Friday, September 08, 2006

To Think Or Not To Think?

From ARCHN, Chapter 1,'Theory Of Human Nature:

...According to Objectivism, man's capacity to choose stems from a "primary choice" which, because it presupposes "all other choices and is itself irreducible," cannot "be explained by anything more fundamental"(1991, 57). What is this "primary choice" ? Leonard Peikoff describes it as "the choice to focus one's consciousness.""Until a man is in focus" Peikoff goes on to explain, "his mental machinery is unable to function in the human sense - to think, judge, or evaluate. The choice to 'throw the switch' is thus the root choice, on which all the others depend...By its nature, it is a first cause within a consciousness, not an effect produced by antecedent factors. It is not a product of parents or teachers, anatomy or conditioning, hereditry or environment...In short it is invalid to ask: why did a man choose to focus? There is no such 'why'. There is only the fact that a man chose: he chose the effort of consciousness, or he chose non-effort and unconsciousness. In this regard, every man at every waking moment is a prime mover."(1)

There are so many questionable statements in this passage I am not sure where to begin...(ARCHN, 13)


Nyquist's right: where do you start with stuff like this? Obviously there's its reliance on one of those handy, all-purpose Platonic/Aristotelian 'first causes' to set human consciousness in motion. Of course, appeals to mysterious 'first causes' can either be phrased as either simple expressions of our ignorance in the face of an incredibly complex problem, or more typically, as philosophic platitudes which pretend to explain, but really tell you nothing. Objectivism opts for the latter.

While I do not doubt that something like 'conscious choice' exists, and that its workings are very mysterious, the Objectivist position offers no special insight into why or how. Further, it seems to wildly overstate the range of its action. "Man, according to Objectivism, is not moved by factors outside of his control. He is a volitional being, who functions freely." Peikoff writes. This is a typical overstatement. Of course we are moved by factors outside of our control every moment. Further, if we have been making 'integrations' since our every waking moment we have had no choice but to be 'moved' by vastly important 'factors outside of our control'. For example, the language we are brought up to speak, the culture we are embedded in, the psychological and genetic traits we learn and inherit from our families. Because they are so deeply embedded, these influences become very difficult to even see objectively, let alone cheerfully program, deprogram and reprogram at will. A simple example is an accent. No-one even notices their own accent; it only becomes evident when contrasted with other people with different ones. And consider how difficult it is to change your accent, how much immense effort would be required to eliminate it fully and permanently. And this is something relatively trivial, without anything like the depth and complexity of changing say a psychological disposition.

Needless to say, with their lack of what Nyquist calls 'empirical responsibility' Peikoff and Rand don't seriously consider - or even suggest - basic counterexamples to their arguments. Peikoff argues that the choice 'to think or not to think' cannot be influenced by anything external:not "parents or teachers, anatomy or conditioning, hereditry or environment." What, not even by reading "Atlas Shrugged"?! Think about it: this means that the person makes the decision 'to think' based on nothing but the indefinable workings of their own mysterious 'selves'.

Obviously there is much hairsplitting that can be done over the word 'think', but seems clear enough what Peikoff means: to focus your mind, to expend effort thinking. And it is true that we often walk through the world in a bit of a dream, not really paying full attention, not really 'using our heads' as the saying goes. Yet it is also quite obvious that in reality, people can be taught by other people to think; they can be trained to focus their attention, to think logically, to judge, to evaluate; and they can personally discover the rewards of this, even if they are reluctant students at first. They can be brought up in households where debate is encouraged, in families, societies and environments which are stimulating and in intellectual traditions that are challenging rather than dogmatic. Physically, they can be properly nourished, and genetically may have more intellectual temperaments. Surely this will result in more 'thinkers' than the opposite situations? Yet according to Peikoff, these factors should make absolutely no difference - we should get exactly the same amount of 'thinkers' regardless. If Peikoff is right, we should find just as many intellectually able kids neglected in a Romanian orphanange as in a typical Western school. But this is hardly the case.

So Peikoff gives us what is really an absurd exaggeration of the situation, and once again illustrates the danger - and laziness - of relying on antique pedantry like 'first causes' and not testing your rationalisations against reality. Appeals to 'first causes' tells us about as much about human consciousness as they do in physics; that is, nothing.

