The Politically Incorrect Show - 23/11/2001
Yesterday I quoted the advice I had given someone re the study of Objectivism. He had asked whether I myself had used a particular method. This was my response:
No, I didn't. I'm sure that doesn't surprise you. If you're using OPAR [Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff], that'll be fine to begin with, though you're hardly a beginner. Now, I'm sure I asked you this, but I don't remember if you answered - have you read the epistemology book, & ESPECIALLY Leonard's analytic/synthetic dichotomy essay? THAT is utterly superb & tells you SO MUCH about Objectivism by implication that it's just about a one-stop lesson in the whole of it.
My reservations about using a "method" are that, first, to repeat, *I* didn't learn it that way, yet, as David Kelley says in Deborah's book, I have ended up with one of the best understandings of it in the business; & second, it CAN encourage a rationalistic approach which is DEADLY. The sort of "if this, then that" approach which removes itself from the world of empirical facts. [I stress here that I wasn't meaning to denigrate logic, just to emphasis that it can't be "logic" in a vacuum, that it must be derived from & applied to reality.]
I tell each person who asks a question like this to devise his own "method." Start with what interests you. Let's say it's politics, or art. Find out what Objectivism has to say about THAT. THEN, see what Objectivism has to say about the link between what it says about that & what it says about other things. Then establish exactly what that is, & why. Before you know it you'll have covered epistemology & metaphysics. THEN, see what OTHER philosophers have said on these matters - & you'll find yourself driving a bulldozer through them.
All the while, of course, the trick is to remember that this is a philosophy for LIVING, so you have to discard old habits & integrate O/ism into your daily life. THAT takes time & effort. An easy substitute is to recite & dogmatise & pass gratuitous judgements. I think I've said my piece about THAT already :-)
Since the subject interests me, I put my response on the Sense of Life Objectivists Forum, asking contributors whether they thought my advice was good or bad. Swiftly, a response came:
It is not only bad, it is very bad.
No method of learning = no efficiency in learning. Your so called "advice" borders on advocating intellectual self-mutilation for prospective Objectivists. It is an act of treason to let people struggle to discover "their own method" while hiding what you know is the best didactical method, like a brain surgeon pressing his helpless patient the scalpel in his hands with the words, "just do it yourself, and I'll watch how you're doing." I don't have enough words to describe my contempt for such an evil, inhuman and irresponsible act. I wish you wouldn't misuse your position to harm people telling things like this. I expected a higher sense of responsibility from you.
It should be clear enough from the above that I was not advocating the employment of NO method whatsoever. I was advising against a pre-determined, one-size-fits-all method that everyone should use, regardless of his personal context. My critic doesn't specify the "didactical method" which he says I "know" is "best," but I suspect he means doing it with a textbook & study-guide that begin with metaphysical axioms & move logically & systematically through epistemology, ethics, politics & esthetics. I have absolutely no objection to anyone doing it that way if they wish, aside from cautioning against the danger of lapsing into rationalistic rote-learning. It is not the way I did it, nor would I do it that way if I were to learn it all over again. I took my own advice, started with what interested me & took it from there. I am not aware of having "intellectually mutilated" myself in the process.
My critic assumes that students of Objectivism have no originality, no intelligence - & no context. The student who asked my advice knows the difference between advice & orders. He is free - & able - to accept my advice or reject it. To say that I was "evil, inhuman & irresponsible" in proffering it is ridiculous on its face - a clear & sad reminder of the moral hysteria that has so diminished the Objectivist movement for so many years.
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