I recently decided to reread John Robbins’ systematic dismemberment of Objectivism, Without A Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System. Admittedly, this is my third time around. The first time was more years ago than I care to remember when I purchased John’s original work, Answer to Ayn Rand. Later when that book was reedited, expanded and re-released, I read that version too. I suppose what motivated me now to pick up Without a Prayer again was finally reading Atlas Shrugged last year after a few vain and failed attempts to read it during my college years. I confess, regardless of my love of capitalism and my concern for my Objectivist friends and acquaintances over the years, I thought the book was a tedious bore and couldn’t make it through the first few hundred pages (my old tattered Signet paperback with excruciatingly small type runs 1084 pages). It was only after someone sent me Steve Moore’s Wall Street Journal piece, “Atlas Shurgged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,” that I finally took the plunge and plowed my way through the totality of Shrugged which is still a tedious bore. That’s not to say that Rand’s philosophy is boring, but I confess that periodically having characters launch into oddly placed chapter length philosophic monologues and tirades gets a bit tedious. I suppose what attracts so many to Rand’s novels is what repulses me. I know when I’m being propagandized. Just give me the philosophy without all the window dressing. That’s why I have always found her book, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology to be a much better doorway into her philosophy than her novels.
Shrugged aside, what I am particularly enjoying about Robbins’ reply to Rand this time around is not so much his meticulous examination and destruction of Rand’s Objectivism (frankly, there isn’t much left of her philosophy after the third chapter), but rather it’s his application of Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism. Clark’s profound insights into epistemology and other areas of philosophy provides the necessary tools that allows Robbins to completely dismantle the foundation of Objectivism and everything else collapses from there. Consider the following insight into the nature of truth that Robbins uses as a crowbar to separate Rand’s rickety Objectivist structure from its foundation:
Truth is a characteristic of propositions, and of nothing else. How a concept can be true or false [Rand] did not explain. “Cat,” spoken, heard, or read without context, is not true. It is not false. It is meaningless. If it is an answer to a question, it is an elliptical expression, meaning “That is a cat,” or, “My favorite animal is a cat.” But without context, “cat” is as meaningless as “boojum.” All by themselves, single concepts and single words are meaningless. They are neither true nor false. Rand made the same mistake that Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel made: thinking that concepts per se are true. If we are to know truth, if we are to discover truth, we must think in terms of propositions, not concepts. Truth — knowledge — comes only in propositions. “Conceptual truth” is a contradiction in terms. Truth is a relationship between a predicate and a subject. If there is no predicate, there is no truth. If there is no subject, there is no truth. Neither an experience, nor an encounter, nor an observation, nor an isolated concept, nor a single word can be true.
Truth, of course, is an insuperable problem for empiricism: Truth cannot be derived from something non-propositional, such as “observations.” Unless one starts with propositions, one cannot end with propositions. One cannot logically infer more than one begins with.
Without a Prayer is a brilliant lesson in how Scripturalist apologetics is done.