Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Was Ayn Rand "Dead Wrong"?

I was recently asked for my reaction to Geoffrey James’ Top 10 Reasons Why Ayn Rand Was Dead Wrong.

James’ anti-Rand rant is so full of holes, it seems that anyone who is genuinely familiar with Objectivism wouldn’t need my response to detect its flaws.

James clearly has issues with Ayn Rand and her philosophy, and in the litany of alleged offences that he cites, he often toggles between Rand the person and Objectivism the philosophy as the target of his charges. In fact, some of the accusations which James presents, have nothing to do with what Objectivism actually teaches, but seem to stem from personal misgivings of his own.

James calls Objectivism “an absurd philosophy that got sold to the world of business and government,” and blames it for “creating a world of havoc in the United States.” While he points repeatedly to Alan Greenspan specifically as a link between Objectivism and the current economic crisis in America (an association which I address below), James fails to cite any piece of legislation governing American economic or other interest which finds its source in Objectivist philosophy. Given his stated understanding of the cause of this “world of havoc in the United States,” James would apparently have his readers believe that Washington has been inundated by Objectivists and Objectivist ideas for the past 50 years. If only that were the case!

Throughout his article, James makes some bizarre and apparently self-contradictory statements. We find a howling example in his first paragraphs:
Objectivism is important to sales professionals because it’s the kind of philosophy that, if you believe in it, you’re going to screw up your ability to sell effectively. As a profession, Sales has moved beyond the attempt to manipulate people selfishly for one’s own ends, which is how Objectivism plays itself out in the real world. [sic]
If what James says about Objectivism were true – namely that it will cause salesmen to “screw up [their] ability to sell effectively” – why would it be at all “important to sales professionals”? And if it were true that “Sales has moved beyond the attempt to manipulate people selfishly for one’s own ends,” why suppose that Objectivism has any influence on business practices today?

I’ve worked in sales for many years, and in that time I’ve not encountered anyone who expressed any familiarity with Objectivism. I’m sure there are some out there, but I haven’t run across them yet. But James makes it sounds like Objectivism is the Skull and Bones of every sales team in the land. But even he points out how Objectivism is at odds with the direction he apparently thinks “Sales” has taken itself since who knows when, by pointing out its inconsistency with appealing to the selfishness of consumers as a marketing tool.

James then goes on to say that “most successful sales professionals feel that they are in service to something greater than themselves.” While James’ ability to know what feelings “most successful sales professionals” have is itself impressive, he paints them as if they were motivated by some religious teaching that is completely alien to the content of what Objectivism teaches. Objectivism certainly does not teach individuals to think of themselves primarily as the means to some end that surpasses their own self-interests, as if they were sacrificial animals “in service to something greater than themselves.” But what successful sales professionals adopt such a view? Suppose you take a proven sales professional and tell him that, instead of his monthly commission, he would be paid with the blissful assurance that his earnings would go to the March of Dimes, the Salvation Army, or some other charity whose scope is “greater than himself.” How much longer do you suppose he would continue in his profession? Apparently James thinks contributing to some cause that transcends the salesman’s own interests is what motivates him. Why then aren’t more salesmen deferring their commissions and directing them to so-called non-profit organizations that are geared toward securing that cause?

James has already clued us in on his bizarre understanding of human nature and his affinity for sacrificial ethics (anyone paying attention should have no trouble seeing this). But we haven’t even gotten started on his list of objections against Objectivism, and already we’re encountering howlers like this.

So, let’s explore James’ indictment against Objectivism, and see how well his “top ten reasons” why Objectivism is “a total crock” stand up to examination.

James’ first objection is directed (at least on the surface) against Rand’s political philosophy:
Laissez-Faire capitalism doesn’t work. Laissez-Faire capitalism is a utopian fantasy. And like all utopias, it cannot actually exist. Therefore, as a philosophy, it needs to be judged on how it gets implemented in the real world, with all the real world’s inherent inconsistencies. Just like Marxism, in the real world, produced the Soviet system in Russia, the real world implementation of laissez-faire capitalism, led by Rand-disciple Greenspan, produced the great recession.
James wants to indict Rand’s philosophy for what he calls “the great recession,” but his only link between the two is a personality which defected from the Objectivist movement decades ago, namely Alan Greenspan. Essentially, James invokes the fallacy of guilt by association in order to incriminate Rand and her philosophy as the cause of the current economic malaise afflicting the United States. James produces no analysis demonstrating any Objectivist ideas as the cause of any economic crisis in America or elsewhere. It is true that Alan Greenspan collaborated with Rand in compiling her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, to which Greenspan contributed three (out of 26) chapters. But it does not follow from this fact that Greenspan’s practices as chairman of the Federal Reserve were in line with Objectivism’s political teachings. Philosopher Harry Binswanger cites some clear evidence that this is the case in his article Greenspan on “Infectious Greed”, which supports his case with direct quotations from Alan Greenspan. I’m more than confident that a close examination of Greenspan’s decision-making in his role as Fed Chairman will reveal significant departures from Objectivism on Greenspan’s part. But I am certainly not the first to notice this or point it out.

Speaking more directly to the cause of the current economic crisis, many commentators have pointed to the subprime mortgage delinquencies and related high-risk loan indiscretions in the housing market as one of the chief culprits of the current economic situation. I am persuaded that such arguments have ample merit, and we can thank a handful of leftists in Congress for making this possible. But where does James link these immediate causes to Objectivist teachings as their root cause? He doesn’t. And he won’t be able to.

Instead, James trades in vague generalities with the sole intent to smear, calling laissez-fair capitalism a “fantasy” which “cannot actually exist.” He provides no argument for these characterizations; apparently he either thinks they are self-evidently true, or that they should be accepted on his own say so. But this undercuts his indictment of Objectivism as the cause of the current economic crisis in America: if Objectivism’s political philosophy is a mere fantasy which “cannot actually exist,” then it cannot have been in place as the condition in which the current economic crisis gestated and culminated into what it is today. Had James pointed out that America is not guided by laissez-faire capitalism, he would be correct. But again, this would only exonerate Objectivism from the economic sins he accuses it of bringing into being: if laissez-faire capitalism is only a fantasy that “cannot actually exist,” then it couldn’t possibly have been driving the American economy into the ditch over the past decade.

Considering James’ complaint more broadly, exactly what is it about Objectivism’s political philosophy that he thinks is so unrealistic? Objectivism defines ‘capitalism’ as “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” Needless to say, this has hardly existed in the United States, particularly over the last century, for the federal government has always owned at least some property (and does so more and more with each passing moment). What is James’ objection against “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights” that has him so agitated against Rand and her philosophy? James does not explain this; he does not give any indication that he understands what Objectivism means by capitalism. But the fundamental point of contention should be clear: to oppose capitalism as Objectivism informs it, is to oppose individual property rights. In terms of essentials, there’s no other way to interpret it.

James’ second indictment against Objectivism states the following:
Reason has real-world limitations. While I’m all for valuing reason over superstition, the notion that one can use reason without emotion is science fiction. Maybe that works on the planet Vulcan, but human beings swim in a vast ocean of emotion. Emotion governs the “why” behind every exercise of reason, determining our choices of interest and intention. In the real world, people use reason as a way to buttress what their emotions desire.
Not only does James fail to quote Rand and thus establish the relevance of his objection to what Objectivism actually teaches, he also exhibits the tendency of equating what people do “in the real world” with what is philosophically proper. After all, since James is critiquing Objectivism as a philosophy, the concern here is the philosophical value of Objectivism’s teachings. At least, that’s what one might think given the task that James has set out to accomplish in his critique of Objectivism.

The problem for James is the fact that what people actually do “in the real world” is not a reliable indicator of what is true, false or philosophically viable. Nor does what people actually do in the real world have any bearing on whether or not Objectivism is true. “What people actually do” is a mixed bag, and includes everything from childrearing to running a business, from riding a bicycle to robbing a bank, from running a touchdown to participating in a riot. An individual might habitually make mistakes balancing his checkbook; but this is no sustainable implication against the validity of basic arithmetic. One would think that any adult, including Geoffrey James, could understand this.

Speaking more directly to James’ objection, Objectivism nowhere denies the facts that man has emotions, that his emotions are real, that they color his experience and accompany his decision-making. Objectivism nowhere teaches that one should “reason without emotion,” and James provides no citation which legitimizes this allegation against Objectivism. Rand’s fundamental epistemological point regarding emotion is not that reason and emotion are inherently antagonistic to each other, but that emotion is not a substitute for his faculty of reason. Specifically, Rand wrote:
There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man’s reason and his emotions—provided he observes their proper relationship. A rational man knows—or makes it a point to discover—the source of his emotions, the basic premises from which they come; if his premises are wrong, he corrects them. He never acts on emotions for which he cannot account, the meaning of which he does not understand. In appraising a situation, he knows why he reacts as he does and whether he is right. He has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated, his consciousness is in perfect harmony. His emotions are not his enemies, they are his means of enjoying life. But they are not his guide; the guide is his mind. This relationship cannot be reversed, however. If a man takes his emotions as the cause and his mind as their passive effect, if he is guided by his emotions and uses his mind only to rationalize or justify them somehow—then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction—his own and that of others. (“Playboy’s Interview with Ayn Rand,” March 1964.)
James gives no indication that he understands these distinctions as part of Rand’s understanding of emotions and their role in man’s mental life, which makes me wonder just how familiar he is with his chosen subject matter. Where is he getting his understanding of Rand and her philosophy?

In his third complaint, James excoriated Rand’s character:
Ayn Rand was a [sic] emotional nut case. Regardless of what you think of her philosophy and writing, Rand’s personal life was a complete shambles. She became involved in an adulterous affair with a disciple (a “reasonable” decision on her part, of course), and then went all “old bat of out hell” when he made the “reasonable” decision to start boinking some younger woman. The resulting emotional pyrotechnics were a perfect example of the impotence of Objectivism as a life creed.
This is pure ad hominem. James is simply trying to smear Rand’s philosophy because she allegedly had character flaws. This is clear because he is saying that her personal life was an example of Objectivism in action. Of course, any high school sophomore should be able to recognize that this doesn’t follow.

Then again, if what James describes here actually happened as he describes it, what possible contention could he have against Rand? James just got through telling us that “emotions govern the ‘why’ behind every exercise of reason, determining our choices of interest and intention,” and that “in the real world, people use reason to buttress what their emotions desire.” Now he finds fault with Rand for allegedly doing precisely this. If what James says in his prior criticism is accepted as the guiding light, what justifies his calling Rand “a [sic] emotional nut case”? James’ prior criticism of Rand’s teachings (ever so threadbare as it is) is incompatible with his disparagement of Rand the person.

But is it truly the case that “Rand’s personal life was a complete shambles”? I hardly think so. Rand’s personal life was punctuated with heroic successes that most men in the West could hardly rival. Rand was born into a Jewish family living in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps James is unfamiliar with the culture of pre-Soviet Russia, but having Jewish roots in Russia was not a precondition for success and celebrity. At a very young age Rand endured a traumatic event in which she believed she was going to be murdered, survived the communist revolution of the Soviets in the early 20th century, and emigrated to a foreign nation on her own with nothing more than the shirt on her back, leaving her entire family behind, most of whom she never saw again for the rest of her life. In spite of these tragic events which no doubt affected her life, she finished her degree at Petrograd State University, wrote screen plays for Hollywood films, published two best-selling novels in the United States, appeared as a witness before US Congress, and founded her own original philosophy which has influenced many individuals in the US and abroad. Rand was a successful novelist, businesswoman, public speaker and celebrity. She earned her every achievement, which, according to her philosophy, is the formula for genuine happiness, so it is hard to see how one could rightly call her “personal life… a complete shambles.” Indeed, Rand’s success was not the result of some lottery win, nor was she riding on a wave of “luck” given the “accident” of her birth. Rand was born a Jew in pre-Soviet Russia, endured the Communist Revolution in that nation, departed the land of her birth completely on her own, and created a successful life for herself in America often in the face of extreme opposition, such as is evidenced in the vitriol of her detractors, which persists to this day, long after her death.

As for Rand’s extramarital indulgences, James seems to be judging this episode of her life through Judeo-Christian goggles. The stigma of “adultery” is not Objectivist in origin. Rand’s affair with Nathaniel Branden needs no apologies since all parties to it, including Rand’s own husband Frank O’Conner, openly consented to it. Rand did formally part ways with Branden some time after her affair with him had concluded, but her reasons for this cited Branden’s dishonesty to her, not his “boinking” of some other woman. Regardless, Rand’s personal life is neither here nor there when it comes to assessing the merits of her philosophy, just as Euclid’s personal faults have no bearing on the validity of the geometry he developed.

James announces his next complaint:
Her philosophy is devoid of gratitude. While individualism has some value, Objectivism largely discounts the fact the every successful person stands on the shoulders of those who have come before. In addition, success always involves an element of luck, often consisting of having had the luck to be born into a rich family with plenty of connections. Success devoid of gratitude and the noblesse oblige to help others brings out the worst in people.
If there were any question that James were personally familiar with what Rand actually wrote on the issues he raises, that question should now be settled: Clearly he is not!
Rand cited the only rational basis for gratitude when she offered the following observation:
We inherit the products of the thought of other men. We inherit the wheel. We make a cart. The cart becomes an automobile. The automobile becomes an airplane. But all through the process what we receive from others is only the end product of their thinking. The moving force is the creative faculty which takes this product as material, uses it and originates the next step. This creative faculty cannot be given or received, shared or borrowed. It belongs to single, individual men. That which it creates is the property of the creator. Men learn from one another. But all learning is only the exchange of material. No man can give another the capacity to think. Yet that capacity is our only means of survival. (The Fountainhead)
Here Rand explicitly acknowledges the effort and productiveness of those who came before us and achieved values which we enjoy and build on today. In this passage Rand eloquently acknowledges both the contributions of those who came before us as well as the responsibility we have as individuals to make the choice to think for ourselves. I can only suppose that James is unaware of the sentiment Rand expresses here, even though she voiced similar thoughts elsewhere as well. Observe:
Just as a man’s actions are preceded and determined by some form of idea in his mind, so a society’s existential conditions are preceded and determined by the ascendancy of a certain philosophy among those whose job is to deal with ideas. The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the preceding period. The nineteenth century—with its political freedom, science, industry, business, trade, all the necessary conditions of material progress—was the result and the last achievement of the intellectual power released by the Renaissance. The men engaged in those activities were still riding on the remnants of an Aristotelian influence in philosophy, particularly on an Aristotelian epistemology (more implicitly than explicitly). (“For the New Intellectual,” For the New Intellectual, 28.)
Elsewhere Rand wrote:
Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. (Atlas Shrugged)
Given statements like these and others which Rand published in her writings, what gives James the impression that “Objectivism largely discounts the fact the every successful person stands on the shoulders of those who have come before”? Does James show us where Rand supposedly did this, in spite of the statements which I have reproduced here? No, he doesn’t. Like so many of Rand’s detractors, James simply maligns her views without bothering to check the facts, perhaps hoping no one will notice.

James’ own words clearly indicate that success is the result of “luck,” comparable to a lottery win. How else are we to interpret his claim that “success always involves an element of luck, often consisting of having had the luck to be born into a rich family with plenty of connections”? Many successful people could arguably be said not to have had “luck” on their side, let alone the supposed advantage of being “born into a rich family with plenty of connections,” but chose to pursue their ambitions in spite of the odds against them. Being born into a wealthy family in no way ensures a person’s success; in fact, it often works against their potential by undermining their motivation to endure the struggle which success so often requires. A son or daughter born into a wealthy family can easily think he doesn’t need to pursue success if he’s already enjoying the fruits of someone else’s success. Thomas Edison, for instance, was not born into wealth, nor did he achieve success as a result of winning some lottery. He relied on his own mind and effort and took entrepreneurial risks to achieve his ideals. Countless other stories could be told. My own father was born in Dustbowl Kansas and, having abandoned school at the fourth grade, eventually became a very successful business-owner. James’ view of success clearly discounts the wise choices, effort and dedication that informs genuinely successful ventures by attributing success to “luck” and lottery wins. Why is that okay, but Rand’s alleged ingratitude (which is a complete mischaracterization of her views) isn’t? James does not explain this, for he has not rationally considered the issues involved, nor has he adequately familiarized himself with what Objectivism actually has to say on these matters.

Part and parcel with James’ view of success as the result of luck and raffle drawings, is his view that success bestows upon those who achieve it the obligation to sacrifice themselves, to who knows what extent, for the benefit of anonymous “others” who need not earn the favors which James believes the successful allegedly owe them. No doubt, these same “others” who James thinks should reap the rewards of the efforts of successful individuals, often hold those who succeed in contempt as an expression of their own seething envy. After all, they weren’t the winners of life’s lottery, and Lady Luck hasn’t graciously touched their lives with the gratuitous bounty that the successful must be enjoying given the specifics of their accidental birth, so there’s a metaphysical luck of the draw which divides the haves from the have-nots. We see this to unending degrees today as the growing moocher class is being systematically cultivated and coddled by elected officials and bureaucrats, all to the destruction of those who have produced wealth, like parasites scavenging on living carcasses. James must be very pleased with the present administration, unless of course he thinks the handouts aren’t “generous” enough.

If James were truly concerned about people showing gratitude, why doesn’t he focus on those who have been subsisting on the wealth confiscated from those who have produced it? If he trains his sights on this portion of the population, which is growing by the hour, he’ll find a boiling hotbed of ingrates. I wouldn’t be surprised if James numbers among them.

Wading more toward the fundamentals of Objectivist philosophy, James writes:
Reality is NOT an objective absolute. There’s no way to tell whether reality is objective or not because it can only be perceived subjectively. While it could be argued that the consensus of multiple subjective realities equals objective reality, the exact same logic would also assign objective reality to Jung’s archetypes, which appear inside every human being’s dreams. In any case, measuring something changes the thing measured, so simply perceiving “reality” changes the nature of reality. Therefore, so it can’t be absolute.
Does James have even the slightest inkling of what Rand meant by the concept ‘objectivity’? The congenital sloppiness of his entire paragraph here resoundingly indicates that he does not, or that he simply doesn’t care. First of all, what does James mean by his claim that reality “can only be perceived subjectively”? What does it mean to perceive something “subjectively”? On Rand’s account, perception is in fact objective just as reality is: perception is a biological process, just as blood circulation, respiration and digestion are. To perceive something “subjectively” could only be an instance of perceiving something that does not actually exist because someone wants to perceive it. But the senses do not behave in this manner. We perceive things regardless of any subjective intentions we may be experiencing. When I perceive a tree in my neighbor’s yard dropping leaves all over mine, it’s not because I want that tree to be there and the leaves to be littering my property, but because the tree in fact exists and it’s shedding its leaves, as typically happens this time of year. On James’ view, one could not know this is truly happening because “it can only be perceived subjectively.”

When Rand states that reality is “objective,” what she means is that existence exists independent of consciousness, that is: that things are what they are independent of anyone’s feelings, preferences, dislikes, frustrations, ignorance, commands, temper tantrums, etc. Rand certainly was not trying to make the case that “the consensus of multiple subjective realities equals objective reality,” nor was she consigning reality qua objective to background settings of everyone’s dreaming!

Furthermore, James is mistaken in drawing the inference that “simply perceiving ‘reality’ changes the nature of reality” because “measuring something changes the thing measured.” Perception and measurement are two different things, but James’ inference here trades on equating the two and granting both the power to rearrange the identity of objects. James provides no justification for this move, even seems oblivious to the fact that he is making it, and apparently expects his readers to accept its result unquestioningly. Besides, why suppose that “measuring something changes the thing measured”? If I measure my daughter’s height and find that she is 34.5” tall, in what way have I changed her? How does James know that any change in my daughter’s nature has occurred as a result of measuring her height? Perhaps he thinks it’s just a commonly accepted truism that this is the case. I suggest he give the matter some deeper thought.

James then attacks a leading character in one of Rand’s bestselling novels:
Howard Roark was a lousy architect. If Roark (the hero of Rand’s book The Fountainhead) wanted his “vision” to be his alone, he had no business getting other people to bankroll it. Instead, he should have done something like the Watts Towers, where he’d be responsible for every part of the project, including its construction. Large scale architecture is a collaborative venture that involves satisfying the desires and needs of the client. Good architects are expert at managing client expectations and working through creative differences.
James announces that Rand’s character Howard Roark “was a lousy architect,” but offers no reasons for supposing any of the buildings he designed were structurally unsound in any way. At best, James seems to be making the case that Roark was a poor businessman and suggests that would have been more successful not only as the designer of buildings, but also their financier, construction crew, general contractor, etc. In other words, Roark is faulted for having customers! And more, he is faulted for customers who sought him out for his visionary originality at his craft. Even in Rand’s novel, Roark is hired by rags-to-riches tycoon Roger Enright to build a tall skyscraper, allowing Roark to design it according to his ideals. This was the kind of customer that Roark wanted, and got. But James apparently finds the uncompromising pursuit of one’s ideals in his business transactions unsettling. Perhaps he believes that Frank Lloyd Wright also should not have had any customers, or that he should have built only outhouses. I suspect Peter Keating would prefer a world populated by Geoffrey Jameses.

James then switches gears back to Rand’s philosophy. He writes:
Facts do NOT trump feelings, wishes, hopes, and fears. As any sales professional knows, when dealing with human beings, facts ALWAYS run a distant fifth. That’s particularly true when dealing with people who are operating under the fantasy that their decisions are based upon “fact.” Emotion trumps reason every time, and nobody is easier to influence emotionally than those who are so unaware of that their emotions that they think they’re making “reasonable” decisions.
In response to everything James writes here, the obvious question to ask is, “Is that a fact?” The comic irony of James’ statements in conjunction with each other is indeed ripe. He says that people who base their decisions on facts are “operating under [a] fantasy,” and yet has chosen to point out that “when dealing with human beings, facts ALWAYS run a distant fifth,” apparently because he thinks that’s a fact! Well, I can say one thing for sure here, I am not operating under the fantasy that James is making any judgments on the basis of facts. But it would be naïve to project his deficiency on everyone else, which is what he’s apparently doing.

James’ view of salesmen’s customers is quite pitiful and condescending. According to James, customers are never guided primarily by facts, but are instead guided by emotion which “trumps reason every time,” even when they think (so deluded they are) that they are basing their decisions on facts. James would have us believe that this is common knowledge among salesmen. I can only suppose that James is projecting here (again), perhaps both in the perspective of the salesman as well as his customers. I worked in sales for over five years, and I don’t think I ever had one customer who bought from me based on his fleeting emotions. My customers were as shrewd as I was as a salesman, and they insisted on full disclosure of my product’s specifications, by pricing, payment terms, ability to make delivery in the specified time, etc. They wanted the facts, and I happily disclosed them. After all, my customers were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for my product, so there was a lot on the line. Business ventures of this sort are not mere flights of fancy as James supposes.

But speaking to the point more broadly, the Objectivist view pertinent to James’ remarks is that one’s feelings, wishes, hopes and fears do not alter facts, for facts do not conform to man’s conscious activity. Take for example the fact that New York City is located on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Suppose this fact makes me depressed, that I wish New York City were located along the Mississippi River, that I hope one day it moves a thousand miles to the west, and that I fear New York City really is on the west coast and no one realizes it. According to James, since “facts ALWAYS run a distant fifth” and “emotion trumps reason every time,” he must think that New York City will conform to whatever I feel, wish, hope and fear. Needless to say, this is absurd. But so is any position which is motivated by the desire to subordinate facts and reason to emotion.

Moreover, Objectivism recognizes the fact that emotions are not a means of knowledge. Our feelings do not tell us what is true or false, what actions to take, or why one should take any particular course of action over another. As I pointed out above, Rand observed that “there is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man’s reason and his emotions—provided he observes their proper relationship,” since both reason and emotion have vital roles in man’s life. Emotions are a response to new knowledge given its implications to one’s values. But they are not a means of validating knowledge claims, nor are they a substitute for proper inferential method.

James then turns his attention to man and his purpose:
Every man does NOT exist for his own sake. While Rand believed that pursuit of one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own happiness is his life’s moral purpose, the scientific fact is that man evolved as a communal creature, with bonds of family and community being tightly tied to health, happiness, longevity, and pretty much everything that makes life pleasurable. Objectivism thus runs counter to demonstrable scientific fact.
Whether he realizes it or not, James is bifurcating in order to set the stage for altruism as man’s ethical norm, and some form of collectivism as his political destiny. Rand’s view that man has the right to exist for his own sake (which is the view which she affirmed and defended) in no way denies man’s capacity for social relationships. Indeed, it is because man has this capacity that the concept of rights has application in his life in the first place. A man stranded all alone on a desert island need not worry about rights in a social context, since there’s no one else to bump into, no one else who could violate his rights. Moreover, in such a situation, he would have no one to whom he could sacrifice himself. It is when men interact with each other in social relationships that the concept of rights finds its importance. Some thinkers throughout history have, whether intentionally or otherwise, undermined the very notion that man has any rights at all. Others who have presented themselves as champions of rights have done even worse harm because they fail to understand the issue in terms of philosophic essentials.

