Saturday, June 06, 2009

Objectivism & Politics, Part 14

Interests and spoliation. In many of the previous “Objectivism and Politics” posts, I have slowly been building the case against Peikoff’s assertion that “Philosophy shapes a nation’s political system.” The main pillars of my argument are: (1) The influence of non-rational factors, such as Pareto’s residues, on political conduct; and (2) the inability to determine political ends via rational means (i.e., Hume’s is-ought gap). Yet we must consider one other major factor in the determination of political conduct: interests.

In society, the interests of men often conflict. The interests, for example, of members of the ruling elite often conflict with the interests of ruled masses. Since there exists no absolute harmony of interests, divisions exist within society that cannot be resolved by “reason.”

Few political thinkers have understood the fact of conflicting interests in society better than America’s founding fathers. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist:

The latent causes of faction are … sown in the nature of man…So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interest forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

According to Madison, factions based on sentiments and interests are part of the human condition. There is nothing that can be done to make them vanish. They will always exist in society.

Objectivism attempts to counter Madison’s view of the inevitably of faction with the assertion “that there are no conflicts of interest between rational men.” [OPAR, 236] Now on the face of it, this seems like a hopelessly naive view. If you are an auto worker making $70,000 a year working in a GM plant, isn’t it in your interest for the government to bail this company out and allow you to continue making your handsome salary until you retire? If so, then your interest conflicts with taxpayers and consumers of automobiles. If you are a company specializing in environmental products, isn’t it in your interest to have the government support legislation which, in effect, forces businesses to become buy your products? If so, then your interest conflicts with consumers, who now have to pay more for products that fall under environmental regulation. If you are unable to afford health care, isn’t it in your interest to have the state force medical facilities to treat you if you are ill? If so, then your interest conflicts with taxpayers and with other consumers of medical goods.

So how does Objectivism deal with such conflicts of interest? By the very simple but controversial strategy of claiming that such interests are not “rational.” According to the implied logic of the Objectivist position, it is not rational for a GM autoworker to support the bailout of the company he works for, even if the only viable alternative for him is to take a low paying service job; nor is it rational for a company specializing an environmental products to support environmental legislation, even though, in the absence of such legislation, the company will almost certainly go out of business and its stockholders will come away empty handed; nor is it even rational for a poor person unable to afford health care to desire forced medical care on his behalf, even if the alternative means death. Consequences are of little importance in determining the rationality of interest. What is important is that individuals do no violate the political and social ideals of Objectivism.

One of the most critical assumptions behind the Objectivist denial of conflicting interests between “rational” men is the notion that it is not in the interest for one individual to exploit or despoil another because, sooner or later, this will lead to a complete despoiling of the productive classes, resulting in impoverishment for every one. While there is always a danger of the despoilers killing the goose that lays the golden egg, there is no guarantee that this will happen. All human societies, past and present, have featured a certain amount of spoliation of the many by the few; yet some of these societies have flourished for hundreds of years.

How is this possible? How can spoliation occur without wiping out wealth altogether? The main reason for this stems from a kind of asymmetry of motivation that exists between the despoilers and the despoiled. As Pareto explains: 


It is a curious circumstance, and one meriting attention, that men are often observed to act with much more energy in appropriating the property of others than in defending their own. As we have noted elsewhere, if, in a nation of thirty million, it is proposed to levy one franc per annum on each citizen and to distribute the total to thirty individuals, these latter will work night and day for the success of this proposal, while it will be difficult to get the others to bestir themselves sufficiently to oppose the proposal, because, after all, it is only one franc! Another example: it is proposed to establish a ‘minimum salary’ for the employees of public administration. The people who in consequence of this measure will receive an increase of salary are perfectly aware of the advantage this proposal has for them. They and their friends will exert themselves all they can for the success of the candidates who promise to provide them with this manna. As for the people who are going to have to pay for this salary increase, each of them has great difficulties in working out what this is going to cost him in tax, and if he manages to access it, the amount seems of small significance. In most cases, he doesn’t even think about it…. One of the hardest things to get tax payers to understand is that ten times one franc makes ten francs. Provided the tax increases occur gradually, they can reach a total amount which would have provoked explosions of wrath had they been levied at one swoop.

Spoliation therefore seldom meets with a really effective resistance from the despoiled…. Rules for the distribution of goods … have to be applied by human beings, and their conduct will reflect their qualities and defects. If today there are arbiters who always decide against persons belonging to a certain class and in favor of persons belonging to certain other classes, there will very likely be ‘distributors’ in this society of tomorrow who will share out the loaf in such a way as to give a very little piece to A and a very big piece to B. [Les Systèmes Socialistes, Vol 1, ch 2]

Now while Objectivists may, if they wish, denounce those who engage in spoliation as “irrational,” such condemnations are not likely to prevent the spoliation from taking place. The term “irrational” in this context is merely an epithet of abuse. Objectivists, when using it, are clearly involved in an argumentum ad hominem. If an individual is given the opportunity to enrich himself at the expense of more productive individuals, why is it rational for him to abstain? If selfishness is a virtue, shouldn’t an individual seek to enrich himself in any way he can? As long as runs no great risk of retribution, his self-interest would appear to demand the use of every means at his disposal.

Once we grasp the motivational and situational logic of spoliation in society, it becomes clear that, as Madison warned us, “the latent causes of faction” are in fact “sown” in the nature of man and society. Rand’s assertion that no conflicts exist between rational men is irrelevant nonsense. Because of the asymmetry of interests between the despoilers and the despoiled, it is idle to denounce spoliation as “irrational.” Whether irrational or not, those who benefit from it are not going to give up their ill gotten gains without a fight. This means that in every society there will always exist powerful vested interests that will use every means at their command to support spoliation (and oppose Rand's "laissez-faire"). In short, there will always be factions, including, most ominous of all, factions in support of spoliation. Nor will these vested interests go away merely because Rand claimed she solved the problem of universals. Reality doesn’t work like that.

60 comments:

Cavewight said...

On "there are no conflicts of interest between rational men," I don't see where you applied your Pareto principle. You should have laid claim to the idea that there are no truly "rational" men whose interests are always objective, but that objectivity can always be reduced to residues or that residues are inevitable even in the most "rational" people. And as long as they have these subjective interests that may conflict with those of others there will always be conflicts of interests. All you are saying, instead, is that there have been and will always be spoliators in society, and that calling them "irrational" won't make them go away. I suspect however that that argument won't make the Objectivist argument go away.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight was probably an Objectivist at some point in his life. He has the same tendencies and temperament - he's just changed from Rand to Kant.

Cavewight said...

Laj:

That was a very astute observation! - unless of course you only read it on my blog page where I did blog down some of my past history with Objectivism.

Cavewight said...

Few political thinkers have understood the fact of conflicting interests in society better than America’s founding fathers. As James Madison...

Come to think of it, Hobbes would serve as a better candidate for this role in your essay.

Xtra Laj said...

"That was a very astute observation! - unless of course you only read it on my blog page where I did blog down some of my past history with Objectivism."

I just visited your blog and I find my observation to be a wonderful coincidence. I find it interesting the kind of idealistic personalities who are attracted to Objectivism. You all seem to be idealistic absolutists of one stripe or another.

Cavewight said...

Laj,

It's not idealism in the wrong-headed sense, Kant stated in the "Refutation of Idealism" that he has played the Idealist's own cards against him.

I don't know what personalities has to do with it anyway, that is just psychologism. Absolute Idealism is Hegelian, not Kantian, you're welcome to look it up on Wikipedia.

