Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dear Dr Leonard

Dr Leonard Peikoff now personally answers your philosophical questions via podcast.

Regular ARCHNblog readers who may be interested in tossing the good doctor a few posers can get him at leonard@peikoff.com. And as a special ARCHNblog offer, a free copy of "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" to anyone who actually gets their question answered!*

*bonus copy of "The Ominous Parallels" for mentions of Howard Stern and/or Baba Booey

41 comments:

Jay said...

I want a copy of the book so I submitted the following question to Dr. Peikoff.

----------------------------

Dr. Peikoff,

As an Objectivist, one of the most interesting questions anyone has asked me about the philosophy is "How can Objectivism be objective when it says the primary purpose of a man - any man's - life is productive work? You can't tell me that Mother Theresa would be happier if you took her out of missionary work and plopped her down at the desk of a Fortune 500 company."

To this I reply that our survival relies on material values and the pride that comes from attaining them for ourselves, because that's what makes sense to me and how I interpret the role of productiveness in Objectivism's hierarchy. What would you have said to the person who asked me this question?

Anonymous said...

To the Ellsworth Toohey's who make this site, your devotion to Ayn Rand is truely phenomenal, your choice of eclectic vocablulary is quite astounding and your philosophical arguments are wanting.

A writer recieves no greater praise then through their critics and the amount of time and devotion that goes into this blog is the proof. Were Ayn Rand an overrated hack as you profess, then you would not be compelled to talk about her so much. Her writing must have really touched you all to spark such a reaction.

I leave you with one question which I doubt you will have the courage to answer. If emotions do not come from a man's rational, conscious philosophies, then emotions must come from uncounscious sources, conditioned or inherited, so what are the sources for your negative feelings towards objectivist philosophy?

The argument that man cannot know the contents of his uncounscious has been debunked, so this question demands a thoughtful and honest reflection. As stated previously, I doubt you have the courage for such an endevor.

Daniel Barnes said...

That's a good reply, Jay. I imagine the good doctor would say pretty much the same.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Peikoff,
Is Objectivism still relevant today? There seems to be rational thinkers all over the places on the internet. And there seems to be lots of thinkers who publish books with the layperson in mind (Dennet, Dawkins, Pinker, Hitchens). These intellectuals don't seem to be evil or "man haters", or "death worshipers". They really respect reality and want to know it. They champion the scientific method and diss the mystical elements of our culture (ESP, talking to the dead, religion, etc..)

So what does objectivism have to offer a young person that these non-objectivists don't already offer?

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Peikoff,
Did Ayn Rand ever try to seduce you?

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>I leave you with one question which I doubt you will have the courage to answer...what are the sources for your negative feelings towards objectivist philosophy?

I can't speak for Greg, but my answer to your Incredible Philosophic Courage Test (TM) is that it appears humans have evolved hardwired expectations of reciprocity - or what Objectivists might call "the trader principle." That is, we seem to have inborn expectations that others will play by the rules, and we have equally hardwired emotional reactions when people cheat. We might combine this with the cultural development of abstract language, which man alone seems to have, which allows us to have discover valuable truths and pass them on to other members of our species, and as a result has given us such an immense leg up over other mammals. Hence truth is very important to us.

Now, the unfortunate corollary of that advantage is that abstract language at this level of development (what Karl Popper, adding to Buhler's proposed three levels*, called the "argumentative function") allows also for the transmission of falsity as well as truth. Hence we humans have painstakingly developed a set of rules or standards for checking the truth or falsity of arguments (these are, broadly, logical rules and rules of empirical testing).

Putting these two developments, evolutionary and cultural, together, we get a reciprocal expectation for truth in argument, according to common standards of logic and experience. Hence, when we think someone's broken these rules, we feel negative emotions.

In mine and Greg's view, and the views of others, Ayn Rand breaks or ignores the basic rules of logic and experience in her theories; thus she is not operating herself according to the "trader principle". In short, she and her followers are "cheating" (although I would soften this to say that a considerable amount of self delusion is involved here; in that they are kidding themselves as much as their followers). Hence I most often feel negative emotions about her writings (though sometimes I find them humorous, and even in some places inspiring and interesting - it depends on how well I think she's "playing by the rules").

