Essays and Comments on Nietzsche and Ayn Rand:
1. Eyal Mozes, "The Relationship Between the Philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand"
2. David Potts, "Some Points of Agreement Between Ayn Rand and Nietzsche"
3. Michal Fram Cohen, "Nietzsche's Influence on Jewish Writers"
In this final unit of the CyberSeminar, we turn our attention officially to the relationship b
etween the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand . I sense that this is the moment most of us have been waiting for, so let the fray commence.
I would like to frame our discussion by isolating three questions:
1. The question of the extent of agreement: On how many issues do Nietzsche and Rand agree?
And then: Of the issues upon which they agree, which are of fundamental significance and which of secondary or less significance?
2. The question of influence: In the areas of agreement, to what extent did Nietzsche influence Rand? Can we determine whether Rand was influenced on that issue by Nietzsche, or by some other thinker(s), or whether she arrived at that position independently?
3. The question of the early versus the mature Rand: Are there issues about which the early Rand agreed with Nietzsche but which the mature Rand did not? And then: Can we isolate when and why those changes occurred?
My contribution to the discussion will be focused upon the first question. To begin, I’ve constructed a table that compares Nietzsche’s and Rand’s views on 68 philosophical issues. The table covers the major issues in metaphysics, epistemology, human nature, ethics, and politics. The table also includes six other, philosophically related issues of comparison.
After the table, I’ve added some comments on the significance of the tabulated results.
I have given references for Nietzsche’s works; but I’ve assumed that we are all familiar enough with Rand’s works to know where to look for her view on any given issue. In the references to Nietzsche’s works, I’ve used the following abbreviations:
BGE Beyond Good and Evil
EH Ecce Homo
GM Genealogy of Morals
GS Gay Science
HA Human All-too-Human
TI Twilight of the Idols
WP Will to Power
Z Thus Spake Zarathustra
Comparing Nietzsche's and Rand's Philosophies
Entity or process
Process (GM I:13; WP 552, 1067; BGE 54)
Entities as objective; be wary of armchair physics
Monism, dualism, or pluralism
Monism (WP 1067)
Naturalism: no armchair physics
No (WP 507-517)
Identity and change compatible
No (WP 520)
No (WP 497, 545-552)
No (WP 552, 1067, Postcard to Overbeck)
Yes for organisms
Direction to evolution
Yes (GM II.24)
No armchair physics or biology
Existence of God
No (GS 125)
Consciousness as identification
No (WP 507, 511, 513; GM II.16)
Consciousness as functional/useful
Yes (WP 505)
Consciousness as causal
No (WP 477-478, 524)
Consciousness as identification
No (BGE 211; WP 473, 479, 481, 516, 521)
Sensations as awareness of reality
No (WP 479)
Sensations as value laden
Yes (WP 505)
Concepts as awareness of reality
No (WP 507, 513)
Logic as reality-based
No (WP 477, 512)
Sensations, concepts, and theories as impositions upon reality
Always (WP 515-516)
Sensations never; false conceptions only
As functional only (WP 487), as a useful error (WP 493)
Both as identification and as functional
Reason as efficacious
Weakly at best
Reason as primary cognitive tool
No (GS 354)
Instinct as cognitively efficacious
Yes (GM II.16)
Philosophy as systematic
Yes (GM, Preface, 2)
False (GM III.12; BGE 207)
False (GM III.12)
True (BGE 211), but not in the dualistic sense (WP 481)
True (GM III.12; WP 540)
Reduction of morality to psychology
Yes (BGE 6; GM I.10?)
Reduction of psychology to biology
Yes (TI 33; WP 529)
Individual as real
No (TI 33)
Will as primary
Yes (WP 1067)
No (BGE 21; GM II.10: no "guilt," only sickness; Postcard to Overbeck)
Reason and passion/emotion priority
Passion/emotion has priority (BGE 36, 68, 158, 191)
Reason and Passion/emotion relationship
Conflict (EH: "The Birth of Tragedy" 1: "'Rationality' against instinct")
Should be harmony
Tabula rasa or nativism
Strong nativism (BGE 231, 264)
Cognitive and moral tabula rasa
Science as ennobling
No (GM III.25)
Morality in the service of life
Yes (BGE; GM)
Conflict of interest the fundamental social fact
Yes (BGE 259)
Values as intrinsic
No (GM I.10)
Values as objective
Values as subjective
Yes (BGE 260?)