FYI, the move from Kant to Hegel occurred through Fichte's feral manipulation, his was a complete reversal of Kant's Critical philosophy starting with a rejection of Kant's thing-in-itself. Objectivists, on the other hand, would have us believe that "Kant led to Hegel," ignoring the important influence of Fichte who stood in between.

But as Kant stated in the Prolegomena, there is no Idealism in stating that color does not exist outside consciousness, and so there is no Idealism in stating the same about space and time. By wrongfully rejecting the thing-in-itself, Fichte took away the source of all impressions upon the senses. Fichte cut off all impressions from objects beyond the senses and made them absolute properties of the mind, lacking any source beyond the senses as color has its source in light-waves via the modification of the senses. That color is the result of such modification is not Idealism, it is a scientific fact.

Fichte cut the mind off from reality, not Kant.

From there Fichte asserted a metaphysical Truth beyond all reach of the senses and understanding, considering these latter only sources of illusions.

Objectivists, ex-Objectivists, and other Kant detractors, are often guilty of confusing Kant with Fichte, and with little justice.

Xtra Laj said...

I meant that you Objectivist-types are absolutists (people who like absolutes) and idealists (people who generally think that free will and rational thinking is man's nature and will help us solve all the world's ills).

Nothing to do with Absolute Idealism.

Cavewight said...

I try to leave the political ideals to others, and I avoid political conversations. To an extent, I have come to see more and more that there are no solutions, or none that humanity is smart enough to discern (particularly not the man on the street who thinks he knows all the answers in the world). The best we can hope for is to sit back and watch how political events play themselves out.

So I am really not the Objectivist "type" anymore.

I hate to say it, Laj, but you have "confirmation bias" written all over your posts like a stamped-in watermark impression.

I wish I could help you out of your habit of basing assumptions on very little evidence, and particularly of assuming the worst of people here before even getting to know them. It is as if you are trying to "get to know them" before the fact.

But I have a difficult time dealing with bias in others, particularly of those who imagine they are being objective, because I constantly find that they think I am the biased one. However, I find that the strongest biases belong to those who think of themselves in terms of some group or other ("I am female," "I am Mormon," "my family is never wrong," etc.), and I have not identified with any social groups.

My problem may be that I am in transition from that kind of "group-think" mentality, as found in Objectivism or any other group you can think of, but I have not learned to emotionally cope with the change yet.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

By the way, most Objectivists have the same frustrations as you that there are no "solutions". This is a function of the errant idealism that drives what one considers a solution in the first place. Because the kind of free will and rational thinking that you desire is not available to most people (it has never been, by the way), you lament the world's path and espouse a depressing earth-based eschatology.

Everyone is biased in some way or another so I plead guilty in that regard and I might very well be wrong about you. As a statistically oriented thinker, confirmation bias is inherent in my nature, so I plead guilty.

Cavewight said...

The word "Idealism" as used by you is not of course some kind of subjectivism, right? I'm not sure if you're propounding some kind of anti-idealism, after all, this country (the US) was founded on ideals. Ideals enable progress.

I don't know if there are many others like me who believe mankind isn't smart enough to find social solutions. Most of the people I've known who had strong opinions on the subject weren't very smart or very well-read. Employing, at best, everyday common-sense, or at worst, something like racism, is about the extent of their amazing solutions.

I think there are people who are smart enough, who can find the answers, but as with Ayn Rand, their minds are trapped in a box.

BTW, I don't understand how being a statistically oriented thinker leads to confirmation bias. Of course, statistics can always be manipulated, if that's what you mean.

I don't see confirmation bias as a natural condition but something that can and should be rooted out. I probably learned my own lesson reading the Critique. I thought to find the truth of every savage Randian criticism in those pages, instead I found a fountain of wisdom and knowledge that never ends. And a writing style like Kant's forces you to do your own thinking because it is not some simple pap spoon-fed to the masses as with Objectivism.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "On 'there are no conflicts of interest between rational men,' I don't see where you applied your Pareto principle."

This is a post on interests, not residues. Pareto separates the two. The pursuit of an interest, as long as uses the correct means, is considered by Pareto as "logical" conduct. (This is different from considering those interests as "rational"—Pareto would consider them "arational")

Of course, one can argue that there are no rational men, so that Rand's statement becomes a piece of utter irrelevance. But I've already made that argument in other places (when discussing Hume's is-ought gap). This is an additional argument—one that can be added to all the others. It's about the affect of interests on political belief and political conduct. It challenges Rand's notion that all "looters" would be better off if they agreed to stop using the government to steal from producers; that, in other words, it's in everyone's self-interest to follow Rand's trader principle. It may in fact be in a person's self-interest to continue "looting" (as long as they follow Pareto's method of looting a small amount from many people). These people will never be persuaded to accept the Objectivist politics.

"I suspect however that that argument won't make the Objectivist argument go away."

None of the arguments presented on this blog (or in my book) will make the Objectivist argument go away. After all, I have made it clear that I don't have a very high opinion of the rationality of most human beings. So I have little faith that I can make bad arguments go away by refuting them. The point of this blog is not to make Objectivism go away by refuting it. No, not in the least. As I have noted before, I regard Objectivism as a kind of bunny hole that some individuals (usually young adults) inexplicably slip into. Occasionally, a few of these individuals want to get out of the bunny hole. The purpose of this blog (besides the sheer fun of indulging in philosophical criticism) is to help recovering Objectivists return to the real world. As for those who wish to remain in the Objectivist bunny hole, I have no desire to stir them from their dogmatic slumbers, but only hope they may continue to enjoy their sojourn in their Objectivist wonderland.

Cavewight said...

Greg:

I meant "go away" in the logical sense. I should have put some scare quotes to good use! But I'm glad my comment gave you the opportunity to extemporize on the purpose of this blog which I didn't know until now.

You say young people "inexplicably" slip into a bunny hole upon reading some Rand, but some, such as Nathaniel Branden, don't see it as inexplicable at all. And Rand, in my view, makes young people feel like heroes, she gives them a purpose to live and even the potential of a group of like-minded others to join with in a sneak-preview of their version of Atlantis. Then they can fight together toward their vision of a new world (in which people such as you and me, the non-believers, aren't invited and don't belong) by writing letters to the editor and contributing thought-provoking works on philosophy to the ARI's annual essay contest.

Cavewight said...

One thing I find interesting here is the lack of analysis of Objectivist terminology. In this case, by not defining what Rand meant by an "interest" it is possible to take it anyway you please.

When defined properly (and not necessarily as Rand wrote in the essay you're referring to), it simply means that a group of men who believe in reason, purpose, self-esteem, and capitalism, have no conflicts of interest. In other words, Randroids have no conflicts of interest because they are all interested in the same things on principle.

Rand's example in her essay was that of two men competing for the same job. She argued that they do not have a conflict of interest as they were both interested in productive work. An "interest," therefore, goes deeper than the immediate moment, in this case, a job position. There is no conflict of principles here, no conflict of interests. (Principles and interests are held synonymously.)

There is, on the other hand, a conflict of interest between those who don't believe in bailing-out GM, and those who do. The conflict (put in somewhat Randian terms) involves whether or not it is right for government to "steal from the starving poor and give to the thieving rich," in this case, GM.

Certainly such conflicts will always exist. But all Rand is saying that such conflicts do not exist between the rational among us who therefore don't believe in bail-outs.

