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Philosophy - What Is It?

A long time ago, one of my very young sons was attempting to dissuade some of his friends from launching some stupid project bound to end in disaster. Try as he might, with his limited reasoning and persuasive power, he was unable to convince any of them of their folly. Finally, in exasperation, he threw up his hands and declared, "I'm surrounded by idiots!"

I am convinced this is the true picture of the world, a world so absurd, if it is not populated by idiots, than it is populated by the insane. I am convinced of this both because even a cursory examination of history demonstrates it and because no one seems to notice.

War and Madness

Consider the historians, especially those historians who delight in studying the history of war and the military. These are very serious folk who will spare no effort to prove it to you. They can tell you every detail of the strategy used in every battle in history. They can tell you the names of all the generals; they can tell you with precision the logistical problems that had to solve; they can tell you every detail of the geography and terrain; they can tell you about all the gory wounds and deaths suffered in every battle; and if you are not careful, they will tell you.1

What they will not tell you is what war really is. It is two gangs of people engaged in killing each other and destroying each other's property. It is always a huge enterprise demanding more resources, time, and energy than any other human endeavor, and its consequences are always negative. The effectiveness of war is measured by the number of dead and the extent to which those who remain have been impoverished. There is nothing positive to measure.

Death and destruction is the only purpose of war. Yet war is studied, contemplated, planned for, enjoyed in retrospect, by most, and in anticipation, by many. Millions proudly join military forces and are praised by millions more for their bravery and honor.

Someone is bound to ask, so we must answer. No, this is not pacifism.2 This is not about defending oneself against aggression, it is about why there is any aggression in the first place. Why do some people, or any people, choose killing hundreds, or thousands, or millions of other human beings as a means to or solution for anything?

War is never an accident. Wars have to be prepared for. Nations spend as much of their resources as they possibly can on arms and materials which have no other purpose or use except killing people and destroying property. Any child understands if those same resources were kept by the people they are confiscated from, (and they are always confiscated), the prosperity of those people would be many times what it is, yet every nation would rather impoverish its own people than suspend war preparation.

"Ah, you do not understand the reality of this world. Every nation must arm itself to protect itself against other armed nations," I am scolded.

Exactly! We live in a world where everyone is convinced they must arm themselves to the teeth because everyone else arms themselves to the teeth, and will eagerly use those arms to kill and destroy anyone who is not armed to the teeth. No doubt, this is true, and proof that the world is populated by madmen. From nations to individuals, we must be armed and ready to defend ourselves and our nations at all times. The reason for this, however, is certainly not because reason and sanity prevail.

War, properly called organized wholesale murder, is not a direct result of human nature, or a requirement of it. Those who have managed to live their lives with no direct involvement in war, live very successsful, satisfying, and usually, long lives. While war is forced on some by others, war is not forced on humanity as a necessity of their nature or existence. War is by choice, at least by those who initiate it, and always a wrong choice, and always a disastrous one. It is a collective choice made by all those who engage in it. Nothing but mass insanity can explain how the collective choice of so many can result, over and over, throughout all of history, in this vicious destruction, violence, and bloodshed.

Insanity Prevails

If history does not convince you we are, "surrounded by idiots," just look around you. Does the idea of flying a plane into a skyscraper full of people, knowing it will kill you, the passengers in the plane, and the people in the skyscraper sound like a good, sound, rational, choice? Could anyone but an insane person make such a choice? What if four made such a choice? What if twenty should make such a choice?

Do you say it is only twenty and what is twenty out of billions of people? (I know only 19 showed up.) Well, I know they were idiots, and maybe you do, but everyone else is asking, "why did they do it?" as though there were some logical reason to be discovered for the behavior of the insane. In case you have not noticed it, there are thousands of candidates eagerly waiting for their opportunity to demonstrate their own brand of this insanity, and many do, every day, strapping explosives to their bodies to blow themselves, and as many others as they can, to kingdom come.