1. "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", 50-60

23 comments:

Mark Plus said...

Rand had this huge blind spot regarding the biological realities of human life. She clearly felt uncomfortable with the fact that women in the real world tend to have babies, and that men have to work their butts off to support them instead of spending the money on themselves. And she also felt uncomfortable with the fact that many adults' parents can live on for a few decades, often well past their productive years. (My mother and her mother both draw Social Security and Medicare, for example.) Look at how Rand has some of the protagonists in Atlas conveniently inherit their respective family businesses in their early 20's, contrasted with the way she portrays Hank Rearden's misfortune of having his mother still around in his 40's. A philosophy that doesn't address the problems of motherhood, childhood and senescence can hardly claim to tell men and women how to live on earth.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mark writes:
>Rand had this huge blind spot regarding the biological realities of human life.

Hi Mark,

Boy, is 'Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature' ever the book for you...;-) You've read it? If not, this is very much the tack Nyquist takes. If it is truly a 'philosophy for living on earth', how come her views are so unrealistic? The way Rand tried to avoid this criticism is purely rhetorical; when Howard Roark was criticised as being not particularly human, she replied that he was actually the the only real 'human' in the book. It's a form of word-game that runs consistently throughout her work. Gradually, reality gets replaced by rhetoric. I recall someone once remarking upon leaving a hyped-up Objectivist conference, "Now, back to unreality". This opposites-day inversion sums up what I think is the central problem with her work.

Mark Plus said...

I read Nyquist's book a couple years ago. I doubt it has reached many in its intended Randroid audience.

For amusement you might also look up The Age of Rand: Imagining an Objectivist Future World, by Frederick Cookinham. "Imagining" sounds about right, because modern neuroscience trashes traditional philosophical beliefs (including Rand's) about how the mind works.

Getting back to Atlas, however, recently it struck me how it reads almost as if Rand anticipated "Peak Oil" theorists who warn that we've blown out the planet's carrying capacity thanks to fossil fuels. As I recall, Galt says something to the effect that he could save everyone by introducing his "free energy" invention into the mixed economy, but he preferred to let a Malthusian dieoff happen so that he could repopulate a nearly empty country with people more in line with his philosophical standards. But Galt never explains where these new people come from, because heterosexual copulation apparently never leads to pregnancy in the Objectiverse.

Mike Huben said...

The closest thing life has to a purpose is reproduction, not survival. Rand failed at both. Yup, her notions of biology were pretty weak.

Michael Prescott said...

One of the (many) problems with Rand's system is that she greatly exaggerates the importance of thinking. I know this seems counterintuitive, but consider how much of our thinking consists of a) rationalizing behavior we would engage in anyway, or post-hoc rationalizing of behavior we've already performed; b) rehashing old arguments, complaints, fantasies, etc.; c) stream-of-consciousness rumination on miscellaneous trivia.

There's a reason why traditions like Buddhism train the student to go beyond the need for thought. It's not that thinking isn't valuable, even vital, when used productively. It's just that so often we don't use it productively. Instead it becomes a distraction, distancing us from the world of direct perception all around us. We end up "living in our head" - like Ayn Rand.

The ability to quiet the mind, turn off the chatter, and just experience the moment can lead to insights that linear, methodical thinking can never achieve.

Daniel Barnes said...

I think this is a good point. My wife, who does adventure-racing, calls this kind of thinking 'monkey chatter'. It actually undermines you when you're trying to focus on something, or making a huge physical effort like running a race. Its very hard to switch off however. Once you do, it's suddenly very liberating, exhilarating even. But it's hard to sustain that clarity.

Interestingly, Rand had a term which I suspect applies to this mental state: being in "full focus". I'm sure she must have experienced it herself. That sense of intense confidence and certainty which sometimes accompanies it shines out of some of the better parts of her writing.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mark:
>As I recall, Galt says something to the effect that he could save everyone by introducing his "free energy" invention into the mixed economy, but he preferred to let a Malthusian dieoff happen...

Rings a bell, I will look it up.

Michael Hardesty said...

