Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The simplistic flaw in Ayn Rand's philosophy

Ayn Rand's fallacy is ignored by most of her adherents. It involves a basic logical confusion between what is a necessary condition or a sufficient condition. A necessary condition is one of multiple requirements. A sufficient condition is the complete set of requirements.

One can agree with this point by saying that the entrepreneur is a necessary condition for the creation of economic value. But Rand treats the entrepreneur as a sufficient condition. The entrepreneur creates the value of goods and everyone else gets in his way (in Rand the pronoun is always "he," even when he is a woman). Governments are leeches on the value he creates; organized labor siphons off more of it. Who could blame the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, and his like if they should take their marbles and head off to form their own society, leaving the parasites behind?

But in truth the entrepreneur, though very much a necessary condition for the production of economic value, is not a sufficient condition. An entrepreneur will get nowhere without a capitalist or a government agency in charge of a budget to finance his or her ideas; the production will require a labor force; it will need to make use of public infrastructure and a framework of the rule of law; and the fruits of the production will be of no value if no one wants them. Thus the creators, entrepreneurs, investors, taxpayers, legislators, jurists, workers, and consumers are all necessary conditions for the production of the value that we find in the marketplace; but none of them, including the entrepreneur, is a sufficient condition: none can make it happen alone.


Jayemel said...

Atlas Shrugged Part 2 will be in theaters October 12th, 2012.

J.J. Mangas said...

There is not only a simplistic flaw in your argument, there are logical fallacies, and misinterpretation of facts. Your assertion that "everyone else gets in the way" is a common strawman regarding Rand's philosophy. Rand has never made any such argument, and in Atlas shrugged she praises the bus driver who steers "expertly", she praises the railroad engineer who does his job with the "ease of an expert" and she clearly has strong affection for Eddie Willers. None of these characters are entrepreneurs nor does Rand portray them as people who "get in the way".

Regarding your argument of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions your understanding seems to be reversed and you use necessary condition to describe a sufficient condition and even then you seem to misunderstand their meanings.

A necessary condition is when A is necessary for B if (and only if) B can't occur without A. Whenever you have B you have A. A sufficient condition is when A is sufficient for B if A guarantees B. Whenever you have A you have B.

An entrepreneur is not a necessary condition "for the production of economic value". It is arguable an entrepreneur is not even a sufficient condition as it assumes that all entrepreneurs succeed.

Anonymous said...

J.J Mangas well said, and exactly right! I think your a prime example of Ayn Rands philosophy and a rebuttal to Kendall's argument.

Kendall said...

The statements to which you refer were made by Paul Kidder, Ph.D, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Seattle University in the linked article. I have reason to trust his analysis. For more illumination, you can read the linked article.

What you say about Rand may be true. I've only read her fiction once, so I'm no expert. Nonetheless, the popular wisdom about her ideas is exactly what Paul has stated, the entrepreneur is everything and the rest of society just gets in his way.

Please read the passage again because I think you lost the thread. Paul's point is that Rand treats the entrepreneur as a sufficient condition. He argues that entrepreneurs may be necessary but they certainly aren't sufficient. And it almost seems that you are in agreement.

If your comments are meant as a rebuttal, they are a rebuttal to a completely different argument than was presented.

To make it clear, let's set our interpretations of Rand aside. Do you, yourself, think that the efforts of entrepreneurs are all that is required to produce economic value? Or do you support Elizabeth Warren's contention that "We build it together"?

J.J. Mangas said...


I explained my understanding of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions. Based upon that understanding and in response to your question if I were to answer yes this would be arguing that entrepreneurs are a necessary condition since I would be arguing economic value cannot happen without the efforts of the entrepreneur. This argument is not a sufficient condition argument. A sufficient condition argument would be to argue that entrepreneurs and economic value are the same since a A guarantees B.

Your question, however, falls prey to simplistic flaws. No, I do not think that entrepreneurs are all that are needed to produce economic value. The apple tree produces apples that are in demand. This apple tree does not all of a sudden become an entrepreneur because there is a demand for apples. The person who cultivates the apple tree, picks the apples and takes them to market to supply a demand is the entrepreneur. It is, perhaps, a subtle nuance, but it more correct in understanding economic value.

Elizabeth Warren's quote that you provide, in and of itself, is ignorant. At this moment, you and I can experience the Sphinx, but we did not build it together. Certainly there were many who did, but they built not us.

Kendall said...

Sounds to me like you have a nice case of cognitive dissonance going there. You agree that there is more to it than entrepreneurs, but you can't admit it in so many words that it is a cooperative effort.

J.J. Mangas said...

Between the two of us, one of us is suffering from cognitive dissonance. When I speak to the dichotomy of supply and demand this is inherently a cooperative effort whether it is the hunter and the prey, the farmer and the farmed, or the entrepreneur supplying product to meet the demand of the buyers. This is a given.

What you insist in ignoring is that I have challenged your presentation of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions and I have made clear you've reversed them referring to a sufficient condition as if it is a necessary condition. I suspect you are ignoring this because as you all ready stated you are merely citing someone else and have placed your trust in that persons perceptions rather than your own and probably have no idea what Necessary and Sufficient Conditions are. That lack of understanding is a sure path to cognitive dissonance.

Further, Rand does not deny cooperative effort, what she rejects is the notion that an individual is required to sacrifice their own value for the sake of a group value. A group is a collective of individuals and this collective may be in agreement with what value has been placed on A or B, but some individual first declared these values. Individuals who disagree with that groups determination of these values is not a rejection of cooperation in and of itself, it is a rejection of their value system.

Kendall said...