Stupid? Well sure, but even more stupid are all the pseudo-intellectual pundits and academic types pushing and shoving each other to prove they are the experts that can explain it all. But, what's to explain? They're crazy, and if these experts think there is anything more to explain, they're crazy too!

When men knew very little, before the discoveries of science and medicine, many of the practices of mankind could be attributed to ignorance. But mankind is not ignorant any longer. If sanity prevailed, we would expect knowledge to lead to sane behavior. The opposite is true. Having discovered how to eradicate such terrible diseases as smallpox with vaccines, what does mankind do with this knowledge? They develop "weaponized" versions of these diseases in order to inflict them on as many people as possible. Having discovered how to produce clean and inexpensive power by the manipulation of atoms, what does mankind do with this knowledge? They develop the most powerful, destructive, and deadly bombs history has ever known, and they produce enough of them to destroy all life and everything of value that mankind has ever created, not once, but many times over.

We are not only surrounded by idiots, but very deadly ones. How can this be? What is the nature of the disease that has driven the world mad?

Food and Philosophy

In her book, Philosophy, Who Needs It? Ayn Rand makes the point that everyone needs philosophy. Most people, however, have little or no interest in philosophy. They regard philosophy as something for academic types to waste their time on, something impractical and more than a little absurd. To a very great extent, this attitude has been fostered by philosophers and intellectuals, to their shame, and most of what goes by the name philosophy is impossible to read, mostly nonsense, and generally destructive.

If those who are in the business of supplying us with food did as poor a job as those who are in the business of supplying us philosophy, food poisoning and famine would prevail.

But, those in the food providing business have been a complete success. Where science and technology prevail, food poisoning and famine are rare, but being healthy and well fed does not guarantee sanity. The irony is, the biggest wars in history have been carried out by the very nations with the greatest scientific and technological achievements. If you have ever wondered about the cause of this apparent paradox, it is because there is another famine in the world, a famine of knowledge, a special kind of knowledge, called philosophy, and what little philosophy the world has been fed is mostly toxic.

Knowledge, for humans, is as much a requirement of life as food. We share the requirement for food with many creatures; it is a physiological necessity. Our requirement for knowledge, however, is unique; it is a psychological necessity.

The requirements of life for every creature are determined by its nature. It is the cow's nature that requires her to eat grass and the fox's nature that requires it to eat meat. These requirements are biological. The aspect of human nature that requires knowledge is the unique human consciousness, the rational-volitional mind, that is, the necessity and ability to consciously think and choose.

The Nature of Choice

It is the rational-volitional nature of man that requires everything we do, as human beings, to be done by conscious choice. Even to do nothing requires a choice.3

Before we go any further, let's get something out of the way. As soon as you mention choice, someone will bring up the question of, "free will." Don't ever get caught in that trap. The meaning of that expression is hopelessly muddled and has nothing to do with this matter of choice.

"Do you really believe people have free will?" you will be asked. "You can't do just anything you want," it will be argued. "People's behavior is determined by many things, their heredity, their subconscious, their environment, their education, their economic status....blah, blah, blah."

All of that has nothing to do with the fact that to do anything, you must choose to do it. You do not have to study psychology and philosophy for a million years to know this is true. You can test it for yourself, once and for all, and never have to worry about this question again.

Sit down in a chair somewhere. (You'll have to choose to do it.) Now make one more choice. Choose not to choose anything else. Just sit there and let your heredity, or your subconscious, or environmental influences, or your education, or your money determine your actions.

What happens when you do that? Nothing!4

If you never choose anything again, you will never do anything again; but notice, even to not choose you must choose.

The ability to choose, which we call volition, is not about what can be chosen, or how one chooses, or why one chooses, but the fact that a human being not only can choose, but must choose, and that this necessity of choice cannot be avoided or bypassed so long as one is fully conscious.5

Knowledge, the Fuel of Choice

What is it we actually do when we make a choice? If we examine the process of choosing we discover the following:

  • We must have knowledge.
  • We must reason.
  • We must act.