You guys are engaging in a battle of nonsequiturs here that a moment's introspection should cure.
So at any given time that I'm not asleep I could be said to be focussing if only in the sense of
being awake. But there is focus and there is focus.....if the boss
comes to me with a project he wants
done by such a time, I go into a much deeper focus than when I'm casually reading the paper while drinking coffee.
The whole nut of Greg's book as I wrote him in 2002 is that Rand is impossible because her views and characters are statistically abnormal. So what ? There's nothing
in metaphysical nature that rules out her views or her type of people. We are only talking about human culture which is malleable
and adaptable. That Rand didn't
indulge the 50s fetish for kids
is no strike against her. It wasn't
her bag and now the economy is getting ready to sink when all these boomer bastards retire....
joy, oh, joy ! That doesn't mean she hated kids but she did LOVE
cats, of which no better thing could be said. We decided to have
cats, not kids and never have regretted the decision. Why should Rand have to tell how you how to wipe your ass in your old age, can't you figure it out for yourself ! And Marky, how would featuring an old folks home add to
Atlas Shrugged ??????????????
Rearden's mom was a nothing minor
character like Taggart's priest or Eddie or Lillian Rearden who could
be eliminated without any damage to
my tv series. I have to tell you, Daniel, that Greg's book is faulty
right at its premise, nothing personal, he seems like a nice guy
in comparison with Walker, Ellis, Dwyer, the Lew Rockwell crowd, ARI,
the Brandens, Baker and the other anti-Rand nuts but his human nature
statistical mediocrities must rule
axiom fails. I can see why he hates
Roark, Galt, et al. But I can't sympathize with it.
Michael P's comment here is crazy,
just crazy off the wall buddha mindfuck.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>The whole nut of Greg's book...is that Rand is impossible because her views and characters are statistically abnormal...(this) is faulty right at its premise...his human nature statistical mediocrities must rule axiom fails.

I see what you're getting at. I'm not convinced that Nyquist's argument is equivalent to "statistical mediocrity rules" however. I will explain why below.

>There's nothing in metaphysical nature that rules out her views or her type of people. We are only talking about human culture which is malleable
and adaptable.

Obviously Nyquist disagrees with you here. To step back, for a moment we can divide what is loosely called "human nature" into two separate and hotly debated parts: the "cultural" part and the "natural" part.

If I understand you correctly in your statement above, you are arguing that creating a future society of Roarks and Galts is effectively an issue of changing the culture - that underneath the burden of obsolete past culture lies the "true" nature of man, and that once that is swept away, such heroes as Rand portrays will be the rule, not the exception.

Greg argues, to the contrary, that this idea is fundamentally Utopian, and is no different from the leftist Utopian vision - as the Marxists used to say, "under the cobblestones, the beach", with 'true' man born naturally free yet everywhere held in artificial cultural chains. This view he regards as having a grain of truth but for the most part misguided. Not that I want to put words in his mouth, but my take on Nyquist is that he thinks that in fact that part of what we call 'human nature' which is attributable to culture, and is thus similarly adaptable, is rather small in comparison to that which is attributable to nature. If this is the case, then Utopian expectations are foolish, even dangerous, as they may lead to destructive radicalism. Further, even if culture was the dominant component of 'human nature', the project of changing a culture is so vast the architect of this new design faces an impossible task, equivalent to the problem of central planning in economics. For they soon will find that, as the chief transmitter of culture, even language itself must be changed! (The modern cultural Marxists have found themselves at this juncture in their project for social transformation with what is called "political correctness." There is, in my view, a similar correlation with Rand's attempts to redefine certain words, and other more junior league efforts to rewrite the dictionary such as here:
http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Dictionary.html. Both the Marxists and the Objectivists are still stuck in Aristotle's mistake, as Popper strikingly argues. But that is another story...;-))

Further, there is the logical issue of how this culture repressive of man's 'true' nature emerge in the first place - for most surely it was invented by men! Rand offers the idea that evildoers - Attillas and Witchdoctors, who are perhaps not 'true' humans - are responsible. Nyquist thinks this is a fairy story. He thinks that humans are a mixture of good and evil qualities - even that good qualities can be paired with bad ones, or even become bad ones if taken to far - and that our animal heritage and drives cannot be so easily retrofitted. Thus our culture must be a byproduct of our nature, not something imposed externally upon it. Hence your Howard Roarks and John Galts cannot be manufactured via cultural correction. They are creatures of Rand's imagination, rationalisations which simply don't have any empirical support.