Now, just because I've used expressions like "reciprocity" and "the trader principle" in this discussion, does this mean I've somehow secretly conceded to Rand's theories? Of course not. The Ptolemiac theory of epicycles actually predicts some celestial motion with reasonable accuracy. But no-one would dream of arguing that, on that basis, we are conceding to Ptolemy by saying so. Likewise with Rand's equally absurd theory of emotions.


*Briefly:
1. Expressive function ("ouch!") - most animals and plants
2.Signalling function ("over here!") - most animals and plants
3. Descriptive function ("turn left at the lights...") - humans, and perhaps bees
4. Argumentative function ("Socrates is mortal") - humans

gregnyquist said...

Anon: " If emotions do not come from a man's rational, conscious philosophies, then emotions must come from unconscious sources, conditioned or inherited, so what are the sources for your negative feelings towards objectivist philosophy?"

Emotions may come from many sources, including even conscious philosophies (but not solely from conscious philosophies!). Indeed, since emotion and thought are woven so tightly together, there is a great deal of reciprocal causation going on, so that distinguishing the emotion from the thought is not always very easy. In any case, for both emotional and cogitative reasons, I had become, at an early date, a truculent realist. Finding in Rand what I initially thought was an ally, I soon discovered that, although nominally committed to realism, Rand had other agendas which she cherished more. The major culprits in this respect were her theories of human nature and history. So I decided to write a book examining how and why Rand, whether wittingly or not, wound up betraying realism on behalf of her ideal man.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "How can Objectivism be objective when it says the primary purpose of a man - any man's - life is productive work? You can't tell me that Mother Theresa would be happier if you took her out of missionary work and plopped her down at the desk of a Fortune 500 company.

"What would you have said to the person who asked me this question?"

Peikoff regards Mother Theresa as evil, so he might tackle the question by pointing that out. I must say, however, that I don't find the question a particularly good one — not if the purpose of it is to challenge Objectivism. Why challenge Objectivism where it is least deserving of being challenged?

ken stauffer said...

As an Objectivist you need to have courage to have negative feelings toward Rand's ideas. Because, by Rand's whacked out logic, it means you hate reality, hate human greatness, and are a deeply flawed person.

It is actually the Objectivists that lack the courage express negative feelings about anything Rand said. How convenient for Rand.

As a newly minted ex-objectivist, I don't feel the slightest sense that courage is required to ridicule rand or her ideas. Lighting hasn't struck me. In fact, I am enjoying a nihilistic freedom to think on my own for the first time in many years. Notice my choice of words. "nihilistic" That's to scare objectivists.

Bzzzzt.. ###$$$$~~~~DISCONNECTED &&&&&&!!!###

crap....

lighting just fried my computer.

Michael Prescott said...

First, I really like Ken's comment, a great mix of insight and humor.

Second, I wouldn't ask Peikoff anything because I would just get the same old Randian boilerplate, but if I absolutely had to ask a question, it would be about Rand's metaethics. Something like, "Isn't it question-begging for Ayn Rand to say that the good is what is proper for man's survival, when the term 'proper' presupposes a knowledge of good and bad? And how does it add anything to the argument (except obfuscation) to say 'man qua man'? Is man ever not man? Is man sometimes a turtle or a Volvo? Isn't 'man qua man' just a way of saying 'man as he should be,' meaning 'man behaving the way Ayn Rand thought he ought to'? And isn't this another example of question-begging? Doesn't it amount to saying the good is what Ayn Rand defines as proper for the survival of the kind of man she admires? Is this objective? And if parasites, looters, and moochers aren't man qua man, then are they human at all? If not, what are they? And if they can't survive because they don't practice the virtues that make survival possible, then how come there are so many of them still around? And if they can only survive by ripping off productive people, why should that bother them, when they don't accept Rand's ethics in the first place?"

By the way, I'm not saying that productivity is bad or that parasitism is good. I'm only saying that Rand's ostensibly airtight argument is letting in one heck of a breeze.

Jay said...

Ken,

What turned you off of Objectivism?

Neil Parille said...

Michael,

These questions have been asked very often and, so far as I can tell, Objectivists haven't even tried to answer them.

ken stauffer said...