We must have knowledge. There are three things we must know before we can make a choice. Obviously, the first thing we must know is what choices are available. What can we do? We also need to know what the consequences of a chosen action or inaction might be. What happens if I do or don't do this? We also need to know what consequences are preferable. What should I do?

We must reason or think. The process of choosing, itself, is thinking, or reasoning. We identify the possible choices, consider the possible consequences of each, and evaluate those consequences according to some criteria by which we judge which consequences are preferable.

We must act. A choice is made when one of the possible choices is acted on. The action may be an overt physical one or only a mental ascent to something. Until we act, however, a choice has not been made.

So choosing is an action arrived at through a process of reason. Since reasoning itself is something we do, and everything human beings do is done by choice, the reasoning process itself is a matter of choice. To think, we must choose to think and each step in the process of thinking must be made by choice, and the direction our thinking will take, must be made by choice. It is because to choose we must think (reason), and to reason we must choose (volition) our natures are properly called rational-volitional. Reason and volition, thinking and choice, are interdependent functions of human consciousness and neither is possible without the other.

Notice, the one essential thing in this process of choosing is knowledge. Just a our bodies need the nutrients provided by our food as fuel for carrying out our biological processes, our minds need knowledge as the fuel by which it carries out the psychological processes of thinking and choosing. Without knowledge, there would be nothing to think about and nothing to think with and no means of making any choices at all.

Mental Food or Mental Poison

Just as ignorance about the difference between food and poison can harm our bodies, ignorance about the difference between correct and incorrect ideas (concepts) can harm our minds. If we want to be sure we are not poisoning our bodies we need knowledge about the nature of substances (chemistry) and our bodies (biology). Chemistry and biology are branches of science. If we want to be sure we are not poisoning our minds we need knowledge about how to think correctly (logic) and what knowledge is (epistemology). Logic and epistemology are branches of philosophy.

To make choices about living in this world, we need knowledge about the world, the nature of the objects and events that comprise it and the relationships between them; we need to know how things work, what is good for us and what is bad, and how to learn more about them.

To make choices about thinking we need knowledge about the nature of our consciousness, the mental constituents of our minds and the relationships between them, we need to know how they work, what is good for our minds and what is bad, and how to learn more about them.

We need to understand the relationship of our consciousness, that is our minds, to that which we are conscious of, that is, the material world. Taken in the broadest sense, the subjects that teach us about the world and its nature are history and the sciences. The subject that teaches us about the mind, its nature, and its relationship to the world is philosophy.

Philosophy is to all other knowledge what the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins are to food. To make use of food, one's diet must include these essential ingredients, without which, no matter how much food one consumes, the body will not be able use the nutrients correctly. To make use of knowledge, one's understanding must include those essential philosophical concepts without which, no matter how much "knowledge" one has, the mind will not be able to use that "knowledge" to reason and understand correctly.

Philosophy is the most important of all knowledge. It is the knowledge required to make correct use of all other knowledge, and without which, all knowledge becomes a meaningless collection of trivia and random data, without relationship or meaning.

We must ask, then, if there is a famine of philosophy in the world, if most people do not have philosophy, how is it they survive?

Philosophically Malnourished

In our day and in our country, very few people suffer any of the diseases that were common everywhere before the nature of the essential vitamins and other nutrients were well understood. Where this ignorance, or the means of acquiring these nutrients, still exists today, people continue to suffer such diseases as rickets and scurvy.6

People can survive without being well nourished and are deprived of vitamins and minerals. If they are so deprived, however, they are not healthy, they have physical problems, they do not develop properly, are not be able to function well, and have limited life expectancy.

People deprived of philosophy suffer in a similar way. They are not (mentally) healthy, they have psychological problems, they do not develop emotionally, they cannot function socially, and have limited successs in life. Just as those who are undernourished can survive, because their poor diets contains some vitamins, minerals and essential proteins, those without any explicit philosophy have some kind of philosophy implied by every choice they make, but it is not an explicit philosophy, it is one by default.

