Thursday, September 10, 2009

Objectivism & Politics, Part 25

Politics of Human Nature 9: Psychological source of humanitarianism’s failures. Over at YahooAnswers.com, someone calling himself “Mr. Blueberry” wants to know why Rand doesn’t tackle “true” altruism:

I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged and I couldn't help but notice something. Rand speaks out against altruism and uses various people in the book to represent them. The thing is, through Galt's speech and various revelations in the story, it seems as if these people never even legitimately cared for anyone else…. The characters in her story ... just seem like a bunch of vindictive parasites rather than the common definition of an altruist…. Granted, people like this do exist in the world, but they aren't really altruists.


By portraying altruists as “vindictive” parasites, Rand winds up caricaturing the altruistic or humanitarian type. While these individuals may have a vindictive, worm-eaten side to their characters, it would be unfair to paint them all black. Consider how altruism is defined over at altruism.org:

Altruism is a system in which everyone tries to think of others and care for them just as they care for themselves. It has been used since time immemorial within families, close friends and religious communities etc. but has rarely been conceived as applicable on a larger scale. We believe however, that it can represent a more stable, sustainable solution than the money-focused, model of competitive capitalism.

Now there is no reason not to believe that at least some altruists (in the sense of the word provided by altruists.org) are more sincere than not. At least some of these people genuinely wish to do good to others. As Pareto noted, “The intent of sincere humanitarians is to do good to society, just as the intent of the child who kills a bird by too much fondling is to do good to the bird.” Yet despite the best intentions in the world, the altruist, the humanitarian often does more harm than good. How are we to explain this?

We know how Rand explains this. She merely defines altruism in the most extreme way (i.e., “ man has no right to exist for his own sake”), and then attempts to draw the necessary conclusions from her definition. But since few, if any, altruists would actually accept Rand’s definition, her explanation of why altruism/humanitarism often harms the very people it sets out to help seems implausible. Altruists say they wish to help people. Why isn’t it possible for them to succeed in this aim? After all, one can certainly imagine an individual who, in his desire to help others, applies intelligence and the lessons of experience to the task and manages to attain his end. Yet so often we find the altruist, the humanitarian failing miserably to achieve his stated goal.

Those of a more cynical cast of mind explain this odd phenomenon by questioning whether there is such a thing as altruism:

Actually altruism simply does not exist on earth, at least in our present glorious age [wrote H. L. Mencken]. Even the most devoted nun, laboring all her life in the hospitals, is sustained by the promise of a stupendous reward—in brief, billions of centuries of undescribable bliss for a few years of unpleasant but certainly not unendurable drudgery and privation. What passes for altruism among lesser practitioners is even less praiseworthy; in most cases, indeed, it is too obviously selfish and even hoggish. In the case of the American reformer, in his average incarnation, the motive seldom gets beyond a yearning for power, the desire to boss things, the itch to annoy his neighbors. [Minority Report, 114]

Given the refusal by many of our altruistic humanitarians to own up to their failures, there is something to be said for Mencken’s analysis. There is often a self-indulgent, even a narcissistic quality to the altruists’ passion to do good to others. We see this clearly in the refusal of many humanitarians to accept criticism or acknowledge failure. Indeed, many of these people exhibit a kind of priggish self-righteousness that is as distasteful as it is counter-productive. The altruist’s emotional pathologies prevent him from pursuing his objective to help others in a rational way. This being the case, it would seem as if it were these pathologies that are the prime source of the harm caused by humanitarianism, not any abstract theory of altruism, as Rand proposes. Far too many self-professed altruists care more about preserving their inflated view of themselves than they do about the people they imagine they are helping. It is the narcissism, the self-indulgence, the vanity of the humanitarian that leads him astray; not any doctrine of the moral necessity of “self-sacrifice.”

60 comments:

john said...

I see Mr. Nyquist is still at it, meandering around like a drunk stupid enough to go into a bar on a hill. He only does this so he can hurl at Ayn Rand.

First, Atlas Shrugged is metaphoric. Since Rand successfully squashes her most important enemies with potent symbols, all those who pretend to be her "gentle altruist naysayers," stunned that they are the bad guys, are blind to the fact that she makes metaphor of two of her main self-interested heroes attempting to come to the emotional and spiritual aid of "people in need" [heavy irony] apparently without immediate financial reward. There are many other examples besides these two.

1) Dagny becomes Cheryl Taggart's mentor and champion;
2) Reardon attempts to save the soul of "Paul."

Second, the stumbling Mr. Nyquist blubbers out a typical 'gentle altruist' formulation, complete with sentiment that if only we would replace cruel cold capitalism with the kindness of helping, the world would be healed. He then wanders through a few dull guesses why this never seems to quite work out. Naturally we never get to hear his own exact belief system, which is hidden on this blog. Mr. Nyquist deploys his usual plausible deniability 'i didn't say it, Mencken and Pareto and altruism.org did.'

Well, Miss Rand is dead, as I have pointed out several times on this blog. This does not stop her from answering, with attitude. The reason capitalism is the true benevolent means of interaction between people is that it does not engage force at the moment of voluntary consent to contract. People get excited because both sides win. When altruism proceeds voluntarily, it is sometimes happy and uplifting, but often fruitless and tragic when the recipient of the largess stomps it in the mud or the giver turns out to have toxic strings attached.