Now you can argue that perhaps there are exceptions to the rule, that there are perhaps people like Roark and Galt out there somewhere, that they are possible if highly unlikely. And if Rand had restricted herself to 'possible, but highly unlikely', then there would be room for some agreement. But she went further than that - she tried to say that remotely possible exceptions should be the rule. And then tried to say that this philosophy was a way of dealing with reality, with living on earth - when in fact such creatures as Roark and Galt had never walked it!

This is the nub of Greg's argument, and I believe it is a powerful one.

Michael Hardesty said...

Well, obviously, there are and can be people like Roark or Galt and to
some degree Rand met them and was inspired by them. What they are is a consistent application of her principles and there's nothing to say that they are metaphysically impossible. I have met people including her husband who had some
or even many characteristics of these hero types.
Everything that you haven't personally seen could be labelled
as a product of the imagination,
as if any of us has ever begun to
see all the empirical evidence in the world.
Don't even get me started on this nature v. nurture dichotomy, the fact that both are highly intertwined and we haven't a clue
as to which influences which more.
In fact since everything is part of nature, including nurture, how do we make that distinction ?
Morality and intelligence are not precisely inherited characteristics like say baldness.
Bottom line Greg's argument is that
he's never anyone like this so they can't exist.
You know what I think of that logic.....
Also I don't agree with inherited
characteristics of good and evil,
I think those are made by the individual regardless of environment. I don't recall Rand saying Galt and Roark would be the norm but rather the ideal to which people can aspire to. It's a far more achievable ideal than the christian god or the standards of
"perfection' set by religions.
I don't see Aristotle's mistake at
all, so I don't understand your
recycled Poperism here.
As for the Marxist comparison, that's a standard conservative smear going back to Chambers.
It's based on conservatives religious cum fascistic view
of "lower" human nature.
I totally reject it.

Michael Hardesty said...

Two typos above, meant to put "seen" between "never" and
"anyone" when discussing Greg's argument and left off one "p"
in Popperism.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>Don't even get me started on this nature v. nurture dichotomy, the fact that both are highly intertwined and we haven't a clue as to which influences which more.

Yes, it's a biggie alright. But we can make a few educated guesses. Based on the current empiricals it looks like biology pretty much dominates. And of course it is logically primary, for what that's worth.

>In fact since everything is part of nature, including nurture, how do we make that distinction ?

Perhaps it's less confusing to call it "biology" vs "culture". And clearly the two interact: a marriage ceremony has a biological basis, for example.

>I don't recall Rand saying Galt and Roark would be the norm but rather the ideal to which people can aspire to.

Well the situation is not clear. On the one hand she seems to think there are "the folks next door" who will never be a Roark or a Galt. This seems to be an argument from biological type (ie: someone with a biological disposition towards certain talents or certain personality traits), as it could hardly be a cultural issue. On the other hand if this is the case, calling for a change of culture as she does is pretty much a waste of time, as this will not change biology across any time scale we humans can imagine. The number of Roarks biology tosses up will remain about the same. So it's not entirely clear what her position is here.

>As for the Marxist comparison, that's a standard conservative smear going back to Chambers. It's based on conservatives religious cum fascistic view of "lower" human nature.

No, I think it runs deeper than that, tho the conservatives did fear godless libertarians as much as godless communists ! But never mind it for now.

Michael Hardesty said...