Also, Rand never denied man’s capacity to find happiness in a family context or in community activities. Nor did she deny any man’s right to seek happiness in such quadrants. Rand conceived of happiness as a reward for productive effort, as “that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values” (“The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 28). Free individuals are able to seek this reward in the context of the effort they put into their families or community involvement. So it is unclear exactly what James’ objection is here, especially when he cites “bonds of family and community” as “being tightly tied to health, happiness, longevity, and pretty much everything that makes life pleasurable,” i.e., what the individual wants for himself. Even in James’ conception of happiness (which he ultimately ties to what “makes life pleasurable”), man is really the primary beneficiary of his livelihood.

As for James’ claim that it is a “scientific fact” that “man evolved as a communal creature,” I don’t know what sources he might cite for this (I’m sure he’d be able to find some, science these days being filled with a lot of nonsense at every turn). But it seems that the primary scientific fact in play here is that man has evolved as a biological organism with the capacity to reason, regardless (and often in spite) of his social surroundings. Man’s capacity to reason is his most fundamentally distinctive attribute, while capacity for social interaction is something man shares with dogs, cats, pigs, honeybees, ants, sheep, etc. Perhaps James means to eclipse man’s capacity to reason by characterizing him primarily as a “communal creature” because he doesn’t grasp what distinguishes man from these latter categories. Too bad.

Now consider this: James says that man is “a communal creature,” meaning he has an inherently social nature, and yet he has to be born into a certain family with wealth in order to have advantageous social connections? If man has an inherently social nature, why couldn’t a person who wasn’t born into wealth develop advantageous social connections? After all, everyone’s nature is inherently social, or “communal,” right? James cannot even integrate his own view on things.
Next, James attacks those who simply read Ayn Rand’s writings: Reading Rand creates instant jackasses. Anyone who’s been subjected to a friend who suddenly “discovers” Rand knows that reading her works causes people to act like selfish idiots. They combine a patina of “reason” over a self-righteous justification of whatever their “id” happens to want at the time and then insist that they’re just pursuing their own self-interest. They also become incredibly boring, about on the level of a newly converted Scientologist.
 To be honest, Geoffrey James comes across as a jackass, though it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t read Rand (look how much he’s gotten wrong in just the previous eight points!). So while I cannot say whether or not James is consistently a jackass, or only when he gets onto the topic of rational philosophy and its champions, it’s clear that one need not read Rand in order to be a jackass.

Now James assures us that whenever “a friend… suddenly ‘discovers’ Rand,” that friend will begin to act like a “selfish idiot.” James does not indicate whether or not he is talking from personal experience here, but given the level of understanding he has demonstrated thus far (and we’re almost at the end of his list), “selfish idiot” seems to represent a rise in rank from where James himself is sitting.

What’s notable in James’ complaint here is that the indicators he identifies do not in any way suggest that the “convert” to Objectivism whom he has in mind has actually grasped or properly practices what Objectivism teaches. Objectivism did not invent selfishness, nor is it easily grasped by idiots – just observe how hard a time James has had in understanding even its more basic principles. Additionally, Objectivism advocates rational selfishness, not the overtly irrational selfishness which James has allegedly observed in unnamed newcomers to Objectivism. James exhibits not even a modicum of charity in his evaluation of the situation, for not only does he not critically take into account what Objectivism actually teaches, he also fails to take into account that newcomers to a comprehensive system are unlikely to be that system’s best representatives. Couple these intellectual infractions with James’ unexamined penchant for granting to Rand’s writings the magical power of transforming otherwise normal people into “instant jackasses” on their first reading, and we have on display before us a spectacle of unabashed irrationality for all to see (and hopefully avoid).

Besides, if someone acts like a jackass, so what? Why does Geoffrey James care? Everyone, including but by no means restricted exclusively to Objectivists, has the capacity to be a jackass from time to time. Objectivists do not lose their identity as human beings when they adopt the Objectivist philosophy. What James is really trying to say, however, is that Rand’s writings have the effect of turning adherents into jackasses. But even James’ own anecdotal report, if in fact he has actually had a friend who “suddenly discovered” Rand’s philosophy, is hardly sufficient to justify such a sweeping generalization. Human beings are not robots, and nothing has the power to evoke the same behavioral effect on everyone in the manner that James has suggested regarding Objectivism. James just doesn’t like Rand. Why doesn’t he simply state this plainly instead of trying to fault others?

One final point, which should be obvious to any honest thinker, is that the particular behavior of a person does not necessarily invalidate the views he espouses. If a geometry teacher acts like a jackass, does his behavior invalidate geometry as a science? James needs to show a causal relationship between Rand’s writings and the behavior he attributes to enthusiasts of Rand’s writings. He hasn’t done this.

Lastly, true to his leftist stance, James displays his contempt for business leaders:
Rand is the CEOs’ favorite philosopher. Most CEOs already have CEO disease, which the medical profession defines as “the enlargement of the sphincter so that it covers the entire body, creating an overwhelming itch that can only be calmed by the frequent osculation of underlings.” Let’s face it: if there was ever an human ilk who don’t need a philosophy that drives them to be even more selfish, it’s the overpaid and overpampered CEOs of the world.
James comes across as one who’s deeply afflicted with contempt for those who are successful in life. Why does how much a CEO makes even matter to James? Does James worry that CEO’s have not earned their wealth? How could this bother him, especially if he prefers the political model in which wealth is confiscated from those who produce it and subsequently redistributed to those who have not earned it? If James thinks people should enjoy the unearned, and believes that CEOs have not earned the wealth they enjoy, he should be consistent with his own premises and be happy with the situation. But clearly he’s not happy with the situation. What is probably the case is that James resents those who earn wealth and dispose with it as they choose. This is called the right to property. Perhaps James would like to abolish it.

James seems to think CEOs are all big fans of Ayn Rand. If only that were the case! By and large, prominent business leaders today demonstrate little if anything in common with the ideals advanced by Objectivism. In fact, a growing number have their hand out for government distributions and bailout funds, becoming more like wards of the state than independent businessmen as the federal amoeba ingests their means of production. But the incestuous relationships that have developed between some businesses and governments did not necessarily arise as a result of private enterprise initiative. Whether they are banks, automobile manufacturers, energy producers, medical service providers, commodity traders, etc., today’s businessmen have been regulated beyond recognition. The preponderance of leftist propaganda in media outlets has only increased pressures on businesses to continue conforming to this trend. How often do you see a company advertisement promoting itself because of its “environmentally friendly” so that it can appease the “public” concern for “green” causes?

James needs to realize that simply being a CEO, does not make a person an Objectivist. It does not even indicate that he’s at all familiar with Objectivism. I have known several CEOs myself, and I’ve yet to meet one personally who is at all knowledgeable about Objectivism. I know this because I introduced them to Rand’s writings myself, and in each case they seemed mostly disinterested.

Popular culture, infected as it is with leftist notions, is replete with example after example where businesses and CEOs are portrayed as vile scoundrels out to defraud everyone from their own mothers to crack babies. According to this paradigm, the unsuccessful will always be victims, and the producers will always be the victimizers, while its promoters are laughing their way to the bank with proceeds from the latest anti-business blockbuster. Whether it’s “big oil” or “big pharma” or “big tobacco” or what have you, businesses which have been successful at manufacturing goods have come under fire from a vast range of interest groups, often for only imagined sins, but always for a free slice of the pie. What’s telling is that resulting legislation allows these businesses to continue, but at a price, including increasing regulation, a growing list of fees and credentialing requirements, and an endless assortment of tax burdens. If businesses are so evil, why are they allowed to continue operating in the first place? Why is there never any concern about the growing size and scope of “big government” in our lives?

Sadly, today’s business leaders offer little if any public self-defense, very possibly because they’ve uncritically accepted the basic premises of those who are so hostile to wealth creators and consequently have no philosophical defense for their livelihood. That’s why they try to redeem themselves, as far as it’s possible, by getting behind the “green” movement or broadcasting their contributions to charities. They’ve sold themselves out. They’ve allowed the US government to ban the incandescent light bulb for crying out loud!

From all his griping, James concludes:
IMHO, it’s long past time to consign Objectivism to the same intellectual dustbin where we’ve thrown Marxism and Absolute Monarchy.
It’s unclear what specifically James is proposing here. Is he seeking to censor Rand’s writings by recalling all copies of her books and internet postings of her ideas, and banning them forever? To silence Objectivism’s defenders? By force, perhaps? And what exactly is it about Objectivism’s political philosophy that James objects to? We probed this above and I noted that capitalism as Objectivism informs it is distinguished from other political systems by its explicit recognition of individual rights, including the right to property. Essentially, capitalism is the social system premised on the view that man has the right to exist for his own sake. James did exclaim that “every man does not exist for his own sake,” but this does not speak to the question at hand, which is whether or not man has the right to exist for his own sake, regardless of what others happen to choose for their lives. James stays clear of making his stance on this matter clear; he does not come out and deny man’s right to exist for his own sake, nor does he affirm it. But the views which he has affirmed are incompatible with the view that man does have the right to exist for his own sake. Does James think he himself has the right to exist for his own sake? Does he think I have the right to exist for my own sake? Does he think that a corporate CEO has the right to exist for his own sake? Perhaps James weighs in on this matter elsewhere in his blog, but judging by what he has stated in the present entry, it appears not.

In conclusion, Geoffrey James has failed to show that Ayn Rand was “dead wrong.” Indeed, if he’s shown anything, he’s show that he is dead wrong on a whole variety of issues.

by Dawson Bethrick

Labels: , ,

123 Comments:

Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Great job! A blistering rebuttal. I hope you have posted a link to this on James' site. I'd enjoy seeing him attempt to interact with it.

Ydemoc

December 07, 2010 4:40 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Dawson,

Awesome counter to this Leftist trash.

Furthermore, James is mistaken in drawing the inference that “simply perceiving ‘reality’ changes the nature of reality” because “measuring something changes the thing measured.”

James is undoubtedly relying on quantum physics which has been interpreted as the "perceiver changing the perceived." As I understand it there is some sense in which using certain instruments at the subatomic level does change the subatomic particles in some way. But this in no way implies that there is no such thing as objectivity. That is a skepticism-oriented conclusion. But that's where James is getting this stuff from.

There was not one legitimate criticism of Rand in Jame's entire article. I find that this is usually the case.

December 07, 2010 4:47 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

I am a frequent reader of this blog, and I must say that I find the religious dialogue more interesting than the self-defensive/Rand worshipping objectivist stuff.

Of course it is your blog to do what you wish with, but I will let my opinion be known.

December 07, 2010 5:33 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

I am a frequent reader of this blog, and I must say that I find the religious dialogue more interesting than the self-defensive/Rand worshipping objectivist stuff.

That's probably because you are a secularist with Leftist sympathies (like most of them) if not an outright far-Leftist (again like most of them).

You should understand that Dawson's main line of criticism of theism is the primacy of existence argument. That is thoroughly an Objectivist argument. Most secularists (like Dawkins) treat god as a hypothesis and then treat that hypothesis as an object of study. This is NOT Objectivist methodology. For Objectivism, god is not even wrong. Its an arbitrary concept with no epistemic standing.

So, maybe that would make you a little more interested in all that "self-defensive/Rand worshiping stuff". Gee, ever heard of something called defending a set of principles. Of course you haven't, if you are a Leftist (my guess).

December 07, 2010 8:35 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"You should understand that Dawson's main line of criticism of theism is the primacy of existence argument."

And for the most part I find that interesting, when applied to the concept of Incinerating Presuppositionalism (see the blog header.)

Not when this site starts to read like a massive defense of Atlas Shrugged.

December 08, 2010 5:36 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

All,

Thanks so much for your comments. I have enjoyed the feedback. Generally it is more positive than I expected.

Madmax, in regard to your point that James probably has quantum physics in mind (e.g., the double slit experiment), I think you’re right, and suspected this when I first reviewed his blog entry. The conclusion which some scientists have drawn from such experiments is that merely perceiving something somehow changes it. While I am certainly no authority on physics, my understanding of the particulars of such experiments does not support such a conclusion. Your own statement indicates why I think this conclusion is false. For example, in the double slit experiment (see here), it is concluded that merely “observing” the experiment at the quantum level altered its outcome. But clearly this could not have been a naked human eye, for instance, because the naked human eye cannot perceive at that level. The experiment is said to use “a measuring device” to detect what’s happening at the quantum level. But a measuring device is not merely “observation” – it’s a device! As you put it, “certain instruments at the subatomic level” are what changes the particles involved in the experiment. Given these factors in the experiment, the conclusion that merely observing something changes it, is not supported. So if this is what James has in mind, and if I am correct in my understanding of how such conclusions are derived, I don’t think he’s given it much critical thought. As I pointed out, he conflates measuring with perceiving, and even this does not support his unargued contention.

Yog, thanks for reading my blog and voicing your opinion. As Madmax’s response to you suggests, I’m stymied how you could find my critique of theism interesting while apparently rejecting the philosophical underpinnings which inform it. Moreover, I’m not “worshipping” Rand. I admire Rand, just as I admire Maurice Ravel, and for similar reasons: what they produced in their respective fields. Nor am I trying to mount “a massive defense of Atlas Shrugged.” If anything, I was defending The Fountainhead, since James’ criticism of its chief protagonist was laden with flaws. I was asked to respond to James’ criticism of Rand and her philosophy, so clearly some folks are interested. If you have misgivings about Objectivism that you’d like to discuss, present them, and we can review them together if you like.

Regards,
Dawson

December 08, 2010 9:57 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"I’m not “worshipping” Rand."

"Nor am I trying to mount “a massive defense of Atlas Shrugged.”

You are right, I was using hyperbole.

"If you have misgivings about Objectivism that you’d like to discuss"


The thing is, even if I am what most people would call a "leftist" (which, apparently, around here is spoken with the same disdain one uses for "pedophile") I don't disagree all that much with what I understand to be Rand's point. (And again, I only know of the tenets of objectivism via cultural osmosis, I won't pretend to be an expert.)

Her starting point is, essentially, there is an objective world that exists and we are in it. As I understand, everything else that she reasons follows from that. I have no problem with that, as I think it is the basis of all good reasoning (hyper-skepticism is pointless).

From this, human beings are given a choice between living and dying, which, again I agree with. When the human being has chosen to live, he is then conscious of the fact that he values some things and wants to acquire/accomplish them.

What I don't understand is where the idea of morality comes in to play at all. That is, I agree with Nietzsche when he said, "There are no moral events, only moral interpretations of events." If a human being's only real responsibility is to accomplish/attain that which he himself values, why should selfishness have any inherent value?

If, say, I value living in a Communist state enough to work to accomplish that goal (even to the point of killing others/using force), why, given the reasoning that preceeeds it, should I not do so?

In effect, I don't understand the association of Objectivism with the Right, because I feel that it is simply an acknowledgement that human beings value things and go after them (to quote the delightful S.M. Stirling, "To desire the end is to desire the means."). It cannot ever tell you what you SHOULD value.

December 08, 2010 10:41 AM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Since you do such a great job responding to the likes of James, I thought I'd draw your attention to another website where most, if not all, of those commenting seem be as ill-informed about Objectivism as Mr. James is.

The link is: http://www.daylightatheism.org/2010/12/climbing-the-mountain-of-atlas-shrugged.html#comments

Perhaps there's enough material to inspire you to post another blog entry.

Ydemoc

December 08, 2010 12:13 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Since you do such a great job responding the the likes of James, I thought I'd draw your attention to a site where those commenting seem to be as ill-informed as James is with regard to Objectivism. The link is:

http://www.daylightatheism.org/2010/12/climbing-the-mountain-of-atlas-shrugged.html#comments

Perhaps after reading some of the comments, it will inspire you to post a brand new blog entry.

Ydemoc

December 08, 2010 12:26 PM  
Blogger The Secular Walk said...

@Dawson Bethrick

Thanks for acting on my content suggestion to you. You did a good job on it.

I suggested it because I thought you might have an interest in interacting with Geoffrey James and his attacks, since you no longer have a Paul Manata type intellectual rival anymore. Rick Warden looked like he might be a new nemesis, but he has disappeared.

And without that rival, it's hard to get the motivation and the ideas to make new writing compositions.

I appreciate your time in making this. Cheers.

December 08, 2010 2:13 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

What I don't understand is where the idea of morality comes in to play at all. That is, I agree with Nietzsche when he said, "There are no moral events, only moral interpretations of events." If a human being's only real responsibility is to accomplish/attain that which he himself values, why should selfishness have any inherent value?

You need to read Rand extensively to answer this. 'The Virtue of Selfishness' is a good place to start but in order to get Rand at the epistemological level it will take reading *many* books and thinking about this subject a whole lot. Its going to be *very* difficult for you personally. Why?

If, say, I value living in a Communist state enough to work to accomplish that goal (even to the point of killing others/using force), why, given the reasoning that preceeeds it, should I not do so?

From this I see that your sympathies are with the Left meaning egalitarian collectivism. In brief, the Left has already "got to you" with its egalitarian ethos and its underlying altruist ethics. Also, you believe in the "is/ought" dichotomy which says that one can never establish an is from an ought, or put another way, one can never derive a moral code from facts.

The is/ought is a disasterous flaw in philosophy. To accept it is to basically ensure that you can never be an advocate of ethical egoism, political individualism or capitalism. Perhaps Dawson will lay out an explanation of Rand's solution to the is/ought and her answer for why morality must revolve around man's life qua man. But in the end you will have to read these things for yourself and really reflect on them.

But the odds are against a person with Left-liberal sympathies that are extreme accepting Rand. You have a collectivist soul. It will be hard for you to change. If you are younger than 28 it might be possible. If you are over 28, its very doubtful.

In effect, I don't understand the association of Objectivism with the Right...

This all depends with what we mean by 'Right'. Today the right is a hodgepodge mix of Conservatives and Libertarians. And to make things more confusing, there are many different types of Conservatives and Libertarians. Objectivism rejects Conservatism, Libertarianism and modern Left-Liberalism (Leftism). It also rejects anarchism (left or right versions).

Part of Objectivism's agenda is to reformulate the whole political spectrum; to properly define it. The Right will therefore be associated with Laissez-faire and only Laissez-faire. Laissez-faire means total uncompromised individual freedom. The 'Left' will mean any violation of individual rights. So Leftists would be socialists, communists, egalitarian welfare-statists (my guess is you fall in here), religious Conservatives, Theocrats, Anarchists, Islamic Jihadists, Christian Constitutionalists, Progressive Leftists, etc.

Either you stand for the freedom from initiatory force (laissez-faire) or you are a Leftist (ie advocate of coercion). That will be the new political spectrum some day. Sadly not in my lifetime.

The thing is, even if I am what most people would call a "leftist" (which, apparently, around here is spoken with the same disdain one uses for "pedophile"

You should now know why this is so. Consistent Objectivists are advocates of liberty. Today, the greatest and most immediate threat to the vestiges of liberty that remain comes from the Left. The Conservatives and religion represent a grave threat too but there threat is of a longer term nature. It is egalitarian welfare-statism which is itself the product of post-modern philosophy which is KILLING the West. That is why we speak of it in the vilest terms.

December 08, 2010 4:13 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

What I don't understand is where the idea of morality comes in to play at all. That is, I agree with Nietzsche when he said, "There are no moral events, only moral interpretations of events." If a human being's only real responsibility is to accomplish/attain that which he himself values, why should selfishness have any inherent value?

You need to read Rand extensively to answer this. 'The Virtue of Selfishness' is a good place to start but in order to get Rand at the epistemological level it will take reading *many* books and thinking about this subject a whole lot. Its going to be *very* difficult for you personally. Why?

If, say, I value living in a Communist state enough to work to accomplish that goal (even to the point of killing others/using force), why, given the reasoning that preceeeds it, should I not do so?

From this I see that your sympathies are with the Left meaning egalitarian collectivism. In brief, the Left has already "got to you" with its egalitarian ethos and its underlying altruist ethics. Also, you believe in the "is/ought" dichotomy which says that one can never establish an is from an ought, or put another way, one can never derive a moral code from facts.

The is/ought is a disasterous flaw in philosophy. To accept it is to basically ensure that you can never be an advocate of ethical egoism, political individualism or capitalism. Perhaps Dawson will lay out an explanation of Rand's solution to the is/ought and her answer for why morality must revolve around man's life qua man. But in the end you will have to read these things for yourself and really reflect on them.

But the odds are against a person with Left-liberal sympathies that are extreme accepting Rand. You have a collectivist soul. It will be hard for you to change. If you are younger than 28 it might be possible. If you are over 28, its very doubtful.

In effect, I don't understand the association of Objectivism with the Right...

This all depends with what we mean by 'Right'. Today the right is a hodgepodge mix of Conservatives and Libertarians. And to make things more confusing, there are many different types of Conservatives and Libertarians. Objectivism rejects Conservatism, Libertarianism and modern Left-Liberalism (Leftism). It also rejects anarchism (left or right versions).

Part of Objectivism's agenda is to reformulate the whole political spectrum; to properly define it. The Right will therefore be associated with Laissez-faire and only Laissez-faire. Laissez-faire means total uncompromised individual freedom. The 'Left' will mean any violation of individual rights. So Leftists would be socialists, communists, egalitarian welfare-statists (my guess is you fall in here), religious Conservatives, Theocrats, Anarchists, Islamic Jihadists, Christian Constitutionalists, Progressive Leftists, etc.

Either you stand for the freedom from initiatory force (laissez-faire) or you are a Leftist (ie advocate of coercion). That will be the new political spectrum some day. Sadly not in my lifetime.

December 08, 2010 4:14 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

What I don't understand is where the idea of morality comes in to play at all. That is, I agree with Nietzsche when he said, "There are no moral events, only moral interpretations of events." If a human being's only real responsibility is to accomplish/attain that which he himself values, why should selfishness have any inherent value?

You need to read Rand extensively to answer this. 'The Virtue of Selfishness' is a good place to start but in order to get Rand at the epistemological level it will take reading *many* books and thinking about this subject a whole lot. Its going to be *very* difficult for you personally. Why?

If, say, I value living in a Communist state enough to work to accomplish that goal (even to the point of killing others/using force), why, given the reasoning that preceeeds it, should I not do so?

From this I see that your sympathies are with the Left meaning egalitarian collectivism. In brief, the Left has already "got to you" with its egalitarian ethos and its underlying altruist ethics. Also, you believe in the "is/ought" dichotomy which says that one can never establish an is from an ought, or put another way, one can never derive a moral code from facts.

The is/ought is a disasterous flaw in philosophy. To accept it is to basically ensure that you can never be an advocate of ethical egoism, political individualism or capitalism. Perhaps Dawson will lay out an explanation of Rand's solution to the is/ought and her answer for why morality must revolve around man's life qua man. But in the end you will have to read these things for yourself and really reflect on them.

But the odds are against a person with Left-liberal sympathies that are extreme accepting Rand. You have a collectivist soul. It will be hard for you to change. If you are younger than 28 it might be possible. If you are over 28, its very doubtful.

December 08, 2010 4:14 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

In effect, I don't understand the association of Objectivism with the Right...

This all depends with what we mean by 'Right'. Today the right is a hodgepodge mix of Conservatives and Libertarians. And to make things more confusing, there are many different types of Conservatives and Libertarians. Objectivism rejects Conservatism, Libertarianism and modern Left-Liberalism (Leftism). It also rejects anarchism (left or right versions).

Part of Objectivism's agenda is to reformulate the whole political spectrum; to properly define it. The Right will therefore be associated with Laissez-faire and only Laissez-faire. Laissez-faire means total uncompromised individual freedom. The 'Left' will mean any violation of individual rights. So Leftists would be socialists, communists, egalitarian welfare-statists (my guess is you fall in here), religious Conservatives, Theocrats, Anarchists, Islamic Jihadists, Christian Constitutionalists, Progressive Leftists, etc.

Either you stand for the freedom from initiatory force (laissez-faire) or you are a Leftist (ie advocate of coercion). That will be the new political spectrum some day. Sadly not in my lifetime.

December 08, 2010 4:15 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Wow I got slammed with a bunch of duplicates. Please delete all but the first entry.

December 08, 2010 4:16 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"In brief, the Left has already "got to you" with its egalitarian ethos and its underlying altruist ethics."

Not necessarily. I am an amoralist, that is to say, I don't believe anything necessarily MUST be any specific way. I am not an altruist, not really.


"Part of Objectivism's agenda is to reformulate the whole political spectrum; to properly define it."

This cultish aspect of Objectivism is creepy to me, to be honest.

"The is/ought is a disasterous flaw in philosophy."

I've seen a LOT of bad arguments against the Is/Ought divide, and never one good one.

"You need to read Rand extensively to answer this."

Is there any objective reason that I should agree with what Rand says?

December 08, 2010 4:19 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

"This cultish aspect of Objectivism is creepy to me, to be honest."

I don't see how properly defining the nature of the political spectrum is "cultish".

December 09, 2010 9:14 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"I don't see how properly defining the nature of the political spectrum is "cultish"."

Insisting that you understand the nature of the political spectrum better than the general public and that you have an "agenda" which will be acted out over several generations DOES strike me as cultish. If it doesn't you, well...fair enough.

December 09, 2010 9:21 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog,

Thanks for your comments. I’m hoping to get some time to offer additional thoughts in response to what you’ve written (though Madmax is really on fire – and he’s made some great points already). I wanted to speak to your latest comment, where you write:

“Insisting that you understand the nature of the political spectrum better than the general public and that you have an ‘agenda’ which will be acted out over several generations DOES strike me as cultish.”

