Atlas

In his introduction to Brand Blanshard’s On Philosophical Style (book | online), Michael Walsh highlights a passage from the essay that deals with the importance of clarity when it comes to putting philosophical ideas to paper. Blanshard wrote-

To say that Major André was hanged is clear and definite; to say that he was killed is less definite, because you do not know in what way he was killed; to say that he died is still more indefinite because you do not even know whether his death was due to violence or to natural causes. If we were to use this statement as a varying symbol by which to rank writers for clearness, we might, I think, get something like the following: Swift, Macaulay, and Shaw would say that André was hanged. Bradley would say that he was killed. Bosanquet would say that he died. Kant would say that his mortal existence achieved its termination. Hegel would say that a finite determination of infinity had been further determined by its own negation.

Walsh concludes by quoting another passage from the essay-

Berkeley proved against all the Heideggers of the world that philosophy can be written clearly, against all the Hegels that it can be written simply, against all the Kants that it can be written with grace. He was no mere popularizer; he was an acute, original, and technical thinker, urging a theory that is about as shocking to common sense as any theory ever offered. But though even Dr. Johnson could not answer him, the plain man could read him and understand. ‘I shall throughout endeavour,’ he wrote, ‘to express myself in the clearest, plainest, and most familiar manner, abstaining from all hard and unusual terms which are pretended by those that use them to cover a sense abstracted and sub­lime.’ He kept to this engagement. He ‘spoke with the vulgar’ without ceasing to think with the learned. Like G. E. Moore in our own day, he showed in the one wholly convincing way—by example—that philosophy could maintain all the sharp-eyed wariness of the specialist while walking the road of ordinary speech.

This is what Long wrote about Rand-

Rand owed much of her success to the power and directness of her writing style. She was a master at what one of my colleagues calls reductio ad claritatem, “reduction to clarity” — i.e., the method of refuting a position by stating it clearly — as when she wrote that “if some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor,” or when she summarized the view that human perception is unreliable because limited by the nature of our sensory organs as “man is blind, because he has eyes — deaf, because he has ears.”

Clarity. One could accuse Rand of many things, but one can never say that she was unclear. Which is why I don’t buy most of the attacks on her ideas, particularly those from people whose political philosophy and ethics are in conflict with hers. Like this exercise in pissing and name-calling (kindergarten is a wonderful place) by someone who likes to write about things which he is clueless about (I covered his previous fit here). He approvingly links to this hatchet job on Rand in a religious journal. When I read pieces like these, I imagine the author perched on his septic tank, dipping his pen in it every few minutes. Would it kill them if they read a couple of her works before writing page after page of unadulterated nonsense? Probably. Neither Chait’s progressive-liberal world view, nor Hart’s which has its roots in Christianity, could survive the Randian sledgehammer. They’d rather pretend that it was an icepick.

Here’s another paragraph from Long’s article-

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Rand’s philosophy — her rejection of altruism and her embrace of ethical egoism — is also one of the most misunderstood. Despite her sometimes-misleading rhetoric about “the virtue of selfishness,” the point of her egoism was not to advocate the pursuit of one’s own interests at the expense of others’, but rather to reject the entire conflictual model of interests according to which “the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another,” in favor of an older, more Aristotelean conception of self-interest as excellent human functioning.

It was on such Aristotelean grounds that she rejected not only the subordination of one’s own interests to those of others (and it is this, rather than mere benevolence, that she labeled “altruism”) but also the subordination of others’ interests to one’s own (which she labeled “selfishness without a self”). For Rand, the Aristotelean recognition of properly understood human interests as rationally harmonious was the essential foundation for a free society.

Misunderstood? Hardly. “Deliberately” misunderstood. Ah, selfishness! Rand advocated killing one’s neighbor, stealing his horse and taking his wife!

A few words on the film that is struggling in US theaters. If it was not obvious to the people who decided to have a nose vs. face moment w.r.t. it (graveyards are a riot compared to the publicity the “official” Randians have provided this film with), Atlas’s box office results are being viewed as a referendum on the relevance of Rand’s ideas. The only help it has received is from some quarters of the (lunatic!) right, and even that hasn’t helped very much. If this attempt fails, I sincerely doubt that anyone will bother with an encore. Why spend millions filming a polarizing novel which only appeals to twenty picky-as-hell people when one can make two billion dollars on Blue People 2, two more on Blue People 3, and then some more on Blue People Visit Mars!

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