Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aristotle and Ayn Rand

These remarks should be taken as preliminary sketches until I've developed a greater familiarity with Aristotle's system of thought; my chief intellectual influence - by far - up to this point has been Ayn Rand, to the point that I could almost cite chapter and verse the Ayn Rand Lexicon like the back of my hand (to mix metaphors, or something).  My own direct reading of Aristotle is limited, and the greatest part of my exposure to the Philosopher (as St. Thomas Aquinas called him) is through secondary texts such as those of Mortimer Adler, Jonathan Barnes, Frederick Copleston, Jonathan Lear and (most significantly) Henry Babcock Veatch.

In my "Perfectivism: An Introduction," I list nearly twenty philosophical figures who are most representative of the basic idea, that of maximally actualizing or perfecting one's intellectual faculty as the most fundamental means, activity and constituent of human flourishing, self-actualization, or eudaimonia.  The idea is so simple, appealing, and irrefutable that it's amazing it hasn't taken over the world already.  (I plan in a future posting - hopefully before the April 20 "Ultimate Cliff" deadline I have set - to lay out a sketch of a vision of what a utopia based on perfectivist principles might look like.  You have to perform an extrapolation along the following lines: rather than one Aristotle- or Jefferson-caliber figure per nation the size of the United States, think of something like a million of them cultivated from an early age through training in the art of thinking, to the point that they have perfected the art of dialectic as I believe Aristotle did.)

Anyway, the two names I reference most in my introductory piece on Perfectivism are Aristotle and Rand.  Aristotle is probably the most canonized figure in the Western intellectual tradition, whereas the greatest extent of Rand's influence so far is on the American libertarian and conservative movements comprising mostly "ordinary folk," and, in the academy, on a relatively small and not-very-influential group of admirers known as the Ayn Rand Society.  So far, the most academically-significant work to emerge from this small group is Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics (Cambridge, 2006), which, as the publication date will tell you, came out nearly a full half-century after the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957.  There is a confluence of factors that led to this half-century gap which I will spend some time talking about here.

In discussing any Aristotle-Rand connection one cannot ignore the contributions of Allan Gotthelf, one of Rand's top students along with Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger.  With Binswanger, he received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Columbia University in the mid-1970s, presumably alternating on a regular basis between the university and 36 E. 36th St. in Manhattan, where Miss Rand resided.  He was one of the participants in Rand's ca. 1970 epistemology workshops, which were transcribed and edited by Binswanger for the appendix to the second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, published in 1990.  (Only 20 years between workshop and print publication - not too bad, I suppose.)  It is in those workshop excerpts that a member of the general public can get a glimpse into the world inhabited by her closest students, who were (quite understandably) in awe of her dialectical abilities based on some 25 years of nonstop thinking on philosophical matters.  (I do think that if the general public had the kind of access to Rand that her ironically-named "Collective" of the 1950s did, they would have "gotten" Atlas almost effortlessly and immediately.  Alas, it was not to be....)

Gotthelf and Binswanger share a similar philosophic focus: the teleological character of biological phenomena: Binswanger's doctoral thesis was titled The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, while Gotthelf's work on Aristotle's biology has played a significant role in reviving interest among contemporary philosophers (I don't know about biologists) in Aristotle's biological treatises, particularly in Aristotle's (oft-misunderstood) conception of telos or final causality.  Their and Rand's work has informed Tara Smith's chief work in meta-ethics, Viable Values (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).  A teleological conception of biological phenomena is at the heart of Rand's naturalistic meta-ethics, and probably at the heart of Aristotle's account of goodness as well.  Gotthelf, Binswanger and Smith certainly think there is a deeply significant connection between Rand and Aristotle in this regard.  In any event, Gotthelf's work in this area has received the most attention of these three and has been published by the most respected of academic presses (Oxford).

At the same time, Gotthelf is on record (in 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand) saying that being able to ask questions of Rand in her epistemology workshops was, quote, "the equivalent of having Aristotle in the room," unquote.  On the face of it, a leading scholar of Aristotle saying something like this about Ayn Rand should be an eyebrow-raiser.  Is there something he knows that we don't?  The best evidence we have to that effect is the transcribed epistemology workshops themselves.  Is the mind in action there the equivalent to Aristotle's?  (Leonard Peikoff is also on record, in The Art of Thinking, as saying that Rand had "the mind of Aristotle."  Binswanger, at a conference celebrating Rand, on the occasion of her 100th birthday I believe, said to the effect that Rand's genius was a one-in-a-generation phenomenon at the very least.  Her former chief associate, Nathaniel Branden, would probably also say things to this effect; keep in mind that in the Western intellectual landscape that existed in the 1950s - one that Branden went to great lengths to comb for promising, uh, leads - Rand stood out way above everyone else for him; I mean, there wasn't anyone remotely close to her genius in his estimation.  That part I can accept; whether that puts her on par with Aristotle, well....)

