Friday, July 17, 2009

Rand on Donahue



Here's Ayn Rand in the first part of one of her two Donahue interviews. She leads off with what seems to me to be a perennially confused ethical position, namely that helping people is "fine", so long as you choose to do it yourself, but it's emphatically not a moral virtue.

Well what is it then? Is it a vice? That seems to be the implication of her following rhetoric (eg" cannabilism"). But she never comes out and says it directly, so it's hard to tell. Is it neutral or "arbitrary"? In which case how can it be "fine"? How can one pass any kind of judgement on it at all then? After all, in contrast to "cannabilism" she still is happy to use traditional terms such as "kindness" or benevolence to describe unforced charity which are undeniably positive. Or is this whole problem simply a "blank out" on Rand's part that she is verbally fudging her way through? It's a shame Donahue's line of questioning lacks precision.

Further, Rand's framing of the problem contains a vast omission - that is, the counterparty to the ethical situation, the recipient of the charity. Surely they would consider such charitable acts to be virtues? Surely they wouldn't of necessity consider them vices, or even neutral (though of course it is possible and even common to resent charity). And I'm still not clear how "arbitrary" or neutral moral settings sit with Rand's general "Either/Or" approach and insistence on uncompromising judgement at all times etc etc.

This issue, and the rest, I throw over to readers for comment.

PS: It's also worth noting her strong denial of Donahue's claim that he has "innate" tendencies. This denial is very much in keeping with Greg's thesis in ARCHN.

87 comments:

David said...

Unrelated whim worshipping probably mentioned on an earlier thread - an Ayn Rand character flow chart: http://www.cracked.com/funny-304-ayn-rand/

Cavewight said...

I would say that Rand was implying a distinction between moral virtue (oughts), things that morally ought to be done and are not considered voluntary. Helping others is voluntary, therefore it does not belong to the realm of moral behavior. Helping others is neither good nor evil, it is "fine" as long as it does not constitute a sacrifice, at which point in time it becomes morally evil.

I'm not saying that her view makes sense, I'm only clarifying it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Cavewight:
>I'm not saying that her view makes sense, I'm only clarifying it.

It still doesn't make any sense...;-)

Cavewight said...

Daniel,

I didn't explain it very well, maybe?

Moral oughts are not voluntary, they are things you *have* to do, while helping others is voluntary, helping others is not something you have to do.

In other words, morality is binding on the will, while helping others is not.

If Rand considered helping others to be binding on the will, that would be the morality of altruism, and Rand would be just another altruist.

Rand is not, on the other hand, saying you should not help others. She is only saying that helping others is not compulsory.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, I think you mean "optional" (as in an "optional" value) at least if it is the Objectivist view that you are describing. "Voluntary" versus "binding on the will" and "compulsory" most certainly do not describe Objectivism which holds that man is free to choose, yes? Rather, such a a value is *optional*, like a preference for blueberry pie over chocolate pudding.

Cavewight said...

Anon69,

You can say "optional" if you wish. But, free to choose what? Is morality about choosing the dessert you want after dinner? Productivity, on the other hand, is not a moral option; the career you choose to be productive in is an option.

I don't prefer to use the 'language' of Objectivism because it is sloppy and sounds amateurish.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight,

Objectivism may sound amateurish to you, but that doesn't justify mischaracterizing what its amateurishness actually says. In broad terms, Objectivism holds that man is free to choose to be moral or immoral. Now of course you can qualify that in any number of ways such as: he is not free to choose to be immoral and still be moral. But that is not what is meant by "not voluntary". A hiccup is not voluntary; the gag reflex is not voluntary. Choosing to be moral, e.g. productive, *is* voluntary, though morally non-optional.

Cavewight said...

Anon69:

I don't see anything particularly remarkable in it if that's the Objectivist view. Obviously morality is dependent upon certain conditions. Enlightenment philosophers said it better than Rand.

It is a well-documented fact that Rand mischaracterized other philosophers, just as you are mischaracterizing my own view.

I don't see using my own concepts in the place of hers as mischaracterizing. It sounds as if you are afraid I might corrupt Rand's Holy Writ.

It is possible to (voluntarily) suppress a gag reflex or a hiccup, even if their existence was not a matter of choice ("non-optional").

I don't see where you're disagreeing with me on the issue of productivity. However, to say it is "morally non-optional" could be considered (to use your own logic) mischaracterizing Rand's view.

But I'm not disagreeing with you there. It is all the same to me whether you choose to use the word "voluntary" or "optional." I think you're just nitpicking over semantics.

Darren said...

If the original question really was an honest attempt to understand why Ayn Rand thought it was "fine" to help someone but that it was not a moral value, the answer is available in her (and Leonard Peikoff's) writings. In a letter to John Hospers, she wrote:

"If your goal in life is the achievement of your own happiness (if you are an Objectivist), this does not mean that human life is of no value to you, that you are indifferent to all men and that you have no reason to help others in emergencies such as the ones described above. But it does mean that you do not subordinate your life to the welfare of others, that you do not consider helping others as the goal of your existence, that the relief of emergencies is not your primary purpose, and that any help you give is an exception, not the rule, goal or norm of your life."

And in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff wrote:

"It follows that a man must certainly act to help a person in trouble whom he loves, even to the point of risking his own life in case of danger. This is not a sacrifice if he loves the individual—say, his wife—because what happens to her makes a life-and-death difference to him personally and selfishly. If it does not make such a difference to him, then whatever the name of his feeling, it is not "love." By the same reasoning, a man must certainly not help others promiscuously. He must not help men who defy his values, or who declare war on him, or of whom he has no knowledge whatever. If a man is to qualify as self-sustaining and self-respecting, he must not help, let alone love, his enemy, or even his neighbor—not until he discovers who the neighbor is and whether the person deserves to be helped.

As to helping a stranger in an emergency, this is moral under certain conditions. A man may help such a person if the concept "emergency" is properly delimited; if no sacrifice is involved on the helper's part; if the recipient is not the cause of his own suffering, i.e., the helper is supporting not vices but values, even though it is only the potential value of a fellow human being about whom nothing evil is known; and, above all, if the helper remembers the moral status of his action. Extending help to others in such a context is an act of generosity, not an obligation. Nor is it an act that one may cherish as one's claim to virtue. Virtue, for Objectivism, consists in creating values, not in giving them away.

You may and should help another man, or befriend him, or love him, if in the full context you—your values, your judgment, your life—are upheld thereby and protected. The principle of your action must be selfish. You may never properly accept the role of selfless servant to others or the status of sacrificial animal."

Anon69 said...

Cavewight,


so in your view, Rand said that productivity is involuntary - man cannot help but be productive - yet in your corrective, even gagging and hiccuping is voluntary, because man can suppress it. Of course, neither of these representations are plausible. You can say that I am arguing semantics, but words mean things, and mine at least offer a plausible interpretation of Objectivism.

Cavewight said...

Anon69 wrote: so in your view, Rand said that productivity is involuntary - man cannot help but be productive...