We're in a more conservative time so the Bell Curve kind of thinking is coming more to the fore. I have
to tell you that I'm as critical or doubtful of that as I am the previously prevalent liberal environmentalism. Both taken to
their reductio ad absurdums leave
no free agency at all. I think it's
a much more interactive process over time and I think the dualism
here is invalid or greatly exaggerated.
I have to confess the one part of Atlas I found still irritating after the 18th reading in 45 years
last spring is her treatment of Francisco and how he seemingly
effortlessly does everything. She
always regarded the effort involved one of the criteria for rewards including the billions allegedly "earned" by the top capitalists, a proposition
I've always been skeptical of, yet
this spoiled little intercontinental inherited wealth
prick does everything effortlessly ! Now that at least APPEARS to me to be a contradiction. I met her several times but forgot to ask her this.
I disagree with you about the rapidity of a cultural change, just the changes I've seen for better and worse since 1960 disprove that eons of time stale
conservative "you can't change human nature" nonargument.
Totally off subject, I see you're from New Zealand. Are you familiar with Perigo and Bayne and those
SOLO guys ? How about Jim Peron ?
I knew him 20 years ago here in SF
(I live in Oakland) and he was into NAMBLA then, owned the libertarian bookstore in SF. I take
it you are partial to Anglo linguistic analysis too ?
Ever read Brand Blanshard's Reason and Analysis ? He was an Anglophile but demolished analysis. Antony Flew is such a fanatic linguistic analyst that he
said ALL philosophy is that !
Clarity Is Not Enough is good volume edited by Blanshard I believe or he's a contributor
that came out in the 50s critiquing
analysis.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>Both taken to their reductio ad absurdums leave
no free agency at all.

I think the sociological determinisms of both left and right are vague enough not to really worry about at this point. They are examples of the social sciences trying to mimic the precision achieved in physics since Newton. But of course they have nothing like the predictive power of the quadratic equations, so are not in fact real problems for some degree of free agency (after we are all determinists to some degree!). The hard problem is strict physical determinism, not the weak sociological versions. This is often not well understood, and continues to be the crux of the mind/body problem. But I digress.

>this spoiled little intercontinental inherited wealth
prick does everything effortlessly !

Well, it is fiction...;-)

>Are you familiar with Perigo and Bayne and those
SOLO guys ? How about Jim Peron ?

Yes I spent several years debating on Solo before I was finally shown the exit...;-) I learned a lot - even made some Objectivist friends there, oddly. I also worked out most of my basic criticisms there, and road-tested them, so I'm happy that they're actually pretty sound. Unlike Greg, whose work is comprehensive, my main line of argument is narrowly directed at her epistemology, which consists of a number of fallacies in my view. I haven't really got around to addressing these on this site yet - been a bit busy lampooning Valliant and monitoring the genocidal outbursts from the ARI - but no doubt I will. It will save me having to write them out repeatedly in comments! Rand's 'absolute precision' argument is actually one of my standard examples, as it is quite simple to see how it is merely 'playing with words' if you think it through. (Now, I know you disagree, but I invite you to at step back for a moment and at least seriously consider this possibility). Further, I argue that this mistaken argument, far from being a trivial off-the-cuff error on Rand's part, is actually logically equivalent to her whole theory of 'contextual certainty'. Thus its apparent simplicity as an example is deceptive. It actually cuts deep. But I digress again).

I don't know Jim Peron, other than the controversy.

>I take it you are partial to Anglo linguistic analysis too ?

No, we Popperians are not down with the L.A. scene at all. We consider philosophical approaches that reduce to arguments over the meaning of words to being fundamentally mistaken. What is important is debating statements, proposals, arguments, and problems.

(to anticipate a common counter argument, yes statements consist of words. But words in turn consist of letters, and no-one would dream of arguing over the meaning of those!)

But I digress yet again, so I'd better leave it there for now!

Michael Hardesty said...