The only question then is: are there conflicts of interest among irrational men, that is, non-Objectivists? I think Rand would agree with Hobbes in that conflicts of interest are inevitable in a situation where there are no rational principles, that is, in a state of nature.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

When defined properly (and not necessarily as Rand wrote in the essay you're referring to), it simply means that a group of men who believe in reason, purpose, self-esteem, and capitalism, have no conflicts of interest. - cavewight on 6/08/2009 08:01:00 PM
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Cavewight, your statements above is such a naive view.

Two competiting businessmen who believe in reason, purpose, self-esteem, and capitalism don't have conflict of interest?

Daniel Barnes said...

Cavewight:
>You say young people "inexplicably" slip into a bunny hole upon reading some Rand, but some, such as Nathaniel Branden, don't see it as inexplicable at all...

While I wouldn't put too much weight on Greg's en passant "inexplicably" I tend to think there are some pretty standard motivations for becoming an Objectivist. Obviously there are the superficial exhortations to productivity, freedom, self-esteem etc, which provide the vague inspiration which Objectivism is genuinely useful for. However, this inspiration is almost entirely due to Rand's emotional rhetoric, romantic rationalisations and dramatised narratives, and nothing to do any kind of empirical or logical analysis, which of course her actual doctrines, where they can even be estabilished clearly, do not survive for a moment. Eventually however reality sets in for most people, and they either get no further than this vague inspiration or they drift away from it, as the apparent disconnect between Atlas Shrugged's sales and conversions to actual Objectivists. However, one of the perennial underlying appeals of Objectivism that's not often discussed is the appeal of power. Think about it: by putting philosophy in general, and her philosophy in particular, in the driving seat of of all human intellectual endeavour, you automatically get promoted to "master" status over a whole bunch of things. You can be an utter know-nothing about science, politics, history; but once you're an Objectivist, you can tell Albert Einstein where to get off - "metaphysically" speaking of course! The seductive appeal of this kind of power trip, and its incitments to megalomania has been around since Plato, and it's all too alive and well in Rand. I can't help but think this is a big unrecognised part of her philosophy's appeal.

Xtra Laj said...

"You can be an utter know-nothing about science, politics, history; but once you're an Objectivist, you can tell Albert Einstein where to get off - "metaphysically" speaking of course! The seductive appeal of this kind of power trip, and its incitments to megalomania has been around since Plato, and it's all too alive and well in Rand. I can't help but think this is a big unrecognised part of her philosophy's appeal."

I don't think it's as unrecognized as you make out, Dan. I think that as Greg has pointed out a few times, it is the kind of power that appeals strongly to intellectuals, especially those intellectuals that lose out in other status-seeking competitions in life.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

So what do you think of the ideal of slavery that was built into the founding of the United States?

That something was founded on ideals does not mean that the ideals were the primary foundation for its success, or that other factors are not as relevant. Many people like to talk about the US constitution but overlook many of the other things that it had going for it - fewer historical baggage, lots of land for expansion, talented immigrants looking for better futures in a land that could accommodate them etc. To focus exclusively on ideals is the manner of a romantic. There is a lot of good economics (both traditional and non-traditional) out there.

Today, America is experiencing the regression to the mean that is natural when a country contains such inequality and is trying to address with social redistribution. Any country with such a variability in outcomes along racial lines is going to face similar problems.

As for confirmation bias, I think that there is no point debating the issue since my views are far more sophisticated than I can present. I'm not as much concerned with confirmation bias as to whether what I am saying is true or not. So far, my impression of you is that you moved from Rand worship to Kant worship. What is wrong with not worshiping anyone, or admitting your biases upfront? Don't run away from what you are. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't, tell me your shoe size.

It's clear I'm a materialist empiricist. We aren't doing any experimental science here - we are mostly engaging in arguments, so anything we write will mostly reek of confirmation bias. What I'm trying to figure out is your bias. You seem beholden to the very vision of rationality that inspires Objectivism and have simply found that Kant expresses it better than Rand.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
Cavewight, your statements above is such a naive view.

Two competiting businessmen who believe in reason, purpose, self-esteem, and capitalism don't have conflict of interest?


It's not my view. I hope to represent Rand's argument in my own words and without being identified with Rand's naive view. Two competing businessmen who believe in capitalism, the profit-motive and limited government do not have a conflict of interests, in Rand's naive view.

At the end of Atlas Shrugged is represented the attitude of competing businessmen who do not have conflicts of interests--

"John will design the new locomotives," Rearden was saying, "and Dagny will run the first railroad between New York and Philadelphia. She—" And, suddenly, on hearing the next sentence, Francisco threw his head up and burst out laughing, a laughter of greeting, triumph and release... The sentence Rearden had uttered was: "She will probably try to take the shirt off my back with the freight rates she's going to charge, but—I'll be able to meet them."

Cavewight said...

Daniel wrote (among other things):
...the apparent disconnect between Atlas Shrugged's sales and conversions to actual Objectivists.

I thought you did a good job of summing-up the intellectual appeal of Objectivism. I think however that any Objectivist would argue that the apparent disconnect between sales and conversions is irrelevant. No Objectivist realistically expects to convert the masses to Objectivism. All they really expect is to convert the right kind of people - and to get a little attention for Rand.

Cavewight said...

Laj wrote:
So what do you think of the ideal of slavery that was built into the founding of the United States?

I don't see it as an ideal. Many immigrants brought over with them some virulent beliefs of various kinds, including religious. What matters is that this country was designed to accommodate them all, within reason. We should obviously delimit this to exclude things such as the religious ritual of human sacrifice. And of course the presence of ideals does not automatically guarantee that everybody is going to get along, particularly when these ideals originally only seemed to be applicable to white people.

So perhaps you are expecting perfection from an idealist when in fact the ideal is something to strive toward in increments, and not something to expect overnight.

At the risk of being further considered a Kant worshipper, I would like to cite some recent theories on Kantian politics.

Elisabeth Ellis, Katerina Deligiorgi, and Robert B. Pippin are part of the recent wave of Kant scholars who think that debates about the sufficiency and legitimacy of the categorical imperative are "stale" (Ellis). Rather than denounce the Kantian legacy en toto, they redefine it to defend it against its sharpest opponents and to identify the salvageable core. Kant's greatest accomplishment, according to the authors, is a theory of provisional politics (Ellis), the idea of cultural enlightenment (Deligiorgio), or the ideal of bourgeois subjectivity (Pippin). Each author discards outdated elements of Kant's practical philosophy to isolate elements worth preserving and endorsing in the academic and the larger world...

Most interesting to me in this context is Ellis's theory of Kant's provisional politics.

In response to this problem, I argue here for a new Kantian political theory that refocuses scholarly attention away from stale debates over absolute principles and towards the kinds of politics that really matter: toward substantive rather than merely formal citizenship; toward dynamic theories of democratization rather than static models of constitutional perfection; and toward empirically disciplined recognition of the power of shared ideas in political change, rather than the currently available and equally unappetizing alternatives of liberal universalism and reductive realism.

All this - from Kant? Or rather, a Kant reinterpretation in modern terms.

I'm afraid that those who cling to the same old stale arguments, as Pareto does, are simply missing out on all the recent excitement. These are not some feeble attempts to reinvigorate a dying conversation, but to point out aspects of Kantian theory that may not have been picked up on before now due precisely to the inability to get over his absolutes such as the CI. And that would obviously include bringing to light Kantian political theory which has been given short shrift now for over 200 years since its first publication.

