Sunday, January 28, 2007

ARCHN Quote Of The Week 29/1/07

"...Objectivism is largely a rationalization of (Rand's) own preconceived, pet ideas. She nearly confesses as much in an interview with Alvin Toffler. In response to the question "Do you regard philosophy as the primary purpose of your writing?" Rand replied, "No. My primary purpose is the projection of an ideal man, of man 'as he might be and ought to be.' Philosophy is a necessary means to that end." To admit, as Rand does here, that one's philosophy is merely a means to some end other than discovering the truth is tantamount to admitting that one's philosophy consists merely of an attempt to rationalize one's own personal convictions."
- Greg Nyquist, ARCHN, p4

JARS: Peirce's & Rand's Metaphysics

The Fall issue of JARS features a curious article entitled "Some Convergences and Divergences in the Realism of Charles Peirce and Ayn Rand." Peirce is the greatest of all American born philosophers: an extraordinarily subtle and penetrating philosopher whose complex cerebrations often take a visionary turn. Rand, who, along with William James, is the most widely read American philosopher, is also a "vision" philosopher, though her genius manifests itself in the ability to put across a vision and make it live in the hearts of her sympathetic readers rather than in creating a convincing philosophic system. The JARS article, by Marc Champagne, is a bit too subtle to get into here. Summarizing it in my own philosophic language, I would say that the greatest common denominator between Peirce and Rand is they both involved in a revolt against epistemological dualism: that is, neither of them are very comfortable with the notion that our knowledge of the world is mediated through the veil of ideas, or that it is useful to distinguish between essence and existence, between World 1 (physical reality) and World 3 (platonic Ideas or essences) objects. Where they differ, is in their strategies for evading the dualistic implications of realism. Rand's approach is largely verbal: she keeps insisting on the objectivity of concepts (as if such matters could be settled by mere assertion!) and drops hints about the horrors of Cartesian representationalism, particularly as it manifests itself in Kant's confused separation of phenomena and noumena. Peirce, a much more intellectually responsible philosopher, attempts to advance some very sophisticated metaphysical arguments to extricate himself from epistemological dualism. In the end, however, having denied the fundamental difference between reality and an individual's experience of reality, he winds up adopting something very close to idealism: he even goes so far as to suggest that "all is signs"--i.e., only World 3 objects exist.

Why are both these philosophers so down on epistemological dualism? I suspect that it derives from the fact that both Rand and Peirce believe in speculative metaphysics--i.e., they both hold that matters of fact can be determined by logical constructions. But once thoughts are distinguished from the existents in reality, speculative metaphysics, particularly of the rigorously logical variety, becomes a far less plausible undertaking. The world of Ideas (Popper's World 3 and Santayana's realm of essence) is infinite; and therefore, the number of logical combinations (or arguments) is also infinite. But only a small fraction of those infinite combinations will likely ever be found to describe something manifested in the world of matter (Popper's World 1), which means such manifestations are fortutious: there is nothing necessary about them. To find out whether a given logical combination corresponds with reality, one must look to the facts of the matter.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"A Person" Writes...

Over at Amazon I've been parsing the 'review' of ARCHN by one "A Person." Interesting only as an example of the lengths some Randians will go to to misrepresent their critics, and of their cheerful rejection of such basic standards as providing evidence for assertions, keeping quotes in some semblance of context, or even reading the book in question. Not a pretty picture.

Update:
I've inserted some additional points into my initial Amazon comment to save casual readers the tedium of wading through the rest of the thread, which consists mostly of me extracting a couple of foggy retractions from a highly reluctant A Person. I reproduce my points here, however, because ultimately the exchange strongly reinforces Greg's basic thesis about Objectivism's avoidance of "empirical responsibility."

Let's start with AP's opening comment:

"...each of my observations is an obvious logical conclusion of Mr. Nyquist's statements."

