Rand vs Hume 1.3

In the commonly accepted language of logic, “certain” refers to the conclusions we reach using deductive logic. For example, once the rules of an arithmetic are decided on, 2 + 2 = 4 every time we do it; i.e., it is “certain”. In the 17th century, David Hume found that inductive logic cannot be certain; we cannot know the sun will rise tomorrow, just because it came up yesterday. Hume’s knowledge of the world through inductive logic is “probable”. This is commonly called, “the Problem of Induction”.

Rand has written a straw man on this topic, which she ascribes to David Hume, “Don’t be so sure, nobody can be certain of anything.”i

This essay covers the second sentence of Rand’s attempted refutation, “The pronouncement means no knowledge of any kind is possible to man; i.e., that man is not conscious.”

Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is based on tabula rasa , the idea that sensory data makes a one-to-one impression of reality in our minds. “Conscious” means to be aware of your senses. By using the single law of her logic, A = A, we recognize similarities in the things we observe. That is “knowledge”.

For Rand, inductive logic and deductive logic are both the same logic of A = A, just working in different directions. Once we have a concept built from observation (inductive), we may or may not assign new observations to that concept (deductive).

Rand’s Objectivist Epistemology applies these ideas to every human’s mind. Since we all observe the same reality and logic is consistent, all our mental concepts are the same. People who claim to disagree with Rand’s concepts must be ignorant or telling deliberate lies.

Hume’s finding that deductive knowledge and inductive knowledge are separate and distinct; and that knowledge gained through observations and inductive logic is “probably” right and possibly wrong, contradicts every aspect of Rand’s philosophy. If Hume is right, Rand’s “objective” philosophy is just her personal interpretation of her sensory impressions. Her concepts are just “probable”. People can honestly disagree with her without being evil.

So, Rand uses her logic of “non-contradictory identification”. If her philosophy, considering inductive reasoning as certain, leads to her definition of knowledge; then Hume’s philosophy must lead to no knowledge at all. If Rand is “conscious” using her philosophy, Hume’s philosophy must lead to unconsciousness. Since those things are not possible, Hume must be an evil person spreading deliberate lies.

More footnotes are needed!

i paragraph 10, Chapter 2, Philosophical Detection; Philosophy Who Needs It? by Ayn Rand

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


Rand vs Hume 1.2

Ayn Rand vs. David Hume 1.2 (special guest star- Bertrand Russell)

The story so far: Rand is attempting to debunk Hume’s Problem of Induction. In the first sentence she created a straw man, a purported paraphrase of Hume (analyzed in previous post). In the second sentence of the paragraph, Rand tries to refute her straw man.[1]

Sentence #1, her straw man:     “‘Don’t be so sure- nobody can be certain of anything.’”

Sentence #2, her refutation:       “Bertrand Russell’s gibberish to the contrary notwithstanding, that pronouncement includes itself; therefore one cannot be sure one cannot be sure of anything.”

  • “Bertrand Russell’s gibberish…” Rand is referring to Nobel Prize Winner Bertrand Russell and Russell’s Paradox- considered by many to be one of the foundations of Modern Mathematics, Set Theory and Logic[2]. Rand sums up his work as “gibberish”; but provides no logical or mathematical refutation, missing out on a Nobel Prize.
  • “…to the contrary notwithstanding, that pronouncement includes itself…”. Russell’s Paradox agrees that “nobody can be certain of anything” includes itself. Self-inclusive statements are what Russell’s Paradox is about. Rand’s claim of contradiction is false.
  • “…therefore one cannot be sure one cannot be sure of anything”. Rand arrives at Russell’s Paradox but, rather than recognizing an axiom of logic, she thinks she can use it to disprove the first sentence.
  • Rand defeats her own position by ignoring Russell’s Paradox. For if by her logic the first sentence means that one cannot be sure one cannot be sure, then the sentence also means Rand cannot be sure that one cannot be sure one cannot be sure. Rand demonstrates that we can’t use the self-inclusive statement in a logical structure without contradiction. Therefore, Rand corroborates Russell’s Paradox which she just called “gibberish”. She is wrong twice with the same words.