That is a classic case of mischaracterizing. Next comes the demonizing, and finally, the Randing.

Daniel Barnes said...

Darren:
>If the original question really was an honest attempt to understand why Ayn Rand thought it was "fine" to help someone but that it was not a moral value, the answer is available in her (and Leonard Peikoff's) writings.

HI Darren,

Both these quotes simply reiterate the existing confusion, so they hardly help.

When Rand says it is "fine" to help people voluntarily, it seems to me she is obviously implying it is good to do so, whilst avoiding actually having to say it. This seems somewhat less than direct of her, don't you think? Why do you think she doesn't simply come out and say so?

Do you agree that by "fine" Rand is saying it's good to help others voluntarily? If not, what do you think she means by "fine"? Bad? Neutral? What?

Cavewight said...

Darren wrote: As to helping a stranger in an emergency, this is moral under certain conditions.

There are only two Objectivist alternatives to this issue, whether you believe me or not: 1. helping strangers is morally permissible, but not morally praiseworthy, when it doesn't require self-sacrifice; 2. it is immoral (morally blameworthy) when and if it does require self-sacrifice.

Xtra Laj said...

The problem with Rand on this issue is twofold, IMO. Firstly, because she maintains an attitude of infallibility and incorrigibility on topics like these, it is harder to be as charitable interpreting her as one would when discussing the views of someone who was not so arrogant about the correctness of her views. Moreover, with Rand, I hardly ever hear of charitable donations even to causes that she found laudable. When people write about ethics, there is something telling about their practical ethics in explaining how seriously they take their rationalizations.

The second problem is far more serious and is a problem she shares with many other philosophers, especially those influenced by Kantian deontology. She is very unconcerned with the study of human nature as empirical science, her use of biological language in her main essay on ethics notwithstanding, and therefore unable to systematically understand and deal with human nature, and therefore, goes on to ascribe most of the variation in choices amongst human ethics to volition as *she* construes it, which is something of a rationalization of every choice being a result of good or bad ideas.

Hence, rather than realize that men love younger women as an innate tendency in the vast majority of men all over the world, she ascribes a young man's falling out of love with her and in love with a younger prettier woman to bad philosophy. Rather than realize that there is significant variation in human motivation/valuation and that this is something that must be dealt with in understanding how human beings should behave, she just projects her ideal as something that all can and should aspire to via volition.

Some of her views are just common sense. Even traditional Jewish ethics says that we must preserve ourselves if we desire to give onto others (in other words, even if you value others more than yourself, you limit the good you can do if you cannot preserve yourself to continue doing this). She just wanted to rationalize her tendency not to be charitable to others as a form of virtue.

Daniel Barnes said...

Cavewight, I agree with your explanation above to Darren. This is my own reading of Rand on this. The thing is it doesn't make sense even in her own terms.

Consider: good=white, evil=black.

What colour is the morally "fine" or "permissible"?

Daniel Barnes said...

Laj:
>Moreover, with Rand, I hardly ever hear of charitable donations even to causes that she found laudable.

Good points, Laj. Particularly this. Even if she did donate time or money to a charity or cause, she could simply call it something else, like "benevolence" or "rationally selfish giving" or some other phoney buzzphrase - as if such word games made the slightest bit of difference. This is no doubt how Objectivists rationalise charitable donations to the ARI or TAS for example.

Cavewight said...

Daniel Barnes wrote: Cavewight, I agree with your explanation above to Darren. This is my own reading of Rand on this. The thing is it doesn't make sense even in her own terms.

Consider: good=white, evil=black.

What colour is the morally "fine" or "permissible"?


I have to take your question in the sense of my last explanation. By that formula, "good" = "morally praiseworthy" and "bad" = "morally blameworthy." In this case, it is neither. Helping others when there is no self-sacrifice involved is morally permissible, but there is no color to represent it by my formula, not even grey.

There is, however, more to this than meets the eye, and Rand is no help whatsoever in delving to the depths of this issue, keeping with her superficial "fine" comment.

It is "fine," I would say, whenever the act meets certain conditions, meaning, it does not involve self-sacrifice. Any act performed which does not involve such sacrifice is at the very least "fine," that is, it conforms with Rand's negative moral condition and is thus morally permissible.

But it does not conform with any positive moral condition. That is, helping other is not a positive moral requirement, which is altruism.

When I say "moral requirement," that can only mean the same as "morally absolute" in her framework; there is no choice in the matter, it has to be done or not done.

And yet Randites cringe in terror over the idea that Rand's moral absolutes may better be termed "duties."

Cavewight said...

Daniel:

This area hasn't been covered by the Randroids, and typically if you ask a group of them if giving to charity is black or white you will only get different answers back. The problem is, many of them rely solely on the Word of Rand (and sometimes Peikoff too), but questions such as yours only show that the Word of Rand is unable to answer every issue. You will never get a satisfactory answer out of any of them, not even the likes of Tara Smith who published a book on the subject of Rand's moral theory. More than likely, you will only be Randed for your efforts.

Anon69 said...

A key distinction may be whether the choice generalizes from the case of a concrete particular applicable to a specific man to an abstract principle applicable to all men. When Rand says that something is "fine", she means that it doesn't generalize. It may or may not be moral for a particular man to help another in a given case; but that fact does not generalize to all men in the same way that the virtue of productivity does. She is saying that it is a matter of preference that can vary among individuals. Whether it is black or white depends on the concrete case. Because it does not generalize, it cannot be part of a moral theory of general application.

Anon69 said...

I would replace the word "preference" with "judgment" in my foregoing remark. It is not a matter of whim; it is, as I said, a matter that one cannot properly generalize a principle for all men.

Cavewight said...

Anon69:

If morality leaves the act up to a matter of preference, then it is morally permissible but not morally praiseworthy.

Darren said...

Daniel,

When you say:

"When Rand says it is "fine" to help people voluntarily, it seems to me she is obviously implying it is good to do so, whilst avoiding actually having to say it."

you're lifting Ayn Rand's words and positions out of context. I posted those two quotes to fill in that context to others. Her position is very clear: It's ok to help others so long as your assistance does not constitute a sacrifice of your own life and values.

Given that position, there are situations where she would state that voluntarily offering assistance was immoral, and there are other situations where she would state that voluntarily offering assistance was moral. It all depends on the context.

When it comes to the use of the word "fine," I can't put words in her mouth. But I can say that some things in life are so minor and insignificant, especially when put *in context* of one's entire life, that morally condemnation and moral praise (especially by others) is not warranted. For example: I have a sweet tooth tonight, and I'm debating whether I should eat a brownie. It will taste good, but it won't be good for me. What if I chose the brownie? What if I don't? I'm sure that if I asked any Objectivist for moral judgment of my decision, they'd reply "It's fine."

Cavewight said...

Anon69:

And what kind of judgment would that be?

Cavewight said...

Darren:

That example also depends on context, for example, if you're on a diet that restricts your preferences such that brownies are not an option.

Darren said...