Except for those few people who have intentionally pursued an explicit philosophy, the "philosophy" implicitly embraced by most people consists of a random collection of slogans, aphorism, syrupy platitudes, vague impression and disconnected ideas "picked up," along the way from parents, peers, teachers, their society or culture, and the media.

Just as all food is important, but vitamins are essential, all knowledge is useful, but philosophy is essential because everything one does is ultimately determined by the philosophical concepts they have embraced. If those concepts are wrong, every choice one makes and all that one lives for will be doomed to failure and disappointment; one's purpose in life, all one's relationships, and all one's aspirations are certain to be flawed. It seems incredible that people so careful about their diet, knowing what they eat or fail to eat determines the health of their bodies, will nevertheless uncritically embrace any random concept, perverse irrationality, or crackpot idea and expect their minds to remain healthy.

To be certain one is eating properly, one must learn what food is good, and how to ensure they are getting the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins they need. To be certain one is feeding their minds with those philosophical concepts necessary to think and choose correctly, one must learn what those essential concepts are. They must discover what philosophy is, and how to acquire (learn) it.

Philosophy Defined

What is philosophy, anyway? There are formal definitions of philosophy such as this brief definition, form A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names, which we quote:

Philosophy {Gk. filosofia [philosophia]} Literally, love of wisdom. Hence, careful thought about the fundamental nature of the world, the grounds for human knowledge, and the evaluation of human conduct. As an academic discipline, philosophy's chief branches include logic, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and the appropriate aims and methods of each are the concern of metaphilosophy.
Such definitions, while accurate enough, are not very useful to those unfamiliar with philosophy as a formal discipline. To fully understand the nature of philosophy it is necessary to understand something of these philosophical categories.

The Structure of Philosophy

Like all knowledge, the discipline of philosophy is structured on the basis of its content and the logical relationships between the elements of that content. The following outline illustrates the hierarchical structure of philosophy.

  • Metaphysics -- The nature of existence.
    • Metaphysics Proper -- The Nature and Meaning of existence, modes of existence, and reality.
    • Ontology -- The ultimate nature of material existence, the physical, life, consciousness, volition.
    • Viology -- The ultimate nature of life and living existence, i.e. organisms.
  • Epistemology -- The nature of knowledge.
    • Epistemology Proper -- The nature of consciouness, perception, concepts, meaning, and knowledge.
    • Philosophical Psychology -- The nature of the mind, the rational/volitional consciousness.
    • Logic -- The nature of and formalization of the rational process, i.e. correct thinking.
  • Ethics -- The nature of values, particularly, moral values.
  • Aesthetics -- The nature of beauty, creation, and art.
  • Politics -- The nature of values in a social context and moral relationships.
Philosophy is about all that we can be conscious of and nothing more, and all that we can be conscious of is what we mean by reality. It is the nature of that reality, in an ultimate sense, that philosophy idnetifies. Much of the trouble that philosophers get into is the result of forgetting that however remote our abstractions become, however far our logical progressions are removed from the observable, they must all finally be about the observable or they are about nothing at all.

What we are conscious of includes not only the material world we perceive with our senses, that is, objects, like rocks, rivers, trees, animals, people, and the things they make like buildings, roads, and bridges, as well as substances, like water, air, and gold, but also our own internal feelings and perceptions, our thoughts, our pains and our pleasures.

Metaphysics

Metaphysics describes the ultimate nature of existence. It begins with the meaning of reality and proceeds to define what constitutes reality and makes it possible to identify what is real and what is not. There are two subcategories to Metaphysics, Ontology and Viology.

Ontology

Ontology describes the ultimate nature of material existence. It is a subcategory of Metaphysics because reality includes not only material existence, but our consciousness of it, our imagination, created fictions, the past, the future, and many other things in addition to matter itself.