The payoff is this: the kind voluntary altruist? He seldom stops at private voluntary helping. He seldom follows the edict that his giving is supposed to be anonymous and selfless. He commits Kant's sin of 'inclination.' Then, when the results are either tiny or negative, he gets all resentful and passes laws using the force-power of government to inflict 'helping' on the best of the producers of what is needed and gives it to the worst of the needy, who then scream for more as their "right."

And yes, the altruist method HAS been attempted as a replacement for capitalism. Mao decided a billion people needed to be forced to experience a Great Leap Forward and hundreds of millions died. Kennedy/Johnson/democrats decided the old needed to be handed medical insurance guaranteed by others and invented "medicare" which has now destroyed the free-market solution. Would you like me to continue?

In other words, the altruist all too often ends up saying "I'm not asking you to help, I'm ordering you to help or I'll pull the trigger."

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Michael Prescott said...

"Naturally we never get to hear his own exact belief system, which is hidden on this blog."

I've been reading this blog for quite a while, and both Greg's and Daniel's opinions seem clear to me. I don't always agree with them, but I understand where they're coming from.

As I see it, their basic political position is that capitalism is the most practical social system, but it requires appropriate regulations.

Regarding altruism, their position seems to be that it's a useful way of correcting humanity's natural egocentric tendencies, but that its usefulness is limited because a high degree of self-interestedness is hardwired into us by evolution. (And because abstract ideas play a limited role in human life.)

You may disagree with their views, but I don't think they're trying to hide anything. Or if they are, they're doing a poor job of it! :-)

Michael Prescott said...

It occurs to me that what John may mean is that Greg and Dan have not spelled out their belief system(s) in a hierarchical fashion, starting with axiomatic premises and working their way to locally necessary conclusions.

But this is exactly the kind of reasoning they both criticize, so they can hardly be expected to engage in it.

Anonymous said...

My answer to Mr Blueberry, by the way I admire his stamina for finishing the book, is that Rand was a talentless hack writer that did not have the talent to do what he asks, as if she did it would pretty much kill her book. Rand could never write a character that was more than two-dimensional or acted in a manner that had any basis in reality. All her characters were just a mouth-pice to spout Randisms at her readers. The villians were just straw-men to, exaggerated to show how bad altruism was, in her eyes.

john said...

Yes, the usual attempt to posit that man does not need abstract ideas, a foundation in objective reality Yes, the usual attempt to posit that man does not need abstract ideas, a foundation in objective reality as an absolute and seamless inference always traceable back to that base. Have you no shame?

You know why it is shameful? Because each person DOES operate out of their root axiomatic truth. Just because Nyquist is afraid to trace his back, or afraid to state what it is, does not mean he is not operating out of his deepest axiomatic truths. If he claims man does not need such a foundation, then he IS stating his root: the belief that man's nature is that of a brutal animal with no intellectual or moral center. Just a mean brute instinctual beast.

Nyquist does not post his root belief, what he holds absolutely true. He could make the claim "that's private, that's not what this blog is about." Okay. Then absent his owning his beliefs his trashing of Ayn Rand is exactly as I described: the drunken wanderings of a mindless thug (thank you Ayn Rand for that word.) We don't even know the basis of his long resentment. You can't accuse him of a motive, because he just denies that you are right or that he even needs a basis.

In other words open season with no reason.

Daniel Barnes said...

John Donohue, Pasadena, CA wrote::
> Yes, the usual attempt to posit that man does not need abstract ideas, a foundation in objective reality as an absolute and seamless inference always traceable back to that base. Have you no shame? You know why it is shameful? Because each person DOES operate out of their root axiomatic truth. ..

Mr Donohue is one of my very favourite commenters here, and as always he supplies us with some real gems.

Firstly, he somehow manages to infer from the fact that we here at the ARCHNblog sometimes criticise abstract ideas and the well known tendency to become over-reliant on them, that we are claiming man does not need abstract ideas. As this is a simple non-sequitur, he is either not too good at logic, or simply applying a Randian Bluff Template * reflexively, regardless of its relevance.

Secondly, what I call "shameful" is Mr Donohue's insistence that Greg produce some kind of "root axiomatic truth" and from that make a "seamless inference" back up to his views on this or that, when no Objectivist in the history of Objectivism has ever produced any such thing, nor any evidence that this so-called "seamless inference" up to every personal belief is even possible.. Yet, shamelessly, John Donohue, of Pasadena CA, nonetheless demands it!

Perhaps you would like to be the first Objectivist - indeed the first human - in history to actually produce this alleged "seamless inference" up from a fundamental axiom to every last nuance of your existence. Or perhaps you are not quite "fully integrated" enough?

We look forward to seeing the quality of your alleged "inferences".


*Actually, I might do a feature on what I am tentatively dubbing Randian Bluff Templates. These are standardised, off the rack faux arguments that Randroids are programmed to recite, and that bear only a slight

Daniel Barnes said...

...(cont. from comment above) connection to the topic at hand.

Michael Prescott said...

First, to correct my own typo: "locally necessary truths" should be "logically necessary truths."

John wrote, "Because each person DOES operate out of their root axiomatic truth."

In my Objectivist days and for some time afterward, my "root axiomatic truth" was that existence is primary and consciousness is secondary; i.e., consciousness is an emergent property of physical systems. In recent years, however, I've begun to suspect that consciousness is primary and that physical existence is, in some way, manifested or at least strongly influenced by consciousness. This is the reverse of my previous assumption, so my "root axiomatic truth" has evidently changed a great deal.

