[Previous] Fallible Ideas Unstructured Discussion | Home | [Next] Paths Forward Short Summary

Review of Hospers on Rand

Conversations With Ayn Rand, Part 1, by John Hospers

I recommend reading the entire article before my comments.

Hospers met and discussed with Ayn Rand many times. He's vague about the timeframe but he visited her every two weeks or so for "many months". I get the sense, from all the stories, that it may have lasted a couple years.

Hospers is an unreliable narrator. As he tells it, Rand has a severe anger problem while he's always perfectly calm. He claims that Rand would get angry and then be illogical and irrational for the rest of the night, and he blames 100% of the discussion difficulties on Rand. It's similar to some accounts of Karl Popper I've read. It's hard to tell what portion of the claims are true, but I do think part of the matter is people having trouble with strong, clear criticism. It's easy to misunderstand an unconventional person who's much smarter than you and highly critical.

Hospers doesn't say anything self-critical, but he does reveal some flaws by accident. He would hide lots of criticism and disagreements from his discussions with Ayn Rand rather than addressing the problems he was having (e.g. confronting her about her supposed temper and hearing her side of the story). And he gets lots of intellectual issues wrong throughout the article.

The article, while superficially presenting somewhat opposite themes, is a testament to the extreme tolerance and patience of Ayn Rand. Hospers was far inferior to her. She did so much to help him learn, starting from basics like the broken window fallacy, and he had trouble grasping principles. He'd get one issue wrong, and she'd explain it, and then he'd get another similar issue wrong. And he was always wanting to make exceptions to principles, showing he never really understood them.

I'm being literal about the broken window fallacy, btw. But you may have missed it:

At Ayn's suggestion I bought a copy of Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson and it transformed my entire thinking about economics

The theme of that book is explaining the broken window fallacy. Reading about broken windows "transformed [Hospers'] entire thinking about economics".

Rand also taught him about Mises, not initiating force, not violating rights, etc

And then what would he do? Time after time he came up with justifications for government force, all of which was wrong in the same way as the previous one. first he wants government force for orphans, then for roads, then against racism, then in Peru. he kept failing at conceptual thinking.

Hospers is the sort of philosopher who likes artificial puzzles. one is you're driving and your car will hit either your dog or a stranger. which do you choose? he thought you'd save your dog. he found Rand's answer kinda unclear. I think it's very easy. If you kill the person on purpose, to avoid property damage, you are a murderer.

and he likes word games. he doesn't know what "force" or "voluntary" means. he has common sense intuitions about it, which are vague and aren't integrated into his logical thinking. and he has definitions which are precise and logical but don't work. but he doesn't know how to handle words correctly. Popper could have helped him out a lot here – start with any halfway decent concept and then improve it as problems come up.

my favorite parts were:

1) the part about ideas ruling the world, which Popperians should appreciate:

"That's where you're wrong," she said. "You deal in ideas, and ideas rule the world." (I seldom quote Ayn directly, and do so only when I clearly remember exactly what she said.)

this is a great them of Objectivism. and i appreciate Hospers' attitude of only using quotes when it's confident.

2) Rand reminding us of the value of good people:

On another occasion I mentioned the inequality in the educational system, which did not confer as much time or money on children from the slums, or on those who could learn in time but could not keep up with the rest.

"And what about the geniuses?" she asked -- the ultra-bright children who could go ahead much faster, but were kept back by the mediocrities. One genius, a Newton or a Pasteur, could improve the lot of all humanity, but many of them, she thought, had been stifled by the educational system catering to the dull-witted.

about Newton and Pasteur, Roark made a similar point:

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.

and so did Rearden about Galt and his motor:

"Hank, do you know what that motor would have meant, if built?"

He chuckled briefly. "I'd say: about ten years added to the life of every person in this country

and about the genius kids:

Then Gail Wynand’s arm went up. The teacher nodded to him. He rose. “Why,” he asked, “should I swill everything down ten times? I know all that.” “You are not the only one in the class,” said the teacher.

And Rand made a similar point one of my very favorite book quotes from The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy” in Return of the Primitive:

In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

3) the idea of looking at things from the perspective of the producers, not the needy:

She then told me again somewhat brusquely that I was looking at the issue from the wrong end. I was viewing it from the point of view of the needy; I should look at it instead from the point of view of the producers of wealth

:)

anyway, Hospers is such a leftist on issue after issue. he consistently doesn't understand liberalism or Objectivism. and Rand kept inviting him over. it says a lot about the world that she, despite her fame, was unable to find better people to interact with. (yes she had some like Mises, but not enough to fill her schedule. Hospers made the cut.) That's really sad and worrying about the quality of thinkers to be found in the world. (it also speaks ill of libertarians that Hospers, who just fundamentally doesn't get liberalism, and is always wanting the government to violate liberty for this or that excuse, is considered a libertarian and is actually the first guy they ran for US president.)


part 2 is much less interesting. a lot of it is Hospers talking about his own (confused) philosophy. one notable part is he's so gullible that he was fooled by ESP (extra sensory perception) claims. and he was very surprised by Ayn Rand's opposition to ESP. previously he was surprised by her opposition to large-scale government confiscation and redistribution of land. he doesn't seem to have known much about her perspective. Hospers is also condescending to Rand in lots of places. Towards the end Hospers is shocked that Rand doesn't respect tenure, and doesn't understand her respect for children's privacy. this part was notable:

Not long after, New York University's philosopher Sidney Hook attacked her in print, and she wanted me to take him on as well. Knowing Sidney, I was disinclined to do this. He already knew about my acquaintance with Ayn, but we had never discussed it further (I hardly ever saw him). Should I now condemn him publicly and destroy a long-standing friendship? I knew that this friendship would be at an end if I condemned him.

what a coward with no intellectual integrity! he cares for maintaining friendships with villains over speaking the truth.

after that there's some nice stuff about Rand's views again. even though the narrator is distorting the hell out of her positions, some good stuff comes through about having standards for friends. why would you want to be friends with a very immoral person?

then they breakup because he dishonestly attacks her ideas, not b/c he thinks they are wrong, but b/c he thinks the social situation requires it. what a rotten bastard with no respect for the intellect this Hospers is! quote:

In general I agreed with it; but a commentator cannot simply say "That was a fine paper" and then sit down.

so he thought it was a fine paper, then said something else. he threw Rand under the bus, by speaking ill of her work, because he wasn't comfortably saying what he considered true. she didn't like it. and he blames her for being unreasonable and doesn't see his fault. (he says she got really angry but that could easily be a misinterpretation, it's hard to tell. and even if she did and that was an emotional mistake, she was still in the right on the substantive issues.)

he says he was friends with Rand for 2.5 years.

Hospers is chronically dishonest. it's so ingrained in his life that he actually shares it, throughout, by accident. he doesn't realize how he caused most of the problems with his immorality.


Elliot Temple on September 13, 2016

Comments (1)

hospers and hook

IHospers agrees with Rand on a load of stuff, and Syndey Hook attacks her. Hospers should be thinking that Hook is also attacking the values Hospers and Rand have in common. If Hospers is right about those values, then he is abandoning Hook to a bad life. If Hospers is wrong, Hospers should want to learn about his errors. And if Hook won't engage in such discussions why bother being his friend?

Alan at 1:20 PM on September 24, 2016 | #6709

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)