Friday, November 03, 2006

Double Trouble

Here's a quick thought for the weekend:
"A philosophy that rejects the monism of idealism or materialism does not thereby become 'dualist.'"
- Leonard Peikoff, 'Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand' p 35
The trouble is then how, exactly, one can reject monism without accepting some form of dualism or pluralism!

Leonard Peikoff's solution is to make up a new word.
"In this situation, a new term is required..."Objectivism"'" (p 35 ibid)
In the common parlance, this is called a fudge. Chris Sciabarra's solution, on the other hand, is to call it "dialectics".
"Dialectics...is not anti-dualism any more than it is anti-monism. It is pro-context."
I am not sure we are any the wiser after this either.

But does Objectivism really reject both philosophic monism and dualism as aggressively as its rhetoric suggests? Here's Rand herself:
"I want to stress this; it is a very important distinction. A great number of philosophical errors and confusions are created by failing to distinguish between consciousness and existence -- between the process of consciousness and the reality of the world outside, between the perceiver and the perceived." - Ayn Rand, ITOE, "The Role of Words - Words and Concepts"
While this is still vague, it is to all intents and purposes a strongly dualist statement in the entirely ordinary philosophical sense. That is, "a very important distinction" exists between "consciousness" and "existence" ie: the "reality of the world outside." While of course we can then go on to roll up these two elements and call it a "monism" if we want, this would be merely pedantry, as you could equally do this to traditional dualist cosmologies. In short, if walks like a dualism, and quacks like a dualism, it doesn't really matter what you try to dress it up as.

22 comments:

Neil Parille said...

One could make an interesting study of the various terms and concepts that Objectivism accepts and rejects.

For example, Objectivists accept "individualism" even though officially designated demons such as Hayek and Dewey called themselves individualists. On the other hand, "libertarianism" is inappropriate because its used by officially designated demons such as Rothbard.

Likewise, Objectivists will use "realism" to describe Rand's epistemology even though it is used by Thomists, etc. Yet Rand's theory that we perceive objects under a specific "form" is allegedly one of the great breakthroughs in philosophy.

RnBram said...

You may find it remarkable if you wrestle with the multiple meanings of important terms to tease out the particular concept(s) they stand for. In philosophy subjective and objective have very distinct meanings. Adding a suffix ("ism") to a word does not make a new concept, it only shows the application of the concept to a newly identified (not necessarily new in itself), real world context.

Consider this from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Objective adj. Philos a. Pertaining or considered in relation to its object; constituting, or belonging to, an object of of action, thought or feeling (as distinguished from the exercise of these); 'material' as opposed to subjective or formal (in the old sense of these words)

Subjective adj. Relating to the thinking subject; proceeding from or taking place within the subject; having its source in the mind.
_____
Putting these definitions in clearer juxtaposition:

'Objective' indicates that the thinking subject is using only the attributes of the object he is considering.

'Subjective' indicates that the thinking subject is using attributes in his thinking, not of the object.

As for choosing terms, (e.g.) 'realism' was already in use with a set of very definite meanings that, significantly, disregarded the role of the mind in concept formation. 'Objectivism' (using the concept roots above) acknowledges how essential proper concept formation is to knowledge. As such, the term and the philosophy are consistent with human ability and nature.

When reading OPAR it is constructive to leave it for a while, as Peikoff suggests, to read Rand's "An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" –which is the proper place to learn concept formation. (Perhaps Peikoff could have emphasized its importance more, but he does make that evident).

ITOE requires several readings. Each time, use the principles learned in earlier readings to more properly interpret it on the next reading.

In response to Neil Parille: 'Objectivists' are not suddenly 'whole cloth', perfect representatives of Objectivism (myself included), but we try to learn. Consequently, we may use words loosely, or in a context that sounds, to others, like a common use or a misuse when it is not. This provides a lot of 'fuel' for opponents to argue with (see below). So, coming full circle, the audience may have to "wrestle with multiple meanings... to tease out the particular concept(s) they stand for". Put in glib terms, they may have to "think for themselves", objectively.