Yet I still behave in pretty much the same old ways. The question of the relationship between existence and consciousness is so abstract, it has little relevance in my day-to-day life.

Similarly, I would guess that axiomatic premises of the type favored by Objectivists are simply too abstract to have much practical influence or effect. They serve mainly as debating tactics: "Your position is wrong. Why? Because A is A, that's why."

I have no doubt that a Marxist could justify his conclusions on the basis of "A is A." So could any adherent of any system. A premise so vague can be used to support any conclusion.

john said...

I'd reply to Mr. Barnes but he only typed garbage. He took what I said, scribbled the fantasy that he has learned to spit on, and spewed forth. As usual the real Objectivist argument about concept formation scares the living stuffing out of him and he pokes his blunderbuss at the straw man next door.

Mr. Prescott meanwhile is proud that even completely abandoning his prior contact with reality has no effect on him. A least he responded with some information about the core of his intellect which is more than can be said about Nyquist in 100,000 words.

So one guy says that there must be something better than abstract ideas since you can get over reliant on them (I wonder what pinch-hits for reason in such cases?) and the other guy seems to be already operating on something other than reality since he abandoned it for voices in his head. Once again, even if Mr. Nyquist does not care to tell us what moves his soul, I'd sure like Mr. Prescott and Barnes and to say what makes them tick if it is not reality and ideas!

Maybe its that "Human Nature" that Ayn Rand is contra of.

gregnyquist said...

John: "Naturally we never get to hear his own exact belief system, which is hidden on this blog. Mr. Nyquist deploys his usual plausible deniability 'i didn't say it, Mencken and Pareto and altruism.org did.' "

It is curious that John appears so intent on my own so-called "belief system," as if that has anything to do with the degree to which Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism is right or wrong. This website is about Rand and her philosophical musings. It attempts to determine, from a largely critical point of view, the degree to which Objectivism fails to accord with reality. If John can find specific problems with our criticism, we welcome his comments. Unfortunately, such criticism that he does venture to offer tends to be so vague and so laced with insults that it does his own cause no good at all and leaves the rest of us none the wiser. His own examples of altruism tried in practice are not entirely convincing, as there are obviously many other non-altruistic motives involved in both Mao's China and Johnson's medicare. Mao was not an altruist, he was a gangster. And medicare's appeal to the self-interest is so obvious that it hardly needs any comment.

Daniel Barnes said...

John Donohue:
>I'd reply to Mr. Barnes but he only typed garbage...

No, you simply can't do yourself what you propound. But don't be too embarrassed, no Objectivist in history has been able to actually demonstrate this supposed chain of "seamless Inference" back to supposedly fundamental axioms that they blither on about, so we can hardly expect you to do any better now can we?

But I am sure the reality that it can't actually be done by you or anyone else won't stop you trying to fake reality...;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, it matter not a jot who 'wins' this particular round of mental masuturbation as Atlas Shrugged is still a terrible book full of cardboad cut-out charcters and my sympathises go to out to those that had read it, like I have. Will the ARI give me my £6.99 back as I failed to find it the most important book published in the 20th century and found it to be the worst. Even L. Ron Hubbard was never this bad. I mean, ignoring Mission & Battlefield Earth (what else are you supposed to do with them?) at least his novels Fear, Slaves of Sleep, Typewriter in the Sky and Final Blackout are great works of pulp fiction. At least here, he took pains to please his readers not shout at them.
So carry on you guys debating back and forth but Atlas Shrugged is still awful and worse it's awful over 1161 pages!

Michael Prescott said...

"I'd sure like Mr. Prescott and Barnes to say what makes them tick if it is not reality and ideas!"

John's comments appear to be largely substance-free, but since he asked ...

At this point I think reality may consist of just two things: consciousness and information. Consciousness acts like an information processor. The whole shebang may be analogous to a virtual reality environment, in which the "objects" are actually reducible to calculations. Such an environment appears to be real, and is real on its own terms, but the trees, buildings, and bodies of a VR world are not objectively real in the sense of existing in and of themselves.

An interesting article (PDF) by physicist Brian Whitworth argues that a VR world could resolve the conundrums of quantum physics, such as the measurement problem and nonlocality:

http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0801/0801.0337.pdf

For a taste of Whitworth's argument, consider the well-known fact that subatomic particles seem to exist in a particular point in space only when observed or measured, while the rest of the time they appear to occupy a range of potential positions (the particle/wave dichotomy). Whitworth suggests that a particle's position is calculated only when attention is directed to it - much as, say, a tree in a VR world is drawn by the CPU only when we turn the avatar to look at it.

Whitworth sees consciousness as an emergent property, while I think it is more likely to be either primary or, perhaps, coeval with the basic constituents of physical reality (information). The first position would fall under the category of philosophical idealism; the second would be a form of neutral monism.

How it all works in detail is, of course, far beyond me, and I could be entirely wrong. But I don't think that pondering such questions means I've "completely abandon[ed my] prior contact with reality." It does mean I've abandoned my prior contact with Objectivism ... but that's not the same thing. :-)

"Well, it matter not a jot who 'wins' this particular round of mental masuturbation"

Sadly, this may be the truest statement so far expressed on this thread. :-(

Abolaji said...

