Rand vs David Hume 1.1

Ayn Rand misrepresents Hume, from “Philosophy Who Needs It?[1] Chapter 2: Philosophical Detection, paragraph 10”:

The story so far: According to Hume and deductive logic, inductive logic is uncertain, or “probable” [2]. Because Rand’s epistemology of knowledge and certain truth is, essentially, inductive logic[3]; Hume and deductive logic directly contradict Rand. Drama ensues.

First sentence: “‘Don’t be so sure- nobody can be certain of anything.[4]’”

In the previous chapter, Rand says we “got this from Hume and many, many others”[5]. Despite the quotation marks, she is the actual author. It is a false, incorrect paraphrase of Hume’s Problem of Induction plus an anachronistic paraphrase of Bertrand Russell.

A) “Nobody can be certain of anything.”

  1. “… certain…” Certain refers to a conclusion proven with deductive logic, e.g. 2+2=4 is certain. Certain also means a psychological commitment to a belief, e.g. “I am certain I parked right here!” That is a different topic.
  2. “…Nobody can be certain…” If deductive logic is certain, then people using deductive logic can be certain. Therefore, Rand’s phrase is a) not logical and b) not a paraphrase of Hume.
  3. “Nobody can be certain of anything.” Rand’s phrase is reminiscent of the adolescent emotional hyperbole “you never let me do anything!” and is of similar nature; as though Hume said, “Inductive logic is probable”; to which Rand replied, “You’re saying nobody can be certain of anything!” and then wrote down her own words and said they came from him. Rand’s paraphrase is false.
  4. If Rand is referring to Russell’s Paradox, Gödel’s Incompleteness Theory and/or Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Theory, then her paraphrase is anachronistic and not from Hume.

B) “Don’t be so sure…”

  1. This is an semi-accurate paraphrase of Bertrand Russell: “Do not feel absolutely certain about anything[6]”. The topic is our psychological certainty, which we can choose  to be absolute about. Rand leaves out the “feel” part.
  2. This phrase is not about inductive logic. The uncertainty of inductive logic is not a choice; if that were the topic, the correct word would be “can’t”- “Can’t be so sure”.
  3. Russell said this after Russell’s Paradox, Gödel’s Incompleteness Theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Theory and centuries after Hume, therefore Rand’s paraphrase is anachronistic and not from Hume.

Rand presents her straw man as though originating with Hume when it does not. Rand’s straw man misrepresents the issues Hume was concerned with. Rand’s straw man  is false, incorrect emotional hyperbole.



[1] Rand, Signet, Penguin Group, Penguin books USA 1984

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/

[3] Rand For the New Intellectual page 29 Signet, New American Library, 1957

[4] Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pg 36 Mentor, New American Library, 1979

[5] Rand, Philosophy Who Needs It? Chapter 1 Philosophy Who Needs It? p. 4 Signet, Penguin Group, Penguin books USA 1984


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