Individuals as ends in themselves
No (WP 287), yes (BGE 287)
Individuals responsible for their characters
No (BGE 264)
Individuals responsible for their actions
No and yes
Sacrificing self to others
Yes, if a weakling (TI 33)
Sacrificing others to self
Yes, if strong (BGE 265; WP 369, 982)
Individual life as the standard
No (BGE 188)
The improvement of the species as the end
Yes (BGE 126; Z Prologue 4)
Sacrificing some for the sake of the species
Yes (BGE 62, 258; WP 246; GM II.12)
Power as the end
As means and end (WP 1067)
As means only
Survival as standard
No (BGE 13)
Happiness as the end
Egoism as good
Depends (TI 33). "[T]he subject--the striving individual bent on furthering his egoistic purposes--can be thought of only as the enemy of art, never its source" (BT)
Altruism as bad
Yes; depends (TI 33)
Altruism as the egoism of the weak
Yes (GM I.8, III.14)
Rationality as a virtue
No (EH: "Birth of Tragedy" 1)
War as good
Yes (GS 283; HA 477)
Morality as relative to psychological type
Yes (BGE 221)
No. "For the preservation of society, for making possible higher and highest types--the inequality of rights is the condition"
False and destructive (WP 246)
Before the law
Bad (BGE 202)
Secondary to rights
On the welfare state
Good (BGE 257, 258)
Sometimes good (BGE 188)
On the role of government
Limited (D 179)
Dehumanizing for most (D 2 6)
Civilization as ascending or declining
Dec|ining (BGE 202; GM I.11,12); but Zarathustra will come (GM II.24)
Currently declining; future could go either way
Exalted sense of human potential
Yes (GM I.12)
Engaged in a cosmic battle
Struggle as good
Yes (BGE 262)
"A rebellion of everything that crawls on the ground against that which has height" (A 43)
"A coward before reality" (TI 2)
"A catastrophic spider" (A 11)
What does the table signify?
Let’s start with a crude measure: a count of the number of issues on which they agree and disagree.
Of the 68 issues, I count 51 disagreements and 17 agreements between Nietzsche and Rand. That’s a disagreement/agreement ratio of 3 to 1.
Of the 17 agreements, 11 of them are negative agreements, i.e., agreements that something is false or wrong--e.g., that God does not exist, that values are not intrinsic, that Plato and Kant are not wonderful human beings.
That leaves 6 areas of positive agreement, i.e., agreements that something is right or true. Those six include three philosophical theses:
And the six include three sense of life issues:
If we compare the agreements and disagreements by area of philosophy, then we get the following.
In metaphysics, Nietzsche and Rand agree on nothing except that God is dead and that consciousness is functional. They disagree on the priority of process, about identity, causality, teleology, and on a series of issues involving the extent to which (putting it in Objectivist terms) philosophers can do armchair science.
In epistemology, there is even less agreement between the two. Except for agreeing that philosophy is systematic and that intrinsicism is false, they disagree on everything from whether consciousness is identification, to the validity of sensation, concepts, logic, reason, and the universality of truth.
In human nature, there are no areas of agreement. (Though if we added traditional mind/body dualism to the table, then the two would agree that it’s false.)
In ethics, there is significant agreement on two major issues: that morality should be in the service of life, and that altruism is anti-life. There are also substantial disagreements: about whether conflicts of interest are fundamental, about whether life is the standard of value, about whether power or happiness is the end, about whether sacrifice is good, about whether rationality is the primary virtue or even a virtue at all.
In politics, they agree that contemporary civilization has very significant problems, and that socialism and the welfare state are nauseating; but while Nietzsche has good things to say about aristocracy, slavery, and war and bad things to say about capitalism, Rand says the opposite. Finally, they share the same exalted, heroic struggle sense of life--although Nietzsche adds to that a strong dose of bloodthirstiness that we do not find in Rand, while Rand regularly adds a strong dose of anger that we do not find in Nietzsche.
Conclusion: Summarizing the key differences and similarities. My judgment is that the differences between Nietzsche and Rand greatly outweigh the similarities. They are both atheists, they both are naturalistic in their approach to consciousness and values, and they are both hostile to altruism. Yet they share very little positive philosophy: they disagree on virtually every fundamental issue in metaphysics, epistemology, and human nature; and they disagree about the proper positive standard, means, and end of ethics. My post does not address the questions of Nietzsche’s influence upon Rand or of the extent to which Rand later expunged earlier Nietzschean elements in her thinking. Please feel welcome to address those questions too.
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