Ontology does not attempt to describe the nature of material existence in the scientific sense, that is the business of science, after all. It defines the essential nature of material existence in terms of what is and is not possible to science, and how science must correctly understand the nature of material existence, and most importantly, the nature of material existence that makes it possible for us to be conscious of it, and how it relates to our conscious perception of it.

Viology

Viology describes the ultimate nature of life as a quality of living organisms and identifies that which differentiates living organisms from all other entities. It defines the essential nature of consciousness, including sentience, and perception.

This aspect of philosophy is generally overlooked as a discipline and the principles it defines are simply assumed, often incorrectly, thus leading some higher branches of philosophy, such as ethics, astray. Without a clear understanding of what life is, how it differentiates an organism from a non-living entity, and how the behavior of an organism is fundamentally different from the behavior of all non-living phenomena, no other aspect of philosophy dealing with living things can be fully comprehended.

Epistemology

Epistemology answers the questions, "what is knowledge and how do we acquire it?" This is the most important branch of philosophy, and is actually the heart of it. Epistemology provides the principles by which all knowledge, including all philosophical knowledge is integrated.

Epistemology defines the nature of concepts, the product of the conceptual level of human rational-volitional consciousness, and that of which all knowledge consists. It describes the relationships between that we are directly conscious of (perceive) and the process by which that perceived reality is identified by means of concepts.

Epistemology delineates the role of language, the purpose of definitions, and the relationship between words and concepts. It also defines the principles by which conceptual knowledge is integrated into a non-contradictory hierarchy providing a comprehensive view of reality.

Epistemology has two subcategories, Philosophical Psychology and Logic.

Philosophical Psychology

Philosophical Psychology describes the rational/volitional nature of human consciousness, and identifies the elements of human consciousness and their function. It provides the principles by which human nature, as unique and distinct from all other animal life, can be understood, and what the essential requirements of that nature are.

Philosophical Psychology deals with all aspects of the human mind (consciousness), including perception, both of the external world and introspective one (subjective experience), as well as cognition (knowledge and comprehension), rationality (reason or thinking), volition (choosing or decision making), memory, imagination, habituation, and emotions. It discovers and describes the relationships and interactions between all these aspects of human consciousness.

Logic

Logic describes the nature of the reasoning process, identifies its proper function, and formalizes the principles of correct reason.

Ethics

Ethics defines the values appropriate to rational/volitional beings (as described by epistemology) living in the real world (as described by metaphysics). It describes the principles by which moral beings must determine their chosen behavior to live successsfully.

It builds especially on the principles of epistemology and the nature of human beings, defining the details of their nature (cognitive/creative intellect) and the principles of behavior appropriate to beings with that nature.

Ethics is the science of values. It defines the principles of what is good and what is bad for individuals and describes how those principles must be applied to actual choices in both thought and action in determining one's behavior.

Ethics is the zenith of philosophy, the ultimate purpose toward which all philosophical enquiry is aimed, to define the purpose of human life and to discover what makes life worth living. It shows why the purpose of each individual's life is their enjoyment of it.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics defines the nature of beauty, its meaning and purpose, and how that knowledge must be applied in the creative process and in the arts. Aesthetics also defines the relationship of aesthetic values to reality (metaphysics), knowledge (epistemology) and moral values (ethics), particularly as it relates to and is required for human happiness.

Politics7

Politics defines the proper moral relationship between rational-volitional beings and is the application of ethics in a social context. It describes the principles individuals must apply when choosing what to do when dealing with others.

Politics defines as an ideal, what a truly benevolent and moral society is, to what extent an individual can and ought to contribute to the realization of such a society, and how a moral individual relates to a society that is not ideal, that is, not moral and not benevolent.

But This Is So Hard

Philosophy, as this briefest of overviews shows, is not an easy discipline. It is one of the most difficult, because it is the very foundation on which all other knowledge depends, and because it is very broad in scope. It requires integrating (identifying and understanding the relationship between) many very diverse concepts. This is quite naturally very discouraging to many. But philosophy is vital to every individual's successs, and, as difficult as it is, there is hardly anything else more worthy of one's effort. Everything of value takes time, attention, and work to acquire, and philosophy is the most valuable of all knowledge. All of one's successs and happiness depend on it.

