Things That Make You Go…

Here are some snippets of actual conversations I had this week with colleagues. The first was with a colleague in the English Department.

English professor waiting for an elevator (ominously): Irfan, we have to talk.

Irfan: About what?

English professor: About [pause]…Ayn Rand.

He disappears wordlessly into the elevator.

The second was with a colleague in the Psychology Department, a professor in the counseling psychology program in which I’m getting a degree. I’m a student in his PSYC 590 class, Research and Evaluation Methods. Before this comment, I thought we were talking about quantitative and qualitative research methods in psychology. But then, suddenly….

Psychology professor: And that brings me to a topic that I’d like to bring up with Irfan. Sorry to put you on the spot, Irfan, but if Ayn Rand is an empiricist, how can she be a Nietzschean?

Hmm. Well…

Cue musical interlude.

13 thoughts on “Things That Make You Go…

    • Re the first question: turns out he’s doing a paper on Rand (or something to do with Rand), and wants my input on it. Ironically, I sort of get the sense that “the Rand moment” crested four or five years ago, and has passed.

      It’s kind of funny that while Objectivists regard my views as too distant from Objectivism even to be recognizable, non-Objectivists think of me as the go-to source on all things Randian. They’re both reasonable reactions, I suppose. Three or four years ago, I self-consciously called myself an Objectivist on the grounds that I agreed with “the fundamentals” of Rand’s views in epistemology and ethics, even if I rejected the “applications” of those fundamentals to politics, aesthetics, and the more applied parts of ethics. But I wouldn’t put it that way any more: I now think that the agreement is thinner, and the rejections more extensive, than I previously recognized (and/or my views themselves have changed). The one thing that’s essentially stayed the same over the last 20 or so years is my rejection of the movement. Even there, I’ve gone from regarded it as a “time-wasting distraction” to regarding it as an outright menace.


      • Well, for what it’s worth, I don’t think of you as an Objectivist (and had my doubts even when you were still sometimes willing to describe yourself that way with qualifications), but I’d still regard you as a go-to guy on Objectivism, or at least on Rand (a heretical distinction?), because you not only have obviously read and thought about a lot of it, but you aren’t dogmatically committed to everything she said being true and (worse) adequately developed. I’d expect to get an accurate and critically sensitive assessment of the stuff from you, whereas from most people it’s either accurate but uncritical, critical but inaccurate, or, I suspect, uncritical and inaccurate. But then, I don’t really have much interest in it, so perhaps if I did I’d have a different attitude. I have, though, occasionally wondered whether you get mistreated for being associated with Objectivism; I know all too well that other Objectivists who are otherwise good scholars do — or, rather, they get verbally abused behind their backs.


        • I have, though, occasionally wondered whether you get mistreated for being associated with Objectivism; I know all too well that other Objectivists who are otherwise good scholars do — or, rather, they get verbally abused behind their backs.

          Somehow, I suspect that if people are talking about me behind my back, what they’re saying is more along the lines of “He’s such an abrasive asshole” than “Yeah, he denies that he’s an Objectivist, but then why did he give three papers to the Ayn Rand Society?”

          I don’t remember ever being overtly mistreated for being associated with Objectivism during my professional career. I did once get “sharply” questioned about it in a job interview. Most of the questioning was fair enough, but there was one somewhat silly line of questioning that went, roughly: “You are associated with Objectivism, hence you are likely to have contempt for our students, and this worries us.” The interview was at a community college, so I guess that reasoning was: “Ayn Rand was an elitist whose views entail that community colleges shouldn’t exist; if you are ‘associated’ with her views, you are not just an elitist with the same belief, but a hypocrite for applying to this job. Hence…” Put that way, I guess, maybe the question was not so silly. (That’s not how it was actually put.)

          I don’t remember exactly what I said. I just remember that the question involved this long, involved build-up, to which I just casually answered, “I wouldn’t worry about it,” and left it at that. The guy was so taken aback by the brevity and insouciance of the answer that he said, “OK,” and moved on to the next question. I just remember thinking that if there is nothing to an accusation made against you, there’s no point in belaboring your defense. You just deny the accusation, and wait for the next round. But there was no next round. I didn’t get the job, but I wasn’t crazy about wanting it in the first place. That’s about as bad as things ever got for me.

