Monday, November 23, 2009

On Motivations and Truth

In light of the two biographies recently published about her, many articles have been written about Ayn Rand recently.  I want to take up one notion today.  One fact people often cite as significant and formative about Rand was her strong reaction to the situation in Russia and that her parents had to send her away to protect her life.  They generally opine that that it twisted and distorted and made her anti-government.

I think that the conclusion you are meant to be drawn to is that Rand, herself, was "seething with resentment" and was biased against government as such along with altruism and any form of collectivism and that because of this bias all of her arguments should be dismissed.  By "biased" I mean that a person's position is impervious to any further evidence or data on the issue.  What I'd like to take up is the idea that intense motivation must necessarily result in an unavoidable bias which contaminates your work.

For comparison, I would like to also introduce a hypothetical scenario of intense motivation.  Consider a a research scientist who loses a child to some disease and devotes his life to the eradication of this disease. Is it right to feel upset over such a loss? Yes. Is it wrong to want to want to conquer this disease? No. So... one could say this person is highly motivated, possibily emotional, but not necessarily that he or his work will be fundamentally biased and flawed.  Why?  Because science and medicine do not abide bias.  And bias here is not inevitable, provided that the research scientist is fact-oriented and documents his work so that he, himself, and others may validate it.

We started with the question: "Does intense motivation and bias have to go hand in hand?" Which we know is a possibility and which has happened in history.  But the more important question, as in the situation with the research scientist, is whether there a means to validate whether a body of work is valid even when the creator of that body of work was deeply invested in a subject?  (And it is more important because the validity of a body of work stands on whether they got the facts right and nothing else.)

To this question, the answer is "yes".  The means is called reason, which is the only way that I have ever come to understand anything. In my life, there has been no mystic revelation and any attempt to rely on blind luck has been variable.  In matters where I can judge the premises and the data and the logic for myself, I am fully confident that I can judge for myself what is the truth of the matter and thus, how to act.  We all must be to make decisions in life, reason is the fundamental to not making them blindly.

Rand's intense motivation does not automatically make her philosophical theories invalid.  And I, for my part, prefer someone who is passionate about their work to someone who is in a line of work that their parents chose for them.  Passion and Reason do not have to be enemies, and in Rand's body of work you will find detailed definitions and argumentation for all of her positions in the field of philosophy and politics.  Hers is a reason-oriented philosphy argued in passionate detail.

You have the data and the means to validate her ideas for yourself.  So does it matter that other people consider her biased?  Not if you use the tools in your brain case.