Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Can Objectivism Be Criticised?

Apparently not. Neil Parille plumbs the latest depths of Objectivist apparatchik stupidity so you don't have to.

Recently, on Diana Hsieh’s podcast, a listener asked Hsieh and her co-host Greg Perkins a question about criticisms of Objectivism and their opinion of Scott Ryan’s 2003 work, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality. Hsieh holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Colorado. Both Hsieh and Perkins are (or were) supporters of the Ayn Rand Institute.
Hsieh said she hasn’t read Ryan’s book. Perkins said that with “no exception” all the criticisms he had read of Objectivism are either “blatantly dishonest” or “based on a misunderstanding.” Perkins went on to say that he read parts of the book and concluded that Ryan was not dishonest but rather, you guessed it, didn’t understand Objectivism.

Hsieh said that criticisms of a philosophy have limited value. What is most important is whether a philosophy corresponds to the “facts of reality” and whether its principles fit with “my experience.” She did make the point that, regardless of what one thinks about established philosophies such as Kantianism and Utilitarianism, there are certain legitimate criticisms that provide a good jumping off point for discussion. On the other hand, she maintains, Objectivism hasn’t been around long enough for good critiques to develop. She then agreed with Perkins that none of Rand’s critics understand Objectivism well enough to critique it.

This is a rather striking assertion. Objectivism has been a complete philosophy since at least 1968, when the essays making up Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology were published. In the forty-three years following Objectivism has been studied by numerous supporters, sympathizers and critics. Many of these people have Ph.D.s in philosophy. Is it really the case that no one other than a philosopher associated with the ARI understands Objectivism well-enough to comment on it? Rand’s supporters always tell us (as Leonard Peikoff put it) that Rand was the greatest “salesman” philosophy ever knew. She wrote in a clear language understandable to the common man. Yet at the same time her writings are apparently so difficult to understand that not even professional philosophers can understand them. Which is it? I’d also add that it’s not as if Rand wrote a tremendous amount of pure philosophy. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is 163 pages. The Virtue of Selfishness is 144 pages. The Romantic Manifesto is 187 pages. Throw in Galt’s Speech and the non-dated pieces in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and it’s not more than 800 pages. Compare this to the vast corpus of John Dewey (thirty seven volumes in the collected works) and Bertrand Russell, two writers on which Rand opined without reading more than a small fraction of their relevant work. Most of Rand’s critics have probably read her key essays several times over, so if they don’t understand them maybe it’s because Rand isn’t as clear as her acolytes claim.

That being said, I think it’s the case that two of the earliest critiques of Objectivism by philosophers, William O’Neill’s With Charity Toward None (1971) and John Robbins’ Answer to Ayn Rand (1974), did not always show the best understanding of Objectivism. However, things got much better with 1986’s The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, a collection of essays edited by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen. All of the essays were written by professional philosophers, some of whom are well-known such as Antony Flew and Wallace Matson. In 1999 the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies began publishing, providing a forum for scholars of diverse perspectives to dialogue on Rand’s philosophy and related matters. In 2002 Greg Nyquist published Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. In 2003 Scott Ryan published Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand’s Epistemology. While neither is a professional philosopher, both are well read in philosophy and, in their own ways, expand on the various critiques others have made.

I won’t summarize all the criticisms of Objectivism, but I think there are a number of stock objections put forward by more than one philosopher that are reasonable based on any “objective” reading of Rand’s philosophy
.
1. Theory of Concepts. This has been one of the most commented on aspects of Objectivism, in part because it is supposedly Rand’s greatest breakthrough. Just some of the objections: Rand presents no evidence that her theory is true; Rand provides no evidence to support her speculations about how the mind of children and animals work; Rand confuses the problems of universals with the different question of abstraction and concept formation; Rand’s theory of measurement omission cannot explain how certain abstract concepts such as “justice” are formed, nor can it explain the formation of mathematical or logical concepts.

2. Epistemology. Rand’s epistemology doesn’t seem all that well developed. However a standard critique is that Rand’s use of the stolen concept fallacy may show that skepticism is self-refuting; it does not show that the senses are generally reliable or provide us with the means of determining when our judgments about the external world are accurate. (As at least a couple of critics have mentioned, Rand herself became irate when informed by Joan Blumenthal that the tree she thought she saw outside her hospital window was really an IV pole.)

3. Ethics. This has gathered a lot of attention as well since it may be the most novel part of Objectivism. The standard critique is that Rand switches between life as the standard of value and a certain kind of life (rational and non-parasitic) as the standard. Rand is thus able to ignore obvious counterexamples such as the rational parasite who lives off the independence and intelligence of others. It also leads Objectivists to the rather odd conclusion that certain people who are apparently alive and well are “not really living” or even “dead.”

4. Politics. Perhaps the most common objection is that Rand’s advocacy of selfishness cannot provide a foundation for respecting the rights of others. There are various other criticisms such as whether voluntary contributions are sufficient to fund even a minimal state and why anarcho-capitalism is not more consistent with Rand’s politics than limited government.

5. Religion. Here the standard objection is that Rand (and most of her followers) don’t understand religion and theistic arguments well enough to critique them. Rand’s positive arguments for naturalism are weak, e.g., “existence exists” doesn’t preclude the existence of God or gods.

There is, I think, a more fundamental problem. Although Objectivists tell us how stunningly original Rand was, most of her ideas and even the way she defends them are quite similar to other thinkers and schools of philosophy. For example, as Harry Binswanger once admitted, “Objectivism is a version of empiricism.” As such it is subject to the standard criticisms of empiricism, in particular the difficulty of explaining necessity, mathematics and logic without the aid of a priori knowledge. Another example is Rand’s belief that man’s mind is tabula rasa, which makes it subject to various objections from evolutionary psychology.

As I final point, in light of all the schisms, excommunications and denunciations in Objectivism since 1968 it’s not clear who really does understand Objectivism. Recently Leonard Peikoff denounced historian of science John McCaskey over the application of Rand’s theory of concept formation to the problem of induction and its role in the history of science. Travis Norsen, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, came to McCaskey’s defense. If an Objectivist historian of science and an Objectivist physicist can’t get issues right in their own field whereas Leonard Peikoff (who has expertise in neither) can, what’s the hope for the rest of us? Indeed Peikoff has in recent years said that Objectivists who believe Moslems have a right to build an Islamic community center containing a Mosque in New York City or were considering voting Republican or abstaining in 2006 don’t understand Objectivism. Apparently Hsieh doesn’t understand Objectivism because she dissented over the Mosque issue and at least partially sided with McCaskey. Peikoff slammed Hsieh in a statement he since removed from his website.

I would mention that Hsieh and Perkins are a little extreme even by orthodox Objectivist standards here. As readers of ARCHN blog might recall, ARI scholar Onkar Ghate debated philosopher Michael Huemer a couple of years ago over Rand’s ethics. Last year saw the publication of a first volume in a series of papers arising out of Ayn Rand Society meetings. The first volume, edited by orthodox Objectivist Allan Gotthelf and James Lennox contains essays by non-Objectivists Paul Bloomfield, Christine Swanton, Helen Cullyer and Lester Hunt. ARI associated scholars Tara Smith and Darryl Wright engage in friendly dialogue with their essays.

Hsieh and Perkins ended with amusing comment that the Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature blog was really "horrible" and “verges on the not so honest.” But how could a critic of The Truth be anything other than dishonest or stupid anyway?

125 comments:

Anonymous said...

The second paragraph is actually kind of funny.

"Criticisms of a philosophy have limited value..." - au contraire, philosophers are supposed to teach critical thinking, and exercise it, and explain whether they think a philosophy is sound or not, right?

"What is important is whether a philosophy corresponds to the facts of reality and whether its principle fit with my experience." That's actually a fairly neat summarization of one of objectivism's big gaffes - the conflation of "my experience" with the "facts of reality" in toto, as if my experience of life/society/philosophy (or whatever) is enough to establish a fully accurate map of reality. This theme is getting developed in the Aesthetics series too -- Rand's assumption that her taste is objective and universal, if only people thought correctly (like her).

"Objectivism hasn't been around long enough for good critiques to develop..." Oh please. Just another excuse not to engage with critiques of objectivism, because to do so would - gasp - require taking them seriously.

- Chris

gregnyquist said...

Perkins said that with “no exception” all the criticisms he had read of Objectivism are either “blatantly dishonest” or “based on a misunderstanding.”