          I guess the other thing that dismayed me was that the questioner’s primary evidence for my Objectivist “association” was my being “associated” with the Institute for Objectivist Studies in the early 1990s. But the interview was taking place in 2004. I had gotten out of the Objectivist movement (well) before IOS got involved in defending the welfare reforms of 1996 (and politics generally), but that didn’t seem to matter. What I had written didn’t matter. It was the sheer association with an Objectivist organization that mattered. That was irritating. But we’re talking about a 40 second sequence here.

          When I was an undergraduate, some of my professors were very disapproving of my interest in Rand–some rather eminent people, actually–but it was amazing how ignorant they were of what she’d actually said. So their criticisms always backfired. They’d offer these hand-waving, inaccurate attacks on her, but it was so obvious they hadn’t read her that the attacks only served to fuel further interest in her views. I kind of wish that even one of these Ivy League bozos had known what he was talking about, because it might have saved me a lot of wasted time.

          I guess there is just one clear case of my being mistreated for being associated with Objectivism during my professional career. It’s the way I’ve been treated…by Objectivists.


          • Somehow, I suspect that if people are talking about me behind my back, what they’re saying is more along the lines of “He’s such an abrasive asshole” than “Yeah, he denies that he’s an Objectivist, but then why did he give three papers to the Ayn Rand Society?”

            People will accept egoism, even admire it. But keep a policy of truth… that, they’ll never forgive you for.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Interesting. My experience is as someone who has and wants nothing to do with Objectivism but has known a number of people, some pretty well, who were big fans of Rand and in a few cases pretty clearly card-carrying Objectivists; plus, I work in a field where a few very prominent, and several moderately prominent, scholars have well-known interests in Rand and associations with Objectivism. So the subject has come up in casual conversations on more than a few occasions, and I’ve perhaps noticed it more than I otherwise might have had I not known the people I’ve known. What I’ve encountered is something like a scripted sort of conversation: “Oh, did you know that X is an Objectivist / Randian?” “Oh my god, really? That’s really hard to believe. X is so smart, and the one time I met him he seemed really nice.” Other variations: “Ah, yes, X. But he’s a Randian, you know.” “Yes, it’s terrible. I don’t know how someone as smart as X could possibly be one of those.” A few times there has even seemed to be an inference pattern of this sort: Yes, X has written work on this topic that is generally well known; but X is an Objectivist, and therefore is an idiot; therefore his work on this topic can be derided. And every once in a while there is not even discussion of the merits of X’s work, just insults directed at him owing in good part to his Randian entanglements. I can’t tell whether any of these people’s careers have been negatively impacted by these attitudes; as you know, probably the two leading scholars of Aristotelian biology of the last generation were Objectivists, and while I know not everyone holds Fred Miller in quite as high regard as I do, I think most people working on the Politics would recognize that his work is among the most important of the last 30 years. In other words, it is certainly possible to be an Objectivist or a Rand sympathizer and also have a very successful academic career in ancient Greek philosophy. But I’ve met several younger folks whose careers do not seem to be destined for anything like that level of success, and I wonder to what extent their Randian associations have contributed to that — certainly I have heard these same people derided behind their backs as a result, but there are many reasons why they might be seeing less academic success than they otherwise might.

            In any case, it’s good to hear that you haven’t had to endure too much bullshit for publicly acknowledging sympathies with Rand. But then, maybe you just don’t know about it; I’m pretty sure the ancient philosophy folks I have in mind very rarely hear the sorts of things their colleagues say behind their backs. Ultimately, though, I’m not sure the situation is much different with Randians than it is with conservative Christians; there are rather more of those working in ancient philosophy, so I don’t think it’s a field that they would feel is hostile to them, but there does seem to me to be rather more discussion of so-and-so’s weird Christianity or conservatism than would be explained by anything so-and-so has written in our field. So maybe it’s got nothing special to do with Rand or Objectivism and is just garden variety ideological policing?

            Or maybe my exposure to this sort of thing is unusual and there’s really not much of it going on?