Jay,
It's related to the depth to which I treated Rand and the Objectivists as a religion. I know, i know this isn't what objectivism is supposed to be about. I gave Rand the ARI affiliated leaders a lot of undeserved genuis and greatness. So when I started seeing flaws in their ideas it resulted in a lot of anger. Of course none of these folks know who I am so its wrong to blame them for my choice of ideology.

I love computers and darwinism and materialism. I assumed Ayn Rand was a champion of materialism. But she isn't. Binswanger seems to secretly hate computers and cognitive research. So he slowly began to irritate me. I love the internet as a conduit through which a new era of rationality seems to be sweeping through our culture.

The book, "The World is Flat" captured the stuff I have been seeing myself for the last decade. And when Tracinski tried to express this he was promptly treated like shit. Well why should I idolize the ARI folks when one misstep will surely lead to my own rejection by my heros.

To hear binswanger call wikipedia, "The Encyclopedia of the Arbitrary" is a typical objectivist sneer at anything new. They bitch about everyone except themselves. Jimbo Wales is even sympathetic toward Ayn Rand. And binswanger treats his achievement like that?

In fact, have you ever seen Peikoff or Binwanger praise much of anyting in todays culture? Where is their hero worship of the good?

They hate academia, and perhaps 15 years ago they had good reason to. But now there aren't good reasons, except to rationalize to themselves why they haven't been intellectually productive for years.

There now exists thinkers that offer me a scientific and rational philosophy. So why does one need Objectivism today?

I care (about dumping on Rand) only because I invested 15 years of my life into the movement. I went to conferences, and contributed thousands of dollars to the ARI, cause I was a total fanboy. I don't regret it, only because I have matured in a way that I believe is healthy. And it was Second Renesaince books that recommended "The Blind Watchmaker" which led to years of study of darwinism, and eventually dennett, and others.

So Objectivisms isn't all bad. They encouraged me to be more interested in reading political and scientific material. Ones mind can get stale, especially with a rigid doctrine like rands. Sometimes you need to perform mental spring cleaning and that is what I am enjoying right now.

Jay said...

Very interesting. I had no idea they disdained computers and Wikipedia. Although I must say, Wikipedia is almost universally despised by the college teachers I've met.

People seem to be unaware of a study that clocked Wikipedia to be almost as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.

At any rate, while I read (and for the most part agree with) Binswanger and Peikoff, I think it's smart if Objectivists don't make a life out of trying to please them. I am much more interested in employing Objectivism as a means to my own independently chosen goals.

I hope your spring cleaning goes well!

ken stauffer said...

Yeah, you are right about wikepedia being dissed from many corners. As a total internet fanboy, I look for the positives in it.

Wikiepdia has an interesting property that is lacking in traditional encyclopedias. That property is the meta-data (change history) that will forever be maintained with the current version. Imagine 20 years from now the wealth of data that can be mined from this meta-data.

A mashup hacker has just developed a tool to link commercial entries in wikipeida to their IP address and was able to find a correlation between companies that update their own entries.

Imagine more mashup tools that extract intellectual trends from wikipedia. Imagine 20 years from now historians can learn how people debated about Dan Rather's firing from CBS. For a feeling of this wealth of data, go to google netnews archives from 1989 and read the 20 year old debates about cold fusion.

Since wikipedia maintains the change history it offers the back story behind human knowledge.

Dragonfly said...

My experience is that Wikipedia is quite good in mathematics and physics. I doubt that there are general encyclopaedias that are better in that regard. I suppose that will also be true for technological, chemical and biological subjects. There is probably more controversy about the soft sciences, but that seems to be unavoidable, as the standards there are much more fuzzy and some subjectivism cannot be avoided.

Dragonfly said...

Neil: These questions have been asked very often and, so far as I can tell, Objectivists haven't even tried to answer them.

Indeed. I've often brought up these points in discussions, for example by asking why the behavior of a parasite wouldn't be rational. The evidence is overwhelming that this strategy can be efficient from a viewpoint of survival. The usual reply is that the parasite depends on the actions of the "really" rational people, the producers, and that the parasitic strategy wouldn't work on a desert island. But that doesn't refute the rationality of the parasite of course. If he'll ever find himself on a desert island (and what are the odds that that will happen?), he simply uses a different strategy. Why shouldn't adaptation to different circumstances be rational? The same for criminals: of course we all know how bad the fate of some criminals can be, but that is equally true for many decent people, and there are no doubt many white-collar criminals who lead a very successful life.