Must everyone, then, become a philosopher? Is successs only available to those who become doctors of philosophy? Fortunately, no.

Consider another difficult but undeniably valuable discipline, mathematics. Some aspects of mathematics are so difficult that only the very best minds ruthlessly applied are able to master them. The fact that most people are not able to ascend to these realms of the mathematically sublime does not prevent any of us from learning all of the mathematics necessary to meet our own needs. The very highest levels of mathematics are required by almost no one, and even more mundane but difficult math, such as the calculus or algebra, (for example, simultaneous linear equations or quadratics) will never be required by most of us.8

In the same way that anyone can learn enough mathematics to meet the requirements they are likely to meet in their own day-to-day lives, whether that is nothing more than simple multiplication and long division, or even the rudiments of algebra, anyone can learn enough of the basic principles of philosophy to know how to think clearly, make rational choices in their daily lives, and develop a sound comprehensive view of the world and their place in it.

It is not easy, but does not require a college degree to learn the basic principles of philosophy, and no one should ever stop with that. For most of us, the study of philosophy is a lifelong endeavor, as is all learning. We will constantly face new situations, unexpected issues will arise, and our interests will change throughout our lives. All these are opportunities to learn more and further develop our philosophical understanding.

Where Does One Find Philosophy

If we were looking for mathematics resources, there would be an almost inexhaustible supply. There are countless books, self-taught courses, online courses, and most colleges and universities, including local community colleges, offer courses in every possible field of mathematics.

Unfortunately, while there are many books on philosophy, as well as many philosophy courses, they are not books on or courses in philosophy at all. Almost everything taught as philosophy is not philosophy, but overviews of the history of philosophy, or rehashes of some philosophers' "philosophies,"9 or descriptions and discussions of philosophical problems. For genuine sources of philosophy with real philosophical answers and explanations, there is very little such material at all. For the most part, philosophy is a failed academic discipline.

Nevertheless, there is philosophy. While the gardens of philosophy are not and may never be as lush as the gardens of mathematics, the world is not quite a "philosophiless" waste land. Although most of the philosophers throughout history have done more to obfuscate philosophical truth than to elucidate it, there have been a few positive contributions along the way. The first philosopher to make a substantial positive contribution to philosophy was Aristotle (384-322 BC).

For most, reading Aristotle is a chore, making it difficult to appreciate and learn directly from his works. Most books about Aristotle are not much more useful for actually learning about his most important philosophical contributions. Without a fairly good understanding of philosophy, the importance of his contributions might not be appreciated, in any case. Aristotle is both good and important to read, but not at the beginning of one's journey in search of philosophical truth.

After Aristotle, it would be 2000 years before the next major positive contribution to philosophy by John Locke (1632-1704). Locke is much easier to read and enjoy than Aristotle, in spite of the somewhat archaic English, and is very easy to understand, the hallmark of an exceptional intellect. (Most philosophers are incomprehensible and unreadable, the hallmark of confused intellects.) One should definitely read John Locke, but again, only after some basic philosophy is understood.

The next major positive contribution to philosophy, nearly 300 years later, was made not by a philosopher, but by a novelist, Ayn Rand (1905-1982).

Ayn Rand never intended to be a philosopher. She was a novelist and chose to write books with the kind of characters that embodied the ideals that were realized by the American phenomenon. A Russian immigrant, she saw, maybe more clearly than any other, what America was, the place where the human spirit was free to express itself, which it did in creating the most free, prosperous, successsful, and noble people in history, eradicating diseases, famine, poverty, slavery, and ignorance in the space of 150 years.

But, when Ayn Rand sought the explicit philosophy behind this human miracle, she discovered there was no specific philosophy. Before her eyes, and ours, was evidence of what a correct philosophy was capable of, but the explicit philosophy which that noble experiment proved did not exist. Ayn Rand knew, if she were going to write about people who embodied that kind of philosophy, she would have to make it explicit herself, and she did.