            Liked by 1 person

            • I don’t think the scripted conversations you relate are all that unreasonable, especially in the case of Objectivists associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. It’s an open question whether the people to whom you’re alluding actually knew (or know) what they were talking about. Maybe they didn’t or don’t. If they were just talking out of their hats, that’s one thing. But if they did/do know the facts, their incredulity and suspicion has a perfectly credible basis. This topic probably deserves an article or at least a post of its own, but here is the quickest explanation I can come up with.

              Whether they want to admit it now or not, Objectivists associated with ARI had, enforced, and acted on a strict party line for decades. They cut Objectivst academics a lot of slack, on the grounds that academics were fighting the enemy in its home territory, and had to function as covert operatives for Objectivism while there. (I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s literally how they thought.) But whether they cut you slack or not, there was a party line, and its arbiter was Leonard Peikoff & Co (i.e., Leonard Peikoff and those to whom Peikoff delegated appropriate authority). Either you believed and asserted what Peikoff demanded on key points, or you were ostracized, excommunicated, and slandered. That’s what happened to David Kelley, and eventually to Chris Sciabarra (as well as many other people).

              ARI Objectivists deliberately and self-consciously presented a countenance of sweet academic reasonability to the academic world while literally reporting back to Home Base Peikoff for their marching orders. If this sounds exactly the way members of the CPUSA functioned back in the heyday of the CPUSA, well, ARI was (and in some ways remains) a Leninist organization of the right. They self-consciously saw themselves at war with the academy while being embedded in it. There were even vestiges of this attitude on the Kelley branch of the movement, which is why I ended up having such a volatile confrontation with them back in 2013. But Kelleyite vestiges of the attitude were a pale shadow of the real thing, and it was the ARI people who embodied that real thing (while being more academically rigorous and adept than the Kelleyites, partly a function of their healthier revenue stream).

              It is absolutely appropriate to suspect the bona fides of the people associated with the ARI branch of the movement. Peikoff’s “Fact and Value” essay functioned for decades (and implicitly still functions) as a proxy for a loyalty oath among the people involved in it. “Fact and Value” is the milder (more “theoretical”) half of the denunciation and excommunication of David Kelley from back in 1989. Read it and ask yourself how this document could possibly have functioned as anything but an instrument of manipulation and moral blackmail. The claims themselves, and the arguments given for them, are all-out fucking nonsense. The bullshit artistry is or should be transparent enough at face value, but the more of Rand (and/or philosophy) you know, the greater the number of layers of bullshit you will find in it. Then consider the fact that every ARI Objectivist scholar, no matter how eminent or talented, had to maintain 100% allegiance to the claims of this document and act accordingly if he was to remain the good graces of ARI (and stay on the ARI gravy train). “Act accordingly” meant: denounce people and support the denunciations; ostracize them; badmouth them; marginalize them; lie about them.

              Fred Miller wasn’t part of this group, but Allan Gotthelf absolutely was. (Allan had no qualms about deceiving an APA audience about David Kelley’s role in founding the Ayn Rand Society, going out of his way to omit any mention of Kelley’s name while describing the founding of the organization. That’s how fucking shameless and insane this all was.) So were Robert Mayhew, Greg Salmieri, John McCaskey, and Tara Smith (and so many other people, pointless to name them all but I don’t mind doing so). In 2008, Yaron Brook–the head of ARI–confirmed to me that agreement with “Fact and Value” was a necessary condition of receiving funding from the Anthem Foundation, ARI’s grant-giving machine. He later backpedaled on that, and I’m sure he has lots of semi-clever legalistic ways of denying the truth of what I’ve just said. But there is no honest way of denying it. It’s just too blatantly obvious. Such people deserve to be suspected. And it is an excellent question how people as intelligent as, say, Allan Gotthelf or Robert Mayhew could have gotten themselves into a situation like this.

              But the preceding stuff is all inside baseball. It doesn’t even begin to touch on ARI’s political agenda. No matter how reasonable ARI’s academics may have sounded (or sound today), the fact remains that ARI’s explicit political agenda is the very definition of right-wing reaction. Every position they take, from foreign policy to political economy, is practically a caricature of some right-wing policy position. It doesn’t bother them at all that they lack a sufficiently developed theory to make such claims. It doesn’t matter at all that their theorists are light years away from being in a position to justify the policy positions taken by their policy-types–and seem to be approaching that telos in an asymptotic fashion. What matters to them is simply that the apparent sophistication of the theorizing functions as ideological window-dressing for the policy stuff.