These are the two stock objections raised whenever Objectivists face any kind of criticism. The problem is that they never make any serious effort to defend either position. Usually they merely assert one or the other of these stock phrases, without making even a pretense of defending it with specific examples. Or, on those rare occasions when an example is offered, the example itself demonstrates merely the incapacity of Objectivists to understand their critics. What I have yet to find any Objectivist who demonstrates an understanding of any of the more detailed criticisms of Objectivism. (Of course, the understanding of rival viewpoints is hardly a strong point for Objectivists.)

Rey said...

"Or, on those rare occasions when an example is offered, the example itself demonstrates merely the incapacity of Objectivists to understand their critics."

Sort of like when I brought up the Man-Qua-Man equivocation to an Objectifriend. The conversation went something like this:

"That's not an equivocation," he said, "but a clarification," citing the problem of the rational parasite as the reason the "clarification" is necessary.

"Whether it's an equivocation or a 'clarification' she's still begging the question because 'qua man' assumes Objectivism."

"No. It proves it."

"She's not proving it if she assumes it from the start!"

"What should she assume? Altruism?"

Jonathan said...

You'd think that an unemployed philosophy PhD could find better things to do with her time than giving podcast answers to irrelevant questions which sound as if they come from oblivious children, or scouring youtube for clips of cute kittens with hyperthyroidism doing parkour. Wouldn't a true Objectivist hero want something more challenging out of life than fleecing a small flock of idiots for pocket change? You'd think that it would occur to her that her cause would be better served -- that she and Objectivism would have a much better chance of being taken seriously and of having more influence in the world -- if she were to invest her time into doing something substantial at PhD-level, like writing essays blowing the existing published criticisms of Objectivism out of the water, inviting Objectivism's critics to respond, and then blowing the responses out of the water.

J

Daniel Barnes said...

@ Jonathan,
The answer to that would be "no".

Perhaps we need a satirical version: Comrade Sonja's Objectarachik Tips.

Jonathan said...

Dear Comrade Sonia,
My non-Objectivist mother taught me to tie my shoes using the "bunny ear" method, but I've been told by Objectivist friends that the "squirrel around the tree" method is the rational, Romanic Realist method that Objectivist children should learn and use. Am I immoral for not having recognized the evil of the bunny method on my own? How should I confront my mother about the damage that she has done to my life by refusing to expose me to the squirrel method and not giving me the option of choosing for myself?

Dragonfly said...

Neil: "I’d also add that it’s not as if Rand wrote a tremendous amount of pure philosophy."

Indeed, Rand's output in that regard is very small, and I find it rather comic that some Objectivists claim that you need many years of intense study - including listening to many hours of expensive Peikoff tapes - to be able to understand Objectivism.

Now it is of course possible that you present important new insights in just a few pages (like for example Einstein's revolutionary article about the electrodynamics of moving bodies), but Rand's philosophical ideas are so trivial and moreover so full of logic holes, that the idea that you'd need a long study to understand it is ludicrous. Perhaps those Objectivists need a long study to know how you can explain the inconsistensies and errors away?

Therefore it's not surprising that those Dunning-Kruger patients resort to the tactic of dismissing criticisms by either suggesting that the critic doesn't understand Objectivism, or that the critic is just an evil Rand-hater (this ad hominem is also popular), so that they don't have to counter those criticisms.

Neil Parille said...

One problem is that Objectivists aren't well read, even in the area of philosophy. So if you haven't read a book on the problem of universals and all you know is what you read in ITO, you probably won't understand Ryan's claim that Rand oscillates between nominalism and realism.

I don't know if that was Perkin's problem, but it might have been.

Incidentally, the piece Dan mentioned by Mack a few posts ago came out in 2003. He references a piece he wrote on Objectivist ethics in the early 70s. So he had been studying Objectivism for 30 years. He doesn't know what he's talking about?

Neil Parille said...

There is a corollary here to the idea of the "arbitrary assertion" when it comes to people who knew Rand (such as theBrandens) and say negative things about her.

Ken said...

So he had been studying Objectivism for 30 years. He doesn't know what he's talking about?

Of course not. He disagrees with it, doesn't he?

The position is similar to that of various flavors of Fundamentalism, especially the Scofield-based "end-times" groups. A true and literal reading of the Bible must produce their particular prophetic interpretation; therefore anyone who disagrees with their version must not understand the Bible.

gregnyquist said...

One problem is that Objectivists aren't well read, even in the area of philosophy.

It's actually even worse: Many, if not all, orthodox Objectivists simply are incapable of understanding contary philosophical views. They all belong to the malicious school of philosophical interpretations, which means that whenever they are confronted by a philosophical text which they believe Rand would strenuously object to (which happens to be most philosophical texts), instead of trying to understand that text, they seek for any pretext, no matter how flimsy, to dismiss it out of hand.

John Donohue said...

I see Mr. Nyquist and fellows continue to blog in order to bury the lead. That has ever been the case, and the only case. Blog blog blog blog blog God blog blog blog blog blog.

That is all this noise is about.

Neil Parille said...

John,

I don't get your point.

Do you agree with Hsieh and Perkins that no critics of Objectivism understand the philosophy?

John Donohue said...

That is not the purpose of this essay. The purpose is to float God.

Neil Parille said...

John,

You aren't making any sense.

John Donohue said...

I will make it more clear, although other Objectivists reading this certainly got it.

You believe in God and require a philosophy that admits the existence of God.

A philosophy that never mentions God, let alone admits God, would be for you a target for either disdain/trifling dismissal, or a candidate for extensive ripping apart.

All else you and Mr. Nyquist have written about Ayn Rand is rooted in this.

That is what I am saying.

Neil Parille said...

John,

You still aren't making any sense.

God is mentioned once in the piece.

What does believing or not believing in God have to do with whether someone understands Objectivism.

For all I know Eric Mack is an atheist, but he seems to understand Objectivism.

Neil Parille said...

John,

According to Leonard Peikoff, Diana Hsieh, Travis Norsen and John McCaskey don't understand Objectivism very well.

And they are all atheists.

In any event, I'd like to see you interact with the claims in the essay. I seriously doubt you will.

John Donohue said...

Evasion.

No problem.

For anyone not in the Nyquist/Parille camp: They should be challenged at their roots: the advancement of theism through the analytic "tools" deployed from the Primacy of Consciousness side. Those have no actual purchase on Ayn Rand, only a cheery rah rah for the fan base (faith) and intelligentsia (neo-platonic analytic philosophy) they claim.

gregnyquist said...

It is curious that directly after I write that objectivists, "instead of trying to understand [criticisms of Objectivism], ...seek for any pretext, no matter how flimsy, to dismiss [such criticisms] out of hand," Mr. Donahue should show up and unwittingly provide evidence for my assertion. He has decided that he can dismiss everything on this site out of hand (which enables him to evade giving cogent responses to it) by arbitrarily declaring the the blog is the tank for God. He provides no evidence for his assertion nor does he seem aware that, in asserting it, he is committing the ad hominem fallacy. The default position of this blog tends toward what might be called a latitudinarian form of agnosticism which is friendly toward mild manifestations of theism and atheism, but is critical of militant atheism and skeptical of all specific theological claims about God. I have criticized Objectivist's arguments against God because they are bad arguments. If Rand had made bad arguments for God, I would have criticized those as well. The best arguments against theism are those derived from brain science; yet Objectivists cannot very well make use of them because those very same arguments refute Rand's view of human nature.

gregnyquist said...

For anyone not in the Nyquist/Parille camp: They should be challenged at their roots: the advancement of theism through the analytic "tools" deployed from the Primacy of Consciousness side.

Imagine a scientist who tried to employ this method against other scientists! What if some scientist (we'll call him Scientist A) issued some research findings about the brain that directly contradicted claims made by Rand. And let us assume that an Objectivist "scientist" (if such a thing is even possible) tried to refute this claim by asserting Scientist A is merely trying to advance theism through the analytic tools deployed by a Primacy of Consciousness point of view! Such assertions would be the object of ridicule in scientific quarters. Questions concerning matters of fact cannot be settled through allegations about motivations of individual scientists.

Mr. Donahue's method of trying to settle questions concerning matters of fact is cognitively inappropriate. It is hardly rational, objective, or empirical, but rather stems from the very faith-based "neo-platonic analytic" rationalizing type of philosophy he pretends to abhor. It represents a betrayal of the very sort of critical and truculent realism that his blog represents. We are all about facts and evidence here. If you want to refute our criticisms of Rand, you need to do so on a rigorously empirical basis, rather than on implausible speculation concerning our motives.

Neil Parille said...

I don't know if I've ever said what my views on God and religion are, so I don't know if there is a Nyquist/Parille camp. On most days I'm something of a deist. In any event, I'm just an occasional contributor.