Rand's theory of concept formation provides the tools by which objective clarity in language can be achieved. It truly is a monumental achievement, unmatched since Aristotle. It does not mean instant perfection in communication, even when used properly, because the audience has to work too.

Many opponents of Objectivism work very hard with their subjectively held concepts because Objectivism makes them feel uncomfortable. That is a manifestation of Subjectivism, because they are more interested in their feelings about the object of their attention, than in the attributes of the object itself.

Perhaps the most important attribute of Objectivism is epistemological: its principles for forming objective concepts about the world. Nowhere is that more important than in the science of philosophy.

Daniel Barnes said...

RnBram:
>So, coming full circle, the audience may have to "wrestle with multiple meanings... to tease out the particular concept(s) they stand for". Put in glib terms, they may have to "think for themselves", objectively.

Hi RnBram:

This is exactly what I invite you to do with this example - think it through for yourself. To help, put aside the fact that Peikoff etc are making these arguments, so this doesn't colour your judgement.

Try to imagine a simple, reality based, objective parallel example, without all the high-sounding philosophical talk about 'dualisms' etc. After all, by 'monism' we simply mean 'one world', by 'dualism' we mean 'two worlds', by 'pluralism' we mean 'many worlds' etc. Let us choose a simple, real object to likewise represent these real worlds - a stone, say.

Let's imagine, instead of a high-toned philosopher, an ordinary fellow makes an equivalent argument then about the number of stones in a bag. It would be as follows: "I reject the idea that there is one stone in there. However this does not mean that there are two stones - or even many stones!"

You would think he was talking nonsense (or that there were really no stones at all!), wouldn't you? You would think he was trying to kid you, or perhaps was kidding himself.

Then let's imagine a post-modernist philosopher making the same argument: "I reject the idea that there is just one stone in the bag. But I also reject that there is two stones, or many stones in there too!" You would probably think he was even worse - merely playing a word game and wasting your time.

So why would you cheerfully accept such an argument when dressed up in philosophese, and coming from people you admire? I don't believe you should. Unlike yourself, I hold that Objectivism is actually a highly confused philosophy, and that confusion is concealed by 1) merely playing with words instead of solving actual problems and 2) meanwhile insisting that you are in fact speaking with unprecedented clarity!

Of course, Objectivism is not alone in this. I argue it is, like much of modern philosophy as well (tho Objectivists fiercely deny it) an unwitting variant of scholasticism, and that many of its most important arguments are, like Greg Nyquist's book contends, merely playing with words!

Now a familiar counter-argument might be that in creating my parallell examples I have done what Objectivists call "dropped context" - that it is not "proper" to talk about "stones" or "ordinary people" when the "context" is "reality" and "brilliant Objectivist philosophers". But by doing so it seems to me you will end up unwittingly in a worse position - a subjectivist position. That is, you will be effectively saying that such an argument is valid, but only if made by Objectivist philosophers!

Now I imagine that you will disagree strongly with what I'm saying above. That's fine. I hardly expect you to reject your firm, hard-won beliefs on the basis of one short internet post on one particular aspect of Objectivism! That would be crazy. However, I do challenge you to, as you rightly say, think these things through for yourself, and don't just take the word of philosophers, no matter how impressive you consider them to be....;-)

Daniel Barnes said...

Neil:
>One could make an interesting study of the various terms and concepts that Objectivism accepts and rejects.

It is packed with strange usages. An odd one that springs to mind is "metaphysical", which is often used in the sense of simply "physical" it seems to me. But anyway while of course I do not think it is important to argue over terms, I think these strange usages undoubtedly are necessary to make some of the arguments fly. Hence the insistence on very particular and even contrary usages etc. But as the saying goes, only magic spells need the exact words to function!

marcy fleming said...

Isn't Objectivism about discovering new concepts which get around the old either/or dichotomies ? I understand your
contention that this is all a word
game by them but if we accept your
assertions here as the final word on the subject we are committed to
keeping the status quo, no progress in philosophy or human thought and Greg's view of the limits of human nature. I don't
see this as an appetitizing alternative even IF the objectivists are as dishonest as
you people claim.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Marcy

Thanks for your thoughts.

