A response to “Is Objectivism Merely a Disguised Materialism?” by Jonathan Dolhenty.
The reason for Peikoff’s insistence that Objectivism is not a form of philosophical materialism is well explained in the paragraphs following the very page Mr. Dolhenty cites, found in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. I quote from it here:
This does not mean that Objectivists are materialists.
Materialists . . . champion nature but deny the reality or efficacy of consciousness. Consciousness, in this view, is either a myth or a useless byproduct of brain or other motions. In Objectivist terms, this amounts to the advocacy of existence without consciousness. It is the denial of man’s faculty of cognition and therefore of all knowledge.
Ayn Rand describes materialists as ‘mystics of muscle‘ — ‘mystics’ because, like idealists, they reject the faculty of reason. Man, they hold, is essentially a body without a mind.
— (OPAR, p. 33, emphasis added)
Seely’s definition of modern materialism seems to exclude Peikoff’s main objection to the philosophy: the abnegation of consciousness as “unnatural” or as “unscientific on the grounds that it cannot be defined” (OPAR p. 34). Peikoff then contends that “there is no valid reason to reject consciousness or to struggle to reduce it to matter; not if such reduction means the attempt to define it out of existence” (OPAR p. 35). Dolhenty’s description of materialism, “which believes all reality is material and only material,” is more like Peikoff’s than Seely’s is.
Dolhenty is correct in his identification of the philosophy of Objectivism as non-idealist. However, his description of one of its potential categories, “moderate Realism,” as accepting of a “nonmaterial or immaterial reality” is facetious, evidently an attempt to corner Peikoff later in the article to include the possibility of some sort of God-figure. Objectivism is, indeed, not Idealism, and for the reason above, not Materialism; it then could be (circumlocutorily) described as a “moderate Realism.” There is also a need to mention Dolhenty’s straw man, which takes the form of a fictional Peikoff who answers in a way he imagines, to which he then responds.
The allowance for — or rather, acknowledgement of — consciousness in Objectivism is not an allowance for nonmaterial reality which cannot be perceived by either introspection or extrospection. Both means are accepted in the Objectivist philosophy; the former for the perception of material entities (to use Peikoff’s example, the eye), the latter for the perception of consciousness.
Peikoff goes on to call the acceptance of consciousness and the mind, which separates his philosophy from materialism, the acceptance of reason. In any case, the sought-after grounds on which Objectivism distinguishes itself from materialism are made clear in the subsequent paragraphs of Peikoff’s treatise.