From her start, America was torn by the clash of her political system with the altruist morality. Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society.
Rand believed that people cannot long hold beliefs that contradict their fundamental premises. Such contradictions will eventually be resolved in favor of the more “fundamental” belief. So if an individual believes in altruism and capitalism, his belief in altruism will undermine his belief in capitalism because (1) altruism and capitalism contradict each other and (2) altruism is more “fundamental” than capitalism.
Here we find Rand once again misrepresenting human nature. There is no evidence that the majority of human beings have any great concern for whether they hold contradictory beliefs. As human experience repeatedly testifies, most human beings have a weak grasp of logic and are blissfully ignorant of the many contradictions floating about in their brains. The sociologist Vilfredo Pareto dedicated a 250,000 word volume to analyzing what he called “non-logical” action, which is to say, action based on contradictory or non-logical notions. “Pareto not only shows that non-logical conduct is predominant,” noted James Burnham; “his crucial point is that the conduct which has a bearing on social and political structure, on what he calls the ‘social equilibrium,’ is above all non-logical. What happens to society, whether it progresses or decays, is free or despotic, happy or miserable, poor or prosperous, is only to the slightest degree influenced by the deliberate, rational purposes held by human beings.” Pareto, therefore, comes to almost the exact opposite conclusion from Rand. Human beings, he notes, are frequently destitute of logic. And he gives hundreds of examples of non-logical actions in his treatise Mind and Society.
But even if Pareto turned out to be wrong on this issue, Rand and her disciples would still not be in the clear; for they would still have to reckon with the evidence of cognitive science, which pretty much settles the issue. Cognitive scientists have conducted a great many experiments examining the degree to which human beings are logical, and they have found that nearly all human beings not only lack any natural facility for logic, but that, in the normal business of life, they make frequent use of illogical inferences to get things done. As Morton Hunt puts it:
[F]ormal logic is not a good description of how our minds usually work. Logic tells us how we should reason when we are trying to reason logically, but it does not tell us how to think about reality as we encounter it most of the time.…
Logic enables us to judge the validity of our own deductive reasoning, but much of the time we need to reason non-deductively — either inductively, or in terms of likelihoods, or of causes and effects, none of which fits within the rules of formal logic. The archetype of everyday realistic reasoning might be something like this: This object (or situation) reminds me a lot of another that I experienced before, so probably I can expect much to be true of this one that was true of that one. Such reasoning is natural and utilitarian — but logically invalid....
If there still remain doubts on this score, simply attend more closely to the beliefs of other human beings. If one observes the human animal, one will find an astonishing mixture of contradictory notions and clashing ideas. I have recently been listening David McCullough’s The Great Bridge, in which one finds a biographical portrait John Augustus Roebling, the engineer who designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge. Although Roebling was a man of science and a great engineer, this did not prevent him from wallowing in non-logical and empirically dubious activities. In his youth, he studied philosophy under the exquisitely preposterous Hegel. In later years, he dabbled in spiritualism and hydropathy. Hegel’s arch-enemy, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer advocated quietism and asceticism, but he didn’t practice what he preached. He declared he was incapable of practicing his philosophy, even though he insisted that his philosophy was right. I’ve talked to several Obama supporters in the last few months who don’t seem to agree with many of Obama’s positions. Yet when this is pointed out to them, they are unphazed. They simply don’t care whether a contradiction exists between the policies the favor and the candidate they support.
Examples of this sort could be multiplied many many times. Some people—perhaps even most people—don’t really care too much about either logic or consistency, particularly about matters that are remote to their particular sphere of practical action. Rand and her disciples seem to admit of this non-logical aspect of human belief when they talk of people with “mixed” premises. But they don’t seem to realize that the very fact that people can hold mixed premises contradicts Rand’s conviction that capitalism and altruism cannot exist the same person because the two are contradictory.
Yet this is not the only contradiction involved in insisting that contradictions in the human psyche will tend to be resolved in favor of the more “fundamental” belief. Rand and Peikoff both contend that epistemological ideas are more fundamental than ethical and political ideas. This, however, is a problematic position. What if an individual were to embrace epistemological convictions that deny the importance or “validity” of logic? If an individual doesn’t believe in logic, wouldn’t this mean that there would exist no force or tendency in his mind to resolve contradictions between his ethical and political beliefs? After all, why should such contradictions matter to someone who doesn’t give a fig for logic? Moreover, since Rand did not belief that people had innate tendencies, she can hardly presuppose the existence of an innate tendency to resolve contradictions in favor of the more fundamental view. Since people have free will, they should be able to hold as many contradictory beliefs as they damn please? The Objectivist supposition that contradictory beliefs tend toward a resolution in favor of the more fundamental premise can therefore be dismissed as a mere prejudice, without basis in either logic or fact.