Bryan Register
Bryan Register

Bryan Register Responds

Mr. White is confused by my claims that he judges texts in advance and that he thinks that we ought not read non-Objectivist philosophers. It is true that he never said that he did these things. But no one ever says that we ought to remain ignorant of philosophical views which we do not share. People do, however, insist on remaining ignorant and berating those who learn for being too tolerant. Those who study the texts of pre-labeled 'enemies' will never come to understand them. Opposition research yields not understanding, but only more opposition. This mode of so-called 'research' and 'scholarship' absolutely must end.

Mr. White wants to make a few points about our academic enemies and the war we're fighting against them. I'm afraid that I don't know what a literal war might be that is not a war between countries. I insist, when discussing the academy, on foregoing the (Hobbesian, Nietzschean, Foucauldian) analogies of war and battle in favor of analogies of the market.

I did not claim that 'Christians, communists, and deconstructionists' were Objectivism's friends. Objectivism has neither friends nor enemies, because Objectivism is not engaged in conflict. It is engaged in dialogue and the marketplace of ideas. Objectivism has customers and competitors.

Mr. White asks why academic jargon is preferable to clear English. It isn't. Often, it is clear English. When it is not, it is usually composed of technical terms whose meanings are clear to members of the intended audience, and to anyone willing to invest the time to learn the technical terms. The fact that some academics fall below the norms of their disciplines and write badly is not the fault of academia or of specialized vocabularies. Bad writers are individually responsible for their own bad writing. This means, among other things, that two unclear papers do not invalidate the entire scholarly endeavor of which they are a part.

Relatedly, Mr. White does not wish to respond to my claim that Rand is often less clear than dramatically unclear philosophers until or unless I provide some examples. This is a fair demand, so here's an example: "Existence exists." These two words contain so much philosophical confusion that it's difficult to know where to begin.

We'll start with the (grammatical) subject. To what does the word 'existence' refer? If it refers to whatever exists, then the sentence can be rewritten, "Whatever exists, exists." But that claim is consistent with nothing existing; not what Rand had in mind. Perhaps it refers to everything. But in that case, the sentence can be rephrased, "Everything exists." But that can hardly be true. Many things do not exist: square circles, a tenth planet, John Galt, and so forth.

Now let's try the predicate. Since Kant, it has been a philosophical truism that 'existence' is not a predicate properly speaking. Kant made this point in an endeavor to critique the ontological proof of the existence of God. Rand accepted this (correct) claim when she said that existence was not a property of things, like redness or solidity. If existence is not a property of things, it is not the sort of thing which can be predicated of those things. So what is the word 'exists' doing as the predicate term of an utterance?

To be sure, whenever Rand makes this claim, she then immediately explains about how consciousness is intrinsically conscious of something other than itself. This claim is another philosophical truism — ever since Kant showed it in his 'Refutation of Idealism.' And it is also true. But it is not, under any circumstances, conveyed by 'existence exists.'

Mr. White and Mr. Lamont agree that 'feminism' is an invalid concept. Their argument is much like David Kelley's comments from his interview with Ms. Taylor: 'feminism' seeks to integrate opposed groups and ideas, and so tries to contain contradictions. That makes it invalid. There are two problems with this argument.

First, every concept contains what are 'contradictions' by the standards of Mr. White and Mr. Lamont. Consider the concept 'red'. This concept seeks to integrate both cherry red and blood red, just as 'feminism' seeks to integrate both Wendy McElroy and Catharine MacKinnon. But cherry red is not blood red. So 'red' refers both to some A and not-A, a contradiction. Nonsense. The standard for membership in a concept is not non-contradiction, but sufficient similarity to warrant being grouped together by an agent with our cognitive needs.

Second, there is a nasty comparison lurking between 'feminism' and 'libertarianism.' 'Libertarianism' is a concept older than capitalism considered as an ideal: it was created, as a self-description, by left-wing anarcho-socialists. It was somewhat co-opted at some point in the middle of the century by capitalists. But knowing this probably doesn't make anybody want to change the name of their political party, and rightly so. Likewise, even if 'feminism' had been created by collectivists as a self-description, we could co-opt it, just as we have largely done with 'libertarianism'. But (at least the way Taylor tells it) 'feminism' was coined by anti-collectivist women early in this century, specifically to distinguish themselves from the gendered collectivism and fanaticism of the rest of the women's movement. So 'feminism' has been individualist the whole time, even though the term was somewhat co-opted in the late 60's.

But should we let the collectivists have the term? We should not. There is an essential similarity that these individualists share even with their collectivist competition. They are all interested in the reform of sex relations away from the traditional norms. The concept integrates individuals who share a common concern (sex relations) and who are commonly opposed to a single model (the tradition). This warrants our employment of the concept.

It also warrants, to answer Mr. White's other question, a volume of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and of many another thinker. Such a volume is warranted because Rand says things which are of interest to anyone interested in the reform of sex relations away from traditional norms: her dialectical philosophical method, her female characters, the content of her individualism, and perhaps the literary style of her fiction are all of interest from a feminist point of view (even though some of her notions are deeply in need of critique — from a feminist point of view).

Objectivists should be pleased with the volume, despite its admitted flaws. It stands forth as a brilliant advertisement for Objectivism as a possible object of academic theoretical consumption and for individualism as a possible model for feminist theoretical production. It should be celebrated by all who sincerely advocate Objectivism as a scholarly endeavor.

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