Open and Closed Objectivism
People remain confused regarding whether or not Objectivism is an "open system" of philosophy.
Many people completely miss the issue at hand (hint: it has nothing to do with copyright). Perhaps the confusion is because people on both sides of the issue represent the issue differently.
The people on the "open" side represent the issue as regarding the freedom to innovate and integrate ideas. They hold that to close Objectivism means that any hidden errors in it should be preserved and adhered to; that closing Objectivism means stopping or at least impeding philosophic progress within Objectivism.
The people on the "closed" side represent the issue as regarding both the integrity and the identity of Objectivism. They hold that opening Objectivism means that Ayn Rand's ideas may be undermined by philosophic inflation—the introduction of counterfeit Objectivism. They also claim that those who want to open Objectivism wish, ultimately, to increase the stature of their own ideas by calling them part of Objectivism.
Who is right? Is either party misrepresenting the opponent's viewpoint? What does closing Objectivism mean (minimizing opinionated interpretation)? Here are the two answers:
- Refusing to allow Objectivism to evolve towards a more correct philosophy.
- Protecting the identity of Ayn Rand's philosophic ideas, under her chosen name for them, for future generations to study.
Answer #1 raises some questions. Does Objectivism need to evolve? If so, why? If Objectivism does not evolve, what does that mean? Members of the "open" camp would answer "Yes, it needs to evolve. Otherwise, it will be left in the dustbin of history when corrected or improved upon. Objectivism needs to be kept correct."
To this, I must ask: "Has Aristotle's philosophy been left in the dustbin of history just because Objectivism isn't currently called Aristotelianism?"
The answer is no. Aristotle's ideas, today, are held in high esteem by Objectivists, even as we recognize his errors. And we still consider him to be one of philosophy's giants.
Absolutely no harm has been done to Aristotle's legacy by the fact that it has not been revised since his death. Ayn Rand adopted his best ideas, corrected some of his errors, added many new ideas, and called the result Objectivism rather than Aristotelianism. Why did she do this? Because to call her work part of Aristotelianism would have been dishonest. Her work was not his.
Is there a real downside to closing Objectivism? Only if you hold that Objectivism should forever be known as "the best philosophy" even in the face of ongoing innovation in philosophy. But this is misguided. What's so important about forever naming the best philosophical ideas "Objectivism"?
Perhaps it would allow us to forever be able to say "Ayn Rand was right," even after she gets corrected. But that would be dishonest.
Perhaps it would allow each of us to keep calling himself an “Objectivist” even as we disagree with Ayn Rand’s philosophy. But that would also be dishonest.
Ultimately, honestly speaking, it is pointless to allow the meaning of the term "Objectivism" to change in the face of philosophical innovation. Doing so would only spread confusion.
Closing Objectivism only means that Ayn Rand's chapter in the innovation of philosophy is complete.
This allows future authors of philosophy to refer back to her chapter as an objective whole; the whole of Ayn Rand's philosophic thought. This whole consists of all of Ayn Rand's philosophic ideas, not just her fundamental principles.
Closing Objectivism doesn't prevent the ideas in Objectivism from evolving. It just prevents them from being called part of Objectivism once they evolve.
Closing Objectivism also does not encourage people to slavishly follow any ideas in Objectivism which are discovered false.
Objectivism as such does not need to be kept correct, nor do we need to keep repeating any of its mistakes. On the contrary, “Objectivism” needs to be kept well-defined, devoid of any revisions, so that two or more people who are evaluating it in the future can be sure they are talking about the same thing: Ayn Rand's philosophy.