did you think they were going to do? What amuses me is that you’ve now decided in your own tone-deaf way that maybe Irfan was right after all: maybe the IOS website is the place for complaints about TAS. So now you’re posting criticisms about TAS on a page dedicated to IOS’s annotation project. The one thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other, but that hasn’t deterred you from discussing it here. You speak of commentators skeptical of the “whole project” of a website. Has it occurred to you that a website might be skeptical of the project of a commentator?

    Second, on the annotation discussion here: I understand that you may not want to discuss every last point that someone makes, but you seem to have forgotten that you are the one who assigned me the busy work of discussing the specific items on Kirsti’s bibliography. What I find somewhat mind-boggling about this assignment is that I had just finished saying that I had read only a few of the works on the bibliography. My point was: if one knows the function of a bibliography, one may have read just a few works on it; still, one can grasp in a general way why the other works are there (the unread ones), or may be there. In other words: I don’t know the field as well as she does, but what she is doing is perfectly intelligible, given what I do know. To this not very complex claim, your completely random question was: yes, but give me textual details. To ask this question is to miss the whole point of what I just said. This is not a matter of missing some details. It’s to proceed as though I hadn’t said anything at all.

    Now you say: I found Kirsti’s response more detailed and specific. I am not sure whether to laugh or cry at this statement. Of course you found her response more detailed and specific! I’m the one telling you that she is the specialist in the field and I am the generalist. For some inexplicable reason, no matter how often I tell you that, you insist: but you must give me details. This is to be resolutely deaf to what I’ve been saying: my point is that I commissioned a bibliography because I don’t know the details. If I knew them, I wouldn’t need a bibliography. I only know, in a general way, what sorts of things ought to go in a bibliography of this sort. You might as well criticize Kirsti now for only discussing some, but not all, of the items on her bibliography. She has said nothing about Booth. She has said nothing about Bradley. She has said nothing about Brombert. And so on, down to Wordsworth. But would it really be incumbent on her to produce an essay on each item on the list simply to justify the existence of a bibliography? If every bibliographer I invited were expected to justify each item on their bibliography by way of a short essay, how many do you think would agree to accept the invitation on a pro bono basis?

    The real skepticism you have is about the very enterprise of research-via-bibliographies. You seem to be under the impression that a reader must know the value, ahead of time, of every item on a bibliography; that this value must bear some obvious, succinct, transparent relationship to some Objectivist work; and that only then would an item pass the Coates Test and become worth reading. But no part of that assumption is right. A bibliography is a set of recommendations offered by a prima facie knowledgeable person in a field. If done properly (and I think Kirsti’s was) a bibliography gives you a sense of the classic works that define a field. Even if 100% of the field’s claims were false, a scholar who wanted to get a hearing for a heterodox view in a certain field would have to know what the standard claims were as expressed by its classic works; how they were defended and why; and how (if at all) they related back to his own heterodox claims. Instead of being paralyzed by the need for a priori criteria for whether or not to read what’s on the list, he’d need to get reading to figure out what to do next. Once he’d read enough, he’d know which move to make. And once he’d read a fair bit, he’d know when he’d read “enough.”

    But a person who looks at a bibliography and reflexively asks, “Why must I read these?” is asking a pointless question. There is no “must” about reading anything, but if you want mastery of a field, the necessity to read its classic texts is implicit in the choice to enter the field. Suppose you don’t want to read them; well, then, you must not want to enter the field. Or suppose you don’t intend to enter the field in any formal way; then there is no need to read everything. But it obviously makes no sense to enter a field, and then say: “Well, I refuse to read the classic works of this field until someone gives me an essay on each text I’m being asked to read.” That kind of essay is known as the “Introduction” to the book itself, and you could save the bibliographer some time and effort simply by acquiring a few of the books and making your way through their Introductions. This almost seems too obvious to have to explain, but I guess I’ve come to learn that in an Objectivist milieu, one takes nothing for granted. That I suppose also explains why, in the Objectivist milieu, one so rarely sees progress.