I believe Popper was an atheist. Stanley Jaki says somewhere that one of Popper's research assistants told him that Popper claimed to have developed the perfect proof against God's existence.

It's interesting that religious people love to debate each other (there are all sorts of blogs devoted to this) and while one may occasionally hear a claim that someone doesn't understand the finer points of Catholicism or Calvinism, no one thinks that strong ideological commitments are insuperable barriers to understanding ideas.

I imagine the dissertation committee (if that's what it's called) that examined Diana Hsieh's Phd thesis contained all non-Objectivists. Did she start out by saying "sorry boys, but you won't understand this"?

Incredible that Mr. Donohue accuses everyone of evasion when he has yet to comment on my piece.

Michael Prescott said...

Nice try, Greg, but it looks like the jig is up. John Donohue has uncovered our dirty little secret, and there's no point in trying to conceal it any longer.

The simple truth is that Greg, Dan, Neil, Xtra Laj, Dragonfly, and I, and every other regular commenter or poster on ARCHN, are fundamentalist Holy Rollers worshiping at the Church of the Glorious New Dawn Say Hallelujah All Saints Order of Brotherly and Sisterly Love in Parsippany, New Jersey. Greg is the minister, Dan plays the pipe organ, and the rest of us are enthusiastic members of the congregation, which also includes Eric Mack.

I'd hoped never to have to reveal this, but as usual, Mr. Donohue has proved too clever for us. As he correctly surmised, our objection to Ayn Rand is grounded solely in our religious faith, and not in any critical analysis of her equivocations, arbitrary assertions, erroneous scientific and historical claims, ad hominems, psychologizing, appeals to emotion, rhetorical sleight of hand, oversimplifications, tendentiousness, moralizing, rationalizations, misrepresentation of opposing viewpoints, intolerance of criticism, and general oddballness.

It feels good to finally come clean about this.

Neil Parille said...

Michael,

Speak for yourself. As a champion of the primacy of consciousness I'm a member of Flip Wilson's Church of What's Happening Now.

In fact, if you look closely in this video you can see Greg, Dan and the rest of us in the choir.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xNSgBkum7o

Neil Parille said...

Greg,

Speaking of religion, I did post before about S. Parrish's critique of Objectivism's anti-theistic arguments.

It's incredible that someone could claim that Parrish doesn't understand Objectivism. The arguments for any of the anti-theistic claims are not more than 2 or 3 paragraphs.

One of the arguments from Peikoff is:
____

Is God the designer of the universe? Not if A is A. The alternative to ‘design’
is not ‘chance.’ It is causality
_____

It's not hard to understand, but it is somewhat hard to make sense of.

Dragonfly said...

Well, for the record: I'm a hard atheist, let there be no misunderstanding about that. But Peikoff's arguments against the existence of God are meaningless.

Neil quotes:

Is God the designer of the universe? Not if A is A. The alternative to ‘design’
is not ‘chance.’ It is causality.


Why can't chance be an alternative to design? This is an arbitrary statement by Peikoff for which he hasn't any evidence. We know for example from modern physics that at the level of elementary particles chance does play a role.

Oh, I quite forgot, Peikoff has shown that modern physics is corrupt! That explains of course everything...

Another bad argument by Peikoff:

For instance, God is infinite. Nothing can be infinite, according to the Law of Identity. Everything is what it is, and nothing else. It is limited in its qualities and in its quantity: it is this much, and no more. “Infinite” as applied to quantity does not mean “very large”: it means “larger than any specific quantity.” That means: no specific quantity—i.e., a quantity without identity. This is prohibited by the Law of Identity.

So much nonsense... where should I begin? For example "God is infinite" - who says so? If *some* religionists may use that expression, do they mean that God is infinite in size? I think they rather mean that God is too big (in a metaphorical sense) to be comprehended by man's mind, rather than that God has infinite physical dimensions.

Then he states "nothing can be infinite, according to the Law of Identity". But the Law of Identity is a logic law that doesn't give us any information about the physical world. "Everything" is limited in quantity according to Peikoff because it otherwise would have a quantity "without identity". Apparently Peikoff thinks that the fact that "infinite" is not a natural number implies that it doesn't have an "identity" (whatever that means in Peikovian language).

But that is of course a big non sequitur. There isn't any logical argument that prohibits the existence of a universe that is infinitely big with an infinite number of particles in it. Sure, we never could count them all, but who says that we should be able to do that for such a universe to exist?

We can neither count all the points of a circle, but that doesn't mean that there aren't infinitely many points on a circle.

Daniel Barnes said...

Yo JD, I'm an aetheist too, as were my parents.

But as an Objectivist, you "just knew" we were all religious. LOL!

Dragonfly said...

Isn't it amazing, those rational and logical arguments we get from an Objectivist? I suppose this is representative of the great thinking powers and convincing argumentation of those people. With such brilliant deductions they'll soon convince the rest of the world that only they know the Truth!

Ken said...

The quote from Peikoff on infinity produced by Dragonfly is absolute nonsense from a mathematical point of view. Mathematicians have no problem working with infinity and infinite cardinals.

Do Objectivists reject the use of infinity in mathematics? I recall many years ago on sci.math, infinity was a favorite target of the cranks, especially Cantor's diagonal. A lot of them tended to say things like "logically impossible," rather like Peikoff's waving of the "Law of Identity".

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

(Tried this twice before and it still hasn't shown up; sorry if it looks like I'm repeating myself.)

Ken asked, "Do Objectivists reject the use of infinity in mathematics?"

Officially, no. In ITOE, Ayn Rand wrote that "An arithmetical sequence extends into infinity, without implying that infinity actually exists; such extension means only that whatever number of units does exist, it is to be included in the same sequence." Also, in the appendix to ITOE, she said she thought that within mathematics, the concept of infinity was valid as a "concept of method," by which she apparently meant that it was useful as a tool even if it had no actual referent in reality. (I don't think this is consistent with how "concept of method" is defined in ITOE itself, but since we know Rand was always precise, clear and consistent in her use of her made-up vocabulary, this probably only proves that I don't understand Objectivism well enough to criticize it, right, John?)

Official position notwithstanding, many Echo-Chamber Objectivists seem to have a lot of trouble with the concept of infinity. Not long ago, Harry Binswanger was trying to explain (or perhaps prove) calculus without relying on conventional notions of infinitesimals (which require infinite divisibility) or limits. As I recall, he felt a need to rescue higher math from "Platonism"; he wanted it to be grounded in reality, not impossible and unreal notions like "infinity." (Sorry I can't provide a reference; this was on his private e-mail list.)

John Donohue said...

glad to hear you are all atheists

Neil Parille said...

Pat Corvini appears to be the resident ARI expert on math.

http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/prodinfo.asp?number=SC02M

http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/prodinfo.asp?number=SC01M

Apparently she discusses infinity in the course.

$120 plus shipping and handling for a whopping 9 hours. I don't imagine listening to a course on mathematics is particularly useful.

You can get a 12 hour course Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers from the teaching company for $70. And it's on DVD.

Michael Prescott said...

"glad to hear you are all atheists"

For the record, I'm not an atheist, and Neil Parille says he is "something of a deist." You'll find a wide range of views represented here -- much wider, I'd bet, than on any pro-Objectivist site.

madbehemoth said...

He has decided that he can dismiss everything on this site out of hand (which enables him to evade giving cogent responses to it) by arbitrarily declaring the the blog is the tank for God.

That's called "Thinking in Essentials"! He's grasped the defining trait of this blog and all the people involved in it, like a true Randian. Well done!

John Donohue said...

Okay, SOME of you are atheists.

These two positions:

"The default position of this blog tends toward what might be called a latitudinarian form of agnosticism which is friendly toward mild manifestations of theism and atheism, but is critical of militant atheism and skeptical of all specific theological claims about God. "

and "something of a Deist"

Sound like the announcements of a spokesperson weathermen whose equipment is broken and he can't get outside to see which way the wind blows. I won't try to parse them out. Answer to yourself if you believe in God and the supernatural or not; I really don't care.


Since Mr. Parille posted this massively couched sentence . . .

"I won’t summarize all the criticisms of Objectivism, but I think there are a number of stock objections put forward by more than one philosopher that are reasonable based on any “objective” reading of Rand’s philosophy"

. . . I dare not attribute to him the claim HE is making the objections. I don't care who is. However, this is the 'buried lead' in all of this noise to which I referred in my first post and Mr. Parille coyly claims made no sense:

"5. Religion. Here the standard objection is that Rand (and most of her followers) don’t understand religion and theistic arguments well enough to critique them. Rand’s positive arguments for naturalism are weak, e.g., “existence exists” doesn’t preclude the existence of God or gods."