Thanks for your response. I thought
Branden's The Contradiction of Determinism was quite good and still do. I wasn't too impressed by
Bill Dwyer's alleged refutation even to the extent that I understood it. I think determinism applies in the physical universe but humans are not predestined to make any particular choice. The
term free "will' might be unfortunate but I believe we do have free agency. I fundamentally
disagree with you about the Valliant book, I'm sure he's a horrible statist Randroid politically, else how could he be
an asst District Atty enforcing anti-drug laws, mental commitment laws, absurd statutory rape laws, three strikes laws and all the other horrors we have on the books here in California. THAT bothers me, not his overdue debunking of the Branden liars. So why did SOLO give you the boot ? They tried
censoring me late last Spring on
RoR, offshoot of SOLO on the Mideast and I insisted they close my account. Jack Lord has been on there this week making some great points though he was viciously attacked by Ethan Dawes who had to apologize for his over the top comments.
I just rediscovered the late Mortimer Adler's The Radical Academy site and have made hundreds of pages of downloads from
its philosophical critiques section. They are Thomist-Aristotelian Critical Realists,
close in lots of ways to Objectivism but with a difference. Kris Martinsen tells me that Peikoff's DIM hypothesis can be played for free at the ARI site.
I might check it out.
Thanks for the clarification on Popperians and LA.
What's the best anti-Popper site ? Or printed works ?
I wasn't impressed with Greg's book, ordered it and read it in 2002. We had a brief exchange.
Now I'm more interested in your focussing in on the contextual certainty issue, need to reread AR here. With her everything was contextual and what is wrong with
that ? Most people are way too quick to drop context. She tended
to use words precisely. Of course,
I have my own bones to pick with her, which differ from yours. But
I'm willing to consider your issues too. Is this your website ?
Or Greg's ?
Prescott published something else on Rand, found it even less impressive than Greg's, had one go around with him but not here.
So how did you get into philosophy ? And Popper ? He
seems to be one of these old farts
like Isiah Berlin whom everyone quotes and nobody reads.
From your next to last sentence, you seemed to be influenced by Wittgenstein ? Is that true ?
Hospers was very much, he used to
ramble about "doing" philosophy,
whatever that means ! More later.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>I thought Branden's The Contradiction of Determinism was quite good and still do. I wasn't too impressed by Bill Dwyer's alleged refutation even to the extent that I understood it...

I have not read the Branden piece, but I do recall Bill Dwyer's theory about determinism. It seemed to me to be a simple case of begging the question, so I was not impressed. I do however agree with Dwyer's criticism of the ARI's Peter Schwartz's recent silly attempt to rewrite the rules of logic!

>What's the best anti-Popper site ? Or printed works ?

There aren't really any 'anti-Popper' sites as such. I suppose you could count the David Stove site but it is basically moribund these days, and Stove's attacks on Popper are basically absurd if you know anything about his work (tho people who don't are often impressed). The best criticisms of Popper are usually by his students - David Miller, for example, destroyed Popper's beloved theory of verisimilitude. Bill Bartley dealt to his famous demarcation criterion - ultimately improving the situation with regard to Poppers other theories (Popper was most unhappy with Bartley for some time however!). Just to compare this attitude with Objectivism for a moment, can you imagine Peikoff destroying, say, Rand's theory of concept formation...;-)?

So I would read Miller and Bartley first. Many critics of Popper are exactly as you describe: everyone quotes him and nobody really reads him, so the criticism is not usually very good. There is a cliche in Popperian circles about critics that allegedly "find the key point that Popper missed".That point, and Popper's answer to it is usually within the first hundred pages of 'The Logic Of Scientific Discovery', but the critic never got that far! The Nick Dykes article is case in point; a veteran academic on my Critical Rationalism list - apparently he even gave Dykes his first Ayn Rand book! - could not believe Dykes could write so much and stil miss the point so utterly.

Feyerabend, Kuhn and Lakatos all diss Popper, but I don't find them at all convincing. If you do find any good anti-Popper sites I would be most interested.

>From your next to last sentence, you seemed to be influenced by Wittgenstein ?

No, Popper is the anti-Wittgenstein as I'm sure you've heard from their famous stoushes.

>Is this your website ?

Yes, but Greg has full access to it, and posts what he wants. I was actually a bit bored with Objectivism, but I felt - unlike you - Greg's book was neglected unjustly. Silly reviews like Fred Seddon's made me think a small corrective was required. But it's not a big part of my life, more like an occasional interest and challenge.

Michael Hardesty said...