Judging by what “the general public” seems to know about politics (check out this video when you get a chance), I’d think that anyone who has any intelligent ideas about the political situation in the United States better have significantly more knowledge than these folks demonstrate. And it hardly seems that knowing better than the individuals interviewed in that video indicates affiliation with a cult. Surely you could understand this point, I’d think.

As for your concern about having an ‘agenda’ to carry out over several generations, I’m not sure what specifically you have in mind. Who has presented such a plan, and why does having such a plan indicate coltishness? Were the Founding Fathers “cultish”?

At any rate, as Madmax rightly indicated, all of your concerns are addressed in the Objectivist literature. I wouldn’t suggest relying on “cultural osmosis” as a substitute for a principled understanding of morality and politics. You might find yourself among the crowd of useful idiots if you do. Surely you value yourself more than that, no?

Regards,
Dawson

December 09, 2010 11:26 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"Judging by what “the general public” seems to know about politics (check out this video when you get a chance), I’d think that anyone who has any intelligent ideas about the political situation in the United States better have significantly more knowledge than these folks demonstrate."

Non-sequitur. I would not disagree in the slightest that the current political situation in the US is undesirable. But that is not what I was discussing.

My response was to Mad Max's assertion: "Part of Objectivism's agenda is to reformulate the whole political spectrum; to properly define it."

He seems to be definining "properly" solely from "Objectivists favor it", which, I dunno, I find problematic.


He specifically says that Objectivism has an "agenda"

"I’m not sure what specifically you have in mind. Who has presented such a plan,"

MadMax did. As I quoted earlier. Specifically, the plan to reformulate the political spectrum away from what it currently is, to suit Objectivist desires.

"and why does having such a plan indicate coltishness?"

Having a long term agenda at odds with what the public perceives to be its good is just something I associate with "colts". Guess I am wacky that way.

"Were the Founding Fathers “cultish”? "

In some ways.

"At any rate, as Madmax rightly indicated, all of your concerns are addressed in the Objectivist literature."

Surely you agree that "Ayn Rand solved the Is-ought Problem" does not follow logically from "Ayn Rand wanted to and tried to solve the Is-Ought Problem"?

"You might find yourself among the crowd of useful idiots if you do."

And what exactly is a useful idiot? Someone who is not an Objectivist? You must either be an Objectivist or an idiot? Wow.

December 09, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

My first response was apparently eaten by the system, so I am going to try to reproduce it here, with some addendums.

"Thanks for your comments."

You are welcome. I appreciate reasoned conversation.

"As for your concern about having an ‘agenda’ to carry out over several generations, I’m not sure what specifically you have in mind."

I was just responding to Mad Max's assertion that Objectivism had the "agenda" (his word, not mine) of re-defining the political spectrum, and that it would not be completed within his lifetime. Given this, I don't see how you can reasonably say that what I wrote was unjustified.

"Who has presented such a plan, and why does having such a plan indicate coltishness?"

Mad Max. And it indicates "coltishness" to me because I associate cultishness with long term agendas hidden within certainty that a small group of people (i.e. Objectivists) have access to a truth that the rest of the masses do not. This is exacerbated by the adoration of a leader (i.e. Ayn Rand). It is creepy, and I won't lie or soften that blow to make friends here.

"Judging by what “the general public” seems to know about politics (check out this video when you get a chance), I’d think that anyone who has any intelligent ideas about the political situation in the United States better have significantly more knowledge than these folks demonstrate."

This is more or less a non-sequitur. That the vast majority of people do not really understand the political system AS IT IS, does not mean that anyone else understands better how the political system SHOULD BE.


"Were the Founding Fathers “cultish”?"

In some ways, but mostly not. Generally they had broad similiar principles as a group, but there was significant difference of opinion within those very broad agreements. (Jefferson wanted a weaker state, Hamilton favored a stronger federal system, etc.)


"At any rate, as Madmax rightly indicated, all of your concerns are addressed in the Objectivist literature."

Surely, as an Objectivist, you agree that "Ayn Rand solved the Is-Ought problem" does not follow logically from "Ayn Rand wanted to solve the Is-Ought Problem and tried to solve the Is-Ought problem." Remember, reality is not affected by human desire or emotions.

"You might find yourself among the crowd of useful idiots if you do."

Do you mean to imply here that one either follows Objectivism or is a useful idiot?

"Surely you value yourself more than that, no?"

I value myself enough to rely on my own reason, and not Ayn Rand's.

But then again, I am a man, and I think with my own mind.

December 09, 2010 12:15 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

My first response was apparently eaten by the system, so I am going to try to reproduce it here, with some addendums.

"Thanks for your comments."

You are welcome. I appreciate reasoned conversation.

"As for your concern about having an ‘agenda’ to carry out over several generations, I’m not sure what specifically you have in mind."

I was just responding to Mad Max's assertion that Objectivism had the "agenda" (his word, not mine) of re-defining the political spectrum, and that it would not be completed within his lifetime. Given this, I don't see how you can reasonably say that what I wrote was unjustified.

"Who has presented such a plan, and why does having such a plan indicate coltishness?"

Mad Max. And it indicates "coltishness" to me because I associate cultishness with long term agendas hidden within certainty that a small group of people (i.e. Objectivists) have access to a truth that the rest of the masses do not. This is exacerbated by the adoration of a leader (i.e. Ayn Rand). It is creepy, and I won't lie or soften that blow to make friends here.

"Judging by what “the general public” seems to know about politics (check out this video when you get a chance), I’d think that anyone who has any intelligent ideas about the political situation in the United States better have significantly more knowledge than these folks demonstrate."

This is more or less a non-sequitur. That the vast majority of people do not really understand the political system AS IT IS, does not mean that anyone else understands better how the political system SHOULD BE.


"Were the Founding Fathers “cultish”?"

In some ways, but mostly not. Generally they had broad similiar principles as a group, but there was significant difference of opinion within those very broad agreements. (Jefferson wanted a weaker state, Hamilton favored a stronger federal system, etc.)


"At any rate, as Madmax rightly indicated, all of your concerns are addressed in the Objectivist literature."

Surely, as an Objectivist, you agree that "Ayn Rand solved the Is-Ought problem" does not follow logically from "Ayn Rand wanted to solve the Is-Ought Problem and tried to solve the Is-Ought problem." Remember, reality is not affected by human desire or emotions.

"You might find yourself among the crowd of useful idiots if you do."

Do you mean to imply here that one either follows Objectivism or is a useful idiot?

"Surely you value yourself more than that, no?"

I value myself enough to rely on my own reason, and not Ayn Rand's.

But then again, I am a man, and I think with my own mind.

December 09, 2010 12:36 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

My first response was apparently eaten by the system, so I am going to try to reproduce it here, with some addendums.

"Thanks for your comments."

You are welcome. I appreciate reasoned conversation.

"As for your concern about having an ‘agenda’ to carry out over several generations, I’m not sure what specifically you have in mind."

I was just responding to Mad Max's assertion that Objectivism had the "agenda" (his word, not mine) of re-defining the political spectrum, and that it would not be completed within his lifetime. Given this, I don't see how you can reasonably say that what I wrote was unjustified.

"Who has presented such a plan, and why does having such a plan indicate coltishness?"

Mad Max. And it indicates "coltishness" to me because I associate cultishness with long term agendas hidden within certainty that a small group of people (i.e. Objectivists) have access to a truth that the rest of the masses do not. This is exacerbated by the adoration of a leader (i.e. Ayn Rand). It is creepy, and I won't lie or soften that blow to make friends here.

"Judging by what “the general public” seems to know about politics (check out this video when you get a chance), I’d think that anyone who has any intelligent ideas about the political situation in the United States better have significantly more knowledge than these folks demonstrate."

This is more or less a non-sequitur. That the vast majority of people do not really understand the political system AS IT IS, does not mean that anyone else understands better how the political system SHOULD BE.


"Were the Founding Fathers “cultish”?"

In some ways, but mostly not. Generally they had broad similiar principles as a group, but there was significant difference of opinion within those very broad agreements. (Jefferson wanted a weaker state, Hamilton favored a stronger federal system, etc.)


"At any rate, as Madmax rightly indicated, all of your concerns are addressed in the Objectivist literature."

Surely, as an Objectivist, you agree that "Ayn Rand solved the Is-Ought problem" does not follow logically from "Ayn Rand wanted to solve the Is-Ought Problem and tried to solve the Is-Ought problem." Remember, reality is not affected by human desire or emotions.

"You might find yourself among the crowd of useful idiots if you do."

Do you mean to imply here that one either follows Objectivism or is a useful idiot?

"Surely you value yourself more than that, no?"

I value myself enough to rely on my own reason, and not Ayn Rand's.

But then again, I am a man, and I think with my own mind.

December 09, 2010 12:45 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “I was just responding to Mad Max's assertion that Objectivism had the "agenda" (his word, not mine) of re-defining the political spectrum, and that it would not be completed within his lifetime. Given this, I don't see how you can reasonably say that what I wrote was unjustified.”

I did not say that what you wrote was unjustified. I’m only trying to understand where you were coming from. I think Madmax’s point was rather generalized, and if it were me I probably would not use the word “agenda,” since this suggests a worked out plan that is to be implemented systematically. I know of no such worked out plan, but there are likely many who have developed such plans. I don’t know if Madmax has any specific plan in mind either. I think what Madmax is referring to (he can speak for himself here of course) is to Objectivism’s political theory, its analysis of America’s mixed economy and its growing trends toward statism, and its proposed alternative. Objectivism approaches politics in the same general manner that it approaches other branches of philosophy: first by wiping all assumptions off the table (clearing the deck, as it were) and applying reason to areas governed by that branch. This involves at minimum clarifying one’s definitions as well as establishing general principles in terms of essentials. If you review my response to Geoffrey James, you’ll see how I applied this approach to the concept of capitalism, as I took the time to define what capitalism is (as Objectivism endorses it) and highlighted the issue of individual rights, including the right to property, as the fundamental issue at stake in political discourse. Objectivists see that this issue has been blurred out of sight as policy-makers fail to question the statist premises inherent in their rights-obliterating agendas, and want to see this reversed. If that’s an agenda, it’s one I can definitely get behind, and can only wonder why anyone wouldn’t get behind it.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is what really concerns you about Objectivism. You keep using the word “cultish” as if it applies, but I don’t see that it does, and you’ve yet to make the case for its legitimacy.

Yog: “Mad Max. And it indicates ‘coltishness’ to me because I associate cultishness with long term agendas hidden within certainty that a small group of people (i.e. Objectivists) have access to a truth that the rest of the masses do not.”

You can stop right there, Yog, and rest assured that this is not at all representative of Objectivism’s approach or attitude. Objectivism does not teach that knowledge is revealed to a chosen few and that everyone else needs to put their faith in those chosen few, hoping for the best that they get it right. On the contrary, Objectivism is quite opposed to this elitist methodology. Objectivist literature is available to anyone who wants to examine it. Rand’s books are in publication, they are comparatively cheap (I’ve picked up some of mine at used bookstores for like $3 and $4 apiece), and they might even be available at your local library. You can also find out a lot about Objectivism on the net. So anyone who wants access to the “agendas” of Objectivism needn’t look very far to find it.

Yog: “This is exacerbated by the adoration of a leader (i.e. Ayn Rand). It is creepy, and I won't lie or soften that blow to make friends here.”

Yog, Ayn Rand died in 1982. She can’t lead anything now. Is it the mere fact that Objectivism has a founder that bothers you? What set of ideas in circulation anywhere on earth didn’t have an originator? Again, this is not “Rand-worship” as you earlier suggested. Speaking for myself, I admire Rand’s ideas. I admire a lot of other people’s ideas, too. What’s wrong with that?

[Continued…]

December 09, 2010 1:12 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “That the vast majority of people do not really understand the political system AS IT IS, does not mean that anyone else understands better how the political system SHOULD BE.”

I don’t think anyone’s making this argument. I certainly haven’t. It’s clear that the nincompoops in the interview I linked to simply haven’t examined the matter. But other people have. Those who have examined the matter are more likely going to have a better understanding of it than those who haven’t. But Objectivism goes one step further than simply examining the issue: it does so by consistently applying reason to the issues involved in that matter, clarifying definitions and principles along the way, and, in the case of politics, identifies individual rights as the fundamental principle upon which a political system proper for man is based. Here’s some meat and potatoes for you to work with, Yog. It seems to me that either one consistently endorses man’s individual right to live for his own sake, or he doesn’t. What’s your position on this?

If anything is “cultish,” it’s going to be a view which denies the individual his individuality, and insists that he be absorbed into some collective, to live and do as the collective commands. To call Objectivism a cult indicates a complete bass-ackwards understanding, not only of Objectivism, but also of what makes a cult a cult.

At any rate, you are the one who cited “the general public” as the standard for understanding “the nature of the political spectrum,” and I have shown how this is a very low standard to aspire to. I’d think you’re capable of better.


I asked: "Were the Founding Fathers “cultish”?"

Yog: “In some ways, but mostly not.”

What made the Founding Fathers” cultish “in some sense”? Nothing you wrote explained this.

Yog: “Surely, as an Objectivist, you agree that ‘Ayn Rand solved the Is-Ought problem’ does not follow logically from ‘Ayn Rand wanted to solve the Is-Ought Problem and tried to solve the Is-Ought problem’.”

I have not made such an argument, Yog.

I wrote: "You might find yourself among the crowd of useful idiots if you do."

Yog: “Do you mean to imply here that one either follows Objectivism or is a useful idiot?”

No, I do not mean to imply this, and I don’t think my words even come close to suggesting this. My point was that if you rely on “cultural osmosis” as the source of your knowledge and understanding, be prepared to live with the results.

Yog: “I value myself enough to rely on my own reason, and not Ayn Rand's.”

It’s good that you value your own reason. If it’s true, you have a lot going for you. But you seem to think that it’s an all-or-nothing dichotomy. Is it not possible to value your own reason, and also that of another thinker?

Yog: “But then again, I am a man, and I think with my own mind.”

And of course you came up with that yourself, right?

Regards,
Dawson

December 09, 2010 1:16 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"What’s wrong with that?"

Nothing is "wrong" with it, or even the idea of admiring someone per se, I just find the WAY that Objectivists admire Rand to be bizarre and not to my liking.


"I’d think you’re capable of better."

I understand the political world better than your average human being, both because I am of superior intelligence and because I CARE to understand the political system better.


"It seems to me that either one consistently endorses man’s individual right to live for his own sake, or he doesn’t. What’s your position on this?"

My problem with this statement is the word "right."

Do I have a "right" to breathe right now? I am breathing, and I want to breathe, and legally I have a right to.

To say that a man has the "right" to live according to his own individual desires is to move from, again, an Is to an Ought. Men DO live according to their own desires and "for their own sake", but I cannot and will not agree that this is how it "should" be. I believe, with Nietzsche, and unlike Rand, that there are some goals outside of the individual that may be worth subduing the individual's right to determine his own future via force. In short, I believe that excessive individualism can be a mistake.

"Human beings should have freedom" doesn't follow from "Human beings want freedom."

"Objectivism does not teach that knowledge is revealed to a chosen few and that everyone else needs to put their faith in those chosen few, hoping for the best that they get it right."

Ok, I phrased this poorly. It is not that they have sole "access" to the truth per se, (as, for example, the Roman Catholic clergy did the Latin Vulgate during the Middle Ages) it is that they believe that they alone hold the Objective truth.

It is kind of like saying Scientology is not a cult because you can pick up any book by L. Ron Hubbard you want. I would argue Scientology is still a cult, and its members remain convinced that they alone BELIEVE the objective truth. (Jesus Christ, have you watched the video with Tom Cruise and his blank, dead-eyed stare?)And, to be honest, I have read more than one Scientologist say, "It isn't that I worship L. Ron Hubbard, I just think he had good points and I admire him."

Continued

December 09, 2010 1:57 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"I have not made such an argument, Yog."

No, but as far as I can see, Rand's attempted solution isn't just faulty, but laughably poor. Very, very bad. And her Is/Ought solution and everything that emanates from it IS the problem I see with the entire Objectivist point of view.

If she had left off without trying to create an "objectivist" morality, I would have no disagreement with her. I would still DISLIKE her, because nearly every writing I have ever read of her seethes with bitter self-righteousness and a sort of narcissistic overvaluation of her own worth, but I would feel utter pity for her more than anything else.


"Is it not possible to value your own reason, and also that of another thinker?"

Of course it is. I am an avid admirer of Nietzsche and Siddhartha Guatama, and I think they are, quite frankly, the most insightful philosophers ever to have lived. In my personal opinion, to compare Nietzsche to Rand is to compare Shakespeare to Tom Clancy, and the Buddha was even better.

The difference is that I am willing to freely admit when I think Buddha and Nietzsche are wrong. Now, the obvious retort is that "I am willing to admit when Ayn Rand is wrong as well," but I have never yet seen an objectivist EVER admit that Ayn Rand was wrong about something having to do with her philosophy, and I have VERY FREQUENTLY seen (seemingly) organized Objectivist cyber-attacks against anti-Rand criticism, which is scarily reminiscent of Scientology.

"And of course you came up with that yourself, right?"

I was just using that to tease you/in an ironic fashion. I didn't mean it malevolently.

December 09, 2010 1:58 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “Nothing is ‘wrong’ with it, or even the idea of admiring someone per se, I just find the WAY that Objectivists admire Rand to be bizarre and not to my liking.”

Not that it matters, but can you specify what it is about “the WAY that Objectivists admire Rand” that you find “bizarre” and “not to [your] liking”? I’m just trying to get to the heart of your hangup here.

Yog: “I understand the political world better than your average human being, both because I am of superior intelligence and because I CARE to understand the political system better.”

You seem to have almost a cultish admiration of yourself, Yog.

"It seems to me that either one consistently endorses man’s individual right to live for his own sake, or he doesn’t. What’s your position on this?"

Yog: “My problem with this statement is the word ‘right’.”

Given that you’re an admirer of Nietzsche, this doesn’t surprise me.

Yog: “To say that a man has the ‘right’ to live according to his own individual desires is to move from, again, an Is to an Ought.”

How so? Where’s the “is” and the “ought” here? I don’t see a “move” in what you stated. Where’s the “ought” in the principle that man has the right to exist for his own sake?

Yog: “Men DO live according to their own desires and ‘for their own sake’, but I cannot and will not agree that this is how it ‘should’ be.”

Is that because you think it *should* be otherwise (i.e., that men should not have the right to exist for their own sake), or that they *shouldn’t* live for their own sake at all, regardless of what rights they may actually have? What do you think *should* be the case, and why?

Yog: “I believe, with Nietzsche, and unlike Rand, that there are some goals outside of the individual that may be worth subduing the individual's right to determine his own future via force.”

I see. So, you are an advocate of sacrifice and collectivism – that man does not have the right to exist for his own sake, that he should sacrifice himself to your aims (since you are “of superior intelligence”). Okay, good: you’re making your position clear. No wonder you don’t like Objectivism.

Yog: “In short, I believe that excessive individualism can be a mistake.”

When does individualism become “excessive,” and who decides this? What specifically is that “mistake” involved here?

Yog: “’Human beings should have freedom’ doesn't follow from ‘Human beings want freedom’."

And if you were familiar with what Objectivism teaches, you’d know that this is not the defense which Objectivism offers on behalf of man’s rights. But you reject the doctrine that man has rights to begin with, so I doubt you’d be concerned about how Objectivism does go about defending man’s rights.

[Continued...]

December 09, 2010 3:39 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “Ok, I phrased this poorly. It is not that they have sole ‘access’ to the truth per se, (as, for example, the Roman Catholic clergy did the Latin Vulgate during the Middle Ages) it is that they believe that they alone hold the Objective truth.”

Where does the Objectivist literature affirm such a view? Can you find it for me? I’ve never read such a claim.

Yog: “It is kind of like saying Scientology is not a cult because you can pick up any book by L. Ron Hubbard you want.”

Yog, I was responding to YOUR rationale for why you think Objectivism is cultish, and pointed out why it is flawed. We can talk about Scientology if you like, but at this point I’d say it’s premature to the discussion.

Yog: “…as far as I can see, Rand's attempted solution isn't just faulty, but laughably poor. Very, very bad. And her Is/Ought solution and everything that emanates from it IS the problem I see with the entire Objectivist point of view.”

Okay, so now we’re starting to pinpoint something in Rand’s philosophy where you have some actual criticism, is that right? Can you state what “Rand’s attempted solution” to the “is/ought problem” is and tell me why you think it is “laughably poor” and “very very bad”? Also, can you explain why you think “the entire Objectivist point of view” hinges on her “attempted” solution to the is/ought problem?

Yog: “If she had left off without trying to create an ‘objectivist’ morality, I would have no disagreement with her.”

But you just got through indicating that Rand’s “Is/Ought solution and everything that emanates from it IS the problem [you] see with the entire Objectivist point of view.” So I’m confused here. Rand’s metaphysics and epistemology do not rest on her views of the is/ought problem, and it’s not clear that you recognize this fact.

Yog: “I would still DISLIKE her, because nearly every writing I have ever read of her seethes with bitter self-righteousness and a sort of narcissistic overvaluation of her own worth,”

I’ve noticed that some Rand-haters have made this complaint. I guess I’ve never been able to see the problem though. I never got the impression that Rand is bitter or self-righteous or suffers from “a sort of narcissistic overvaluation of her own worth.” What specifically did Rand say that gives you this impression of her?

"Is it not possible to value your own reason, and also that of another thinker?"

Yog: “Of course it is. I am an avid admirer of Nietzsche and Siddhartha Guatama,”

Can you tell me what their proposed solutions to the is/ought problem are, since you seem to think this either makes or breaks a philosophy as a system?

Regards,
Dawson

December 09, 2010 3:39 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"Not that it matters, but can you specify what it is about “the WAY that Objectivists admire Rand” that you find “bizarre” and “not to [your] liking”? I’m just trying to get to the heart of your hangup here."

The bolded part you mention is something I have a big problem with.

Of course it matters what I think or feel. Rand is right when she says that human feelings/emotions do not IN AND OF THEMSELVES alter reality, but the real, objective fact is that humans HAVE feelings/thoughts and that they DO influence reality because they influence the way that human beings act.

I have a dislike of authority and bowing to other human beings. Whether this is rational or not rational is a pointless question to ask - I DO feel that way, and I see no reason not to act on what I feel, as long as I see no negative consequences from doing so.

"You seem to have almost a cultish admiration of yourself, Yog."

My superior intelligence (not necessarily to you, as I know you are very intelligent) is as close to an objective fact as such a thing can be. My brain functions better at reasoning than most people. Should I be ashamed of this or not mention it?

"How so? Where’s the “is” and the “ought” here? I don’t see a “move” in what you stated. Where’s the “ought” in the principle that man has the right to exist for his own sake?"

As I understand it, to say that a man has a "right" to something, is to say that something "ought" to be a certain way.

I honestly don't see how the idea "right" can be interpreted in any other way. If "right" was just an objective statement of actual reality, then there would be no need for the idea of a "right". That is, in a world where human beings could not steal from each other, there would be no need to say that humans have a right to property. To say humans have a "right" to property is to say that "people/the government should not be able to take things from other humans without their permission".

Continued

December 09, 2010 6:14 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"Is that because you think it *should* be otherwise (i.e., that men should not have the right to exist for their own sake),"

No, I think it is objectively true that men DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT to live for their own sake. That ability can be taken away.

"or that they *shouldn’t* live for their own sake at all, regardless of what rights they may actually have?"

All actions are a means to an end. If it pleases a human being to act in a certain way, he will. It pleases some people to help others, while selfishness pleases other. "Should" has nothing to do with it. The only freedom human beings possess, while they are alive, is to decide what ends they will work towards, what their goal is, in other words.

"What do you think *should* be the case, and why?"

What do you mean by should? (And before you snicker, yes it matters. You wouldn't believe how many arguments I have gotten into over this.)

If you mean "What do I think is moral to happen?" I would say that is a meaningless statement, because I do not think that anything is moral or immoral.

If you mean, "What is the way I prefer things to be?" I prefer a beautiful world, wherein I am the unchallenged philosopher-king, and all others must bow to my will. I would force everyone I did not like into slavery, because it would please me to do so, and I would have an endless harem of women to choose from.

Continued

December 09, 2010 6:15 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"Can you state what “Rand’s attempted solution” to the “is/ought problem” is and tell me why you think it is “laughably poor” and “very very bad”?"

From "The Virtue of Selfishness" by way of the Ayn Rand lexicon:

"It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

This much I agree with. Only living things have cognitive processes, only living things can value anything. A rock has no values, the sun has no values, the Moon has no values, etc etc. They simply are - unthinking, inanimate matter that is thrown here and there by the laws of physics.

"In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”"

This is truly and I mean truly unbelievably bad. It is almost as though Rand does not really comprehend what the Is-Ought problem means. She seems to think she has solved it, but she has more or less just restated it and asserted that the problem is solved.

The Humean Is-Ought problem is that it is impossible to derive a Deontological "Ought" from a merely descriptive "is."

She has done a kind of three card monty switcheroo here - she has used "values" as in "things that living things want" to mean "moral values", which is seriously faulty, and is the mistake that is at the heart of my disagreement with Objectivism.