Yes, we do understand religion at it's root. It is anything that accepts the existence of something for which there is no factual proof. The details are irrelevant if that defect is passed. Nothing "learned" by further study of religion can cure that fatal flaw.*

Yes, Rand's root axiom DOES preclude the existence of "God" as arbitrarily described by millions.

A thinker cannot be on both sides at once. You are either Primacy of Existence or not. If you are, you are open to the proof of existence of any existent. That proof must fall back on existence only; it cannot fall back on imaginary things. THAT is science and truth.

As such, no theist, supernaturalist, neo-Platonist or non-POE person can credibly criticize Ayn Rand. You are not qualified; you always have the irrational in you pocket. If you ARE POE, then attack her facts on facts only.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

* I would accept, with amusement, the claim by a non-POE that they "Understand Ayn Rand" if they base their claim strictly on "She rejects God and the supernatural realm." At least that is honest in its way.

P.P.S this comment is my own reaction to this article. It does not comment -- on either side -- on the thoughts of Hsieh and Perkins.

Jim Caton said...

John, I hope you realize that philosophy and science have come a long way since the late 18th century. Of course you can't understand that because your late-priestess Rand pilloried Kant's subjectivist viewpoint as naive pragmatism. Since that is the case, you can't accept quantum physics, chaos theory, systems theory, or any other gifts of the subjectivist revolution. Values require context. There can be no objective values, only objective principles that we, as finite humans, can only understand in part. Thus, the only way we can begin to approach the Absolute (and don't be fooled, I am not referring to the existence of a God right now) is through well honed apriori assumptions about the principles that undergird reality. Rand's objectivism leaves no room for this sort of truly complex understanding. Instead, Rand's philosophy leads her followers to engage in long, nonsensical tirades about the non-existence of a deity. If you want to be part of that argument, go back to the 19th century.

Jim

Neil Parille said...

John,

For example David Gordon and Wallace Matson questioned Rand's theory of concept formation on some of the grounds I gave.

Did they misunderstand ITO?

Ken said...

@Echo Chamber Escapee: That quote from Rand is similar to what some of the old sci.math cranks said. They had no trouble with the idea that there was no largest integer, but rejected the idea that this meant the set of all integers was infinite.

Some simply said that you could not have an infinite set; this may be what Rand is saying (and I now wonder if maybe some of them were Objectivists). Others seemed to think you could form a set of all the integers but its size would be finite. Or maybe that's what they were saying - there was no math, and often very little coherence, in their arguments.

Of course to really see the crank factor turned up to 11, you had to read what they thought of the different infinite cardinals and Cantor's diagonal.

Jim Caton said...

@Ken: If that is true, the objectivists set themselves up for a paradox that cannot be solved by there identity principle. If one accepts that there is no largest integer, then clearly one cannot deny that infinity exists. And it follows that infinite sets exist. They just deny the existence and legitimacy of anything they can't understand.

Daniel Barnes said...

Jim Caton:
>They just deny the existence and legitimacy of anything they can't understand.

Or they understand but nonetheless just know - see one Donohue, J - it's wrong.

Ken said...

@Jim Caton: Based solely on the quotes provided here, the objection seems to be to physical infinities, but there seems to be some sloppy thinking that transfers that (in part) to the mathematical realm. I would welcome any further information about Rand and math - all I ever seem to hear is "A is A" followed by a rapid degeneration into fuzziness. However once you start doing actual math and logic, you produce something that can unambiguously be demonstrated true or false.

(Well, usually; did Rand have anything to say about Goedel? The incompleteness theorem was another favorite topic for cranks.)

Daniel Barnes said...

@ken
I've done a short piece on Objectivism and logic, just search the site as I can't post it right now. Objectivism and math would be a great topic...

Jim Caton said...

We can't prove that a physical infinity does or does not exist. We can't prove if there are multiverses. This also means that we can't disprove these things either.

@Daniel: Sounds like a religion if you asks me.

Dragonfly said...

John Donohue: "Yes, we do understand religion at it's root. It is anything that accepts the existence of something for which there is no factual proof.

That is indeed a good argument against religion (if you mean by "proof" a hypothesis that is succesfully tested), but it doesn't follow from Rand's "existence exists". Now this formulation is rather vague, I suppose what Rand means is in fact: "there exists a physical world independent of our consciousness". But just the fact that such a world does exist still doesn't tell us anything about that world, that is a matter of empirical evidence. Science is the systematic study of this physical world and in the course of the centuries this has led to the evolution of what is called "the scientific method", some general rules that have proven to be very succesful in understanding the physical world and generating effective technology.

One of the characteristics of that method is creating hypotheses and testing those. For example in the remote past people tried to explain the phenomenon of lightning and thunder by the hypothesis that there was a god, some intelligent entity, more powerful than ordinary people, who threw lightning bolts to the earth. Considering the limited knowledge at that time that was perhaps not such a bad hypothesis. You could say that this religious explanation was a sort of scientific hypothesis, although the science was then of course still so primitive that it had no use other than just giving an "explanation" of a mysterious phenomenon.

But as we learned more in the course of time, better explanations came up, and those were confirmed by experiments (think for example of the very dangerous experiment of lucky Benjamin Franklin).

We learned that hypotheses that could in principle not be tested, were not useful in science and those were therefore discarded by serious scientists. That is the reason that religiously inspired hypotheses (posing some untestable entities) are no longer accepted in science. This is the result of many centuries of empirical research however, and does not follow from the mere hypothesis that there exists a physical world.

About the difference between the "primacy of existence" and the "primacy of consciousness": this is a false dichotomy. What you call "primacy" is a matter of perspective. We can use a "bird's eye view", considering the world and its laws, how people with consciousness evolved. But we can also use our personal perspective, because after all everything we know, we know through our consciousness. From that viewpoint there is no world if we no longer exist. Interesting is that Rand seems to agree when she approvingly quoted the line "I will not die, it's the world that will end", a prime example of the primacy of consciousness!

Daniel Barnes said...

Attn Donohue, J: Greg Nyquist and I run this blog, no one else. We are both what you would call Primacy Of Existence types, me specifically as I subscribe to Karl Poppers cosmology (his 3 Worlds theory). You got a problem with that?

Michael Prescott said...

"Yes, we do understand religion at its root."

I'm sorry, John, but in order to really understand a different point of view, we must first engage with it, which means giving it a sympathetic reading. A conservative can't understand a liberal, or vice versa, without sympathetically engaging his opponent's point of view; and the more alien the other viewpoint is, the more necessary it is to approach it sympathetically in order to see past our own preconceptions. Of course we need not end up agreeing with or even respecting this other viewpoint, but for the purposes of understanding it, we must enter into a kind of tentative or provisional acceptance, a mindset of: "Let's suppose this is true and see what I can learn from it."

A great deal of Objectivist argument and "analysis" consists of denunciations, which (though they may make the denouncer feel intellectually and morally superior) demonstrate little or no grasp of whatever is being denounced. Objectivists often seem to feel they have nothing to learn from any viewpoint contrary to their own. This makes it impossible for them to undergo much intellectual or personal growth, which explains why many Objectivists seem stuck in a rut, resisting new developments in science, rejecting new trends in art and entertainment, and reiterating arguments that have been exploded as fallacious many times. It also may explain why Objectivism as a movement has not gained much traction even after fifty years.

John Donohue said...

I do not see that Popper's 3 worlds is a cosmology. It seems to be a theory of knowledge creating new schisms and distinctions.

It is scary to think of this as either a cosmology or ontology. It is scary that they are called "worlds." This implies that something like W3 cultural knowledge has existential rootedness in and of itself, a highly Platonic and superstitious notion. And certainly not POE.

Cultural knowledge is simply the sum of things accepted as true by most members of a society, and 'accepted' with prejudice in that people operate out of them, base decisions on them, etc. I hope to God (irony) to live in a society where things accepted as true are proven facts, not superstition, myth, magic, supernatural, etc.

I am not clear why he needs these three worlds, even though I just now read a few attempted explanations of why, if they all address objective reality. My only impression on limited reading is that he somehow needs these three split-offs to fit in his attempted assertion of "falisifiability" as a pinch-hitter for induction within context.

Doesn't this all exhaust you? I would be exhausted trying to whip it all around.

