Ayn Rand’s Life: Finding and Facing the Facts

Shoshana Milgram Knapp, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Researching the life of a controversial figure such as Ayn Rand requires one not only to discover the facts, but also to correct the errors and distortions that have replaced facts in the popular imagination and even in scholarly writings. To do so requires proper use of data. One prominent instance is the identity of the professor of a philosophy course Ayn Rand (then known as Alisa Zinovevna Rozenbaum) in her first year of studies at the University of Petrograd (1921-1922). In a biographical interview (January 2, 1961), she describes the textbook used in the course, the instructor of the course (his age, appearance, scholarly specialization, and temperament), and her final exam in the course (an oral exam, at his home). The name she cited, however, was problematic: the professor she named did not match the age, appearance, scholarly specialization, and temperament of the man in her description, and had been excluded by the Soviets from his regular university position (and, in fact, was soon expelled from Russia). Many historical facts, then, are in conflict with the name she cited. Further research into early-twentieth-century philosophy textbooks used in Russian universities yields only one close match for her description of the textbook, and its author, Aleksandr Vvedensky, possesses the age, appearance, scholarly specialization, and temperament of the professor she described. To consider only a name mentioned on a single day—and to ignore the historical information that calls into question the accuracy of the identification—can make it harder to challenge inconsistency and to advance toward accuracy. But, in the phrase that began each episode of the television series Pushing Daisies (2007-2009), it is possible to seek and find a firmer base and to say: “The facts are these.”

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 258. What was Objectivity? Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the historical use of data