“The Primacy of Existence”

apple-88x50Stephen Hicks discusses Objectivism’s principle of the Primacy of Existence. This is from Part 12 of his Philosophy of Education course.


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  • November 25, 2015 at 8:59 am
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    , We can do nothing asiangt the truth. * I will, however, use the failures of practice to support the critique in reason. As Rand has used Atlas Shrugged to judge the Bible, I will use the Bible to shed light on Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism. In order to do this, I have resorted to paraphrasing of the Scripture, which goes way beyond what might be acceptable to many who name the Name of Christ. I do this not to suggest the only possible understanding, but to clarify a Biblically supportable understanding for the purpose of making the application as clear as possible from the view point of Objectivism. Metaphysics, epistemology, self-esteem, volition, and ethics, are not subjects about which the Bible has nothing to say. The points of conflict between the belief system of Objectivism and the belief system of the Scripture are much smaller than the proponents of Objectivism suppose, but are none the less fatal to the practice of Objectivism. Ayn Rand, herself, was often guilty of isolating passages of Scripture, and tearing them apart with logic, devastating in its eloquence. By way of illustration, and approach to analysis with the use of paraphrase I offer the following quotation, also used by Nathaniel Branden as introduction to his memoir entitled, Judgment Day My years With Ayn Rand : The precept: `Judge not, that ye be not judged’**(Mat. 7:1) is an abdication of moral responsibility: it is a moral blank check one gives to others in exchange for a moral blank check one expects for oneself. There is no escape from the fact that men have to make choices; so long as men have to make choices, there is no escape from moral values; so long as moral values are at stake, no moral neutrality is possible. To abstain from condemning a torturer, is to become an accessory to the torture and murder of his victims. The moral principle to adopt is: `Judge, and be prepared to be judged. *** In I Corinthians 2:15, it is written: The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: Clearly, the whole counsel of the Scripture is not the abdication of judgment, as implied in the Ayn Rand quotation. In order to paraphrase this passage, as proposed above, it is necessary to explain that a spiritual man in context, is one who is capable of functioning consistent with the Biblical spiritual reality. He is analogous to, but not the equivalent of Rand’s man of reason. That being said, our paraphrase is: The man of reason makes judgments about all kinds of things, but he himself accepts no guilt based on the evaluation of lesser men. While this paraphrase is designed to make the Biblical position and qualification for judgment clearer from an Objectivist perspective, it completely ignores the Biblical remedy for guilt which belongs to the spiritual man, but not Rand’s man of reason, but more about this later on. Rand’s metaphysics is the primary cause of my own early estrangement from her and her supporters. In the early sixties, I was meeting as a college student with a campus group, to discuss the philosophy as it had been articulated in Atlas Shrugged. The information presented there was elaborated in the Objectivist Newsletter, published by the Nathaniel Branden Institute. In addition, some of the group had attended various lectures of the Institute. Our approach had been to discuss the philosophy as it was presented in the John Galt speech of Atlas Shrugged, and, as some have pointed out, we began like students of the Bible, examining the passage verse by verse, beginning with, Existence exists Weeks were spent examining her metaphysics and epistemology as presented in very few words in the novel. With something resembling mathematical thoroughness, we poured over these two foundation stones drawing on relevant articles from the Objectivist Newsletter. An objective reality that included an ability to reason unique to man, was proven to the satisfaction of all in the group. An objective reality, which included volition, while obvious to us all, was not so easily proven. After spending weeks on an objective validation of the existence of volition, and finally satisfied that this was possible, we were left with the need to examine the nature of volition, and particularly as it is distinguishable from objective reality. To this day, and to my knowledge, the adherents of Objectivism have never explored this or discussed it in sufficient depth. Using a computer software metaphor, it’s as though the main menu included metaphysics, and the metaphysics menu included objective reality and volition, but when volition was punched in, nothing came up on the menu. For the present, I will only point out, that, not only morality hangs on the volition question, but theology as well. For my part, I could not escape the parallels between the classical attributes of God, and the attributes ofvolition, even by Objectivist standards. By graduation, I was more convinced than ever, that atheism was not essential to an acceptance of the philosophy, and so far from being necessary, may, in fact represent an internal contradiction. After college, my enthusiasm for the philosophy continued unabated, and I set out to form a class on the subject to be presented over a period of weeks in a local Y.M.C.A. In discussing this prospect with people at the Nathaniel Branden Institute, most memorably Barbara Branden, it was made clear, that my efforts to spread the good news were not welcome, not authorized, and considered heretical from an Objectivist standpoint. Pressing the matter, the heart of the difficulty, surrounded my assertion that atheism is not essential to an acceptance of the philosophy. I broke off communication upon receiving a letter from Barbara Branden. I could only wish that I still had the letter, the central point of which remains clear in my memory. I had accused the Objectivists of dogmatism in connection with the atheism issue. The letter I received, protested that I had been unfair in bringing the charge of dogmatism. The next portion of the letter was a quotation of a dictionary definition of dogmatism immediately followed by: Further more, if the founder of a philosophy declares that atheism is essential to an acceptance of her philosophy, no one else is privileged to declare that it is not essential. In my view, the wording of this insistence was such a clear example of the basis for my concern, that, disillusioned, I broke off contact, and presented the course without their authorization. In those years immediately following graduation I became aware of others, one person that I knew personally, who was excommunicated from the community of interest and barred from entry to official Objectivist functions. As late as the funeral of Ayn Rand, the exclusion of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden from those who would pay their final respects, indicates that this attitude continued undiminished to the end. Acknowledging her brilliant insight into the human condition, her analysis of the real world, has a number of problem areas, which, for the purposes of the following critique, are identified as follows:

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