Things exist. We grasp them with the rational mind. We form higher concepts built up from simpler ones. The meaning of concepts can be communicated from one person to another. That is induction. Science uses induction, and then deduction. This rational process is the tool that keeps us sharp to not err in identifying the truth. We should never let in things that don't exist. I'd say that is plenty to handle without the introduction of unneeded worlds and disctinctions that flirt with magical reification.

John Donohue said...

@Michael Prescott, You stood a chance of receiving a simple repeat of my already well-articulated "I can't learn anything from your position because it is dead on arrival with the contradiction of 'supernatural."

However, you added so many prejudiced opinions, slants, characterizations and dismissals, all wrong, in your second paragraph that I don't care about your comment.

John Donohue said...

Dragonfly: "That is indeed a good argument against religion (if you mean by "proof" a hypothesis that is successfully tested), but it doesn't follow from Rand's "existence exists"."

Please explain what you meant by "it." What does not follow from existence?

It is worth noting, since all the signs of anti-induction are flying high here, that Rand's axiom of Existence does NOT have to prove anything in and of itself, it does not have to in and of itself 'create' facts, knowledge, morality, art, politics, etc. The axiom of existence stands at the root of all truth -- philosophy being about truth -- in that any deduction must be able to be traced back to the factual existence of everything involved in he context of the argument/experiment/higher concept. Inductions only proceed outward from facts in non-contradiction to existence.

Michael Prescott said...

"it is dead on arrival with the contradiction of 'supernatural.'"

This is a good example of why Objectivism is not empirical. It actually consists mainly of word games. In this case, the Objectivist position is that the term "supernatural" entails a logical contradiction. The contradiction stems from the fact that "nature" is defined to mean "reality," so anything "supernatural" would be, by definition, outside reality and thus unreal and nonexistent. QED!

But this is the opposite of empiricism. Empiricism would say, "Well, let's look at the evidence for the supernatural, and if it holds up, we'll have to revise our definitions." Who knows? Maybe "nature" is not synonymous with "reality." Maybe there are other kinds of reality that fall outside of what we call nature. Or maybe the so-called supernatural has been misunderstood and is actually part of nature.

Or maybe there really is nothing supernatural - but we can't know merely by quoting a definition; we have to look at the hard, cold facts.

The reasoning employed by Objectivists reminds me of medieval scholastics who argued endlessly about definitions without ever getting their hands dirty by investigating the real world.

Objectivism is a stagnant worldview in large part because it depends on rigidly adhering to certain definitions. Learning something new, or even properly understanding what we think we know already, requires looking not at definitions but at facts.

My point, BTW, is not to defend belief in the supernatural (though I do accept the existence of many such phenomena), but to show that Objectivism is not empirical in its actual approach, no matter how loudly its adherents proclaim themselves to be empiricists. They are, in fact, rationalists and verbalists interested only in linguistic contortions and analytic (not synthetic) propositions.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@John Donahue: "Things exist. We grasp them with the rational mind. We form higher concepts built up from simpler ones. The meaning of concepts can be communicated from one person to another. That is induction."

Sorry, but no. I'm not sure what the referent of pronoun "that" was intended to be, but "Induction" is not observation, concept-formation, or communicating concepts to others. "Induction" refers to a reasoning process that makes an inference from particulars to general: These S are P; therefore all S are P.

"Science uses induction, and then deduction."

There's a lot more to the scientific method than this. Science uses observation and a combination of intuition, experience, reasoning by analogy, and similar mental processes to come up with hypotheses to explain the observations. (This is not induction; it's more like speculation.) Then the scientist deduces testable consequences of the hypothesis and performs experiments to determine whether these consequences occur. Based on this, the hypothesis can be strengthened, revised, or discarded. Eventually, some hypotheses survive enough testing that they become accepted as scientific theory -- which means that it's good enough to use as working knowledge. The process by which theories gain acceptance is basically inductive in nature: the truth of a general principle is inferred from specific experiments and other information. And in keeping with the fact that induction can't lead to absolute certainty, scientists welcome evidence that calls into question even the most established theories.

"We should never let in things that don't exist."

Good idea. But you can't decide what things exist or not just by playing word games. You figure out what exists empirically -- by observation. I don't believe in the supernatural, but that's because I haven't ever seen convincing evidence of it. If someone produces some, I will consider it. Likewise, I don't believe there's a convention of gremlins on Venus studying Shakespeare ... but if someone shows me evidence, I will consider it.

John Donohue said...

to anyone making a discovery that somthing once thought to be supernatural is on recent evidence now actually proven to exist, Objectivists suggest you do NOT change the definition of "supernatural." We suggest instead you change the definition of that which has been proven to exist in nature. It was wrong. Please supply corrected definition.

Jim Caton said...

@John: As far as I can tell, you are still dedicating yourself to dated, 18th century philosophy synthesized with an Aristotelian world view.

John Donohue said...

@Jim Caton:

more like 17th century.

How is it wrong again?

and what is the meaning of your poem?

Daniel Barnes said...

Donohue, J, writes:
>it is scary to think of this as either a cosmology or ontology. It is scary that they are called "worlds." This implies that something like W3 cultural knowledge has existential rootedness in and of itself, a highly Platonic and superstitious notion. And certainly not POE.

Bwahaha! Do you know what "primacy" means JD you awesome internet genius you? (clue: it's not "third"!)

Objectivists are just so desperate to be unique it even renders them unable to understand English.

John Donohue said...

@Daniel Barnes
no clue your last

insult blathter blusters bravely
content null negatory nada

therefore zero

Ken said...

@Michael Prescott: "This is a good example of why Objectivism is not empirical. It actually consists mainly of word games."

Maybe at its best. The present exemplar looks more like an Eliza program, matching keywords and repeating the associated catchphrase.

Xtra Laj said...

Maybe at its best. The present exemplar looks more like an Eliza program, matching keywords and repeating the associated catchphrase.

Thanks for reminding me how nerdy I am (laughed out really loud when I read this).

Though I'm guessing that this was triggered by JD's last comment, this joke could probably be used for many Objectivist arguments by the way - they just spit out the Randian lexicon in response to anything they cannot understand.

gregnyquist said...

it is scary to think of this as either a cosmology or ontology. It is scary that they are called "worlds." This implies that something like W3 cultural knowledge has existential rootedness in and of itself, a highly Platonic and superstitious notion.

Why should it be "scary"? Because it "implies" Platonism? In the absence of specific knowledge, all kinds of words and expressions may imply all sorts of things. For example, in the absence of knowledge about Rand's ethics, her virtue of selfishness may be seen (and often is seen) as implying exploiting others for one's own ends. But just as anyone familiar with Rand's ethics knows that Rand does not, in point of doctrine, favor such exploitation, so everyone who understands Popper's philosophy knows he doesn't mean Platonism by his 3 Worlds hypothesis. The 3 Worlds hypothesis is meant as a way of explaining how it is that theories and their implications can affect both mind and matter (Worlds 1 and 2). It's actually a sort of thought experiment meant to cast doubt on materialism and epiphenomenalism. As such, it is entirely in line with Objectivist thought, and could even be incorporated into Objectivist arguments, if any adepts of that philosophy had enough wit and culture to accomplish such a thing.

Whenever I hear someone call an idea or theory he doesn't even understand "scary," I am reminded of the religious fundamentalist who once told me that reading "non-Biblical" books was hazardous to my soul and that there was little, if anything, worth knowing that couldn't be found in the Bible. At bottom, the Objectivist conviction that certain ideas, theories, or arguments are dangerous taps into the same primitive prejudice. But understanding an idea is not the equivalent of being possessed by it. A cultured individual seeks to understand what is alien to him, not merely find some specious pretense for denouncing it.

Ken said...

@Xtra Laj: Actually his 6:33 AM "does not compute" post and mine crossed one another. I was looking at the 10:21 AM post, with the strong keyword/quote pattern; and to the 8:56 PM "scary" repetition; and... well, most of them, really.

As one of the great philosophers and students of human nature once put it, "We are all individuals."

Ken said...

@gregnyquist: "The 3 Worlds hypothesis is meant as a way of explaining how it is that theories and their implications can affect both mind and matter (Worlds 1 and 2)."

I rather like John Wright's Chronicles of Chaos for this kind of thing. It's a fantasy but he works in several different philosophies about the nature of reality and the relationship between mind and matter. I'll skip the plot (though its good) and just ROT13 these spoilers about the philosophy:

Gurer ner sbhe Ubhfrf bs Punbf, gur "zbafgref" bhgfvqr gur beqrerq Pbfzbf. Rnpu ubhfr unf n qvssrerag ivrj bs gur havirefr juvpu cebivqrf gurz jvgu gurve bja sbez bs zntvp.