Of all the philosophers, she is the most readable. She was a successsful novelist, after all. Some of her best philosophy is actually contained in her novels, by demonstration in the actions of her characters and in the events which comprise the plots of her stories, but explicitly in the speeches of such characters as Howard Roark, Hank Reardon, Francisco D'Anconia, and John Galt.

Ayn Rand called the philosophy she made explicit, Objectivism. She chose that name because objective reason is the only means by which truth can be discovered and understood in any field, and because subjectivism, which Objectivism rejects, in all its forms, from simple emotionalism to full-blown mysticism, is the enemy of all reason and truth. While Objectivism is certainly the greatest advance in philosophy since Locke, it is nevertheless philosophy as understood by one person, and therefore contains both conclusions which advance the body of established philosophy, as well as elements that are either incomplete or mistaken. Even with its mistakes, however, Objectivism is the most nearly complete and correct philosophy in existence today.

Objectivism is the place to begin the study of philosophy. The following are the works that are probably the best place to begin:

Philosophy: Who Needs It
As well as demonstrating the philosophy is an essential requirement of life for human beings, it also provides Ayn Rand's description of what philosophy is.

Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology(2nd Ed)
(Ayn Rand, Edited by Harry Binswanger & Leonard Peikoff)
A presentation of Ayn Rand's revolutionary theory of concepts, along with the transcripts of invaluable epistemology workshops she conducted.

The Virtue of Selfishness
This is Ayn Rand's own explication of the basis or rational ethics.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
A comprehensive defense of the only social system consistent with man's requirements as a rational being: laissez-faire capitalism.

The Romantic Manifesto
A profoundly original presentation of a rational easthetics.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand Based on the Ayn Rand approved courses on Objectivism given by Leonard Peikoff, and written by him, this book provides the most comprehensive view of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

We must not equate Objectivism with philosophy. It is undoubtedly the best single source of philosophy available, but it does contain errors and is incomplete. It is a place to begin, and provides a good base for a continued search for philosophical truth.

[Note: This article was written in 2004. My position regarding Ayn Rand and Objectivism has changed little since the, though it has changed some. See "With Reference to Objectivism." Objectivism is Rand's philosophy and very good, but some recently have made almost a religion, sadly. If you want to study Objectivism, read Rand. Be very careful about Individuals and sites that claim to be Objectivist. Most are not.]

Things to Think About

Do you know what reality, truth, reason, knowledge, and values are? You use those terms all the time. What about, freedom, crime, politics, and society? Here are a couple of links that will give you some things to think about:

Introduction to Autonomy A brief overview of autonomy with explicit objective definitions of reality, truth, reason, knowledge, values, and individualism.

The Autonomist's Notebook A semi-satirical collection of aphorisms, epigrams, and comments on politics, philosophy, and religion which will definitely give you something to think about.

---Reginald Firehammer (2004)

Footnotes

1. With apologies to all historians of war and military who provide us with genuine knowledge and insights into this terrible fact of human history, such as the works of R. J. Rummel, for example: Death by Government available here.

2. Whenever the absurdity and nihilistic horrors of war are pointed out, those making the observations are subject to the ubiquitous accusation of being pacifists. On the one hand, every sane person ought to be a, "pacifist," meaning, they ought despise and reject war as both irrational and evil. Those who call themselves, "pacifists," however, usually hold the equally irrational view, that, "peace," can be achieved by never putting up a fight.

The moment the barbarian and uncivilized know you do not intend to defend yourself against them, they will attack with all the ferocity of which they are capable. And here is the greatest absurdity of war. As a compromise with those who believe the way to combat evil is to do nothing, men have made "rules" by which they will fight wars. These "rules" are intended to make war, "humane."

The barbarians and uncivilized are never constrained by such rules. They have no interest in being, "humane." The rules only serve as limits on those who are defending themselves, and the absurdity of this is, since they are fighting those who have declared by their aggression they are not interested in human values and deserve nothing but the most inhumane and vicious defense possible, any "rules" that limit the defenders must work in favor of the aggressors and inhumanity.