That is not to say that I in any way want to defend the behavior of parasite or the criminal, only that you can't say that they are by definition not rational. In Objectivist language "rational" means "according to the principles of Objectivism". The big fallacy in Rand's argument is that she surreptitiously switches from "survival" to "survival of man qua man", i.e. survival according to the principles of Objectivism, which is of course a prime example of begging the question.

Objectivists also try to reason away the successful lives of parasites and criminals by stating that they cannot be really happy, but that is of course merely wishful thinking. There are probably many crooks who've led a happier life than Rand herself. That we probably wouldn't be happy pursuing the career of a criminal or a parasite doesn't imply that nobody can be happy in those circumstances.

Jay said...

Criminals are absolutely not rational. Why not?

Because even if you ignore the issue of other people's violated rights, consider what the life of a criminal entails. He must lie to some extent to everyone he knows or holds dear. He is at the mercy of their gullibility, their ignorance, or their complacency. He must keep in mind a constantly intensifying web of lies involving different people, different facts, different time frames, different events, different contexts. "Did this person go to the college I claimed to graduate from?", one would have to worry. "How much money did I exaggerate this quarter's profits by?", one might nervously contemplate before a shareholder's meeting. "Where did I tell my wife I was last night?", one would wonder with palms sweating and words falling over each other.

Such a person can never (or rarely) open his mouth and speak the effortless truth. He is constantly burdened by the ever-growing weight of his own deceptions.

Now, you can certainly make the point that people can and do do this, with some degree of success. But is a person genuinely happy when his life consists of lies on top of lies? I don't think so. Is it "rational"?

Hell no, it isn't.

Michael Prescott said...

>Criminals are absolutely not rational.

Rand's claim was that survival depends on rationality. But criminals do survive, so if they're not rational, then Rand was wrong about their survival chances. Of course, she equivocated between biological survival and "the survival of man qua man," i.e., man at his best. This is the root of Objectivism's confusion on this issue.

>He is constantly burdened by the ever-growing weight of his own deceptions.

Some are, some aren't. There are sociopaths who have no concerns about getting caught, because they're sure they can get away with anything. There are compulsive liars who enjoy lying. It doesn't make them nervous. They get an adrenaline rush out of it. It's a thrill to them. Telling a lie and getting away with it gives them the same kind of emotional high that a skydiver feels after a successful jump.

Studies have shown that career criminals have higher self-esteem than the average person. They think they are too good to hold down a mundane 9-to-5 job. They think people who do work for a living are chumps and suckers. And if they have to spend some time in prison occasionally, it's a price they willingly pay for a lifestyle they consider superior to playing by the rules.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Jay

Just in case you're interested, Michael Prescott is a former Objectivist himself, and has written some interesting essays on his experiences with the movement which you can find in our sidebar.

Jay said...

Will definitely check those essays out. Thanks for alerting me to them.

I would also like to see a study saying criminals have higher self-esteem than law abiding people. And also, what the study's definition and measurement of self-esteem is.

Your description of sociopaths is a good example. Though they may believe they wont get caught, they often do. Their baseless arrogance does not alter the facts, only his perception of them. The fact remains that living an honest, productive life would give him the undiluted joy (or at least a chance at it) that chronic lying and theft never could.

And of course, Rand would say that if everyone were like this it would be impossible to survive. Values aren't produced by those who subvert reality as a matter of course.

Jay said...

Also, you claimed that we cannot say for certain that criminals are irrational. Here is another example of why I think we can.

They think they are too good to hold down a mundane 9-to-5 job.

To an extent I agree with this. I don't demean people who work 9-5 and seek nothing more. Not everyone is cut out to be his own boss, they may have other priorities, like family friends etc. I however despise the idea of having a boss. Mainly because in most organizations you cannot be any more honest than the person above you, which leads to years of violating your values to keep your paycheck.

But instead of resorting to a life of theft and deception, I'm going to college and striving to make the Deans List semester after semester. In the meantime, I'm reading good books and networking with smart people in my field. As a result, I hold a writing job that affords me much levity and financial gain. I'm also paving a road of good contacts for the future and increasing my knowledge.

