Fallacies in the Humanities

By Mike Gustafson

One of the dominant principles among today’s intellectuals is that there are no objective principles in the humanities. In metaphysics, the first principle—the Law of Identity—is under severe attack. In epistemology, the relationship between principles and facts has been severed. In Ethics, objective principles have been relegated to deontology while the nature of good and evil has been cast into caprice of relativism. In politics, the principle of individual rights has long since been abrogated; in its place, politicians have resorted to range-of-the-moment pragmatism guided by a vague reverence for altruism. The science of government has devolved into extreme pragmatism as legislators pass thousands of pages (4,517 in 2010) of arbitrary laws each year. In esthetics, intellectuals boast about the subjectivity of art and claim that beauty is an essentially contestable concept. Historians claim that there is no such thing as objective history—that, since history must be interpreted by someone, it is necessarily subjective. In place of objective principles, historians resort to accumulating various factors that influenced historic events. Economists, while they affirm objective principles in the idealized fantasy of free-markets, deny that these principles apply to the economics of the real world. Psychology has split into a handful of schools each with their own incomplete set of principles: behaviorists and psychoanalysts deny free will; cognitive psychologists neglect values; humanists neglect cognition; and biological psychologists deny free will, values, and cognition. In the name of progress, the humanities must be set on a firm foundation.

In order to be set on a firm foundation, the widespread fallacies in the humanities—such as the denial of objective principles—must be identified. A fallacy is a widespread principle that contradicts facts. This article identifies many of the fallacies in the humanities and exposes the contradictions which they imply.


The humanities are those sciences which depend on the nature of man. Philosophy is the basic human science because it subsumes every aspect of man, existence, and man’s relationship to existence. Metaphysics is the fundamental branch of philosophy because it establishes the basic axioms upon which the other sciences rest. Epistemology is based on metaphysics; it is the branch of philosophy that studies man’s consciousness. Ethics is based on epistemology and metaphysics; it is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of values and the means to achieve values. Politics is a corollary of the ethics; it is the self-evident extension of ethics into the domain of man’s relationships. Economics and the science of government are subdivisions of politics; economics studies voluntary relationships whereas the science of government studies coercive relationships. Esthetics is based on ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics; it is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of art. Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics make up the five branches of philosophy. History and psychology are both based on philosophy as a whole; history studies the record of man’s past is relation to philosophy whereas psychology studies the nature of man’s subconscious in relation to philosophy. This article discusses the basic science of man—philosophy—as well as four other major humanities—economics, government, history, and psychology.


The widespread fallacy in metaphysics that has particularly infected the rest of the humanities is materialism. Materialism is the view that nothing exists except physical entities—in other words, it denies the existence of consciousness. Materialists hold that all scientific knowledge must be based on the nature and actions of physical entities. Therefore, consciousness has no scientific foundation because it cannot be reduced to physical phenomena. Materialism denies the existence of consciousness—or, in the words of Ayn Rand, materialism advocates “existence without consciousness.”

Since materialism holds that existence is only composed of physical entities, it holds that causality is nothing more than a chain reaction between physical entities. This is the ‘billiard-ball’ theory of causality; that the action of an entity is sufficiently caused by the former action of another entity.

The materialist view of causality leads naturally to the denial of free will. Materialism maintains that consciousness as a whole does not exist because it is not physical. Likewise, ‘Billiard-ball’ causality maintains that free will—a part of consciousness—does not exist because nothing is causally self-sufficient. Since materialism holds that all actions are sufficiently caused by previous actions, an uncaused cause—such as free will—cannot exist. According to materialism, free will is an illusion and all of man’s choices and actions are pre-determined by the actions of his environment and of his brain.