              Consider how insanely militaristic their views were and have been since 9/11. Peikoff’s position was that we ought (after 9/11 and in retaliation for it) to start a war with Iran, enthusiastically endorsing a nuclear option, a ground invasion, and an occupation as part of this war. Did any of the ARI academics protest or object? Not one. Either they went out of their way to agree, or they kept a discreet silence. I was on a panel at TCNJ after 9/11, and Allan Gotthelf went out of his way to stress that nuclear weapons had to be on the table when it came to dealing with Al Qaeda terrorism. The need for a nuclear option was, after all, the Peikoff Party Line. So it had to find its way into his talk. I remember being stunned at the zeal with which Allan–a guy who knew nothing about warfare or weapons–insisted on the need to use this particular weapons system, the most destructive we have at our disposal. Is it really possible to keep a discreet silence for decades about people this cavalier about the infliction of mass death? He spoke of the mass killing of millions of people as though it was some overriding moral imperative. But if the rest of them disagree or disagreed, they weren’t and aren’t saying. The checks just kept rolling in. The speaking invitations kept rolling in. The books and articles kept getting published. It was easier to say nothing, so they did. I think it’s more than justified to wonder: how could intelligent people have done this? And it’s more than justified to suspect their motives.

              There is a difference between Objectivists and conservative Christians. Obviously, I’m not sympathetic to conservative Christianity, but the fact is, the conservative Christians comported themselves in a more honest and honorable way than the Objectivists ever did. They showed more respect for the norms of discourse and for academic life. They took positions I reject (e.g., on abortion and bioethics generally) but I can’t think of a Christian analogue to Leonard Peikoff or the party line phenomenon associated with ARI. Even the biggest assholes among them (e.g. Philip Johnson) would only have achieved mid-level assholery in the ARI hierarchy.

              The Objectivist movement isn’t just a bunch of overly-zealous libertarians pursuing some pie-in-the-sky political agenda. It’s a self-avowedly revolutionary ideological movement that wants to effect an across-the-board revolution in human thought and practice without being able to grasp what the content of that revolution is supposed to be. Unsurprisingly, the mantras about reason, egoism, capitalism, and the moral superiority of Western Civilization tend to find their least common denominators in dogmatism, narcissism, greed, callous insensitivity to the needs of the weak, poor and vulnerable, ethnocentrism, and militarism. In other words, beneath the idealistic and moralistic verbiage lies something uglier and more sinister than most people realize. I don’t blame anyone for being suspicious of it and expressing their suspicion out loud. In this context, the expression of suspicion is preferable to silence.


          • I wasn’t trying to bait you into an anti-Objectivist rant, but if I had been, I’d have hit the right buttons!

            I certainly don’t have any counter-points to offer to anything you say here; I don’t know much about the people and issues you describe, but my limited knowledge of and experience with ‘official’ Objectivism makes it sound overwhelmingly plausible. I suppose my main gripe is that, even accepting everything you say here, it doesn’t really justify the attitude I’ve encountered in casual, post-conference discussions with philosophers (and, occasionally, classicists) over drinks. For one thing, I strongly doubt that most of the people I’ve encountered who can’t talk about a particular person without deriding him for his associations with Rand know anything about the Peikoff/Kelley division (even I know about that!); and if they don’t know about that, they likely don’t know any of the other details that might justify the kind of derision that is standardly the next thing that comes out of someone’s mouth after “Rand” in these contexts. Frequently these seem to be people who believe that Randian egoism is intended to be a form of immoralism that would make Nietzsche blush or that a supporter of Rand must think that being rich is ipso facto a sign of virtue and being anything other than rich ipso facto a sign of vice; one of my favorite cliches in the version of this anti-Randian trope that centers around Allan Gotthelf is the “in a society that embraced Randian values, Gotthelf would die very quickly because he is morbidly obese with no marketable skills” line (I have heard that line in very similar versions directed against Gotthelf on at least three occasions, none involving the same people; I suppose they’ll now have to reformulate their thought as a counter-factual). Now I would be the last person to claim that Gotthelf neither held views that are extremely objectionable nor behaved in ways that are extremely objectionable; in part I simply don’t know enough to judge, but would be entirely unsurprised to learn that this was true of an eminent philosopher (I went to UT Austin, after all; nobody who knows the faculty there could believe that professional philosophers cannot engage in truly horrendous behavior), in part I think his association with ARI makes it especially likely that both are true. What I object to even in his case is the notions that any of this, even if true, has any bearing on the value of his work on Aristotle or licenses general contempt toward him as a thinker. I’d say the same of Mayhew, who has also been the object of what I regard as unwarranted derision in several conversations I’ve observed; I don’t think Mayhew’s work is as good as Gotthelf’s was, but much of it is really pretty good, and I am pretty sure that the sorts of criticisms of his work that that I’ve heard on several occasions would not have been leveled against it if the critics in question did not know that he is a card-carrying Objectivist.