What was Aristotle's biographical context, and what was Rand's?  Let's investigate.

Aristotle had a well-to-do upbringing, and entered Plato's Academy at the age of 17.  He studied under Plato - one of Western philosophy's "Big Three" along with himself and Kant - for 20 years until Plato's death.  By age 37, he had had about the best training in philosophy one might reasonably expect to receive.  He went on to tutor Alexander the Great, found his own school (the Lyceum), write some treatises, and the rest is history.

Rand, by contrast, was born into a "bourgeois" family whose property was expropriated by the Soviets when she was still quite young.  She went to the university at Leningrad where she majored in history and took at least one course in philosophy under Prof. Lossky, a notable figure in the Russian philosophical tradition.  Rand's primary interest, however, was in being a writer of fiction.  Later, in her newsletter in 1963, she stated as the goal of her writing the portrayal of the ideal man, a goal for which she needed to develop a philosophy.  In any event, her philosophical pedigree, while perhaps impressive (some amount of exposure to Prof. Lossky during her time at the university), is hardly comparable to Aristotle's (twenty years at Plato's Academy).  What she lacked in academic pedigree she made up for in her writing, going on to compose two (arguably three) classics of literature, magnificent (if partly flawed - particularly in the case of Atlas - but an analysis here is for another day) novels that have already changed the course of history.  After she emigrated to America at the age of 21 and married her soul mate, Frank O'Connor, she proceeded in a largely autodidactic fashion, as suited her fiercely independent personality.  Her primary intellectual influence by the 1930s was Nietzsche, but her 1943 novel The Fountainhead showed that she had moved beyond Nietzsche's conception of heroic egoism and developed her own unique brand.

By that time, she had come under the tutelage (if it could be called that) of Isabel Paterson (how many ignorant internet thugs who hate on Rand have heard of her?), who taught Rand in the areas of history, economics, and political philosophy, and authored The God of the Machine, also published in 1943.  There was an extensive correspondence between the two women, amply documented in the most-delightful Letters of Ayn Rand.  (This book is another glimpse into the world that was Rand's - and it is awesome.  A+, "desert-island-book" quality.  Fact: you don't really have an idea about Rand the person if you haven't read this book carefully and thoroughly.)  In the course of their correspondence, Rand tells "Pat" in 1945 (right about the time she left New York for California, where she would go on to write the screenplay for the film adaptation of The Fountainhead [1949]) that she had just purchased a copy of The Basic Works of Aristotle, which copyright information indicates was published that year.  (Rand and "Pat" would have a falling out a few years later, apparently due to behaviors on Pat's part which Rand found deeply offensive.)  From that point on, Rand would become a full-time philosopher, more or less.  She was 40 years of age.

So one can compare where Aristotle and Rand stood at 40 years of age: Aristotle had devoted all his adult life to studying philosophy under a titan, Plato.  Rand's primary achievement was in the world of fiction literature (in her non-native language, no less).

Anyone else see where this is going?

It was in the late 1940s that Rand, according to her story included in the "workshop" excerpts, that Rand had discussed the problem of universals with "a Thomist," which ignited in her thoughts her own eventual proposed solution in terms of measurement-omission as the basis for objective concept-formation.  It was in the 1950s that, after meeting young Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, she began work on the ideological centerpiece of Atlas, John Galt's three-hour-long radio address.  It took her two years to compose and polish The Speech.  It constituted the fullest integration of Rand's accumulated knowledge up to that point (age 50).

