My Divergence from Objectivism and Objectivists
I consider myself an Objectivist*, but there are some places where I disagree or, at least, don’t yet agree with Objectivism or with what many/most Objectivists think. I thought it might be fun to make a list of these issues, and maybe I’ll keep this up to date as my ideas grow and might eventually put links in to posts where I explain my views in more detail. Not all of these ideas are dealt with directly by Rand’s work, but for those that aren’t I believe my view differs from that of a significant portion of Objectivists, and that those Objectivists view the issue as an important philosophical one.
- I don’t think metaphysics on its own can tell us very much about cosmology or ontology, even to a greater extent than most Objectivists. For example, I don’t think we can say from philosophy alone whether the universe has finite spatial extent, whether the universe contains empty space or is completely filled with matter, whether instantaneous action at a distance is possible, or whether conscious awareness can play a special role in a fundamental physical theory. I do think all of these questions can be answered, and that many of them have been partially or totally answered by scientific study, but the answers cannot come from philosophy.
- I do not think all generalizations are fundamentally statements of causality. An important class of generalizations are, perhaps the most important class, but statements like “tables are furniture” and, even, “lightning is electrical discharge” are not statements of cause and effect (though they may have to be proven by identification of certain cause-effect relationships).
- I do not see that definitions are as important in the concept formation process as Rand did. I’m not convinced that they’re not as important as she thought, I just don’t see it (yet).
- I think Objectivists are libertarians.
- I disagree with the vast majority of the Objectivist sexual ethic. I think things like pornography (consumption and creation), casual sex, prostitution (selling and buying), non-monogamy both in terms of sexual partners and probably even in terms of life partners, and all sorts of kinks, fetishes, and orientations, even those that I might find extremely painful or disgusting, can all be moral in a wide variety of non-exceptional circumstances. This topic deserves its own blog post, and I just may write it some day.
- I think the gender roles that Rand’s theories of masculinity and femininity try to put people into (both in and out of bed) are rubbish. I think a women can rationally want to be president, that a man can be a primary caregiver, that transvestitism, transsexualism, and all sorts of gender-bending can be completely moral. In fact, I think most of the assumptions in our society about how a person’s genitals relate to their behaviour and preferences are largely fucked up and the fact that we need a concept for, for example, men who wear dresses is largely an indictment of our culture, not an indication about the nature of the behaviour itself. Also, while I do think that in cases of undetermined gender the singular masculine pronouns (e.g. “he”) are more grammatically appropriate than the third-person plural (e.g “they”), I think the word for person is “person” and not “man” and the word for people is “people” and not “men”.
- I think that the government must be the ultimate arbiter of retaliatory force, but not necessarily the only wielder of said force. For example, I think that a private individual who follows the proper procedures (e.g. obtaining warrants from a judge, following the proper limits on search and seizure, using only due force, announcing his presence, etc.) could be able to investigate crimes and even perform arrests. How such a system might work or whether the system would be preferable to the current one is not my point, my point is just that as long as there is a single entity ultimately responsible for determining the justice of the use of physical force the actual force-wielders need not be government agents. In particular this applies to military action: if there is a country where rights violations are occurring on a massive scale but there is no threat to your country or its citizens, I think there should be a path you can take to get together private volunteer forces, get your goals approved, and use force to stop the rights violations in the foreign country.
- I think that the “total war” view on warfare is completely mistaken. While I do think there are limits to the steps the military should take in preventing civilian casualties when attacking military targets, the idea that it’s moral to purposely target civilian centers is abhorrent. I think military actions like Sherman’s march to the sea are viciously unjust, and ideas like “the citizens are responsible for the actions of the government” and “the government couldn’t do what it’s doing without the support of its people” are extremely collectivist and completely ignorant of just how hard it is to change a government, especially a totalitarian one. I definitely don’t think things like building a mosque near ground zero or cheering in the streets after a terrorist attack are as such deserving of a forceful response.
- I don’t think an aesthetic view is fundamental in philosophy, and I don’t agree with Rand’s aesthetics. I don’t disagree with it either, I just don’t really have any views on the issue either way. I don’t get much out of painting, sculpture, architecture, or any other visual arts, and I’ve never understood how a philosophical understanding could deepen my appreciation of the arts I do care about (literature, television, film, theatre, and music).
- I do not think patents and copyrights, when awarded in a proper intellectual property framework (which I think we don’t have today), should have any limits on their duration.
- I think any clear term in a properly signed contract should be enforceable. This includes contracts in which one person makes himself a slave, a person promises to allow another to punch him, etc. How these terms should be enforced is a difficult matter: in the absence of an enforcement clause, I can see a fine or jail until the uncooperative participant allows the contract to be followed. I don’t think it’s reasonable for the courts to have to bear the burden of actually enforcing each term (e.g. holding a person still so the other can punch him), but I don’t in principle have an objection to a court issuing permission to the winner of a breach-of-contract case to use appropriate force himself to satisfy the terms of the contract. I think that if such a system were to be put in place, most contracts would (properly, IMO) include a clause specifying monetary damages in case of breach.