I'm ignoring your discussion about sufficient and necessary conditions because you and I agree on the definition. We both agree that the entrepreneur isn't a sufficient condition, which is what Kidder is saying.

All this talk about individual versus group values is angels on pin-heads. What matters is what one actually does, not the motivations behind it. Soldiers don't typically risk their lives for their country but rather for their colleagues. Yet we honor them nonetheless because what they do is more important than the why.

Enlightened people are happy to pay taxes, pay good wages, enforce tax laws, and enforce wage laws because it is better for them and everyone else to do so.

J.J. Mangas said...


If we agree on the definitions of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions then the problem is very clearly your own ignorance of Objectivism and Rand's own words on the matter. Instead you seem to be relying on Kidder's translation of Rand's work and as such thinking what other people are telling you to think.

I have all ready made clear that Rand does not argue that "everybody should get out of the way" and this gross mis-characterization of Rand's work stems from a single line uttered by John Galt, and then repeated to the stunned President who has asked Galt what it is he wants. Galt has not told "everyone to get out of the way" he has told a government agent intent on continual intrusions into the market place. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with that, the detractors of Rand tend to make up what is they disagree with, which is a dubious method at best, at worst it is a feeble admission that they cannot argue Rand's point as it is so they invent the argument they are more comfortable arguing.

I have already stated this, but it bears repeating. Entrepreneurs are neither a necessary or sufficient condition for the creation of economic value. Now let me add to that; what is a necessary condition for the creation of economic value is supply. Another necessary condition for the creation of economic value is demand. Together supply and demand are a sufficient condition. Without demand supply will not move, and without supply demand is never satisfied. Supply and demand is the sufficient condition, and separately they are necessary conditions. If you have demand you have a necessary condition for the creation of economic value.

The entrepreneur is not the supply nor are they the demand, they are the supplier and can sometimes create demand where none exist. Before the advent of personal computers there was no demand. Entrepreneurs created that demand by introducing supply. Pet rocks created a demand that did not exist prior, and do not seem to exist today, but for a period of time a couple of whacky entrepreneurs developed a supply of rocks with faces painted on them and somehow created a demand for that. That's one characteristic of the entrepreneur and Rand believes, as do I, that this is worthy of praise, and holds a value itself.

Agree or disagree with that point, but to invent an argument that has no relevance to Rand's philosophy is simply a straw man and a straw man argument is a logical fallacy. Pots calling kettle black is what we have here and with Kendall. Using logical fallacy to declare another used logical fallacy.

J.J. Mangas said...

"Enlightened people are happy to pay taxes, pay good wages, enforce tax laws, and enforce wage laws because it is better for them and everyone else to do so."

I just want to address the absurd point of reification. Being happy to pay taxes is not a path to enlightenment. It certainly doesn't take an enlightened soul to understand that paying an employee who brings great value to their business an even exchange, but "paying good wages" for the sake of "paying good wages" is no where near enlightened. People should be paid what they are worth. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. Enlightened people most assuredly don't enforce taxes tax collectors do that. Enlightened people do not advocate forcing others to submit to their whims.

Kendall said...

Here, folks, is an example of how difficult to have a reasonable exchange with aliens from another planet who are concerned with defending their hero from perceived attacks than anything else.

I'm not sure what J.J. thinks personally, but his interpretation of Rand seems to agree with my point, i.e., development is a cooperative effort involving numerous parties, no single one of which can lay claim to complete responsibility.

Lest there be confusion, all the behavior I mentioned above are the products of enlightment, not the process. Henry Ford paid higher-than-market wages because he wanted his workers to be able to afford to buy the cars they built.

Josh Christian said...

What's really interesting about both the article and the following conversation is that it takes place at a time where a group is using "Randian" principle to defend a new and more ruthless ethos within our society. I find the defenders of "objectivism" to be more religiously inspired than philosophically charged. You either accept it 110% or you join the "other" and in doing so enter the fray as the opponent to "progress" and betterment.
There is no reasoning through this because her philosophy is not based on reason and thus her devotees use the term within the vacuum of Rands own ego.

I have studied Rand I have read her at length.. I have studied her personal life and her relationships. All one need do to understand Rand fully is read "the virtues of selfishness" as it is a collection of essays taken from a a wide period of her writing. In this little volume Rand posits many times her feelings of loathing and disdain for the "takers" .. Rand is the classic sociopathic misenthrope with a chip on her small shoulders the size of Texas.

Her anger at her own sexuality, the position of women within the culture.. Her constant reference to herself as "man" ... I could go on. It would seem more than a little ironic on the surface that the American free market, male christian zealot, should worship the Russian Atheist female but not really if you stop and consider what the position is for most of these people... it makes perfect sense. The broader disconnect of Randian philosophy is prefaced by a basis in religious and economic dogma. The privlage of middle class white men coming home to roost as it were. The school of thinking that comes from an absurd non reality or even "hyper reality" bestowed on us by other privlaged white men.. So any tract posing as philosophy that is in support of "white male" supremacy must surely be whole and complete.. And how dare anyone challenge the notion that Rand was excuse making for her own shrewish and selfish shortcomings.

Sleeping with another mans wife, collecting people, taking social security and Medicare at the end of her life to offset the costs of her self inflicted lung cancer after raling against all such programs her entire life... Rand is philosophical much the way any megalomaniac is.. Self fulfilling and rewarding.

"I've succeeded so now I look down on the rest of you with a critics eye" .. Objectivism? No .. It's not real.. And as the author pointed out its incomplete without the other components.. Objectivism is only as strong as what it's objectifying... It's a very long explanation for being ruthless. Which is why it's so popular with the clique that digs it.