"Mao was not an altruist, he was a gangster. And medicare's appeal to the self-interest is so obvious that it hardly needs any comment."

I would like to comment a bit on this point by Greg. One of the ways that Objectivists (and often, libertarians do the same thing) avoid dealing realistically with the issues of selfishness and altruism is by avoiding Lenin's famous question of "who --- whom?" Any political system benefits some people and screws some people in the sense that some people are better off than others. Some people would prefer to be ahead in a poor country than to be at the bottom of a rich country.

One of the problems with standard economic analysis is that it often fails to account for the interests of the parties that are affected by a change in policy. Yes, free trade *might* benefit the whole economy, or the buggy whip industry might be made obsolete by the invention of cars, but even if the economy benefits on the whole, the particular individuals who own cars or who are made poorer by competition have selfish interests which should be accounted for and which are not altruistic. Objectivism likes to cover this up by calling any form of selfishness not supported by Objectivist doctrine "altruistic" or "irrational". The fact that selfish motives are sometimes part of the reason why communism remains in force in the world are alien to Objectivist thinking.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael for rating my comment on mental masturbation. Thouhg I noticed a typo in my post I should have typed matters and not matter. Hope I don't blow it by rating some of Hubbards work, but then Asimov, no slouch himself was a big fan.
Because you rated my comment I'll let you plug one of your books. I've never read any but would love to start. Where would be a good place?

Anonymous said...

Oops, just noticed I made more typos and grammatical errors in the above post!

Anonymous said...

What did we all think of the defintion of altruism given here?

http://www.ditext.com/runes/a.html

This, btw, was given as a link in one of the answers to Mr. Blueberry but, what appears to be a follower of Ms. Rand

gregnyquist said...

"What did we all think of the defintion of altruism given here?"

There's actually two definitions given of altruism at the linked site, one which is traced to Comte (and is close to Rand's own), the other which is closer to the common usuage one that is prefered by people who are inclined to praise altruism. But really, this insistence on "true" definitions is nothing more than a rather shoddy debating trick. There is no such thing as a "true" definition: there is simply what people mean by the words they use. If somebody says that, by altruism, he means giving as much consideration to others as he would his own self, then that is what he means by altruism and there's an end to it. It is neither fair nor honest to say he does not mean what he does in fact mean, on the grounds that the true definition of the word "altruism" conflicts with this intended meaning. Words can be and are used in many different senses. Most individuals have only a vocabularly of about 10,000 words, but they have access to 2 million meanings; so obviously a number of words have to do double and triple duty.

Jay said...

I actually agree with Greg completely on this topic. In fact, after reading Thomas Sowell's "Vision of the Anointed" it became all too clear that 90% or more of alleged "humanitarians" are rather transparently pursuing their own ends, using this or that victimized group as mascots.

John: you talked at length about a person's "root axiomatic truth." However, did you ever stop to wonder why certain people reach the root axiomatic truths that they do? Think about it - if we could gather all the Objectivists and Objectivist-lites into a room, what would we find about them? Probably a higher-than-normal amount of narcissism, ambition, entrepreneurial ability, verbal skills, perhaps insecurity, and among more than a few, arrogance. Good and bad traits are co-existing here, but the point is that the typical Objectivist possesses these traits and did before he/she ever heard of Objectivism.

Same is true of many philosophies/belief systems. Does this not constitute evidence that one's underlying psychology influences what they later profess as their root axiomatic truth?

Daniel Barnes said...

Good points Jay.

Abolaji said...

I agree with Jay for the most part, but he lost me when he added "entrepreneurial ability". Few Objectivists have that - what the usually possess is a facility for abstract reasoning or as Jay noted, "verbal skills", which are both correlated with above average IQs. Most Objectivists have rarely if ever had serious experience with business or managing a P&L statement.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree about Objectivists and to a certain extent Libertarians lacking entrepreneurial ability. Here in the UK, the objectivist society is run by a guy who can't do a regular mail shot to his memebers as it costs, wait for it £50 a time! Hardy a princley sum if your a John Galt one would have thought. Oh if it wasn't for the dead hand of the state these people would be millionaires. Though how todays millionaires managed to get over those hurdles of red tape and make their fortune is never explained.
I mean, the old chestnut is, would you buy a used car from an objectivist?

FO said...

Chairman Mao himself described his morality as:

"I do not agree with the view that to be moral, the motive of one's action has to be benefiting others. Morality does not have to be defined in relation to others ... People like me want to ... satisfy our hearts to the full, and in doing so we automatically have the most valuable moral codes. Of course there are people and objects in the world, but they are all there only for me ... People like me only have a duty to ourselves; we have no duty to other people ... Some say one has a responsibility for history. I don't believe it. I am only concerned about developing myself."

Hardly an altruist..

Anonymous said...

Yes, but Objectivists are not concerned with data that conflicts with their beliefs, if the dictionary defintion backs up their definition of altrusim then that is all they care about. Though they say the dictionary does, but they never tell you which dictionary they read it in.

Michael Prescott said...

FO: Very interesting quote from Mao.