Hume wouldn't disagree with:
If you want to live, you should eat. (Which is where Rand is coming from)

Hume would, however, disagree with: "You are alive, therefore you should want to live"

Unless you can establish that living versus non-living has some moral content, then her answer falls flat and fails to solve the Is-Ought divide.

The divide is not between facts and values-as-things-living-organisms-want, but between facts and what "should" be done regardless of preference.

From my brief lookaround, I have seen Rand called out on this dozens of times, and seen two or three Ex-Objectivists bring this up as an important reason that they ARE now Ex-Objectivists.

Rand would say that you "need a code of values to survive", but I know this is demonstrably untrue when "values" means "moral values." I live without moral values, and I am alive and thriving. There are THINGS I value BECAUSE I wish to live, but that is not an answer to my moral skepticism.

December 09, 2010 6:19 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"So I’m confused here. Rand’s metaphysics and epistemology do not rest on her views of the is/ought problem, and it’s not clear that you recognize this fact."

I am sorry that I was unclear here. What I meant was that everything that I dislike about Objectivism (that is, all the properties of Objectivism that I do not like) is dependent on her solution to the Is/Ought problem. I have no problem with either her epistemology or metaphysics. I like and agree with them.

"When does individualism become “excessive,” and who decides this?"

Individualism becomes excessive when/if it intereferes with my goals, or the goals of people I am working for/agree with. If you want to point out that this is arbitrary, you are right.

"Yog, I was responding to YOUR rationale for why you think Objectivism is cultish, and pointed out why it is flawed. We can talk about Scientology if you like, but at this point I’d say it’s premature to the discussion."

I don't think it is premature, and I don't even think the discussion of Scientology is a non-sequitur. I believe Scientology is a cult, and Scientology has the characteristic of having (most) of its tenets open to the public.

Your rebuttal to my argument that Objectivism was a cult centered around the idea that Objectivism's tenets are widely available to the public, and I agreed (by correcting my own mistake) that the real problem is not that Objectivism is a secret doctrine only understood by a few, but that the few people who do hold it believe it to describe absolute truth.

"Where does the Objectivist literature affirm such a view? Can you find it for me? I’ve never read such a claim."

I have read you in the past say that you "know" you are right, and that is why Christian apologist critiques do not bother you.

Do you now disavow this? You don't "know" that you are right?

Do you think Objectivism is objectively true? If not, why do you hold it?

Continued

December 09, 2010 6:20 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"What specifically did Rand say that gives you this impression of her?"

Well, for one (this is from the "Ayn Rand Institutes Q&A on Libertarianism"):

Q: What do you think of the Libertarian movement? [FHF: “The Moratorium on Brains,” 1971]

AR: All kinds of people today call themselves “libertarians,” especially something calling itself the New Right, which consists of hippies, except that they’re anarchists instead of collectivists. But of course, anarchists are collectivists. Capitalism is the one system that requires absolute objective law, yet they want to combine capitalism and anarchism. That is worse than anything the New Left has proposed. It’s a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two bandwagons. They want to be hippies, but don’t want to preach collectivism, because those jobs are already taken. But anarchism is a logical outgrowth of the anti-intellectual side of collectivism. I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect. The anarchist is the scum of the intellectual world of the left, which has given them up. So the right picks up another leftist discard. That’s the Libertarian movement.

But the truth is I have been typing this for more than an hour now, and if you want to discuss this further later we can.

"Can you tell me what their proposed solutions to the is/ought problem are, since you seem to think this either makes or breaks a philosophy as a system?"

What I have taken from Nietzsche is his phrase, "There are no moral events, only moral interpretations of events." That is, he agrees that there is an objective world that has events, but moralism is an interpretation imposed by the human mind, and has no objective reality. I think he would be called a "moral relativist" or a "moral non-cognitivist". The only difference, as I understand it, between a moral relativist and a moral non-cognitivist is that moral relativists believe that morality exists and is subjective, whereas moral non-cognitivists believe that the idea of morality is incoherent. (I am more of the latter, to be honest, although I would call myself an amoralist.)

I think Nietzsche would say that there is no universal solution to the Is/Ought Problem, and probably that this neither a good or bad thing, just fact.

I am not interested in Buddhist philosophy for its moral content, but for its advice, which I have found very helpful.

Fin

December 09, 2010 6:22 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Interesting comments Yog. I learn from you expressing your side of the argument.

To be fair to any newcomer to Ayn Rand and her ideas, I can see how one could get "turned off" by the tone of moral righteousness. Secondly, separating the more dubious opinions Rand may have held -- such as, in my opinion, the ideas that led to her having an affair with Nathaniel Branden; some of her views on sexuality as outlined in her essay on a female president; or her affinity for cats, to name a few examples -- from core substance of her philosophy is not an obvious task. So, much of her writing is a mixture of fiction, rhetoric-laden articles written to people whom already grasp her basic philosophy, and impromptu commentary. Still great stuff in my opinion, but I can see where someone with a Rand-skeptical perspective is coming from.

Just to take on one of your comments, Yog, you said:

"Of course it matters what I think or feel. Rand is right when she says that human feelings/emotions do not IN AND OF THEMSELVES alter reality, but the real, objective fact is that humans HAVE feelings/thoughts and that they DO influence reality because they influence the way that human beings act."

Emotions certainly influence the way people act, but that does not imply their deterministic role in causing human action, which is implicit in your comment. This is perhaps the Nietzschean in you speaking, but my personal experience through my understanding and application of the Objectivist view on the relationship between reality, ideas, and emotions is so eloquently simple and obvious, as well as benefitted my life hugely!

Having said that, it has been through the practical application of the principles of cognitive therapy, rather than reading Rand per se, that have been the most helpful in dealing with my emotional problems. However, its amazing how success in getting to the bottom of my emotions through understanding my IDEAS -- which are either consistent or inconsistent with reality -- has led to an unimagined degree of happiness, self-confidence, and serenity.

For example, I used to think along the lines of moral skepticism and that getting drunk and high was an equally valid and morally good as being the next teatotaling wanker -- as long as I'm not hurting anybody and it's what I "feel" like doing. And it feels (er, felt) damn good. Even if it brings me to an early grave, at least I will go out with maximum attainment of pleasure.

Learning the Objectivist approach to morality which places my self-interest at its core, I had to determine whether (for instance) pleasure maximization was truly in my self-interest. I felt like getting wasted all the time, but I wanted a relationship, family, and a good job. Thus we have a contradiction which, in reality, has to work itself out. True, I could live a long life as a drunk, a parasite, and a bum -- or, I could choose to work and earn my livlihood and earn the love of a woman. This brings in the virtue of productiveness and self-esteem, among others.

Anyhow, I read a book called "Viable Values" by Tara Smith (in defence of life as the root and reward of morality), and it made it all crystal clear. I'm having trouble relaying it right now as its past my bedtime.

Cheers,

Andrew

December 09, 2010 10:19 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Interesting comments Yog. I learn from you expressing your side of the argument.

To be fair to any newcomer to Ayn Rand and her ideas, I can see how one could get "turned off" by the tone of moral righteousness. Secondly, separating the more dubious opinions Rand may have held -- such as, in my opinion, the ideas that led to her having an affair with Nathaniel Branden; some of her views on sexuality as outlined in her essay on a female president; or her affinity for cats, to name a few examples -- from core substance of her philosophy is not an obvious task. So, much of her writing is a mixture of fiction, rhetoric-laden articles written to people whom already grasp her basic philosophy, and impromptu commentary. Still great stuff in my opinion, but I can see where someone with a Rand-skeptical perspective is coming from.

December 09, 2010 10:21 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Just to take on one of your comments, Yog, you said:

"Of course it matters what I think or feel. Rand is right when she says that human feelings/emotions do not IN AND OF THEMSELVES alter reality, but the real, objective fact is that humans HAVE feelings/thoughts and that they DO influence reality because they influence the way that human beings act."

Emotions certainly influence the way people act, but that does not imply their deterministic role in causing human action, which is implicit in your comment. This is perhaps the Nietzschean in you speaking, but my personal experience through my understanding and application of the Objectivist view on the relationship between reality, ideas, and emotions is so eloquently simple and obvious, as well as benefitted my life hugely!

Having said that, it has been through the practical application of the principles of cognitive therapy, rather than reading Rand per se, that have been the most helpful in dealing with my emotional problems. However, its amazing how success in getting to the bottom of my emotions through understanding my IDEAS -- which are either consistent or inconsistent with reality -- has led to an unimagined degree of happiness, self-confidence, and serenity.

December 09, 2010 10:22 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

For example, I used to think along the lines of moral skepticism and that getting drunk and high was an equally valid and morally good as being the next teatotaling wanker -- as long as I'm not hurting anybody and it's what I "feel" like doing. And it feels (er, felt) damn good. Even if it brings me to an early grave, at least I will go out with maximum attainment of pleasure.

Learning the Objectivist approach to morality which places my self-interest at its core, I had to determine whether (for instance) pleasure maximization was truly in my self-interest. I felt like getting wasted all the time, but I wanted a relationship, family, and a good job. Thus we have a contradiction which, in reality, has to work itself out. True, I could live a long life as a drunk, a parasite, and a bum -- or, I could choose to work and earn my livlihood and earn the love of a woman. This brings in the virtue of productiveness and self-esteem, among others.

Anyhow, I read a book called "Viable Values" by Tara Smith (in defence of life as the root and reward of morality), and it made it all crystal clear. I'm having trouble relaying it right now as its past my bedtime.

Cheers,

Andrew

December 09, 2010 10:23 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"Learning the Objectivist approach to morality which places my self-interest at its core, I had to determine whether (for instance) pleasure maximization was truly in my self-interest. I felt like getting wasted all the time, but I wanted a relationship, family, and a good job. Thus we have a contradiction which, in reality, has to work itself out. True, I could live a long life as a drunk, a parasite, and a bum -- or, I could choose to work and earn my livlihood and earn the love of a woman. This brings in the virtue of productiveness and self-esteem, among others."

We are getting into SUPER, SUPER subtle shades of meaning here.

It isn't even something I know for sure that I can adequately express, but I want to be clear that I THINK I know what you mean, Drew, because I experienced something that is at least reminiscent, but I got there through a combination of Buddhism, Nietzsche, and observing the lives of my friends.

If Rand WORKS for you, as in, brings you to a place of increased quality of life, then more power to Rand and to you, BUT she still objectively has not solved the Is/Ought problem.

December 10, 2010 1:03 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

My understanding is that the Is/Ought problem is coherent only in the context in which Rand frames it, and then provides an answer.

For example, Yog, you say,

"Hume wouldn't disagree with:
If you want to live, you should eat. (Which is where Rand is coming from)

Hume would, however, disagree with: "You are alive, therefore you should want to live""

I don't think Rand stated the latter (but if a quote proves me wrong, please provide). As I remember it from Tara Smith's clarification, the choice "to live or not" is meta-ethical and essentially pre-rational. Morality as such is only relevant once the choice "to live" is made. I suppose this still leaves the problem of why one chooses life, which seems to be only answerable by saying, "jus' cuz." It seems to be something you can't get beneath, which is why the choice of life vs. death is fundamental to all ethical questions, it is the only rational starting point.

I can see how this seems like she isn't answering the problem because she is rejecting the classic formulation of it. But by sweeping aside what seems, to me, to be the incomprehensible gibberish and the atrophy of modern thought in ethics that resulted from accepting Hume's formulation of the Is/Ought divide, I find her answer very remarkable and satisfying.

Cheers,

Andrew

December 10, 2010 11:59 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"My understanding is that the Is/Ought problem is coherent only in the context in which Rand frames it, and then provides an answer."

If you mean Solvable only within the framework of assuming a human goal/desire, then yes. But that was Hume's point.

"I don't think Rand stated the latter (but if a quote proves me wrong, please provide)."

She claims to have solved the Is/Ought problem, or that it is at least of no consequence, but THAT CANNOT BE PROVEN TRUE WITHOUT SOLVING THE IS/OUGHT DILEMMA FIRST. She did not. She has provided what she believes to be a good rationale for values, but in order to say that it is good, she would have to establish an ultimate value, which is impossible, as per the Is/Ought problem. This is a major problem I have with Rand - she thinks she has said something new and useful, but she hasn't even come close.


"But by sweeping aside what seems, to me, to be the incomprehensible gibberish and the atrophy of modern thought in ethics that resulted from accepting Hume's formulation of the Is/Ought divide, I find her answer very remarkable and satisfying."

Surely you don't believe that you finding it remarkable and satisfying makes it true?

Ayn Rand believed that the Is/Ought problem is a disastrous flaw BECAUSE it doesn't produce X results (whatever results she deemed desirable), but in order to say that she has solved it, she would have to PROVE that X Results are the ultimate value, which she cannot, as I demonstrated.

All I see here is Randian prejudice given the weight of "moral truth" by the misunderstanding of the Is/Ought Problem, and I find THAT to be a problem.

December 10, 2010 12:58 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

In shorter version, Rand's attitude to the Is/Ought problem is one of DEEPLY unearned contempt.

December 10, 2010 1:01 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

I have little time and can only address a portion of Yog’s recent slew of comments:

Yog: “She seems to think she has solved it, but she has more or less just restated it and asserted that the problem is solved.”

I disagree entirely. Rand is showing how moral action is inherently tied to values, and values is inherently tied to the facts of man’s nature.

Yog: “The Humean Is-Ought problem is that it is impossible to derive a Deontological ‘Ought’ from a merely descriptive ‘is’."

Yog, I see that you are unfamiliar with the Objectivist approach to morality. Objectivism rejects the deontological conception of morality. It’s hard to see how one could read anything Rand wrote on morality and not understand this. The only legitimate ‘ought’ that Rand acknowledges is in terms of teleological principles, i.e., chosen action in relation to achieving some goal. Morality for Rand is inherently goal-oriented. On her view, man has no “duty” to do one thing or another. The beauty of Rand’s answer to the is-ought problem is its emphasis on values as the hinge between facts and the course of action that man *should* take if he seeks to achieve a certain end, beginning with his choice to live. As Drew rightly points out, the choice to live is itself meta-ethical, or pre-moral, since the task of morality is to teach man how to live. A man who has chosen not to live would have no need for a guide which teaches him what he needs to do in order to live.

Rand writes: “Life or death is man’s only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.” (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 99)

The choice to live is pre-moral not only because man’s nature qua living organism determines what will be of value to him (this is the objective theory of values), but also because one does not choose to live for something other than life as an end in itself. Some may claim to do this, but to be consistent with this their primary act in fulfilling such a choice will be in sacrificing their life rather than living it.

By emphasizing values as the hinge between facts and the course of action that man should take once he’s made the choice to live, Rand points to the conditionality of life as the underlying premise which defines the proper actions which are open to man, given his choice to live. Rand rejects the view that morality is constituted by so-called categorical imperatives, and instead holds that morality properly consists of hypothetical imperatives: if X is the goal, action y is the proper means of achieving it. Rand’s view thus solves the so-called “is-ought” problem, not only by rejecting the baseless norms of deontological paradigms, but also by understanding value as a type of fact. Consequently, morality, as Rand conceives of it, never departs from the realm of fact, as the facts of man’s nature determine, at least generally, the course of action he must take if he is to live.

[Continued…]

December 10, 2010 4:29 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “She has done a kind of three card monty switcheroo here - she has used ‘values’ as in ‘things that living things want’ to mean ‘moral values’, which is seriously faulty, and is the mistake that is at the heart of my disagreement with Objectivism.”

By ‘value’ Rand means “that which one acts to gain and/or keep” (VOS, p. 15). What else do you think moral values are? How what Rand has in mind not moral in nature? Keep in mind Rand’s conception of morality: “a code of values which guides man’s choices and actions.” For Rand, morality is possible only where choice is possible. Human beings pursue goals by choice, and morality guides this choice. I think your confusion lies primarily in not grasping the fundamental distinctives of Rand’s conception of morality, for you seem to be measuring her views against a system which is anathema to hers.

Yog: “Hume wouldn't disagree with: If you want to live, you should eat. (Which is where Rand is coming from)”

Indeed, for Rand, moral action is inherently goal-oriented.

Yog: “Hume would, however, disagree with: ‘You are alive, therefore you should want to live.’"

Not that agreeing with Hume is important (it’s not), Rand nowhere argued this to begin with. Rand explicitly taught that the choice to live is pre-moral (see above).

Yog: “Unless you can establish that living versus non-living has some moral content, then her answer falls flat and fails to solve the Is-Ought divide.”

This doesn’t follow, for the terms you are holding as your standard are not only arbitrary, they miss the point of morality.

Yog: “The divide is not between facts and values-as-things-living-organisms-want, but between facts and what ‘should’ be done regardless of preference.”

In other words, the is-ought problem arises from a deontological conception of morality, which Objectivism rejects. For Rand, “ought” does not signify action that one should do in spite of its implications for his life, but rather the opposite: man “ought” to do that which makes his life possible, i.e., that which secures those values which his life requires.

Regards,
Dawson

December 10, 2010 4:29 PM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"Indeed, for Rand, moral action is inherently goal-oriented."

All action is goal oriented. Do you disagree? So what does moral actually mean in this context?

Taking an apple from a seven year old is goal oriented (I want the apple, or I want the child not to have it). Shooting myself in the face is goal oriented. (I want to hurt myself or die.)

I would assume that Rand would say Action 1 is moral, because it gives me something that will, objectively, sustain my life, and Action 2 is immoral, because it threatens my life.



"This doesn’t follow, for the terms you are holding as your standard are not only arbitrary, they miss the point of morality."

It does follow.

I state what the Is-Ought Divide is (the inability to derive a deontological ought from a descriptive is), and state that Rand failed to solve it.

That you think this is irrelevant to her system doesn't change the fact that Rand DID NOT solve the Is-Ought divide. Hell, that it IS irrelevant to her system doesn't change that she failed to solve it. Or do you disagree?


1. Solving the Is-Ought Divide involves showing that a deontological should CAN be logically derived from a descriptive is.
2. Ayn Rand did not show that a deontological should can be logically derived from a descriptive is
3. Therefore, Ayn Rand did not solve the Is-Ought Divide.

Ayn Rand did not believe that morality consists of deontological values has no logical bearing on her own inability to solve the Is-Ought problem.


Let me present two statements:

1. There is no moral difference between stealing food and earning food.
2. Ayn Rand has not solved the Humean Is-Ought divide, regardless of whether or not this is relevant to her system of morality.

If you agree with those two things, this conversation can end. If you disagree with either or them, or both of them, then you I would ask that you justify why you do.

December 10, 2010 6:41 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

I wrote: "Indeed, for Rand, moral action is inherently goal-oriented."

Yog: “All action is goal oriented. Do you disagree?”

Yes, I do disagree. Goals are chosen. A piece of debris blowing along a street is in action, but the action is not in pursuit of any goal. A piece of debris cannot choose any goals. Also, not all goal-oriented action is moral action. An amoeba devouring a paramecium is goal-oriented action, but it is not the result of a choice made on the basis of an understood code of values.

Yog: “So what does moral actually mean in this context?”

Chosen in accordance to a code of values.

Yog: “Taking an apple from a seven year old is goal oriented (I want the apple, or I want the child not to have it). Shooting myself in the face is goal oriented. (I want to hurt myself or die.)”

Yes, those are goal-oriented actions, but their goal is to destroy values, so they are not moral actions.

Yog: “I would assume that Rand would say Action 1 is moral, because it gives me something that will, objectively, sustain my life, and Action 2 is immoral, because it threatens my life.”

Both are immoral on Rand’s view. In the case of action 1, it involves another human being, so you need to integrate Rand’s politics into your assessment. Politics is the branch of philosophy which defines the principles of a proper social system. Again, you seem profoundly unfamiliar with the view you’re trying to criticize.

Yog: “I state what the Is-Ought Divide is (the inability to derive a deontological ought from a descriptive is), and state that Rand failed to solve it.”

Deontological ethics is arbitrary, Yog. Rand has no obligation, philosophical or otherwise, to solve the problem on terms dictated by an arbitrary position. Again, that’s the beauty of Rand’s system – she remained fact-based, and showed how value is a type of fact.

Yog: “That you think this is irrelevant to her system doesn't change the fact that Rand DID NOT solve the Is-Ought divide.”

This is like complaining that Rand didn’t come up with a solution to “global warming.” It’s completely arbitrary, and ignores the contributions which Rand did make to the field of ethics.

Yog: “Hell, that it IS irrelevant to her system doesn't change that she failed to solve it. Or do you disagree?”

Yes, I do disagree. By showing why deontological ethics is arbitrary, she wipes away the problems to which deontological ethics gives rise. Moreover, by showing how value is a type of fact, which Rand did, she shows why there’s no such divide after all.

Yog: “1. There is no moral difference between stealing food and earning food. 2. Ayn Rand has not solved the Humean Is-Ought divide, regardless of whether or not this is relevant to her system of morality.”

I disagree with both statements. If you take some time to actually learn more about Objectivism, I’m confident that you might understand why. But before that would happen, I think you would need to alter your attitude, as you seem hell-bent on a conclusion that is ultimately sourced in the arbitrary.

Regards,
Dawson

December 11, 2010 7:54 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Fyi…

Yog asked: “So what does moral actually mean in this context?”

I answered: “Chosen in accordance to a code of values.”

My answer needs correction, and should read: “Chosen in accordance to a rational code of values.”

Regards,
Dawson

December 11, 2010 9:28 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"My answer needs correction, and should read: “Chosen in accordance to a rational code of values.”"

This and this exactly is why I suspect that there is something rotten at the core of the Objectivist edifice.

(Note here that I do not claim to be launching an internal critique, per se, so much as considering Ayn Rand's philosophy as a discrete whole.)

She ultimately has no license to talk about a "rational" code of values. Because values are merely "that which one acts to gain and/or keep”, the things that you go after either keep you alive or they do not. These values are not "rational" or "irrational", they simply keep you alive (or, in the inverse, do not threaten your life) or do not (do). If you want to point out that that is what "rational" or "irrational" means, then fine, but she is using a tautology then, and pretending that there is a difference between rational values and just values.

I suspect very strongly that she is smuggling a hidden "ought" into a system of "is."

Ayn Rand, from the virtue of Selfishness:

"The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. No man—or group or society or government—has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use."

but this doesn't follow from a strict observation of facts.

In effect, from looking at the actual Objective world, it is obvious that some beings can and do steal or take from others by force. There are/were entire biological groups (vultures, Tyrannosaurs, etc.) that survived because they used force to steal things they valued from others who had done the work.

All this implies is that, if you want to do so, you'd better be the strongest or most cunning motherfucker on the block, which I wouldn't disagree with.

She can advocate the idea "no man may initiate the use of physical force against others" until the cows come home, but until she either solves the is/ought problem or demonstrates how this idea follows from the actual facts of nature (NOTE: These two options are one and the same), she has given me no compelling reason that I should care what her politics are, which I find to be a relief because I personally dislike them. They aren't Objective enough for me.

December 11, 2010 10:13 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

I can't understand how someone can grasp Rand's rejection and/or refutation of God and mysticism but display such disintegrated thought when it comes to discussion of morality. I mean, why the insistence that there be a deontological basis for morality? Why the condemnation of Rand for rejecting the arbitrary out of hand in the field of ethics, but not in metaphysics?

I'm reflecting on my own past thinking here (just so you know I'm not psychologizing you, Yog), but I think that getting out of the "deontological rut" when it comes to ethics is a monumental challenge. It's a huge problem, even among people whom agree with Rand and try to live according to Objectivism, to not treat moral precepts as contextless "duties". For example, condemning one's self for not being an uber-productive businessman or for liking rock music. Going back to my alcoholism anecdote, the failure to integrate the idea that I need moral guidance, but not some moral duty to be sober, was the biggest barrier to success in overcoming that life challenge.

December 11, 2010 10:21 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

What it seems like you are doing, Yog, is simply cutting and pasting random snippets from the Ayn Rand Lexicon and launching baseless attacks and spectacular context-dropping. This does nothing but demonstrate to me willful ignorance, laziness to actually read and learn more, or trolling. But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt out of sheer benevolence ; )

For instance,

"In effect, from looking at the actual Objective world, it is obvious that some beings can and do steal or take from others by force. There are/were entire biological groups (vultures, Tyrannosaurs, etc.) that survived because they used force to steal things they valued from others who had done the work."

This drops the entire distinction, that Rand made and discussed at lenghth, between the fact that humans operate on the conceptual level (hence the NEED for morality) vs. animals which clearly do not.

December 11, 2010 10:38 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"This drops the entire distinction, that Rand made and discussed at lenghth, between the fact that humans operate on the conceptual level (hence the NEED for morality) vs. animals which clearly do not."

The Roman Empire survived and thrived, at least in part, because it was the most powerful state in its local geopolitical arena. It had a more efficient military than every other tribe/state, and so was able to take their wealth away from them by force, and force their people into slavery/political vassaldom.

Agree/Disagree?

December 11, 2010 10:41 AM  
Blogger Yog Sothoth said...

"This does nothing but demonstrate to me willful ignorance, laziness to actually read and learn more, or trolling."