Cavewight,

You said:

'There is, however, more to this than meets the eye, and Rand is no help whatsoever in delving to the depths of this issue, keeping with her superficial "fine" comment.'

Does she offer more than just that "fine" statement? Didn't she cover this issue multiple times in multiple contexts in multiple books and writings?

Sure, she could have gone into more detail when answering the question, but... on Donahue? On most shows of that nature, the best you should expect from any interviewee is to get a brief summary of their position. Anybody interested in detail should do the work themselves.

Cavewight said...

Darren,

Agreed, Donahue is not the forum for delving into such a topic. But in other contexts Rand only stated at the most that giving to charity is optional as long as it doesn't involve one in self-sacrifice.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight said:
"And what kind of judgment would that be?"
The judgment, for example, that you enjoy the taste of brownies, and the health cost of eating one brownie is so minor, that it would be "fine" to eat one. By contrast, you might dislike the taste of boysenberry pie, in which case it would not be "fine" to eat a piece. There is a kind of "ought" judgment involved, albeit one that doesn't generalize to a moral principle applicable to all men as in the case of productivity.

Darren said...

Cavewight,

I don't understand how you can say that. How much of Ayn Rand's works have you read? I provided just a couple quotes that offer her position explicitly, but there's much, much more. Whether you look at more of her writing, her interviews and speeches, or the actions of the heroes in her stories... her position is provided in many different ways, and in more depth than we can get to here.

Cavewight said...

Darren:

I can say it because I've read all the works, some of them many times over. And I also happen to have a copy of the now out-of-print Objectivism Research Cd-Rom at hand.

Darren said...

Then I definitely don't know how you could say that.

Cavewight said...

Anon69 wrote: The judgment, for example, that you enjoy the taste of brownies, and the health cost of eating one brownie is so minor, that it would be "fine" to eat one.

OIC, you're talking about a judgment-based rationalization (it's "only one" brownie).

Cavewight said...

Darren wrote: her position is provided in many different ways, and in more depth than we can get to here.

I don't see how you can say that, this is a great place to go into as much depth as needed. It just takes longer.

On the other hand, Rand's characters don't provide much depth in the way of explanation. Their example doesn't "explain" itself in a philosophical manner at all. For example, let's say I have just read The Fountainhead for the first time - is the story and Roark's example trying to tell me that I should be a morally intransigent architect? If not, then how can I, as one of Rand's readers, know the real answer? I'll grant that becoming an architect was not her point, just moral intransigence. But in what way? How does it philosophically speak to me as an individual if I can't decide whether to be a morally intransigent architect or a morally intransigent brick-layer?

Xtra Laj said...

Good points, Laj. Particularly this. Even if she did donate time or money to a charity or cause, she could simply call it something else, like "benevolence" or "rationally selfish giving" or some other phoney buzzphrase - as if such word games made the slightest bit of difference. This is no doubt how Objectivists rationalise charitable donations to the ARI or TAS for example.

Dan,

Thanks for the kind words and I find the point you make above salient. When Rand attempts to mitigate the horror of defending selfishness when the common sense view of it can't support many of the actions that we traditionally call virtuous, she dabbles in psychological egoism, the unfalsifiable theory that all actions taken by a person are in that person's interests. When we start saying that a soldier throwing himself on a bomb to save his fellow soldiers is an "act of selfishness", we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren't we?

I don't know if others here have read The Moral Sense by James Wilson, but it is an attempt to combine both moral philosophy in the Scottish tradition (Smith, Hume) and evolutionary psychology/behavioral genetics to elucidate most moral practices by human beings. There, you see Wilson run the gamut in describing the various motivations for altruistic behavior, from status seeking generosity to generosity that seems to occur with no obvious reward (and even substantial cost) for the giver. He writes about the role of community, family and gender amongst other things. All in all, a very rewarding work that I recommend highly even to those who don't think that our moral judgments are little more than evolved, refined sentiments.

It would be an amusing experiment to see what would happen if an Objectivist was made to read Rand and Wilson and to explain who they thought was the more sophisticated ethicist and who nailed the issues more thoroughly.

One last thing - I have no doubt that in any ethical system, any act can be rationalized in some way or another or castigated for some reason or another. Pareto has convinced me that if we really want to eat cake or drink wine or kill people, we can find a Christian, Islamic, secular, Buddhist etc. rationalization for doing it. For me, it's just the fidelity to uncomfortable facts that I find important. And of course, we all know how Rand dealt with uncomfortable facts...

Daniel Barnes said...

Darren quoted Rand:
>"But it does mean that you do not subordinate your life to the welfare of others, that you do not consider helping others as the goal of your existence, that the relief of emergencies is not your primary purpose, and that any help you give is an exception, not the rule, goal or norm of your life."

Darren, here Rand is calling firemen, policemen, air-sea rescue teams, etc immoral.

Do you agree with that?

Darren quotes Peikoff:
>"Extending help to others in such a context is an act of generosity, not an obligation. Nor is it an act that one may cherish as one's claim to virtue."

Ok, so generosity is not a virtue either? Is it a vice, or neutral?

Let's put this in Randian terms then:
White=Virtue, Black=Vice.

Incidentally, if you are familiar with Rand's views, you'll also know that anything in between is also Black

So what shade is an act of generosity, Darren?

Now, Cavewight has already predicted that you'll basically be unable to give a straight answer to this, any more than Rand would if Donahue had put his questions with more precision than his usual woolly waffle. In fact I don't think you'll answer much more than this:

Darren:
>It all depends on the context.

Which is, um, not saying very much. Now, this is not your fault, Darren, and please don't take my criticism personally. You are dutifully repeating Rand's own waffling on the topic. Rand always wanted to be both sensationalistic, and say outrageous things that would make her seem bold and original, but at the same time must have realised that being logically consistent would end in saying things like generosity is evil. So she waffles, which you are merely repeating. Quite a lot of her thought consists of a herky-jerky movement between being sensational, then back-peddling with some qualifying clause that effectively neutralises the first statement.

At any rate, I don't expect you to be able to reconcile any of the above successfully, not because it's your fault, but because Rand and Peikoff have handed you a square circle and you are stuck with trying to make the best of it....;-)

Anon69 said...

Daniel wrote:
"Ok, so generosity is not a virtue either? Is it a vice, or neutral?

Putting on my Randian hat for a moment, my distinction about non-generalizability answers that question. Because such acts are highly dependent on the facts of a given context, one can neither generalize the concept "generosity" as a virtue, nor as a vice. It simply is not, in itself, a moral principle either way - any more than the color "pink" or the flavor "banana" are moral principles. By smuggling the concept of "generosity" into a moral theory where it does not belong, you have begged the question of whether it is, or is not, a moral principle. You have assumed, in large part, and fallaciously, that which you set out to prove.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Anon69

Generosity is, in general - that is to say, by the mob - considered a virtue. As part of her wannabe Nietzschean "revaluation of all values" Rand and her followers want to be sensational, and say the opposite and shock everyone with their daring and "honesty". Unfortunately, they don't like to follow thru on the actual consequences of such a posture - it would make them look bad - hence the weaseling and evasion that surrounds these superficially bold claims.