This is indeed exciting - and so when I read about Pareto's "devastating" critique of Kant's CI, there's not much to do except yawn and ponder when the heck scholars such as Pareto will pull their heads out of the sand and look at the recent research instead of relying on the same old stale criticisms of 30, 40, and 50+ years ago.

Red Grant said...

But Cavewight, Kant contradicted himself per your statements, and isnt' that why you never responded my assertion in Objectivism & Politics, Part 11 thread:


Following is a recap:



___________________________________

As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
===================================

So who decides what should be the certain moral end you're talking about above? - Red Grant on 6/03/2009 10:01:00 PM
===================================
In at least one modern case, the answer turns out to be Karl Marx. In the case of the US, the answer turns out to be the Founders. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 06:26:00 AM
___________________________________




So political establishment decides what is moral according to you, and Kant?

Doesn't that contradict what you referred to as Kantian moral system?

According to you, Kantian moral system , the political establishment supports the freedom of the people while directing them to a certain moral end, but if the
political establishment itself decided what should be that certain moral end, then they can define whatever they want as that certain moral end and use the system of law and punishment to detract the freedom of the will toward that certain end.

Of course, that means Kant as you have described contradicted himself?

6/04/2009 07:45:00 AM, from "Objectivism & Politics, Part 11"

Cavewight said...

Laj wrote:
It's clear I'm a materialist empiricist. We aren't doing any experimental science here - we are mostly engaging in arguments, so anything we write will mostly reek of confirmation bias. What I'm trying to figure out is your bias.

I'm not sure what the point is.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote: According to you, Kantian moral system , the political establishment supports the freedom of the people while directing them to a certain moral end, but if the
political establishment itself decided what should be that certain moral end, then they can define whatever they want as that certain moral end and use the system of law and punishment to detract the freedom of the will toward that certain end.

Of course, that means Kant as you have described contradicted himself?


Keep in mind that Kant himself had a certain political system in mind, the "pure republic," "a representative system of the people, in order to protect its rights in its name, by all citizens united and acting through their delegates (deputies)."

Obviously every political theorist has their own ideal system and thus wants to be the one who gets to decide. Kant's theory is directed toward a certain political goal and not Karl Marx's. The system itself (e.g., pure republic or communism) is not the end, it is the means toward the end, the system being an externalized expression of someone's moral theory.

I highly recommend the Ellis work on Kant's theory of provisional rights.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Revisionist Biblical interpretations also exist, you know.

Red Grant said...

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The system itself (e.g., pure republic or communism) is not the end, it is the means toward the end, the system being an externalized expression of someone's moral theory. - Cavewight on 6/09/2009 08:58:00 AM
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So finally, does this mean you admit there's no universal, objective absolute morality, even Kant's?





___________________________________

I highly recommend the Ellis work on Kant's theory of provisional rights. - Cavewight
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I will check it out, but first reviews from others and maybe browsing at bookstores before dipping into my pocket.

I am interested in theory of rights, but so far most libertarians and Objectivists disappointed me in their naive and intellectually lazy,and cowardly assumptions.




___________________________________

Revisionist Biblical interpretations also exist, you know. - Laj
___________________________________




What are the Revisionist Biblical interpretations as you personally have witnessed?

Cavewight said...

Red said: So finally, does this mean you admit there's no universal, objective absolute morality, even Kant's?

I haven't even come close to proving a negative here.

Obviously many people believe there is such an absolute. All Kant himself has done, however (and I do believe he has accomplished this much), is opened an intellectual "door" to the barest possibility that such an absolute exists. And that is the most he ever set out to do in that regard.

Red Grant said...

I've read the review at amazon, and also read about the biography of the author.

So far I'm not impressed. Review at amazon is closer to a mumbo jumbo and cheerleading mixed together.


The author seems to give credibility to such hugely over-rated academic (and poor researcher) such as John Rawl.

I've read (or tried to read "Theory of Justice" by Rawl) till I've found Rawl's mistake in that book.

Rawl thinks pretty highly of Aristotle and tried to use one of Aristotle's pet theory as confirmation of his theory.

Except that Rawl didn't do enough research on Aristotle regarding his views on slavery.

Pareto did, and Pareto mocked Aristotle on the shallowness of his thinking.

So to me, this proves Pareto knew more about the soundness of Aristotle's thinking than someone the author of book on Kant's provisional theory of rights tried to use to make Kant's theory credible.



Enough said!

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red said: So finally, does this mean you admit there's no universal, objective absolute morality, even Kant's?
===================================

I haven't even come close to proving a negative here.

Obviously many people believe there is such an absolute. All Kant himself has done, however (and I do believe he has accomplished this much), is opened an intellectual "door" to the barest possibility that such an absolute exists. And that is the most he ever set out to do in that regard. - Cavewight on 6/09/2009 05:24:00 PM
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Then why did you say Kant decided what is objectively good in universal sense in another thread?

If all Kant did was to show a mere possiblity such a morality exists?

Cavewight said...

Red said:Then why did you say Kant decided what is objectively good in universal sense in another thread?

If all Kant did was to show a mere possiblity such a morality exists?


The CI? It seems to me very logical to postulate lying as an absolute and then find that, conceptually, honesty becomes impossible. But that's all it is, pure logic applied to honesty and lying as general postulates of practical reason.

Kant considered logic to be absolute, and although it too varies with context, logic is everywhere to be found in Kantian theory.

Kant is not trying to be concrete with such an example, only logical, so of course it seems 'vague' in application - at least, until his work on politics, where its application is to be found - and along with it an opportunity to thumb one's nose at the "Kant's CI is too vague" crowd.

But of course the anti-Kant crowd will find something wrong with the political theory too, anybody who is anti-whatever will always find something to pout about.

Moral or logical absolutism is obviously not what I was talking about. Kant has not opened up the possibility of morality because he obviously didn't invent honesty, et al. - nor the possibility of logic - it was over 2000 years old and firmly established as a science in its own right - but the possibility of metaphysical absolutes. His transcendental distinction opened the intellectual "door" to a bare minimal possibility of the existence of God.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Moral or logical absolutism is obviously not what I was talking about. Kant has not opened up the possibility of morality because he obviously didn't invent honesty, et al. - nor the possibility of logic - it was over 2000 years old and firmly established as a science in its own right - but the possibility of metaphysical absolutes. His transcendental distinction opened the intellectual "door" to a bare minimal possibility of the existence of God. - Cavewight on 6/09/2009 08:06:00 PM
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But Cavewight, you did.

Let me refresh your memory.



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As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
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Your own words.

Cavewight said...

Red:

When you figure out precisely what question you're trying to arrive at with your scrolling-nightmare posting style, please get back to me with it. But so far we can't seem to get you past the basics of the difference between a system and an end, and other Freshman philosophy stuff.

Xtra Laj said...

Red,

Watch The Da Vinci Code sometime.

Red Grant said...

Cavewight, you contradicted your previous statement, and got caught.

I proved it with your own words.

You're obviously in denial.

Is that what you learned from Kant?

Cavewight said...

Red:

First you say Kant contradicted himself. Then you say I contradicted myself.

Which is it?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red:

First you say Kant contradicted himself. Then you say I contradicted myself.

Which is it? - Cavewight on 6/10/2009 05:35:00 AM
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Both.

RandalV said...

"Consequences are of little importance in determining the rationality of interest."

That's not accurate to the Objectivist view and more than a little unfair.

Consequences are >the< focus of rationality in Objectivism. But the consequences you consider should include the long-term and wide-spread consequences you can anticipate. If you cannot afford health care, for example, you have to think short-term and narrowly to ask the government to force medical facilities to treat you. You may get through today's emergency, but you do so at the cost of a healthy medical profession tomorrow.