Bar Ubhfr vf zngrevnyvfg. Gb gurz rirelguvat vf znggre vagrenpgvat ol ynjf. Gurer vf ab fcvevg, naq zvaq vf bayl na rcvcurabzraba cebqhprq ol znggre vagrenpgvat va pregnva fhssvpvragyl-pbzcyrk flfgrzf.

Bar Ubhfr vf fcvevghnyvfg. Rirelguvat vf fcvevg be zvaq, naq gurer vf ab znggre. Gur jbeyq vf bar uhtr vyyhfvba, n funerq qernz.

Bar Ubhfr fnlf znggre naq fcvevg obgu rkvfg nf frcnengr fhofgnaprf. Nyy guvatf ner pbzcbfrq bs obgu; n uhzna, n gerr, be n ebpx vf znggre vashfrq jvgu fcvevg.

Gur ynfg Ubhfr fnlf znggre naq fcvevg obgu rkvfg, ohg znggre pnaabg or creprvirq be nssrpgrq ol fcvevg, naq ivpr-irefn. Gur vagrefrpgvba orgjrra gur gjb vf n zbanq, va gur Yvroavgmvna frafr.

gregnyquist said...

to anyone making a discovery that something once thought to be supernatural is on recent evidence now actually proven to exist, Objectivists suggest you do NOT change the definition of "supernatural."

And what definition is that? If you claim that no X can exist; and then, when evidence of X is discovered, you claim, that X is no longer X, what have you in fact accomplished? In order for the phrase "The supernatural cannot exist" to have any relevance to the empirical world, it must cover specific instances of events or prodigies which can at least be imagined. If by supernatural we mean such phenomena as miracles, demonological possession, and visitations from angels, then if (per implausible) we stumbled upon compelling evidence of any of these things, then we would have grounds for believing that the supernatural might exist. It just won't do to say, in the face of such compelling evidence, Well those things aren't supernatural after all, because the supernatural can't exist. If you're going to define supernatural that way, the term loses it's ability to say anything about world. It merely claims that what cannot exist cannot exist, while evading the responsibility of specifying what, precisely, cannot exist. It's a tautology devoid of empirical content.

Mark C. said...

John,

That is not the purpose of this essay. The purpose is to float God.

FALSE: Theism played an extremely small part in this blog post, and, in fact, no views in said post can be derived from

basic theism. Indeed, said views can, without issue, be held by an atheist, such as myself (and I consider myself very

near to being a strong atheist). The following is what was written:

5. Religion. Here the standard objection is that Rand (and most of her followers) don’t understand religion and

theistic arguments well enough to critique them. Rand’s positive arguments for naturalism are weak, e.g., “existence

exists” doesn’t preclude the existence of God or gods.


What, exactly, is wrong with this? I find that it makes perfect sense. "Existence exists" seems to mean something like

"those things which happen to exist do, in fact, exist". Or perhaps "the set of all things that exists is itself

something that exists". The latter is a variation on the idea that the set of all sets contains itself, so I'd rather

drop that interpretation. So suppose we go with the former one. Well, it tells us... absolutely nothing. It entails

nothing other than itself. "A is A" also tells us nothing. "A goat is a goat". Nothing. "A god is a god". Nothing.

Tautologies are tautologies. No matter what the letter 'A' represents, the statement is true. What is needed is a

discussion of what 'A' represents, of what it even means for a thing to exist. The fact that something exists if

it exists is trivial.

All else you and Mr. Nyquist have written about Ayn Rand is rooted in [the need to have a God-friendly

philosophy].


Yes, and all the atheists who like reading this blog and happen to agree with many of its criticisms of Objectivism and

Rand are really just in denial -- they believe in the supernatural! They aren't really atheists, so I can ignore their

opinions! Please.

Yes, we do understand religion at it's root. It is anything that accepts the existence of something for which there

is no factual proof.


Anything? Well, there's no factual proof of the Easter bunny's existence, so every kid who believes it exists must be

participating in a religion! Santa Claus, the tooth fairy? Religions! I'm sorry, but religion, to be a useful concept

distinct from others, such as that of the supernatural, should be more narrowly defined. Include, possibly, reverence

of tradition. Include dogma and doctrine. Include worship and ritual. Even all of these aren't held by all the things

commonly thought of as religions.

Yes, Rand's root axiom DOES preclude the existence of "God" as arbitrarily described by millions.

I'm assuming you are referring to the axiom of the primacy of existence. Well, minds exist. Why couldn't there be a

mind that could control other things that exist? It's a very real logical possibility, though, in my atheistic

view, one not at all supported by any evidence. The issue is whether or not it's an actual possibility, and for

that, we need science, not pure reason. Even then, science does not deal in certainty. Additionally, for your quoted

claim to be true, there need to be some common attributes that those millions of people assign to God. With all the

doctrinal differences between different religions, and even with all the doctrinal differences among a single, broad

religion, such as Christianity, I really haven't a clue what commonalities there are, except possibly the one that

asserts this entity to have some sort of tremendous, otherworldly power.

Mark C. said...

Oh, geez, huge apology for the formatting.

Continuing:

Let's look at the primacy of existence. The Ayn Rand Lexicon describes it thus:
1. The axiom "existence exists".
2. Equivalently: The universe exists independent of any consciousness.
3. Equivalently: Things are what they are; they possess a specific nature, an identity.

1 tells us nothing, though it does indicate that, since the POC is described as the negation of the POE, the POC implies that "existence does not exist". It looks like a bad-faith attempt to describe some people's worldviews -- very uncharitable, since they obviously do believe that their gods are in the set of things that exist. I already discussed this above.

2 is a very different statement, which means there is no equivalence. If by "universe" is meant all things physical, then there is, as I have said, no logical problem with there being a mind reponsible for its existence. If by "universe" is meant both all things physical in addition to such a mind, then the statement could be true, but I doubt it's what Rand/Objectivists intended.

3 also seems to tell us nothing, just like 1. Or, at the most charitable, very nearly nothing. You might say that 3 is an elaboration on 1, but since both really don't tell us anything that isn't already obvious to everyone, they are useless, and hence, more bad-faith rhetoric meant to tar certain people.

In summary, only 2 has any substance, and even then, its confirmation lies not in logic alone, but out in the world. That is, it is an empirical issue, which requires research/investigation to conclude. Even then, it would not be a deduction. I see this as a problem, since the POE is purported to be an axiom and not a conclusion. And really, given my two interpretations of 2, and given the fact that confirmation of the first of these must be empirical, it looks like 2 is supposed to be dogma, rather than anything arrived at through a process of reason. It seems to have more emotional appeal than anything, and I know Objectivists hate those icky emotions.

If you want to criticize people for holding the negation of the POE (i.e. the POC), then you need to state that it is 2 you see them negating, not 1 or 3. And remember, 2 is not automatically true -- it requires empirical confirmation... and induction. You are too quick to dismiss people's views.

Mark C. said...

Things exist. We grasp them with the rational mind. We form higher concepts built up from simpler ones. The meaning of concepts can be communicated from one person to another. That is induction.

FALSE: Let P be a property of existents. P(x_1). P(x_2). P(x_3). Therefore, for any n, P(x_n). THIS is induction (rather, an example with three data points).

We should never let in things that don't exist.

DUH. No one would state otherwise! The point of contention is whether particular things exist or not. You can't just hand-wave away every contrary view. You must engage with detractors in a good-faith effort to establish truth. You also need to establish criteria for what it means for a thing to exist.

I can't learn anything from your position because it is dead on arrival with the contradiction of 'supernatural.

I am an atheist and a naturalist, but I would very much enjoy seeing you demonstrate the existence of a logical contradiction internal to the definition of "supernatural". I want to clearly see something of the form "A ^ ~A". Also, since you don't want to engage with supernaturalistic ideas, you must also demonstrate that the objects of said ideas do, in fact, meet the definition of "supernatural" you have analyzed.

Please explain what you meant by "it." What does not follow from existence?

I think what he (?) meant was that the following claim about religion does not follow from "existence exists":
Yes, we do understand religion at it's root. It is anything that accepts the existence of something for which there is no factual proof.

Moving on:

The axiom of existence stands at the root of all truth -- philosophy being about truth -- in that any deduction must be able to be traced back to the factual existence of everything involved in he context of the argument/experiment/higher concept. Inductions only proceed outward from facts in non-contradiction to existence.

Please address my criticism of the primacy of existence axiom.

Here's a criticism of Objectivism from an atheist: It equivocates between life and life "man qua man".

I think you need to check your premises.

John Donohue said...

@gregnyquist

That attempted switcheroo was really cynical.

