Float Time

boat floating in water but appearing to float in airA lot of Randians seem to think that the phrase and concept “floating abstraction” is specific to Rand; but in fact the term “floating abstraction” (or, more commonly, “free-floating abstraction”), often (though not always) meaning something actually fairly close to what Rand meant by it, is quite common in Continental and leftist thought, showing up in Marxist, feminist, phenomenological, and postmodernist discourse.

I don’t know whether this is a coincidence or whether there was influence – or, if so, in which direction. It would be interesting to know which came first, but I’m not sure how old either version is. The oldest use I could find online for “free-floating abstraction” was from Kathleen Nott in 1969 (but I didn’t search at much length); Rand was already using “floating abstraction” at least as early as 1961 (in For the New Intellectual) and probably earlier. (It’s also in Branden’s Principles lectures (as transcribed in The Vision of Ayn Rand), the earliest version of which was recorded in 1958, but I don’t know which year the text in Vision comes from; and Atlas Shrugged seems to be working toward the concept in Galt’s reference to “the words with rubber meanings, the terms left floating in midstream.”)


2 Responses to Float Time

  1. David Gordon January 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Karl Mannheim wrote about “free floating intellectuals” in Ideology and Utopia.

    • Roderick January 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

      I always charge a high price for floating intellectuals.

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