I think abstract ideas and moral precepts are often used merely to rationalize behavior that the person would have engaged in anyway. Take someone with sadistic tendencies, who wants to harass, bully, and intimidate other people. In 16th century Europe he might become an inquisitor; in Nazi Germany he might become one of Hitler's brownshirts; in Soviet Russia he might join the KGB; etc. His formal beliefs in each case would be quite different (for example, as an inquisitor he would have to profess a belief in God, while as a KBG agent he would have to profess atheism), but the psychological rewards he obtains would be the same.

People often adopt belief systems (moral, political, metaphysical) that support their preexisting inclinations. Mao probably adopted communism because it offered a convenient set of excuses for the kind of behavior he always intended to practice.

Michael Prescott said...

Anon: "Because you rated my comment I'll let you plug one of your books. I've never read any but would love to start. Where would be a good place?"

They're all out of print now (sigh), so if you look for them, you'll have to go to a library or a used book store. The trilogy that begins with "Dangerous Games" would be my recommendation. Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

What do you do if you have sadistic tendencies in the US, become a gang-banger, fed or a repo man? :)

Thanks for the recommendation Michael it's my pleasure to ask. After AS, anything is an improvement. Sorry for the back-handed compliment.

john said...

In response to Mr. Nyquist's continued stonewall of his own roots, we have no basis - basis - with which to judge his judgements. They are only musings and positions, as seen in the first post reacting to me above, which seemed to think ferreting out Mr. Nyquist's amateur "opinion" on a full philosophy was sufficient to serve as sufficient justification for the most boring, drawn out whining in history.

Without establishing the philosophical base of the speaker, his wandering opinions about an actual philosophy are useless, just wheels spinning in the air. Despite this, Mr. Nyquist dares to insist someone refute these opinions. My opinion is that his opinions are meaningless.

And interestingly, his sidekick Mr. Barnes -- who now characterizes Rand's metaphysical/epistemological philosophy much better in his last rant -- acts as his enforcer: we attack all requests to relate our judgements to absolute truth. Our realm is opinion and emotion, dressed up with seeming 'logic' here and there, but hallways floating. We detest Ayn Rand and we're going to pick at her from outer space.

I don't have to cite Ayn Rand's work to show how embarrassing is Mr. Barnes' loathing of the current issue; science requires it. Yes, science deploys deduction. But it only does so after complete identification of the nature of the existents under discussion through induction. The induction is required to follow back to the core of objective reality at all times.

The first time Mr. Barnes would deny the necessity of such total integration a typical scientist would instantly lose all interest and walk away, since the speaker is only floating an arbitrary opinion.

john said...

Mr. Prescott, you don't have to cite any new formulation such as Whitworth's. This has been the standard 'take' since Heisenberg, right?

Your VR analogy is just a way of putting modern handles on the paradox.

I would suggest the application of Ayn Rand's famous saying with regard to the persistence of an apparent contradiction, but that would just be too 'on the nose'.

I have a countering book, Alan Cromer "Connected Knowledge" in which he publishes a powerful argument that facing the facts of quantum physics, far from kicking up contradiction, solidifies certainty and objectivity.

john said...

Reading a little slower, it is rather shocking to see how much Mr. Nyquist attempts to get away with. He insists that "...an insistence on "true" definitions is nothing more than a rather shoddy debating trick.", yet stakes the validity of his entire blog on attacking Ayn Rand on "...the degree to which Objectivism fails to accord with reality." Are we supposed to assume his a priori definition of "reality" is an exception to the shoddy rule? On top of that is his continued refusal to declare the basis of his own definition of reality, something an actual philosopher does in his Metaphysics!

I will offer a potential excuse: perhaps reading the actual, original, true definition of "altruism" as generated by Comte, and seeing that Ayn Rand is actually kind and gentle in contrast, he pressed the "nothing means anything unless you can read the current intention in a person's mind and even that might be weird" button just to stave off the awfulness of the true definition of altruism.

Anonymous said...

Why does reading Johns posts remind me of this video?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPol_m8wm8Y

The title is Scientology Crazy Followers.

All together now.

C'mon Greg, spit 'em out what are YOUR crimes? What are you hiding Greg?????
You have to watch the video for that last sentence to make sense.

Daniel Barnes said...

John Donohue:
>In response to Mr. Nyquist's continued stonewall of his own roots...

But you're the one "stonewalling", Mr D. You're the Objectivist, but you can't demonstrate the chain of "seamless inferences" you claim exists between your most trivial actions and your fundamental axioms. You're like someone who says they can fly round the room, but only if no-one's watching.

John Donohue:
>Yes, science deploys deduction. But it only does so after complete identification of the nature of the existents under discussion through induction.

Ah, the Randian pseudo-intellectual blather never gets old...;-)

Anonymous said...

I only come here for the Randian pseudo-intellectual blather.

gregnyquist said...

John: "He insists that '...an insistence on "true" definitions is nothing more than a rather shoddy debating trick,' yet stakes the validity of his entire blog on attacking Ayn Rand on 'the degree to which Objectivism fails to accord with reality.' Are we supposed to assume his a priori definition of 'reality' is an exception to the shoddy rule?"

