Gary H. Merrill - False Wisdom





Gary H. Merrill discusses aspects of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical in Chapter 11 ("Ayn Rand: Mostly Borrowed, Nothing New?). Merrill credits Sciabarra's quest to "track down Rand's univiersity transcript[...] following many years of effort, tribulation, misdirection, and deception," as explained in Sciabarra's "Investigative Report: In Search of the The Rand Transcript." Merrill states: "Sciabarra's rendition of the transcript includes brief descriptions of the courses Rand took in the area of philosophy as well as a n umber of speculations concerning both the content of those courses and their influence on Rand's thinking and approach to philosophy. Unfortunately, copies of the original trnascript (in Russian and unedited have never been made available to the public." Merrill bemoans that we only have "reports, summaries or 'translations' of the transcript" and that we have to "assume that these are mostly accurate, although there are good reasons ... to be cautious and not to feel overly confident in this assumption. ... [T]his situation of the inaccessibility of Rand's transcript appears to exhibit aspects of discouraging inquiry --- not on Rand's part, but in the actions of some of her followers" (p. 244). Merrill states: "Requests for such evidence are met with either silence or diversion" (p. 309).

Merrill's larger point is that Rand's writing shows no evidence of "someone who has been competently instructed in philosophy, its methodologies, and its standards --- and then been held to those standards as part of that educational and training process" (p. 309). If anything, her "work shows every sign of someone who, in philosophy, was self-taught. Rand's major was history, Merrill emphasizes, and "there is no credible evidence that she 'minored' in philosophy in any meaningful sense of that term" (p. 309).

Merrill argues that the evidence that is availble is "compatible with this view. The best account we have of Rand's study at the university in Petrograd is Chris Sciabarra's summary of her academic transcript ... But this ... is an interpretation of a translation of the original Russian transcript (not available for independent examination) and is dense with groundless speculation. Even so, let's assume that the translation is competent and accurate, and that the list of courses that Sciabarra provides is accurate and complete" (p. 309).

"The (Sciabarra-rendered) transcript contains 26 courses of which 15 are straightforward history courses (from history of the ancient world through medieval history and modern history). Of the remaining 11 courses, 3 are in the area of social science, 1 is in the area of natural science (biology), 1 is in foreign language (French), and 4 are in what is best referred to as 'ideology' (political, economic, and social theory from a Soviet perpsective). The remaining 2 are the only courses whose titles and descriptions suggest that they would have significant philosophical content: Logic (which appears to be a mixed course in Aristotelian syllogism, informal logic, and what today we would call 'critical reasoning'), and Political Economy (which appears to be a heavily ideological course focused on Marxist theory of economics and value). Perhaps it was in the logic course where Rand learned about Aristotle, in conjunction with some treatment of him and Aquinas in her courses in ancient and medieval history." Merrill argues that "[t]his definitely is not a picture of someone 'minoring' in philosophy ... Where are the courses devoted to the history of philosophy?" (p. 310).

"Tilting at his windmill to establish Rand's use of 'dialectical' methods, Sciabarra does his best to convince us that it was in this collection of history, social science, and ideology courses that Rand received significant and valuable philosophical training. But he just can't make his argument even remotely convincing, and this is primarily because he seems to have too much integrity to make the strong (though certainly false) claims necessary to support this view. Instead, his descriptions of the courses, their content, and the roles of various professors and their influence on Rand's understanding of philosophy is littered with speculations about which instructor "probably" or "likely" taught a course that Rand took --- and then even more speculative suggestions and implications are made about what areas or topics or approaches in philosophy would have been covered in the course on the assumption that the speculation concerning its instructor is true!" (p. 310).

"Sciabarra continually refers vaguely to philosophers with whom various instructors --- who may have been Rand's professors --- were (or may have been) familiar. Then there are statements like "it is entirely possible that Rand studied progressive pedagogy closely" from which we are invited to infer that Rand may have been introduced to the recently published works of John Dewey to the degree that this "may have left an impression, since she remained deeply critical of the progressive approach." In fact, however, even under the most congenial assumptions about the accuracy of Rand's transcript and of Sciabarra's speculative interpretation of it, there is no evidence that Rand received even a moderately good education in philosophy during her time at the university of Petrograd. And at the end of that time she rushed to enroll in the State Institute of Cinema Arts to pursue a career in script writing" (p. 311).

Merrill continues: "Sciabarra's greatest hope had been to link Rand, as a student, to Nikolay (N. O.) Lossky --- a fairly well-known Russian philosopher whom Sciabarra hoped to establish as the intellectual influence for what he sees (though few others do) as a dialectical approach in Rand. But in the end, as documented in his ... 'Investigative Report', ... the attempt to link Rand to Lossky was a house of cards. In fact Rand herself seems to have had only a fairly vague memory of encountering him in her freshman year, after which the Soviets terminated Lossky's position in Petrograd, packed himon one of their Philosopher's ships and exiled him. Again, there is no evidence that Rand "studied" with Lossky in any sense" (p. 311).




Sciabarra's Response to Lennox Click here to view the Author's response

AYN RAND:HOME PAGE Back to Dialectics & Liberty Home Page