(I think of The Speech as a philosophical manifesto wedged into a dramatic novel; it may well be the best part of the novel, for if Galt had the intellectual wherewithal to compose that speech, he certainly could have organized a more effective strike, seeing as how his "strike" went publicly undeclared for 12 years from the time it began.  This may well be the most gaping hole in the conception of the plot.  It also quite easily explains how the novel - and especially the uber-masterful Speech - fell on so many deaf ears upon its publication, just as the Speech could only have fallen on so many Comprachico-ized deaf ears in the story itself.  Which reminds me: I want to examine eventually just how realistic the irrational nature of Atlas's dystopian culture actually is.  Is it a realistic America where the leading public intellectuals all in unison say that there are no absolutes, that we don't know anything, that we should renounce our happiness, etc. etc.?  What would be the plausible preconditions for such an American dystopia to come about?  Wasn't the actual intellectual muddle existing in her day enough of a target?  And how is it that pathological, non-absolutist pragmatism could be practiced so consistently by its adherents, or self-sacrifice upheld as an ideal by the very same people?  Something doesn't mesh here.  In any event, The Speech is a masterpiece of integration, a work of epic genius, even if it is filled with strawmen.  The novel as a whole, warts and all, is still a (flawed) masterpiece of integration for what it is given its premise.  Integration of ideas and plot, of plot elements, and so forth . . . logically culminating in Galt being the only person who could fix the generator being used to torture him.  Role of the mind in man's existence and all that....)

After Atlas is published, and the critical community goes out of its way not to understand what the novel is about, Rand sank into a two-year depression.  If the culture is that corrupt, she thought, what was the use?  How can one even proceed?  She eventually came to the conclusion that she had to become much more of an intellectual activist, beginning in 1960 on the premise that the culture was intellectually bankrupt.  (She was at least partly right about that.  Hell, the account is overdrawn to this day.)  Who were the public intellectuals of the time, and what were they advocating?  You have to imagine yourself in the early 1960s, where the leading "conservative" voice is William F. Buckley, whose National Review ran a preposterous review of Atlas.  The "liberals" were most interested in Keynesian economics, given their primary focus on economic rather than spiritual values.  The state of psychological theory of the time represented the existential crises of that age; Freud was still highly influential, while self-actualization psychology was in its infancy.  Erich Fromm's excellent, quasi-Aristotelian book, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947), was all too overlooked, and overshadowed by his later work, The Art of Loving (1957).  The nation and the world had just emerged from two mind-bogglingly destructive wars.  Nukes had been dropped on large populations.  Jews were murdered by the millions.  Meanwhile, as the psychologists and European existentialists were grappling with the whole "man's search for meaning" thing, the Anglo-American philosophical class was devoted to logic-chopping while ethical theory was in a period of prolongued stagnation.  (A couple decades prior to that, as The Fountainhead was reaching the ordinary plebs and Sartre's work grabbing the attention of European audiences, Anglo-American academic philosophy was grappling with the distinctively-British-flavored school of logical positivism.  Thanks a lot for that, Brits.)  On top of all that, a seemingly intellectually-crippled America was in the heat of the Cold War, on the brink of mutually-assured nuclear destruction, and just a few years away from the disaster that was the Vietnam War.

One asks again: who were the leading American public intellectuals of the time, and what were they advocating?  One very vocal and fiery public intellectual comes to mind, but it's not the name the Establishment fucks want to hear.  That figure aside, just who was there?  Just who was of the caliber and stature that would have drawn the ire and attention of that public intellectual?  One name does come to mind: John Kenneth Galbraith.  And wouldn't you know it, the Fiery One had very little if anything of note to say about him.  Wikipedia states, "he filled the role of public intellectual from the 1950s to the 1970s on matters of economics." (emphasis mine)  Yes, resolving problems of political economy was of major important (and still is: see the prominence of Paul Krugman in today's political debates), particularly in the face of the leading alternative of the day, Marx-inspired communism.  (Given the huge importance of political economy in 20th century intellectual life, Ludwig von Mises must count as a figure of towering importance who masterfully integrated what there was to know about economics up through the time he published Human Action in 1949.  Not that the Establishment fucks would yield on that point, mind you.  But just remember: without Mises, there would most likely be no Hayek as we've come to know him, and Hayek's influence on the economics profession goes without saying.)  But as important as political economy is, it is an extremely poor substitute for philosophy.  The breadth and depth of the Fiery One's contributions would - one would think - make the Fiery One of much greater importance and influence.  But that's the whole problem: if a society is approaching intellectual bankruptcy, it comes as no surprise that it would be focused more on matters of political economy than on matters of philosophy.  And what was the class of professional philosophers doing all this time?

