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Leonard Peikoff Says He's Not a Philosopher

Leonard Peikoff is not a philosopher.

I transcribed his podcast, episode 22, starting 4min in:
And the fact is that I'm not an epistemologist, let alone a technical one. The older I get, I realize I'm not a philosopher, and never really was. My real interest in life is cultural analysis. How does philosophy influence, for instance, the rise of Hitler or kind of educational system we have or great plays ... that's always been the kind of thing I've done. The only exception is OPAR, which was pure philosophy, but that was simply paying off a debt. I had to do that to Ayn Rand in exchange for what she had, you know, taught me for 30 years. But other than that I never would wanna write or really lecture on philosophy. I don't see that there's anything wrong with that, but that is just not what I do.
So OPAR isn't Peikoff's kind of thing. Ayn Rand couldn't find an heir who actually wanted to be a philosopher. Ayn Rand couldn't find a better student to teach philosophy to than a non-philosopher.

It's not that Peikoff tried and failed. It's not that he values philosophy, like Objectivism, above all else, but isn't good enough at it. He doesn't even care about it like that.

How can a man like this be any kind of leader in a philosophy community?

How can any self-proclaimed non-philosopher consider themselves an Objectivist? Doesn't he know what Objectivism says philosophy's role in life is? Everyone should be a philosopher. Everyone needs philosophy. Everyone has a philosophy. The question is just how interested they are in thinking it through and getting their philosophy right.

Elliot Temple on November 15, 2015

Comments (27)

>Doesn't he know what Objectivism says philosophy's role in life is? Everyone should be a philosopher. Everyone needs philosophy.

In general, do you think Peikoff would see those as the same thing? Do you think he thinks that since he doesn't want to be a philosopher, then than means he doesn't need philosophy?

Does the idea of people not needing philosophy contradict other things he has written elsewhere? If so, one thing to ask is what does he mean by "philosopher" here.

My guess is that Peikoff would say that he does need philosophy and he uses it and applies it, but he doesn't want to be someone who writes or lectures or even thinks on pure abstract philosophy type stuff.

I agree it's too bad that Rand couldn't find someone who did want to do that sort of philosophy.

Anonymous at 7:42 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4422
Given the state of the culture and the state of current philosophical knowledge, I don't think an attitude like "leaving it to the experts" is a remotely viable option. Maybe one day in the future when there's 20,000 living philosophers better than Ayn Rand, something like that could make more sense.

I don't think one must have philosopher as his ONLY profession today. But I think all the best people should have it as one of their professions. The philosophy you can get as an amateur, reading ideas from others instead of making some yourself, isn't good enough.

Professional and amateur are NOT the best word choices here. For example, I don't think being paid for philosophy work is necessary. The issue is something like taking the field very seriously and doing actual quality work in it.

I don't think it's plausible to understand the best philosophy ideas and stop exactly there without making any new ones. Or to understand the best practical stuff but avoid pure abstract philosophy. And I don't think it's plausible, even if one managed that, to then think one's philosophy is good enough and not feel the need to create some new philosophy ideas that don't yet exist, given the current poor state of philosophy.

Objectivism needs progress, it's not just something anyone should learn and be fully satisfied with and be like "ok i've got a philosophy, time to be a fisherman". It's not done yet. Not saying it'll ever be done, but it's so far from done that just isn't remotely reasonable today.

Anonymous at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4424
>Given the state of the culture and the state of current philosophical knowledge, I don't think an attitude like "leaving it to the experts" is a remotely viable option.

viable option for what? having a good life?

>The issue is something like taking the field very seriously and doing actual quality work in it.

So devoting 20 hours per week to it? 40 hours? Do that for 5-10+ years and then you'll know enough from reading others' ideas where maybe you can do some quality work in it yourself?

and are you saying that then is the only viable option for *what*?

Anonymous at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4425
> viable option for what? having a good life?

yes

> So devoting 20 hours per week to it? 40 hours? Do that for 5-10+ years and then you'll know enough from reading others' ideas where maybe you can do some quality work in it yourself?

it's not a matter of number of hours. that depends how fast you can learn, think, etc. the issue is whether problems are getting solved. today that's going to require sometimes creating new philosophy, and it's going to require expertise at some existing philosophy that'll currently qualify you as a world class philosopher.

