Once in a while I will mosey on over to Leonard Peikoff’s site to listen to some of his podcast answers to questions submitted to him. Leonard Peikoff, for those who haven’t encountered every nook and cranny of American thought, is Ayn Rand’s successor. Ayn Rand was the author of Atlas Shrugged and of a quasi-philosophy called Objectivism. Rand was basically a good political thinker with a gift for writing very crisply and clearly, but not really a full fledged philosopher. Her philosophy basically reads as if she read Aristotle and Aquinas – stripped Aquinas’ metaphysics of theology, redefined his own terminology to omit God, and injected the rest with a hot dose of selfishness and capitalistic rigor.
The trapping of the philosophy, the net that gets you, is the coherence of the philosophy within itself. It could serve as a model example of the coherence theory of truth along side Hegel’s. Once you start buying a few of its premises – you could be hooked. Especially if, like me, you’re that logical type person that appreciates a straight line (I now prefer scribbles, thank you). The bait to get you to the hook is her axiomatical structure.
People say that the young are susceptible to her philosophy because it is natural to be selfish, ambitious and immature when you are young. When you are young you want to hear that life is about you, you needn’t think about the needs of others, go out and get that prize that is waiting for you. Now it has, at least, the virtue of putting forth some upstanding virtues for this end: honesty, integrity, hard work, etc, etc.
But this is not, I think, what attracts long-timers. It is the axioms that get you. Once you buy into them you start buying everything else she pulls from them. A is A, who the hell could deny it? Existence exists. Only a philosopher would explicitly deny it! And it hits a young person, a young person is also usually one who hasn’t had 1) a lot of life experience (especially in our cushion-padded society) 2) any philosophic training whatsoever.
Wow, you say, who is this God-like intelligence? Because you don’t know that someone basically already said these very things 2500 years ago. And when you finally do read this gentleman, he’s confusing, hard to read, there’s no explosiveness, its reads as the driest thing you’ve come across since your grandma asked you pumice her shins when you were a lad. And he doesn’t arrive at the same ends as she did. So you think as she did, he, Aristotle, started something…. and then 25 centuries later – that’s how long it took for another philosophical genius of that proportion to come along – she not only finished what he started but corrected all his errors.
Yes, that is in the sales brochure – I kid you not. Humility is not a virtue in Objectivism but a sin, or, rather, a vice. Boastfulness is not an explicit virtue in Objectivism, but, come on, when you’re making claims that you are the heir (and the better) of Aristotle, how are you not boasting?
The short timers are the artsy type who prefer The Fountainhead to Atlas Shrugged. They go in for the drama, the extreme selfishness. They blink and twinkle like little stars and fade away, probably to Nietzsche, and then to existentialism. They do so because, while they love the ME part, they do not care for the demand for logic, nor do they particularly care to be tied to any particular virtues or values.
That was the ideological world I lived in for 20 years.
Her epistemology, her theory of concepts, I still consider one of the best and clearest I have read. Her linking of conceptual open-endedness with algebra I still consider her one feat of genius. I am speaking only of her theory of concept formation.
Other areas. Ug.
So, as I started. I like to go to Peikoff’s site and peruse the questions because the answers are so foreign to me now. And today is not exception. Here Peikoff answers the following question:
If a gentleman were in an accident and permanently lost all sensation to his genitals, would that be a justification for suicide?
While not explicitly saying so, Peikoff’s answer is yes. He’s not recommending, condemning, nor condoning any such course (I’m sure he is probably smart enough not to recommend or condone from a legal standpoint) but, yes, if it is important enough to a person’s life, killing yourself because your pecker went numb is a good enough reason to kill yourself.
This is the same man who says the two most crucial things in life are career and sexual pleasure. Rand used to at least associate such a thing with romantic love, although this didn’t mean too much in her schema since you could, like her heroines, go through a number of lovers. So it is not romantic love, at least not necessarily, of a kind that involves long-term considerations.
For Peikoff it is sexual pleasure. Objectivism makes some hazy connection between the achievement of one’s values (i.e., career accomplishments) and the correlating expression sexually. That doesn’t necessarily mean sex with your husband or your “romantic love” either, Rand’s period of greatest career achievement found her diddling her 25 year junior fanboy while she was married. That’s where the whole selfishness as a virtue thing comes in for Objectivism. They claimed to be in love but…
But for Peikoff it is sexual pleasure. Well, Gordon Gekko has a very busy life. Perhaps he doesn’t have time to cultivate a relationship. Let’s say he strips a company one Tuesday, sells it in pieces for a windfall on Wednesday, and celebrates that night by banging the living hell out of a Taiwanese prostitute. That’s alright?
The problem here is the elevation of sex, of sexual pleasure as an idol. I suppose every priest and the pope should, justifiably, kill themselves? Ah, they do not hold sex in that extreme of value. So, no, it would not be alright for them. They’re not even having sex. But a guy that holds sexual pleasure to be so crucial he’s got to beat it three times a day whether or not he also has a relationship, would be justified in killing himself if he lost this crucial activity?
This is the philosophy “for living on earth?” Doesn’t sound like it is tough enough.
It is some form of insanity.
Look sex isn’t that crucial. It is an important aspect of life if – if one wishes to have children, to be intimate with their lover (and yes, I am of the opinion it should be your wife or husband). Sexual pleasure, biologically speaking is a mechanism for procreation. Spiritually it is more. But there is no spirituality (and I don’t care if you think of this in a naturalist or theological sense) in jacking off into a wad of kleenex, or giving a hooker a facial. Qua pleasure, you achieve similar highs taking a huge rail of cocaine. Qua pleasure, it is pleasure, physical stimulation and nothing more. With no more, no less than snorting that rail.
My answer, in contrast to his, is no, absolutely not. I would also lightly chide the questioner: Are you Nuts? And then I would go on to explain how over-sexualized the culture is. I don’t have time for that part, but you merely need to look.
Peikoff is just dead wrong. He’s not alone in this, he is just merely reacting according to the modern zeitgeist he finds himself in.