To be perfectly honest, I never asked anyone else to know absolutely everything I believe before they debate with me. Debate is a process, and I want to use it both to see if I am in error, and to further elucidate what the people here believe.

If I am wrong, fine, but I want to be shown why I am wrong by the actual people I am talking to, not by snippets from an Ayn Rand book.

Either have this debate or do not. "Go read the book" is not an answer. You are making the choice to engage, and cannot resent me for your desire to do so, at least not "rationally".

December 11, 2010 11:07 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “She ultimately has no license to talk about a ‘rational’ code of values. Because values are merely "that which one acts to gain and/or keep”, the things that you go after either keep you alive or they do not. These values are not "rational" or "irrational", they simply keep you alive (or, in the inverse, do not threaten your life) or do not (do).”

I see nothing wrong with the expression “rational values,” if by this it is intended to refer to those values which are chosen on the basis of reason. The phrase “rational values” is not intended to confer sentience to the values in question, but rather that they satisfy the standards of rational morality.

Besides, I wrote “rational code of values.” Please note the difference here. Peikoff provides some insight on this concept:

“By ‘code’ here Ayn Rand means an integrated, hierarchically structured, noncontradictory system of principles, which enables man to choose, plan, and act long-range. Man needs such a code…, not merely because he has free will, but because he is a living organism, who must learn to use his free will correctly. He needs a moral code because his life requires a specific course of action and, being a conceptual entity, he cannot follow this course except by the guidance of concepts.” (OPAR, p. 219)

Further, Rand writes:

“Remember further that all of a man’s values exist in a hierarchy; he values some things more than others; and, to the extent that he is rational, the hierarchical order of his values is rational: that is, he values things in proportion to their importance in serving his life and well-being. That which is inimical to his life and well-being, that which is inimical to his nature and needs as a living being, he disvalues.” (VOS, p. 40)

So I'm afraid I don’t get the point of your objection here. In fact, it seems you’re reaching for some point of criticism that can only obtain if one ignores the context of Rand’s broader philosophical terms. But why do this?

[Continued…]

December 11, 2010 7:03 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog quoted Rand: "The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others..."

Yog responds: “but this doesn't follow from a strict observation of facts.”

I’m not sure what you mean by “a strict observation of facts.” If this is ultimately taken to mean “without recourse to concepts,” then it’s a non-starter as a criticism of Objectivism, for Objectivism informs its political principles by a conceptual process. Rand presents a developed defense of individual rights in the twelfth chapter of The Virtue of Selfishness. Your criticism unfortunately does not benefit from an informed understanding of her defense.

Yog: “In effect, from looking at the actual Objective world, it is obvious that some beings can and do steal or take from others by force. There are/were entire biological groups (vultures, Tyrannosaurs, etc.) that survived because they used force to steal things they valued from others who had done the work.”

No one is debating the fact that biological organisms possess the capacity to initiate force against other organisms. Nor is anyone disputing the fact that many human beings have acted irrationally. The fact that they do does not in any way refute Rand’s defense of individual rights, or any other tenet of her philosophy.

Yog: “She can advocate the idea ‘no man may initiate the use of physical force against others’ until the cows come home, but until she either solves the is/ought problem…”

I’ve seen no compelling reason, from you or anyone else, to conclude that Rand’s solution to the is-ought problem is defective in any way. You yourself have pointed out that the traditional conception of the problem is framed on the basis of a deontological conception of morality, which Objectivism rejects (and for many good reasons). Moreover, I’ve not seen any good reason from you to suppose that Rand’s conception of values as a type of fact is faulty in any way. Given these points, your whole criticism stands defenseless against Objectivism.

Regards,
Dawson

December 11, 2010 7:06 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Yog: “Either have this debate or do not. ‘Go read the book’ is not an answer. You are making the choice to engage, and cannot resent me for your desire to do so, at least not ‘rationally’.”

Yog, the suggestion that you familiarize yourself with Objectivism beyond the level of “cultural osmosis” from which you are working in your attempts to critique it, is a good one, and one that I strongly urge you to consider. It is not resentment. In fact, speaking for myself, it stems from giving you the benefit of doubt that your interest in Objectivism is genuine and not backed by some ulterior motivation against it.

I also recommend that you reconsider your attitude towards Rand, Objectivism and the defenses that have been put forward on behalf of Rand’s philosophy, for thus far it has been clear that you are working from what strongly appears to be an emotionally driven position, one which insists on dropping context, disregarding key factors about Rand’s philosophy which have profound bearing on the issues you’ve raised and the objections you’ve put forward. You come across as hell-bent to find something wrong with Objectivism, but the content of your complaints fail to hit their target, primarily because you have a very weak grasp of what Objectivism teaches, especially in regards to morality. I’ve chosen to engage because I want to help you understand. But after several attempts at doing so, you continue to demonstrate that the root of your problem is, to put it in a word, ignorance of Objectivism’s teachings. So at some point, and I think we’ve reached this, it’s time to recognize that your best course of action – if your desire to understand Objectivism is genuine – is to spend some quality time familiarizing yourself with its primary sources, so that you have a firsthand understanding of what Objectivism is all about. I think that is only reasonable.

Regards,
Dawson

December 11, 2010 7:11 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Yog,

Some observations. You are a serious skeptic. From my observations, when someone embraces skepticism to the extent that you have and swears such a fierce allegiance to the is/ought dichotomy, they almost always become collectivists and nihilists. You do strike me as a serious nihilist. Your lust to diminish and devalue Rand underscores this. You don't just want to disagree with Rand, you want to destroy her. Not healthy.

That fact leads me to believe that you are either a FAR LEFTIST or an anarchist (my guess would be an Anarcho-socialist). So let me ask you Yog: what is your politics? I am very curious to see what political system you actually believe in. Amoralists such as you tend to be the most hateful to Classical Liberalism / Capitalism. They also tend to despise Rand and her politics.

Dawson is giving you an excellent lesson in cognitive methodology with his patient answers to you. In the end, all of philosophy comes down to cognitive methodology. Sadly, given your skepticism, amoralism and your nihilism, you seem to me to be beyond reach; you seem like yet another example of a nihilist and skepticism-drenched post-modern atheist with serious political Left leanings.

Its funny, for all that I oppose religion, I find that many moderately religious people end up being more value oriented and pro-liberty, pro-free-market oriented than the overwhelming majority of atheists (and I say this as super-strong atheist). It actually saddens me that people who believe in supernatural beings and divine resurrections have more common sense in the political realm than people who claim to be defenders of reason and science.

December 11, 2010 8:02 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Yog stated,

The Roman Empire survived and thrived, at least in part, because it was the most powerful state in its local geopolitical arena. It had a more efficient military than every other tribe/state, and so was able to take their wealth away from them by force, and force their people into slavery/political vassaldom.

Agree/Disagree?"

Not an expert on this, but my understanding is that the Romans were heavily influenced by the philosophy of ancient Greece, especially Hellenism. A mish-mash of good and bad philosophies to be sure, but no doubt reason was a big part of it (i.e. like a mixture of stuff from Plato and Aristotle to Stoicism and Epicureanism). Not that endless expansionist wars are an ideal political model, but it's also common knowledge that many of the conquered peoples under Rome had it far better than those conquered under other civilizations. War and slavery are not cool, but understood in the historical context, and even in comparison to the barbarism of the 20th century (whether that of Communists, Nazis, or Islamists), Rome doesn't seem all that bad.

December 11, 2010 9:08 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Secondly, I jumped in here after you started launching the epithets calling Objectivism "cultish" and "creepy." Secondly, I only see the word "Randian" ever used when people are trying to imply cultishness, so perhaps that is intended as an epithet. I still think, though, that you are trying (for the most part) to honestly understand and its easy to let our emotions get the better of us.

In line with what madmax is requesting, I would be interested to know what you actually stand FOR. It's so easy to try to tear down and diminish rather than uphold and advocate something positive.

I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed this, but there are a lot of arguments Yog has put forth that are reminiscient of stuff I've read on the ARCHN website. Almost verbatim.

As an aside, there are some interesting points made by the ARCHN guys that I would be curious to see Dawson challenge. I mean,Geoffrey James' article seems like a piece of cake compared to some of the content on that website, where they seem to actually know Objectivism as well as general philosophy.

December 11, 2010 9:37 PM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Great stuff Dawson. Madmax, you're spot on. Drew, I too want to read for what Yog stands.

Yog, there are objective moral facts. These facts are both essential if one holds their life and those of their loved ones as a standard of value by choice and conditional upon so doing. I think Yog's confusion stems from an acceptance of the Necessary versus Contingent existence fallacy so beloved by religious apologists. By presupposing moral facts to be absolutely inescapable to all rational beings, a thinker ignores the choice between life or death that must be made by the living in order for morality to obtain. If moral facts were necessarily true in the sense of N vs C fallacy, then they could not be moral facts. Rand wrote:

To challenge the basic premise of any discipline, one must begin at the beginning. In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.

I quote from Galt’s speech: “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”
~ http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/values.html

The alternative of life or death is open to me. I choose to live and to love with passion and to never ask another to live for me, so I choose Objectivism because I love my life and myself. If I am to live, then moral facts are necessary for me to do so. If a nihilist were to respond that I do not have to live, then my response would be that my A=A identity as a living being compels me to volitionally choose to act to self generate and self sustain. Because life is conditional upon specific courses of action and because I desire and choose to live, then objective ethical values obtain. Objective virtues are actions I undertake to keep myself and my loved ones alive and thriving.

Rand again explained. Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life. ~ http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

I, like all living, rational, beings, am an end unto myself. I am the purpose of my life. Thus what I do for me directed and motivated by integrating the non-contradictorily identified facts of existence, ascertained from sensory perception and the extension of the senses through instrumentation, conceptualized by thinking and deliberation consonant with my foundational and coherent values of life constitutes an objective morality.

Best Wishes and Regards to All

December 12, 2010 8:33 AM  
Blogger Frus said...

Dawson, despite James' logical inconsistencies in presenting his argument, his emotional reaction has a very rational basis.

He's frustrated because for all their talk of reason and logic, Objectivists irrationally refuse to deal with new information gleaned over the past 15 years from the scientific community about what it means to think and feel and conform and be individualistic and do pretty much everything else humans do.

He sees a huge schism between touting the supremacy of reason while ignoring data gleaned from applying the scientific method. And I can't really say I disagree.
Everything we know about ourselves as a species has been recontextualized by data from emerging fields like neurology/ neuroplasticity, behavioral ecology, game theory...in the past couple decades....and Objectivists haven't caught up yet.They just keep myopically trotting out the same false dichotomies : collectivist/individualist!! rational/emotional !! selfish or selfless!!....

..meanwhile, there are plenty of theorists (and no, I don't mean Relativists, I mean Critical Realists) offering tons of data that logically & rationally contradict (or at least recontextualize) the Objectivist Hardline, but you can't get an Objectivist to put down The Fountainhead long enough to look at it.

A reading list:
-Howard Bloom- "The Lucifer Principle"
-Michael Shermer's "The Science Of Good & Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, And Follow The Golden Rule"
-Jonah Lehrer- "How We Decide"
-Frans De Waal - "Our Inner Ape"
-James Surowiecki- "The Wisdom Of Crowds"
-Carl Sagan- "The Demon-Haunted World" <--find me someone more rational than Carl Sagan.I dare you.
-Deborah Blum- "Sex On The Brain" (turns out mate selection is about other things BESIDES "our highest intellectual ideals")
-Stephen Jay Gould- "The Mismeasure of Man"
-Jared Diamond-"Guns, Germs & Steel"

December 12, 2010 2:55 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

"...Objectivists irrationally refuse to deal with new information gleaned over the past 15 years from the scientific community about what it means to think and feel and conform and be individualistic and do pretty much everything else humans do."

I've yet to meet an Objectivist who fits this worn-out caricature. Perhaps there are some people like this, but this persistence in characterizing Objectivists this way needs to be substantiated. It seems like the burden of providing evidence belongs only to Objectivists. In fact, Objectivists are usually quite clear when something is a scientific issue vs. philosophic issue.

From the Objectivist perspective, philosophy frames the context in which the scientific method arises. In ITOE, Rand states the following,

"It is not the special sciences that teach man to think; it is philosophy that lays down the epistemological criteria of all special sciences."

Much of the content of the books you listed, Frus, is great science and nary an Objectivist would dispute it as such. However, the interpretation of the data and how it is integrated will differ based on the author's particular philosophic context.

December 12, 2010 4:35 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

"It seems like the burden of providing evidence belongs only to Objectivists"

Well, some would say that reading list of "great science" is one big pile of evidence, and if Objectivists actually READ the material and looked at the data...they'd realise that much of it contradicts objectivist hardline attitudes about free will, altruism, social cohesion, autocracy and the limitations of Aristotelian-based logic.

"From the Objectivist perspective, philosophy frames the context in which the scientific method arises..."

Twenty-five years ago when your parents probably hadn't conceived you yet, I read everything Rand wrote and spent years implementing Objectivist theory into my everyday life.I married an objectivist who used to attend conferences at the Institute...so it's okay, dear, you don't need to bring me up to speed. ;)

Please...get back to me after you've read that list I posted...

December 12, 2010 8:47 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

"It is not the special sciences that teach man to think; it is philosophy that lays down the epistemological criteria of all special sciences."

You really really need to read some neurology.

December 12, 2010 8:56 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

"Twenty-five years ago when your parents probably hadn't conceived you yet, I read everything Rand wrote and spent years implementing Objectivist theory into my everyday life.I married an objectivist who used to attend conferences at the Institute...so it's okay, dear, you don't need to bring me up to speed. ;)"

Well, actually, I was about 5 years old. Judging by your condescention and patronizing attitude, that's probably around the age your emotional maturity was stunted.

Your rejection of Objectivism is no more proof of its invalidity than it is of your failure to understand and apply it.

I don't have much to go by, but based on the limited content that you've discussed such as your snarkey comment, "turns out mate selection is about other things BESIDES "our highest intellectual ideals"...I would say that you exhibit alarming ignorance on a topic you claim to be intimately familiar with.

Ayn Rand never made such claim that mate selection is *solely* about "our highest intellectual ideals." She did say (from the essay Of Living Death),

"[Romantic Love is a]response to his own highest values in the person of another—an integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire."

And what is wrong with that? What empirical fact about the biology of sex is so devastating to a philosophic view on love and marriage? How does one confuse the biological (read: deterministic) conditions of sexuality with a philosophic/conceptual view of love and romance?

Thanks for the reading list; there are some there I haven't read. Please...get back to me when you re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-read Rand.

December 12, 2010 9:49 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Frus,

If you were so well read in Objectivism, then why did you abandon it for scientific reductionism?

Essentially what you are saying is that you now believe in indeterminacy, non-Aristotelian logic, genetic determinism and political collectivism. And that all of this is backed by science. This is scientism / reductionism; ie an offshoot of materialism.

Look, I'm not saying that there aren't extremely complex philosophic issues to be explained with quantum data, philosophy of mind subjects and the evolutionary influences on psychology and human sexuality / mating. I'll even go so far as to say that I'm close to believing that humanity's default psychology is social metaphysics which is why its so damn hard to be an individualist. I'll even go so far as to say that I think that women have the default sexually psychology of hypergamy or pursuing the best alpha males they can catch; which goes a long way to explaining the irrationality of so much of female behavior.

But none of this is fatal to Objectivism. Any deterministic position is going to fail due to the fallacy of self-exclusion if nothing else. Any theory of human nature is going to be proven how if you jettison non-contradictory logic? And what facts of history can you possibly point to that shows the success of political collectivism? Are you seriously asking us to believe that science has proven political collectivism to be proven practical?

You should know better.

December 13, 2010 3:19 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

madmax,

I totally agree with the following:


"I'll even go so far as to say that I'm close to believing that humanity's default psychology is social metaphysics which is why its so damn hard to be an individualist. I'll even go so far as to say that I think that women have the default sexually psychology of hypergamy or pursuing the best alpha males they can catch; which goes a long way to explaining the irrationality of so much of female behavior."

After years of vascillating between agreement and disagreement with Objectivism by reading and observing both sides, I have come to the following conclusion. The biggest, loudest, and most hostile opponents of Objectivism tend to be those that claim to have "once been followers, but now know better." The standard and cliched attacks on Objectivism, such as being cultish, or that Objectivists reject new science, or bewail how Objectivism doesn't fit their "human nature," are trotted out by people who once THEMSELVES adopted Oism like a religion. They tried to graft it onto their life, and like a transplantation that succumbs to graft-versus-host disease, the cascade of inflammation and sickness leads to rejection.

Spending so much intellectual energy tearing down Objectivism, while implicitly accepting fallacious doctrines such as scientific determinism, must have a psychological basis, that I think is akin to a petulent child who has "a problem with authority" just because it's authority. But of course, reality is the final authority, and that is what really matters, but it's as if even that is too scary so Ayn Rand and Objectivism becomes a bogeyman (for outlining a reality-oriented philosophy) that all animus is directed toward.

December 13, 2010 8:33 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

madmax,

I totally agree with the following:


"I'll even go so far as to say that I'm close to believing that humanity's default psychology is social metaphysics which is why its so damn hard to be an individualist. I'll even go so far as to say that I think that women have the default sexually psychology of hypergamy or pursuing the best alpha males they can catch; which goes a long way to explaining the irrationality of so much of female behavior."

After years of vascillating between agreement and disagreement with Objectivism by reading and observing both sides, I have come to the following conclusion. The biggest, loudest, and most hostile opponents of Objectivism tend to be those that claim to have "once been followers, but now know better." The standard and cliched attacks on Objectivism, such as being cultish, or that Objectivists reject new science, or bewail how Objectivism doesn't fit their "human nature," are trotted out by people who once THEMSELVES adopted Oism like a religion. They tried to graft it onto their life, and like a transplantation that succumbs to graft-versus-host disease, the cascade of inflammation and sickness leads to rejection.

Spending so much intellectual energy tearing down Objectivism, while implicitly accepting fallacious doctrines such as scientific determinism, must have a psychological basis, that I think is akin to a petulent child who has "a problem with authority" just because it's authority. But of course, reality is the final authority, and that is what really matters, but it's as if even that is too scary so Ayn Rand and Objectivism becomes a bogeyman (for outlining a reality-oriented philosophy) that all animus is directed toward.

December 13, 2010 8:34 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “Dawson, despite James' logical inconsistencies in presenting his argument, his emotional reaction has a very rational basis.”

Not that I could find, and I examined everything in his blog entry. What did you find rational about it?

Frus: “He's frustrated because for all their talk of reason and logic, Objectivists irrationally refuse to deal with new information gleaned over the past 15 years from the scientific community...”

I did not get this from James’ blog. Perhaps he expresses this sentiment elsewhere, but I don’t recall him making this complaint. James does accuse Objectivism of being “counter to demonstrable scientific fact,” but this is not quite the same thing you’re saying here. I have answered James and shown how wrong he is. If his complaint is that “Objectivists irrationally refuse to deal with new information,” he should have stated this. But he didn’t.

Speaking directly to your objection, which “Objectivists” do what you say they do here? Who “refuses to deal with new information gleaned over the past 15 years from the scientific community”? Do the actions of specific individuals really have the kind of implications for a philosophy that you’re trying to draw here? My eighth-grade algebra teacher was a drunk (he actually carried a flask in his back pocket). Does this mean that teaching algebra turns people into alcoholics?

Yog (where is he, btw?) raised the issue of the is-ought dichotomy, and over the weekend I re-read a fascinating essay on Rand’s response to this issue by Tibor Machan (“Rand on Hume’s Moral Skepticism,” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, 9, no. 2 (Spring 2008), pp. 245-251). Machan points out that Hume

“argued forcefully in support of many normative claims, such as the prudence of the system of private property and the values of economy and commerce. What he didn’t do, however, was lay out a cogent explanation for how such support could be provided apart from deductive inferences. That is, I would argue, due to Hume’s – as well as many other philosophers’ – embrace of the idea that unless something is necessarily true, it cannot count as bona fide human knowledge. So, but affirming what to many appeared as an unbridgeable gap between factual and value judgments, Hume’s antirationalism laid the foundation for positivism. This is the view that while what are called empirical facts are something we can know about, moral or ethical values are not within the province of the knowable.

“This may be said to be a major reason the social sciences have mostly kept away from making value judgments. They invoke the ‘is-ought’ gap, saying, ‘Therefore handling values would be unscientific, inaccessible to factual confirmation’. Since the hard sciences had been closely associated with the idea that factual judgments can be confirmed, the social sciences, to carry ‘the mantle of science’, were fashioned to mimic them. The method by which the evidence and reasoning of the hard sciences is supposed to proceed – data gathering and unbiased analysis – needed to be followed and this precluded dealing with values, including those of morality and politics.” (p. 250)

In my view, this just created a void, and the collectivists quickly filled it with their rights-negating ideology. And look how effective that’s been!

Machan also argues that Rand’s position successfully avoids Hume’s dichotomy, since Hume’s complaint is that normative judgments cannot be deduced from factual identifications, while Rand’s moral precepts are inferred inductively, granted the “pregnant” implications of her concept theory.

But I think Machan's point is relevant here. Numerous insidious philosophical ideas, from the is-ought gap to the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, from the Platonic view of universals to the idea of categorical imperatives, have permeated institutions of higher learning, beginning with the philosophy departments. It should come as no surprise, then, that scientists sometimes develop conclusions which contradict rational philosophy.

[Continued…]

December 13, 2010 10:37 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “He sees a huge schism between touting the supremacy of reason while ignoring data gleaned from applying the scientific method. And I can't really say I disagree.”

I don't disagree either, but again, this is not what I took away from James’ article. Are you trying to say that James’ secured any of his points against Objectivism? (He didn’t.) Or, are you trying to say that there are people professing to be Objectivists who thwart the scientific method? (There may be – so what?) Or, are you trying to say that Objectivists generally don’t take everything issued from science departments on faith? (They don’t.) There’s a lot of crap that comes out of science departments these days, but it often passes for science because those identifying it as such are often clouded by the very faults that contributed to generating it. Objectivism essentially teaches, as Rand so famously put it, “Check your premises.” Of course, this will annoy those who reject reason.

Frus: “Everything we know about ourselves as a species has been recontextualized by data from emerging fields like neurology/ neuroplasticity, behavioral ecology, game theory...in the past couple decades....and Objectivists haven't caught up yet.”

Can you cite any specifics, particularly ones which contradict Objectivism proper? In other words, if you’re going to level charges like this against *Objectivism* (note that I’m not concerned about what specific individuals who might call themselves “Objectivist” might do), then let’s look at the specifics.

Frus: “They just keep myopically trotting out the same false dichotomies : collectivist/individualist!! rational/emotional !! selfish or selfless!!....”

Why suppose that the antithesis between collectivism and individualism is “false”? Do you understand what you’re talking about? Are you suggesting that there really is no distinction between rationality and emotions? Are selfishness and selflessness one and the same? Again, you don’t make it easy for one reading your words to understand what specifically your complaint may be.

Frus: “..meanwhile, there are plenty of theorists (and no, I don't mean Relativists, I mean Critical Realists) offering tons of data that logically & rationally contradict (or at least recontextualize) the Objectivist Hardline, but you can't get an Objectivist to put down The Fountainhead long enough to look at it.”

That’s quite a charge. How do you know that “you can’t get an Objectivist to put down The Fountainhead long enough to look at it”? Many Objectivists are interested in the sciences. Harry Binswanger, David Harriman, Paul Hsieh, James Lennox, Adam Reed, etc., come to mind. Here are some specific Objectivists. Where are they denying *facts* that have been rationally confirmed by a consistent and uncompromised application of the scientific method?

Frus: “A reading list:”

Thanks for the reading list. I’m sure there are some good contributions to be gleaned from some of the sources you cite. However, I find Shermer to be rather hit and miss in his judgments and conclusions, so much so that I cringe whenever someone recommends his work. Also, I remember watching Sagan’s Cosmos back in 1980 or so, and found it very entertaining. I also remember that some of his ideas seemed rather kooky, possibly due to his pot-smoking.

Frus: “Please...get back to me after you've read that list I posted...”

Yes, dear.

See, I’m not rejecting any scientific facts out of hand, Frus. Can you find where I have?

Regards,
Dawson

December 13, 2010 10:42 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Drew: “As an aside, there are some interesting points made by the ARCHN guys that I would be curious to see Dawson challenge. I mean,Geoffrey James' article seems like a piece of cake compared to some of the content on that website, where they seem to actually know Objectivism as well as general philosophy.”

Yes, I’m aware of Greg Nyquist’s blog, though I don’t tend to “hang out” there. In the past, when I have looked at some of the entries, I saw that at least some Objectivists were challenging Nyquist and his clique, so I never saw the need to take it up (plus I’ve been busy with other matters ;). Then again, perhaps I’ve not read the same entries you have, Drew, for I’ve never been very impressed with Nyquist &co’s criticisms of Objectivism. So much of what I’ve read there seems to be the typical bandwagon garbage that seems to have infected many of Rand’s detractors. So if there’s something specific you want me to look at, let me know.

Drew: “The biggest, loudest, and most hostile opponents of Objectivism tend to be those that claim to have ‘once been followers, but now know better’."