If only this were so! Let's look at the first of his "obvious logical conclusions" . AP quotes Nyquist saying "What I seek is not for my readers to agree with me--that would be an immense bore--but that they understand and criticize me intelligently." From this, AP concludes that ARCHN is "more of a hypothetical stab against Objectivism than an organized argument, and its author's stated purpose is not to provide a convincing refutation of Objectivism". But this is a non-sequitur - it does not follow that ARCHN is therefore not an organised and convincing argument. While AP found himself unable to muster the intellectual stamina to make it past the book's intro, in order to make it even there he must have encountered the Table of Contents, which sets out Nyquist's comprehensive critique of the 7 main branches of Rand's philosophy. (Reader Alexander F├╝rstenberg in his 4 star Amazon review gives a handy overview of the book's structure in detail). Further, from the fact that philosophical systems cannot be *finally* refuted ( and this is true; for metaphysical statements are often unfalsifiable in form - think "A is A" for example - and also 'true believers' of particular philosophic systems can always simply *refuse to accept* any refutation offered, much like the priest who refused to look through Galileo's telescope) it does not follow that ARCHN does not set out to be strongly convincing. It does, and judging from the reviews of readers who are not already Randian "true believers", it is.

Of course, basic logical fallacies aside, we should not expect much factual information either from a 'reviewer' who reads no further than the introduction. It is little wonder then that AP makes any number of inane, fact free claims. For example, he says Nyquist views philosophical systems "as collections of isolated facts rather than integrated wholes that stand on foundational principles." But this is simply wrong - following Karl Popper, Nyquist *does* view philosophies as integrated wholes, which can nonetheless be criticised and successfully refuted (although not to "true believers" of course) by searching for counter-examples in empirical fact. Thus ARCHN is chock-a-block full of *factual* refutations of Objectivist dogmas, 360 or so pages of them starting with Rand's theory of human nature, moving through history, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics etc. These factual refutations are in turn logically devastating to the fundamental principles of Objectivism.

Thus AP's claims that Nyquist does not address Rand's "actual doctrines" and that he "does not intend to offer specific refutations of Miss Rand's factual assertions" are completely laughable - a perfect example of a 'true believer' simply refusing to look through the telescope.

One wonders: why isn't AP embarrassed by making such obviously fake statements in public? Why would one attempt such a lengthy and transparent folly as reviewing a book without reading it in the first place? Well, Greg Nyquist has written elsewhere (in the upcoming Journal of Ayn Rand Studies) that despite their rhetoric about "facts of reality", in practice the followers of Ayn Rand seem to believe that by adopting her dogmas they are somehow relieved of "empirical responsibility"; of the basic responsibility studying the facts. This is the essence of Nyquist's critique of Objectivism - that it is, despite its claims to the contrary, a philosophy that goes out of its way to evade reality. This 'review' gives us a nutshell case of this tendency, as AP does not trouble himself to study the fact of the book itself, and considers all it is necessary to do is trim a few quotes from the introduction into suitable cues to commence reciting his Objectivist catechism. Thus, as he has not read ARCHN, AP's 'review' *can only be* his own imaginary rendering of its actual content mixed with generic Randian boilerplate and some typically inept attempts at logical deduction; which in turn can hardly make it worth examining in any more detail, other than as a textbook example of the Randian method of "bluff, buttressed by abuse" in action, and, as I also write at the end of (the Amazon discussion) thread, of how *not* to conduct a good-faith intellectual discussion.

Friday, January 19, 2007

JARS: "Demystifying Emotion"

The Fall 2006 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies commences with an article entitled "Demystifying Emotion: Introducing the Affect Theory of Silvan Tomkins to Objectivists" by Steven Shmurak. The article begins by acknowledging that Rand's view of emotions "fails to make sense o fthe totality of our emotional lives." Shmurak then introduces Tomkins' theory as possible alternative. Although he doesn't say so outright, Shmurak appears to be suggesting that if we were to "update" Rand's theory of emotions by replacing it with Tomkins' that would serve to strengthen the Objectivist position. But this suggestion assumes that the primary aim of Rand's theory is to provide a realistic explanation of human emotions. What if this assumption is false? What if the primary aim of Rand's theory is simply to prove that emotions can be entirely subjected to "reason"? After all, Rand's political, social, and psychological ideals would all be seriously jeopardized if emotions could not be entirely controlled by "reason." Hence my suspicion that Rand's theory of emotion is a little more than a formalized rationalization of a much deeper pathology in Rand--namely, her desire to subject every aspect of human existence to conscious "reasoned" thought, so that nothing is ever left to chance and the human being can be regarded as responsible for everything about himself.

This viewpoint, which Rand clung to with passionate obstinacy, is the fountainhead of nearly everything that is wrong with Rand's philosophy. It amounts to a kind of idealism. Just as ordinary idealists believe that their minds create and populate the natural world, so Rand, in effect, believes that the mind creates the psychological world--man's very self--out of its own ideas (or "basic premises").