Thomas Hobbes, one of the foremost materialists, sums up his view of causality and free will as follows: “I conceive that nothing takes beginning from itself, but from the action of some other immediate agent without itself. And that, therefore, when first a man has an appetite or will to something, to which immediately before he had no appetite nor will, the cause of his will is not the will itself, but something else not in his own disposing.”[1]

Materialism is logically inconsistent with every single moment of man’s experience. When man perceives a physical entity it implies that there is both an entity that exists and a consciousness which perceives it. The fact of consciousness is axiomatic, i.e., it is self-evident. Implicit in every moment of awareness is the fact that there is a consciousness which is aware. Just as there cannot be a painting without a painter; so there cannot be awareness without a consciousness which is aware. In short, the claim that consciousness does not exist is self-contradictory because the claim itself implies that there is a consciousness capable of making such a claim.

The materialist view of causality is also logically inconsistent with every single moment of man’s experience. Man constantly perceives entities acting in certain ways that are not sufficiently explained by the former actions of other entities. In fact, it is absolutely false to assert that every action is sufficiently caused by the former action of another entity. For example, the fact that a billiard ball rolls in a certain direction and speed—as opposed to bursting into flames or rolling at a different speed—cannot be sufficiently explained by the action of the billiard ball that struck it. The motion of a billiard ball depends not only on the ball that strikes it, but also on the nature of the billiard ball itself—the material that it is made out of, its weight, its spherical structure, etc. All of the attributes of an entity contribute to the explanation of its motion. ‘Billiard-ball’ causality only considers the relationship between two entities. In fact, the action of an entity depends on both its relationship to other entities and on its attributes. The ‘billiard-ball’ theory of causality contradicts the effects that an entities attributes have on its action.

The materialist view of free will is also logically inconsistent with every single moment of man’s experience. It is an inescapable fact that man is constantly selecting among alternatives—e.g., which part of his visual field to focus on, which words to use, which actions to take, which friends to make, etc. Contrary to the demands of the materialists, free will cannot be identified by reference to neurological entities alone. Neurological explanations—such as dopamine levels or neurological quantum mechanics—cannot sufficiently explain the actions of man. The relationship between the brain and consciousness is an important relationship, but it is still only one relationship. The existence of free will does not depend on its relationship to the brain alone. There is a seemingly infinite amount of observations (of selecting among alternatives) that affirm the existence of free will—the materialist view of free will contradicts these observations.


There are three widespread epistemological fallacies: subjectivism, pragmatism, and the belief that the humanities are not subject to measurement.

The dichotomy between subjectivism and pragmatism refers to the nature of principles. Principles are statements that identify a relationship between concepts—and, concepts are man’s means of organizing observable facts. Both subjectivism and pragmatism endorse a breach between principles and observable facts. Subjectivism holds that the use of principles implies a necessary evasion of facts. For instance, a subjectivist might claim: “Sure, one can use free-market principles to describe certain economic behaviors, but such principles cannot be taken as immutable law; after all, there are many instances where free-market principles break down.” Subjectivism, in this sense, contradicts the contextual nature of principles.

All principles are valid only in a specific context. For instance, free-market principles are valid only in the context of voluntary trade—wherever there is voluntary trade, free-market principles are absolutely true. A principle cannot be required to apply to instances outside of its context. For instance, free-market principles cannot be required to apply to instances of government intervention. A principle is valid if and only if it holds for every instance within its context. Subjectivism holds that principles should hold for all instances regardless of context—in other words, it contradicts the fact that principles are contextual.

Pragmatism is a natural consequence of subjectivism. According to pragmatism, if principles cannot be absolutely true regardless of context, then they should be abandoned as cognitive instruments. In place of principles, pragmatists turn to facts. In the words of the arch-pragmatist William James: a pragmatist turns away from “abstraction” and “fixed-principles” and turns toward “concreteness” and “facts.” The pragmatic cognitive method consists of breaking up a cognitive whole into its constituent elements and then assessing those elements out of context. For example, in order to determine the cause of the industrial revolution, a pragmatist would differentiate the various factors of the industrial revolution—technology, agriculture, government, etc.—and would be content with identifying how each of the factors influenced the industrial revolution. His method consists of breaking apart the various aspects of the industrial revolution and treating each aspect as independent from the others.

