T Nation

Negative Self Image: Isn't It Scary?


I have reservations concerning pillars 2,3 and 4.


Care to elaborate?

Pillar 2: from how you have debated (very well I might add) in unrelated discussions it seems that you always go to a fact based argument. Wouldn’t that be the same? I highly doubt that you would argue for knowledge or ‘facts’ based on faith/feelings and not reality. What am I missing?

Pillar 3: I assumed this would be the contention point as I think it depends on how you classify self-interest in regards to instances of altruism.

Pillar 4: Capitalism has created the most powerful world economy (USA), so in general, I would agree from a pure economic statement.


You’re right, I try to be fact-based in my arguments. My reservations are more tangential. Specifically, there is a significant amount of data indicating that human reasoning is largely heuristical. And while heuristic thinking is efficient, and usually leads to accurate conclusions, it doesn’t always–hence bias creeps into our cognitive processes. All of us are vulnerable to making such errors (although people who are aware of these tendencies are often able to recognize and avoid them to a degree).

In short, while the claim “Man’s reason is fully competent to know the facts of reality” may be true in theory, it often falls short of that mark in practice.

As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that in her first pillar, Rand is guilty of the cardinal philosophical sin of assuming her conclusions. For example: Philosophers the likes of @Descartes, @Kant and @Hume (I’m tagging them just in case they’re on TN) struggled mightily to form defensible arguments concerning the existence and nature of reality. In contrast, Rand can’t be bothered to make such an argument–she simply declares, sans evidence or justification, that “reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires, or fears.” This is part of why actual philosophers do not take her work seriously–so much of it consists of bald, unsupported assertions masquerading as capital-T Truth.

I’ll elaborate on my problems with Pillars 2& 3 later.


I’m new to the philosophical discussion game, but your argument is that basing actions on reality is not practical?

I agree that bias creeps in, and that should always be checked, but if you don’t base your reasoning on the most available reality, what would you base it on? The alternative of basing your reasoning on feelings sans facts (see how I stole your fancy phrasing? I feel like apprentice mocking the teacher) seems significantly more impractical to me.

I’d like to see more on this, seems illogical and I must be missing something. What is the argument against there being a reality? That nothing is what it seems, we’re in the matrix and all really just plugged in while being harvested for our energy?


No, I am saying that the heuristic nature of human cognition precludes us from consistently and reliably basing actions on accurate assessments of reality. Take a look at the following link, which provides an intro to the subject:

The issue isn’t necessarily one of making an argument against reality so much as coming up with an objective, non-self-referential argument in favor of it. For example, you have probably heard Descartes’ famous maxim Cogito, ergo sum (‘I think, therefore I am’). Contrary to popular opinion (which mistakenly holds that Descartes was extolling the virtue of living a contemplative life), the purpose of this statement was to prove his own existence–that is, while he could doubt the existence of the world, or even of his own body, he could not doubt the fact that he was doubting. And because he was doubting, it followed that he must exist. (Others have fleshed out Descartes’ original statement to read ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’)

That is but one example of how philosophers try to come to grips with establishing the existence of reality. So despite what Rand would like to do, one can’t simply declare ‘Reality is real’ and call it a philosophy. Doing that sort of thing works fine when one is making, say, a political statement (“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”), but not a philosophical one.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m a dyed-in-the-wool realist myself. But by way of a counter-example, plenty of folk much smarter than me have believed otherwise. See, for example, Solipsism:


Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed it. About the long rants, I remember skipping over them too. Also, the whole last part of the book (Galt’s Gulch on) was the least likeable part of the book for me.

You guys are getting deep into philosophy, but regarding behavioral economics, I’m an amateur but it’s just REALLY interesting. People who post a lot in PWI would probably benefit from just reading through the list of known cognitive biases on wikipedia. You do end up seeing them in yourself, and in other people. That second one is always easier. Ha! I often teach with a behavioral economist in the summer, and I like to follow Dan Ariely, especially. You can find lots of his stuff online. My husband just put this on my kindle for me for Christmas. I haven’t started it yet.


Yes, Lewis’s new book is about Kahneman and Tversky, the duo who together did the foundational work in behavioral economics.


I’m about half way through it at the moment. If you’ve read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman, you’ll find this book kind of like a road map to how the ideas from Thinking were fleshed out.

It’s been a decent read so far. I prefer Thinking to it, but it’s, so far, been worth the time invested.

Kind of off topic, do you know anything about The Great Courses books? (This is a question for anyone really).

The PWI Required Reading List

From my interpretation of Rand’s readings, this seems to be the exact type of thinking she opposes. You said Rand’s approach is good in theory but not in practice, I again must be missing something as the Solipsism approach of “knowledge of anything outside one’s mind is unsure” seems completely impractical even if theoretically it holds some ground.

Ok, that’s fine. But does that apply to all situations and what are you supposed to base actions on if not your current assessment of reality? I do agree with you that a truly objective person should check their premises (Rand would be so proud) and evaluate if their perception is correct.