As I progress further into my 20's I'll be in a position to settle down with a girl I passionately love on the wings of a career I honestly, competently perform in. (At least, that's the plan.)That's a rational thing to do.

To leave open the possibility that wet bandits and shoplifters might have the same claim on rationality is a pretty big stretch.

Dragonfly said...

Jay: "And of course, Rand would say that if everyone were like this it would be impossible to survive."

That is no argument. If everyone were a writer or everyone were an architect it would also be impossible to survive. Is it therefore not rational to be a writer or an architect? That we may not like the existence of parasites and criminals does not imply that their behavior can't be rational. In Atlas Shrugged they may seem to be completely incompetent clowns who crumble to pieces when they're confronted with the psychology of their own behavior, but that is fantasy, not reality. It is in fact much more rational not to underestimate them, while many of them may be dangerously competent. Crime isn't restricted to incompetent lowlifes who always get caught and parasites are not necessarily dumb and powerless nobodies.

Nothing could be more unrealistic than thinking that if only everyone just would read Atlas Shrugged such problems would disappear like snow in summer.

Michael Prescott said...

>I would also like to see a study saying criminals have higher self-esteem than law abiding people.

Ask and ye shall receive:

http://psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20020301-000005.html

A blogger reports on a different study that came to the same conclusions:

http://c-pol.blogspot.com/2005/01/cracks-appearing-in-self-esteem.html

The second article is particularly devastating. Money quote:

"In general, as it relates to achievement, high self-esteem tends to lead only to self-delusion about one's abilities, while actual ability remains unchanged."

For instance, high self-esteem might lead an amateur philosopher to think she had solved the problem of universals after only half an hour's thought ...

Michael Prescott said...

I should add, though, that if Objectivism works for you and makes your life better, then by all means stick with it. I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers. And many of the virtues touted by Ayn Rand are perfectly legitimate, and in short supply in today's culture. I may disagee with her arguments, but not with all of the values she espoused.

When I parted company with Objectivism, I went through a period of extreme reaction against it, to the point where I could scarcely find anything good in it. This was probably a necessary step in breaking free of what had become, for me, a burdensome and unproductive mindset, but it did tend to blind me to the positive things that Rand stood for.

Hopefully I have a little more perspective now. Anyway, we all have to find our own path, and you seem to be doing the right things to make your life better and happier.

By the way, does anyone else find that it always takes two tries to get the word verification feature to work when posting a comment?

Dragonfly said...

Michael: "By the way, does anyone else find that it always takes two tries to get the word verification feature to work when posting a comment?"

Yes. I just skip the first verification, as it never works anyway, so I type the word that then appears to get the desired result. With more extensive editing and several previews I sometimes have to verify another word after a while.

Dragonfly said...

Michael: "When I parted company with Objectivism, I went through a period of extreme reaction against it, to the point where I could scarcely find anything good in it. This was probably a necessary step in breaking free of what had become, for me, a burdensome and unproductive mindset, but it did tend to blind me to the positive things that Rand stood for."

What irks me so much in Objectivism isn't Rand or her writings. She had some good points and some bad arguments, no big deal. It is the behavior of so many Objectivists, the religious fanatism, treating Rand as a genius and anyone who disagrees with her as an idiot, the sneering, condescending know-it-all attitude while they often know nothing at all of the things they're talking about, thinking that repeating a mantra like "A is A" is a valid argument. The only result is that I tend to look even more critically at what Rand wrote (Peikoff I really can't take seriously), whereupon of course the wagons are drawn even more closely around the True Faith.

They claim to be rational, but if they want to win a larger audience for their ideas, their actions are particularly counterproductive. Often they aren't even interested in a serious discussion about Rand's ideas (they know that these are the Definite Truth!), only in how they can spread her ideas, just like what you see in any other cult or religion. They always deny that Objectivism is a cult, not realizing that their own behavior gives the lie to what they say.

Jay said...

Crime isn't restricted to incompetent lowlifes who always get caught and parasites are not necessarily dumb and powerless nobodies.

This is true. I should have provided for them in my reply.

I still say, though, that the rational thing for them to do would be to apply that intelligence and cunning in a positive, honest way.