To take say, generosity, and claim it is essentially a non-ethical quality, is to commit a palpable absurdity. To ask what this folly accomplishes, it is clearly to avoid the unpalatable consequences of Rand's own argument.

Daniel Barnes said...

And while I'm on the subject, how come "generosity" is "non-generalisable", yet its opposite, selfishness, is a virtue?

It's just not a sustainable position any way you slice it.

Xtra Laj said...

Dan wrote:

Generosity is, in general - that is to say, by the mob - considered a virtue. As part of her wannabe Nietzschean "revaluation of all values" Rand and her followers want to be sensational, and say the opposite and shock everyone with their daring and "honesty". Unfortunately, they don't like to follow thru on the actual consequences of such a posture - it would make them look bad - hence the weaseling and evasion that surrounds these superficially bold claims.


Bullesye.

Cavewight said...

Charity and generosity don't have to be selfless acts, there may be times when one can rightly say "I helped you out, but primarily I did it for me and not for you."

In such cases, generosity is morally praiseworthy, and not as Rand would have it, simply "fine."

In fact, I would have to have an example of a generous act which was done neither "for me" nor "for you," which would therefore not morally qualify as selfish or unselfish, good or evil, but only "fine."

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, there may be such times, but they are by far and away outnumbered by the instances in which selfless giving is demanded (by the mob, that is, and often by those who are themselves the least capable or able to give). The point is that "generosity" simply cannot be generalized as *always* a virtue in the same way that productivity can. It's an exception that *has* to be examined on a case-by-case to see whether an exception such as that you have described exists - and the virtue in that case is selfishness, not generosity. Conclusion: contra Dan and the needy, unproductive, ungenerous, hypocritical mob, who deserve NOTHING, generosity is not a moral principle.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight, there may be such times, but they are by far and away outnumbered by the instances in which selfless giving is demanded (by the mob, that is, and often by those who are themselves the least capable or able to give). The point is that "generosity" simply cannot be generalized as *always* a virtue in the same way that productivity can. It's an exception that *has* to be examined on a case-by-case to see whether an exception such as that you have described exists - and the virtue in that case is selfishness, not generosity. Conclusion: contra Dan and the needy, unproductive, ungenerous, hypocritical mob, who deserve NOTHING, generosity is not a moral principle.

Great point, Anon. In other words, if you are being productive in other to provide for others, or your motive for self-preservation is to be able to live long enough to give others more, such productivity is immoral and can never be a good thing, because the motive is bad!

Cavewight said...

Anon69: I'm not sure what "the mob" has to do with anything. I think the concept of "the mob" is a reflection of Rand's negative elitist mentality toward the common run of humanity. I mentioned the possibility of generosity being selfish because Rand never did. For her, charity was a moral option if it did not require sacrifice, and morally wrong if it did require sacrifice.

However, if generosity or charity serves a selfish need, then it is a moral requirement which would be immoral not to practice, and no longer optional.

Anon69 said...

Cavewight, then why not just say that the virtue is rational self-interest, i.e. selfishness and leave it at that? The altruists are trying to find a way to read "generosity" into moral theory for a reason: selflessness, or acting against one's own self-interest. So why not just use a razor and slice off that part - and the way to do it is to name the primary virtue involved, i.e. selfishness, and not even include the non-generalizable concept of "generosity".

Eating brownies is also non-optional if you happen to be starving and there's nothing to eat but brownies, even if you prefer strawberry shortcake. That doesn't make "eating brownies" a virtue in general. Savvy?

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon69:
>The point is that "generosity" simply cannot be generalized as *always* a virtue in the same way that productivity can.

But this is quite wrong, Anon69. Productivity can't be generalised as *always* a virtue either - see the fable of the magic salt grinder, for example, or the stockpling of nuclear weapons. So you see the problem is you are being simply arbitrary in your categorisation of vices and virtues. If "selfishness" is a virtue, therefore its opposite, generosity, should be a vice. But Randians can't bring themselves to say this. Hence you get Randian/Peikovian weaseling about and fudging on the issue.

Of course, "selfishness" is open to attack by the same means that Anon69 applies to generosity , so the Randians have a piece of jargon designed to counter this: "rational selfishness". But then we must ask Objectivists how does this amazing new concept of "rational selfishness" differ from ordinary selfishness?

Their clearest answer to date seems to be..."It depends." Well, thanks for that.

(And of course to retain symmetry and avoid arbitrariness, we could equally call for a "rational generosity". But now we've got a "rational generosity" and a "rational selfishness", has this improved our ability to make ethical judgements from "it depends"? I don't think so. Note also how Rand exploits the sensational by headlining with The Virtue of Selfishness, when she really has an wafflingly qualified version of selfishness in mind).

Cavewight said...

Anon69: Because, to put it in your terms, the motive "depends" on the altruist. I can't generalize to the motives of every altruist.

But I can say that selfishness is a very real psychological problem related to narcissism. And that if there is any silver lining to the altruist creed it involves the eradication of narcissism from the human race. Ayn Rand had to redefine "selfishness" to make it seem more palatable, it is no longer narcissism but only a primary concern with one's own interests.

In this way Rand yanked the carpet out from beneath the feet of the altruists, taking away the anti-selfish tenet upon which altruism finds its main support.

It is, however, likely the case that both sides tend to demonize instead of looking at reality, in that altruism is not as terrible as Rand made it out to be, and selfishness is not as terrible as the altruists make it out to be.

Xtra Laj said...

It is, however, likely the case that both sides tend to demonize instead of looking at reality, in that altruism is not as terrible as Rand made it out to be, and selfishness is not as terrible as the altruists make it out to be.

I think common sense had established a long time ago. The focus on selfishness was a vice is in part because it's relatively easy to get someone to act in his or her own interest. We don't need to teach a kid to enjoy his toy, but we often need to encourage the kid to share. Was this so hard for Rand to realize?

Cavewight said...

Since you like to be psychological about things, I think Rand's Jewish parents, particularly her mother, had "anti-selfish" tendencies and would berate her constantly as a child for traits which she later came to see as virtues and not vices.

Xtra Laj said...

Since you like to be psychological about things, I think Rand's Jewish parents, particularly her mother, had "anti-selfish" tendencies and would berate her constantly as a child for traits which she later came to see as virtues and not vices.

I'm into empirical psychology, which I find to be scientific, and less into the kind of psychology that uses stories, which I consider speculative. It's easy to explain this or that with a just-so story about our childhood. Like "I'm smart because my uncle taught me a lot" or "I love alcohol because my mother gave it to me at the age of five" etc. It gains a bit more relevance when we see some relevant attempt to exclude other causes and some discussion of other people's views of what was happening to get a view of what are the core facts.