What a priori definition is John talking about? I never provided any definition for the term reality (let alone an "a priori" definition), any more than I provided definition of any of the other words I used, such as degree, accord, and the. I assume that my readers not only can understand English, but, even more critically, can grasp the meanings for which the English words stand as markers. Is John incapable of understanding what is meant by the phrase "the degree to which Objectivism fails to accord with reality"? It appears like a simple enough phrase to me, not too difficult for anyone with a basic philosophic literacy. Or is he merely trying to suggest that, in using the term reality, I have implied some kind of obscure definitional or axiomatic view of it (what on earth could that be?), as if to imply that reality is some kind of logical system deduced from first principles? When I get around to discussing the Objectivist metaphysics, I will touch on this subject in more detail, and the errors and misconceptions involved in Rand's approach. I will merely note presently that reality is far too complex to be adequately summed up in a definition or an axiomatic principle. To ask for such a thing is to make an unreasonable demand.

gregnyquist said...

John: "Yes, science deploys deduction. But it only does so after complete identification of the nature of the existents under discussion through induction."

A "complete identification"? What on earth is that supposed to mean? What would a "complete identification" of the "existents under discussion" consist of? The scientist assumes that there is much that he doesn't know. If he already knew enough to make a "complete identification" of the existents under discussion, what would be the point of scientific investigation? To achieve an extra-complete identification? And how is he or anyone else supposed to know when a "complete" identification has been attained? After all, even Rand herself admitted we are not omniscient.

Michael Prescott said...

"Mr. Prescott, you don't have to cite any new formulation such as Whitworth's. This has been the standard 'take' since Heisenberg, right?"

I wouldn't say so, no. Heisenberg attempted to deal with the same data, but not (I think) in the same way.

"I have a countering book, Alan Cromer 'Connected Knowledge' in which he publishes a powerful argument that facing the facts of quantum physics, far from kicking up contradiction, solidifies certainty and objectivity."

I'm afraid I haven't read Cromer, but as far as I know, all the experts in quantum physics agree that the experimental results pose a severe problem for Aristotelian logic. Richard Feynman, for instance, said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics." And: "Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which *are* there." And: "Things on a very small scale [like electrons] behave like nothing that you have any direct experience about. They do not behave like waves, they do not behave like particles, they do not behave like clouds, or billiard balls, or weights on springs, or like anything that you have ever seen."

I don't believe that anyone who has studied quantum physics would conclude that it gives aid and comfort to an Aristotelian view of reality.

Michael Prescott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>I only come here for the Randian pseudo-intellectual blather.

You'll come for the Randian pseudo intellectual blather. You'll stay for the empirical and logical critiques, the Objectivist Kremlinology, occasional investigative journalism, and of course the snark!...;-)

john said...

"I don't believe that anyone who has studied quantum physics would conclude that it gives aid and comfort to an Aristotelian view of reality."

Yes, Cromer did. He was a long-time professor of physics at Northwestern.

john said...

Mr. Barnes, answer my challenge that science already operates on induction. Then I will make the bridge to Rand.

john said...

I understand you picking on my one word you "THINK" is vulnerable. After all you have been confronted on your self contradiction on this page without satisfactory response.

Must be uncomfortable.

Generously, I will clarify that by 'complete' I meant "without skipping over any of the existents."

john said...

Mr. Nyquist: "Is John incapable of understanding what is meant by the phrase "the degree to which Objectivism fails to accord with reality"?"

Yes, I am incapable.

First, you have delcared, with attitude, that "...an insistence on "true" definitions is nothing more than a rather shoddy debating trick", so I am terrified to assume there is a default meaning to 'reality' on the fear I will be shoddy. I therfore ask for your metaplysical declaration of what reality is, you know, the one you contend Ayn Rand is not in accord with.

Second, you cite 'philosophic literacy' but have not established your philsophy, nor your credentials. So that is out as a 'stipulated merge.'

Third, you will eventually get around to attacking Rand's metaphysics. Okay. Until then, I suggest you cease and desist taking a priori pot shots.

Jay said...

I agree with Jay for the most part, but he lost me when he added "entrepreneurial ability". Few Objectivists have that - what the usually possess is a facility for abstract reasoning or as Jay noted, "verbal skills", which are both correlated with above average IQs. Most Objectivists have rarely if ever had serious experience with business or managing a P&L statement.

I only included entrepreneurial ability because when I was an Objectivist I think it was largely due to Objectivism re-affirming my entrepreneurial lifestyle. That, and many Objectivists at least claim to have respect for businesspeople. I suppose it's up in the air how many Objectivists are actually running businesses.

Daniel Barnes said...

JD:
>Mr. Barnes, answer my challenge that science already operates on induction. Then I will make the bridge to Rand.

With Objectivists and induction, it's always Groundhog Day. Oh well, once more into the breach....;-)

If you mean by "science already operates by induction", science uses observations in various ways - as inspiration, as corroboration, as falsification - then who can disagree?

But this sense of the word does not relate to the well known philosophical problem of induction. There is no problem with "induction" so long as you mean something like the above.

It only becomes a problem once you attempt to infer future occurrences from past ones with logical validity. This you can't do.

Why you think Rand has something to say of use on this famously problematic version of "induction" I have no idea. She confesses both her general ignorance of the issue and total lack of solution on p304 of the ITOE. This abject ignorance of course did not restrain her from her lifelong practice of maligning her betters, such as Hume, who in this case did both understand and solve the issue. No doubt you will follow her in this, as in all things...;-)

Anonymous said...

I find that very hard to believe, the idea that Ayn Rand expressed ignorance about anything. Like L. Ron Hubbard in his dianetics writings she intuitively knew the truth about things.

john said...

