Published February-April 1990 in FreeNY
In "Fact and Value," the 5/89 Intellectual Activist essay in which Pope Leonard Peikoff officially excommunicates heretic David Kelley from the Church of Objectivism, His Holiness finally presents an ex cathedra pronouncement on the nature of "the cause of all the schisms which have plagued the Objectivist movement through the years." Contrary to what other sources might have said, the cause, we learn, is not
differences in regard to love affairs or political strategy or proselytizing techniques or anybody's personality. The cause is fundamental and philosophical: if you grasp and accept the concept of "objectivity," in all its implications, then you accept Objectivism, you live by it and you revere Ayn Rand for defining it. If you fail fully to grasp and accept the concept, whether your failure is deliberate or otherwise, you eventually drift away from Ayn Rand's orbit, or rewrite her viewpoint or turn openly into her enemy.
Apparently having failed to grasp "objectivity," Dr. Kelley has now become the latest "enemy" of Ayn Rand — i.e., the latest enemy of the Truth.
Given the sweeping scope of Peikoff's bull, it is important to focus on not just the specifics of Kelley's alleged differences with Objectivism, but also the nature of any conflict with Objectivism. Significantly, the ultimate object of Peikoff's fury is Kelley's statement that Objectivism "is not a closed system." The hell you say, thunders Peikoff. "[T]he essence of the system — its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch — is laid down once and for all by the philosophy's author." Ayn Rand's "system," he further pontificates, "holds that every truth is an absolute, and that a proper philosophy is an integrated whole, any change in any element of which would destroy the entire system." He asserts that "Objectivism does have an 'official, authorized doctrine,' but it is not a dogma. It is stated and validated objectively in Ayn Rand's work." More: This doctrine "remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand's books; it is not affected by interpreters." Therefore, Peikoff concludes, Objectivism "is 'rigid,' 'narrow,' 'intolerant' and 'closed-minded.' If anyone wants to reject Ayn Rand's ideas and invent a new viewpoint, he is free to do so — but he cannot, as a matter of honesty, label his new ideas or himself 'Objectivist.'"
And now the big question is: What does it all mean? Almost unbelievably, the answer appears to be: Objectivism is What Rand Said, and that's that. The problem here is essentially one of not philosophic validity, but trademark infringement. Anyone is free to interpret, critique, and revise Ayn Rand's philosophy as he wishes — just don't market this new product as "Objectivist." Objectivism cannot be revised because What Rand Said cannot be rewritten; thus, Objectivism "remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand's books." Like divine revelation, Objectivism — its basic tenets "and their consequences" — has been "laid down once and for all." One cannot rewrite the Bible and then claim that it is still What God Said, and the same holds true for Objectivism's scriptures, "Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand's other works." And if one cannot accept these scriptures as the "'official, authorized doctrine'" of the Church, then one is compelled, "as a matter of honesty," to leave and form a new denomination.
But now there arises an even bigger question, one that could be asked as easily of Pope John Paul as of Pope Leonard: How do we know that what is stated in your scriptures is true? The historic and fundamental answer of the Christian church is: faith, which puts a neat little end to any further inquiry. It is this response, this doctrinal tenet, that establishes Christianity as a religion. But Objectivism explicitly rejects faith as a means to knowledge. For Rand, something is "true" when it has been demonstrated by reason to be consonant with the facts of objective reality, i.e., nature. It is this epistemological foundation that establishes Objectivism as a philosophy. As "Ayn Rand's intellectual and legal heir," Leonard Peikoff is supposedly in the business of rationally defending (i.e., demonstrating) the philosophic validity of her ideas; surely the purpose of his bull was not merely to protect Rand's copyrights from any potential plagiarist or bowdlerizer.
Well, Peikoff does offer a defense, but it is an embarrassing bit of "package-dealing." He himself once defined this as "the fallacy of failing to discriminate crucial differences. It consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or 'package,' elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value" (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 30n). The first part of the package has already been conveyed: What Rand Said is Objectivism. The second is delivered just as subtly: "The real enemy of these men" — i.e., heretics such as Kelley, whom the pontiff revealing condemns as "anti-Objectivists" — "... is reality."
Peikoff couldn't have made it more explicit if he tried: Opposition (as determined by him) to Objectivism is opposition to reality, thus Objectivism is reality, i.e., objectivity. Now A equals B, B equals C, and — ever so inexorably — A equals C: What Rand Said is objectivity. No, the Bible isn't telling the truth — it is the Truth. And so we have Objectivism (a set of defined and presumable debatable propositions), What Rand Said (the initial arguments, "unchanged and untouched," made in favor of those propositions) and objectivity (reality itself!) all thrown together into one fondue pot, courtesy of Leonard Peikoff.
In contradistinction to faith, there are two non-mystical, non-dogmatic means by which men can (and must) apprehend reality (i.e., nature, the universe, existence): philosophy and science. The first studies metaphysical reality, the second physical. In the course of men's efforts to practice philosophy and science, different and conflicting schools of thought (i.e., theories, models, paradigms) have arisen in each discipline. Now the facts of reality can never be rejected; they are facts. And they same holds true for philosophy and science; they are the means to any knowledge we acquire. However, the disciplines' conflicting schools of thought, which cannot all be true, must be open to question and refutation. If they are not, then, as philosopher of science Karl Popper pointed out, they are unfalsifiable and therefore untenable. So, we must not allow these three distinct phenomena — facts (objective reality — subject), philosophy and sc