Jay said...

Michael,

I enjoyed your essay, as well. I think a good idea for Objectivists is to keep reading books about other things, and by non-Objectivist authors.

I still realize there are lots of smart non-Objectivists I can learn from. Perhaps more Objectivists should realize that.

Daniel Barnes said...

Jay,

If there were more Objectivists like you, I reckon the movement would be way ahead of where it is today.

Daniel Barnes said...

Now, as to crime being necessarily restricted to the irrational or incompetent, this is very far from reality. For a striking analysis, I commend William Black's recent book "The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One."

http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/books/blabes.html

Black has coined a new term which nicely summarises these complex and highly sophisticated forms of criminality - "control fraud" - and notes how it applies to both businesses and governments.

More here, including some evolutionary hints:
http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/black/freemarket.html

Interestingly, as an OT side light to some of the major themes on this site, Rand did not endorse evolution. She did not deny it either - she fence-sat, which is in itself quite a remarkable position. There are a number of possible reasons for this: for example, clearly it was not cosmetically flattering for John Galt to be too close to a monkey....;-). Two, her adoption of the Aristotelian essentialist method (in epistemological purposes) keeps pushing her helplessly back into what is basically the Middle Ages in terms of her approach to science; much as it did the famous Aristotelian Mortimer Adler, who denied evolution in the '30s. Pity, might have made her soften a few of her more outre pronouncements.

Jay said...

Thanks for the kind words, Dan.

I first learned about Rand's uneasiness with evolution on Neil's site. I was shocked.

It's strange for me to hear ARI-affiliated Objectivists denouncing science. The writer who really got me into Objectivism was a psychologist named Michael J. Hurd:

Somebody once asked me if I am a follower of Ayn Rand. I replied that I follow nobody except my own mind, provided that my mind reaches conclusions consistent with the way things are and ought to be. Ayn Rand, more than any other single thinker I have yet to encounter, provides ideas that actually can be put into practice and can actually work.

A hero is not somebody you follow. A true hero is somebody who, through her ideas and accomplishments, puts you in command of your own destiny.


More of his articles can be found here.

http://capmag.com/author.asp?name=9

Michael Prescott said...

Rand did not endorse evolution. She did not deny it either - she fence-sat, which is in itself quite a remarkable position.

In an essay that originally appeared in The Ayn Rand Letter, Rand speculated that the so-called anticonceptual mentality might literally be the missing link in human evolution. (This essay was titled either "The Anti-Conceptual Mentality" or "The Missing Link," as I recall. It was reprinted in one of her collections, probably posthumously.)

What is worrisome about this notion is that, if accepted, it would entitle Objectivists to classify anyone who is "anticonceptual" as nonhuman or subhuman. I happen to think that this was Rand's actual opinion. Although she never came right out and said it, it is strongly implied throughout her writings. Just look at all her pejorative references to irrationalists as subhumans, savages, cavemen, etc. It is also implied in her habitual reliance on the term "man qua man," a phrase denoting the rational, conceptual-mentality man, as opposed to the irrationalist, who is presumably not "man qua man," i.e., not really man at all. (Bear in mind that an irrationalist in Rand's terms may be almost anyone who broadly rejects her system.)

Again, she did not state this view unambiguously, but I believe a close reading of her work will reveal it. Perhaps this explains why many Objectivists find it so easy to condemn their critics in language suggesting that they are not human ("insects, lice, animals, brutes, parasites," etc.). Perhaps it also explains why the Winston Tunnel disaster ends the way it does.

If this was indeed Rand's view, then her biological argument for metaethics starts to make more sense. Rational man is literally a different species from irrational man, and therefore the requirements of his survival are qualitatively different from those of moochers, looters, second-handers, and other irrationalists.

But of course the downside of this view, besides the fact that it has no evident biological foundation, is that it divides the world into authentic human beings and counterfeit human beings, with the latter being disposable. Rand's stated views on American Indians fit neatly into this model.

Perhaps Whittaker Chambers caught a whiff of this idea when he famously wrote that on nearly every page Atlas Shrugged he could hear a narrator intone, "To a gas chamber - go!" After all, are subhumans entitled to human rights? Maybe human rights are reserved only for those who are "truly" human ...