Is Stove out of Australia ? Seem to recall looking at his site two years ago on the recommendation of
someone in Sydney.
I haven't seen Dwyer on Schwartz but I'm not a Schwartz fan, thought his broadside 23 years ago against libertarianism was way off base and wasted time writing him about it at length. Thanks for the
recommendations.
Jack Lord has had some interesting
recent exchanges with Dwyer on the RoR site. Jack was playing devil's advocate and presenting a welfare
state, mixed economy, social democratic view. I think Rand's weakest area is actually the politics though I'll reread ITOE on
your recommendation.
Check out ARI Watch, good critiques of those fascists from a
real objectivist perspective.
I have plenty of problems with Kuhn and Feyerabend myself. Heard
of Lakatos but have not read him.
Fred Seddon, I've heard of but can't recall if I read him. Maybe
he's been on lew rockwell.com.
So how did you get into Sir Karl ?
I take it your self-educated, as I am. How did you get into Rand ?
How's living in New Zealand ? Met
an Objectivist from there in 1979
in Nicaragua, think he was chair of the Liberal Party on North Island.
Check out The Radical Academy site,
Adler was an interesting guy, both
a professional and a popular philosopher, he actually started the Great Books series before WW2
at the U of Chicago.

Daniel Barnes said...

>Jack Lord has had some interesting
recent exchanges with Dwyer on the RoR site.

The man is clearly a troublemaker...;-)

>I'll reread ITOE on your recommendation.

No hurry. I know it's only supposed to be an outline, etc, but my question is: how good are even these 'outline' arguments when you actually work through them, thinking them out for yourself. As I think I show by my other analysis, her initial explanation of how concepts are formed turns out to be merely a restatement of the Law of Identity, a well known logical rule. Rand's own contributions to it either 1) violate it or 2) are redundant to it.

I hold that most of the arguments that follow this are not much better, where there are arguments at all (much is merely asserted, albeit with much rhetorical force). That's why I asked if anyone could cite some good arguments (that are original to Rand) from the ITOE that I may have overlooked. There may well be some.

Another example of a fundamental fallacy, if you are about to re-read the ITOE, is her belief that the dreaded vagueness, not-quite-ness, in-between-ness etc of "other philosophies" can be avoided by mathematicising concepts; that is, treating them algebraically. This, she seems to think, will give them a similar precision to mathematics.

But this is simply an error because words are not the same as numbers. Numbers achieve their precision at the cost of their content, which is almost zero. Words, in contrast, have far greater content (think of the enormous, messy historical crosspollination of meanings that exists in almost every word). This content comes at a cost to their precision. That is why words are always vague to a greater or lesser extent (tho of course this does not make them meaningless). To think that formularising them like numbers (or algebraic substitutes for numbers) will make them more precise is to misunderstand the difference between the two.

This difference can be put sharply into focus by an almost naiively simple demonstration.

If I say to you the number 574,789,909.874653, even tho it is obscure, you will know exactly what I mean, yes? Same with any other number I can think of.

However, if I give you the word "eisteddfod" you will probably need a dictionary to look it up, unless you know a great deal about Welsh art festivals...;-)

The issue of near-zero content is why numbers are useful (we can apply them to lots of things) and also why they are precise - and why we don't need dictionaries for numbers!

Once this difference is understood, it is clear why Rand's conjecture will not achieve anything like what she hopes.

Anyway, that's another one. I also recommend Gary Merril's look at the ITOE's style and quality, which I link to at the site's sidebar (you may have read it already). While it doesn't address the ideas directly, it does address why it's so hard to even extract the ideas clearly from the book.

>So how did you get into Sir Karl ?

I read an article that was highly critical of him. But the stuff criticised was more interesting than the critic!

>How did you get into Rand ?

Arguing with Lindsay Perigo on the radio some years back. It's a long story...;-)

Michael Hardesty said...

Lord was bestin Dwyer on the issue of invading Iran and on the minimum wage. I'm sure RoR will
eventually cut him off.
On numbers, aren't they really references for entities. Two plus two is always two plus two of something. So even know they are not words, don't they refer to things in reality ? Are you saying that numbers are simply tautologies that don't give us any information about the real world ?
Does this get into the whole A/S
dichotomy ?
I did read Merrill years ago but I can't recall his arguments.
Anyway, the points that you make here are interesting enough to get me to go back to ITOE and some other refs.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>On numbers, aren't they really references for entities. Two plus two is always two plus two of something. So even know they are not words, don't they refer to things in reality ?

I think the issue is that numbers are not just "two plus two of something", but two plus two of anything, if you get my drift. Thus their specific content is near nil.

>Are you saying that numbers are simply tautologies that don't give us any information about the real world ?