In other words, the pragmatic method consists of differentiation without integration. Man’s conceptual faculty, however, performs both differentiation and integration. A conceptual explanation of the industrial revolution, like the pragmatic explanation, starts by differentiating the various factors involved. Unlike the pragmatists, however, a conceptual investigation seeks out the relationships between the various factors—in other words, it seeks out principles. The end product of the pragmatic investigation is a set of disassociated factors; the end product of the conceptual investigation, on the other hand, is a logical hierarchy of principles culminating in a fundamental principle. The pragmatic cognitive method contradicts the nature of man’s conceptual faculty, i.e., the fact that man’s mind can integrate data into a conceptual whole.

Another widespread fallacy in epistemology is the belief that the humanities are not subject to measurement. The consequence of such a fallacy is the division between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences. ‘Hard’ sciences those with attributes that can be measured whereas ‘soft’ sciences are those with attributes that cannot be measured. Physics, for example, is a ‘hard’ science because attributes such as ‘position’ and ‘velocity’ can be measured. Ethics, on the other hand, is a ‘soft’ science because attributes like ‘right’ and ‘good’ cannot be measured. In fact, the subject matter of a science has nothing to do with one’s ability to measure the attributes it subsumes. There is no such division between those attributes which can be measured and those that cannot—all attributes can be measured.

All attributes can be measured because measurement is not an aspect of existence but a method of consciousness; specifically, the method employed in concept-formation. Ayn Rand was the first to identify that the essential method of concept formation is measurement-omission. Her theory of measurement-omission is the answer to the question: “When forming a concept from a set of entities, which aspects of those entities are retained and which aspects are omitted?” Her answer is: the attribute that distinguishes those entities from all others is retained but the specific measurements of that attribute are omitted. Take for instance the formation of the concept ‘man’. The distinguishing attribute of man—his rational faculty—is retained, but the specific measurements of that attribute—such as the range of one’s rational faculty—are omitted.

The reason that man can integrate various entities into a single concept is because the units of each concept differ only quantitively in respect to their attributes. For example, every ‘entity’ differs only quantitatively in respect to its length and its weight. For a more complex example, all ‘men’ differ only quantitatively in respect to their height, weight, intelligence, and wealth. All attributes can be measured because the instances of each attribute differ only quantitatively from each other.

The difficulty with measuring the attributes of concepts in the humanities is that the attributes are extremely complex. Attributes such as length and height are simple because they are directly perceivable. An attribute of man such as ‘reason’, on the other hand, is complex because it cannot be directly perceived. In order for an attribute to be measured, one must discover a directly perceivable unit of measurement. In respect to the attribute ‘length’, an inch or a foot or a meter are all directly perceivable units that can serve as the standard of measurement. In respect to the more complex attributes such as ‘magnetic charge’ or ‘reason’, complex methods of measurement must be derived. The belief that measurement doesn’t apply to the humanities contradicts the fact that all attributes of all entities can be measured, including the attributes of man.


Two of the primary fallacies in ethics—hedonism and altruism—stem from a negation of the fact that man is a rational animal.

Hedonism negates the fact that man is rational. It holds that the good for man is whatever satisfies his immediate urges. Even more, hedonism advocates the satisfaction of one’s urges at all cost, at the expense of anything and anyone. Hedonism views man as an animal that responds automatically to pleasure or pain and has no interests beyond the immediate moment. It denies the fact that man’s action are not automatic; that man is constantly faced with alternatives and that he requires principles to guide his choices. Also, hedonists deny the fact that man must create the values that make life worth living; that he must use his reasoning mind to discover which values to pursue and how to achieve them. Man cannot survive by the stimulus-response method of animals, he must use his rational faculty to discover and create his values. Hedonism contradicts the fact that man must survive by means of his rational faculty—which means, by means of moral principles and long-range goals.

Altruism, on the other hand, negates the fact that man is an animal. All animals must generate those actions which sustain their lives—this includes man. Man must use his mind to figure out which values his life requires and then he must act to achieve those values.