I'm not trying to be snarky about this. I honestly believe that Rand's viewpoint ran along these lines, even if, for obvious reasons, she chose to present it only by implication.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "I would also like to see a study saying criminals have higher self-esteem than law abiding people. And also, what the study's definition and measurement of self-esteem is. "

I seem to recall reading somewhere that such studies have been conducted and that they usually find that criminals report having very high self-esteem (particularly socoipaths).

Even more disturbing is research in evolutionary biology indicating that the genetic traits leading to sociopathic behavior may be the result of a workable survival strategy that has been selected by evolution. (The other alternative is that it is mutation.) Of course, it is only one strategy among several alternatives; and one, moreover, that can be successful for a minority of the species. Throughout history, there have been bad people who have prospered, have had many children, and who have spread their potentially evil DNA far and wide.

Wells said...

Jay's response (Because even if you ignore the issue of other people's violated rights, consider what the life of a criminal entails....) is pretty good. I'm reasonably convinced that criminality is not something that would be rational if you had the right information. People who are full of themselves, or think honest living is for chumps might be 'rational' insomuch as what they do follows from what they think. but they are not really maximizing their potential enjoyment of life.

David said...

Perhaps I'm being a but of a verbalist here, but since the issue of crime and criminality is a matter of law - that ever fallible, human institution - it seems that there ought to be a better way to determine whether someone is rational or not than whether or not they've run afoul of the law.

To bring it back to the original post, my question to Piekoff on this point would be:

Several Objectivists have said to me that if faced with a bad law, one should obey the law and seek to change it through the proper channels. This seems to ignore that governments can and do pass incredibly immoral laws. An example would be the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal to help a slave run away because it amounted to the theft of another man's property. Does this mean that the slave-hunters were rational (and therefore, good) and those activists who ran the Underground Railroad were irrational (and thus, evil)? And then, after the passage of the 13th amendment, the hunters were now deemed irrational (and evil) and the abolitionists were now rational (and good)? To argue such would be - at the least - a form cultural relativism.

It seems there's a higher standard at play above or beyond the law that determines whether or not something or someone is rational or irrational as well as whether or not it is moral or immoral of obey or disobey a given law. What is the higher standard, how does it apply to the Fugitive Slave Act, and how
would it be applied to other laws?

In short, when is it permissible to break the law? Are there any cases where one is morally required to break the law?

Finally, are there any laws currently on the books we can (or should) be breaking and why?

Neil Parille said...

Greg,

I gather that the guy mentioned in this article --

http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2006/3/9/floridaStateProfQuestionsSelfesteem

has done studies showing that criminals have high self-esteem. In fact if you deal with inmates as I often do, you will find that they tend to have self-esteem at the "meter busting level" in Dan's phrase.

There was a study done in Sweden some years ago in which 81% of the Swedes said they were above average drivers.

Of course, Objectivists will say that they are only encouraging "reality based" self esteem and that's true. But these studies indicate that maybe a little bit of humility isn't such a bad thing either.

Jay said...

Greg/Dan,

Peikoff answered one of my questions in his 04DEC07 question and answer session! Here was my original e-mail to him:

Dr. Peikoff,

I was arguing with a friend of mine (a former Objectivist) about the need for laws to be objective. He claims objective laws are impossible, citing how society has "arbitrarily" set 18 as the adult age. In his view, we have decided collectively that a person is an adult at 18 instead of 16 or 17, therefore all laws are subjective. I replied that the nature and need for the law is completely objective: the need to divide adults from children in a legal context is objective, and the exact age is the work of law, not philosophy. He of course dismissed that reasoning. What are your thoughts?

If you listen to Peikoff's latest MP3 Q&A, this is the last question he answers. He even says "16 or 17" just like I did and kept most of my wording. Does this mean I get a free dead trees copy of ARCHN? Because giving a free copy to a broke college student at Christmastime is an awfully benevolent thing to do! ;)

Daniel Barnes said...

Po' college student? You who sold your startup and probably retired at 18?...;-)

Seriously, of course. We here at the ARCHNblog are men of our word. Mail me at estigon2001atyahoodotcodotnz with your details and the Dread Tome is yours. Merry Christmas and well done.

Jay said...

Done and done. Pleasure observing the trader principle with you ;).

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