            But things only get worse when we begin to think about people like Miller, who by all appearances, at least, is not a card-carrying Objectivist and cannot be called to account for the ARI business you describe. Yet I remember sitting in a bar drinking with another fairly prominent scholar who, when I had said something in praise of Miller’s work on the Politics and expressed some doubt about the value of my own, said, “Yeah, but you’re actually smart. Miller is an idiot.” It quickly became clear that political ideology was behind the assessment. I’m probably just about as opposed to libertarianism as my fellow bourbon consumer on that night was, but I find the suggestion that Fred Miller isn’t smart to be absolutely preposterous. In fact, while I disagree with some of Miller’s most distinctive claims about Aristotle’s political philosophy, I’d estimate that at least 50% of the resistance to his views that I’ve encountered is driven by political ideology; I’ve frequently found that people simply do not understand his view at all and object to it as though Miller were taking Aristotle to be a libertarian, which is very far from the truth. I’ve encountered similarly uninformed, reactionary animus even toward Jim Lennox, though at least with Lennox it’s often been joined with incredulous protestations that he’s such a nice guy (my limited personal interactions with him suggest that he is, indeed, a very nice guy). I find all of this pretty tiresome; while I am, among academics, far from the most left-wing sort of guy, I don’t think I’m really more sympathetic to Rand than the people I’ve met who seem overly eager to bash Objectivists. I just know from my own experience that there are lots of people who hold views that I find seriously problematic who are nonetheless intelligent, thoughtful, and deserving of some philosophical respect, and Objectivists and others with Randian sympathies are among them. Even if the worst you say is true of these people, I fail to see what bearing that has on, say, the merit of Mayhew’s book on the female in Aristotle’s biology or Salmieri’s recent paper on ‘Aristotle on Selfishness’ (both of which I have cited approvingly in my own work, for whatever it’s worth).

            I think you might understate the parallels with conservative Christianity. No doubt conservative Christianity is a vastly more diverse sort of movement or affiliation than Objectivism, particularly Objectivism of the card-carrying variety. But I don’t think we have very far to look to find conservative Christians engaging in many of the same kinds of sins you catalogue for ARI Objectivists. If anything, the conservative Christians I know best (i.e., Roman Catholics) are just very up front about the sort of thing you find problematic with Objectivism: there is a fairly clearly defined set of things that you absolutely must affirm on pain of not being a true Catholic, and while there might be ample room for dispute about what exactly counts as an acceptable interpretation of those things, those things are very definitely not up for debate. You have a lot of respect for MacIntyre; he endorses the same kind of orthodoxy by fiat that you deride in the Objectivist case. And MacIntyre is a vastly more subtle, nuanced, and flexible Catholic than many of the Christians that I count as my colleagues in ancient philosophy. Michael Pakaluk has expressed views about homosexuality in published writings in which I find absolutely nothing to commend and very much to condemn; that doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that his work in ancient philosophy, particularly but not exclusively on the Nicomachean Ethics, is of the very highest rank, and my limited personal interactions with him support my sense that he is as intelligent and worthy of intellectual respect as anyone. I think I’d ultimately have to say that he and other conservative Catholic philosophers are considerably more intellectually formidable than anything I’ve encountered from Objectivists, but what both seem to have in common is that they conspicuously reject the sort of progressivist dogma that is dominant among academics and are unjustly derided as a result.