I don't think that we have enough information about Rand's childhood to draw anything from it other than what we want to read into it based on how she turned out as an adult. According to Rand (via B. Branden), her mother also encouraged her to exercise and Rand hated it. So if we want to draw anything from that, it's that Rand might just have hated being told to do anything she didn't like if both your comments about her selfish attitude and the comments about her ant-exercise attitude are representative of her personality.

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: She just wanted to rationalize her tendency not to be charitable to others as a form of virtue.

I'm into empirical psychology, which I find to be scientific, and less into the kind of psychology that uses stories, which I consider speculative.

But the former statement about rationalization is not empirical psychology, it is a speculative imputation of psychological motive.

So you should understand when I also delve into Rand's psychology, as you have done, I should at least get credit for trying to think down to your level.

Xtra Laj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xtra Laj said...

CW:But the former statement about rationalization is not empirical psychology, it is a speculative imputation of psychological motive.

OK. All descriptions of behavior based on ideas are speculative, so the distinction between speculation has more to do with the evidence for the claim. Which of my claims do you dispute? That Rand gave a lot to charity? That Rand denigrated charitable activity? Or that Rand denigrated charitable activity because she didn't engage in it herself? Let me know.

There is always an element of ethics bound up with defending one's personal image. It's part of the reasons why many people find it easier to make strong moral pronouncements on issues they have no practical experience with.

My objection to your claim is that as far as I know, most descriptions of Rand's childhood come from Rand herself. I have always found this problematic in assessing the role of her childhood in developing her personality. If we could combine the personal recollections of a few people in order to get at the core of her childhood, I would find that more encouraging. There is too much room for embellishment when one person is the source of everything.

CW: So you should understand when I also delve into Rand's psychology, as you have done, I should at least get credit for trying to think down to your level.

Now, the other point I want to make here is this: when you said that I am into psychology, were you trying to say that I am primarily into speculative psychology? If so, make that clear. I have no problem with that as a *claim*, other than that it gives the wrong impression of the kind of psychology I'm interested in. Your current line of argument comes across to me as an after-the-fact attempt by you to simply claim that my interests are more speculative than empirical when this is not the case.

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: Which of my claims do you dispute? That Rand gave a lot to charity? That Rand denigrated charitable activity? Or that Rand denigrated charitable activity because she didn't engage in it herself? Let me know.

Those are not questions about Rand's psychology.

Xtra wrote: Now, the other point I want to make here is this: when you said that I am into psychology, were you trying to say that I am primarily into speculative psychology? If so, make that clear. I have no problem with that as a *claim*, other than that it gives the wrong impression of the kind of psychology I'm interested in.

I'm not talking about your interests per se, but your speculative claim concerning Rand's rationalizations. I don't see why you're allowed to speculate over irrelevancies but I'm not.

Xtra Laj said...

Those are not questions about Rand's psychology.

You are entitled to your opinion, but if you think that psychology also deals with the causes of belief/behaviors, then they clearly are.

I'm not talking about your interests per se, but your speculative claim concerning Rand's rationalizations. I don't see why you're allowed to speculate over irrelevancies but I'm not.

Which part of the point that I was not attacking your right to speculate, but the evidence which you used to perform the speculation, didn't you get? Let me know and I'll reiterate for your benefit.

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: I'm into empirical psychology, which I find to be scientific, and less into the kind of psychology that uses stories, which I consider speculative.

I don't see any science when you speculate about Rand's rationalizations.

Xtra Laj said...

I don't see any science when you speculate about Rand's rationalizations.

And assuming you are right (as in that what you "see" says less about you and more about the facts), what have I written that makes this an issue? That I am less into something does not mean that I am not into it at all.

Answer this question for once in plain English and stop jumping from pillar to post.

Xtra Laj said...

By the way, my point is that there is much more evidence about Rand's views on charity and what she actually did in terms of charity work than there is on what her childhood experiences are. This has been my point all along.

If you deny this, let me know. Otherwise, I am still unclear what your problem is. Maybe a refusal to simply admit to a mea culpa?

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: I'm into empirical psychology, which I find to be scientific, and less into the kind of psychology that uses stories...

Unless of course the stories are backed up by empirical evidence such as second-hand eyewitness accounts of many people, and not the possibly embellished first-hand account of a single person such as Rand.

We should just dispense with first-hand accounts anyway and become second-handers.

But who else can tell us how Rand felt during her childhood? Who else can tell us her personal thoughts? Who else can tell us her personal interpretation of events but the person having them?

Xtra Laj said...

CW,

I'm sure you also believe Rand when she said that she arrived at her worldview, especially on religion, at the age of three. OK, I'll assume I don't know if you do or not. Do you or do you not and why?

Really, your mode of argument and continual refusal to answer direct questions fails to come to terms with the issues I've raised. Of course no one doubts that Rand's claims are admissible as evidence of some sort and might be reliable. How seriously we should take them without corroboration from other people is the question I've raised. If you're willing to take the views of someone who was known to revise her memory of events in order to place herself in a good light as an infallible source for objective facts, go ahead. OF course, in general, memory has its limitations, so I'm not accusing her of something that I would not accuse others of. But in her case, we have a record of how she remembered things like the Branden affair or conversations with Mises and I would be careful taking someone who forced her philosophy on such a common sense issue as an older woman being spurned by a younger man for a younger woman as an infallible source of facts on her childhood.

Cavewight said...

xtra wrote: I'm sure you also believe Rand when she said that she arrived at her worldview, especially on religion, at the age of three. OK, I'll assume I don't know if you do or not. Do you or do you not and why?

Children of extremely high IQ have been known to possess some remarkable abilities. I personally have known a child with a measured IQ of 190 who, at a very young age, possessed a level of verbal acuity that most adults lack.

It's possible, if Rand's IQ was high enough, that she could have had the instinct or sense-of-life, which eventually developed into her worldview, at the age of 3, and perhaps even some early thought-patterns. But could she as an adult remember that far back? I can't, but if someone like Rand had at least 60 IQ points on me, I wouldn't say it was beyond their ability. Too bad her philosophical abilities weren't up to the same level as her novel-writing abilities.

Xtra Laj said...


Children of extremely high IQ have been known to possess some remarkable abilities. I personally have known a child with a measured IQ of 190 who, at a very young age, possessed a level of verbal acuity that most adults lack.

It's possible, if Rand's IQ was high enough, that she could have had the instinct or sense-of-life, which eventually developed into her worldview, at the age of 3, and perhaps even some early thought-patterns. But could she as an adult remember that far back? I can't, but if someone like Rand had at least 60 IQ points on me, I wouldn't say it was beyond their ability. Too bad her philosophical abilities weren't up to the same level as her novel-writing abilities.


http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2009/03/ayn-rand-objectivist-since-2-years-old.html

Tom Snyder: When did you discover, or think up, or allow Objectivism to become your philosophy?

Rand: From the time that I remember myself which was two and a half, the first incident I can remember in my life I was two and a half...and from that time on the the present I never changed my convictions - only at two and a half I didn't know as much as I know now, but the fundamental approach was the same. I've never had to change.