I know of only a couple promising, uh, leads in this regard.  First off, Aristotle was not being studied all that much in the academic philosophical mainstream.  His works had been translated into English within only a half-century prior to this period of time.  Aristotle translator W.D. Ross had some fairly well-known commentaries on the Philosopher, but they appear to have had only some influence on the post-war philosophical profession.  (The main focus was logic and language, remember, with such things as ethics and metaphysics being widely considered dead or nearly-dead sciences.)  John Herman Randall's book on Aristotle came out in 1960, and was reviewed by the Fiery One, who managed to Get It about the importance and greatness of the Philosopher at a time when hardly anyone else did.  A notable exception is Henry Veatch, who published his Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics in 1962, which was received, apparently, by a small audience of Aristotle enthusiasts but few others.  (Why didn't the Fiery One receive it warmly?  Good question!  I don't know the answer.  What we have here is a failure to integrate.  [I just came up with that line with the help of a little self-propelled semantic priming, and I will most joyously use it, and quite often, in the future!  Yay! :-) ])  Over in England, Wittgenstein disciple and translator G.E.M. Anscombe had just published her seminal essay, "Modern Moral Philosophy," which would, in time, help revive the Aristotelian "virtue ethics" tradition in academic philosophy.  But it did not make much of a splash at the time, especially in public-intellectual terms; it was aimed at an academic readership (and the academy seems to be very conservative and slow-moving in its reception of new ideas, with eyebrow-raising exceptions [e.g., A Theory of Justice]).  So that, in a nutshell, was the state of Aristotle studies ca. 1962.  Is it any wonder there's been a huge disconnect between the academy and the wider culture?

Then, there is Nietzsche.  In an ominous parallel to the speed at which Rand has made inroads in the academy, Nietzsche didn't become a serious subject of academic study until the appearance of Walter Kaufmann's 1949 book, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist.

Now, as an aside/digression, there was one Stanley Kubrick, a filmmaker and noted perfectionist, who might well have fit the role of public intellectual in the 1960s as well as anyone.  There was his commentary on the insanity that was Cold War nuclear brinksmanship, which was Dr. Strangelove (1964).  Then came 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which drew in part upon Nietzsche's idea of man as a bridge between ape and 'superman,' although many viewers were apparently too philistinistic to grasp that connection.  (But integration is so damn fun, innit?  How could they fail to integrate?  Where were the philosophers and the public intellectuals, to serve as the guardians and integrators of human knowledge, if the plebs weren't going to do it themselves?  Where the fuck were they?  Even the Fiery One, as listed co-author with Erika Holzer in a June 1969 movie review in The Objectivist, failed to Get It.  What goes around, comes around, I guess?  Guess who wouldn't have fucked this up, though.  More on that in just a bit.)  The rest of Kubrick's corpus of work is littered with masterpieces, but this blog entry isn't about Kubrick, exactly (although it is, kinda...).

In 1958, Kaufmann wrote Critique of Religion and Philosophy, a fun read that has partly inspired me personally; it was, in part, a lament on the state of philosophy at the time.  There was positivism and then there was existentialism, split up and pursued on separate continents, with little in the way of integrating their respective concerns.  One was all about rigor and precision in the use of one's concepts, and the other was about the meaning of life.  (Guess who wouldn't have fucked up when it comes to integrating these two seemingly disparate, uh, strands.  Lotta strands, man.)  Anyway, Kaufmann was a leading light at Princeton, while Quine was the leading guy at Harvard.  (Why did the Fiery One and loyal student fail to integrate Quine into their critique of unfortunate tendencies in analytic philosophy?)  Meanwhile, at Yale, there was Brand Blanshard, author of Reason and Analysis (1962), which was favorably reviewed by Branden in The Objectivist Newsletter.  It has been regarded as a definitive takedown of early-Wittengenstein and Russell's approach to analysis culminating in logical positivism, but I have been told that - having appeared a decade after Quine's "Two Dogmas" - it was more like an autopsy/obituary for a dead patient.  At MIT, there was (and still is) Noam Chomsky, who was doing hugely significant and pioneering work . . . in linguistics, and later as a (the?) leading critic of U.S. foreign policy in the post-WWII era; unfortunately, his criticisms seem to have had little positive impact as of yet on America's often-morally-dubious conduct around the world.  And the ordinary folks aren't all that interested in linguistic theory, as much as they might be the very subjects of that theory.

So.  There's more or less the lay of the intellectual land in ca. 1960s America.  (See? Integration is fun! :-)  And, given that lay of the land, it's not a big wonder why Rand was so angry so much of the time in her intellectual and cultural commentaries.  The intellectual climate was, in short, dysfunctional, and the state of Aristotle studies at the time can be marked as Exhibit A.  (The state of Rand studies today can be marked as Exhibit A of today's intellectual and cultural dysfunction.)  As the intellectuals go, so goes the nation.  Vietnam was merely the cashing-in for that era; the cashing-in today is . . . sounds like a good exercise in integration for you, the reader, to figure that one out.  At least it's not Vietnam, so there's some sign of hope.