Rationality is the means by which man survives. Altruism upholds a different view of rationality. According to altruism, since man is rational, he is not obliged to the same dog-eat-dog world of the animal kingdom. Instead of merely worrying about one’s own survival, man ought to worry about his neighbors and about all of mankind. He should stop worrying about himself and act only for the benefit of others.

The altruist view is summed up by this quote from Martin Luther: “For man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body, in order to work on its account, but also for all men on earth; nay, he lives only for others, and not for himself.” In other words, it is good to take actions for the benefit of others and it is evil to take actions for one’s own benefit. In the words of August Comte, who coined the term altruism: altruism is “living for others.” Within the works of Comte, one can see the explicit denial of the fact that man is an animal. To him, man rises above the level of primitive animals and is not bound the individualism and egoism of the animal kingdom. Comte observed that animals have certain faculties which are directed towards their own survival and that “it is only in the human species…that any kind of inversion of this order can be conceived.”[2] The inversion he speaks of is a man who lives not for himself but for others; a man who subordinates his needs to the needs of mankind as a whole. Altruism contradicts the fact that man is an animal who must provide for his own survival.


One of the major fallacies in politics is the belief that sacrifice is an unavoidable aspect of human relationships. Politics picks up the hedonism/altruism dichotomy and asserts that man must either sacrifice himself to others or sacrifice others to himself. In a speech given on July 25, 2011, President Obama claimed that the richest Americans ought “to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make.” The belief that sacrifice is necessary rests on the false assumption that there is a finite amount of value in the world and that men are in cut-throat competition to get their fair share. If there is a finite amount of value, then one man’s gain is another man’s loss. The belief that there is a finite amount of value is expressed in political speeches which demand that everyone in society do their ‘fair share’ for the society as a whole. Many politicians believe that there is a finite amount of value in a society which must be distributed fairly among all citizens.

In fact, there is not a static quantity of value. Man has the distinctive capacity to create value; which means, to take the elements of existence and rearrange them in a way which enhances his life. Thus, there is no limit to the amount of value that can be created. One man can gain without loss to anyone else. In addition to creating value, men can trade the values that they create. A trade is a voluntary agreement between two or more individuals to exchange values. Trade does not require a winner and a loser—both parties can win. For example, if one man has a lot of i-phones and no food and another man has a lot of food and no i-phones, the two men can trade to mutual benefit. The belief that sacrifice is unavoidable contradicts the fact that man can create and trade values without expense to anyone else.

Economics and Government

There are two basic ways that men can deal with each other: they can trade with each other or they can use force against each other. Trade is a voluntary association whereas force is a coercive association. Within the science of politics there is a basic division which arises from these two types of association—trade is the province of economics and force is the province of the science of government.

One of the major fallacies in economics is the belief that free-market principles are invalid because they do not apply to many real-world situations. It is true that free-market principles don’t apply to many real-world situations but this does not mean that they are invalid—it means simply that the real-world is not a free market. A principle cannot be required to apply to instances outside of its context. For instance, in free markets interest rates rise as inflation rates rise because lenders must compensate for the devaluation of money over the term of the loan. However, if interest rates are fixed by the government, then the link between inflation rates and interest rates is broken. In this case, contrary to what many economists believe, there is no contradiction between the principle and the facts. The principle describing the relationship between interest rates and inflation rates applies only to voluntary associations whereas the fact of fixed interest rates is an instance of a coercive or forceful association.

Economists have a hard time differentiating between the voluntary and coercive elements within a market—they package them together and then dismiss free-market principles for not applying to the package-deal. There are many instances in a mixed economy to which free-market principles apply and there are many instances to which they don’t. The belief that free-market principles are invalid because they don’t apply to a mixed-economy contradicts the fact that a mixed economy contains coercive elements which are not subsumed under free market principles.

In respect to the other half of politics, one of the main errors in the science of government is the notion that the government can solve economic problems. The only solution to economic problems is production, i.e., the creation of wealth. The government, as an agent of force, cannot create wealth—it can only destroy or distribute wealth. Wealth is created by scientists, inventors, businessmen, and moneylenders, among others. If there is an economic problem such as unemployment, the only solution is the production of more wealth so that more people have jobs.

