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Ayn Rand’s Subbasement, &c.

November 1, 2009

In honor of grant writing season, no posts today. But here is a quote from Sam Anderson’s excellent profile of Ayn Rand:

Stated premises, however, rarely get us all the way down to the bottom of a philosophy. Even when we think we’ve reached bedrock, there’s almost always a secret subbasement blasted out somewhere underneath. William James once argued that every philosophic system sets out to conceal, first of all, the philosopher’s own temperament: that pre-rational bundle of preferences that urges him to hop on whatever logic-train seems to be already heading in his general direction. This creates, as James put it, “a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned … What the system pretends to be is a picture of the great universe of God. What it is—and oh so flagrantly!—is the revelation of how intensely odd the personal flavor of some fellow creature is.”

Moving on, here is a quote from Justin Fox’s review of several books on John Maynard Keynes:

Keynes’s political views were dominated by a pragmatism similar to what Clarke describes, where the best is the enemy of the good. Keynes was no socialist, but also no free-market ideologue. He was interested in what worked.

I like that definition of pragmatism. I also like one of the reviewed author’s views on macroeconomics:

Skidelsky is of the opinion that graduate education in economics should be sharply divided into micro economics, in which students single-mindedly focus their mathematical and logical skills on problems that aren’t dominated by uncertainty, and macroeconomics, which requires a more varied humanistic training.

Hmm, sounds like macroecon is waiting for a quantitative and historically-oriented macroeconomic sociologist to give it a shot in the arm.

And finally, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the world-historical events of 1989, here’s a quote from the Nation’s review of several books on that year:

As for socialism, what originated in the early nineteenth century as a noble political philosophy devoted to promoting the common good was reduced to an epithet hurled at anyone skeptical of the workings of laissez-faire or the idea that capitalism is intrinsic to the natural order. Socialism has a long history, but it has not been able to escape the crushing burden of its recent Leninist incarnation.


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