            In short, my experience has led me to believe that holding certain sorts of views will make a person very unpopular in academia. I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that you haven’t had this experience — though I might note that one of the few cases in which I’ve seen your work on Aristotle discussed in the literature, you were in fact misread in a way that suggested that it had everything to do with your allegedly ‘libertarian’ views and nothing to do with what you actually wrote.


            • I wasn’t trying to bait you into an anti-Objectivist rant, but if I had been, I’d have hit the right buttons!

              It doesn’t take much.

              This is an amusing conversation because in both cases it involves giving the other person a glimpse into a social world he hasn’t experienced first-hand. As usual, we’re not really disagreeing; we’re just focusing on different things. I agree that the post-conference conversations you’re recounting are (on the anti-Objectivist side) pretty dumb. The teetotaler in me wonders if any of that has anything to do with the consumption of alcohol, but it probably doesn’t. (There’s another part of the social world that’s alien to me–the alcohol-fueled part. But let it go. I have to prep for class.) I also agree that we can evaluate Gotthelf’s or Mayhew’s or Lennox’s scholarship without reference to their Objectivist commitments.

              That said, there was an Objectivist “agenda” behind a lot of Allan’s Aristotle scholarship. The “agenda” was to vindicate the insights of Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by self-consciously finding analogues of Rand’s theory of concepts in Aristotle (mostly in his biological works). I put “agenda” in scare quotes, because this was a pretty benign agenda as agendas go, but it still was an agenda. The point wasn’t directly to vindicate Rand by appealing to Aristotle’s authority (“See? It’s in Aristotle, too!”) It was to vindicate Rand by showing that both Rand and Aristotle were “on to” the same issues, and coming at them in somewhat similar ways (where the differences tended to redound to Rand’s credit rather than Aristotle’s). Rand claimed to have been inspired by Aristotle, and Allan was very anxious to show that her saying so made perfect sense: she was an Aristotelian. Hence the triumph (from his perspective) of the Ayn Rand Society’s 2005 APA session on “Rand as Aristotelian,” with John Cooper serving as chair. Hence also the paean to Rand in his Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method book. He self-consciously thought of his Objectivist commitments as informing his Aristotle scholarship. That doesn’t entail that any of that scholarship was defective, but the influence was unquestionably there.

              Lennox’s famous paper on Aristotle on the more and the less was also (obviously) influenced and inspired by Rand’s views on measurement-omission in concept formation. Again, that doesn’t entail that Lennox was wrong about anything he said about Aristotle. But an informed critic would have been justified in wondering whether the resulting picture of Aristotle was really Aristotle or Randistotle. In other words if you disagreed with Lennox on the more and the less on textual grounds, you might reasonably wonder whether the textual problems with Lennox’s interpretation were explainable by his coming at things in too Randian a direction. Allan once told me that this problem–of coming at Aristotle in too Randian a fashion–was one that he self-consciously had to overcome, having (at one time) been guilty of it. Someone might reasonably ask whether he or Lennox ever successfully overcame that problem–or ever eliminated all vestiges of it.

              I realize this is all a far cry from “Gotthelf is morbidly obese and would never get a job in a Randian society,” or some equally stupid criticism of his scholarship. I just mean: the Objectivist commitments were not irrelevant to the Aristotle scholarship, whether in Gotthelf’s case or in Lennox’s or Salmieri’s or Mayhew’s (any more than Chris Sciabarra’s being influenced by Bertell Ollman’s Marxism was irrelevant to his interpretations of Rand).

              I agree with what everything you say about Fred Miller. Miller deliberately stayed away from ARI, and was actually pretty distant from IOS, as well. He showed up a few times at IOS seminars, but was very scholarly, reserved, and low-key. He was very suspicious of entanglements with the movement, and advised his students to keep their distance. I wish he’d given me that advice. Or maybe he did, and I didn’t listen.

