A Journal for Western Man




Open System or Closed System?

Kyrel Zantonavitch

Issue LVI- May 3, 2006


     Objectivists spend a lot of time debating whether their philosophy is an "open system" or a "closed" one. In 1989 David Kelley said it was open and Leonard Peikoff said it was closed. Most of Kelley's organization, The Objectivist Center, still finds it open, while all of Peikoff's organization, The Ayn Rand Institute, still claims it's closed. In turn, the atmosphere and culture of TOC is generally loosely-organized, tolerant of dissent, and open-minded, while the atmosphere and culture of ARI is generally monolithic, intolerant, and closed-minded.  
      Although the discussion of open vs. closed is doubtless important and interesting in some regards, for the most part this debate seems empty and pointless. And it even seems rather poorly defined and ineptly conducted by both sides.  
      The philosophy of Objectivism is without question a coherent, integrated, and unified system of thought. It has many clear, definite, well-described, and undebatable principles and premises. Thus Objectivism is a defined system which is very clear and highly self-consistent. But it isn't open or closed per se.  
      As an intellectual "system" Objectivism is ultimately no different than the group of ideas and beliefs which surrounds, animates, embodies, and defines Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Neo-Platonism, Buddhism, Christianity, Kantianism, Marxism, Utilitarianism, Pragmatism, Post-Modernism, and so on. These are all identifiable and coherent systems of thought with their own particular theories, laws, rules, ideals, ideas, beliefs, and speculations which all adherents of these thought-systems more or less agree on. These ideologies and belief-systems are neither wildly, contradictorily, mindlessly "open" nor militantly, dogmatically, mindlessly "closed." Rather they are properly regarded as defined -- rationally, logically, usefully, helpfully, correctly, and internally-consistently defined.  
      However if you have to choose one description over the other -- as none-too-liberal Objectivists seem to demand -- then the term to be preferred is "open" with its concomitant ideals of "free" and "tolerant." Humans change, progress, and ascend; and so do their ideas and ideals. All bodies of thought -- and especially all personal philosophies of life -- are properly open to expansion and emendation. And this doesn't just mean "new integrations and applications" of old, static, rigid, ossified, unchangeable ideas as certain obtuse and malicious pseudo-Objectivists often claim.  
      In the world of philosophic speculation, if it turns out some idea, theory, logical conclusion, or derivative construct of Aristotle, Kant, Marx, or Rand contradicts the rest, then that thought and claim is likely no longer properly considered Aristotelian, Kantian, Marxist, or Objectivist. So, too, if a new, better idea supplants or supersedes it. Thus some aspects of Aristotle's thought are accurately described as anti-Aristotelian. These would be those thoughts and claims which refute or don't cohere with the main or more important body of thoughts and inter-related theories relevant to a given discussion.  
      And how could it be otherwise? What if one of the philosophers under consideration made a terrible mistake -- as humans are wont to do? Or what if some dreadfully foolish or wicked idea is falsely attributed to them -- as also often happens in human history? In the case of mistaken attribution, how could one ever refute it? Barring any successful investigation of the past, one would have to rely on the vehicle of independent analysis based on internal consistency, logical cohesion, and factual conformity to reality. The alternative is a potential mass of contradiction, self-refutation, and falsity in the belief-system.  
      The fact is that all intellectual systems of thought are largely "open" to change, progress, correction, and improvement. This is true of such well-established philosophies as Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism -- and it's true of Objectivism, too.  
      Virtually everyone on earth knows this. Virtually all philosophers and intellectuals in the history of man know this. Only a relative handful of closed-minded cultists and evil religious zealots don't know this.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  (http://www.liberalinstitute.com/) and a writer for Rebirth of Reason (http://www.rebirthofreason.com). He can be contacted at zantonavitch@yahoo.com

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue LVI Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.