Epistemology

With respect to how one gains knowledge, individualism holds, to quote Ayn Rand (1993, p. 679), “the mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act—the process of reason—must be performed by each man alone . . . . No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of the body and spirit are private.” For each individual, one’s mind, one’s rational judgment, is one’s main means of survival—the means by which one identifies facts, forms concepts, integrates concepts into principles, chooses values, makes decisions, and thereby regulates the course of one’s life. Obviously people learn from each other, but one must use one’s mind to understand others and judge the validity of their assertions.

Collectivists deny that thinking is an action of the individual. For the Platonists, the individual is not fully real, therefore, neither is individual thought. In the highest form of the state, Plato writes, “the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions . . . ” (Plato, 1937). Because both the denial of the reality of the individual and the assertion of the reality of a nonperceivable superorganism are based on the rejection of the evidence of the senses (a self-contradictory premise), the concept of the organic theory of the state necessarily rests on a mystical basis (e.g., some form of ineffable, nonrational “intuition”).

For collectivism, truth is not a discovery made by the individual mind and validated through reason but is pronounced through special agents of history or mere convention established by collective consensus. Individuals are not sovereign entities but determined by social influences. The foundation for the view of truth as social or collective subjectivism (Rand, 1961) was originally promulgated by Kant (Peikoff, 1982). For Kant the real (noumenal) world was unknowable and what we perceive (the phenomenal world) is dictated by innate mental structures common to all people. This skeptical view of knowledge was accepted by virtually all of his successors, including postmodernists who basically replaced the innate structures with collective feelings (Ghate, 2003; Ghate & Locke, 2003).

 
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