CW,

Maybe my presentation of Rand's claim might have lead to a response you wouldn't have provided. Do you still think that Rand's statement is accurate?

Again, while I maintain some skepticism about the abilities of 2.5 year olds in general (it's more in line with criticizing anyone who takes a blank slate view of human abilities), the possibility or impossibility of her claim is not my concern here - after all, prodigies like Galton have existed. I just wish we had more people to corroborate Rand's achievements as a child.

Read the exact quote and maybe you'll get a better handle of why I find Rand to be such a problematic source of objective viewpoints about her childhood. Let me know if you still take her as a good objective source of her childhood experiences after reading/hearing that.

Dragonfly said...

Ha ha, is that the same Rand who also claimed "no one helped me"? She must have had some memory problems...

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: Consider that the average 6 year old cannot even draw a diamond properly (try this at home and see what results you get with your kids - ask them at 4 years old to copy a diamond/kite and watch them botch it up until they come of age).

We want to believe that as a 2.5 year old, Rand could do these things?


Ayn Rand was not an average child. But did she say anything about copying a diamond/kite at age 2.5 or 3? I don't recall that.

Xtra Laj said...

CW,

The diamond point was directed at people who don't seriously appreciate that the brain must grow for intellectual abilities to develop. Some people like to talk as if 2 year olds and 4 year olds are equally smart and it's all just about experience. Yes, people don't develop at the same rate, but there are many individuals with more significant intellectual achievements than Rand who were not childhood prodigies per se.

The evidence that Rand was not an average child is that she was a very smart adult. My point was that apart from her stories, where is the evidence of her precocity as a child?

Cavewight said...

Recognizing a diamond shape requires intellectual ability. Your example of drawing, not just recognizing, a diamond makes no sense in light of the fact that drawing one requires more than just recognition of what a diamond looks like. It requires small-muscle strength and hand-eye coordination, as well as intellect.

Your opinion that there is no evidence of Rand's childhood precocity makes about as much sense as your diamond example.

Dragonfly said...

What evidence of her childhood precocity? Her own statements? I don't think these are very reliable, she was a master in rewriting her own history to fit her ideal curriculum vitae (and perhaps believing her own confabulations).

Xtra Laj said...

Recognizing a diamond shape requires intellectual ability. Your example of drawing, not just recognizing, a diamond makes no sense in light of the fact that drawing one requires more than just recognition of what a diamond looks like. It requires small-muscle strength and hand-eye coordination, as well as intellect.

Well, this is a rationalistic criticism of an empirical IQ test (see Jensen's Bias In Mental Testing). If I have not described the test properly and you have issues with it, I recommend that you consult the referred work and if you have any further issues, take it up with the author. When I say diamond, I really mean the playing card shaped diamond. Kids who can draw rectangles may not be able to draw diamonds, so it is unlikely to be a case of motor skills. Just show them the shape and ask them to replicate it. They will often be able to draw rectanges at 5, but can't draw diamonds till the age of 7. If you believe that the physical skills required to draw a rectangle are different from those for drawing a diamond, please send your criticism to Jensen and let me know how/whether he responds to you.


Your opinion that there is no evidence of Rand's childhood precocity makes about as much sense as your diamond example.


Well, since I have read multiple biographies on the internet of Rand and I possess the biography by Branden, and neither of them cites any sources other than Rand's memories of her childhood, let me know what I have missed. If there were any relatives who corroborated Rand's stories, let me know and of course, I'll adjust my judgments as necessary. The reason why we find it easy to believe that Rand was an incredibly intelligent child is that she was an incredibly intelligent adult.

However, it is easy to overestimate intelligence (or IQ) based on adult achievements. For example, we know Garry Kasparov was a world champion, greatest chess player ever, and a bright child, but his 135 IQ is not ridiculously high and most of his talent is based on his prodigious memory, which makes sense to almost anyone who seriously plays chess.

Being first in your class at a young age is nothing special unless we know what kinds of classmates Rand had, though there are reasons that Rand might have been special. My point again is that the support for Rand's claim that she was a brilliant child is that she was a brilliant adult and not anything we know about her childhood (apart from stories which she told). There is good reason to be skeptical about stories Rand tells.

Xtra Laj said...

Dragonfly,

Don't take CW too seriously. He's just trying to get under my skin.

Cavewight said...

xtra wrote: Well, this is a rationalistic criticism of an empirical IQ test (see Jensen's Bias In Mental Testing). If I have not described the test properly and you have issues with it, I recommend that you consult the referred work and if you have any further issues, take it up with the author. When I say diamond, I really mean the playing card shaped diamond. Kids who can draw rectangles may not be able to draw diamonds, so it is unlikely to be a case of motor skills. Just show them the shape and ask them to replicate it.

I never thought you meant drawing real diamonds, just diamond-shapes. And I will take it up with any author who believes that a child's IQ can be measured that way. Drawing figures is not used in any IQ test and for good reason: it requires more than just intellectual capability. Let Mr. Jensen step one foot onto this forum if he dares. But typically they don't because they are afraid of their work being critiqued. If there is an intellectual difference between drawing squares and diamonds then let's see it demonstrated without relying on a small child's drawing skills.

Well, since I have read multiple biographies on the internet of Rand and I possess the biography by Branden, and neither of them cites any sources other than Rand's memories of her childhood, let me know what I have missed.

What you have missed is the empiricist rationalization you begin with as your basic assumption, from which you draw a crude smattering of conclusions leading to zero intellectual knowledge. For example, when you (or anybody else) say that Rand rationalized this or that, it does not bring us anywhere nearer to understanding her philosophy. When you doubt the veracity of Rand's statements concerning her childhood, it is based in simple skepticism which is a game that anybody can play and teaches us nothing. For example, I could say that you, Xtra Laj, are nothing more than a computer algorithm programmed to generate responses on forums. There is, after all, no empirical evidence to refute me. All it involves is a fallacy known as Ad Ignorantium.

However, it is easy to overestimate intelligence (or IQ) based on adult achievements.

That is a different topic. However, I use certain clues from her biographies and her writings that tell me she had, for good or bad, a prodigious intellect.

There is good reason to be skeptical about stories Rand tells.

It's "good" reasoning as long as you avoid calling it what it is: the fallacy of Ad Ignorantium.

Xtra Laj said...

CW,

Let Mr. Jensen step one foot onto this forum if he dares. But typically they don't because they are afraid of their work being critiqued. If there is an intellectual difference between drawing squares and diamonds then let's see it demonstrated without relying on a small child's drawing skills.


All IQ tests require more than just intellectual capability - many require decent eyesight, possibly the ability to read, others require the ability to hear, and some even require the ability to write. Arthur Jensen is one of the most experimental distinguished psychologists of the 20th Century, notorious for his research into the Black-White IQ Gap in the late 60's and early 70's. Again, if you have issues with his research, feel free to take it up with him or with any psychologist familiar with the research surrounding mental testing. I generally don't waste time arguing when there is no means to resolve the debate other than rabid asseveration, a poor tool if I've ever seen one.