The dishonest thing you did in your maneuver was to claim I said "the supernatural cannot exist." That is deliberately imprecise and further should not have been in quotes; I never said that verbatim. The two actual options are: 1) "You said that something claimed to be in the supernatural can never be shown to exist." and 2) "You said that the term supernatural is a contradiction in terms." Number 2 would have been accurate and an honorable restatement of my position; number 1 I would never say nor need to say (see the following.)

The claimer is the one saying "The supernatural CAN exist." He is the confused one. If something exists is it not supernatural. (See below for my comment to such people.)

You are "correct" in thinking that if I got specific (stupid me) and made the statement "All these incredible things all these incredible people claim to exist in the supernatural? I can prove that they cannot exist." I WOULD have to list them all, and furthermore list all the ones that might be imagined in the fevered brains of future dreamers who could be incredibly creative indeed in inventing things and claiming them to exist in the supernatural, proving the negative all the while. That absurdity alone should have made you realize your attempt to pin burden on me is dishonest. I never fall into the error of claiming proof that 'something' does not exist, however. Instead I call the bluff of "supernatural" per se.

Implicit in making a claim for supernatural is the responsibility of knowing that if you discover the thing, it will be IN NATURE. Until you do, it is non-existent. You might have a hypothetical construct in your mind, but the fact that you have it in your mind does NOT mean the referent exists. That would be Primacy of Consciousness, an error.

X makes a claim for G, stating it is in the supernatural realm. X makes up the definition of G out of air. He has to do it that way, there are no existents from which to induce a proper rational definition. This is a slam dunk because of the meaning of "supernatural." It means outside of or above nature, nature being the entire universe of existent things.

J simply says, "I confirm that I have been informed that X believes in G, something supernatural, for which there is no evidence let alone proof that it exists." J makes no statement that G does not exist. He does not have to. The burden of any future proof of the existence of G is on X.

Later, X discovers actual evidence for SOMETHING....it might be similar to the imagined G! He is able to form a rational concept of the existent G. Other rationals can now confirm, test, etc. A clear NEW definition of G can be formed from the ACTUAL characteristics of G, not from the made up definition.

J takes a peek in, validates the science, says well look at that, the thing J has been all excited about actually exists! It was not supernatural at all, it is in nature and was in nature all along.

Mr. Nyquist, you're persistent attempts to switch the burden of proof are a low form of argument.

And a general scolding to all those honoring the term "supernatural." It is a contradiction in terms. Something cannot exist and at the same time be 'above' or 'other than' the universe of all that exists. You'd get a lot more respect for your hypotheticals if you posited them as such. "I think Z exists, even though we have not found a Z yet. I am going to attempt to identify a Z or many Zs and prove it is part of nature. I'll let you know when I find some evidence."

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Ken:

"As one of the great philosophers and students of human nature once put it, 'We are all individuals.'"

I'm not!

(And thanks for the Eliza reference; made me laugh! I remember messing with that program once upon a time.)

Dragonfly said...

@Mark C.: very well said. I wanted to write something similar, but you can express it much better than I could do.

Anonymous said...

John,

And a general scolding to all those honoring the term "supernatural." It is a contradiction in terms. Something cannot exist and at the same time be 'above' or 'other than' the universe of all that exists.

Stop being an asshole, assuming everyone who contemplates the possible existence of the supernatural to be mentally retarded. Obviously they don't have in mind "something outside of the set of all that exists".

Seriously, John.

John Donohue said...

re: scary.

I was scared you actually believed these arbitrarily schismed "worlds" and abstractions such as "cultural knowledge" could so easily reified in your mind as existents and actors in and of themselves.

From your response I'll change the word 'scary' to 'horrified'. I'm horrified you think statements such as:

"The 3 Worlds hypothesis is meant as a way of explaining how it is that theories and their implications can affect both mind and matter (Worlds 1 and 2)"

are not only Not Primacy of Consciousness but could 'be incorporated into Objectivist arguments."

Mark C. said...

Urg, that last anonymous comment was from me.

John Donohue said...

@anonymous

"they don't have in mind "something outside of the set of all that exists"."

then let them stop using the word "supernatural" which means exactly that.

John Donohue said...

@mark

1) I already answered most of what you wanted me to respond to. Sounds like you did not read everything.
2) you have POC so wrong it makes all that follows void. I'd be glad to engage if you can at least get right what Ayn Rand identifies as Primacy of Consciousness.

Dragonfly said...

I agree that the term "supernatural" may be unfortunate when it's used for things that might be "in nature", but I think that is not the point of the discussion. What nowadays is commonly called "supernatural" isn't always meant to be something outside of nature, it may also be something that cannot be explained by our current scientific knowledge yet.

If someone brings up some "supernatural" claim, the right thing to do is to ask for the evidence for it. Now I certainly think that most of such evidence is weak or non-existent, but that is the criterion we should use to accept or dismiss such claims, not an a priori dismissal on linguistic grounds.

The word "atom" means literally "indivisible" as it was coined to designate particles thought to be indivisible, but nowadays we know that atoms are in fact very well divisible. The fact that the term is in fact linguistically incorrect doesn't mean that atoms don't exist.

Ken said...

@Dragonfly: The neutrino would also be a good example. Twenty-five years between proposal and actual detection, during which the only reason anyone had to think it existed was faith in the conservation laws. The Higgs boson may or may not fall into the same category, along with the superpartners.

Rey said...

75 comments in an JD has yet to discuss the post itself. Instead, he focuses on Daniel's cryptotheism and the meaning of "supernatural."

"'...they don't have in mind "something outside of the set of all that exists".'

"then let them stop using the word 'supernatural' which means exactly that."

This is really a perfect little gem of Objectivist "debate": Glom onto an everyday word and substitute a specialized nonstandard meaning (the more unflattering the re-definition, the better); demand that everyone else accept your nonstandard definitions; refuse to engage their ideas when they don't; repeat process until your frustrated opponents start swearing at you; declare victory.

Sure is easier than trying to actually understand what your critics are saying.

Curious Reader said...

John,

Your entire argument on "supernatural" is over symanitics. A demand that the language change to better suite your philsophy is unreasonable.

The defination you seem to be using for "supernatural" could be restated as "beyond the bounds of nature or existance." Which would indeed DEFINE everything "supernatural" as non existant.

Unfortunatly for your argument this is not what any reasonable reasder will assume supernatural means. They will use a defination more in line with "Beyond the EXPLANATION of nature as we understand it."

If we went to a website devoted to the "supernatural" there is a high probability we could find discussion of the following things:

God/Angels/Miracles
Bigfoot/Nessy/modern dinosuars
Alien beings

These things are commonly all included in the list of the "supernatural" but they have very divergent possibilities of finding evidence for them in nature.

gods and angels people have been looking for for meleniua and found no hard evidence.

Bigfoot people have been looking for for 100 years and have evdence that is really depenedant on the observers own evaluation of the evidence. Further, in the last 10 years multiple discoveries of "prehistoric" living fish specifimens have been found. These items have a small natural probablity but they have non-dismissable evidience of exstantce.

Thirdly: There is an emmensly high probably that alien life exists in the universe, especially now that we have verified that plantets are a not uncommon feature of stars. However, our level of evidence for this tells us that except for possible microbial life on mars, no other life has been found.

Further, our best science tells us that a trip to another star would be many many years long.

So while its a high likely phenomena it is still supernatural.


Further, modern physics also seems to imply that to some degree there is a "multiverse" with dimensons of exstance with which we do not interact or exist parrallel to.

By your own symantics things that exist in such a parrallel state woudl be "supernatural" because they exist but exist outside of the definitive universe.

The point of all this is simply that its not the people on this website that need to change their definitions because its only for O'ists that "supernatural" is a non-starter.

Daniel Barnes said...

Rey:
>This is really a perfect little gem of Objectivist "debate"

Particularly the way JD gets so "horrified" by things he doesn't even understand.

Popper's "3 Worlds" Theory is roughly as follows:
World 1, the physical world of water and planets and atoms and forces,
from which evolved
World 2, the world of consciousness, of love and horror, of our thoughts and feelings,
from which evolved
World 3, thoughts inscribed in physical form, eg number systems, rules, literature, history, scientific theories etc
W2 and W3 spring from, and depend on, W1. Hence, whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of this theory, it is a primacy of existence theory.

But T-1000 level Randroids like JD are so desperate to assert the supposed uniqueness of their worldview - yeah, like no-one else thinks the physical world exists except Objectivists! - he obsesses over W3 as if "third" meant "primary"!