A common trend among politicians is to wish that society was further advanced that it actually is. They wish that everyone had jobs, healthcare, and high wages—but their wishes cannot create wealth. Because of their wishes, they decide to intervene into the economy in order to force it to be more like they desire. Their interventions have enormous consequences throughout the economy and lead to many new problems. In respect to these new problems, the government intervenes again and creates even more problems. As President Reagan said in his 1981 Inaugural Address: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem—government is the problem.” The belief that government can solve economic problems contradicts the nature of government. Government is an agent of force; as such, it cannot create wealth but can only destroy or redistribute it.


The science that has perhaps been most affected by the fallacy of epistemological subjectivism is esthetics. In today’s culture, there is a great deal of hostility against claim that art can be judged objectively. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” people say, as if the nature of a work of art has nothing to do with it being beautiful or not. An objective evaluation of art is possible because art is something specific, i.e., it has a specific nature.

The beauty of a work of art is not found in the work alone or in the mind alone, but in the relationship between the two—that is, beauty is an evaluation of a work of art as perceived by man. An objective esthetic evaluation must refer to both the nature of the work of art and to the nature of man’s mind. Man’s mind consists of both a perceptual and conceptual faculty. When creating a work of art, the artist begins with a conceptual abstraction and then attempts to create a perceptual representation of that abstraction. The abstraction serves as the theme upon which the artist bases his selection of every concrete detail. For instance, a painter can begin with the theme ‘the spirit of youth’ and then attempt to express this abstraction in the form of a concrete, perceptual entity, i.e., a painting.

An esthetic evaluation of a work of art refers to the degree to which the artist has effectively concretized his theme. Such an evaluation is based on the various elements of a work of art as well as on the relationship of those elements to the artist’s abstract theme. For instance, if an author has perfectly expressed his theme throughout the plot, characterization, and style of his novel, then it is a beautiful novel. The nature of art determines how man ought to evaluate it. A work of art ought to be judged by the degree to which the artist has succeeded in concretizing his abstract theme. The claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder contradicts the fact that an evaluation of art must be based on the nature of art and not on the nature of the observer.


One of the widespread fallacies in the science of history is complexity-worship. Overwhelmed with the vast complexity of historical data, historians often turn to what Leonard Peikoff called “complexity-worship.” In respect to history, complexity-worship amounts to the statement: “because history is complex, no simple answers are possible.” Complexity-worship is a consequence of epistemological pragmatism. Since many historians refuse to use principles to condense and simplify historical data, they must learn to live with and love the complexity of history.

The typical history professor would immediately discount any simple answer on the grounds that because it is simple it must not be true. There is a history professor at the University of Massachusetts who once said: “There is no such thing as objective history. All historical knowledge is relative; it is culturally filtered. The great thing about history is that it is hard and complex; that there are no simple answers. But, you history students already know this stuff. Objective, simplistic history is impossible.” In this single quote one can observe the pragmatism/subjectivism dichotomy and the complexity-worship that results from it. Since history is interpreted by someone, with certain cultural filters, it is necessarily subjective. And, since it is subjective, the principles that one might form could never fully explain the facts. Without principles, therefore, history is a bewildering complexity; and that is what complexity-worshipper’s love about it.

Complexity-worship misunderstands the nature of man’s conceptual faculty; specifically, the nature of abstraction. A typical explanation of a historical event consists of a set of different causes (plural) that explain the event. For example, many historians are content with a multiplicity of causes for the Industrial Revolution. There are technological causes, agricultural causes, macroeconomic causes, political causes, etc. These professors reject the possibility of a single cause. The reason that they reject this possibility is that they recognize that singling out one of the existing causes would necessarily omit the other causes. For example, the single cause of the Industrial Revolution cannot be technological, because that would omit the agricultural, macroeconomic, and political causes. These complexity-worshipping historians do not understand the nature of abstraction. Each of the existing categories of causes, on their own, cannot explain every aspect of the industrial revolution; but, man has the power of abstraction, he can abstract a single cause of the multiplicity. If one looks at the technological, political, and economic aspects of the industrial revolution, among others, one can attempt to abstract a single cause. In this case, the single cause might be something like: “the cause of the industrial revolution was a commitment to reason.” Then, if one can prove that a commitment to reason was the cause of political freedom, of technological achievement, of macroeconomic production, etc. then one can prove that reason is the fundamental cause of the industrial revolution.