What you have missed is the empiricist rationalization you begin with as your basic assumption, from which you draw a crude smattering of conclusions leading to zero intellectual knowledge. For example, when you (or anybody else) say that Rand rationalized this or that, it does not bring us anywhere nearer to understanding her philosophy.

Now, I suspect you are trying to show that you are capable of rhetorical flourish, but honestly, the argument is infantile. I think quite a few people who have read what I have actually written and your gross caricature of it can tell the difference. I never simply claimed that Rand rationalized anything - I provided reasons which everyone can evaluate to their own satisfaction as to whether my claim that Rand was guilty of rationalization is plausible or not and at least one person, Dragonfly, agrees with me. That is how people reason in practice and for the most part, it has worked for human beings pretty well.

For example, I could say that you, Xtra Laj, are nothing more than a computer algorithm programmed to generate responses on forums. There is, after all, no empirical evidence to refute me. All it involves is a fallacy known as Ad Ignorantium.

I don't agree, but you might have a different understanding of empirical from me. For me, empirical understanding can be informed by information and testing. All that we would need to do was to figure out some mutually acceptable test of your proposition. And if we can't agree upon one, that is fine too. The idea that knowledge must command assent amongst all people is not one that I subscribe to. But what I would do, upon hearing your statement, would be to try to understand what you mean by it. Are you saying that there is no human being typing my statements? What reasons do you have for claiming this? These are questions about my position similar to those that I have repeatedly raised to your objections about my position. I don't have to command your assent for me to understand why you made such a claim, which can be pretty insightful.


That is a different topic. However, I use certain clues from her biographies and her writings that tell me she had, for good or bad, a prodigious intellect.


This is a related topic. I'm saying that your methods are simply variants of the point I made in a much earlier post that all we can tell about Rand's intelligence as a child is based upon how we view her intelligence as an adult. I'm showing that there is room for error here and that relying on her writings is not enough. And I initially raised this skepticism in a context unrelated to Rand's intelligence.

Cavewight said...

Xtra wrote: I never simply claimed that Rand rationalized anything - I provided reasons which everyone can evaluate to their own satisfaction as to whether my claim that Rand was guilty of rationalization...

Total straw-doggery. I never said you didn't provide reasons or that you simply claimed etc. Here is what I wrote:

For example, when you (or anybody else) say that Rand rationalized this or that, it does not bring us anywhere nearer to understanding her philosophy.

True or not?

Cavewight said...

xtra wrote: I'm showing that there is room for error here and that relying on her writings is not enough.

I don't know where you got the idea that I made an inference about Rand's childhood intelligence from her adult writings. I inferred her adult intelligence from her adult writings and intellectual abilities. The idea that Rand was a child prodigy comes from Rand's own words.

If you meet enough people in life and gain knowledge of their IQs, it is a simple mind-reader's trick to guess the IQs of new people that come along, within a few points.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "For example, when you (or anybody else) say that Rand rationalized this or that, it does not bring us anywhere nearer to understanding her philosophy."

I completely disagree with this. In fact, I would say the opposite view is closer to the truth, that Objectivism only becomes comprehensible when one realizes that it is a rationalization. Otherwise, a great deal of it, from a strictly logico-empirical point of view, seems little more than a series of unaccountable arbitrary assertions. Where on earth, for example, did Rand come up with the notion that the failure of modern philosophy to solve the problem of universals "invalidated" conceptual knowledge and led to the intellectual bankruptcy of the modern world? This view is so far removed from anything real that only if it is taken as rationalization does it begin to make sense.

I would further note that one has to be particularly naive to take the views of most philosophers at face value. There is the "formal" (i.e. literal meaning) of a philosophy; but this has to be distinguished, in many cases, from the real meaning (that is, the actual goal, in empirical and practical terms, of the philosophy in question). And this real meaning can only be uncovered through understanding what sentiments and interest the philosophy is trying to rationalize.

Xtra Laj said...


If you meet enough people in life and gain knowledge of their IQs, it is a simple mind-reader's trick to guess the IQs of new people that come along, within a few points.


Spoken like a true rationalist!


CW,

I have other commitments and I think I've explicated my position pretty well. Best wishes to you.

Damien said...
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Damien said...
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Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

you wrote,
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
PS: It's also worth noting her strong denial of Donahue's claim that he has "innate" tendencies. This denial is very much in keeping with Greg's thesis in ARCHN.
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An interesting observation about this, is that based on Rand's observation, you could ironically argue that socialism, (something really despised) ought to be just a viable an economic system as capitalism. If man had to predispositions, why could entrepreneurs by just motivated without the profit motive? If our thinking is based only on our ideas, why not? Why should socialism in practice never work? If all our thoughts and all our behavior was learned, why wouldn't the one factor determining a nations wealth, be its resources? But obviously that's not the case, and Rand would agree with me there, but ironically that fact, weather she would accept it or not flies in the face of her idea that we have no innate predispositions.

Also every dictatorship that I know of, may preach altruism and collectivism to a large degree, but they all, also, do everything they can to make it sound like you'd be better off, doing what their ideology told you to do, than if you did not. Just about every piece of Communist propaganda, that I have ever seen would make me think that I would be better off under communism if I actually believed what it told me. There are socialist propagandists that claim that Cuba and North Korea are utopias with free health care. One of the biggest reasons Rand thought the way she did and opposed socialism, was that she once lived in the soviet union, and she realized that it was no worker's paradise, as soviet propaganda would have liked her to believe. Not to mention that they make it sound like capitalism only benefits a small minority that most people are never going to be a part of. The same is true of Nazism. Based on vile antisemitic Nazi propaganda, you could also argue, that it would in the interest of every non Jew, to kill every Jew on the planet. This is the same for Neo Nazi propaganda as it is for World War 2 era Nazi propaganda. Even much of Jihadists propaganda, does everything it can to make it sound like you'd be better off living under an Islamic state. Of course, Communist, Nazi, or Islamists, propaganda, does nothing to make me think that I'd be better off following any of their ideologies, but that's mostly because, I don't believe their lies.

Also, even in the most extreme slave states, someone has to pay the slave drivers. Someone also has to pay the slave drivers.

Damien said...

Sorry about those last lines, what I meant to say was, "Also, even in the most extreme slave states, someone has to pay the slave drivers. Someone always has to pay the slave drivers."

Cavewight said...

Spoken like a true rationalist!

Nonsense.

However, the interesting study you cited regarding drawing the figures states that muscular control is not a factor. I guess if it looks like a circle then its a circle.

Cavewight said...

Greg:

Your explanation is not grounded in Rand's errors or inadequacies or incoherencies. Your explanation is grounded in the fact that you hold all philosophies (not just the "evil" ones per Rand) to present nothing more than systems of rationalizations. Thus despite the alleged problems inherent to Objectivism (or any other philosophy), they all reduce to rationalization anyway.

Proving they are all rationalizations would be very difficult. However, I would say that the basic logic behind your theory consists in argument by intimidation which consists in assertions of a more psychological type and commonly appeal to someone's real or alleged mental states.