>Isn't Objectivism about discovering new concepts which get around the old either/or dichotomies?

Yes, but whether it actually does or merely appears to is the key question. Rand often claimed she was eliminating supposedly 'false alternatives' and 'dichotomies' that had been dogging mankind. But I think what she was really talking about were genuine problems, to which she applied verbalist rhetoric that only seemed to solve it. Incidentally, Rand had no problem with "either/or", and neither do I...;-). That's why I'm applying an either/or to Peikoff's statement. It does not fare too well IMHO.

>I understand your contention that this is all a word
game by them...

Just a few qualifications. I think many important Objectivist theories are word games, not all. She also unwittingly inherited a few key errors ('picked them up without realising it', as you might say) from Aristotle (in her epistemology) and Plato (in her ethics). Both of which I will outline in some detail over the next few weeks.

>but if we accept your assertions here as the final word on the subject we are committed to keeping the status quo, no progress in philosophy or human thought...

No, this does not follow at all (fortunately!). These philosophical problems are in fact highly productive and interesting, with implications for areas from physics to psychology. Exciting new conjectures are indeed possible - for example, Karl Popper goes beyond the standard dualism in his radical (and I think fascinating) "3 Worlds" theory. You can also propose an "interactionist" approach to the dualism, which I think is highly promising. There's lots of possibilities! Trouble is, verbalist or 'word-game' philosophical approaches divert the energies of highly intelligent people into trivial arguments over the meaning of words, and away from more important things like developing and testing theories, identifying problems, of debating plans and proposals for solving them. So in fact verbalism is the real 'no-progress' alternative.

This descent into verbalism means Objectivism, far from being in opposition to most philosophies, has a basic family resemblance them, including, quelle horreur!, its alleged opponents such as positivism and even post-modernism. I also conjecture it also accounts for much of Objectivism's 'no progress' report card as a philosophy. As I often note, it has produced nothing of artistic or philosophical note since 'Atlas Shrugged' half a century ago. It has, however, generated an endless amount of conferences, schisms, navel gazing and blab! (This is, of course, just what Aristotle's influence produced in the Middle Ages - scholasticism and verbalism)

>I don't see this as an appetitizing alternative even IF the objectivists are as dishonest as you people claim.

I think 'dishonesty' is not the issue, tho there probably is some mixed in there at the higher levels. Most Objectivists are actually highly sincere. But of course, just because you deeply, sincerely believe something, that is no guide to the truth! In fact, such passionate belief is likely to be a little blinding, leading to a lack of critical thinking. That's the real issue.

margot kellner said...

I read Peikoff's Philosophy of Objectivism as well as Rand's essays reprinted in Philosophy:
Who Needs It ? as well as Peikoff's massive lecture series on
western philosophy and many other other philosophy courses given by ARI and Rand's sparkling title essay in For The New Intellectual
and I find your statement that there has been no progress since
Atlas laughably absurd, if not totally intellectually dishonest.
I didn't expect future research to override the foundation in Galt's speech and it hasn't either in the objectivist corpus since then or in
the larger field as a whole. I invite all readers to read & download an essay Overcoming Epistemology by Charles Popper, who
properly recognizes Popper for the self-serving mediocrity he was.
As Taylor notes, Popper's intemperate views of ancient philosophers bore "a rather distant relation to the truth."
It was the Arabs and then Acquinas who rescued the 1/8th of Aristotle's corpus that ended the dark ages. Sure there are grounds galore to criticize him but does anyone seriously think that Popper was anywhere near his equal in philosophy ? Popper is vastly inferior to many modern philosophers like Randall, Blanshard, Taylor and others.
What's going on here is a Popper Cult by mediocrities who couldn't write either a great novel or a decent philosophy textbook.
Everything they disagree with they put down to verbalism. We are limited by the dim bulbness of "Sir
Karl" 's perspective. Outside of
the British influenced linguists
Popper has very little following.
He's in disrepute on the Continent
and in the states. Only UK colonies
like New Zealand take him seriously
because they are mentally stunted, constipated little Limeys incapable of thinking outside their prescribed box. Any and all
arguments will be dismissed by them
as "verbalism" well, I suggest the
rest of us react in kind to their
pathetic mental wanking off.

jack lord said...

