Sunday, July 23, 2006

James Valliant on Rand's Intellectual Debts

James Valliant, in The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics makes the following criticism of Barbara Branden.

“Ms. Branden alleges that dishonest grandiosity is apparent in Rand’s claim that ‘the only thinker in history from whom she had anything to learn’ was Aristotle. This is something for which ‘Rand should have been challenged,’ according to Ms. Branden, who also claims that Rand ‘dismissed’ as worthless if not immoral, the whole ‘history of philosophy, with the sole significant exceptions of Aristotle and aspects of Thomas Aquinas. . .’ (99)”

“It is simply a fact that Rand was influenced by very few thinkers when it came to philosophical fundamentals. Does Ms. Branden wish to imply that Rand should have been more influenced by others?” (Page 46.)

I think it’s clear what Branden is saying. First, that Rand (like any philosopher) inevitably absorbed ideas from other thinkers. So while Rand may have said that her sole philosophical debt was to Aristotle, she was likely influenced unconsciously by other thinkers, even if she didn’t remember exactly who and when. Second, Rand had an excessively negative view of the history of philosophers and, contrary to what she thought, could have learned from other philosophers’ ideas and perhaps incorporated some into Objectivism.

Now, say what you want about Branden’s point, this is her opinion about the enterprise of learning and how it likely worked in Rand’s case. Nothing that Valliant says in the several paragraphs that follow proves Branden wrong, much less shows that she is lying.

This is typical of Vallient’s methodology. It might be called “overanalysis.” Statements made by the Brandens or a critic of Rand’s are interpreted in such a way as to create a contradiction.

5 comments:

James S. Valliant said...

You may think you "know" what Ms. Branden is REALLY "saying" -- but what she literally said was that Rand believed that "the only thinker from whom she had anything to learn" was Aristotle and maybe some Aquinas, and that she dismissed "as worthless if not immoral the whole of philosophy" outside of these exceptions.

This is not honest on her part -- Ms. Branden knows quite well that Rand positively quotes and mentions several other thinkers -- e.g. Francis Bacon, Locke, Nietzsche, John Herman Randall, etc. -- in many of her published sources -- sources Ms. Branden herself quotes.

What Ms. Branden says is just false.

James S. Valliant said...

You may think you "know" what Ms. Branden is REALLY "saying" -- but what she literally said was that Rand believed that "the only thinker from whom she had anything to learn" was Aristotle and maybe some Aquinas, and that she dismissed "as worthless if not immoral the whole of philosophy" outside of these exceptions.

This is not honest on her part -- Ms. Branden knows quite well that Rand positively quotes and mentions several other thinkers -- e.g. Francis Bacon, Locke, Nietzsche, John Herman Randall, etc. -- in many of her published sources -- sources Ms. Branden herself quotes.

What Ms. Branden says is just false.

ObjectiBlog said...

Jim,

Just because someone says something "false" doesn't mean that a person has been dishonest (intentionally deceitful).

As normally quoted, what Rand said was that her only philosophical debt was to Aristotle. Ms. Branden is guilty of (at most) a bit of hyperbole. And since Branden does quote other sources, is she trying to hide anything.

Maybe Barbara Branden isn't a particularly clear writer or an exceptional historian?

-Neil Parille

James S. Valliant said...

She is not guilty of mere "hyperbole" but repeatedly telling her readers something that she knows to be false -- in a published book.

It's interesting, Neil, that you simply ignore a mass of other data that is of the exact same order: i.e., factually false, as stated -- and about something within the author's personal knowledge.

How many times will you be forced to reconstruct Ms. Branden's language in order to make it sound fair before you realize that Ms. Branden -- publishing a book -- caught over and over in falsehood after falsehood, or absurd "hyperbole" after "hyperbole," if you prefer -- which she knows from personal knowledge to be false -- before you are able to see the obvious?

There's a forest here, and it's comprised of many more trees than you are mentioning.

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