The issue is not that "sooner or later, this will lead to a complete despoiling of the productive classes, resulting in impoverishment for every one." Rather, it's that you are hurting things you value >right now.< Why would you want to do that?

I've commented a few times on this website today. It fascinates me, specifically that you seem to be somewhat well-read on Objectivism, but you frequently mischaracterize Rand's views. It's strange, and I don't know what to make of it. I look forward to your responses.

PS I think that Rand addresses the is-ought gap very convincingly, including in regards to politics. See OPAR for more information.

Xtra Laj said...

RandaIV,

What you consider "mischaracterization" is simply a strong difference in how best to approach human nature. You seem to be a strong supporter of Rand's views which like to analyze human nature as it should be, rather than hewing more closely to human nature as it is, which is what is often done by conservative philosophers and empirical psychologists (behavioral geneticists).

I think that we all have a copy of OPAR and OPAR leaves the "is-ought" gap in pristine condition. The "is-ought" gap cam be stated as "moral arguments/conclusion require at least one moral premise" and I think Rand uses moral premises in all her moral arguments. So how does she dispute it convincingly?

She takes to a limited degree, an approach that certain moral premises seem indisputable, but the fact that others do dispute some of these premises should be taken a bit more seriously than Rand and OPAR do.

Cavewight said...

(Cross-posted to my blog.)

That "is" defines "ought," or "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do," is clearly circular. Rand confuses this situation with her theory of moral choice which leaves the "ought" to choice and not to "is." This is the problem of pre-moral choice which has stymied Objectivist ethics for decades now.

If an ought is defined by an is, then how is this up to pre-moral choice? How can any choices be pre-moral? "Choosing life as your standard of value is a pre-moral choice. It cannot be judged as right or wrong; but once chosen, it is the role of morality to help man to live the best life possible." "http://importanceofphilosophy.com/Ethics_LifeAsMoralStandard.html">

So it appears that Objectivism has not bridged the is-ought gap as long as there is at least one a-moral choice ("it cannot be judged as right or wrong"), the so-called "pre-moral choice."

"You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles." OPAR, 1. However true that may be, Objectivism has not bridged the gap enabling them to integrate facts of reality into moral prescriptions. We may have no choice then to integrate them, but the "how" of this is left up in the air. Objectivism therefore leaves man with no philosophical guidance to make the correct pre-moral choice, only highly romantic novels to convince his mind through escapist literature.

RandalV said...

Xtra:

"What you consider "mischaracterization" is simply a strong difference in how best to approach human nature"

I think that there >are< fundamental disagreements here, and sometimes they come out (as, for example, the is-ought gap). But I do often find that this blog argues against straw men versions of her arguments (ie that consequences are of little importance to rationality for her; that's just not accurate).

"You seem to be a strong supporter of Rand's views which like to analyze human nature as it should be, rather than hewing more closely to human nature as it is,"

Yeah, I'm seeing this sort of comment throughout the blog and the comments, and it's just not accurate. Rand's explicit approach is to start with observation and proceed by means of identification of similarities and difference. Her major in college was history, and you see evidence throughout her journals of starting with a messy empirical phenomenon. You may disagree with her conclusions about what she saw, but it's just not fair or true to call her non-empirical.

As to the is/ought problem: What exactly do you take as her attempt to answer it? Again, you may disagree with her argument, but you haven't stated it yet.

RandalV said...

Cavewight: I'm not sure why "life" isn't a satisfying fundamental to you.

Morality in Objectivism is an if-then thing: if you want to live, then what is matters to you and prescribes some courses of action. If not, then why would it? It's really just to say that if there >is< an angry lion behind you, then the man who wants to live >ought< to run.

Xtra Laj said...

RandaIV: I think that there >are< fundamental disagreements here, and sometimes they come out (as, for example, the is-ought gap). But I do often find that this blog argues against straw men versions of her arguments (ie that consequences are of little importance to rationality for her; that's just not accurate).

I think that Greg's statement, when read with the rest of the post, makes plenty of sense. When taken in isolation and read literally, it is a caricature of *anyone's* position. What Greg meant was that Rand habitually disregarded the consequences which did not fit into her ideal, but which by and large motivate many people in the world today. The idea that her desired consequences were more "rational" than those of others was so obvious to her that she saw little point in actually seeing if these consequences were really rational (whatever that might mean for consequences) or for the most part self-serving.

Rand's explicit approach is to start with observation and proceed by means of identification of similarities and difference. Her major in college was history, and you see evidence throughout her journals of starting with a messy empirical phenomenon. You may disagree with her conclusions about what she saw, but it's just not fair or true to call her non-empirical.

You must have very low standards for what qualifies as empirical then or even a messy empirical phenomenon. At the very least, an empiricist tries to consider both the evidence for an against his position and exposes his position to criticism through peer review and engagement of opponents. Rand for the most part considers only the evidence that supports her position and usually presents that which is against it in the most insulting terms. I can't remember ever getting a good sense of what, in the best possible light, motivated a flawed thinker by reading Rand. Her writings are huge monuments to errors of insular thinking and confirmation bias.


As to the is/ought problem: What exactly do you take as her attempt to answer it? Again, you may disagree with her argument, but you haven't stated it yet.


I find arguments over ethical positions for the most part a waste of time and avoid inviting them. For me, it is more interesting to discuss anything in the context of specified/specific evidence than to engage in long discussions. If you want a criticism of Rand's argument, here is one before OPAR:

http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_4.pdf

Here is a criticism of Tara Smith's Viable Values:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/stephen_parrish/viable-values.shtml

Now, to satiate your desire for my understanding of Rand's solution to the "is-ought" gap, I'll present my quick summary of it.


Rand argues that there is an inescapable basis of value: man's life (with much equivocation between different meanings of the phrase "man's life"). It is the inescapable basis of this value that makes her ethics objective and this is how she escapes the is-ought gap. Virtues further it, vices hinder it.

Cavewight has pointed out one problem with this conditional basis of a supposedly objective morality, a problem also highlighted by O'Neill and Parrish in the articles I referenced. But I'll take a more simple position. She has claimed life is good and ought to be preserved. This is a moral premise. How does this impact the is-ought gap? It's almost like she didn't understand the first point about the gap. For a discussion on the nature of the is/ought gap and why Objectivism misconceives itself as a solution to it, Huemer's section in "Why I'm not an Objectivist" is excellent, even if I do not agree with how he characterizes morality in general:

http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/rand.htm#3.3


QED.

RandalV said...

Xtra: It looks like we're both ready to leave this conversation, so I'll just end by saying that you are seeing Rand's confident, certain conclusions in print, not her thought process leading up to them. I agree that an "empiricist tries to consider both the evidence for an against his position and exposes his position to criticism through peer review and engagement of opponents." But unless you are referring to Rand's journals or anecdotes about her, I'm not sure where'd you be getting the idea that she didn't do these things. All evidence says to me that she did.

On a personal note, the same applies to me. You don't have the evidence to evaluate my epistemic standards as "very low."

As regards is/ought, I think what I said to Cavewight would apply here as well.

RandalV said...

PS The last word is yours, if you'd like it.

Xtra Laj said...

RandalV,

I think your appeal to skepticism has some weight, but I hope you are similarly generous with scholars with whom you disagree.

I am applying to Rand the same standards I would expect from any serious scholar who claimed to have finally solved philosophical problems that often have no single solution that commands universal assent.

