Some recent thoughts. I have over the years re-thought the coherence of Rand’s argument on rights. (Re Rand’s epistemology–always thought a lot of it made sense, in common-sense, broad outlines, or when she was critiquing others; OTOH I tend to think she greatly distorted Kant.) Much like I’ve re-thought her argument for patents. Both of them seem sensible at first but the more you think about them the more they don’t hang together.
Re rights I think the problem is you really can’t derive an ought from an is. Her flip comment that what a thing’s nature IS determines what it OUGHT to do is a non-sequitur. You have to have a “moral leap,” in my view; which she in a sense agrees iwht, by saying that all ethics is based on the original (and a-moral!) “choice to live”. In my view, likewise, there is no categorical, natural-law “non-aggression rule.” Rather, I think it is the case that those people who do (for whatever reason, or, yes, “whim”) happen to personally value civilization, peace, cooperation, and who therefore seek to justify proposed uses of interpersonal violence–that the non-aggression rule emerges. And the most consistent among them are libertarians. I.e., rihgts are sort of hypothetical. But tha’ts okay. I think many Randians and other libertarians would be reluctant to admit this b/c they want a “drop dead,” “good for all time” argument. But even if you had such an argument: still, people have free will, and some people would choose to act immorally anyway. So there is no “penalty” for admitting civilized ethics are hypothetical; none at all; they are no “stronger” than categorical or natural law ones; and they are easier to justify–you just appeal to the baseline sense of morality that is already adopted by any fellow participant in civilized discourse. And if they are not such people, they are like animals, outlaws, criminals, which exist even if you had a knock-down argument.
I have some draft material on this which I plan to publish whenever I find time to clean it up.
Interesting post: Re-Evaluating Ayn Rand. Also, Scott Ryan tells me that he deals with some of the non-sequiturs and fallacies of Rand’s defense of individual rights in the last couple chapters of his book, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of the Epistemology of Ayn Rand (PDF), which I have not yet read.