So, Rand, at 55 years of age, enters the public sphere and formulates ground-breaking theories in ethics ("The Objectivist Ethics"), politics ("What is Capitalism?"), cognitive method (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and, ultimately, Peikoff's Rand-authorized 1976 lecture course, The Philosophy of Objectivism), and aesthetics.  (It so happens that Prof. John Hospers, who was among other things an expert in aesthetics, found much of aesthetic value in Atlas.  Are there skeptical-but-curious minds out there that would like to know why?  One can hope.)  She then conducted her legendary workshops at age 65-ish, around the time she wrote her most developed work on aesthetics, "Art and Cognition," her fabulous and tightly-constructed article, "Apollo 11," and her uber-fiery "The Comprachicos."  Things kind of slowed down for her after that; by 1974 her newsletter had more or less ceased publication.  And that, in brief, is the intellectual life of Ayn Rand.

To recap: She started out as a novelist, began a serious study of philosophy at age 40, and ends up writing a technical monograph in epistemology (followed by a workshop attended by a now-leading Aristotle scholar) that may very well have garnered the attention of the Big Guy himself for its laserlike focus on the central importance of mental integration as the cardinal function of consciousness, the inescapable need for maintaining cognitive hierarchy and of keeping context, the nature of definition as identifying what is fundamental to a grouping of units, and - perhaps most revolutionary - her theory of induction as (essentially) integration.  Not too bad, really, for someone who just ten years prior had completed Atlas Shrugged.  The term "polymath" may very well be applicable to Ayn Rand.

The "polymath" designation is hardly new as applied to Aristotle.  Given the era in which he studied, he was able to found entirely new fields of study, particularly logic and biology, and more or less defined other areas of study (e.g., ethics) within philosophy proper.  Further, the intellectual and wider culture in which he lived was such as not to cause the sort of anger that 1960s culture caused in Rand.  There are defining differences in their respective cultures, however: slavery was the norm in ancient Greece, which on its own meant literacy and philosophical study was limited to a select few.  In our day, literacy levels are high enough that there is more of an immediate (rather than distant) potentiality for widespread intellectual flourishing.  (Perhaps this is why Rand was so aggravated by the culture of her time: the vast majority of people were in a better position to know better, and this potentiality was not being actualized.)  Despite these differences, Aristotle and Rand had one fundamental thing in common, though they differed in their respective measurements: they both held that the perfective pursuit of knowledge defined the good life for humans.  The intellect was of prime importance to them and to their philosophical projects.  In that regard, Rand would have made Aristotle proud.  Gotthelf, in prefatory remarks to his 2012 collection of essays on Aristotle's biology, identifies another fundamental similarity between these two thinkers: their biocentrism.  If one - contra various popular trends in modern philosophy - studies human being in terms of being a "teleologically-organized living whole," one might have more fruitful results in a number of philosophical areas, including ethics and philosophy of mind.

Where Rand fell very noticeably short, was in her polemics against other philosophers, especially Kant.  It's exceedingly difficult for me to imagine how trained philosophers could look at her comments on Kant and think that such comments would be worthy of an Aristotle-like mind.  (This is a double-edged sword: it is likewise exceedingly difficult for me to imagine how trained philosophers could so badly drop the ball on Rand!)  Aristotle simply would not have written the things that Rand wrote about Kant; he was too much of a master of dialectic for such amateurishness.  Now, I'm sure that one could explain, in terms of Rand's context, how she would have come to the conclusions about Kant that she did.  But I think it's not just a matter of her state of knowledge, but of her polemical sensibilities.  She had this tendency to view the history of philosophy in terms of heroes and villains, instead of in terms of "men of the mind" seeking solutions to tough problems.  That they were men of the mind should have been clue enough (one would think!) that they were not opponents in the grand scheme of things; if anything, they should have been viewed as allies walking in the same direction in the search for truth and enlightenment.