Margot, thanks for your comments. You hit the nail on the head.
We have a Popper Cult here and they have a preprogrammed dismissal
of anything that contradicts them.
Since ALL arguments can be discounted by semi-literates as
"verbalism" I suggest this is a
no-win fruitless enterprise. I have
strong disagreements with Rand's politics but much of her heroic
view of humankind has a great deal to recommend itself. I never was impressed with Popper, one of these legends like Berlin to whom there is much less than meets the eye. It's always questionable when
a lousy businessman takes up philosophy to cover up his own shameful lack of learning by trashing his intellectual betters.
Barnes has hijacked this board for just that tawdry purpose.

marcy fleming said...

thanks, guys, for clarifying Daniel's purpose here.

Daniel Barnes said...

Margot:
> I invite all readers to read & download an essay Overcoming Epistemology by Charles Popper, who
properly recognizes Popper for the self-serving mediocrity he was.

Margot, I believe this essay devotes about two sentences to Popper! Have you actually read it?

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/taylor.htm

Perhaps you were just hopefully Googling! Can you do better than this - perhaps put exactly what's wrong with Popper in your own words?

>I find your statement that there has been no progress since Atlas laughably absurd, if not totally intellectually dishonest.

And Peikoff 'progresses' beyond Rand in exactly what way?

>Outside of the British influenced linguists Popper has very little following.

What are Sam Hill are you talking about? Popper has nothing to do with linguistic analysis I'm afraid - he was strongly critical of it! See this biographical note, second para, for example.

http://www.eeng.dcu.ie/~tkpw/intro_popper/intro_popper.html

I'm afraid the rest of your comments are no less silly than these!

Daniel Barnes said...

Jack Lord:
>We have a Popper Cult here and they have a preprogrammed dismissal of anything that contradicts them.

Five-0, you are just projecting!

>It's always questionable when a lousy businessman takes up philosophy to cover up his own shameful lack of learning by trashing his intellectual betters.

Sorry to hear your business is not doing well. Maybe if you spent less time on the internet!

>Barnes has hijacked this board for just that tawdry purpose.

It's actually my board, dumbell....;-)

margot kellner said...

Barnes, I did read it and I simply quoted from him right at the beginning to show the very low esteem that Popper is held in by a
prominent Canadian philospher.
I gave one ref, but you can read Dykes, Cornforth and others. we all
know that you are a religious Popperian so your fear here is understandable. In both his A/S essay and his book on Objectivism Peikoff more fully develops the philosophy that Rand first enunciated in Atlas.
Popper's differences with the LA crowd were insignificant, ultimately he too believes that
absolute knowledge (read knowledge
since the "absolute" is redundant)
is unattainable, it's all one vast word game which is why as a devoted
Popperian you are so quick to attribute the same to Rand.
Why should I do your research for you ? You can look up the critiques
of Popper and try reading them for a change. Your last sentence is what is called projection in psychology.

Daniel Barnes said...

Margot:
>ultimately (Popper) too believes that absolute knowledge (read knowledge since the "absolute" is redundant) is unattainable...

Margot, Rand herself admitted she didn't solve the problem of induction. Clearly you should read the ITOE yourself occasionally!

>it's all one vast word game which is why as a devoted Popperian you are so quick to attribute the same to Rand...

Sigh. You're just digging yourself deeper. Popper distinguished between verbal problems and real problems in philosophy - and this is the whole basis of his criticism of linguistic analysis! Looks like you need a refresher course on Popper and Rand!

margot kellner said...

Barnes, looks like you need a refresher course in logic. I never
said that Rand said she solved the problem of induction so your comment here is a nonsequitur.
I wrote that you will as a matter of principle dismiss everything she
or any objectivist does as "verbalism." This technique bears a strong resemblance to LA.
The differnces between Popper and LA are microscopic since he was concerned exactly with what they are concerned, the distinction, if
any, between real problems and verbal issues.
Rand never said, unlike Popper, that we can never possess absolute knowledge, she regarded "absolute"
as the red herring here since it is
redundant, the knowledge that we DO
possess is absolute.
There is something seriously wrong with your mental processes.

