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Objectivist and Popperian Epistemology

Ayn Rand has the best moral philosophy ever invented. Karl Popper has the most important breakthrough in epistemology. Most Objectivists seem to think that Popper and Rand are incompatible, and Popper is an enemy of reason. They have not understood him. These lists are intended to help explain my motivation for integrating Rand and Popper, and also help to highlight many similarities they already have.

Points Popperian epistemology and Objectivist epistemology have in common:

(In Popperian epistemology I include additions and improvements by David Deutsch and myself.)

  • opposition to subjectivism and relativism
  • fallibilism
  • says that objective knowledge is attainable (in practice by fallible humans)
  • realism: says reality is objective
  • connected to reality: we have to observe reality, keep our ideas connected to reality
  • asserts there is objective truth
  • attention to context ("problem situation" or sometimes "problem" is the common Popperian term meaning context. E.g. a Popperian will ask "What is the problem this is addressing?" and be asking about context.)
  • pro-science
  • opposition to positivism
  • opposition to the language analysis school of philosophy
  • say that most professional philosophers are rather crap
  • opposition to both skeptical and authoritarian schools of epistemology
  • keeps our concepts "open-end[ed]" (ITOE). That means: possible to improve in the future as we learn more.
  • says that there are objective moral truths
  • does not seek a "frozen, arrested state of knowledge" (ITOE)
  • written clearly and understandably, unlike much philosophy
  • says epistemology is useful and valuable to real people; it matters to life; it's practical
  • you can't force an idea on someone. they can choose to accept it or not
  • you can't implant an idea in someone. you can't pour it in, stick it in with surgery, make them absorb it, etc. they get to think, interpret, choose.
  • free will
  • people are not born with some unchangeable nature and innate ideas. we can be self-made men. we can learn, change, improve, progress
  • emphasis on active use of one's mind, active learning
  • no inherent conflicts due to objective truth
  • understanding of unconscious and inexplicit ideas
  • if two ideas contradict, at least one is false
  • integration of epistemology with morality, politics, and more
  • rejection of authority
  • full rejection of idealism, solipsism
  • strong emphasis on clarity
  • rejection of limits on human minds
  • reject probabilistic approaches to epistemology
  • looks at man as rational and capable
  • value of critical thinking including self-criticism

Strengths of Objectivist epistemology:

  • stolen concept
  • package deal
  • check your premises
  • ideas about integrating all one's knowledge and removing all contradictions
  • measurement omission and concept formation ideas both worthwhile, though flawed
  • good criticisms of many opponents of reason
  • good understanding of essentials vs non-essentials, e.g. for definitions
  • idea about automating some thinking
  • good explanation of what objectivity is
  • Judge, and be prepared to be judged

Strengths of Popperian epistemology:

  • evolution creates knowledge
  • conjectures and refutations method
  • piecemeal, incremental method. value of every little improvement
  • identification of, and solution to, justificationism
  • addresses induction
  • conjectural, fallible, objective knowledge
  • idea that we progress from misconception to better misconception
  • myth of the framework
  • value of culture clash
  • emphasis on bold highly-criticizable claims, sticking your neck out to learn more
  • no shame in mistakes
  • value of criticism. criticism is a gift
  • understanding of rationality as being about error correction
  • unimportance of starting points. you can start anywhere, improve from there
  • criticism of definitions
  • criticism of foundations, bases
  • criticism of essentialism
  • criticism of manifest truth (and self-evidence, obviousness, etc)
  • static and dynamic memes
  • structural epistemology
  • coercion and common preferences
  • understanding of conflict and symmetry
  • applications to parenting, education, relationships
  • understanding of tradition
  • explanation of value of external criticism (if everyone has some blind spots, but some people have different blind spots then each other, then it's productive to share criticism with each other. a little like comparative advantage)
  • emphasis on critical method, criticism (ideas stand unless refuted)
  • let our ideas die in our stead

Want details and elaboration about any of the topics? Please ask. You can ask in comments or at the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group.

Elliot Temple on July 3, 2013

Comments (7)

What a nice try!

The comparison is magnificient!

Hope will encourage those who read Rand to read Popper and vice versa.

Even more than to make a comparison it's important to encourage people to read their works.

Of course it is much easier to read Rand, but if you go thouroghly through The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Popper (which is no simple task), you will desperately want to read all Poppers' papers.

To all the readers:

Beg you, read them both and think yourself!

Maxim at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2015 | #2568 | reply | quote

What does "package deal" under "Strengths of Objectivist epistemology" refer to? Is it how ideas are sometimes transferred to others as a bundle? Or something else?

Anonymous at 3:08 PM on March 10, 2017 | #8522 | reply | quote

package deal

Ideas are sometimes put together in a package when they don't necessarily belong together, e.g. - selfishness and being willing to rip people off.

oh my god it's turpentine at 3:16 PM on March 10, 2017 | #8523 | reply | quote

@#8522 you should learn basic internet/computer usage skills and start using them in your life.


Anonymous at 3:59 PM on March 10, 2017 | #8524 | reply | quote

>Strengths of Popperian epistemology:

>understanding of rationality as being about error correction

In Galt's speech Rand argues the problem with following an authority using fallibilism and error correction.

>Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.

Though I don't know the importance that that argument has in the Objectivist epystemology.

guilherme at 7:59 AM on August 20, 2018 | #10707 | reply | quote

I guess that fallibility and error correction are not very strong in the Objectivist epystemology, thats why it's not under it's stregth. But I haven't read any of their books about just that.

I found one of Curi's questions about Objectivists not being very well defined:


guilherme at 8:03 AM on August 20, 2018 | #10708 | reply | quote

#10708 >I found one of Curi's questions about Objectivists not being very well defined:


I found one question from Curi about the position of Objectivists on fallibility not being well defined:

Anonymous at 8:07 AM on August 20, 2018 | #10709 | reply | quote

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)