Complexity-worship contradicts the nature of man’s conceptual faculty. Concepts and principles are man’s means of identifying and simplifying vast amounts of data. Historical data is extremely vast and complex; but this does not imply that man is incapable of abstracting out simple answers.


There are five major schools of psychology: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, cognitive psychology, humanism, and biological psychology (this article does not discuss biological psychology). Each school either denies or neglects a certain aspect of man.

The behaviorists and psychoanalysts deny that man has free will. Behaviorism is based on the premise that only man’s physical actions are subject to scientific study. The behaviorists not only deny free will, they also drop all introspection from the context of psychology. John B. Watson, the founder of behaviorism, claimed that “introspection forms no essential part”[3] of psychology. B. F. Skinner, one of the foremost behaviorists, argued against free will in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, considered free will an unscientific illusion which must “yield to the demand of a determinism whose rule extends over mental life.”[4] Freud saw that causality was a law of nature and thought that it ought to apply to man’s mental life as well. He is right: man’s choices are determined by antecedent causes; however, this does not imply that man does not have free will.

As Leonard Peikoff explains: “Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.” Man has the power to program his own subconscious. When making conscious decisions, man must choose among alternatives. Such a choice is caused by various factors such as one’s values, knowledge, the opinions of friends, etc. These factors—that are chosen—serve as the cause for man’s choice and actions. Over time, similar choices are integrated by man’s subconscious into an automatic response. Man’s habits and emotions are automatic responses that have been automatized through a series of similar choices. Even if a man has chosen to abstain from making conscious decisions, i.e., to passively react to his environment, his actions will be caused by platitudes and norms that he has passively accepted over the years—which were ultimately caused by his choice to abstain from choosing. There is no dichotomy between causality and free will because man chooses the causes that shape his actions. The psychoanalytic and behaviorist schools of psychology contradict the fact that man’s actions are both caused and free.

The cognitive psychologist school and the humanist school affirm that man has free will but neglect certain domains of man’s choices—cognitive psychologists neglect the domain of values whereas humanists neglect the domain of reason.

Cognitive psychology was pioneered by Ulric Neisser in the late 1960’s. Neisser, who was highly influenced by the developments in computer science, viewed man as a dynamic information processing machine. Cognitive psychology studies the methods by which man processes the information that he experiences. A cognitive psychologist views the mind as an intermediary processer between experiential input and behavioral output. Cognitive psychology is a valid branch of psychology and has discovered a lot of valuable knowledge for the future of psychology. However, since it only studies cognitive processes as they can be observed in test-subjects, it cannot provide knowledge as to how man ought to use his mind. Cognitive psychology provides no direction or aim or purpose towards which man’s mental processes ought to be directed. It provides a description of mental process but not an evaluation of those mental processes.

Neisser recognized that cognitive psychology was only one part of the whole science of psychology. He did not deny the importance of values and he recognized the necessity of having certain branches of psychology which do deal with values. Cognitive psychology does not deny values; rather, it neglects them.

Humanistic psychology is based entirely on the achievement of values. According to humanism, the highest value is self-actualization—or, the realizing of one’s full potential. Humanists claim that they affirm free will but in many cases they deny it. Abraham Maslow, one of the two foremost humanists, held that man has an innate drive towards self-actualization driven by the requirements of human life. However, since man has free will, he does not automatically desire or pursue the values which his life requires. Maslow’s belief in an innate drive to self-actualize is inconsistent with his advocacy of free will. Carl Rogers, the other foremost humanist, held that self-actualization is fostered primarily by one’s childhood experience and one’s environment. Like all other organisms, Rogers held that the proper environment is necessary for growth. The determinism implicit in Rogers’ focus on external forces is inconsistent with humanism’s advocacy of free will.