Daniel Barnes said...

>I never said that Rand said she solved the problem of induction so your comment here is a nonsequitur.

The problem of absolutely certain knowledge ran aground on this problem and has remained there ever since. While Rand denied Hume, she never refuted him!

>the knowledge that we DO possess is absolute.

Ho ho, yes the knowledge we possess is never mistaken! Nice one! Do you get better than this?

>There is something seriously wrong with your mental processes.

Hey - amazingly, it looks like all you guys are posting from the same IP address!! Which makes it look like there's something wrong with your mental processes - 'multiple personalities' and all that. My advice is: stay on your medication, you'll feel much better.

margot kellner said...

What was there to "refute" in Hume ? His radical empirism was so obviously off the wall as even he admitted and Russell noted in his history of western philosophy that
it would be akin to debating if you
exist, if you agree to the debate,
your an idiot.
If it's mistaken, how could be knowledge ? So Einstein widened
Newton's world but did not invalidate what Newton got right.
Nice ad hominem. That's the best you can do.

margot kellner said...

left out "it" between "be" and "knowledge" above.

Daniel Barnes said...

"margot" wrote:
>What was there to "refute" in Hume ? His radical empirism was so obviously off the wall as even he admitted and Russell noted in his history of western philosophy that it would be akin to debating if you
exist, if you agree to the debate, your an idiot.

In fact, Hume was forced to conclude that reason was the "slave of the passions" - that man was basically irrational if he relied on inductive reasoning. Likewise Russell in HOWP says nothing like you say here, he says it's a very important problem and we'd better hope - lacking any better argument - that Hume was wrong! It's another of your foolish misreadings.

Personally, 'margot' I think you should stop haunting websites under imaginary identities and get a clue as to what you are talking about!

gregnyquist said...

The apologist(s) for the Randian position have spread more heat than light on this issue of dualism, which is actually critical since it touches upon an important area of difference between those of us who are critics of Rand and those who defend the author of Atlas Shrugged. So a restatement may be in order.

There are two major forms of dualism related to this issue: epistemological dualism and psycho-physical dualism. Epistemological dualism is the view that an idea is not identical with the thing in reality that it represents. Hence the idea of a cat is different from the cat itself. The idea is a mere representation of the cat. This is a view held most famously (and in a rather crude form) by Locke and Descartes. According to the malicious critics of knowledge (i.e. idealists), this is severely problematic, because it leads to a supposedly unanswerable problem, which the philosopher Santayana introduced as follows: "How is it possible to posit an object [i.e., the existence of external object] which is not a datum [i.e., not an idea], and how without knowing positively what this object is can I make it the criterion of truth in my ideas? ... If I know a man only by reputation, how should I judge if the reputation is deserved? If I know things only by representations, are not the representations the only things I know?"

Now how does Rand answer this question? Well, she doesn't really answer it directly, but through scattered remarks throughout her works, we piece together a rather inadequate reply. She begins by accepting the idealist critique of epistemological dualism, which caricatures this dualism as a complete separation of ideas and their objects. But epistemological dualism doesn't separate objects from ideas, it merely distinguishes them. Then Rand conflates epistemological with psycho-physical dualism and dismisses the former as being tainted with the (alleged) mysticism of the latter. Then having dismissed epistemological dualism, she sets up in its stead a view that is, for all intents and purposes, a version of epistemological dualism. For she accepts nearly all the positions held by epistemological dualists. She agrees with them, for example, that ideas (or, in her terminology, concepts) are not identical with the objects in reality they stand for. She also agrees that the mind does not mirror reality. So where does she differ from epistemological dualism? She differs only in that she wouldn't agree with the inevitable conclusion of epistemological dualism. How in fact is the leap from idea to object justified? Rand actually never addresses this issue specifically. Even in IOTE she ends up, perhaps unwittingly, addressing a separate issue (i.e., the relation between sensation and percepts on the one side, and concepts on the other). She dodges the whole issue of how percipient representations "correspond" with their existential objects. It is fairly obvious why she would do so. The simple fact of the matter, there is no viable solution to the problem that Rand would accept, because Rand believed that you had to prove or validate knowledge in order for knowledge to be useful and trustworthy. This is a false ideal deriving from Rand's theory of history. Those who appreciate and understand the problem of epistemological dualism realize that the only viable solution is one that embraces the conjectural nature of knowledge. The leap from idea to object is, as Santayana put, made under the steam of "animal faith," so that knowledge becomes "faith mediated by symbols." But this is not an arbitrary, groundless faith caricatured by Rand, but a justified faith corroborated by every moment of intelligent wakefulness.