If in a scientific context, she had proclaimed her solution, then all that would have been necessary, no matter how sloppy her scholarship, would have been to replicate her experiments. But in philosophy, arguing against a position without stating who held that position is just bad form. In philosophy, the arguments and reference material matter even more than in science for evaluating the quality of the arguments and conclusions reached. For me to criticize a philosophical position without citing some particular exponent's work and explaining, usually in the best possible light, how what he/she wrote ties into my argument is just poor scholarship.

Yes, I am in part referring to anecdotes. But what about this essay from Gary Merrill about the one book she did consider a serious work of philosophy? Did you factor it in when considering Rand's ability to consider evidence in detail? In gne

http://www.geocities.com/amosapient/merrill.html

As regards is/ought, I think what I said to Cavewight would apply here as well.

First of all, I have shown that Rand did not avoid the is-ought gap because her moral premise was something like "life ought to be preserved once you choose to live". So I'm not sure how your response to Cavewight addressed that.

In Objectivism, there are many equivocations about how to interpret "man's life". In one context, it is survival. It then switches to flourishing ("man qua man"). Then it switches to humanity and no longer remains the life of the individual who is alive (regarding others as ends in themselves). The first two essays I provided showed the typical problems. The problem is not that one cannot base moral decisions on how they affect one's life, one's family, God, or any fact or fiction. The question is whether this gives you an objective morality (a morality that is binding for all individuals). For me, the answer is clearly no - moral law is not like physical law. You can violate moral laws including many of Rand's dicta by disobeying them and even furthering your survival in the process. But as in all philosophical disputes, I do not deceive myself that others must agree unless their views have an empirical basis that can be constructively discussed.

Daniel Barnes said...

RandalV:
>I think that Rand addresses the is-ought gap very convincingly, including in regards to politics. See OPAR for more information.

Hi RandalV

We have a massive series of posts regarding Rand's ethics, including the "is/ought" gap which you may refer to at your leisure.

But as the "is/ought" problem is a logical problem, so its solution should therefore be able to be expressed in a logically valid form.

Yet neither Rand, nor any of her followers have ever produced a logical expression of her alleged solution. There is no such formulation existing in any Objectivist literature anywhere. It simply does not exist. Further, while you found Rand's solution "convincing" I also believe you will not be able to express what that solution is in a valid logical form either.

I believe you have been swayed by the power of her rhetorical style, which is indeed very "convincing". But the point of logic is to reveal fallacies that superficially seem persuasive. The simple fact is that if it is impossible to express Rand's solution to a logical problem in a valid logical form, this means that she hasn't really solved it at all.

Xtra Laj said...

Daniel,

I think the problem is more serious than that. I will write at length because I want Randal to really understand why Rand's approach to scholarship is something to be wary of, despite his claims that he thinks Rand considered all the evidence before arriving at her positions and was just writing out her conclusions.

Because Rand was not in the habit of citing primary sources or engaging other thinkers carefully, you would never understand the true nature of the is-ought problem by reading say, the main essay in the Virtue of Selfishness where she misleading describes the is-ought problem in the following way:

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

Now, having read that, you can forgive a person ignorant of the vast field of philosophy, whose first acquaintance with serious philosophy is Rand, who assumes that the "is-ought" problem is about some silly philosophers who say that facts have no bearing on morality and you can't derive an objective morality from facts about human nature - to be fair, some people might see this as the main thrust of the is-ought problem, but it is not. Let's look at the original Hume quote from his Treatise:

"In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it."

All Hume was saying was that he had noticed how people switch language from facts to obligations and that he felt that the statements had a very different characteristic that a keen mind should use to understand how moral arguments work. His insight was built into "is-ought" problem of philosophy by other philosophers, which I have stated as simply being that "every moral argument/conclusion must have moral premises". Whether the moral premises are supposedly facts or not does not change the fact that they are moral. An conclusion with an "ought" requires a premise with an "ought".

Of course, Hume went on to write other things about morality that obviously would offend an Objectivist ("reason being a slave of passions", a statement best understood as seeing reason as a tool to fulfill human drives, drives which are not given by reason, but which are determined by the nature of the human beings in general and the individual in particular). But anyone who reads Hume will find him eminently lucid and reasonable as a writer.

When Rand encourages confused ignorance about one of history's greatest minds with her shoddy scholarship, people should be raking her writing over coals, not praising her for solving the "is-ought" problem.

gregnyquist said...

I said: "Consequences are of little importance in determining the rationality of interest."

Randal replies: "That's not accurate to the Objectivist view and more than a little unfair."

I don't think it's unfair in the context of where I said it. Objectivist claim to regard consequences as important, but they ignore whatever consequences are embarrassing to their political principles. The political principles come first, and dictate what the consequences must be, rather than the consequences determining what the principle are supposed to be. The fact is, if person cannot afford their own medical care, it is in their interest to get the state to pay for it. Regardless of one's position on socialized medicine, I don't think one can deny this conclusion without being guilty of ignoring the consequences of the situation.

"You may get through today's emergency, but you do so at the cost of a healthy medical profession tomorrow."

But what if you won't live until tomorrow if you don't get medical care today?

"The issue is not that 'sooner or later, this will lead to a complete despoiling of the productive classes, resulting in impoverishment for every one.' Rather, it's that you are hurting things you value >right now.< Why would you want to do that?

I'm sorry, I just don't find this convincing. The best argument for Rand's position is the danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The "hurting things you value right now" argument is pure sophistry. It mischaracterizes the actual reality people face. In the real world, the individual does not know to what degree his receiving free health care is going to affect the health system. But he does know what's going to happen if he doesn't get free health care: he's going to die. When comparing a certain outcome that completely affects him with an uncertain outcome that may or may not affect him, which one should he choose, if he is guided only by "rational" self-interest?

The fact of the matter is that there is not enough health care to go around. That's the dark truth denied by most people in the debate. So some people are going to go without. In other words, on any system, there will be a de facto rationing. Under the free market, the rationing is done by the price system. If you have sufficient funds, you get medical care. If you don't, you're screwed. Under socialism, it's rationed by bureaucrats and legislative regulations. If you have no political pull or aren't covered by the regulations, you're screwed. While it is undoubtedly true that less people will go without medical care under a free market system, that's not any consolation for those who lack sufficient funds. From their point of view, it is in their interest to support an alternate arrangement of dividing the medical spoils. So here are the real consequences ignored by Rand and her followers: there exist in society real conflicts of interest. To deny them is to be guilty of regarding consequences as having little importance in relation to ideological principles.

Cavewight said...

Greg said...
"You may get through today's emergency, but you do so at the cost of a healthy medical profession tomorrow."

But what if you won't live until tomorrow if you don't get medical care today?


This debate helps me see through the myth of Objectivist selfishness. Its political theory is not designed around the rights of the common man, but the rights of the genius, the creator, the first-rater. It is designed so that the "cream rises to the top." It is designed to further elitism.

You argue that it is in one's best interest to have the government pay for health care if one can't afford it. That's true. However, it misses the Objectivist view which is that the health of this individual doesn't matter to the elite. He is only a replaceable drone. If he dies from his health problems, then another Eddie Willers will come along to take his place. It should be an honor for him to die of thirst and exposure alongside a dead train in the middle of nowhere, because the train was built by productive genius without which Eddie would be nothing.

The only reason to promote selfishness is to aid the elite in society. One could at best argue in favor of the common man that it is in his selfish best interests to further the selfish best interests of the elite.