The primary fallacy in humanism is that there is no objective standard for self-actualization. While both Roger’s and Maslow enumerated several characteristics of self-actualization, both held that it is ultimately based on each man’s subjective values. In fact, however, there is an objective standard of value and it is based on the requirements of man’s life. Because man has a specific nature, he must survive and flourish by specific means. For instance, because man’s mind is his means of survival, he must discover the proper way to use his mind, i.e., he must discover reason. Humanism recognizes that man is driven by the requirements of his life, but it lacks sufficient definition of those requirements. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides adequate definition for man’s basic needs, but it relegates man’s higher needs to subjectivism.

Because humanism rejects an objective standard of value, it neglects the value of reason. Since man is a being of a specific nature, there are specific values which his survival requires. In order to discover those values, man must use his mind properly, i.e. he must be rational. Man’s mind is his means of discovering and achieving the objective values which he requires. Humanism recognizes the importance of the achievement of values, but it neglects the means by which man achieves values, i.e., it neglects reason.


The identification of fallacies within the humanities has an enormous benefit—it undermines the skepticism that has reduced the humanities to stagnation.

As long as materialism prevails in metaphysics, skepticism will reign because the humanities will have no foundation. All science is based on the law of identity—which states that everything that exists has a specific identity. By claiming that consciousness does not exist, materialism denies that consciousness has a specific identity. Without identifying the nature of consciousness it is impossible to identify the nature of man—and the identification of the nature of man is the foundation of the humanities.

As long as the subjectivism/pragmatism dichotomy prevails in epistemology, the humanities will not have objective principles. An objective principle is one which is true of every instance within its context. Subjectivists observe that principles do not apply to instances outside of their context and then conclude that objective principles are impossible. Pragmatists take up this conclusion and abandon principles altogether in favor of investigating facts on a case-by-case basis—without context or principles to guide them. As long as intellectuals hold a necessary breach between principles and facts, objective principles will not take hold in the humanities—and skepticism will reign.

As long as the hedonism/altruism dichotomy prevails in ethics, the humanities will have no objective standard of value. The standard of ethical value is based on the nature of man. Man is a rational animal; as such he must use reason in order to achieve the values which his life requires. Hedonism negates the fact that man is rational by claiming that he can survive by the whim-of-the-moment. Altruism negates the fact that man is an animal by claiming that he does not need to provide for his own survival. As long as ethics negates the nature of man, the humanities will not have an objective standard of value—and skepticism will reign.

As long as the altruism/hedonism dichotomy prevails in ethics, the necessity of sacrifice will prevail in politics. If morality consists of sacrificing oneself to others or sacrificing others to oneself, then sacrifice will appear to be a necessary aspect of human relationships. Sacrifice is not necessary because man has the power to create value and trade value in win-win relationships. As long as the necessity of sacrifice prevails in politics—where one man’s gain is another man’s loss—men will be skeptical of the possibility of a benevolent society.

As long as men believe that sacrifice is a necessary aspect of man’s life, they will allow the government to reign over our lives and liberties. If sacrifice is a necessary aspect of man’s life, then the role of the government is to determine who should be sacrificed to whom. Since man has the power to create wealth, however, no one needs to be sacrificed. In order to improve the economy, a society needs more wealth creation and not more wealth distribution. The government, as an agent of force, cannot produce wealth; it can only destroy or redistribute it. As long as the necessity of sacrifice reigns in politics, men will be skeptical about the benefits of a limited government.

As long as subjectivism prevails in epistemology, economists will be skeptical about free-market principles. Subjectivism claims that principles are not a valid means of cognition because they imply a necessary evasion of facts. Economists discount free market principles because they cannot account for certain facts found within a mixed economy. A principle cannot be required to apply to instances that are not within its context; free market principles do not apply to instances of coercion in a mixed-economy.

