Objectivism and Thomas Jefferson
Seven Essays on the Philosophy of Ayn Rand


1. Reason as Absolute, Cont'd

Rand speaks of the supremacy of reason, as in:

Thus she calls for and demands that decisions be made on the basis of reason above all other criteria, and rightly so. We should never countenance any decisions made contrary to reason. But when reason is employed in the interactions of people, it is imperative that we abandon all thought of absoluteness. Here, especially, is where reason must be tested, and the testing is as much a part of the reasoning process as thought itself. This is not a place where one contender claims reason for his side, and therefore assumes the other side is in error. Opinion is tested, and reason itself decides the issue. Indeed, a free society can deal with error only if reason is permitted freely to contradict it.

This means one person's reason against another's. It is the combat that is essential, not the conclusion by one side that their argument is based on reason. Hence, the use of reason has no absolute value in and of itself; it has value only as part of a process to discover truth. The idea that each individual might put absolute trust in his own reasoning is the height of folly. The "supremacy of reason" is a myth, for we know that reason may be, and always is, used in support of any philosophy. To put an absolute faith in reason is to overlook one essential step in the rational process: the possibility that you may be mistaken. As a Nobel prize-winning scientist said,

Or as Thomas Jefferson put it:

The intelligent person finds his biggest challenge in dealing with his own tendency toward bias: the possibility that he himself may be "deceived by some false or imperfect view of his subject." More than just logic and reason is required; we want to see the actual results, we want evidence, we want proof. Self-deception is the great danger to be avoided, and the one to which Objectivists are most prone. Read this chilling statement posted by one of Rand's followers on the Prodigy Bulletin Boards:

A similar absolutist sentiment was recently expressed in a Usenet Newsgroup by another Rand follower:

Logic and reason are excellent for analyzing the arguments of others, but they are powerless when up against our own biases and prejudices. The concept of the supremacy of reason is an idealistic, floating abstraction that has no real existence in individual cases, hence no real existence at all. It is a theoretical construct, but its assumption by any specific individual is a delusion, because reason is easily corrupted by the blindness of emotions and self-interest. Rand says with respect to such differences:

Her point is, of course, that when there are differences of opinion, objective reality--the facts, what is actually true--is what must determine which opinion is correct.

But reality does not hold court. There is no final arbiter of whose reason is correct, because every such judgment is just the conclusion of someone else's reason. And no human being possesses reason as an absolutely valid attribute. Moreover, reality should not be the "court of last resort." It must be the beginning of all investigation! Without it, interest and ego are established at the very beginning and diminish the chance of ever uprooting error. The contest of reason comes at the commencement, not at the end after ego has established a face-saving vested interest. A truly rational man will always guard against his own tendency toward bias, and will consider vigilance on that front as his primary object.

Reality is objective--of course!--just as Rand says. But that is no help. Any given individual's perception of reality is necessarily subjective because it is his own, and is often clouded by preconception, bias, prejudice, misconception, error, etc. It is not given to us humans to be able to deal absolutely with objective reality. Reality is there, but we can only see it ourselves subjectively, "as through a glass, darkly." Therefore, reason itself is indispensable for guiding the individual in his own affairs, but when used in isolation, it is an imperfect guide. Its fullest value is realized only when it is freely subject to examination, to contrary evidence and to the different opinions of others.

Truth is the ultimate, the absolute. The idea that reason is absolute has no application in the real life of an individual. It exists only as a fantasy that no single individual ever gets to experience. The intelligent individual always is aware that his process of reasoning is subject to revision and correction.



Eyler Coates
Eyler Coates
Eyler Coates
Eyler Coates
Eyler Coates
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Front Page | 1. Reason as Absolute
2. Safety in Error | 3. Happiness as Moral Purpose
4. Selfishness as Virtue | 5. Capitalism Over Self-Government
6. Non-Initiation of Force | 7. Adversaries of Democracy

© 1997 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.
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