Saturday, December 1, 2018

An Examination of Nozick’s Randian Argument

Robert Nozick, in his essay, “The Randian Argument,” (Socratic Puzzles; Page 249 - 264), tries to show that Ayn Rand does not objectively establish the conclusions that she reaches in her work on moral theory. He says that it is not clear to him what Rand’s argument is so he must try to set out the argument as a deductive argument and then examine the premises.

So his methodology consists of reducing Rand’s moral theory (his understanding of it) into four arguments or conclusions, each one of which he examines in turn.

But his critique of Rand’s argument is not right. Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, in their essay, "Nozick on the Randian Argument,” (Reading Nozick, Edited by Jeffery Paul, Page: 232 - 269), show that four conclusions that Nozick has set up for consideration cannot be attributed to Rand, because they are an outcome of his flawed understanding of her theory. And the multiple premises that Nozick uses to construct Rand’s argument for each one of the conclusions which he attributes to her are also not Randian.

Den Uyl and Rasmussen have done a complete autopsy of Nozick’s essay, they analyze each one of his conclusions and premises and show that Nozick fails to get even the most basic elements of Rand’s theory right. They note that “Nozick has completely failed to construct a Randian argument. Thus any effective criticisms he does make are effective only against his own constructions and not against Rand.”

In the final section of their essay, Den Uyl and Rasmussen offer their version of the Randian argument using the methodology that Nozick has used in his own essay. They point out that their Randian argument is not an “exhaustive and definitive statement of the Randian derivation. Since we are not quoting directly from Rand and other such derivations (certainly more complete ones) might be possible.” But I find their Randian argument to be quite useful.

Now the question is why did Nozick, an experienced Harvard professor, who is sympathetic to Rand’s libertarian views and has found her novels to be “exciting, powerful, illuminating, and thought-provoking”, write such a pointless critique of her moral theory? I have no answer to this.

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