Cavewight said...

Xtra: The evidence that Rand was not an average child is that she was a very smart adult. My point was that apart from her stories, where is the evidence of her precocity as a child?

The evidence is Rand's own testimony which you claim inadequate on "empirical" grounds citing lack of evidence.

This is known as the fallacy of the Moving Goalpost. It consists of setting your standard of proof so high that it will always or very likely be unattainable.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Your explanation is not grounded in Rand's errors or inadequacies or incoherencies. Your explanation is grounded in the fact that you hold all philosophies (not just the "evil" ones per Rand) to present nothing more than systems of rationalizations."

No, you have it backwards. It is because Rand (and most other philosophers) commit all kinds of silly errors, stumbling into one embarrassing philosophical faux pas after another, that I suspect them of being guilty of rationalization, so that, as Nietzsche point out, most of philosophy is a kind of involuntary confession or unconscious autobiography—mere wishful thinking filtered and made abstract. How else can we explain the exceedingly strange phenomenon of very intelligent people believing and propagating so many absurd notions as we find in philosophy?

But I don't hold that "all" philosophies are product of rationalizations. There are a handful of exceptions: mostly those philosophers derided as "skeptics,"--derided, I say, because they dared to suggest that knowledge was conjectural right from the start and can only be "justified" either scientifically or, if that proves impossible, pragmatically, thus challenging the "classical" (and doltish) view that equates knowledge with "justified" true belief and seeks to justify this knowledge by "reason." These skeptics are the only decent type of philosopher in history; the rest, as Nietzsche said, don't even know what it means to be honest.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote: How else can we explain the exceedingly strange phenomenon of very intelligent people believing and propagating so many absurd notions as we find in philosophy?

Do you have any examples outside of the Objectivist realm?

gregnyquist said...

"Do you have any examples outside of the Objectivist realm?"

1. Hegelian idealism (which dominated philosophy in the 19th century).

2. Kant's doctrine of the ideality of time and space.

3. Phenomenological versions of idealism that equate "experience" (i.e., experience of consciousness) with reality, which have their roots in Descartes but which confounded most philosophers until the 20th century.

4. "Neo-realism," which held that individuals entertained a "direct" experience of objects, unmediated by contents of consciousness.

5. Positivism, which may have started out as worthwhile reaction to the excesses of idealism and rationalistic speculation, but which quickly degenerated into a scholastic cult of scientism.

6. Sociology of knowledge, which (at least in its more subjective orientations) often confuses communally derived knowledge with reality and too easily degenerates into the view that reality is a "social construct."

7. The "non-existence" of philosophical problems, a belief held by Wittgenstein.

8. Epiphenomenalism, which, regretably, is held in whole or in part by many "naturalist" and "realist" philosophers nowadays (that is, it's held by the better sort of philosophers, those closer allied to common sense).

9. Various forms of "deconstructionism," which are little more than the dishonest use of skepticsm for ideological ends.

10. Denial of innate tendencies in human nature, a view adopted not merely by Rand, but, at least in some degree, by many thinkers on the political left.

Cavewight said...

Greg:

Thanks for the examples, some of them might be rationalizations (anything written by Witty, for example). Some of them might be sincere attempts to solve real philosophical dilemmas posed by skeptics. I have nothing against skeptics although skepticism itself might be a form of pathology.

I wish I could dissuade you on Kant's ideality of time and space. I have put some thought into this and have come up with the following explanation: Kant is not saying that the space and time "out there" are really all in the mind (or illusory); he is saying that you could not conceive of a space as "out there" without space itself standing a priori to the concept of something outside of you.

Cavewight said...

The Revolutionary Kant - Bird, Graham


"The Revolutionary Kant offers a new appreciation of Kant's classic, arguing that Kant's reform of philosophy was far more radical than has been previously understood. The book examines his proposed revolutionary reform -- to abandon traditional metaphysics and point philosophy in a new direction -- and contends that critics have misrepresented conflicts between Kant and his predecessors. Kant, Bird argues, was not a flawed innovator but an advocate of a new philosophical project, one that began to be appreciated only in the twentieth century.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Kant is not saying that the space and time 'out there' are really all in the mind (or illusory); he is saying that you could not conceive of a space as 'out there' without space itself standing a priori to the concept of something outside of you."

Here's what Kant himself says: "Space is not a conception which has been derived from outward experiences... It is therefore from the human point of view only that we can speak of space... If we depart from the subjective condition ... the representation of space has no meaning whatsoever..." Kant's view of time is very similar. Kant's own words make it pretty clear that he does not believe that space (or time) exists "out there," and most of his admirers and critics interpret him this way as well.

Now I will say this on behalf of Kant: whatever rationalization he may have been guilty of in defending his transcendental aesthetic, it was at least a largely disinterested rationalization. Kant seems to have been so thrilled at all the philosophical problems he could solve by assuming the ideality of time and space that he completely ignored the absurd implications of the doctrine. The fact is, despite Kant's claim to being a critic of the rationalistic speculation of the Leibnitz/Wolff variety, he himself never completely broke free from the habits of rationalism, and these rationalistic habits, along with the false ideals of knowledge that Kant burdened himself with, often led him into embracing absurdities.

I would also note that is not merely the ideality of time and space that is problematical in Kant. Kant's categories, which include causation, are also "ideal," that is, forms of perception rather than schematic symbols of an external reality existing in time and space; so that if we are consistent to Kant's stated doctrine, we would have to regard causation as ideal (though, to be sure, this conclusion would follow from the ideality of time as well, since causation can hardly be real if time is not real as well).

Cavewight said...

Greg:

After looking twice through your latest comment I still cannot find the "absurd implications" of Kant's doctrine of the ideality of space and time. Absurdly calling it a "disinterested rationalization" does nothing (as I said above) to increase our knowledge of this subject. If Kant was simply interested in solving philosophical problems then one could hardly call it rationalizing.

And so your formula fails - you have an "absurd doctrine" utterly lacking in rationalization but is instead entirely, as you say, "disinterested," or perhaps better, objective.

Kant's argument for the ideality of space is not so absurd when viewed in the context of his actual arguments. For example, his argument from incongruent counterparts draws out the philosophical implications of a fact known before Kant's time. Left and right gloves may be mathematically isomorphic in every way but perception cannot make one fit into the other. Thus understanding is separable from sensibility.

The word "ideal" is less frightening when seen in the context of a geometry example. Causality is no more "ideal" than to say a perfectly square figure is "ideal" although not existing in reality. They are both ideas we bring to appearances in forming an objective experience. The latter is a product of empirical imagination and the former of transcendental imagination. This only means that we can form an intuition of such a square in imagination, whereas with causality we cannot, we can only engage in discourse about it. Thus there is no mystery in being transcendental, it is simply a discussion of the laws of nature in the absence of experience, that is, of causality itself in the absence of actual causal relationships. If you grant the possibility of discussing causality itself, or space itself, then you have already granted the possibility of Kantian Idealism.