(Semi-lengthy digression: Even as much as I think Karl Marx is a sort of intellectually-dastardly figure whose influence has resulted in untold misery and destruction, one could quite readily explain how Marx, in his own context, formulated the bulk of the views he did.  (I think his "squaring" his theory of worker immiseration with the evidence of improvement in worker living standards, by pooh-poohing the evidence, is very eyebrow-raisingly suspect to say the least.  His idea of material/economic factors as the prime mover of human history is dead-end bankrupt.  His theory of economic value as based on the "socially necessary" labor that went into the production of commodities (and which serves as the basis for his concept of capitalist exploitation) is likewise bankrupt, unless one were to reduce all mind-factors to labor-factors, which would, in effect, render the labor-theory of value a useless tautology.)  If there was anyone to whom Rand should have directed her ire, it was Marx.  But since she - quite correctly - got it into her mind that it is philosophy and not political economy that is the prime mover of history, she - quite incorrectly - pegged Kant as the source from which a great many subsequent evils followed, since he had allegedly wiped out the relation between reason and reality.  But if she got that wrong in a hugely significant way, her analysis of modern history post-Kant fails.  She was on the path of the scent, however, given the way philosophy developed in his wake.  But let's just say that Hitler was a greater influence on the direction of Germany in the 1933-45 period than Kant was, even as much as Eichmann claimed to be a follower of Kant.  Hitler, after all, cited Nietzsche as inspiration, which was a product of his psychotic delusions and not of any reality of the matter.  Kant, meanwhile, was the author of such works as "What is Enlightenment?", which advises people to think for themselves rather than obey a dictator.  The causes of Nazi Germany have to be sought elsewhere, not the least of which was Hitler's psychoses.  The connection between Marx's ideas - e.g., the historical inevitability of the end of capitalism - and the horrors of Soviet Russia is, however, considerably more plausible, all Marxian apologetics and protestations notwithstanding.  Is it some kind of accident that the people of communist China met with a similar fate?  The connection between Marxist ideology and these horrific regimes demands further investigation.  Marx himself would have been horrified at what these people were doing in his name - he even said later in life that he wasn't "a Marxist" - but he planted the ideological seeds from which the tree of communism sprouted.  All that being said, there are some similarities between Marx and Rand that have been tentatively noted by some: they both fall within the "perfectionist" tradition, for instance.  There is also the issue of somewhat-relevant similarities in their methodologies as highlighted by Sciabarra. /digression, I'm starting to get bored with this.)

What can be said about Aristotle that cannot be said about the bulk of the figures mentioned above, and which explains his unparalleled greatness and influence?  I think it can be boiled to this: he just never fucked up.  Why?  Because he was an intellectual perfectionist/perfectivist.  (Committing errors, as Aristotle did, is not synonymous with fucking up.  Fucking up means committing egregious, perhaps idiotic, errors, through glaring lack of epistemic discipline.  Also, as Rand correctly pointed out, Aristotle's errors are irrelevant in comparison to his philosophic achievement.)  One of Aristotle's more well-known sayings is to the effect that (to paraphrase) "the smallest error is later multiplied a thousandfold."  Given the way history has proceeded since then, I can only say: No shit!  Rand's achilles heel - her polemical sensibility and temperament - soured her relation with the academy, even as much as she advanced a serious neo-Aristotelian system of thought.  But lack of epistemic discipline is so widespread - rampant even, and egregiously so - that, grading on a curve, Rand is legendarily disciplined.  Some thinkers just do a better job than others of being cognitively disciplined, is all.  The point of p/Perfectivism is to make Aristotle-level cognitive discipline the norm rather than the exception.

As great as Rand is, she didn't quite measure up to Aristotle.  (Keep in mind, however, their respective intellectual histories.)  Had Aristotle been around to critique her (constructively, of course - not the shitty kind of criticism we see way too often), he would have been mostly very impressed but very dismayed by her polemical sensibilities, and would have, accordingly, led her in the right direction - and we'd have reached the damn Singularity already.  (Am I wrong?)  That's the way philosophy is supposed to be done, after all.  And that's the way it will be done in the future, with mind-blowing results.  I think that were Aristotle around today, he'd say the same thing.  In short: emulate Aristotle's approach (in one's own individual way, that is), and kick philosophical butt. :-)

P.S. As for any potential blog entry titled "Aristotle and Jefferson," what would there be to say?  They're both not merely polymaths, but gods.  Let's figure out, shall we, the historical accident(s) that led to Jefferson not being familiar with Aristotle until very-late age (when he acquired an English copy of the Politics, perhaps the last book he read in his lifetime), and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen in the future.  Can you imagine how different the course of U.S. history would be if Jefferson had encountered Aristotle early in life?  Can you imagine?