  15. Philip Coates says:

    > “What amuses me..[is] your own tone-deaf way…I am not sure whether to laugh or cry at [your] statement….no matter how often I tell you…”

    If you respond to comments with personal attack or in a tone of ridicule or exasperated sarcasm rather than patient, collegial respect, you will find interest in or participation in your small project will get even smaller over time:

    People don’t like to be treated that way.

    And it’s unnecessary in order to make your points.

  16. irfankhawaja says:

    Can one really have patience with a person who consistently insists not just on missing your point but ignoring it? In your case, my overt–deliberate–rudeness is necessary to make my points, because you don’t seem to pause over a point made unless someone rhetorically speaking hits you in the face with it. Well, now I seem to have your attention. And yet, you still haven’t addressed anything I’ve said. Now we have to stop to assuage your hurt feelings. But the truth is, we’re still at square one. Go back to what I said at the start, and ask yourself, honestly, whether you’ve addressed my claims.

    No, I’m afraid when all is said and done, we’re still at the following point: When confronted with a bibliography, a person may realize that he’s read some of what is on it but not all; having done so, he may have a generalized grasp of the subject, and thereby infer why the other things–the ones he has not read–are on the bibliography. Stop, Phil, for one brief moment; get over yourself for that brief moment, and think about this one statement. Do not distract yourself, and the reader, by moving to some other, more convenient topic. Remarkably, the preceding is the statement I have now repeatedly made with no answer or acknowledgement of any kind from you, despite having repeated it, and despite its being my main point. How many times do I have to repeat myself before you grasp that this is my point, and that if you expect me to take you seriously as an interlocutor, you must give some indication that you have considered it?

    “People don’t like to be treated that way.” Well, it’s a response in kind: people do not like to be “read” as though what they write–and repeat–was written in invisible ink. And that’s what you’ve done with everything I’ve written so far. Exasperation was called for, as it sometimes is.

    Let me enlighten you on one point, Phil. I am really not that concerned about the size of this project. If it dwindled to the single digits, I would remain unfazed. The problem with Objectivism is not that it is too small. The problem with it is that its entire discourse is a dysfunctional mess of bad habits, with some people who want to lord it over everyone from some authoritarian throne, and others who demand toleration for everything they do, no matter how detached from reality. I would rather close IOS down than capitulate to any of that from anyone–ever.


  17. Philip Coates says:

    > Can one really have patience with a person who consistently insists not just on missing your point but ignoring it? In your case, my overt–deliberate–rudeness is necessary to make my points…you don’t seem to pause over a point made unless someone rhetorically speaking hits you in the face with it. [Irfan, 10/15]

    Classic excuses and rationalizations for rudeness or incivility: “My opponent is willfully ignoring my points; I have to be rude to get his attention”. Here is what would get someone’s attention in a more productive way. Make the same points, but politely and respectfully….as I’ve already pointed out. And next you tried to turn it around on the person you are insulting as if he were at fault! Not ‘tough’ or thick-skinned enough: “we have to stop to assuage your hurt feelings”.

    What you should have said instead is “Whoops, I’m sorry, I got a little carried away….I sometimes lose my temper…I’ll try to be more civil.” . . . Rare as accepting a criticism or correction is among Objectivist intellectuals, that would earn my respect.

    And serve as a role model for discourse on your own site – and within your own objectives.

    > “When confronted with a bibliography, a person may realize that he’s read some of what is on it but not all; having done so, he may have a generalized grasp of the subject, and thereby infer why the other things–the ones he has not read–are on the bibliography.”

    You complain that I haven’t answered this. The reason I haven’t is as I’ve already told you, I am not trying to answer everything, and that the inference part is foolish, goes against common sense: You can’t infer from ‘generalized knowledge’ but not specific knowledge of the names and books why they are on the list. And further more, you need more if you don’t already have enough of that knowledge. What you need is something like Kirsti M. provided…and for the reasons I already gave in my post on 10-12.

