There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
I’ve read both books. While I may have exhibited a mild mania for both Middle-earth and Objectivism, fortunately I dodged the emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood. Many other young minds haven’t been so lucky. Some have grown up to become forty-year-old live action roleplayers.
My temporary affair with Ayn Rand’s philosophy has made me sympathetic to those who hold religious beliefs. Not because I think there is any compelling reason to cling to antiquated values derived from superstition and myth. Wishful thinking and factual error are no basis for values truly worth having. No, my sympathy comes from observing the parallels between Objectivism and religion. The moral absolutism. The ideological rigidity. The unerring spokespeople. The fantastic stories serving as allegories for ethical instruction. The contradictions. The hypocrisy.
To say that I renounced my Randian faith is an apt metaphor. For all its glorification of reason, Objectivism is ironically an unreasonable collection of beliefs with a pretense to rational certainty, more akin to the blind, unquestioning faith of God botherers than the rigorous yet humbly provisional ideas of ethical philosophers from Socrates through Spinoza to Singer.
But I’ll leave it to someone much more qualified than myself to dissect Rand’s comprehensive system of thought and put its flaws on display. Philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci has written a four-part series of articles critiquing Objectivism on his blog ‘Rationally Speaking’. He has devoted each article to one aspect of Objectivism – its metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. Even if you’re not familiar with Ayn Rand’s ideas, Pigliucci’s articles are still an education on how not to do philosophy.
As is generally the case with blogs, the comments from readers can be just as instructive as the post itself, often expanding and improving on the arguments made by the author. In this instance, it seems that a dyed-in-the-wool Objectivist (or at least a staunch Rand supporter) has taken it upon himself to refute – and rebuke – Pigliucci and other commenters who take a less approving stance on Objectivism. I remain unpersuaded by his verbose arguments, but I’ll leave it to you to decide if this fellow has successfully defended Rand from Pigliucci and co. Warning: not for the faint-of-heart or short-of-attention-span.