Kenghis Khan's Reviews > Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand
by Ayn Rand
Kenghis Khan's review
Jul 25, 2007
Read in January, 2000
In terms of fictional stylism, this book truly deserves mixed reviews. Compared to characters in any serious work of fiction Rand's characters are one-sided, shallow, and dull. Rand does a horrible job trying to portray any living human being - even Rand herself and other objectivists have lead more intricate lives than those of the characters. However, her use of imagery is strong. The plot is intriguing and fun to follow, until about 2/3 of the way through after which it simply becomes ridiculous. There is no obscurity, however, about her central message, and the clarity of the theme does not really interfere with the other elements of the work, except perhaps characterization. Furthermore, readers shouldn't be carried away by her flawed philosophical arguments. For example, consider the title of a chapter "A is A." However, in the spirit of philosophical inquiry, when one inquires what sort of justification Rand has for this, she simply says that this is "true" and appeals to a sense of self-evidence. However, the appeal to "self-evidence" is inexcusable. For when we say something is "self-evident," that does not mean it is in some sense "absolutely true" - it only means that we, for whatever reason, strongly believe it to be "absolutely true." In some sense, she wishes us to believe that "A is A" is an "encounter" with some sort of "truth" that is in some sense "out there" independent of human consciousness of it. This borders on Platonism, which Rand herself vehemently denounces. But the "immediacy of encounter with the 'truth'" for Rand (a phenomenological act) is the sole source of justification (which, by the way, is not made very explicit in this book) for her statement "A is A." Of course, modern symbolic/mathematical logic has also accepted this premise. However, symbolic logic has accepted it as an "axiom," that is, a statement "true" by definition. There is a not-so-subtle distinction between an axiom and a vague, philosophically meaningless "sense of truth" that Rand advocates for its justification. Furthermore, the statement that "reason is the grounds for epistemology" is simply absurd. It is not worthless, epistemologically speaking, and rational thought is a foundation of knowledge, but it is not the only foundation. While this works very well in a universe that is composed exclusively of valid (I.E. truth of a conditional under all "interpretations," e.g. "if p, then p") statements and invalid statements, it fails miserably in a universe such as our own that is composed mostly of consistent statements. For example, if I say that if I take an umbrella out today, then I take an umbrella out and I will be dry. This may come out true...I may block myself from rain, or it may not even be raining. However, it is still conceivable that I will be pushed into the ocean and get wet. Hence, the truthfullness of this statement is "consistent" - it could be false or it could be true. However, because the statement itself can conceivably be true and false, it is not a meaningless statement. It is out of such shaky foundations that Rand constructs a system of political and ethical prescriptions. However, the real problem with the work is in her line of reasoning. We may accept her self-described "metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical 'systems,'" but even granting her this much there are philosophers who have used her starting points and arrived at arguments for democratic socialism (Adler's "Four Dimensions of Philosophy" is an excellent contrast to Rand's line of "reasoning"). Far from being the works of incompetent moocher academicians, such thinkers as Adler present coherent, well argued conclusions that help illuminate the limitations of Rand's personal attempts at constructing a system of thought. Her writing may sway you to be persuaded, and her imagery will surely make an impression on you. However, her actual "philosophical statements" are objectionable at best and at worst simply wrong.
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