Sunday, August 06, 2006

James Valliant on Ayn Rand, John Hospers and the Brandens

Barbara Branden's discussion of Rand's relationship with philosophy professor John Hospers is four paragraphs on pages 323-324 of PAR.

In paragraph 1, Branden talks of their first meeting. Hospers said that Rand had a "tremendously powerful intellect." (p. 323.)

In paragraph 2, Branden says that they soon became friends and had many lengthy philosophical conversations. They agreed on moral and political philosophy, but not epistemology. Hospers recalled that their arguments became heated at times and that Rand easily grew angry. Hospers describes her "sudden anger" as "bewildering." (p. 323-324.)

In paragraph 3, Branden says that Rand "broke" with Hospers. In 1962 Hospers invited Rand to speak at an academic symposium and Hospers criticized some of Rand's presentation. "Ayn took violent exception to his criticisms--and he never saw her again." (p. 324.)

In paragraph 4, Branden writes that Rand's relationship with a professional philosopher "made her eager to write a nonfiction work on epistemology." (p. 324.)

Here is Valliant: "Professor John Hospers, according to the Brandens, was taken to task for certain 'sarcastic' and 'professorial' criticisms of Rand in an academic setting, although, once again, neither of the Brandens chooses to relate the specifics." (PARC, p. 71.) Valliant drops a footnote and references both PAR and Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day. Nathaniel Branden says Hospers "challenged her viewpoint with the kind of gentle sarcasm professors take for granted." Barbara Branden does not use similar words to describe Hospers' comments. Valliant should not present the two accounts as if they were one.

In any event, Nathaniel Branden appears to believe that Hospers' tone was liable to be misunderstood. (Judgment Day, p. 307-8.) Barabara Branden appears to think that Hospers' comments were appropriate to the forum and Rand overreacted. There is a minor discrepancy over Hospers' tone, but other than that what is the big dispute here? Although neither is happy that there was a break, they both concede that epistemology was an area of dispute between the two philosophers and neither states (contra Valliant's implication) that philosophical disagreements shouldn't be cause for "moral indignation." And even if they do believe this (which they don't express in the context of this break) I don't see how it lessens their credibility.

According to Nathaniel Branden, Rand directed him to read the "riot act" to Hospers. Valliant is upset that there is no description by either Hospers or Nathaniel Branden of what the "riot act" consisted of. He ends his discussion with a claim that there are "missing details." Personally, I am satisfied that after the passage of roughly 25 years (from the time of the event until the two books) that we know basically what happened.

Incidentally, neither of the Brandens describes the split as an "excommunication" as Valliant calls it or indicates that Rand demanded philosophical loyalty from Hospers.


Anonymous said...

Personally "satisfied," you may be, but there is something wrong here. Hospers is bewildered and doesn't seem to have clue what made Rand get angry. Branden reports reading the riot act to him, and neither man can remember any of what that consisted? Frankly, it's more understandable on Hopsers' part -- if he didn't take it seriously, he might've just tuned it out. For Branden. it's hard to believe that he cannot remember a single aspect of this riot act. Anymore than he or Ms. Branden can recall what happened to Edith Efron, but the clarity of memory about Rothbard is enviable. Only when they didn't make up with the person do they remember?

You also drop the context of the more general discussion about all of this.

Your own pattern is emerging, too, but, I fear, it's another forest you won't grasp for the trees...

Neil Parille said...

I haven't examined the Efron case yet.

But as far Nathaniel Branden not remembering what was said, he writes that "in effect read him the riot act." (JD, p. 308.) Where does he say he can't remember anything?

I don't have copies what Hospers has said, but does he contradict the Brandens?

I'm not sure what you mean by a pattern. If you reference a certain incident and I read the sources and find nothing that can't be explained as either an innocent mistake (the typewriter issue) or a minor contradiction (the Hospers case), should I then assume that because they can't remember what happened to Edith Efron (but can with Rothbard) they are lying?

Anonymous said...

The pattern involves your seeming refusal to consider evidence of dishonesty -- something which you simply ignore. It also involves skipping through other material which might shed light on the same question, or aspects of my full treatment of the same question.

Whatever the cause, Branden does not reveal any of the riot act he read Hospers. Hospers says he cannot recall. Branden does ask us to draw a negative conclusion from this even as he fails (for whatever reason) to give us the information needed to make such an evaluation.

Neil Parille said...


The clear impression that I got from N. Branden's book is that Rand and Hospers had a friendly dialogue in which Hospers treated Rand as an equal, but then in the presence of a bunch of professors treats her like a student who needs to be lectured to.

By the time we get to the discussion of Rand/Hospers account Branden assumes that the reader can figure out for himself what was said, e.g. don't criticize Rand because she is so great.

Anonymous said...

Neil, the evidence is what counts, not the suggestions, impressions, and implication with which Mr. Branden wants to leave us with his vague insinuative style. The combined evidence from the two men imply doesn't add up.