And while Eddie Willers, dying alongside a train, does nothing to further those interests, it seems to have been a worthy sacrifice, pleasing to the eyes of the goddess Rand.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, I agree with you, but I think the critique needs to go further. What you refer to the elite is, to the Objectivist, merely "qua man". In other words, the roots of this are not socio-political but epistemological - the Objectivist would defend the "elite" as merely being what all men are (in a "properly formed" concept of man), minus the epistemologically irrelevant and non-essential Eddie Willer-ish flaws of individual units. This is where Rand tries to hide - in a silly, childish epistemology that is blantantly used to disregard inconvenient facts. It's one more reason I could never be an Objectivist.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight, Anon69,

Your comments are right on point and in some ways, I would extend them generally to libertarianism. Libertarianism like to think of their concept of justice as "fair", rather than think in terms of the kinds of winners and losers it selects. Why would winners (those better off) under the current system want to give up their status so they can compete in a "fair" playing ground when they lwill most likely lose some aspects of makes them winners? Because they want to be fair?

Grow up!

Cavewight said...

Anon69,

I'm not quite sure if you're agreeing or disagreeing with me in the latter part of your post. Rand's goals were socio-political. She vowed in her 20s to save the world from Christianity, then transformed that goal into saving it from altruism (which she regarded as a more fundamental issue than Christianity). The cure for these kinds of ills, she believed, was philosophy.

But at a certain point in her development she came to believe that the problem of evil (e.g., altruism) was basically psychological, after all, she had tried logic and reasoning with people (socialists, liberals...), to no effect.

This is where epistemology comes into play. The root of their evil is not what they believe, but how they came to believe it, i.e., how their irrational thinking drove them to draw certain conclusions.

Cavewight said...

Anon69 wrote:
What you refer to the elite is, to the Objectivist, merely "qua man". In other words, the roots of this are not socio-political but epistemological - the Objectivist would defend the "elite" as merely being what all men are (in a "properly formed" concept of man), minus the epistemologically irrelevant and non-essential Eddie Willer-ish flaws of individual units.

I don't see Eddie Willers as flawed. He was a virtuous although average (i.e., non-heroic) man. Rand used Willers to depict the role of the average man in her ideal society. How Willers acted represents how every average man should behave. The flaw lies in those average men who don't behave like Eddie Willers. We can't all be creative geniuses, but we can all be virtuous.

So this wraps back around to the issue of the "qua man." I don't see the "qua man" as representing the heroic in man, not necessarily, but only the rational being in man. "Qua man" means "qua rational being" by substitution. Rand accepted Aristotle's definition of man as a "rational animal."

This is not to say that all men are rational, but only that the defining characteristic of "man" is rationality. In this respect, Eddie Willers is just as rational as John Galt, only not as intelligent as Galt. (Willers would never have understood Galt's reason for going on strike, otherwise I'm sure he would have been asked. A striker is required to go on strike with full consciousness of the philosophical implications, consequences, etc., and apparently Willers wouldn't have had the intellectual mojo to grasp it.)

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, your point is well-taken, but then, if intelligence mojo isn't part of the concept "man" in the Objectivist view, then neither is the concept of rights for the common man as distinct from that of the elite. They're the same rights. So it would not be correct to say that "[Objectivism's] political theory is not designed around the rights of the common man, but the rights of the genius, the creator, the first-rater."

RandalV said...

Hi all,

I spent far too much time on this blog Saturday and am trying to leave in some kind of satisfying way so I can get back to my life. Otherwise, I can spend all day wrestling to the ground the myriad specifics in your arguments, and I take a long time formulating my responses.

I will make some general comments about the blog in general and then try to give last thoughts on the specific issues raised. This might be unsatisfying, as none of us are going to end having convinced the other, but I really must move on. Hopefully, I've raised some food for thought.

The general reaction I have reading this blog is that there is >something< fundamentally different in how I am approaching these subjects from how you are. I don't know if it's a methodological issue (though I suspect it is) or a difference of some kind of fundamental premise (and I have a first idea about what that would be), but it is systematic and comes out everywhere. Both are probably happening here.

The two most common things I've seen are: 1) mischaracterizations of Rand's ideas and 2) accusations of vagueness in places that are practically ostensive to me. As an example of the latter, take the post Daniel pointed me to where Greg addresses Rand's identification of the standard of value. Greg criticizes her for what he sees as an equivocation among various concepts including "survival," "one's own life," "man's survival qua man," "survival of a rational being," and "happiness." There >are< a lot of concepts here, but a large part of Rand's ethical system concerns how these all relate to the same phenomenon. It's like one is talking about water and then refer to it elsewhere as a liquid or H2O. If you hadn't really pulled apart each concept, then it would seem like different phenomena are being thrown around scattershot.

Greg, forgive me if this seems patronizing (as I >am< potentially criticizing your methods here), but it reads like you are criticizing Rand prematurely. You've certainly read a lot of her, so I don't think it would be fair to call you uninformed, and you've certainly reacted quite a bit. But what comes through on the page is an undigested view of her work--reaction and criticism without full grasp.

It's a really difficult philosophy, all the more difficult for the ways in which it does not seem difficult (ie that it's presented first in fiction, that Rand is concise in explanation). It took me six years of dilligent thought to fully grasp and compare her thought to what I'd concluded on my own and to my philosophic studies. And that was six years with the benefit of the writings of Leonard Peikoff, who took 30 years to grasp it, plus access to Onkar Ghate, who is unparalleled in the ability to untangle confusions. None of this is obvious, and it would be a mistake to assume that when things seems confusing that Rand's position is itself confused.

That said, I don't know your process, and I am just drawing conclusions from the output. I believe that we also disagree on some fundamental issue that is informing everything else (probably the nature of human nature), though I'm not sure how that would lead to the things I'm criticizing in your argument style. Now, you can dismiss me as naive or caught up in Rand's masterful sophistry or whatnot, or you can take the criticism seriously. Up to you. And again, these are my observations, and I accept my limitations in regards to knowing what's going on in your mind.

RandalV said...

On to specific reactions, and you all get the last word, as hard as it's going to be for me not to respond:

Daniel: I'm not sure what you're considering as a "valid logical form," but Rand's view of morality really comes down to a very simple syllogism. 1) Man's life has particular requirements. 2) Socrates is a man who wants to live. 3) Socrates' life has particular requirements. Then ethics proceeds by identifying what are the actual observed requirements of human life (values) and what are the characteristic actions required to attain them (virtues). You may disagree with the premises, and you seem to find the existence of pre-moral choice illogical in itself. Don't know what to tell you, as I disagree.

Xtra Laj: I think we're in agreement about what the is-ought problem is. Hume says that, as you say, "A conclusion with an 'ought' requires a premise with an 'ought.'" The issue here is that, ultimately, you can't get below some ultimate "ought" to get to an "is"; reason, as he says, is a slave to the passions. Reason can help attain the aims of your passions, but you can't really even judge whether the aims of those passions are good ones to pursue. Your oughts, then, are necessarily and ultimately arbitrary.

That's the central crux of the problem Rand was trying to solve, and I do think that that is accurate to what Hume was saying and to Rand's quotation about it. Tell me if I'm missing your point still, but I don't think I am.

Greg: So I think you do recognize that >Objectivists< would say that they advise formulating and applying principles based on consequence. However, in your opinion, since their principles do not actually reflect reality and often come into conflict with it, Objectivists end up ignoring consequences in practice in order to retain their moral system? If that's the case, then the issue between us here is really just whether Objectivism accurately identifies reality. On this score, we obviously disagree in our assessment.