3. We might choose to let our passions or whims determine our choices, but until we choose to do it, a whim or desire does not produce an action. When we experience an impulse or desire to do something, we must choose to submit to the desire before it becomes an action.

4. When we talk about behavior, biological functions, involuntary actions of the autonomic nervous system, and reflexes are excluded. Those actions which are uniquely human are those that result from consciousness. The biological functions and and involuntary actions occur even when a person is unconscious.

There is another kind of behavior that is more or less involuntary, and that is learned and habituated behavior. When we sit in a chair, for example, or drive an automobile, we don't have to think about every motion we make to accomplish it, because we have learned, by practice, how to do it without thinking about it. But even habituated actions are under our conscious control whenever we choose to control them.

5. Drugs and some forms of entertainment are attempts to avoid the terrifying necessity of choosing, by reducing consciousness to a state of paralyzed observation.

6. rickets - A deficiency disease resulting from a lack of vitamin D or calcium and from insufficient exposure to sunlight, characterized by defective bone growth and occurring chiefly in children.
   scurvy - A disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by spongy and bleeding gums, bleeding under the skin, and extreme weakness.

from: The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

7. Politics is generally considered much more important in philosophy than is warranted. In one sense, politics would be irrelevant if all individual humans were fully rational and truly ethical. Politics generally attempts to define an appropriate political system, called a government, and is therefore concerned with concepts like law, social justice, and political economy. Governments exist solely because societies are comprised mostly of individuals who are not fully rational or truly ethical, and all governments are ultimately controlled by those same kinds of people. This is generally ignored by all so-called theories of government.

No government exists or can exist by virtue of the objective application of ethical principles. Governments exist because they are the inevitable consequence of the irrationality of most individuals. The purpose of philosophical politics then, is to understand the nature of governments, as a fact of reality, and how to deal with them. The false idea in philosophy of an "ideal government," is akin to the idea of an "ideal crime". The ultimate idea of a government is to get something for nothing, or at least at a price far less than reality demands.

8. Everyone ought to learn as much mathematics as they possibly can, even if they suspect they will, "not really need it." Mathematics is wonderfully logical, and contains some of the most interesting logical relationships. Anyone who understands the essential principles of the Calculus, for example, has an understanding of the physical world not otherwise possible. There is also a direct relationship between integrals and derivatives to intellectual integration and abstraction, by analogy, a wonderful analogy that is meaningless to anyone who has not grasped the relationship between the Calculus and material phenomena. And how would you explain to someone who had never had analytic geometry what asymptotic means?

9. The very fact that there are different "philosophies," is evidence that there is not yet philosophy. There are no different, "mathematics," or "chemistries," only mathematics and chemistry. While different contributors to these fields are frequently mentioned together with those aspects of chemistry or mathematics which they contributed, the contributions are always advances in the body of those sciences already established. The various so called contributions of philosophers are never additions to an established body of philosophy, because they all cover the same ground and contradict each other. Their only contribution is to the body of confusion which now stands in the way of anyone truly seeking to understand philosophical truth.

One thing that is wrong with all courses in philosophy is the attempt to jump into the middle of the most difficult questions of philosophy. Just as in mathematics, it is necessary to learn basic principles first, it is the basic principles of philosophy, that must be learned first. Everyone who learns mathematics, must begin with the same fundamentals. One cannot learn the calculus and then work backwards to learn long division, or even backward from long division to addition and subtraction. First you must learn to count.

Also note that no more sophisticated form of mathematics ever invalidates the more basic principles of mathematics. In some cases, they may enhance or expand the concepts of mathematics, but these cases add richness and power to the method but never negate the validity of the more essential concepts. In fact, if any of the essential concepts were invalidated, the entire structure of mathematics would fail. Yet, in philosophy this is done all the time, and no one even notices.