Ok, I’m not trying to make a strong philosophical argument and probably wouldn’t be able to even if I did try. I’m more interested in how the approach works for practical purposes, and my question for you, is if you don’t go with Rand’s approach for using reality (your current best assessment of reality) to base your reasoning and actions off of, what else would you use?

It seems to me your arguing more that we can’t perceive reality correctly. With that acknowledgement, knowing you can’t know if the keyboard in front of you is really a keyboard, how do you know how to communicate with me?


While I largely disagree with her personal beliefs on moral action, in her political philosophy, you can be as compassionate as you desire. I believe she says, something like “in my world, if you care about something you can go out and help that cause all you want and no one will stop you.” Meanwhile in any coercive system, that is always at least partially and at times completely untrue. We can talk about feasibility of her system if you want, but if it worked, everyone would be free to be as compassionate as their hearts desired in whatever causes you could dream up. In systems with institutionalized coerced “compassion” you override individual compassion. I always maintain that you cannot show compassion with other people’s resources, meaning coercive systems restrict and diminish compassion by default.

If you actually listened to her, you’d know taking advantage of collective programs was exactly what she preached. Her whole point is that with coercive power people will always take advantage of others (and why there shouldn’t be coercive power). I agree that there is a philosophical tangle with her hero characters prizing selfishness while turning down government advantages, which are 2 contradictory things. However, anyone who truly prized selfishness should absolutely work any system for all possible advantage. I don’t see the use of government assistance as all that contrary to her philosophy. It’s what she preached everyone will do and it’s completely in-line with her virtue of selfishness.


I’m not suggesting Solipsism is correct, or that you should adopt it; rather, I’m simply offering it as a legitimate philosophical alternative to realism, and to show that a philosopher concerned with epistemology is obligated to justify (via argument) their position–not simply say ‘the world is X’ and expect everyone to simply take it on faith (which is what Rand does).

Note that if you wish to think of Rand not as a philosopher, but rather as a socio-political polemicist (which she is), you could simply skip over the deficiencies in her work as pertains to philosophy. In other words, you could just ‘assume these truths to be self-evident’ and go on from there.

I am all for basing one’s actions on their current assessment of reality. The point is, one cannot assume (pace Rand) that one’s assessment is accurate.

As I mentioned previously, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool realist. But I recognize that the heuristic, bias-dominated mode of thinking that dominates human cognition is not congruent with the hyper-rationalism Rand claims in Pillar 2.

Expanding on this, the inherently skewed nature of our thinking makes Pillar 4–unfettered laissez-faire capitalism–an impractical and even dangerous (see 2008, Financial meltdown of) mode of economic conduct. And as an aside, your attribution of America’s economic success to capitalism is misleadingly simplistic. There were many other factors that contributed to our economic success (geographic isolation and natural resource plentitude being two.)


Agreed, but all of the successful western nations have adopted capitalistic economies (some more than others). We could argue about all the other factors, but I think that is worth noting.

I think this is more or less the foundation I try to approach things with. Assuming you know either everything or nothing is a dangerous… dare I say… premise.

Haha based on this conversation I think that would be the best direction to go.

As a side note, not specifically at Rand, but more at philosophy (which I obviously don’t know much about) when you mention her as a socio-political polemicist, does that take away from her beliefs? And what applications do you see for hard-core philosophy where they are questioning literally everything, and doubt the existence of any reality.


None have adopted what Rand espouses, ie, laissez-faire capitalism. (The only place I’m aware of wherein the economy operates via laissez-faire capitalist principles is Mogadishu.) All Western countries have so-called ‘mixed economies’ (as do we).

I don’t understand your question here.

Such philosophizing reminds us that what seems to be true, what we assume to be true, may not in fact be so–that what we think we know, we actually don’t. This goes well beyond the navel-gazing of solipsism; for example, philosophers of science make important contributions to our meta-understanding of the world (if you’ll forgive the jargon). In my estimation, this role makes philosophy a very important endeavor. (Of course, as my son is a grad student studying analytic philosophy and the philosophy of science, I may be biased in this regard.)


agreed, but one could argue that the less laissez-faire they become, the more they struggle. I agree with you that a pure laissez-faire might swing the too far one direction, but the examples we have of facism/socialism show clearly what happens the other way,

You made the distinction, and as I have never heard the classification before I’m curious how you feel it pertains to how you view her and how her beliefs can be used for practical purposes.

Any examples?

So if I hear you correctly using a non-Rand approach of challenging literally everything has its purpose in and can help us in understanding (which brings back to the loop of if they don’t know anything how did they help understand something… but I digress), but for practical purposes it is best to be a realist, as Rand professes, with the acknowledgement that one’s reality might have biases in it should always attempt to reflect the most recent and well known reality that we can currently determine.


One can also argue that the more laissez-faire an economy becomes, the more vulnerable it is to boom-bust cycles and existential economic crises of the capitalist sort (again, consider the crisis of 2008/9). So it cuts both ways.

To what distinction do you refer here? Do you mean between philosophy and socio-economic advocacy (what I referred to above as ‘polemics’)?

