Objectivism is a philosophy created by Ayn Rand (1905-1982) that encompasses politics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. It was outlined in several lengthy novels that I am unwilling to read, including Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Most of what I know about Objectivism is garnered from various internet sources, Michael Shermer, and BioShock. The first thing you should know is that Objectivists are libertarian atheist skeptics, though not all libertarian atheist skeptics are Objectivists.
From what I understand, Objectivists and Objectivist sympathizers constitute a small but significant minority of skeptics and atheists. See, there are liberal skeptics and libertarian skeptics. Libertarian skeptics tend to at least sympathize with Objectivists, to various degrees. For instance, Penn of Bullshit!, a libertarian skeptic if there ever was one, seems to like Objectivism. On the other hand, Michael Shermer, also libertarian, agrees with some of it, but thinks that as a whole it's a bit of a cult. Liberal skeptics tend to think Objectivists are as insufferable as hell. This blog is brought to you by a liberal-libertarian skeptic who really doesn't get Objectivism.
It's not the libertarian part that gets me. I get libertarians, at least as well as I get liberals or conservatives. I also get the bit about rational self-interest (aka greed) being a good thing. I disagree on these things somewhat, but I understand why people might see it that way. What I don't get is the Objectivist epistemology. They have this weird sort of deductivist rationalism, and I don't even see why it should be a viable option. Either I have an insufficient grasp of Objectivism, or Objectivism is complete nonsense; I'm beginning to suspect the latter.
The first time I ever encountered Objectivism, I was perusing a group's website, and they had the oddest statement among their fundamental tenets. The axiom of identity: "A is A". No, it's not wrong per se (except I would call it a tautology, not an axiom). No, of course, it's correct, it must be correct. But what of it? This is a tenet? Because the statement is by itself is useless, I had to read between the lines. I didn't like what I saw there. Basically, the axiom of identity is the first indication of Objectivists' overuse of deductivism. The law of identity is meant to assert that, yes, there are some truths that are absolute. We know they absolutely must be true, with absolute certainty, because they are derived through reason.
Objectivist epistemology seems to be entirely built around this idea. We start with a few axioms, and from there, everything else follows. Just as "A is A" is an absolute truth, so, too, is capitalism. Oh, look, I found an Ayn Rand quote to that effect:
I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.The mistake that Objectivism makes is that they think every idea can be reduced down to something like "A is A". They think every idea can be derived from deductive reasoning, which is reasoning that leaves no doubt about its conclusions. But that's not the case. There is a major field that investigates what we can know through deductive reasoning; we call that field "mathematics". The vast majority of all other knowledge, most especially including politics, requires inductive reasoning, which is reasoning that leaves at least a little doubt about its conclusions. If Ayn Rand thought she could argue for capitalism through deductive reasoning, she was either delusional, or took a lot more axioms than she thought she did.
That's another thing--there aren't very many axioms in Objectivism. There's the axiom of identity ("A is A"), which I think should be a tautology, not an axiom. There's the axiom of existence ("Existence exists"), which sounds like some sort of pun. And then there's the axiom of consciousness ("Consciousness is an irreducible primary"), which I'm not sure I want to understand. I'm utterly confused as to how we get from these axioms to "... ergo capitalism".
According to Michael Shermer (in Why People Believe Weird Things), early Objectivism was a bit of a cult that surrounded Ayn Rand. Everything she said must have been correct, because she was the most perfect human being, and therefore her reasoning must have been perfectly undeniable. If there was any little disagreement that you had with Ayn Rand, you couldn't properly call yourself an Objectivist. I think this cultish behavior can be credited to the Objectivists' overuse of deductivism. If they had a less nonsensical epistemology, they would realize that reason rarely results in absolute certainty, and thus would be logically compelled to tolerate a bit more heresy.
But anyways, as I said from the beginning, I don't really get Objectivism. Any objectivist readers out there who want to set me straight? Or maybe you're an Objectivist-hater who wants to set me straight in some other manner?