I think that goes too far. The issue does not have to be so absolute on either side (it implies each side knows more than they really do anyway). The situation appears to be this: number systems, like other abstract rule-based systems of human invention, have evolved and been improved over time. Each improvement makes the system more useful (ie: closer to reality) over time. Tho there are also frequent digressions into abstract dead ends, overall we make creative adjustments (like adding the real number systems, which turn out to be indispensible in physics) and get more and more useful systems.

The debate is rather like two people arguing over a map. One says "this map is not identical to the territory: therefore it is worthless, arbitrary! All maps are meaningless!" The other says:"Nonsense! This map, while abstract and leaving out some things, captures the true nature of reality!" And so forth. That is basically the philosophical debate in a nutshell. Yet the issue is that maps do reflect reality, albeit imperfectly, and can be always improved, or manipulated towards specific ends. That is to say, systems of map building, while never perfect fits with reality, can always be improved. Thus both the essentialist, and the disappointed essentialist, are wrong.

Likewise the other abstract systems. The Popperian position is that abstract constructions like number systems or logic are man-made, but can be made to match reality better and better over time, thus are useful. So we have some things in common with the instrumentalists, but do not take their view that there are no laws of reality to discover in the first place!

Of course I do not pretend this is a perfect theory. There remain some intriguing mysteries, like for example the way that some abstract "dead ends" - like hyperbolic geometry - turn out to have a suprising relevance hundreds of years later. (Based on physical observations there is now some question as to whether the geometry of the universe is actually Euclidean. It may in fact be hyperbolic in the large scale, but appears Euclidean due to the short distances humans are used to). this sort of thing makes keeps alive the suspicion of a deeper abstract Platonic reality underlying physics. But I do not accept this conjecture for the moment.

>Does this get into the whole A/S dichotomy ?

Yes. One day I will get around to a walk-thru of Peikoff's essay. But my to-do list is getting longer by the day...;-)

I know a little about Adler but not much. I'll have a rummage.

Michael Hardesty said...

Hi, just wanted to acknowledge your latest thought-provoking posting and I'll respond tomorrow.
I may not know enough at present to really know how much I agree or disagree with you or even how important this really is.
But you cause me to exercise my brain cells and I appreciate it.
Jack Lord is beating the asses off
Billy Girl Dwyer and the rest of the Randroid robots over at RoR
on just the minimum wage issue alone. Fun to watch these parasites
who would never last a full day working in the unlovely world of
corporate capitalism have their premises challenged ! Like Galt's
speech is the last word on everything. The Left is coming back.

Daniel Barnes said...

MH:
>Hi, just wanted to acknowledge your latest thought-provoking posting and I'll respond tomorrow.

No hurry. These philsophical problems will be with us for a while yet! And I will be tied up for most of the weekend, so probably won't be able to respond.

>Fun to watch these parasites who would never last a full day working in the unlovely world of corporate capitalism have their premises challenged !

Heh. As it happens I'm an entrepreneur who owns and runs his own fairly successful business. I haven't had a job since the late '80s. All my clients are multinationals. And I can testify while it's not unpleasant - I'm not complaining - it's not really like Atlas Shrugged...;-)

>Like Galt's speech is the last word on everything. The Left is coming back.

The nice thing about Popper is it's not left or right necessarily. My friend Rafe is hardcore libertarian. Others are centre left. I'm personally all over the political spectrum...;-) It's the issue, not the party. Popper - while apparently a fairly unpleasant character in person - does not tell you which way to vote, for example...;-) He would consider that any such philosophical system that did so - even if it existed - inherently implies shrugging off your personal responsibility to decide.

Bottom line, Popper is not about getting absolute certainty. He says the search for an absolutely true starting point is the 'central mistake.' Humans err. We can - and must - start from error and try to get closer to the truth. What is required, he says, is not absolute truth, but instead 1) imaginative conjectures and 2) standards of criticism by which to judge them.

Have a good weekend.

Michael Hardesty said...

If he disavows any certainties then by what yardstick can he judge anything else ? The term
"absolute" may be redundant here.
"Imaginative conjectures", well by what yardstick are we supposed to use THAT concept as the yadstick ?
"Standards of criticism" same question. This is getting Stanley
Fisheresque, Daniel !
Have a great weekend !