On Saturday, I posted a notable comment on the thread of On Jim Valliant. (It was written in response to this comment from Jim.) It explains as much as I plan to say about my personal judgment of Leonard Peikoff, so I’m reposting it here, with some editing, plus an addendum on the “Premise Checkers.” Hopefully, these will be my very last remarks on these ridiculous WTFuffles.
Jim claims that I am “simply trying to conceal [my] true opinion of Leonard Peikoff from others” because “this would alienate a whole class of readers.”
That’s wrong, and it’s unfair. I am refusing to talk about my own judgment of Leonard Peikoff as a person because it’s a personal and private matter. It’s none of the world’s business.
Some years ago, I was friends with Dr. Peikoff. I didn’t discuss that publicly. Then, the friendship disintegrated. Again, I didn’t discuss that publicly. As usually happens when a friendship sours, I lost some respect for Dr. Peikoff as a person as a result of what happened. Again, I won’t discuss that publicly.
Basically, I regard my personal judgment of Dr. Peikoff as my private business, and I’m entitled to keep it that way. It depends on my private experiences, as well as my personal context of knowledge and values. For me to expose my personal conflicts with Dr. Peikoff to the world would be morally wrong. I won’t do it, no matter how much some people attempt to pressure or provoke me.
Other people can and should should judge Dr. Peikoff for themselves, based on their own experiences, as well as their own contexts of knowledge and values. Even though I might disagree with other people’s judgments, often strongly, I don’t regard the matter as suitable for public debate. That could only be a source of bitter conflict and pointless distraction at a time when our culture desperately needs an infusion of rational ideas.
My personal rift with Dr. Peikoff has not affected my intellectual judgment of his achievements as a philosopher. I don’t always agree with him, but his courses and lectures are indispensable to anyone interested in deeply understanding Objectivism. I’ve learned more from him than I can say, and I’m hugely grateful for that. That’s why I routinely recommend his lectures and books, and I will continue to do that.
Yes, I’ve had some serious disagreements with some of Dr. Peikoff’s remarks in his podcasts over the last few years. I’ve spoken publicly about some of them, partly as an expression of my respect for his importance and relevance to Objectivism. When my disagreements were strong, I expressed them in strong language — rightfully so, I think. I take full responsibility for what I’ve said, and I explained my views in my January blog post, On Some Recent Controversies.
As a result of expressing those disagreements, I’ve been unjustly attacked, harassed, lied about, and defamed on the internet. I can bear that well enough, but it’s an unpleasant distraction, to be sure. I’ve got better things to do than deal with the Premise Checkers and their ilk — as does every other rational and productive Objectivist.
That’s why I don’t plan to comment further on Dr. Peikoff’s podcasts, whether I think them right or wrong. I’ll simply talk about the substantive issues of interest to me, as I did in my recent webcast discussion of consent in sex. That’s a sad state of affairs, in my view: Objectivists should be able to discuss their disagreements openly, without worry that they’ll be unjustly smeared by a bunch of random strangers on the internet.
My critics can choose to interpret all that as me dishonestly concealing my true opinions of Dr. Peikoff. That would be completely wrong, however. I’m trying to be fair to a philosopher who has produced a fantastic body of philosophic work, who I’ve had a personal and private falling out with, and who expresses opinions on occasion that I think seriously wrong.
I will continue to expand my knowledge, pursue my values, cultivate my skills, act on principle, advocate good ideas, and enjoy my awesome life. Yes, I can do that while studying and enjoying Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic work, yet not revering or admiring him as a person.
The latest essay from the “Premise Checkers” — Diana Hsieh’s Subjective Morality by John Kagebein — aims to prove that I’m a moral subjectivist and a coward. That’s absurd, as anyone familiar with me and my work knows. (In addition to poor writing and poor argumentation, the essay seriously mispresents the cited exchange on Facebook. In fact, John and other soon-to-be “Premise Checkers” trolled a thread of mine with hostile comments that began with John saying, “Really, Diana? Your’re [sic] just going let the overt, mindless Peikoff-bashers have free reign on your wall?” It went downhill from there. Yes, I got irritated. Yes, I was rude. They earned it — in spades.)
The essay is informative on one point, however: it clearly states the basic moral standards and values of the “Premise Checkers.”
First, John is not merely concerned to defend Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic work, but rather his whole life: “Leonard Peikoff’s life, his work, stands nearly equal to that of Ayn Rand’s in the promotion of reason and Objectivism.” Then, after enumerating some of Dr. Peikoff’s accomplishments, John writes:
Every person who dares to call himself an Objectivist should have nothing but the profoundest respect for Leonard Peikoff and should demand nothing less from their friends and cohorts who also call themselves Objectivists. To fail to do so is an act of injustice!
That’s quite revealing of the core dispute here. The Premise Checkers are not merely lauding Dr. Peikoff’s achievements. They are not merely judging Dr. Peikoff to be a great person. That would not be controversial or problematic. Instead, they are claiming that anything less than “the profoundest respect” for Dr. Peikoff’s whole person constitutes as an intolerable moral failing in an Objectivist. That’s deeply wrong, even alarming.
Personally, I’m not interested in any such cult of personality — and I don’t wish to see the Objectivist movement transformed into that.
A person is an Objectivist or not based on his agreement with and practice of the principles of Objectivism. Objectivists can reasonably disagree amongst themselves about applications of Objectivist principles, as well as about issues outside the scope of the philosophy. Similarly, Objectivists can reasonably disagree in their judgments of any given person due to differences in their knowledge of and experiences with that person.
Some criticisms of Dr. Peikoff are unjust, but that’s not always the case. People can disagree in their judgments of him — or have less than “the profoundest respect” for him — without being irrational or unjust. Here, recall that a number of prominent Objectivists in good standing with ARI have conflicts with Dr. Peikoff. (He said in his statement on John McCaskey’s resignation that he is “on terms of personal enmity” with “a few longtime Board members” of ARI.)
Ultimately, to demand that every Objectivist experience and display “the profoundest respect” for Dr. Peikoff means demanding that some people ignore what they’ve seen and heard for themselves. Basically, it’s a demand for blind worship of a person — meaning: a demand that Objectivists repudiate the virtues of rationality, independence, and justice. Revering Dr. Peikoff based on your own judgment is not wrong. Loudly demanding that others do so, despite their own judgment, is deeply, deeply wrong.
If this cult of personality gains traction, the Objectivist movement will become insular, dogmatic, and repressive — as I’ve said before. Happily, I see much resistance to this trend, particularly from some of the most productive, benevolent, and effective Objectivist activists.
At this point, the “Premise Checkers” have revealed enough of their own premises, motives, and methods that I don’t plan to say anything further about them or their defamatory campaign against me. It’s just a waste of my time. The “Premise Checkers” will likely continue their attempts to intimidate Objectivists into their cult of personality. I hope that people resist, whatever their view of Dr. Peikoff and whatever their view of me. It’s a matter of principle, not personality.
Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth… thank goodness!