Fidel vs LM

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Thu Aug 26 08:18:18 MDT 1999

On Wed, 25 Aug 1999 18:04:37 -0400 James Farmelant <farmelantj at>

>Much of McLemee's article focuses on Chris Sciabarra's book
>*Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical*.  Sciabarra is a libertarian
>who did his doctorate under the Marxist scholar, Bertell Ollman.
>Ollman is noted among other things for his studies of Marxist
>dialectics in which he applied the American idealist philosopher's
>analysis of internal relations to the elucidation of dialectics.

I realize that I omitted the name of the American idealist philosopher
in question.  His name was Brand Blanshard, who taught for many
years at Yale and was basically the last of the American idealists,
a neo-Hegelian school that had pretty dominated American academic
philosophy towards the end of the last century (British academic
philosophy was similarly dominated by idealists at about the same
time).  Unlike most of the earlier idealists though Blanshard was
an avowed atheist, and he was active in various freethought and
humanist organizations.  He was noted among other things for
his defense of the notion of internal relations, an issue that
he debated vigorously with the empiricist philosopher, Ernest

The notion of an internal relation is closely tied to the notion
of necessity.  Thus if an individual X has a property, such that
by virtue if having that property, X necessarily has a relation
R to a certain thing or things, then R can be described as
an internal relation of X.  Thus if X is a bachelor, then the
relation of not being married to anyone else is an internal
relation of X.  The notion of an internal relation is contrasted
with the notion of an external relation.  Thus if X has a relation
to certain other things but there is no property that X necessarily
has this relation, then this relation is said to be an external
one.  Towards the end of the last century, however, some
of the British neo-Hegelians were arguing that all relations
are internal.  This thesis was closely connected with the
coherence theory of truth that was also embraced by the

In the US, Brand Blanshard who was a disciple of Bradley
was a leading defender of the thesis that all relations
are internal, notably in his 1939 book, *The Nature of
Thought*.  As such his thesis bore an obvious kinship
with Leibniz's view that all truths are analytic as well as
to Spinoza's idea that causal relations can be reduced to
logical relations.  Blanshard's own defense of this thesis
focused on the argument that the distinction between logical
necessity and causal necessity which most Anglo-American
empiricists took for granted was in fact untenable.  Since,
empiricist philosophers derived most of their understanding
of causality from Hume, Blanshard turned much of his
firepower against Hume's analysis of causality.  Many of
the connections between the thesis that all relations are
internal and associated conceptions of causality were
elucidated in the course of the debate between Blanshard
and Nagel.

Concerning Blanshard, I once saw him at a commencement
at Boston University back in the 1980s where he delivered
the commencement address.  He was well into his 90s but
he was still writing and publishing in philosophy.  For
his commencement address, he delivered a learned talk
on the life of reason.  As I recall, he cited his old friend,
John Dewey, as an exemplar of the life of reason.  He may
have also said something about Bertrand Russell but I am
not sure.  I also recall, that he lambasted religious fundamentalism
and so-called "scientific" creationism.  One thing that I am sure
about is that his talk sailed over the heads of at least 95%
of the audience at BU.  I suppose that he believed that university
commencement was a proper place for delivering a learned
address.  He probably also thought that universities were
places for learning and scholarship.  Imagine that!
What cheek!

                Jim Farmelant

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