Rebirth of Reason


Objectivism as an Intuitive System
by Francois Tremblay

Objectivism is often seen, even by intellectually inclined individuals, as a philosophy that is intellectually backwards or counter-intuitive. I always find such judgments bizarre. Some of this comes from simple miscomprehension of Objectivist principles. These misconceptions come in two forms:

  1. Interpreting a word - "axiom", "identity", "egoism" and "capitalism" being the most common examples - in a common or loaded manner instead of using philosophy-based definitions.
  2. Trying to understand Objectivist principles from the point of view of their previous ideology. For example, I have found that teaching ethics to new Objectivists is difficult when they hang on to the idea of action-based morality (instead of value-based).

There are, of course, such things as discussions on points of philosophy. I am far from saying that everything that needed to be discovered has been discovered. However, there are five basic points - the five pillars - that we agree that all Objectivists must understand are true:

  1. Metaphysics - Reality is objective.
  2. Epistemology - The optimal way to find knowledge is by using reason.
  3. Ethics - The optimal way to act is by following rational values (egoism).
  4. Politics - The optimal way to live in society is by furthering egoist principles (libertarianism)
  5. Esthetics - The optimal form of art is romantic realism.

I wish to make the case that intellectuals should see these conclusions of Objectivism as intuitive and obvious.

The ideas that one exists, that one is conscious, that one has a definite identity, that logic is true, that reality is not dependent on our minds, and so on, are rather obvious. Virtually all people act on these premises, and interact with other people and material objects as if they were real.

While there is considerable ideological disagreement from other people on whenever these premises are not really just conventions, or are true at all, people who express these positions still argue logically with other people about it instead of simply trying to wish disagreement away, thus showing their implicit agreement with these ideas.

It cannot be otherwise. If someone did disagree wholeheartedly with the objectivity of reality, he would die very quickly, as even survival requires active work. Like any other false idea, the proposition that reality is subjective cannot be consistently upheld.

Reason, as objectivity applied to reasoning, also has many ideological enemies. Surely religion is the most prominent of them all. However, it has become acutely obvious that religion is an inadequate means of obtaining knowledge. On the other hand, the supremacy of scientific knowledge, obtained by a method based on reason, makes no more doubt, and is now accepted even by its traditional enemies.

The acceptance of the validity of science, and of the inadequacy of religion and universal doubt, is necessarily an implicit acceptance of reason. As such, I would say that reason is also uncontroversial.

In ethics, the use of reason is also uncontroversial. While most intellectuals disagree on the very fact that ethics is objective, let alone that egoism is the best way to act, their objections are usually artificial and based on an exaggeration of the naturalistic fallacy.

In reality most people act in a generally self-interested manner. While people do preach altruism, they usually say that in order to enforce it to the other fellow, not as a personal rule. I discuss this in my article "Altruist Guilt".

Finally, libertarianism - as the rule of egoism in society - is also generally implicitly accepted. Civil libertarianism, lower taxes, more accountability, and more prosperity, are all seen as desirable, although the consequences of these positions may not all be accepted. Once again there are people who argue against these things on altruistic grounds, but they rarely practice what they preach.

I am not, of course, saying that most people are Objectivists. This would be disingenuous on my part. Being an Objectivist is more than just implicitly, vaguely accepting its premises in daily life. Rather, just like any other ideology, being called an Objectivist refers to conscious acceptance of its core concepts.

As I said, two factors keep people from seeing the intuitiveness of Objectivism: semantic reactions and old paradigms. It is perhaps true that the choice of words obscures the reality of some concepts, such as "egoism". However, making new words is a risky business. Using new words or redefining existing words is also a trait of cults.

For example, the invention of the word "meme" by Richard Dawkins has spurred the creation of a new discipline - memetics - but has also hindered acceptance of the principles behind the concept of the meme. People tend to think that the new word entails a new concept that competes with the already-existing concept "idea".

Likewise, we could invent new terms to express "egoism" or "selfishness". However, these words express very well what we mean: taking only personal (ego, self) values into consideration. There is no need to bend the mind of the listener with new or dubious usage. It is only a simple matter of putting in the effort necessary to understand what it means precisely in Objectivism as opposed to other ideologies.

The same thing is true for changing paradigms. The relative novelty of Objectivism is, as I demonstrated, an illusion in one sense, since the concepts it gives us are intuitive. The difficulty is mostly due to its explicit and rigorous nature. But this is true of any discipline. Quantum physics is also difficult to understand, but that doesn't mean that it's not useful.

To obtain a profound understanding of Objectivism requires one to understand its deductive nature, but this requires much more work. The work towards immediate acceptance of Objectivism will need to deviate from the hard-edge stigma that hangs around it and attempt to show how intuitive it is. After all, Objectivism is nothing more than rational philosophy.

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