Anonymous at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4426
what do you mean by creating new philosophy? does that mean creating new abstract pure philosophy (e.g. epistemological ideas)?

what if you a person isn't very interested in epistemology and doesn't like abstract philosophy?

Anonymous at 11:15 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4427
>it's going to require expertise at some existing philosophy that'll currently qualify you as a world class philosopher.

what are those qualifications? if someone wants to have a good life, then i think you are saying they need to be a world class philosopher.

so what does a world class philosopher know?

Anonymous at 11:17 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4428
what if a person isn't very interested in food and doesn't like eating?

philosophy addresses issues like how to create knowledge to solve problems. if you don't have a super super lot of that (by today's norms), then you will have tons of chronic unsolved problems in your life hurting you (and hurting others).

Anonymous at 11:32 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4429
do you think part of this is Rand's fault? Maybe Rand herself didn't focus enough on the value of abstract philosophy? She was instead trying to focus on more applied philosophy, rather than pure abstract stuff. Applied philosophy is important, but it seems to me like there are good arguments for why it's crucial? to get good at abstract stuff too.

Anyways, with Rand you can see this in many of her heroes (they had other professions where they spent their time and energy, not pure philosophy). Plus here IRL she picks an heir who doesn't even like abstract pure philosophy.

Anonymous at 11:32 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4430
>philosophy addresses issues like how to create knowledge to solve problems. if you don't have a super super lot of that (by today's norms), then you will have tons of chronic unsolved problems in your life hurting you (and hurting others).

i'm wondering specifically about abstract, pure philosophy and being AWESOME at that. do you need a super super lot of that?

Anonymous at 11:34 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4431
what do you think applied philosophy is? what is the thing that is being applied? applied philosophy implies conceptual philosophy. which Rand did discuss, advocate, etc

who do you think Rand would have chosen for an heir if she wasn't making the mistake you accuse her of?

Anonymous at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4432
> i'm wondering specifically about abstract, pure philosophy and being AWESOME at that. do you need a super super lot of that?

yes. it comes up all the time throughout life.

to figure out a practical problem you consider and apply some ideas that are more conceptual philosophy than the practical problem. and where do you get those? how do you know if those are any good? with some ideas that are yet more in the conceptual philosophy category. after several layers you get to pretty abstract stuff. you can't skip any layers, or you're just assuming a bunch of conclusions without actually knowing the details.

Anonymous at 11:37 AM on November 17, 2015 | #4433
So does a person need to be world class at creating new abstract pure philosophical ideas in order to have a good life?

something Peikoff is not; he isn't interested in abstract pure philosophy and furthering that particular field.

but are you saying that THAT is what a person needs in order to have a good life?

not just having a good understanding of many important abstract philosophical ideas and how to apply them to your life to solve problems. but actually working at the forefront of the field?

what i'm comparing isn't someone who dismisses the role of philosophy nor the role of understanding important abstract principles and applying them.

what i'm interested in comparing is:

- someone having a good understanding of many important abstract philosophical ideas and how to apply them to their life to solve problems.

vs

- someone doing that + working at the forefront of the field to advance abstract pure philosophy.

is the second person the only one who can have a good life? where's the line in your opinion? does a person actually need to be at the forefront and be one who is creating and adding to the field of abstract pure philosophy?

Anonymous at 12:45 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4437
> So does a person need to be world class at creating new abstract pure philosophical ideas in order to have a good life?

yes. the current standard for "world class" is very low. currently, anyone competent is world class.

competence at thinking is very important to having a good life. without it you get BIG problems like making huge avoidable mistakes due to incompetence. and then not noticing, failing to solve your big problems for years, and suffering the whole time.

> not just having a good understanding of many important abstract philosophical ideas and how to apply them to your life to solve problems. but actually working at the forefront of the field?

anyone with such an understanding and ability IS at the forefront of the field, currently, and would, if they were actively using all this stuff in life, sometimes come up with new stuff (cuz the field is not complete and they will run into gaps where they need a new idea to help with an IRL issue).

Anonymous at 1:01 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4438
do you think Peikoff has a good understanding of many important abstract philosophical ideas and how to apply them to his life to solve problems? or no?