Anonymous said...

rnbram: “Many opponents of Objectivism work very hard with their subjectively held concepts because Objectivism makes them feel uncomfortable.”

Argument from intimidation, old chap. And it’s interesting that you counter an accusation of verbalism by reaching for the dictionary.

And for a real-life example of Objectivist verbalism we need go no further than the reaction to Peikoff’s recent advice on voting in the current US election. Peikoff suggested that anyone who disagreed with him lacked an understanding of Objectivism and might even be immoral.

Since the dispensing of those helpful words we have seen an avalanche of more words that attempt to ‘explain’ what P’s words might have meant. Those who have taken him at his word are the targets of his condemnation, while his supporters are consumed with interpreting the many possible shades of meaning of his words. Scholasticism indeed!

But while Objectivists are inveterate verbalists, their words often have consequences, but perhaps not the ones they intend. When or if Peikoff does manage to roll or sideline his erstwhile allies within ARI, there’ll be another torrent of words justifying his power play and how it will make Objectivism a stronger and more united movement that’s going to take over America by, well, at least a lot sooner than anyone thinks.

Brendan

Dragonfly said...

Peikoff's voting advice is a nice example of the power play by a sectarian leader. That is, not the advice itself, but the implication that people who don't agree with him don't understand Objectivism. The message is clear: The Master hath spoken and that settles the matter, the sheep will now be separated from the goats; he that is not with me is against me and he that gathereth not with me scattereth! Now the interesting thing is that probably quite a number of rather orthodox Objectivists are hereby declared to be goats. This can only be interpreted as a loyalty test by Peikoff, to confirm his power as the absolute leader of the cult. Perhaps he'll follow Freud and start to give rings to his most loyal subjects...

It is indeed amusing to see how Peikoff's acolytes are defending him, like Hsieh, who always calls him Dr. Peikoff. She is so indignant about those people who dare to call Peikoff to task for his bullying. After all he has done such great things and written such wonderful books. Well, if that is true remains to be seen... but even if it were true, it is a typical argument from authority/intimidation. Hsieh: "Dr. Peikoff is certainly not obliged to sugarcoat his negative judgments for the sake of spineless cowards fearful of his disapproval". But Objectivists should of course not even sugarcoat negative judgments of Dr. Peikoff, they shouldn't have any negative judgments of Dr. Peikoff!

Now there have been some Objectivists, like the Speichers (with whom I seldom agree, but honor where honor is due) who have resisted this kind of intimidation, but I wonder about the leaders of ARI. I think it's rather unlikely that they all agree with Peikoff. Will they be indeed spineless cowards and keep their mouth shut, giving the doctor his victory he's looking for, or will we see a new split in the movement?

Anonymous said...

So your proof that only monism or dual/pluralism is possible is...what?

Oh, I almost missed it. It is that Rand's epistemology must be a form of dualism because it walks and sounds like that duck. Given that you believe that concepts are imprecise, do not represent anything in reality, and are just word games, I can see how it is inevitable that you would believe such nonsense. Of course, since you think that "all knowledge is conjectural," you don't actually believe yourself either.

If you look, walk, and sound like a loon, does that make you a loon? I say yes. Thanks again for leaving more irrefutable proof of your lunacy.