    > “You blew off my advice, and decided to raise general questions about the mission of TAS on a page dedicated by TAS to the discussion of the manuscript of The Logical Structure of Objectivism. I invited you to have that discussion here….they’ve deleted your (obviously off-topic) comments.” [Irfan, 10-14]

    First, their site is the place to make comments disagreeing with their policies not some secondary tiny one-horse site like yours. I want -them- and their supporters to see the criticisms. No reason to suppose they would see them if I only posted them on your site. Second, they were hardly going to give me my own page to write on ‘what is wrong with TAS’, so I have to find a thread where that builds on something they are doing wrong. Third, the failure to complete the Logical Structure of Objectivism is, in my view, their -greatest- misallocation of effort and the biggest single example of what is wrong with TAS.

    So I think it was the best place for me to have posted what I did.

    Instead of quibbling about this – or trying to micromanage exactly where something is posted – you should be writing in a way supportive of this. And perhaps should have asked me if I had kept a copy (i did) and if you could repost what I wrote. Especially since you appear share some of my criticisms. And since TAS is trying to throw it down the memory hole.

    > “she is the specialist in the field and I am the generalist..[but] you insist: but you must give me details.” [Irfan, 10-14]

    I don’t think that’s what I said after you gave me what you could.

    I simply thanked -her- for providing me with details.

    And said in what way they were helpful.

    > “The real skepticism you have is about [1] the very enterprise of research-via-bibliographies. You seem to be under the impression that [2] a reader must know the value, ahead of time, of every item on a bibliography; that [3] this value must bear some obvious, succinct, transparent relationship to some Objectivist work” [Irfan, 10-14[ …. [numbering added by me]

    Ifran, again you are not reading very carefully. Or you are trying to read into what you -think- must by my positions. I don’t hold -any- of the three numbered positions you attributed to me, and I don’t think I was so imprecise as to claim that I do.

    As an academic, plus as one who has seen repeated mis-attribution or mis-characterization of views constantly done to Rand, you should be very careful to be precise and exact and not create straw men or exaggerate or overstate your opponent’s views.

    You have to bend over backwards to be fair.

  18. irfankhawaja says:

    So your magnanimous and gracious answer to my question–“Can one really have patience with a person who insists not just on missing your point but ignoring it?”–is: yes, one can, and as a matter of moral obligation, one must.

    Let me rephrase my question to remove any possibility of asking a complex question. Even if I had asked, “Is one obliged to have patience with someone who is ignoring what you say?” your answer is: yes. The ethics of discourse according to Coates obliges one to repeat oneself even when one can see that one’s interlocutor is really not listening or reading. His technique is to hunt and peck for bits of text that confirm his prior interpretations, then invoke what he takes to be the non-engagement of unspecified other commentators, and excuse himself on the grounds that, given those standards, he’s good enough. Actually, almost no commentator on this site has commented as incompetently as you on what they’ve read. Almost all of them, whatever their views, are pretty interesting and responsible. You’re neither.

    Apparently, your cherry-picking approach to reading is not something you need to acknowledge. You need not read very carefully if others haven’t (at least in your imagination). Having done so, you can then permissibly repeat the offense over and over. Then you can permissibly get on your high horse and accuse others of rationalization. That you so far have not dealt with the original issue is just something I must regard as a sunk cost of dialogue with you. Nor should it much matter to me that as you lecture me here sanctimoniously about the virtues of proper dialogue, you describe this site as a “one horse” site, likening me casually to an animal (how else could it be a one-horse site?), but not much worried about comparisons of that sort, either. I mean, you’re so brilliant, after all; what cost mere patience in dialogue with such a person?

    That I can lose my temper unjustifiedly is obvious to me. There is an example of it on this site, and also an example of me meeting the other person half-way. But I don’t intend to do that here.

    My dear Phil. Philip, my friend, my esteemed colleague from wherever you’re from: I don’t bend over backwards for anyone who’s just written what you have, as you have. Please get that into your head before you type another word on my one-horse website. In fact, take it from the horse’s mouth, while we’re at it. I say this not in haste or in rancor, but with emphasis. Please. Pretty please, understand it–with sugar on top, along with spice, everything nice, and whatever other toppings of civility you’d prefer. I’m not losing my patience. I’ve lost it.


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