Anonymous at 1:22 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4439
he has some, but not nearly enough. he fucks up lots of stuff. like that stuff about voting Democrat and hating US Christians. and:

http://curi.us/1776-peikoff-children-are-property
http://curi.us/1694-leonard-peikoff-betrays-israel

Anonymous at 1:26 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4440
peikoff also fucked up ARI and betrayed George Reisman and thereby fucked over Objectivism and economics. http://www.nattvakt.com/onlineenglish/tjsconflict.htm

a smaller issue is Peikoff prevented some translations of Rand into Swedish: http://www.nattvakt.com/peikoff.htm

Anonymous at 1:29 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4441
IIRC peikoff admitted in a lecture he has a hard time learning, finds it painful. something like that. IIRC he thinks that's normal and teaches students to accept that in life.

oh and, Peikoff didn't manage to find a better profession than being a teacher. and put up with years of higher edu (that iirc he knew at the time was quite bad, like i think he thought the phd program he did was crap) to get the job.

Anonymous at 1:31 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4442
why doesn't peikoff like philosophy more?

is that just some random, normal thing? no. it's b/c of his flaws at thinking, misconceptions about philosophy, etc. it's not like he has some good objections to philosophy. and it's not like interests should be whims.

Anonymous at 1:34 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4443
In "Ideas in Action," a video interview with James Valliant, Peikoff compared his experience of earning a Ph.d at NYU to living in Auschwitz. Yes, he really said that.

Anonymous at 2:26 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4444
>> not just having a good understanding of many important abstract philosophical ideas and how to apply them to your life to solve problems. but actually working at the forefront of the field?

>anyone with such an understanding and ability IS at the forefront of the field, currently, and would, if they were actively using all this stuff in life, sometimes come up with new stuff (cuz the field is not complete and they will run into gaps where they need a new idea to help with an IRL issue).

another thought. maybe one think Peikoff lacks is genuine *curiosity* about the truth and making progress on figuring it out. If you have this, then maybe THIS is what will drive you to the forefront of abstract pure philosophy. This is what it means to BE a philosopher.

This is different than learning how to answer questions having to do with philosophy.

Or learning how to teach a predetermined set of philosophical ideas to people (Peikoff this?).

But if you are actually a philosopher (one who is interested in all of the abstract ideas and how they connect and can be applied), then you will be driven out of curiosity to the forefront of the field. Cuz that's where progress can be made and new stuff figured out. You have to really love ideas, like for their own sake.

Maybe that's something that Peikoff lacks.

Anonymous at 3:20 PM on November 17, 2015 | #4445
> maybe one think Peikoff lacks is genuine *curiosity* about the truth and making progress on figuring it out. If you have this, then maybe THIS is what will drive you to the forefront of abstract pure philosophy. This is what it means to BE a philosopher.

Isn't having that curiosity a matter of having some specific (explicit or inexplicit) knowledge?

Anonymous at 4:08 AM on November 19, 2015 | #4446
> How can a man like this be any kind of leader in a philosophy community?

for some reason his community values this form of humility. they probably think it's honesty and integrity.

there's some core mistake in Ayn Rand's writing attracting bad people. you should put an effort in figuring it out. perhaps the danger of you finding out you are bad is putting you off of considering this possibility?

Anonymous at 3:26 AM on December 3, 2015 | #4516
> what if a person isn't very interested in food and doesn't like eating?

she'd be skinny! isn't this a huge advantage in today's culture?

i can't imagine not having an interest in food.

Anonymous at 3:28 AM on December 3, 2015 | #4517
this thread confirms what I've been thinking about for a while now.
Now we know the state of things in the organization...

For those of us who still value Objectivism highly...
if we can't look to the leader for leadership, then the future for us doesn't look too good.

Anonymous at 6:51 PM on February 29, 2016 | #4982
what do you want a leader for? lead yourself.

instead of giving up, create what you think is missing from the world. make great stuff yourself instead of waiting for Peikoff to make it for you, then giving up when he doesn't.

curi at 8:18 PM on February 29, 2016 | #4983
or he could follow you if he wants a leader.

Anonymous at 4:19 AM on March 5, 2016 | #5005
Would you also end up like her teaching idiots for 40+ years and dying with no good successor?

Anonymous at 9:25 AM on May 30, 2016 | #5792

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)