Rand's thought destroys Hume's error on induction.

What is your metaphysical/epistemological approach to validating the identity and characteristics of existents before you involve them in a deduction?

Daniel Barnes said...

JD:
>Rand's thought destroys Hume's error on induction.

Do you think if you just repeat this enough it will magically become some kind of logical demonstration?

Hume's demonstration of this problem is well known and appears to be definitive.

Rand admitted she had little grasp of the problem or its consequences, and certainly no solution.

You - and Leonard Peikoff - claim to have the solution, based on your interpretation of Rand's thought. But all you (and he) do is assert it, you never demonstrate it. in this respect you're no different from pseudo-scientists to claim to have solved nuclear fusion, but refuse to say how. I suppose that makes you pseudo-logicians.

Why don't you stop with the distractions about Greg and/or my personal "premises" - as if this makes any difference to a logical problem! - and just show us your logical workings? Do you think my or Greg's personality affects the outcome that 2+2=4?

But you won't, because like the crank fusionists, you can't. So instead you evade by muddying the waters.

FYI, my epistemological position is critical rationalism, the idea that knowledge is conjectural. Interestingly, it's not that far from Rand's actual, as opposed to her rhetorical, position. But she was so muddled she didn't know where she really was...;-)

john said...

LOL Barnes thought destroys Ayn Rand!

That one made me laugh. I guess the pork chop stays put.

I am glad you are distracted.

If Hume "appears" to be definitive (I love the fudge words, hysterical) why do moderns such as Popper have to prop him up like a crotchety hollow tree with the ground failing under it? Because the only way to deny that induction is the only method man can employ to identify the nature of objective reality is to usher the identification into play by magic. Several centuries of science destroying religion, superstition, tradition, etc has dried up the heart of the Humean bailout. Further, there is no hope of putting the normative branches of philosophy on a rational basis until the groundless assertion that induction fails to lead to truth is squashed.

How proud you are that logic engaging arbitrary existents has any value. That is rationalism, a major defect of thought.

To turn absolutely serious: do not compare yourself with Ayn Rand. If she had you in a room and you did not run away, her intellect would squash you into mud.

john said...

I have now clicked open you link only to discover you believe in Popper. Well falsification is such a pathetic fall back from Hume you should be sad.

Daniel Barnes said...

Waiting to see the Hume-defeating logical demonstration you claim to have...

Waiting...;-)

Michael Prescott said...

I also would like to hear the Objectivist solution to the problem of induction.

I read "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" years ago, and if I recall correctly, Rand did not address induction at all, except to say that she would deal with it at some later date. As far as I know, she never did.

But if she or Peikoff or Binswanger or any Objectivist has actually offered a solution to this problem, I would like to know what it is.

Daniel Barnes said...

Peikoff claims to have solved it and is supposedly writing a book about it. His solution is purportedly somewhere mentioned in one of his 27hr-$1000-8 track only tape releases or similar. I have debated this issue on multiple forums with many different level Objectivists, many of whom claim to be familiar with these tapes. Thus far none have been able to provide a logical demonstration of their solution to what is a logical problem, so I can only presume it is typical Randian vapourware.

Apparently your personal premises can affect logical results, who knew...? So maybe it works if Peikoff does it...;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Greg, Daniel, Michael would rather be squashed in the mud than be in the same room as Ayn Rand.

Gee these objectivists really are hilarious and pretty creepy herione addicts. They are on par with the followers of L. Ron Hubbard.
Yeah if anybody attacks Ayn Rand and objectivism attack them back! Find their 'crimes' and destroy them. Galtdamn them all to hell, though there isn't one of course.

gregnyquist said...

"I'm sure Greg, Daniel, Michael would rather be squashed in the mud than be in the same room as Ayn Rand."

It's probably the other way around: it's Rand that would rather be in the mud than be in the same room with us.

Anon69 said...

Daniel Barnes wrote: "Peikoff claims to have solved it and is supposedly writing a book about it. His solution is purportedly somewhere mentioned in one of his 27hr-$1000-8 track only tape releases or similar."


The course is entitled "Induction in Physics and Philosophy". Though I cannot vouch for their accuracy, a member of the Objectivism Online forum is providing his notes of each lecture here.

Daniel Barnes said...

Thanks Anon, it seems we now have Peikoff's solution to induction, at long last.

"First level" generalisations + "context". Brilliant.

Michael Prescott said...

Thanks for the link, Anon69.

If the notes are accurate, I see a problem almost immediately:

"Generalizing is the essence of human cognition and [a] distinguishing feature of man from the animal."

Animals are quite capable of generalizing. For instance, a dog who has been teased by a particular child may become wary of all children.

Presumably, however, Peikoff is relying on the narrow definition of "generalization" provided a few sentences later:

"a proposition that ascribes a characteristic to every member of an unlimited class ..."

If so, he may be saying that animals cannot generalize because they cannot think in propositions. But this is semantics. It is also factually incorrect, since it is possible to generalize without thinking in propositions. An infant burned by a flame will avoid all flames, even though he or she is too young to think in words.

Again, Peikoff reportedly says, "Generalizations are made possible by man's conceptual faculty." Incorrect, for reasons given above. Animals and infants can generalize. Has Peikoff ever looked at studies of animal behavior?