I’m reminded of the time Ayn Rand went on the Phil Donahue Show back in the late ‘70s. Rand was taking questions from the audience, and when one woman got her turn, she began her question by stating “I was one of those people who belonged to your cult where we were devouring your books, and I just wanted to say that as I matured, I am glad that I was able to differentiate…” At this point Rand interrupted this very impolite woman and asked, point blank: “Do you want to create an incident?” which was so perfect. (You can see this on YouTube here - it starts around 6:00). It’s a form of the “You’re so stupid” attitude that underlies the “cult” accusation against Objectivism.

Drew: “The standard and cliched attacks on Objectivism, such as being cultish, or that Objectivists reject new science, or bewail how Objectivism doesn't fit their ‘human nature’, are trotted out by people who once THEMSELVES adopted Oism like a religion.”

Frus himself recommended Michael Shermer, who wrote an entire article trying to show that Objectivism is a “cult.” While Shermer does not claim to have been an Objectivist at any time in his life, his case for Objectivism being a “cult” has been demolished beyond repair here. It’s one of Shermer’s striking misses.

Regards,
Dawson

December 13, 2010 11:25 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

Dawson, you said,

"Drew, for I’ve never been very impressed with Nyquist &co’s criticisms of Objectivism. So much of what I’ve read there seems to be the typical bandwagon garbage that seems to have infected many of Rand’s detractors. So if there’s something specific you want me to look at, let me know."

There is a series posted up there right now titled "Rand and Empirical Responsibility". Here are some excerpts:

"What is the biggest problem with Ayn Rand? A fairly convincing argument could be made that Rand’s biggest problem was her lack of empirical responsibility. The ease with which Rand tosses out controversial statements about matters of fact is breathtaking to behold."

"Rand can talk about connecting concepts to reality as much as she likes; the question is not what she claims to do, but what she actually does. And too often, she proceeds far too carelessly when making claims about matters of fact." (There is a big list of things Rand says that are not supported by evidence.)

"Rand frequently makes use of vague words and expressions, which leave her ample opportunity to use ambiguity to equivocate to whatever conclusions she wishes. This egregious procedure leads to endless quarrels about Rand’s meaning, with Rand’s apologists constantly complaining that her critics are intentionally distorting her message."

December 13, 2010 5:52 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

After years of vascillating between agreement and disagreement with Objectivism by reading and observing both sides, I have come to the following conclusion. The biggest, loudest, and most hostile opponents of Objectivism tend to be those that claim to have "once been followers, but now know better."

Drew, this is one of the best comments on this that I have seen. Thanks.

December 13, 2010 11:07 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Drew,

I’ve had an exceptionally busy week and have had little time to explore the issue you raised from ARCHN. I did find a discussion over on Objectivism Online.net that bears directly on the contention that Rand did not produce sufficient evidence for her “controversial” claims. This response in particular makes some good points. Of course, I don’t think any response is going to satisfy someone like Greg Nyquist: he has invested too much in smearing Rand and her philosophy, and that’s precisely what he’s set out to do. So no attempt to appease him needs to be made.

Nyquist states: “A fairly convincing argument could be made that Rand’s biggest problem was her lack of empirical responsibility.”

But other detractors have complained that Rand’s biggest mistake is that she did not develop a philosophy of mind, or a worked-out cosmology, or that Objectivism leaves its adherents “spiritually” unnourished. In other words, Rand’s “biggest problem” seems to vary from detractor to detractor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if earlier in his campaign against Rand, Nyquist considered some other imagined fault as Rand’s “biggest problem.”

I did briefly review a list of specifics (some 30 or so statements or positions found in Rand’s and Peikoff’s writings) that Nyquist presented on his blog. It’s not clear what kind of evidence Nyquist expects Rand to present on behalf of many of them, since they tend to be conclusions which (I’d think) anyone could draw on reflection, i.e., by honest introspection. For instance, a number of the positions Nyquist cites have to do with emotions and their relationship to knowledge. He event lists Rand’s point that the source of one’s emotions is knowable by means of introspection. It would not be a difficult task to come up with examples of this, and I think Rand recognized this and that’s why she didn’t think her readers needed handholding in this regard.

Of course, Nyquist is frequently guilty of his own complaint. For instance, Nyquist claims that Rand’s example “has led a contempt for facts among many of her orthodox disciples.” He produces no evidence for this claim. He insinuates that Objectivists deride thinkers “who emphasize such things as factual evidence and peer reviewed scholarship are derided as “concrete bound” pragmatists and/or Kantian subjectivists,” purportedly for emphasizing factual evidence and peer-reviewed scholarship per se. But where is his evidence for this?

Elsewhere Nyquist states: “In Objectivism, emotions are equated with mere ‘whims’…” Where’s the evidence for this? He provides none. So, he’s guilty of the very complaint he makes against Rand.

So, you can see why I find no reason to take this guy very seriously. He detests Rand and his campaign against Objectivism seems to be driven more by bad attitude than anything else.

Regards,
Dawson

December 19, 2010 11:11 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

Where is Kant's evidence for the nuomena?

I wonder what Nyquist's motivation is? I mean, he spends a lot of energy trying to discredit or smear Rand. My guess is that he is threatened by the ideas.

How would the Bahnsen Burner distinguish himself from Nyquist? Both are tearing down what they think are bad ideas. Perhaps the former at least offers a cogent and
positive philosophical basis as opposed to Nyquistian nihilism? Is he a conservative?

I'm not super smart but I've read most of Rands works once and I fail to understand how apparently really smart people utterly fail to "get it." Maybe I'm just another Ranroid.

December 19, 2010 2:30 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Drew: “Where is Kant's evidence for the nuomena?”

Of course questions like this are not allowed, since Nyquist only holds Rand to the standard of “empirical responsibility.” He certainly doesn’t hold himself to it.

Drew: “I wonder what Nyquist's motivation is? I mean, he spends a lot of energy trying to discredit or smear Rand. My guess is that he is threatened by the ideas.”

I don’t think it matters, since – so far as I can tell – his motivation is not geared toward actually understanding Rand, but maligning her character and reputation as a thinker.

Drew: “How would the Bahnsen Burner distinguish himself from Nyquist? Both are tearing down what they think are bad ideas.”

While it’s true that I critique ideas that I think are bad or, more importantly, dangerous, I am always pointing to an alternative to those bad or dangerous ideas. I have not scoured Nyquist’s blog, nor have I read his book, but from what I have seen, he does not identify an integrated alternative to Objectivism. It’s clear that he’s opposed to Rand and Objectivism. But what is he for?

Nyquist’s methodology seems to consist of taking opportune potshots whenever he can, often misrepresenting his target in the process, while ignoring the need for a defensible alternative. In a couple blogs of Nyquist’s that I’ve read, he quotes a few sentences of Rand and then writes, “Where does Rand prove this? Nowhere!” And pretty much leaves it at that, while groaning on about how detestable Rand’s followers are (see one of the quotes I gave in my last comment).

By contrast, when I quote someone like Van Til or Bahnsen, I interact with the content of the statements affirmed, typically in the context of some larger point I’m trying to make, explain why they are caustic to human thought, and identify the proper view one should take on such things. Also, I do not quote Van Til or Bahnsen et al., so that I can smear their characters or fans; rather, I focus on the ideas they presented.

Drew: “Perhaps the former at least offers a cogent and positive philosophical basis as opposed to Nyquistian nihilism?”

That’s closer to how I see it. Critiquing ideas that are truly bad is a good thing, but it’s important not to leave the reader in the dark on what the proper position in regard to the relevant issue is, and why.

Nyquist strikes me as so many of Rand’s detractors do: suffocating in nihilism, as you rightly point out. Nihilism has a very strong grip on our culture, though it’s typically not advertised as such. It usually takes the form of condemning what is actually good and noble in man, and since there’s nothing positive to point to as an alternative, it remains silent as to what alternative it might advocate.

Drew: “Is he a conservative?”

Nyquist? I have no idea.

Drew: “I'm not super smart but I've read most of Rands works once and I fail to understand how apparently really smart people utterly fail to ‘get it’. Maybe I'm just another Ranroid.”

I recall a time when I was participating in an online discussion forum with some Christian apologists. One of the Christians wanted to know more about my views, and had never heard of Objectivism before. One of the other Christians posted a brief response citing the essentials – e.g., objectivity, reason, values-based ethics, etc. In response, the first Christian wrote (to this effect): “Sounds logical to me. What’s wrong with that?” When the second Christian responded, “Oh, by the way, Objectivists are atheists,” the first Christian snarled and oozed with contempt for my position from then onwards. It may be simply one issue that someone doesn’t like, and that dictates his reaction to the whole. I don’t know if this is what underwrites Nyquist’s condition, but it’s not uncommon.

Regards,
Dawson

December 19, 2010 5:53 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Well Dawson, I greatly appreciate the work you've done on your blog. My god ('scuse the expression), you could publish a book!

I really like your writing style; it's idiosyncratic in a way that differs from other Objectivist blogs. I imagine you are fairly impromptu with your writing, but it comes across as very erudite and yet often quite witty/funny.

I must ask if you write professionally? I'm curious what your profession is if you don't write?

I've been spending a lot of time catching up on the last few years of your blog articles, much to the dismay of my wife who has to put up with the illuminescent glow of the iPod touch while she's trying to go to sleep -- or as she tries to talk to me over dinner while I have the iPod propped up against my son's bumbo chair as she asks (sarcastically), "are you gonna let your kids do this?"

Can't say my productivity has been the greatest at work either. Not just from sneaking a few paragraphs in between tasks, but from the mental distraction that comes from pondering presuppositionalism while doing my work.

So my refuge has been the crapper, where I sit long after I've evacuated my bowels, just avoiding the onset of hemmorhoids, so I can complete my current reading.

I think I'm especially engrossed by this stuff because I used to agree with the presuppositionalist school of thought and was particularly in agreement with the likes of people like C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.

December 19, 2010 8:54 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

At the risk of being too much of a cheerleader, I'd like to echo Drew's comments with regard to your writing style. I find it clear, comprehensive, and done with a great amount of wit.

It might make for an interesting post to take us readers through the process you go through as a writer to complete a particular blog entry.

Ydemoc

December 20, 2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Drew & Ydemoc,

Thanks for your kind comments, both of you. Quite often I get the complaint that my blogs are “longwinded” and “tedious.” So it’s nice to know that at least someone out there appreciates the work that I do. I don’t mean to be longwinded, I just have a lot to say, and people are free to read or close the window.

As for a book, if I had the time and resources, there are few things I’d love to do more.

BTW, I found a review of Greg Nyquist’s book by Fred Seddon here. I read it last evening. If what Seddon describes about Nyquist’s book is true, I sure hope (for Nyquist’s sake) that his blog is much better.

You both asked about my writing process. I usually make a first run, writing more or less stream-of-consciousness (which likely gives my writing a bit of an impromptu feel that you’ve sensed), but I usually come back and edit, repair and revise it, from beginning to end.

Certain things are always important to me, such as: making sure that I put my opponent’s position in his own words, preferably using two or more sources for this (so as not to misrepresent anything); keeping the entry more or less focused on a particular issue (which is not always possible when writing reaction papers, such as in the case of the present blog entry above); leaving no stones unturned/exploring every angle (“full engagement” if you will); keeping relevant essentials in mind, and drawing the reader’s attention to them; if I argue that a particular point or position is wrong, explain why, and identify the rational alternative; citing my opponent’s definitions, if he’s stated them, etc. Most of all, I endeavor to apply Rand’s famous dictum: “Check your premises,” not only those of my opponents, but also my own.

As for the actual writing part, Howard Roark’s words resonate with me: I “love the doing” of it. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and couldn’t understand all my peers on graduation day exclaiming, “I’ll never have to write a paper again!” I could only think, “Then why did you learn how?” I couldn’t wait to focus on writing what I wanted to write!

Though it's damned crucial, editing is never done, but at some point I have to pull the rip cord and post it, or it’ll never see the light of day. I do try to make my entries readable, but style is typically a final concern, not the first. I’m also pretty anal about formatting, which is a scourge on Blogger, since I create my posts on MS Word and copy/paste to Blogger’s editor, which has its share of snags.

One reason why my posts do end up fairly long is that I take the time to develop my points and the support they need to secure them. That’s usually not going to be achieved with a mere passing statement. If I’ve already done the homework elsewhere, I’ll link to it. Some readers have found this helpful.

Another helpful tip is to review previous exchanges I've had with other writers. I'm always looking to see if I could have done a better job, and how.

If you’re interested in the process of writing in general, you might enjoy David Byron’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Persuasive College Writing. Some good tips there, though they don’t all apply to blogging.

Drew, I enjoyed your description of how your attention to the blogosphere has intruded on your home life. I can relate. I have a daughter soon to turn 3 and my daddying takes up a lot of my time. It’s a big reason why my activity on IP has slowed down in recent months. I’m also spending more time composing (my other pastime), which competes heavily for my creative and mental resources.

Do check out Seddon’s review if you have time. I’d be interested to know your thoughts, especially if you’ve followed Nyquist’s blog.

Regards,
Dawson

December 20, 2010 3:48 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Thanks for your detailed response and writing tips.

I have found that when a writer is disjointed, unclear, repetitive or sloppy, these all contribute to my sense of the writer being tedious or long-winded. In such cases, it could be only one paragraph long and I would probably find it tedious.

I never get this sense with your writing, and you've provided some answers as to why this is the case. The way I see it with your writing: The longer, the better!

Ydemoc

December 20, 2010 4:26 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

By the way -- perhaps you've already seen this -- there's someone on YouTube who also appreciates your writing.

For some reason, I am unable to post an active link, so here it is so you can copy and paste if you wish:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFMnWm8pKbI

Ydemoc

December 20, 2010 4:36 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

I have not scoured Nyquist’s blog, nor have I read his book, but from what I have seen, he does not identify an integrated alternative to Objectivism. It’s clear that he’s opposed to Rand and Objectivism. But what is he for?

You will never get this from him. John Donahue and some others attempted this over the course of months. They kept asking Nyquist and his fellow Rand-diminishers what they stood for. Donahue asked him point blank to declare his soul. Nyquist had nothing to say. It was then that I sensed that the whole CONTRA bunch are serious nihilists.

Is he a conservative?

This is a good question. If you read between the lines with Nyquist you see that what he is defending is the possibility of the supernatural as well as the necessity for a traditions based morality (he agrees with Hume's is/ought dichotomy). So I would say that he is a Conservative at root. Incidentally, I got the same impression from reading "The Maverick Philosopher" during his attack on Rand at his blog site where he debated with Harry Binswanger.

These guys are on the political Right and they want to base that on a traditionalist foundation. There is a growing number of traditionalist/Palo Conservative bloggers that are attacking Rand because they see that her philosophy is a direct threat to their deepest epistemological premises.

December 20, 2010 6:38 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

madmax said: "These guys are on the political Right and they want to base that on a traditionalist foundation. There is a growing number of traditionalist/Palo Conservative bloggers that are attacking Rand because they see that her philosophy is a direct threat to their deepest epistemological premises."

I've noticed this too. Nobody invests the time to write books and maintain a blog attacking an allegedly sloppy, amateurish, irrevant thinker unless they perceive a serious threat. Wouldn't the assessment that Nyquistians make just lead to ignoring Rand?

I am mostly mystified by what they see as such a controversy about the relationship between emotions and ideas/mind. Of course the mind is regulated by neurochemical fluctations as anyone who's hoovered up a fat rail of coke can testify. But an experience like drug use or even being on antidepressants can show you how temporary pleasure is possible to manipulate with chemicals, but things like happiness and self-esteem are a consequence of our ideas and integrated evaluations.

December 21, 2010 11:00 AM  
Blogger madmax said...

I am mostly mystified by what they see as such a controversy about the relationship between emotions and ideas/mind.

From what I can tell from reading Nyquist (as well as reading the attacks on Rand from what I call the Evolutionary Right, and I note that I see similarities between both of them in their attacks on Rand as they are both arguing for either a genetic or traditions based morality and economic nationalism as they believe that laissez-faire is systematically flawed), many Conservatives are heavily invested in a sort of genetic determinism because they see it as an important way to discredit the Left which believes in infinite mental malleability and thus never-ending social engineering.

I have read many Conservatives influenced by evolutionary psychology argue that there are evolutionarily determined emotions - not just emotional mechanisms - but actual emotions. If this is true, they argue, then Rand's belief in emotions as the product of value premises is false. Pre-determined emotions is then used to defend everything from patriarchy to demonizing homosexuality to racially and ethnically exclusive nationhood (this is still a minority view amongst Conservatives but it influences the immigration debate).

They don't like Rand's views on human self-definition and individual sovereignty. They are collectivists at root, just not egalitarian collectivists. Their view of man is one of a being buffeted around by changing Seritonin and Dopamine levels and thus so totally unpredictable that he needs to be reigned in by a patriarchal, christian local government dedicated to family, fatherhood and community. Rand's sovereign, laissez-faire hero is anathema to them.

That's the best I can make of Nyquist and gang.

December 21, 2010 3:34 PM  
Blogger openlyatheist said...

This Is/Ought problem reminds me of a Dualist on the Freeratio philosophy forums who argued in favor of what he called The Hard Problem Of Consciousness.

Apparently, he insisted that the Materialists on the board could not solve this problem because they had not identified the "mechanism" or "account" for how consciousness "interacted" with the brain.

When the Materialists replied that they were under no obligation to solve a problem based upon faulty premises, the Dualist went right on crowing that the Materialists were really just stumped.

It finally dawned on me that the poster in question was not interested in solutions, only touting as unsolvable a problem which by its very nature presupposed his worldview.

Rather than present a worldview that actually solved problems he asserted the problems themselves as the basis for his philosophy.

December 26, 2010 5:09 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

One of the shifts in thinking in the scientific community over the past ten years is this: it's not about "either ______is biologically predetermined, OR it's shaped by immediate environmental factors". It's not either/or; nature OR nurture, reason OR emotion, collectivism OR individualism. Developmental factors aren't mutually exclusive; they're interactive.They're constantly affecting each other in subtle and complex ways. Behavioral ecology seeks to explore the relationship between them.<--Anybody who equates this with materialistic determinism does so based on flawed (outdated) interpretations of scientific data.


"I'll even go so far as to say that I think that women have the default sexually psychology of hypergamy or pursuing the best alpha males they can catch; which goes a long way to explaining the irrationality of so much of female behavior" -madmax

Do I smell a false women-have-the-market-cornered-on-irrationality premise, here^, max? . *laughs*
Be careful. The least rational thing I can imagine is the expectation that you can get mammals to be rational (i.e.,living out of our cerebral cortices) 24/7. I deeply apologise if that sounds condescending or dismissive, because I mean it sincerely : you don't have to be a neurologist to look at research about the brain and realize it's not set up to function in accordance with Objectivist attitudes toward reason and logic.. I'm not arguing against reason; yes, it's one of our better tools and at the risk of overstating the obvious, yes, we wouldn't have MRIs to perceive the brain without reason or logic (like, duh)...

I'm arguing that when we're not "rational", there are rational reasons for it that need examining, and most Objectivists won't go there.Like many people here, they'll read enough behavioral ecology data to support their view that's just determinism and reductionism (i.e., they'll read popsci hacks who are trying to sell ad space, rather than looking at the actual study parameters the hacks reference in their lame reductionist articles....rather than seeking out leaders in the field to compare expert opinions with "some fodder article they saw in The Times or a headline they saw once" that--quite rightly--- sounded ridiculous.)

I'm arguing that what it even means to BE rational is recontextualized, once you have an MRI, or start running on Stephen J Gould's premise that as a species we've physiologically changed a mere .03% in the past 100,000 years.

December 27, 2010 8:57 AM  
Blogger Frus said...

"But none of this is fatal to Objectivism".

See, that's the thing: it's not that Rand is wrong about everything & Objectivism has nothing to offer. It's just that it fosters this reductionist tendancy to dismiss new data out of hand (I think it's connected to taking autocracy to such extremes; one gets the sense all that's needed is an application of logic, and presto! Your view of a field of study is as valid as an expert's!).

The bottom line --for me, anyway--is that epistemologies that can't incorporate new data aren't as useful as the ones that can.

"Are you seriously asking us to believe that science has proven political collectivism to be proven practical?"

I'm asking you to believe humans are more complicated than that, and that behavioral traits exist on a sliding spectrum, not on one pole or the other. http://www.wwnorton.com/college/psych/personality-puzzle5/ch/04/review.aspx

Also, nature doesn't just select at the individual level but also at the group level

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection

This allows for potential downsides to mitigate each other. Collectivism and individualism are constantly tweaking each other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

It's really, really not about determinism, or reductionism ; it's about integrating different fields of knowledge----pretty much the opposite of reductionism....and the more you seek out people like, say, neurobiologist Jonah Lehrer http://www.jonahlehrer.com/books http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_future_of_science_is_art/ the more you will see what I'm talking about.

It's not that Objectivism produces no valid truths. It's that it fosters the sense that one's found all the important Truths there are to find and thus need look no further. Example to follow..

"Ayn Rand never made such claim that mate selection is *solely* about "our highest intellectual ideals." She did say (from the essay Of Living Death),

"[Romantic Love is a]response to his own highest values in the person of another—an integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire."

And what is wrong with that? What empirical fact about the biology of sex is so devastating to a philosophic view on love and marriage? " -Drew

The only thing wrong with it is the use of the word "integrated" to describe forces/behaviors that often vie for dominance because they seem to exist to mitigate and balance each others' potential drawbacks. And it's not devastation; it's recontextualisation. Try "Sex On The Brain" by Deborah Blum, maybe follow it up with Geoffrey Miller's "The Mating Mind".

December 27, 2010 8:59 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

Thanks for expanding on your comments Frus. Could you explain the following a little more?

'The only thing wrong with it is the use of the word "integrated" to describe forces/behaviors that often vie for dominance because they seem to exist to mitigate and balance each others' potential drawbacks. And it's not devastation; it's recontextualisation.'

I still don't see where this notion that Objectivists think you can aprioristically determine scientific truths. Maybe some are like that, but that seems like an arbitrary sweeping judgement otherwise.

PS sorry about the ad hominum back there re: your maturity as I was just a little sensitive to being called "dear"

December 27, 2010 9:59 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “One of the shifts in thinking in the scientific community over the past ten years is this: it's not about…”

*What* specifically is “not about…” the antithetical pairs that you cited? Are you saying that there’s no distinction between, say, reason and emotion, or that collectivism and individualism are two sides of the same coin, or something different? Strive for more clarity if you can.

Objectivism does not view collectivism and individualism as “developmental factors,” but as philosophical poles on the general political spectrum. Also, the special sciences, such as biology, are focused on description – identifying what *is* the case in nature (within a specified range), while philosophy is only generally descriptive but also includes fundamental prescriptive components, most relevantly in morality and politics. So there seems to be an apples and oranges pretext that is being ignored in some of the points you’re trying to make.

Frus: “Behavioral ecology seeks to explore the relationship between them.<--Anybody who equates this with materialistic determinism does so based on flawed (outdated) interpretations of scientific data.”

Possibly, but more information is needed to judge one way or the other. It depends on the definitions and underlying premises which provide the basic framework for those interpretations and generate the conclusions which inform them. It is not uncommon, for instance, to find some scientific interpretations of human behavior ignoring or outright denying the volitional nature of man’s consciousness, and seeking to explain behavior as a result of (as Rand put it) “glandular squirtings,” indigestion (e.g., the “Twinkie defense”), heredity or race (e.g., Hitler’s “Ubermensch”), etc. There’s no question that determinism has found a very comfy home in the social sciences. It’s taboo to question it.

Frus: “you don't have to be a neurologist to look at research about the brain and realize it's not set up to function in accordance with Objectivist attitudes toward reason and logic..”

This raises a number of questions. What “Objectivist attitudes toward reason and logic” do you have in mind? Where are the attitudes you have in mind identified as an integral part of Objectivism? What is it “about the brain” that indicates that “it’s not set up to function in accordance with” those attitudes which you attribute to Objectivism? I’m not a neurologist, but you’re saying here that I don’t need to be one to realize the truth of what you’re saying. So I should be able to understand your point, if you show the steps you took to arrive at it.

Frus: “I'm arguing that when we're not ‘rational’, there are rational reasons for it that need examining, and most Objectivists won't go there.”

Again, more questions. For one, what exactly is your argument for this?

Also, which “Objectivists won’t go there”? How do you know where Objectivists will or will not go? Objectivists typically won’t give what they judge to be arbitrary the time of day. If they judge that something is arbitrary, do you think they should still take it seriously? Do you think that Objectivism teaches that one should resist examining the reasons why someone is not rational? If so, what is that teaching, and where is it found? If not, then what’s the relevance of your opinion on where “most Objectivists” will or will not go?

Also, how do you determine that there are rational reasons for not being rational? You seem to be making a very broad generalization, but where’s the data to support it? How could one even gather enough data to make such an inference?

Lastly, it’s important to understand that rationality is a choice: an individual (not a species) chooses whether or not to adhere to rationality in his judgments and actions. You might deny this (and if so, you’re free to explain), but this is a teaching of Objectivism. Given this, can you give some examples of what you consider to be “rational reasons” for choosing not to be rational?

[Cont…]

December 27, 2010 1:34 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “I'm arguing that what it even means to BE rational is recontextualized, once you have an MRI, or start running on Stephen J Gould's premise that as a species we've physiologically changed a mere .03% in the past 100,000 years.”