Karl Popper and his notion of ‘falsificationism’ have had an enormous impact on the practice of science:
"Popper accordingly repudiates induction and rejects the view that it is the characteristic method of scientific investigation and inference, substituting falsifiability in its place. It is easy, he argues, to obtain evidence in favour of virtually any theory, and he consequently holds that such ‘corroboration’, as he terms it, should count scientifically only if it is the positive result of a genuinely ‘risky’ prediction, which might conceivably have been false. For Popper, a theory is scientific only if it is refutable by a conceivable event. Every genuine test of a scientific theory, then, is logically an attempt to refute or to falsify it, and one genuine counter-instance falsifies the whole theory. In a critical sense, Popper’s theory of demarcation is based upon his perception of the logical asymmetry which holds between verification and falsification: it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience (as Hume saw clearly), but a single counter-instance conclusively falsifies the corresponding universal law. In a word, an exception, far from ‘proving’ a rule, conclusively refutes it.

Every genuine scientific theory then, in Popper’s view, is prohibitive, in the sense that it forbids, by implication, particular events or occurrences. As such it can be tested and falsified, but never logically verified. Thus Popper stresses that it should not be inferred from the fact that a theory has withstood the most rigorous testing, for however long a period of time, that it has been verified; rather we should recognise that such a theory has received a high measure of corroboration. and may be provisionally retained as the best available theory until it is finally falsified (if indeed it is ever falsified), and/or is superseded by a better theory."


Likewise, Thomas Kuhn and his work (especially The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) blew away many cherished beliefs concerning how science operated:

“In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn paints a picture of the development of science quite unlike any that had gone before. Indeed, before Kuhn, there was little by way of a carefully considered, theoretically explained account of scientific change. Instead, there was a conception of how science ought to develop that was a by-product of the prevailing philosophy of science, as well as a popular, heroic view of scientific progress. According to such opinions, science develops by the addition of new truths to the stock of old truths, or the increasing approximation of theories to the truth, and in the odd case, the correction of past errors. Such progress might accelerate in the hands of a particularly great scientist, but progress itself is guaranteed by the scientific method.
According to Kuhn the development of a science is not uniform but has alternating ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’ (or ‘extraordinary’) phases. The revolutionary phases are not merely periods of accelerated progress, but differ qualitatively from normal science. Normal science does resemble the standard cumulative picture of scientific progress, on the surface at least. Kuhn describes normal science as ‘puzzle-solving’ (1962/1970a, 35–42). While this term suggests that normal science is not dramatic, its main purpose is to convey the idea that like someone doing a crossword puzzle or a chess problem or a jigsaw, the puzzle-solver expects to have a reasonable chance of solving the puzzle, that his doing so will depend mainly on his own ability, and that the puzzle itself and its methods of solution will have a high degree of familiarity. A puzzle-solver is not entering completely uncharted territory. Because its puzzles and their solutions are familiar and relatively straightforward, normal science can expect to accumulate a growing stock of puzzle-solutions. Revolutionary science, however, is not cumulative in that, according to Kuhn, scientific revolutions involve a revision to existing scientific belief or practice (1962/1970a, 92). Not all the achievements of the preceding period of normal science are preserved in a revolution, and indeed a later period of science may find itself without an explanation for a phenomenon that in an earlier period was held to be successfully explained.”


Well, I would say that is what you want to hear, more than what I am saying. :wink:


Just plain no. Not at all a laissez-faire market.


A ‘no true Scotsman’ argument. Even as committed a capitalist as Greenspan said as much:

"But on Thursday, almost three years after stepping down as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the committee. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

Mr. Greenspan conceded: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”
Mr. Waxman noted that the Fed chairman had been one of the nation’s leading voices for deregulation, displaying past statements in which Mr. Greenspan had argued that government regulators were no better than markets at imposing discipline.

“Were you wrong?” Mr. Waxman asked.

“Partially,” the former Fed chairman reluctantly answered, before trying to parse his concession as thinly as possible.


Who exactly were you arguing against? I said it wasn’t a laissez-faire market. Find me a greenspan quote that makes the claim that the 2007 housing market was laissez-faire. Government regulation enabled it as much as it failed to prevent it.

You are using the collapse of one of the most highly regulated and un-free markets we have as an example against laissez-faire. You may want to re-think what that collapse meant.


So if what I am hearing is incorrect, please correct me to what you are saying, as I am clearly missing your point. How do you claim to be a dyed-in-the-wool realist but not view acting on reality as practical?

From your example of falsification is exactly what I’m talking about with using the most relavent and best-to-date knowledge of reality. “may be provisionally retained as the best available theory until it is finally falsified (if indeed it is ever falsified), and/or is superseded by a better theory.” If something proves our current view/reality wrong, you can adjust your perception, but to not act on something because there is a chance that someday it might be proven that your assumption is wrong seems impractical. The theory seems to only be certain that we are never 100% certain of anything, but for practical purposes if something that has been unable to be falsified with rigorous testing we can deem it “99.99% verified” and act on it as the truth, or at least the current truth with the knowledge we have available to us.


Yes, and I said that you were making a ‘no true Scotsman’ argument. Greenspan–former Rand acolyte, famously free-market oriented–considered the collapse to represent a failure of fundamental free-market principles. That’s good enough for me.