Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Peikoff, Binswanger, Gotthelf

I isolate these three concrete instances in virtue of one crucial similarity: they are professionally-trained philosophers, still living, who attended Ayn Rand's epistemology workshops from 1969 to 1971 (now reproduced as the appendix to the 2nd edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). If you want incontrovertible evidence - whatever you think of her conclusions - that Ayn Rand was an absolutely first-rate mind, have a careful and studied look at that appendix. These are things Rand was saying on the fly, without prepared notes, without anything but the vast and integrated contents of her subconscious.

(The subconscious is a chief component of what this small group of philosophical elites called "psycho-epistemology," something Rand was deeply concerned with at this time, as evidenced in her late magnum opus, "The Comprachicos". Keep in mind that "The Comprachicos" was written only a few decades after the works of Aristotle were made available in English and she was pretty much the only philosopher at the time to grasp completely first-hand the awesome magnitude of his importance to human civilization. "The Comprachicos" is a document of a world ruled not by Aristotelianism but by the anti-conceptual effects of Pragmatism. Viewed in that light, "The Comprachicos" ranks up there with Galt's speech and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology among Rand's greatest masterworks. Suffice it to say that around 1970, Rand was at the height of her powers.)

Now, two of the three ITOE-worskhop philosophers are on record for comparing Ayn Rand to Aristotle. That Leonard Peikoff is on record, is quite well known to those who've read or know about Leonard Peikoff. While Binswanger is not on record as far as I know, his doctoral work at Columbia that became his book, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, gives you a good idea of his estimate of Ayn Rand as a thinker. The other is Allan Gotthelf, who also received a Ph.D. at Columbia around this time and later started up the Ayn Rand Society, a professional society affiliated with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association.

Gotthelf is now Visiting Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, where he holds the University's Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism. According to the Leiter Report, the leading source for rankings of graduate programs in philosophy, the University of Pittsburgh stands alone as having the highest-ranked program for general philosophy of science. Here's what wikipedia says about Gotthelf:

In the 1980s he co-organized numerous international conferences on Aristotle's biological and philosophical thought, including the 1988 NEH Summer Institute on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Biology, and Ethics (with Michael Frede and John Cooper). He edited the Festschrift in honor of David M. Balme, Aristotle on Nature and Living Things and co-edited (with James G. Lennox) Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1987). Gotthelf has prepared for publication D.M. Balme's posthumous editions of Aristotle's History of Animals (HA): (a) the Loeb edition of Books VII-X (Harvard University Press, 1991) and (b) the Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries edition of the whole of HA (Cambridge University Press, vol. 1: 2002, vol. 2: forthcoming).

Gotthelf has received many honors for his work on Aristotle, including in 2004 an international conference on "Aristotle on Being, Nature, and Life", held "in celebration of his contributions to the study of classical philosophy and science"; a volume of the proceedings, Being, Nature, and Life in Aristotle: Essays in Honor of Allan Gotthelf, edited by James G. Lennox and Robert Bolton, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. A volume of Gotthelf's collected Aristotle papers is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

He is currently doing work on Aristotle and Ayn Rand's epistemology.[1]

Most recently, at the University of Pittsburgh, he has organized various workshops and conferences on the nature of concepts and objectivity and the bearing of these issues on important topics in epistemology, philosophy of science, and metaethics.
You see where I'm going with this, right?

According to one of the most respected Aristotle scholars around, being at Rand's epistemology workshops "was the equivalent of having Aristotle in the room." (from 100 Voices, p. 342)

I think those limited number of people around who grasp the momentous importance of Aristotle should perk up their ears at this point. Keep in mind two fundamental similarities between Aristotle and Ayn Rand: they were both systematizing empiricists and they were both in essence eudaemonists who emphasized the central role of rationality and intelligence in a flourishing human life. I think one rightly says they are in essence both perfectionists understood in their respective ways: Aristotle understands it as a living entity achieving its form, actualizing its potentialities (the ancient term teleios signifying this perfection); Rand (and Norton) understanding the significance of individuated potentialities (with Rand - but not Norton - grasping the centrality of rationality as the human form metaphysically and the human essence epistemologically). Aristotle and Rand are agreed that the human good consists in the actualization of human (rational) potentiality.

With Norton factored in, we know that this actualization of human potentiality has gone under the heading of "self-actualization" in humanistic psychology. Eudaemonia just is self-actualization, and is the self-perfection of the human being. Norton fills in the "social entailments" angle not accounted for in Rand, though I'm sure she would have gotten there eventually, if she had the time. Norton also adds insight into the so-called is-ought problem: once we conceive of the distinction between potentiality and actuality, we can understand "ought-ness" in terms of potentiality and "is-ness" in terms of actuality. "Is" and "ought" are united in the activity of a rational being actualizing its potentialities, and its good consists in its perfection so defined. This serves as a unified Aristotelian-Randian solution to the so-called is-ought problem and provides the most complete account to date of a eudaemonistic ethics.

Where Aristotle and Rand differed is on how to account for rationality as the essence of human beings. They were in agreement that rationality was the form or organizing principle of a human being, but rationality as a universal remained to be accounted for. And that's why Ayn Rand wrote her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Aristotelian jury, I present to you Allen Gotthelf's paper, "Ayn Rand on Concepts: Another Approach to Abstraction, Essences, and Kinds".

It is by using this approach to abstraction that Gotthelf and I drew the conclusion that Rand more than any other philosopher to date was essentially equivalent to an Aristotle as a philosopher.

And she didn't have a Plato-caliber philosopher to learn from, neither. It was all first-hand.

And it's a leading solution to the so-called problem of induction, too.

Aristotle-admirers, perhaps you might want to take a second, closer look at Ayn Rand.

That is all for now.

Thus spoke the Ultimate Philosopher. :-)

[CLIFFHANGER: What if Aristotle himself attended Rand's epistemology workshops?]

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