Rand fails to refute her own straw man and fails to rebut Hume.


[1] Ayn Rand, Philosophy Who Needs It? Chapter 2: Philosphical Detection, paragraph 10 pg 16 Signet Penguin Books

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/russell-paradox/

Rand vs David Hume 1.4

A phrase by phrase analysis of the final sentence of paragraph 10, Chapter 2: “Philosophical Detection” from “Philosophy Who Needs It?” by Ayn Randi.

The story so far: Rand has been trying to refute David Hume, based on the following straw man: ‘Don’t be so sure- nobody can be certain of anything.’ ‘Don’t be so sure’ refers to the choice of psychological uncertainty and ‘nobody can be certain of anything’ refers to the absolute uncertainty of inductive logic, per Hume.

Final sentence: “Furthermore, if one tried to accept that catch phrase, one would find that its second part contradicts its first: if nobody can be certain of anything, then everybody can be certain of everything he pleases- since it cannot be refuted, and he can claim he is not certain he is certain (which is the purpose of that notion)ii.”

Phrase by phrase analysis:

“its second part contradicts its first:”

  • Rand asserts the general premise “nobody can be certain” regarding logical uncertainty is contradictory to the personal imperative “don’t be so sure” regarding psychological uncertainty, but no evidence will be presented. The rest of her sentence following the colon is a different topic.

“if nobody can be certain of anything, then everybody can be certain of everything he pleases”

  • Rand’s assertion is irrational and grammatically flawed. “If nobody can be certain of anything, then everybody can be certain of nothing” would be correct.

“certain of everything he pleases”

  • “Certain of everything he pleases” refers to the object of certainty, “Don’t be so sure” refers to the subjective attitude, while “nobody can be certain” refers to whether certainty itself is logically possible. Rand is confusing apples, oranges and grapefruit.
  • This does not explain how “nobody can be certain” could contradict “ don’t be so sure”. Rand merely replaces “don’t be so sure” with “certain of everything he pleases” even though the new phrase is about a completely different thing.

“- since it cannot be refuted,”

  • Rand asserts lack of certainty means “everything” cannot be refuted. Since Hume’s inductive uncertainty allows for refutation within deductive logic, Rand’s statement is false.
  • Since the modern scientific method of refutation through falsification is allowed by Hume’s inductive uncertainty, Rand’s statement is false.
  • Rand is not explaining how “don’t be so sure” could be contradicted by “nobody can be certain”. Instead, she is trying to justify her new phrase, off on a tangent.

“and he can claim he is not certain he is certain”.

  • Rand asserts people can claim to be uncertain of their certainty as proof they are certain. That is illogical. There is no explanation of how that would succeed or be expected to.
  • By using “claim”, an imputation of dishonesty is leveled.
  • Still nothing related to how the uncertainty of inductive logic could contradict emotional uncertainty.

“(which is the purpose of that notion).”

  • Her parenthetical aside accuses everybody “claiming” uncertainty of creating her straw man for the deliberate “purpose” of pretending to not be certain of uncertain things everybody is arbitrarily deciding to be certain of.
  • Rand gives a possible motive for this complicated conspiracy later in the chapter: “No one can be certain of anything” is a “rationalization of a feeling of envy and hatred toward those who are certain”iii; but she provides no evidence that David Hume was envious or hated people who were certain, and she makes no mention of Hume’s deductive logic.
  • Her sentence and paragraph ends without solving the mystery of how “nobody is certain” contradicts “don’t be so sure”.

Rand’s sentence isn’t rational or logical or grammatical. It’s a plate of spaghetti.

iSignet edition, Penguin Books, 1984

iiPg 14.

iiiPg 18.