June 29, 2007

Integrate Your Own

I really can't express or quantify the intellectual debt that I owe to Ayn Rand. The woman was a genius and she outlined the philosophy by which I try to run my life.

But you may have noticed how rarely I actually quote Ayn Rand. I do have almost all of her books on my bookshelf and I am familiar with how to use an index. But I rarely quote her for a reason.

I think people quote her for a reason.

There's nothing wrong with providing a quotation or reference. I mean, Ayn Rand did say things better, like, all the time.

I think lots of people parrot what she said, though. They say it, but they don't really understand it.

Diana remarked on this tendency recently:

However, Paul's comment did have a more serious point, namely that Dr. Peikoff's fine example has become something of an Objectivist bromide, overused (and misused) by other Objectivists, such that the principle might seem to rest largely on that single example. The same thing happens with Ayn Rand's various furniture concepts (e.g. coffee table, desk, table, bookcase, furniture) as examples of a low-level hierarchy of concepts. Those examples have been so overused that sometimes it seems like the Objectivist theory of concepts is good for nothing but forming concepts of furniture! (One side-effect is ignorance of the difficulties of forming some low-level concepts, e.g. those those of species of living organisms.)

As I tell my students, if you can't construct your own examples, then you really don't understand the abstract principle in question. Using Ayn Rand's own examples might be legitimate in some contexts, e.g. when introducing Rand's own views to those unfamiliar with her work. However, the re-use of standard Objectivist examples often seems to stem from haste (i.e. inadequate time to think of a new example), laziness (i.e. unwillingness to exert the effort to develop a new example), or timidity (i.e. fear of using a misbegotten, half-baked, or problematic example).


Speaking for myself alone, I'd rather say it my own way and get it wrong than quote her and still get it wrong. And, really, I'd rather get it right with my own, too.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at June 29, 2007 07:08 PM | TrackBack

Well then. I quoted Ayn Rand under my high school senior yearbook picture. Looking back, I wouldn't say it was laziness, and I don't think it was timidity, because everyone else was quoting Rush, Led Zeppelin, or Genesis. I thought I was going out on a limb. At seventeen, I probably was.

So I'll have to say it was haste. Twenty-two years later, I'm still trying to say it my own way, and haven't fully figured it out yet.

Posted by: Jeff St Real at June 29, 2007 08:07 PM

Do you have someone or some quote in mind when you say "quote her and still get it wrong"? What motivated this post, may I ask?

Posted by: Rachel at June 29, 2007 09:15 PM


Perhaps I was unclear.

I don't see anything wrong with quoting Ayn Rand. Go for it. She's a brilliant thinker and an eloquent speaker.

But what prompted this post was Diana's remarks about people who use Ayn Rand's arguments almost verbatim, but they aren't integrated examples.

You don't have to look far to find pseudo-Objectivists, though. They quote Ayn Rand, but manage to distort her philosophy.

Posted by: Flibbert at June 29, 2007 10:31 PM
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