Rebirth of Reason

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Friday, June 30, 2017 - 11:33pmSanction this postReply

I was surprised by a statement from Luke Setzer, identifying the internalized editorial mandate of The New York Times as "rational-empiricism" because I have long equated Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism as an example of "rational-empiricism."


Luke wrote: "It also sounds like Kantian rationalism-empiricism, wherein the noumenal self "discovers" ideas and then looks in the "phenomenal" world for supporting evidence at the expense of all else." Here: http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/NewsDiscussions/3527.shtml 



Perhaps the salient term is "Kantian." As I learned it in college (several colleges, actually), Immanuel Kant was an example of the Enlightenment, an advocate of reason and individualism. Before I was explosed to those opinions, I had already read much of Ayn Rand, including her novels, of course, but also from non-fiction and The Objectivist Newsletter.  So, I knew better than to accept that.  


I identify lower case-o objectivism with rational-empiricism and the Enlightenment.  I also identify small-o objectivism with the scientific method. Writing about the scientific method on my blog, I pointed to the work of the late Norman W. Edmund (1916-1912), founder of the Edmund Scientific mail order company, who gave it a thorough explanation.  No matter how you learn it or teach it, all of the classroom wall charts begin with observation, not with ideation.  But we always call the process "rational empiricism" and never "empirical rationalism."  


It is said that all (western) philosophy comes down to Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle explained tragedy; and it may be great men brought down by internal flaws that divided the rationalists (following Descartes) from the empiricists (following Locke).  In the 19th century, the two schools were almost perfectly reunited by practicing scientists.  The word "scientist" is attributed to William Whewell, writing in 1833.


It was at that same time that Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte independently sought to create a science of "social physics," settling on the label "sociology," but both using the new word "positivism" to explain the philosophy behind their social science.  I will not follow that line of discussion now. However, I do note that Spencer was an individualist, a thorough liberal who advocated for the rights of children. Called a "social Darwinist" today, Spencer actually preceded Darwin: Darwin was a "biological Spencerian."  But my point here is that as electricity was being put to work, and our knowledge of the universe was being extended beyond the solar system, and our understanding of life processes was becoming testable and tested, the philosophical school of "rational empiricism" was already yielding to positivism as the mode of science.


In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Catholic scholasticist, Cardinal Desirée Mercier, gave clear expression to many ideas that Objectivists could endorse about the nature of reality and how we know it. But that was not the way of science.  By that time, the discovery of subatomic particles, black body radiation, and the existence of galaxies beyond our own were changing the formal expression of how scientists explain the philosophy behind science.


Then came Ayn Rand.


She called her philosophy Objectivism. Reality exists independent of the observer. It is your job to explain reality in a consistent narrative that allows prediction.  In that sense, empiricism comes first: Objectivism is empirical-rationalism. However, as Leonard Peikoff explains in Understanding Objectivism,  we cannot build a pyramid of knowledge with metaphysics at the base and epistemology layered above. The two must be interconnected, he said.  I would add: intertwined, interwoven, and integrated.  I point out that unfortunately, we write in linear sentences.  No one lays one word on top of the other to make a single glyph.  


Competing variants - which student of Rand would reject - include "critical common sensism" (Charles Sanders Peirce) which is within pragmatism, another school often suggested as consonant with "rational-empiricism" and the scientific method.  Also, the work of Willard Quine, labeled "Naturalism", also resonates with Objectivism, as Quine particularly attacked the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 6/30, 11:40pm)

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Saturday, July 1, 2017 - 9:25amSanction this postReply

MEM wrote:


I was surprised by a statement from Luke Setzer, identifying the internalized editorial mandate of The New York Times as "rational-empiricism" because I have long equated Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism as an example of "rational-empiricism."


Actually, I thought you called Objectivism "empiricism-rationalism" which is why I chose the Kantian term "rationalism-empiricism" as a contrast.


In other words, Rand viewed existence and the evidence of the senses (empiricism) as primary and reasoning from those primaries (rationalism) as a consequence, whereas Kant took the opposite view.


I called the NYT policy what I did because they had a pre-conceived narrative to which they wanted to cherry-pick and mold all facts in their stories.


Sorry for the confusion.

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Sunday, September 6 - 2:00amSanction this postReply

I just came back to this...  Speaking for myself, unless I were to make some fine point of language, as Luke just did, I equate rational-empiricism with empirical-rationalism. Language is linear. We have no convenient way to stack ideas in 3-space so that they are truly equated.


I mean that reason and experience are interwoven, integral to each other. We separate them just as I separate your left pinkie finger from "you" when I refer to it as a separate entity, even though it is integral to you. It is a convenience of thought and language that allows further understanding. 

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