I really have no idea what this is supposed to mean, or how it’s at all relevant to the validity of Objectivism. I had an MRI in 1995. But it had no impact on my conception of what rationality is. It certainly did not “recontextualize,” in my understanding, “what it even means to BE rational.” So this needs to be explained.

Also, if the human organism has physiologically changed only 0.03% over the past 100,000 years, why suppose that Rand’s understanding of rationality from 50 or so years ago needs to be revised because of discoveries in the past 15 years? (And before you assume that my question is an argument for reductionism, stop – it’s not – I’m simply wondering how your various points cohere with one another.)

Frus: “It's just that [Objectivism] fosters this reductionist tendancy to dismiss new data out of hand”

How does Objectivism foster the tendency you describe here?

Frus: “I think it's connected to taking autocracy to such extremes; one gets the sense all that's needed is an application of logic, and presto! Your view of a field of study is as valid as an expert's!”

Yeah, logic is overrated. Even the experts know this. You need magic, too. How’s that? Better?

Frus: “The bottom line --for me, anyway--is that epistemologies that can't incorporate new data aren't as useful as the ones that can.”

I don’t think any Objectivists would have any qualms with this. Do you think Objectivist epistemology is unable to incorporate new data for some reason? If so, why?

Frus: “I'm asking you to believe humans are more complicated than that, and that behavioral traits exist on a sliding spectrum, not on one pole or the other.”

See, it’s statements like this that continue to lead me to believe that you’re ignoring the apples and oranges distinction between the special sciences and prescriptive branches of philosophy. No one denies that many people do in fact swing from pole to pole. This is typically a result of failing to have an informed philosophical compass in the first place. It’s one of the reasons why people *need* rational philosophy.

[Cont…]

December 27, 2010 1:35 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “Also, nature doesn't just select at the individual level but also at the group level”

“Select” typically means that a choice is being made. “Nature” is not a conscious organism which makes choices. Individuals make choices. Some make the choice to relinquish subsequent choices to the winds of some group. But that’s still a choice that an individual makes.

Frus: “Collectivism and individualism are constantly tweaking each other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.”

Statements like this simply don’t make sense to me. The words ‘collectivism’ and ‘individualism’ correspond to higher abstractions; they do not denote entities which “tweak” anything. What are you really trying to say?

Frus: “It's not that Objectivism produces no valid truths. It's that it fosters the sense that one's found all the important Truths there are to find and thus need look no further.”

Really? I’ve been an Objectivist since 1992, and I’ve never had the sense that I’ve “found all the important Truths there are to find.” I’m constantly seeking out new truths, and being impressed with what I discover. And I highly doubt that I’m some sort of oddball in this respect.

Frus: “The only thing wrong with it is the use of the word ‘integrated’ to describe forces/behaviors that often vie for dominance because they seem to exist to mitigate and balance each others' potential drawbacks.”

That’s not what Rand has in mind here. Rand sees man as an integration of matter and consciousness, where “mind” and “body” in her above quote refer to two fundamental aspects of his nature working in concert. Rand’s point is that romantic love is as metaphysical as it is emotional, that sexual desire is fundamentally influenced by one’s values, that romantic love is both physical and intellectual, just as man is both body and mind. Rand was not suggesting that romantic love is borne out of a balance between opposing forces. Rand was not a Cartesian dualist.

Regards,
Dawson

December 27, 2010 1:35 PM  
Blogger actionjackson864 said...

Dawson can you give me some insight as to how facts and laws can exist outside the mind, yet concepts only exist inside the mind?

I know that concepts are products of a mental process, and that we define the concepts we form to identify and integrate those things.

I'll quote you here "Facts exist independent of consciousness, and we use concepts to identify them."

would you say that facts are "conceptual" in nature? If they are "conceptual in nature" how have they formed or how do they exist without a mind?

I think I remember you saying when critiquing Sye Tenbrugg that "concepts exist only in the mind" and I have read something similar to this in Rand's works.

Can something that is conceptual exist outside of the mind? if yes how?

I've started posting video responses on youtube citing your works and the above inquiry is something Im having trouble understanding and finding an answer to both in your work, and in Rands.

December 27, 2010 8:16 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Frus,

Dawson asked you excellent questions. I second them. It sounds to me like you are committing the classic error of scientism or "physics envy." You are attempting to use the hard sciences, in this case genetics and neuro-biology, as a set of axioms. That path ALWAYS leads to determinism and collectivism. Always.

Regarding people being irrational for rational reasons. I think I know where you are going with that. Its a straw man to argue that humans must be engaged in syllogistic logic 24/7 in order to be rational. The nature of the human brain is that there is a ton of "noise" that factors into human consciousness. Rationality consists of limiting that noise and focusing on reality by a method of non-contradictory identification. Again, its the very fact that we are not omniscient that we need to be rational and thus need philosophy. Arguing against reason properly understood as you are doing is self-refuting.

Regarding your so called balance between collectivism and individualism - what you euphemistically call "recontextualize" - tell me what your opinion on the non-initiation-of-physical-force premise is. Has your study of genetics and behavioral ecology convinced you that men can only exist by forcing one another? Do you believe that society should force individuals by confiscating their wealth? Regulating their businesses? Regulating their sexual practices? Just how collectivist are you willing to get?

December 28, 2010 12:59 AM  
Blogger madmax said...

It's not either/or; nature OR nurture, reason OR emotion, collectivism OR individualism.

I would say that on the deepest levels it *is* either/or. Take collectivism or individualism. Either you are free or you are not. Its binary. I defy you to prove that it isn't. Either I am being taxed or I am not. Either I am being regulated or I am not. Either there is a welfare-state or there is not. Either there is a central bank and fiat money or there isn't.

The argument you are in effect making is the same one that both Leftists and Conservatives make namely that individuals left free will destroy themselves and therefore must be regulated and controlled. Its the same argument that Plato made 2400 years ago. You're just making it using socio-biology or evolutionary psychology or behavioral ecology or whatever. Either way, you would sanction and encourage the government's use of force against its citizens; ie you condone and defend the use of whips and chains.

If that's your definition of "recontextualize" then you can keep it.

December 28, 2010 1:09 AM  
Blogger madmax said...

Lastly, I have read 'The Mating Mind' and 'The Red Queen' and other books on evolutionary psychology. Nothing in those books invalidates Objectivism. They argue that there are serious biological factors that influence human behavior. No mature Objectivist disputes that. In fact the data in those books reinforces Rand's view of sexual psychology - that women are attracted to metaphysical efficacy in men. That in my opinion is the philosophic way to look at "hypergamy".

Yes, it is very likely that sexual selection pressures shaped much of human psychology and much of human history. So? Rand's philosophy deals with man as he is and the most important facts about man from the vantage point of philosophy are that he is a being of volitional consciousness, he does not posses pre-determined *conceptual* knowledge, his use of reason is not automatic, he needs to think long range in order to survive, he can choose to focus his mind or he can evade, and he must be free to act on the judgment of his own mind.

Nothing that the behavioral sciences uncover will change that.

December 28, 2010 1:35 AM  
Blogger actionjackson864 said...

Dawson, I found the answer in "Rick Warden's Critique of Objectivism" but would still like to hear more, on the questions I previously posted.

I found the answer by typing it in blogger's search engine, I know I've heard people say its hard to find anything specific on your blog, for me, the blogger engine worked perfectly.

December 28, 2010 11:24 AM  
Blogger actionjackson864 said...

Here is an analogy I thought up about my questions about how logic exists outside of the mind:

We can think of logic, before a mind forms and makes use of it through concepts, as a set of materials that, on their own, have no meaning or purpose. This is the same as a car, since a car, before it is a car is just material with no purpose.

It takes a conscious mind to form the materials, which already exist, into things which will eventually be built into a car.

So, by taking logic, which exists outside the mind, and using one's mind to form and make use of it, one creates logical concepts which have purpose in life.

All of this is true because "logic exists".

I was confused at first with the word "form". "Form" does not necessarily mean to "create". It is also defined, as a verb, to mold or construct.



Anything I'm missing anything here Dawson?

December 29, 2010 2:15 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello AJ,

Thanks for your comments. I’ve been very busy lately, which is why I’ve not been able to get to your questions until now.

AJ: “Dawson can you give me some insight as to how facts and laws can exist outside the mind, yet concepts only exist inside the mind?”

I’ll do my best.

AJ: “I know that concepts are products of a mental process, and that we define the concepts we form to identify and integrate those things.”

Correct – concepts are products of a set of actions performed by a human consciousness, summarily called abstraction. Rand provides her account of this process in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

I have written (here): "Facts exist independent of consciousness, and we use concepts to identify them."

AJ asks: “would you say that facts are ‘conceptual’ in nature?”

No, I would very much resist making this kind of claim. It is very common to find thinkers equating fact with truth, but I think this is problematic, sloppy and ultimately a category confusion. Elsewhere I have argued that truth is an aspect of identification, specifically in terms of the correspondence between a statement identifying a fact and the fact which that statement is identifying. So truth as such is epistemological in this sense, since it ultimately hinges on the interaction of a subject with the objects of consciousness. While facts are actual (whether past or present), statements are true or false (or simply nonsensical, arbitrary). We don’t say that a rock is true; rather, we say that a statement made about the rock is true – e.g., “that rock is lying in the middle of the road.” The statement is intended to identify a state of affairs observed in the world, and the accuracy of its correspondence to that state of affairs is the relation we call “truth.”

But this still leaves open the puzzling question, “What is a fact?” We all use the word “fact” all the time, whether in our daily parlance or our writing, normally taking its meaning for granted. But what is a fact? What is the proper definition of ‘fact’? I must confess that I have yet to encounter a satisfying definition of the concept ‘fact’ – and I’ve been looking for one for some years now, since this very question came up in a discussion I was having about a decade ago. Common language dictionaries are useless on the matter, as they are not intended to giving philosophical definitions, and, in this case, often equate ‘fact’ with ‘truth’, which I think is a mistake. Rand used the concept ‘fact’ quite frequently in her writings, but she did not, to my knowledge, provide a formal definition of it, and some things she did say about the meaning of ‘fact’ are arguably questionable.

[Continued…]

December 29, 2010 4:50 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

In his paper Facts, Concepts and Truth, Register defines ‘facts’ as “structured entities with which our beliefs and assertions share logical structure.” I don’t think entities are *facts*, whether structured or unstructured. Nor do I think entities necessarily have logical structure. What is the logical structure of a splash of soap foam? Is the structure of an apple “logical”? How about the structure of the apple tree’s branches? I just find definitions like this puzzling and unhelpful. But that may simply be because there’s more to it than I understand. I’m more than happy to allow this since I do have a lot of respect for Register. But I don’t find his points on facts, so far as I understand them, very satisfying.

I tend to think of facts as entities *in relations* - not just the entities by themselves, but the entities in question within the context of some relation it happens to be in (or was in) in some actual state of affairs, whether that relation is with another entity, or by itself, whether that relation is attributive (e.g., “the rock is hard”), proximal (e.g., “the rock is in the middle of the road”), or active (e.g., “the rock is rolling”) or some combination (e.g., “the rock is rolling this way”).

Also, I don’t think it is sensible to speak of “future facts” – since facts have to be actual states of affairs that really exist, or have existed. If something hasn’t happened yet, you can’t reasonably treat it as though it is a fact.

The difficulty, for me at any rate, is not in grasping what a fact is, but in properly wording its definition. The important point to keep in mind is that facts do not conform to our conscious activity - e.g., wishes, emotions, fantasies, commands, etc. If a rock is rolling along a road, it is doing this regardless of what we think or feel.

AJ: “I think I remember you saying when critiquing Sye Tenbrugg that "concepts exist only in the mind" and I have read something similar to this in Rand's works.”

Right. Rand defines concepts as mental integrations - they are the method by which the human mind organizes what it perceives and the information it comes in contact with.

AJ: “Can something that is conceptual exist outside of the mind? if yes how?”

I would say no, since conceptualization, by its very nature, is an activity which a certain kind of consciousness performs.

AJ: “I've started posting video responses on youtube citing your works and the above inquiry is something Im having trouble understanding and finding an answer to both in your work, and in Rands.”

I appreciate your YouTube work. In November of 2008 I published a blog titled Rival Philosophies of Fact, which you might find helpful.

AJ: “We can think of logic, before a mind forms and makes use of it through concepts, as a set of materials that, on their own, have no meaning or purpose.”

I don’t know how I would go about thinking of logic as a set of materials that exists independent of conscious activity, or more specifically, outside the context of the subject-object relationship. I’ve discussed the nature of logic at length here, and hope to have another post on logic in the near future.

Please let me know if you have further questions on this.

Regards,
Dawson

December 29, 2010 4:56 PM  
Blogger actionjackson864 said...

Thanks for your answers, Ive read one of your posts in the "logic" series. I will be reading the other works you cited.

Here's something that has me scratching my head, I found this writing when searching for "logic exists outside of the mind" would be great if you want to weigh in on some of this:

The basic law of logic is a primordial reality

There exists a small category of realities termed "primordial." These require no proof of existence outside of themselves. Time and space are good examples. Empty space would exist even if nothing else did. We don't have to explain it. We don't have to prove it. It simply is.

Time is another example of a primordial reality. If we define time as the relative rate of change between material objects, then it follows that time could not exist without matter. Or, that the existence of matter forces the existence of time. The two are inseparable. It may be said that time is intrinsic to matter, or that matter is the instigator of time.

Logic is also a primordial reality, and bares the same relationship to existence as time does to matter. Logic is intrinsic to reality. It requires no justification for its existence, because reality itself is the initiator of logic.

Dawson said:"I don’t know how I would go about thinking of logic as a set of materials that exists independent of conscious activity".

I'm thinking, even if everyone in the world stops existing, the laws of logic still exist, but there will have to be a consciousness capable of concepts to discover it once again.

Also I meant that "logic as a set of materials" as an analogy with the car. everything that we can form physically, is made from something that exists. Cars for instance, the metal came from the earth, etc. etc. so then I was thinking the "laws of logic" exist in existence, but a consciousness must discover them and form "logical concepts" based off of them.

otherwise, what is the difference between "logic", "logical concepts", and "the laws of logic".

I think the law of identity must be in play here because we cannot just throw everything that is logic into one category.

Would logic cease to be with the extinction of consciousness?

As far as I can tell, this is still in line with the primacy of existence.


compared to you I'm really green in philosophy so forgive me if Im making any fatal mistakes here.

The reason I'm investigating this is because of a debate I was having with Dan the Debunker, who said the laws of non contradiction exist outside the mind.

December 29, 2010 6:45 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

Guys, (especially Dawson) I owe you an apology. I'm woefully short on time (terminal illness sucks), and as a result I'm unable to give this conversation the energy and careful explanation it---you---deserve without access to my library. I will try to make my points more clearly, but ...you are having a serious debate and I started in it just blowing off steam and now I have little time to do more than point, skim, generalize, and dash off. This is not fair to you and I am sorry for it. My approach to this thread has been more in a conversational vein than in "debate mode", and unfortunately, it's the best I've got and further questions you pose will probably go unanswered (at least by me, at any rate).But you deserve a response...and while I spoke 'off the cuff', I didn't arrive at my stances thoughtlessly or quickly.If it appears that way because I'm not taking the time to connect all the dots..again---apologies.

"I still don't see where this notion that Objectivists think you can aprioristically determine scientific truths. Maybe some are like that, but that seems like an arbitrary sweeping judgement otherwise."~Drew

Fair point, Drew. It's possible I've only met Objectivists who fall into that particular autocracy trap, and in my exasperation, yes---made a sweeping judgement. Then again, it's possible you're the exception that proves the rule... ;)
p.s. don't sweat the ad hom. It, too, may indeed be a fair point hehe. My jury's still out on that one.


*What* specifically is “not about…” the antithetical pairs that you cited? Strive for more clarity if you can.~Bahnsen Burner

Bahnson, for brevity's sake I'm going to anthropomorphise here and there.. I can give you a bibliography, but yes, I'm going to make some big generalizations and hope that you will read the source material in order to assess the validity of views that have coalesced in my mind over ten years' worth of reading. As I stated above, you deserve a response and without my library (which I don't have)I'm hard pressed to seriously substantiate a lot of what I'm alluding to.. So, yes, I am going to occasionally sound as if I attribute "will" to things that possess none, in an attempt to convey emergent patterns in broad strokes: I think Nature practices multilevel selection, and this means that a lot of behavior that seems arbitrary...isn't, necessarily.

Ultimately I think it's important that objectivists get more vocally involved in the public arena about philosophical issues as they relate to science.. (continued)

December 29, 2010 7:57 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

" the special sciences, such as biology, are focused on description – identifying what *is* the case in nature (within a specified range), while philosophy is only generally descriptive but also includes fundamental prescriptive components, most relevantly in morality and politics. So there seems to be an apples and oranges pretext that is being ignored in some of the points you’re trying to make...

..more information is needed to judge one way or the other. It depends on the definitions and underlying premises which provide the basic framework for those interpretations and generate the conclusions which inform them. It is not uncommon, for instance, to find some scientific interpretations of human behavior ignoring or outright denying the volitional nature of man’s consciousness, and seeking to explain behavior as a result of (as Rand put it) “glandular squirtings,” indigestion (e.g., the “Twinkie defense”), heredity or race (e.g., Hitler’s “Ubermensch”), etc. There’s no question that determinism has found a very comfy home in the social sciences. It’s taboo to question it."~Bahnsen Burner

"It sounds to me like you are committing the classic error of scientism or "physics envy." You are attempting to use the hard sciences, in this case genetics and neuro-biology, as a set of axioms. That path ALWAYS leads to determinism and collectivism. Always."-madmax

Not so much, now. Or, at least, this is starting to be less the case ... http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all <--to me this indicates a need for more interdisciplinary dialogue between philosophers and those in the science community---"special sciences" as well as the "soft" sciences.Max, Bahnsen,Dawson---if you want you can see this discussion thread solely in terms of "who is right and who is wrong". That's certainly relevant. But to me, what's MORE relevant is that minds like yours be looking at writers like Johah Lehrer and applying Objectivist principles to refining the ways we acquire & interpret data, as this might minimise the Decline Effect Lehrer is talking about in his New Yorker article. Short version:you're needed, there.

"Are you saying that there’s no distinction between, say, reason and emotion?"-Bahnsen

I think Plato got it right when he characterized them as functions of consciousness along with sensation and intuition. This does not imply that they are all equally useful functions/tools in all situations; I would in fact argue that Jung was right in his assertion that intelligence could be measured by an individual's ability to discern the right tool (or the right combination thereof) for each respective situation / issue....But, then, I'm convinced that everything we deem 'good' is deemed 'good' because at one point in our development it helped us adapt to (and therefore survive) our immediate environment.Reason is awesome, but sometimes (e.g., in emergencies) "applying reason" means "knowing when to trust your intuition" (Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide gives a good exploration of this, as it outlines situations in which individuals who've had years of experience in a field made "intuitive" leaps that, examined after the fact, turned out to be more logic-based than it would initially appear.)


“I'm arguing that when we're not ‘rational’, there are rational reasons for it that need examining, and most Objectivists won't go there.”-Frus

"Again, more questions. For one, what exactly is your argument for this?" -Bahnsen Burner

Lehrer's How We Decide..Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle*. I won't argue that either are working from as large a sample as I'd like, because they aren't. What I would argue is that I don't hear enough Objectivists discussing the implications of their work.

December 29, 2010 8:02 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

"Regarding people being irrational for rational reasons. I think I know where you are going with that. Its a straw man to argue that humans must be engaged in syllogistic logic 24/7 in order to be rational. The nature of the human brain is that there is a ton of "noise" that factors into human consciousness. Rationality consists of limiting that noise and focusing on reality by a method of non-contradictory identification. Again, its the very fact that we are not omniscient that we need to be rational and thus need philosophy. Arguing against reason properly understood as you are doing is self-refuting."-madmax

Fair call on the 'strawman'. I'll try to be more accurate. But a caveat, here, max: if you read none of the source material I'm citing in this thread, then you may as well stop reading right now and declare yourself winner of the argument, because all I have time to do right now is point to people whose arguments are more logically & thoroughly presented than my own.I don't even have time to go back to The Fountainhead or We The Living or Atlas and find passages of Rand's to specifically refute (as I'd normally do before asking you to believe Word1).
"Regarding your so called balance between collectivism and individualism - what you euphemistically call "recontextualize" -madmax

Wiki on group selection theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection

"In recent years, the limitations of earlier models [of natural selection theory] have been addressed, and newer models suggest that selection may sometimes act above the gene level. Recently David Sloan Wilson and Elliot Sober have argued that the case against group selection has been overstated. They focus their argument on whether groups can have functional organization in the same way individuals do and, consequently, whether groups can also be "vehicles" for selection. For example, groups that cooperate better may have out-reproduced those that did not. Resurrected in this way, Wilson & Sober's new group selection is usually called multilevel selection theory."

Based on reading Frans de Waal's Our Inner Ape, Gould's The Mismeasure Of Man, Howard Bloom's Lucifer Principle, Blum's Sex On The Brain, Simon Baron-Cohen's The Essential Difference, and everything of David Sloan-Wilson's I could get my hands on.....

---yes, max: I do believe the issue is more complicated than "either I'm collectivist and therefore PRO-mindless conformity OR I'm an individualist who thinks all people can be trusted to be honorable and the government should (could) be forced to shrink itself by 95% and that would solve all of society's problems." Apologies if that's a strawman, too, but it really does feel like that's what you're suggesting, that those are the only two choices you're presenting me with.

December 29, 2010 8:04 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

"tell me what your opinion on the non-initiation-of-physical-force premise is...Do you believe that society should force individuals by confiscating their wealth?" ~madmax

I'm okay with my level of taxation (I'm Canadian). I believe that most people aren't as sincere, honorable or well-intentioned as most of the Objectivists I know. So I'm okay with shelling out to support a few deadbeats as long as I'm also supporting people who've just had a recent bad break who need time getting back on their feet, and I'm getting roads/healthcare/schools/parks in return. I think having a social safety net keeps more---not all, but more---of the dangerously irrational people [who wouldn't know an epistemology from a hole in the ground, and couldn't care less] from stealing my stuff...;P

"The argument you are in effect making is the same one that both Leftists and Conservatives make namely that individuals left free will destroy themselves and therefore must be regulated and controlled."~madmax

From here, it appears the argument that you are in effect making is that the majority of the population is as reasonable, nonviolent, thoughtful, productive, well-educated and/or well-intentioned as you.

Also there's a presupposition that most people have the luxury of free time---or the natural predisposition----to consciously and thoroughly evaluate their epistemologies the way Objectivism recommends.<---I'm not saying it's good that this is the case, or writing it in stone deterministically as something we couldn't transcend eventually, but there it is : most people are too busy just trying to get by to take the time to analyze their attitudes in the way Objectivism/ good critical thinking skills/ active participation in shaping and maintaining responsible government demand..

That said...NONE of the politicians I know are as well-intentioned as most of the Objectivists I know....which again leads me to beg & prod Objectivists to stop hashing out semantic minutiae amongst themselves and get more actively involved in public debates with people *brace yourselves* like myself....or---much better still---guys like Jonah Lehrer / Howard Bloom ( I bet most Objectivists would like Bloom, especially, as he's very much in agreement with a lot of Rand's premises & conclusions on the value of capitalism http://www.howardbloom.net/reinventing_capitalism/ )


"Has your study of genetics and behavioral ecology convinced you that men can only exist by forcing one another? Regulating their businesses?" -madmax

Can "ONLY" exist--? No.

For most of history, DID exist, HAVE existed and prospered, via "not playing fair", "employing brute force / outright slavery" &"legislating parasitism of one form or another"----? that is, after all, our history as a species---yes. I do see an indication that if any behavior shows itself to be advantageous, 60-85% of humans won't care if it's ethical if they're benefiting from it unless they have to worry about their actions being censured by society or face fear of incarceration.I may not like it, but I'm hardly surprised collectivism exists---hell, most days I'm just glad I don't have to pay lip service to believing in God, as my great great grandmother would most likely have had to, in order to avoid social ostracism. (continued)

December 29, 2010 8:10 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

I do see indication that Rand mischaracterizes altruism (Frans de Waal and other primatologists, as well as Bloom, have some interesting theories and research to indicate altruism is alive and well in the animal kingdom). To me this would indicate that altruism isn't the Great Evil that Rand characterizes it to be, but rather a function of loyalty to one's species. I think group selection theory supports this, as well...

(from wiki entry on multilevel selection theory http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection )

"David Sloan Wilson, the developer of Multilevel Selection Theory (MLS) compares the many layers of competition and evolution to the “Russian Matryoska Dolls” within one another.[13] The lowest level is the genes, next come the cells, and then the organism level and finally the groups. The different levels function cohesively to maximize fitness, or reproductive success. After establishing these levels, MLS goes further by saying that selection for the group level, which is competition between groups, must outweigh the individual level, which is individuals competing within a group, for a group-beneficiating trait to spread.[14] MLS theory focuses on the phenotype this way because it looks at the levels that selection directly acts upon."

Do I think because we've spent more time ruling by coercion and force than we have peacefully coexisting through active choice that we shouldn't try to improve our government, find better ways to resolve differences peacefully--? No.

