This is part 2 in my series of articles examining the Kelley-Peikoff split.

In part 1, I presented a brief overview of my history with Objectivism, including some of my reasons for siding with Kelley to begin with. In this part, I address some of the problems I've observed lately with David Kelley's organization The Atlas Society, formerly known as The Objectivist Center, formerly known as the Institute of Objectivist Studies.

First off, let me say that an organization that changes its name this often probably has an identity problem. As a brief overview, I analyze the organization's changing name. Although analyzing the name changes has many limitations, there is some limited value in understanding how the organization wants to be perceived. With this analysis, we see a steady change in how they want to be viewed.

At first, the name "Institute of Objectivist Studies" portrays an organization that wanted to study Objectivism. They wanted others to view them as a group that digs into Objectivism to discover what its all about. It would be a home to people interested in learning about and applying Objectivist principles.

In the second incarnation, The Objectivist Center seems to be less concerned with studying Objectivism and more about being a center where Objectivists can hang out. Kind of like a Christian Center, or a Jewish Center, the focus is as much about meeting people of similar minds as it is with studying the philosophy. It sounds like they are trying to develop a happy little community of Objectivists.

In the last incarnation, The Atlas Society presents itself as no longer interested in Objectivism. Apparently a society of Atlases would, besides capitalizing on the title of Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, bring together a bunch of big thinkers and doers in society. What exactly this group is supposed to do once they get together, the title doesn't portray.

So is this analysis representative of TAS. To dig deeper, I reviewed TAS's mission statement (this by the way is the same mission statement they had used for TOC just months before the name change. They only change the name of the organization in the mission statement. How long ago TOC had adopted this mission statement, I do not know). This more than anything should be informative of the organization's direction. One of the first things I noticed is that Kelley has already made some changes to Objectivism that I wasn't aware of. For instance, the mission statement states that the core values of Objectivism is "reason, individualism, freedom, and achievement." I've commented on these values here and here already, but this builds on those discussions.

It wasn't until recently that I discovered that, according to Diana, Kelley made this change several years ago in Truth and Toleration. Diana observed that "Kelley says that the virtues of rationality, justice, productiveness, and independence are required in Objectivism, but the virtues of integrity, honesty, and pride are somehow optional." I noticed that these four virtues - rationality, justice, productiveness, and independence - correspond with the four values found in their mission statement. In spite of the fact that Rand ties the primary value of purpose to the virtue of productiveness, Kelley relates productiveness with achievement. Kelley has obviously full adopted this change into his personal philosophy and into the philosophy of The Atlas Society. Is it consistent with Objectivism? Not according to Rand. Is how he presented a better way of understanding ethics? I can't comment until I read Truth and Toleration, but it better be a phenomenal explanation that leaves no doubt in my mind.

My biggest problem with the mission statement is that it lacks any teeth. In this statement they say "The Society promotes these values by articulating their meaning and implications for contemporary issues in every field of cultural significance". While articulating is helpful in understanding an issue, it does nothing to promote a value. But more importantly, why is the focus on promoting just the values of Objectivism? Why not the entire integrated philosophic system? Do they assume that people would be unable to grasp the integrated nature?

My next issue is with their list of culture issues they plan on influencing: "intellectual trends, the arts, psychology and personal growth, social manners and mores, business issues and achievements, law and politics." The one item that baffles me to no end is "social manners and mores". Where does this come from? While I agree that being polite is important in life, it is any extremely derivative issue. Placing this within the list of other issues essentially is saying that social manners is as important as all the others in principle. But that is incorrect. The only reason social manners even matter is because we live in a society with other individuals. Its only because we trade with them and prefer a consistent unobtrusive method of interaction.

Lastly, the mission statement states that Rand provides only "a unique perspective on the cultural issues of our day". A unique perspective??? That's all they can say about her philosophy? I'm in violent disagreement with this. Objectivism is not just a unique perspective, but the philosophic system that best corresponds with reality. It is true and good.

I get a distinct impression that The Atlas Society doesn't want to rock any boats. Instead they package Objectivism as just something positive to be examined. Indeed, the title of the organization is in line with this statement, it is not a place for Objectivism per se, but for people who kind of, sort of like Rand's ideas and want a place to hang out or cheer for some kind of, sort of good ideas. That is not the type of organization I want to support. If they can't stand up and yell "I'M AN OBJECTIVIST", then they need to get a pair. And until they get a pair, I have no interest in supporting them further.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    If you would like a timeline to the Peikoff-Kelley split, here is a link to some research I did.

    "Selective timeline and links of the Kelley-Peikoff schism"

    I realize that we are on opposite sides on this issue, so I am merely providing the link to increase your pool of information. (I strongly believe in examining an issue thoroughly and I strongly believe in the sanctity of independent thinking. Despite differences, I get this impression of you from what little I have read so far.)