              I suppose you’re probably right about conservative Christians. I may not know enough about the conservative Christian movement to pronounce on it in any informed way. And now that I think about it, I read some of MacIntyre’s unpublished papers on Catholic orthodoxy, and they were pretty dogmatic and authoritarian. I would just say that having been a student of MacIntyre’s for as long as I was a colleague of Gotthelf’s, the difference is that there was (and is) nothing malicious or underhanded about MacIntyre, but there was a lot that was malicious and underhanded about Gotthelf. I cannot imagine MacIntyre’s engaging in the kind of personalized crusade against anyone that Gotthelf spearheaded against Chris Sciabarra (and The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies). The explicit purpose of Gotthelf’s years-long anti-Sciabarra crusade was to destroy Sciabarra’s reputation–and de-legitimize JARS–for what he saw as the greater glory of Ayn Rand. Maybe MacIntyre was capable of something comparable, but I never saw anything of the sort.


          • Yeah, that’s all right. As far as Gotthelf and Lennox reading Aristotle in Rand-inspired ways goes, it’s easy to see, and while at least in Lennox’s case I think it plays out pretty well, it’s really no different than most of what goes on in scholarship. We all have our philosophical sympathies and ideas and we all try to give interpretations that make the best sense. It is, of course, possible to just ignore evidence and read your own preferences into the texts, and I don’t mean to defend that kind of thing. My point would simply be that, if Gotthelf or Lennox or anyone else gets Aristotle wrong because they try to read Rand into him, they’d just be one among very many prominent scholars who have produced unsatisfactory interpretations of Aristotle (or just about every other Greek philosopher) by forcing him into their preferred philosophical framework — so there’d be nothing special about Objectivists in that respect. In fact I think the opinio communis about both of them is that their work is first rate and even if it’s wrong, it’s not incompetently done. Many disagreements in the field revolve around differences in philosophical judgment, and I don’t think that among people who work on Aristotelian biology the disagreements with Gotthelf and Lennox are any different than the disagreements with, say, Leunissen or Henry. Ultimately everyone who actually reads it has to acknowledge that their scholarship is eminently respectable; it’s just that that doesn’t stop people from insulting them behind their backs for no reason other than their Randian entanglements.

            For what it’s worth, while I’ve never met MacIntyre, my impression of him as a person is that he couldn’t be much more different from how you’ve described Gotthelf. MacIntyre’s views are ultimately authoritarian and dogmatic in ways that resemble Objectivism, but he himself does not strike me as an authoritarian or dogmatic personality; I think part of why I have at times found his views about authority and dogma attractive is that he makes them sound so reasonable and so rarely appeals to dogmatic authority. My initial response to the video of his lecture ‘Intolerance, Censorship, and Other Requirements of Rationality’ was that it was just sheer good sense. Perhaps that was just an illusion of his demeanor. Certainly if not for MacIntyre I would not have spent a good part of my late 20’s and early 30’s in a weirdly dysfunctional romantic relationship with Catholicism. I think a whole lot of it was sustained by the thought, “Well, if that guy can believe this stuff, there must be something to it!” And, well, there’s something to it.

            Liked by 2 people

            • He’d probably kill me for saying this, but your romance with Catholicism reminds me of a fact I learned in graduate school about Mark Murphy (the Georgetown one): he was the head of the UT Austin Objectivist group when he was an undergrad there (in its ARI days), then discovered MacIntyre’s After Virtue, converted to Catholicism, and has been a MacIntyre-influenced Catholic ever since.


          • Murphy is another of my favorite philosophers who is also a Catholic. It makes some sense to me; what I find most attractive in his work, MacIntyre’s, and others’ in the same milieu is really the Aristotelianism, and of course there’s no mystery about why some people are attracted to both Rand and Aristotle. Of course, not everyone would think that MacIntyre and Murphy do Aristotelianism better than Rand does, but notwithstanding my superficial and mostly second-hand acquaintance with Objectivism, that is definitely my view. I have and have always had misgivings about certain of the substantive moral views that Catholic Aristotelians take, but for the most part I find the philosophy quite congenial, but the religion very difficult to believe. I think MacIntyre and Murphy both would acknowledge that these are two quite different, if related, issues.


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