But I don't think tribalistic/irrational behavior ingrained over thousands of years vanishes in couple of generations either. And I reject your assertion that this is "deterministic, period" because I don't think you can transcend behavior without first identifying it.To me the meaning of Stephen Jay Gould's "we've changed a mere .03% in milennia" point is this: in many ways we are still assessing things in terms of hunter-gatherer value systems (expressed humourously by David Wong here in his article What Is The Monkeysphere? http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html ----- not offering this as proof in a conventional sense; Wong's article's just the quickest and most efficient way to convey my point; apologies, Max, if I'm stuck without my library to hunt down direct quotes and more serious research.


["Are you saying] that collectivism and individualism are two sides of the same coin, or something different?"-Bahnsen

I'm saying both serve adaptive functions, and are subject to factors like a) immediate environmental /climactic conditions b) access to resources as Jared Diamond details in Guns, Germs, and Steel, c) the size of one's population base / respective community size.
For example, in smaller communities, or countries like Canada with harsh winters and far-flung cities with populations that are relatively small compared to their counterparts in the U.S., you get a greater predisposition toward collectivism ,and an increased willingness to mix socialist and capitalist principles. In this sense, yes---I think collectivism & individualism are enantiodromic, and mitigate each others' potential drawbacks.Too much individualism / unfettered Darwinism and you start sacrificing social/economic stability ; too little, and you end up in Mike Judge's Idiocracy with a bloated government....which threatens social and economic stability...

Dawson, thanks for giving me a chance to blow off some steam and get some stuff off my chest. cheers!

December 29, 2010 8:12 PM  
Blogger actionjackson864 said...

one thing completely off topic, I've seen a few people post about your writing style and you being long winded and that its unreadable. Id say its overwhelmingly excellent.

Please dont shorten or summarize your posts in the future!!!!!!!

December 29, 2010 8:54 PM  
Blogger Frus said...

I do see indication that Rand mischaracterizes altruism (Frans de Waal and other primatologists, as well as Bloom, have some interesting theories and research to indicate altruism is alive and well in the animal kingdom). To me this would indicate that altruism isn't the Great Evil that Rand characterizes it to be, but rather a function of loyalty to one's species. I think group selection theory supports this, as well...

(from wiki entry on multilevel selection theory http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection )

"David Sloan Wilson, the developer of Multilevel Selection Theory (MLS) compares the many layers of competition and evolution to the “Russian Matryoska Dolls” within one another.[13] The lowest level is the genes, next come the cells, and then the organism level and finally the groups. The different levels function cohesively to maximize fitness, or reproductive success. After establishing these levels, MLS goes further by saying that selection for the group level, which is competition between groups, must outweigh the individual level, which is individuals competing within a group, for a group-beneficiating trait to spread.[14] MLS theory focuses on the phenotype this way because it looks at the levels that selection directly acts upon."

Do I think because we've spent more time ruling by coercion and force than we have peacefully coexisting through active choice that we shouldn't try to improve our government, find better ways to resolve differences peacefully--? No.

But I don't think tribalistic/irrational behavior ingrained over thousands of years vanishes in couple of generations either. And I reject your assertion that this is "deterministic, period" because I don't think you can transcend behavior without first identifying it.To me the meaning of Stephen Jay Gould's "we've changed a mere .03% in milennia" point is this: in many ways we are still assessing things in terms of hunter-gatherer value systems (expressed humourously by David Wong here in his article What Is The Monkeysphere? http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html ----- not offering this as proof in a conventional sense; Wong's article's just the quickest and most efficient way to convey my point; apologies, Max, as I'm stuck without my library to hunt down direct quotes and more serious research.

December 30, 2010 6:08 AM  
Blogger Frus said...

["Are you saying] that collectivism and individualism are two sides of the same coin, or something different?"-Bahnsen

I'm saying both serve adaptive functions, and are subject to factors like a) immediate environmental /climactic conditions b) access to resources as Jared Diamond details in Guns, Germs, and Steel, c) the size of one's population base / respective community size.
For example, in smaller communities, or countries like Canada with harsh winters and far-flung cities with populations that are relatively small compared to their counterparts in the U.S., you get a greater predisposition toward collectivism ,and an increased willingness to mix socialist and capitalist principles. In this sense, yes---I think collectivism & individualism are enantiodromic, and mitigate each others' potential drawbacks.Too much individualism / unfettered Darwinism and you start sacrificing social/economic stability, because..well, in my experience, Objectivists tend to be more conscientious than the average person, and a small minority of the populace ; too little individualism,though, and you end up in Mike Judge's Idiocracy with a bloated government....which eventually threatens social and economic stability in different ways..


"You need to read Rand extensively to answer this. 'The Virtue of Selfishness' is a good place to start but in order to get Rand at the epistemological level it will take reading *many* books and thinking about this subject a whole lot." -madmax

Max, I realise you weren't talking to me with this^, but the same applies with any field---whether one has "a collectivist soul" or not, it takes more than a few readings to be able to really get at the 'meat' of a discipline.Please apply this to your readings in behavioral ecology.

Guys, thanks for your comments. Cheers!

December 30, 2010 6:09 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “Dawson, thanks for giving me a chance to blow off some steam and get some stuff off my chest.”

It’s okay, Frus. Thanks for your input. You’ve written quite a bit, more than I’ll have time to respond to fully. But I do want to react to some of what you’ve posted here.

I asked: "Are you saying] that collectivism and individualism are two sides of the same coin, or something different?"

Frus: “I'm saying both serve adaptive functions, and are subject to factors like a) immediate environmental /climactic [climatic?] conditions b) access to resources as Jared Diamond details in Guns, Germs, and Steel, c) the size of one's population base / respective community size.”

That something “serve[s] adaptive functions” and is “subject to factors” like those which you mention, does not in any way indicate whether or not it is good for man. People living under a dictatorship “adapt” to the situation by living in fear, slavery and inability to trust anyone. So yes, collectivism could be said to “serve adaptive functions,” but it is still unfit for man’s existence, and it should be rejected anywhere it shows its ugly head.

Moreover, by focusing on non-essentials (e.g., “serve adaptive functions” and “subject to factors” as you mention), you ignore the essentials which distinguish individualism and collectivism. The essentials which are ignored are, for example: whether or not man has the right to exist for his own sake; whether or not he has the right to his own property; whether or not he should be institutionally forced to sacrifice himself to others; whether or not man should be free to interact with others consensually as equals, etc. The weather doesn’t determine this.

[Continued…]

December 30, 2010 10:52 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “For example, in smaller communities, or countries like Canada with harsh winters and far-flung cities with populations that are relatively small compared to their counterparts in the U.S., you get a greater predisposition toward collectivism ,and an increased willingness to mix socialist and capitalist principles. In this sense, yes---I think collectivism & individualism are enantiodromic, and mitigate each others' potential drawbacks.”

You seem to be under the impression that a culture’s embrace of collectivism or capitalism is determined by the elements and other environmental factors that just happen to obtain. On such a view, the philosophy which drives the decisions of movers and shakers which shape the culture is of no consequence. Is that really your view?

As for the predisposition to “mix socialist and capitalist principles,” this is like trying to season food with poison and hoping it nourishes the organism which consumes it. Would you knowingly eat it? A mixed economy is precisely what we have in the US, and look how it has stifled wealth creation and resulted in economic stagnation. There’s no reason why we should have a growing entitlement “class” and a shrinking producer “class.” This is resulting from the decisions that law-makers are making, and those decisions are driven by the philosophical premises which they’ve accepted. In Washington, the prevailing attitude is increasingly that all wealth initially belongs to the federal government and allowed to find its way into the individual’s hands (with the provision that it can be confiscated at any moment). The philosophical concept of the individual’s right to property is being systematically destroyed. This is not a cause of environmental factors and the geographical proximity of cities. It’s the result of ideas being put into action. That’s philosophy.

You’ve suggested, however, that individual has “potential drawbacks,” and I was wondering what you think those drawbacks might be. You’ve indicated what you have in mind here:

Frus: “Too much individualism / unfettered Darwinism and you start sacrificing social/economic stability, because..well, in my experience, Objectivists tend to be more conscientious than the average person, and a small minority of the populace ;”

First of all, individualism is not “unfettered Darwinism.” Again, you’re mixing apples and oranges, and it’s not even consistent with other things you’ve stated (where altruistic/collectivistic tendencies have been observed in the wild and have contributed to the survival of “the species”). You seem to think that “too much individualism” will result in “sacrificing social/economic stability.” Why? Because “Objectivists tend to be more conscientious than the average person, and a small minority of the populace.” I don’t see how this would result in “sacrificing social/economic stability.” Indeed, that’s the whole point about capitalism – it’s premised on rational egoism, and no one is institutionally compelled to sacrifice anything, including social/economic stability. The worries you seem to have are in fact answered by capitalism, and only guaranteed by any form of collectivism.

[Continued…]

December 30, 2010 10:53 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “I do see indication that Rand mischaracterizes altruism (Frans de Waal and other primatologists, as well as Bloom, have some interesting theories and research to indicate altruism is alive and well in the animal kingdom). To me this would indicate that altruism isn't the Great Evil that Rand characterizes it to be, but rather a function of loyalty to one's species. I think group selection theory supports this, as well...”

Whether or not altruistic behavior can be observed in the (non-human) animal world, has nothing to do with the validity of Rand’s understanding and assessment of altruism in human society. I would strongly urge you to reconsider looking to the animal world for moral guidance. Animal existence is characterized by constant emergencies – if not actual emergencies, then by the ever-presence of the potential for emergencies. That a chimpanzee in the wild sacrifices itself for his mate, for instance, in no way tells us that altruism is not evil. If you think it does, you need to spell out the argument for this. And I highly doubt that the chimpanzee which sacrifices itself is doing it “for the species.” He has no concept of “species.” Yes, you’re anthropomorphizing while ignoring crucial relevant premises (e.g., man develops an integrated body of conceptual knowledge, chimpanzees in the wild do not) while implying that what is the case in the wild is sufficient by itself to indicate what’s right for man. I reject all of this, Frus.

Frus: “I don't think tribalistic/irrational behavior ingrained over thousands of years vanishes in couple of generations either.”

Man is not a leaf blowing in the wind, Frus. He does not need to be pushed here and there by “environmental factors,” the population of the city he lives in, the distance between his city and the next, the proportion of clay in the soil beneath his feet, the relative humidity in the air that he breathes, the minerals in his drinking water, etc. He has the ability to develop a philosophical guide for his choices and actions, and whatever choices he does make will be based on some philosophical premises that he has accepted, knowingly or unknowingly, and it is here that we need to focus our attention, since philosophy drives human life and civilization, not the weather.

Frus: “And I reject your assertion that this is ‘deterministic, period’ because I don't think you can transcend behavior without first identifying it.”

But we have identified behavior. Behavior is the visible manifestation of an individual’s choices and actions. One chooses the actions he performs according to his code of values, and his code of values is formulated in accordance with the premises he has accepted, about reality, knowledge, human nature, what is good, what is evil, how he should deal with others, etc. What you’ve described is a version of determinism. You’re suggesting that human culture is driven by environmental factors, the weather, whatever the immediate population happens to be, etc., etc., etc. All of this ignores the volitional and conceptual nature of man’s consciousness, and the role of his consciousness in guiding the actions that he performs. Yes, you’re peddling determinism. It is invalid.

[Continued…]

December 30, 2010 10:54 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Madmax: "tell me what your opinion on the non-initiation-of-physical-force premise is...Do you believe that society should force individuals by confiscating their wealth?"

Frus: “I'm okay with my level of taxation (I'm Canadian). I believe that most people aren't as sincere, honorable or well-intentioned as most of the Objectivists I know. So I'm okay with shelling out to support a few deadbeats as long as I'm also supporting people who've just had a recent bad break who need time getting back on their feet, and I'm getting roads/healthcare/schools/parks in return.”

But see, Frus, the way you speak of it here, you act as though you have a choice in the matter. But since your wealth is being confiscated from you whether you like it or not, i.e., by force, you don’t have any choice in the matter. Are you “okay” with that? Do you have a right to your own property, or not? There is no in-between here. If the state has the “right” to confiscate your property – any of it – the implication is unavoidable: you don’t have a right to your own property.

Under capitalism, you have a right to your own property, and no one can violate it. If you want to shell out your wealth to help the shlubs or the “less fortunate” or those who’ve suffered a bad break in life, you’re free to do so.

Frus: “I think having a social safety net keeps more---not all, but more---of the dangerously irrational people [who wouldn't know an epistemology from a hole in the ground, and couldn't care less] from stealing my stuff...;P”

What? Are you kidding? Your government is irrational, and they’re stealing your stuff in broad daylight. Your reasoning is precisely what the extortionists would love to hear: he’ll fork over his wealth to us because he’s under the impression that by doing so he’ll be protected from the next set of thugs. You’d be better off with the help of Smith & Wesson. It makes a great equalizer.

Frus: “From here, it appears the argument that you are in effect making is that the majority of the population is as reasonable, nonviolent, thoughtful, productive, well-educated and/or well-intentioned as you.”

Generally, in my experience, most people (by far) I’ve encountered in life are very live and let live. If they live in a culture, however, which sanctions irrational behavior by rewarding it (as we have in America – many examples come to mind), then you’re going to see more and more irrational behavior. If the prevailing culture resists rewarding irrational behavior and encourages rational behavior, as would be the case in a nation of free individuals (none of whom are institutionally forced to support those who make poor decisions for their lives), you’ll find that the vast majority will take a greater interest in protecting their own values, starting with their lives, and thinking more long-range about their choices and actions.

[Continued…]

December 30, 2010 10:55 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “Also there's a presupposition that most people have the luxury of free time---or the natural predisposition----to consciously and thoroughly evaluate their epistemologies the way Objectivism recommends.”

Frus, we all have the same amount of time as the next person, until we die. We all have the capacity to choose what to do with our time. Some choose to absorb themselves in their work; some choose to absorb themselves in a football game; some choose to absorb themselves in the realm of ideas. Generally speaking, we all face the same fundamental alternative – life vs. death, existence vs. non-existence, and have the same fundamental choice: to think or evade thinking. In this regard, we all have the same starting point. What an individual does with the situation he’s in is ultimately up to him.

Frus: “most people are too busy just trying to get by to take the time to analyze their attitudes in the way Objectivism/ good critical thinking skills/ active participation in shaping and maintaining responsible government demand..”

I’ve been busy all my life trying to get by, and yet look at how much time I’ve devoted to the “software” of my mind. It can be done. But no one’s going to force it on another. Some don’t want to think. I’ve known many people who have stated as much. It’s a choice, though. That’s what needs to be acknowledged here.

Frus: “That said...NONE of the politicians I know are as well-intentioned as most of the Objectivists I know”

That doesn’t surprise me. But what do you think is so ill-intentioned on the part of the politicians you know? What makes their intentions something other than good?

Frus: “....which again leads me to beg & prod Objectivists to stop hashing out semantic minutiae amongst themselves and get more actively involved in public debates”

I’m just a kid from the California countryside. I grew up cleaning up after horses and running around cow pastures. And I’m putting myself out there for any comer. If Lehrer or Bloom want to engage me, here I am.

Perhaps you’d enjoy PJTV. See here: www.pjtv.com. Yaron Brook is a frequent contributor there.

[Continued…]

December 30, 2010 10:58 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Frus: “For most of history, DID exist, HAVE existed and prospered, via "not playing fair", "employing brute force / outright slavery" &"legislating parasitism of one form or another"----? that is, after all, our history as a species---yes.”

The question is: Are force, slavery, injustice, institutionalized parasitism, etc. proper for man? Objectivism says no, regardless of what some people have actually done. Indeed, any examination of human history only underscores that these factors are hostile to human life.

Frus: “I do see an indication that if any behavior shows itself to be advantageous, 60-85% of humans won't care if it's ethical if they're benefiting from it unless they have to worry about their actions being censured by society or face fear of incarceration.”

In other words, 60-85% don’t have the self-respect that ethical living requires, they’ll take the unearned when given the chance, that as long as they can get away with it, they’ll resort to unethical actions. I’m not sure how you came up with your figures, but the validity of your assessment depends on your definitions. What do you mean by “ethical”? Do you think most people would resort to stealing if they could get away with it? Where do they see such behavior modeled, if not by your own government? Look how much stealing they’re getting away with everyday! And as for seeking the unearned, don’t you think that a culture’s prevailing philosophy has something to do with this? Christianity is a prime culprit here. It systematically enshrines the unearned as an integral part of its doctrines of sin and redemption.

I asked: "Again, more questions. For one, what exactly is your argument for this?"

Frus: “Lehrer's How We Decide..Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle*. I won't argue that either are working from as large a sample as I'd like, because they aren't.”

Frus, I frankly don’t have time to devour every source you mention in order to (hopefully) piece together whatever argument you might have in mind for a position which prima facie appears to be completely false (namely the view that “when we're not ‘rational’, there are rational reasons for it”). I was hoping you could present the reasoning you have in mind for this right here.

Frus: “What I would argue is that I don't hear enough Objectivists discussing the implications of their work.”

There are numerous discussion forums on the net, plus some fascinating periodicals (e.g., The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies) where Objectivists tackle all kinds of current issues. Have you tried looking there, or are you expecting them to come knocking on your door?

Regards,
Dawson

December 30, 2010 10:59 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

Frus is Canadian!? Whaddaya tawwkin' aboot!? So am I! I guess the cold weather and the sparse population didn't instill the collectivism in me so much, eh?

In fact, I've read Dr. Michael Bliss (great Canadian historian) state that the harsh weather and less urbanization is the reason "rugged individualism" is the essence of Canadas national character and that socialized medicine is such an anathema to the facts of Canadian history.

I'm also a reg. nurse, very much aware, first hand, of the corrupt nature of this system. then again, I work with the elderly with multiple comorbidities whom tend to be at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to funding/rationing compared to some the more high profile and politically appealing areas such as cardiac and cancer specialties, especially in the Toronto area where I live.

December 30, 2010 3:35 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Frus,

First, I am sorry to hear of your illness. Best of luck with your health in the new year.

Next, you have given many arguments from the perspective of what I call the "evolutionary critique of Rand." I am not going to go into this in detail except to say that I do think that Objectivism needs to field serious evolutionary scholars and address the evolutionary criticisms of Laissez-faire, individualism, reason, egoism. The group selection stuff is case in point. I think it is wrong, but it is ubiquitous.

Also, when evolutionary scientists argue for "reciprocal altruism", too often this is taken to argue for ethical altruism. But every time I investigate what they mean by "altruism" I find that it is better described as "reciprocal cooperation." Nothing I have read suggests that ethical altruism is hard-wired into the human genome.

Lastly, your constant argument that laissez-faire requires everyone to be perfect moral angels is a common one. It is usually made by Conservatives who believe in and are desperate to defend Original Sin. Laissez-faire does not require either the "rational actor" or the "morally perfect citizen". Both of these arguments are variants of determinism. A proper critique of them would take to long but I do think that some Objectivist scholar needs to address them because they are way too common.

Lastly, with all due respect Frus, Drew was right about you. The fact that you so blithely accept taxation and the welfare state indicates to me that you never understood Rand's philosophy on the deepest level. To be blunt, you have a collectivist soul. You "never got Rand" on the epistemological level. That is why you are so quick to accept the arguments of the evolutionary determinists/collectivists.

I will read the sources you cite because I have an interest in this subject. But they will provide me with noting that I haven't seen already.

December 31, 2010 7:38 PM  
Blogger madmax said...

Dawson,

Thank you for the excellent critique of Frus' arguments. You exhibited excellent epistemological methodology by asking questions which are crucial for Frus' positions.

Frus is heavily influenced by evolutionary theory. When evolutionary theorists stay in the realm of biology and related fields they do much good. However, when they enter the fields of psychology or politics, they do much damage. They end up championing determinism and collectivism. I have seen this over and over. In fact, their materialism/reductionism/determinism is one of the main reasons why Conservatives reject evolution. I must admit I am somewhat sympathetic towards the theist that reads nothing but deterministic and materialist man-diminishing stuff from evolutionary theorists that he ends up either being distrustful of evolution or rejecting it entirely.

If you believe that the species has primacy, as most evolutionary theorists do, then you will have no problem sacrificing the individual for the welfare of the species. That is Frus' view.

As I say, Objectivism needs evolutionary scholars of their own that go into the social sciences and challenge all the collectivist and deterministic premises of today's academy. In time, I have no doubt that this will happen. If we have time that is. With the rate of economic deterioration we are seeing I wonder how much time we have.

December 31, 2010 8:11 PM  
Blogger Vagon said...

If you believe that the species has primacy, as most evolutionary theorists do, then you will have no problem sacrificing the individual for the welfare of the species. That is Frus' view.

I'm not sure you have the correct view here. Its my understanding that the gene (however one is to define that) takes primacy over the species. Evolution says the gene that reproduces successfully is the "fittest" and not necessarily a good thing for the species.

Can someone direct me to a good discussion of determinisms faults from the Objectivist perspective?

January 04, 2011 6:55 PM  
Blogger actionjackson864 said...

hello everyone, came here to vent. I posted a video response, citing Dawson to "atheist logic" by Chad Williams (rationalresponder) on youtube, and I began to post pretty regularly on his blog.

His rules on both his blog and youtube channel were:
bout Me:

" If you use foul language it will be deleted and you will be blocked, its really not necessary and I have opened up my comments to be allowed without approval because a lot of atheists have complained about the "approval setting." I started using the "approval setting" because if you could imagine people were began writing foul thing...It hasn't happened in a little while now so I would like to say for the rest of your fellow atheist's sakes don't use foul language or else I will put the "approval setting" back on. Honest open-minded Criticism is perfectly fine. Just don't swear or blaspheme...I think that is reasonable. "

I did not swear, I did not even "blaspheme", the holiest of holy dieties. yet, he accused me of "spamming" and I have been blocked now, both from his blog http://www.streetapologetics.com and from his presup youtube Ray Comfort channel.

Wasnt it Van Til that said: "The Reformed apologist throws down the gauntlet and chal-ages his opponent to a duel of life and death from the start. He does not first travel in the same direction and in the same automobile with the natural man for some distance in order then mildly to suggest to the driver that they ought perhaps to change their course somewhat and follow a road that goes at a different slant from the one they are on. The Reformed apologist knows that there is but one way to the truth and that the natural man is travelling it, but in the wrong direction.” that would be a YES it was Van Til.

you know, they preach and preach about God, Van Til, and Bahnsen ( the holy trinity of presuppers) and how they are going to "throw down the gauntlet" , yet when an atheist who knows just a smidgen about Bahnsen and Van Til, and what fraud's they are, they dont throw down the gauntlet and attack head on, they throw down the gauntlet, and run to the hills, like a great Iron Maiden hit.

ugh, what a joke

January 05, 2011 6:07 PM  
Blogger Mark D. said...

Nice post picking apart Geoffrey James's ridiculousness. And articulate as well. I did the same thing on my blog, with a couple of differences in perspective. I think you might enjoy it.
http://marksskewedview.blogspot.com/

April 21, 2011 8:40 AM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

I'm posting here on this older thread because I thought this might be a good place for it.

Maybe you've seen it already, but Peter Schwartz has published an excellent new op/ed piece over on Forbes, "Why Is The Tea Party 'Extremist,' But Democratic Support For Big Government 'Moderate'?" The comments under the article are quite interesting also, with Binswanger chiming in a few times.

Here's the link:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/11/why-is-the-tea-party-extremist-but-democratic-support-for-big-government-moderate/#./?&_suid=138428134958507345991412717091

Ydemoc

November 12, 2013 10:37 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Ydemoc,

Thanks for sharing this link. I haven't read all the comments, but the article is excellent. I hadn't seen this before, so thanks again for sending it.

Here's a hyperlink to the article:

Why Is The Tea Party 'Extremist,' But Democratic Support For Big Government 'Moderate'? - by Peter Schwartz

Regards,
Dawson

November 12, 2013 2:21 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

My pleasure. I probably wouldn't even have known it was out there, if not for the email updates I get from ARI.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ydemoc

November 12, 2013 6:21 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

I didn't want to post "off-topic" on your most recent entry (Waliking on Water -- excellent, by the way), so I thought this would be the most appropriate place to post the following.

It's a Salon article that was apparently published today, and the title of it is hardly surprising, Here it is along with subheading and link:

Bernie Sanders is Ayn Rand’s worst nightmare: He’s changing how we view socialism — and exposing free market parasites

Conservatives have long wielded "socialism" as a pejorative -- but Sanders owns it and is transforming politics

http://www.salon.com/2015/10/08/bernie_sanders_is_ayn_rands_worst_nightmare_hes_changing_how_we_view_socialism_and_exposing_free_market_parasites/

----------------

There are so many things wrong with not only the title of the article ("worst nightmare"!?!?) but also the article itself. I tried to sign on to write a few comments, but had trouble doing so (signing on, that is).

Anyway, I thought I'd bring this to your attention, just in case wanted to sign on and post a comment or two yourself.

A good rebuttal title might be: Ayn Rand is B.S.'s Worst Nightmare. Or: B.S. Will Always Be A Nightmare - For Everyone,

Crazy stuff.

Ydemoc

October 08, 2015 9:00 PM  

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