As long as subjectivism prevails in epistemology, it will also prevail in esthetics. Just as subjectivists hold that principles are necessarily separated from the real world, they also hold that esthetics evaluations are necessarily separated from the nature of the work of art. According to subjectivism, the beauty of a work of art has nothing to do with the work itself but only with the “eye of the beholder”. In fact, the evaluation of a work of art must be based on the nature of the work itself. Art is a concretization of an artist’s abstract theme; as such, it is evaluated based on the harmony of the different elements within the work of art in relation to the abstract theme. As long as subjectivism prevails in esthetics, man will be skeptical about the possibility of objective esthetic evaluations.

As long as pragmatism prevails in epistemology, complexity-worship will prevail in history. Pragmatists abandon principles as cognitive instruments; this leaves historians without a means to deal with the vast complexity of historical data. As long as complexity-worship prevails in history, historians will be skeptical about simple answers.

As long the subjectivism/pragmatism dichotomy prevails in epistemology, psychology will not be a unified science. One of the premises of the subjectivism/pragmatism dichotomy is that knowledge is not contextual. Subjectivism holds that that a principle ought to apply to a fact outside of its context. Pragmatism holds that a fact can be identified and evaluated apart from its context. The various branches of psychology all drop a certain aspect of the context of man. The behaviorists and psychoanalysts drop the fact that man has free will; the cognitive psychologists drop the fact that man’s mind is his means of pursuing values; and the humanists drop the fact that reason is his means of achievement. In order for psychology to be a unified science, psychologists must recognize that the entity which they study, i.e., man, is a unity. Man is a single entity, from which one can differentiate different attributes such as his free will, his pursuit of values, and his means of knowledge. All of these attributes, however, are interconnected with each other because they are attributes of a single entity. As long as psychology denies or neglects certain aspects of man, psychology will not be a unified science.

The humanities are under attack from a number of widespread fallacies. The identification of the fallacies undermines the skepticism which pervades the humanities and is the first step towards setting the humanities on a firm foundation.


[1] Hobbes, Thomas, John Bramhall, and Vere Claiborne. Chappell. Hobbes and Bramhall on Liberty and Necessity. Cambridge [etc.: Cambridge UP, 2003. (p.38)

[2] The Positive Philosophy of August Comte, 85

[3] Watson, John B. “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.” Psychological Review 20 (1913): 158-77.

[4] Freud, Sigmund. “Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.” (1916): 106.

One thought on “Fallacies in the Humanities

  1. Louis Torres says:

    For the most part, “Fallacies in the Humanities” is an insightful essay. Following are a few comments regarding the section on esthetics.

    Esthetics is not a “science” as you put it (see Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science#Branches_and_fields ). It is, rather—as you earlier note, and as Ayn Rand states in “Art and Sense of Life”—a “branch of philosophy.” In that essay, she implicitly (and carelessly) refers to philosophy as a “science,” but she never anywhere gives a formal definition of that term (see entry in the ‘Ayn Rand Lexicon” – http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/science.html – especially the last sentence of the section on ‘Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”)

    You correctly point out that “in today’s culture, there is a great deal of hostility against [the] claim that art can be judged objectively”—in the sense of quality and what attributes a work possesses that make it art, I would add. But in the next sentence, then in the following paragraph, you seem to suggest that “beauty” is the central concern of esthetics, that “beauty is an evaluation of a work of art as perceived by man.” In the final paragraph of the section on esthetics you make reference to a “beautiful novel.” (In the first paragraph of the essay as a whole you had introduced the subject by noting that “intellectuals claim that beauty is an essentially contestable concept.”)

    The primacy of beauty in esthetics is well established in contemporary philosophy, but it is not supported by Objectivist theory. Note that Ayn Rand does not mention “beauty” at all in her four essays on art nor anywhere else in ‘The Romantic Manifesto.’ Her only reference to beauty, it seems, was during a Q & A period following a lecture (see Lexicon – http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/beauty.html – no date given). One can only conclude that she didn’t consider the subject important enough to discuss in writing.

    If you or any other member of would like to discuss any of the above or other aspects of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of art, let me know.

    – Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts) and Co-Author, What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand

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