"false generalizations are contradictions in thought and a clash with reality in action"

False generalizations do clash with reality (this is what "false" means), but they are not necessarily contradictions in thought. The assertion "all swans are white" is not a contradiction in thought, if the thinker is unaware of any nonwhite swans. It would be a contradiction in thought only if the thinker did know about some nonwhite swans. But then he wouldn't make the statement to begin with.

"Examples taken from mechanics, electromagnetism and particle theory from Greece to late 19th century."

And stopping there? No quantum physics?

"Modern idea that 'light travels in straight lines' requires realization that light travels. Not a perceptual fact until telescopes were invented."

Not a "perceptual fact"? Let's assume this is a mistaken transcription, since the words make no sense. Presumably Peikoff said something like "not a fact evident to direct perception."

"We experience a direct connection between some events, not mere correlation."

It can be problematic to distinguish correlation from causality, but Peikoff apparently thinks we can do it reliably in an instinctive, wordless way.

"The primary method of grasping a causal connection is to perceive it. Perception is essential, necessary and sufficient."

Sufficient? Hard to believe he really said this. We can perceive instances of apparent causality that turn out to be mere coincidence. Someone with arthritis might say, "Every time my shoulder hurts, it rains. Therefore, the pain in my shoulder causes it to rain."

"A gen[eralization] in essence is no more than a percept of cause and effect conceptualized."

How is "all swans are white" a "percept of cause and effect conceptualized"? Or would Peikoff say "all swans are white" is not a generalization? How about "all water at room temperature is wet"? Today, a physicist or chemist could provide a causal explanation, but in the centuries before physics and chemistry, were people unjustified in drawing this generalization? They could not have explained why water is wet, yet they asserted that it was. Was this a valid or invalid generalization? If valid, then "a percept of cause and effect" is not required. If invalid, then no one really knew that water is wet until modern scientists found a way to explain it.

I didn't read any further, but from what I've seen, Peikoff's theory (if accurately reported) is less than helpful.

Michael Prescott said...

Incidentally, it might be objected that animals do not generalize, but simply learn to associate a certain thing with another thing - e.g., if mistreated by a child, the animal learns to associate "child" with "pain."

Even so, the animal will often associate "pain" with all children, not just the particular child that was responsible for its suffering. (I knew a dog like this, which is why the example occurs to me.) The animal clearly has "generalized" from one child to children in general. The process is wordless and therefore would not fit Peikoff's definition of "generalizing," but it is nonetheless real and (indirectly) observable.

Michael Prescott said...

Curious about this idea that animals cannot generalize, I did a little Googling. Here's the Encyclopedia Britannica:

"Most animals show classification behaviour that seems indicative of discrimination learning. A crow will respond to the danger call of a bird of another species — but only if that call resembles the crow’s. Chimpanzees, however, which have been observed using sticks as primitive tools, behave as if they have a concept of things that extend reach. Based on considerable evidence of this sort, many are reluctant to say that animals are incapable of abstract thinking.

"Most studies aimed at evidence of concept formation among laboratory animals have involved primates, although there are reports of abstract behaviour among other animals such as dogs, dolphins, pigs, and parrots. Monkeys have been taught to solve the oddity problem: presented with two objects of one kind and one of another, they can be trained to select the discrepant one. This behaviour persists even for sets of objects that have never been presented to them before. The animals behave as if they grasp the general concept of similarity, which is an abstraction rather than a simple discrimination."

ttp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/130954/concept-formation/70206/Concept-formation-in-animals

Here's the abstract of an article on conceptualization and generalization in pigeons:

"We used a three stop procedure to produce and disclose non-similarity-based conceptualization in pigeons. Merely by being associated with the same response in the first step, classes of perceptually dissimilar stimuli, like cars and chairs, appear to amalgamate into a new category of functionally equivalent stimuli. Thus, requiring a new response to be made to only one of these two stimulus classes in the second step transfers to the other stimulus class in the third step. This case of non-similarity-based conceptualization in pigeons is relevant to the construction of superordinate categories and to the role of language in secondary or mediated generalization."

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119988161/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

It took me only a few minutes to find these two articles. Given an hour or two, I could probably find many more. This raises the question of whether Peikoff has subjected his theories to even the smallest degree of empirical testing.

As best I can tell, his statement that animals cannot generalize is true only if generalizing is taken to entail the use of propositions. But then his statement is a mere truism of no significance; everyone knows that animals do not think in words. (There may be some debate about apes, but for the most part, no one claims animals use words or propositions.) On the other hand, if he means to say that animals cannot generalize in a nonverbal way, it would appear that both everyday observations and scientific evidence fail to support his claim.

This seems to be yet another attempt by an Objectivist philosopher to ground his opinion in a "biological" argument without actually consulting the facts of biology. (The more famous example is Rand's "biological" argument for meta-ethics.)

Xray said...

Quote:
"I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged and I couldn't help but notice something. Rand speaks out against altruism and uses various people in the book to represent them. The thing is, through Galt's speech and various revelations in the story, it seems as if these people never even legitimately cared for anyone else…. The characters in her story ... just seem like a bunch of vindictive parasites rather than the common definition of an altruist…. Granted, people like this do exist in the world, but they aren't really altruists." (end quote)

Indeed they aren't, but motivated by self-interest every bit as much as Rand's "heros".
Rand's so-called altruists are classical strawmen whom she thrashes as the "enemies", in order to bolster her own ideology.