As to the issue of the mixed economy and lobbying, you are correct that there has never been a pure laissez-faire economy. This does make it difficult to sort out the cause of various behaviors, and here is where degrees of freedom matter. Early 19th century probably does most qualify as having a separation of state and economy, though it had its obvious drawbacks. And, based on my understanding of history, I do see there a correlation between lobbying and the growth of government involvement in the economy. Your example of lobbying then was restricted to relatively minor attempts, such as writing a letter to the president. And I don't know of any famous lobbying from that era, at very least in comparison to the lobby-fest of today. That doesn't mean that lobbying didn't happen, but I do think it was relatively minor. If you wanted to succeed in America, that was not where you spent your time.

Today, in contrast, the government really does have nearly unlimited powers over which companies succeed or fail, what resources are available to them, etc; powers to be manipulated by private interests. The vast majority of anti-trust legislation today is started by a company's competitors (I think it was around 90%); we live in a time when companies >need< huge lobbying arms just so that they can protect themselves from competitors' huge lobbying arms. I don't think I will be able to convince you that lobbying requires government control of the economy, but at very least, I think that you might be able to admit that there is a significant correlation. And that makes sense: as psychology and your own introspection can show, action requires belief that your action has a chance of having an effect.

Again, the last word is yours, though I will read the responses.

Regards,
Randal

Cavewight said...

Anon69 wrote:
Cavewight, your point is well-taken, but then, if intelligence mojo isn't part of the concept "man" in the Objectivist view, then neither is the concept of rights for the common man as distinct from that of the elite. They're the same rights. So it would not be correct to say that "[Objectivism's] political theory is not designed around the rights of the common man, but the rights of the genius, the creator, the first-rater."

My earlier response disappeared. So I'll just write a shorter response. I was not saying that Galt has more rights than Willers, but only that Rand centered her political theory around the idea that the cream (the men of the mind who represent the best among men) can and should rise to the top.

RandalV said...

PS Thank you for the discussion, everyone.

gregnyquist said...

Randall: "And I don't know of any famous lobbying from that era, at very least in comparison to the lobby-fest of today."

Well, of course, nothing's on the scale today; but I don't think that's relevant to the point at issue. In some ways, the corruption was just as bad in the early 19th century as it was now: it just didn't involve as much wealth (because the society as a whole was much poorer). But bribery and graft existed even then. Daniel Webster, for example, took bribes and sold diplomatic-related offices. President Jackson, in 1829, introduced the "spoils system" in relation to government jobs. It was only the weakness of the federal government that makes it all seem rather quaint in comparison to what we have today. Moreover, let's not forget what was happening in the states and municipal governments.

The larger point is that it really doesn't matter that it might be limited under laissez-faire: the fact that it would exist at all, even if scaled back in comparison to what we have to do, means that inevitably the laws on behalf of laissez-faire would be undermined and circumvented. If you examine 19th century America, what is most revealing is the increase of lobbying over the decades, as, partly from the efforts of lobbying, the government gets bigger and stronger, so that the lobbying becomes a self-reinforcing process.

Daniel Barnes said...

RandalV:
>I spent far too much time on this blog Saturday and am trying to leave in some kind of satisfying way so I can get back to my life.

Well, we're glad to give you something to wrestle with...;-)

>Rand's view of morality really comes down to a very simple syllogism. 1) Man's life has particular requirements. 2) Socrates is a man who wants to live. 3) Socrates' life has particular requirements.

Sadly this misses the whole point of the problem. You may not be aware of this, but the problem of the derivation of values from facts is a subset of the problem of deriving decisions from facts (because of course we decide to adopt a value). Thus from a specific fact (an "is") we have to derive a specific decision (an "ought"). For example: from the fact that it is raining, what decision should I make? You can't just say "man must make a particular decision" as an answer, because the whole problem is what that decision ought to be. Thus, things like "because of what a man is, this determines what he ought to do" aren't actually solutions - or "meta"solutions - but are instead merely verbalist evasions of the problem.

>The general reaction I have reading this blog is that there is >something< fundamentally different in how I am approaching these subjects from how you are.

Now I agree with you. But I respectfully put it to you that it is us that have the more objective approach than you do. Objectivism spends a good deal of effort subverting the two fundamental tools humans use to communicate: language and logic. In language it replaces ordinary parlance and common meanings with obscure jargon, buzzwords and specialised meanings, thus creating a dense thicket for outsiders to penetrate. Secondly, and less well known, it appeals to a supposedly "improved" version of standard bivalent logic (see Harry Binswanger here) which apparently overcomes such problems of standard logic such as the invalidity of induction. But it is never demonstrated how this "improved" logic actually works - usually Rand's definition of "non-contradictory identification" is offered, as if a mere definition was a demonstration!

We should now ask what these follies accomplish. No doubt Rand thought she was somehow helping solve real problems by creating this shell game, but in effect by removing the standard tools for objective criticism, developed by people over millenia, all she and her followers have done is create a kind of walled garden of thought, increasingly impenetrable to outsiders and increasingly intellectually limiting to insiders, despite the romantic rhetoric played at high volume to keep them interested. If you invent your own language, and your own logic, it is a hardly surprising that you end up in your own "world".

That's our explanation for the "fundamental difference" you rightly identify between our two approaches. Now, it may turn out that you are right: that a popular romantic novelist with a clever mind and a flair for inspirational language was in fact the greatest philosopher of the past two thousand years, solved all the major philosophical problems since Aristotle, and provided the only certain way for mankind's future survival and glory. Or it may be, as we suggest, that despite the originality of Rand's viewpoint, and some of the grains of truth therein, this is for the most part a grand illusion.

In the end only you can decide.

Thanks for the debate!

- Daniel

Xtra Laj said...

Xtra Laj: I think we're in agreement about what the is-ought problem is. Hume says that, as you say, "A conclusion with an 'ought' requires a premise with an 'ought.'" The issue here is that, ultimately, you can't get below some ultimate "ought" to get to an "is"; reason, as he says, is a slave to the passions. Reason can help attain the aims of your passions, but you can't really even judge whether the aims of those passions are good ones to pursue. Your oughts, then, are necessarily and ultimately arbitrary.

That's the central crux of the problem Rand was trying to solve, and I do think that that is accurate to what Hume was saying and to Rand's quotation about it. Tell me if I'm missing your point still, but I don't think I am.


Yes, you are missing my point. You've gone beyond the is-ought problem to claiming that Hume (or the is-ought distinction) implied/implies that morality is arbitrary. The "is-ought" distinction (sometimes called the fact-value distinction) is very different from claiming that morality is "arbitrary", whatever you mean by "arbitrary". You can accept the is-ought distinction and still claim the derivation of an objective morality is possible (see Michael Huemer). You can make an argument against the is-ought distinction and reject it and think that objective morality is impossible (I don't think Hilary Putnam falls into this class, but he does make direct philosophical arguments against the is-ought distinction). What you should not do is claim you have solved or avoided it when you never took time to explain it. You might accept Rand's version of the distinction, but it is her version and is ultimately misleading if taken as representative of the true distinction.

If you read ethics mostly as philosophers looking for reasons to justify how they feel, you'll find ethics far more easy to understand and the principles guiding the philosopher easier to discern. As much as I disagree with Rand's ethics, she has every right to draw whatever conclusions she wants to. I just find it unfortunate that her arguments are technically shoddy yet command so much admiration from people who do not understand how difficult philosophy can be.