That's the level of what we're dealing with here.

Michael Prescott said...

"The claimer is the one saying 'The supernatural CAN exist.' He is the confused one. If something exists is it not supernatural."

Others have pointed this out, but perhaps it's worth repeating. The above objection holds true only if "nature" is defined as "all of reality." But this begs the question, since the issue is whether or not there is something beyond nature.

As Mark C. indicates, deductions from "existence exists" are similarly based on question-begging. In itself, "existence exists" tells us nothing. But Objectivists typically interpret it to mean "the physical world as perceived by the senses exists, and it includes all things that exist or can exist." Then they say that this claim is axiomatic. But they're wrong. "Existence exists" is axiomatic but almost empty of content. The second claim has plenty of content but is not axiomatic. It's a new claim, and it's unproven (and, I think, unprovable even in principle, since it would require proving a negative - that nothing outside the physical world can exist).

Equivocation and question-begging are two of Objectivism's most common fallacies. A third is the attack on a straw man, as found in arguments like "Faith means believing something with no evidence." Very few religious people would see it that way. Typically, "faith" (from the Greek pistis, which really means "trust") is about believing something on the basis of incomplete evidence. If I have faith in a friend's honesty, it's because he has a history of truth-telling, and I've learned to trust him. I can't be absolutely sure he has never lied or will never lie, but I trust him to tell the truth. It's an act of faith, but it's based on some (inconclusive but suggestive) evidence.

Religious people will point to all kinds of things they regard as evidence for their beliefs, though the more knowledgeable ones will admit that the evidence cannot be conclusive. Antony Flew's book "There Is a God" is a good summary of some of the more sophisticated arguments in this area, arguments that led him, a well-known philosopher and lifelong atheist, to change his mind. Now, Flew may be wrong, but if we were to tell him, "You have no evidence," he would say, "Read my book, dear boy."

A more accurate criticism would be to say, "Faith means believing things on the basis of partial, inconclusive, or debatable evidence." This is correct, but then we have to ask how far we'd get if we restricted our beliefs exclusively to things that are incontrovertibly true. (Hint: there are not many such things.)

Again, this is an example of why it's necessary to sympathetically engage with opposing points of view. Otherwise we can't really understand our opponents' position, so we will inevitably underestimate it, and our counterarguments will fall short.

I have to say, though, that as much as I disagree with John Donohue, I respect his fortitude and persistence. I wish more Objectivists would take the time to argue for their side on this forum.

Mark C. said...

@John,

1) I already answered most of what you wanted me to respond to. Sounds like you did not read everything.
2) you have POC so wrong it makes all that follows void. I'd be glad to engage if you can at least get right what Ayn Rand identifies as Primacy of Consciousness.


I did, in fact, read all the comments, and I really don't remember reading anything from you that could be seen as a satisfactory response. Do you dispute my evaluation of the Ayn Rand Lexicon's description of the primacy of existence?

Regarding the primacy of consciousness, let me quote, verbatim, from the Ayn Rand Lexicon. This is attributed to Ayn Rand, herself. Source: Philosophy: Who Needs It

The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity.

...

The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both).


It specifically says that the POC is the rejection of the POE. The POE is described in three different ways, each said to be equivalent to the others, though, as I have stated in my analysis of them, they are not (or, if two of them are equivalent, they are useless).

The rejection of the first phrasing of the POE is "existence does not exist"; meaning, as far as I can ascertain, "those things that exist do not exist". No one is stupid enough to hold such a view. Strike one.

The rejection of the third phrasing of the POE is "things aren't the way they are; they do not possess a specific nature; they are not any particular thing (i.e. they have no identity)". Again, no one is stupid enough to hold such a view. Strike two.

The rejection of the second phrasing of the POE is "the existence of the universe depends on at least one consciousness". This is clearly an empirical claim, meaning that, insofar as said phrasing of the POE is an alternative version of an axiom, the axiom shouldn't actually be considered an axiom at all. It's not as if all purported phrasings of it are equivalent, anyway, despite the implicit assertion that they are. Strike three.

Glossing over the distinction between (a) what initially causes something and (b) what keeps it going, my above paragraph does seem to accurately describe the logical negation of the POC... and I have already provided an accepted description of the POC. Unless you erroneously think I'm inept at classical logic, this would indicate that I know what the POC is: That the existence of the universe depends on zero consciousnesses (as opposed to at least one, which is the negated form).

Now, the POC -- that is, the position that the existence of the universe depends on at least one consciousness -- can only be accepted by theists whose theologies include a creator and/or universe-sustaining being. This does not describe all, at least potential, theologies. Ergo, the existence of a god would not falsify the POE.

Do feel free to pinpoint any errors I have made in my description and analysis of the POE and POC.

I'm looking forward to reading about them.

Daniel Barnes said...

MP:
>"Faith means believing something with no evidence."...Typically, "faith" (from the Greek pistis, which really means "trust") is about believing something on the basis of incomplete evidence.

And of course, Hume noted that in the final analysis, all evidence is incomplete.

Objectivists in turn agree with Hume that all evidence is incomplete - that's what they mean by "contextual certainty". It's just that in their rage of confusion, narcissism, ignorance and idolatry they just can't see how much they agree with their enemies...;-)

Mark C. said...

@John,

1) I already answered most of what you wanted me to respond to. Sounds like you did not read everything.
2) you have POC so wrong it makes all that follows void. I'd be glad to engage if you can at least get right what Ayn Rand identifies as Primacy of Consciousness.


I did, in fact, read all the comments, and I really don't remember reading anything from you that could be seen as a satisfactory response. Do you dispute my evaluation of the Ayn Rand Lexicon's description of the primacy of existence?

Regarding the primacy of consciousness, let me quote, verbatim, from the Ayn Rand Lexicon. This is attributed to Ayn Rand, herself. Source: Philosophy: Who Needs It

The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity.

...

The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both).


It specifically says that the POC is the rejection of the POE. The POE is described in three different ways, each said to be equivalent to the others, though, as I have stated in my analysis of them, they are not (or, if two of them are equivalent, they are useless).

The rejection of the first phrasing of the POE is "existence does not exist"; meaning, as far as I can ascertain, "those things that exist do not exist". No one is stupid enough to hold such a view. Strike one.

The rejection of the third phrasing of the POE is "things aren't the way they are; they do not possess a specific nature; they are not any particular thing (i.e. they have no identity)". Again, no one is stupid enough to hold such a view. Strike two.

The rejection of the second phrasing of the POE is "the existence of the universe depends on at least one consciousness". This is clearly an empirical claim, meaning that, insofar as said phrasing of the POE is an alternative version of an axiom, the axiom shouldn't actually be considered an axiom at all. It's not as if all purported phrasings of it are equivalent, anyway, despite the implicit assertion that they are. Strike three.

Glossing over the distinction between (a) what initially causes something and (b) what keeps it going, my above paragraph does seem to accurately describe the POC... and I have already provided an accepted description of it from the Lexicon. They match, given the caveats at the opening of this paragraph.

Now, the POC -- that is, the position that the existence of the universe depends on at least one consciousness -- can only be accepted by theists whose theologies include a creator and/or universe-sustaining being. This does not describe all, at least potential, theologies. Ergo, the existence of a god would not necessarily conflict with the POE.

Do feel free to pinpoint any errors I have made in my description and analysis of the POE and POC.

I'm looking forward to reading about them.

John Donohue said...

Daniel Barnes you soiled yourself. But your level of discourse is always filthy and crude towards Objectivists, so you probably won't notice. I can't send you any TP, but at least by pointing it out you can perhaps go behind a tree and fix yourself up.

Just because (in your last vile post) you ignore the characterization already cited by Mr. Nyquist, does not mean I did not notice it, nor did I miss the many descriptions of 3W on the net that concur with Mr. Nyquist. It is pure Primacy of Consciousness to assert that "The 3 Worlds hypothesis is meant as a way of explaining how it is that theories and their implications can affect both mind and matter (Worlds 1 and 2)"

Good luck demonstrating that 'theories affecting matter' is still POE. On the obverse, good luck explaining how genetic material (metaphysically given physical substance) is part of W3. On that last, not content to contend that ideas affect matter, that inclusion means nothing other than matter is cultural knowledge.

Note: if some commentators had stated that the 'decoding and understanding' of genetic material belongs in W3 that would have been one thing. But that is not what I am reading, in several places. Look it up.

And if you fix those and many more oddities I see out there on this 3W idea, perhaps you and Mr. Nyquist can get together and respond to my challenge earlier on this thing: what the hell for?

Daniel Barnes said...

JD:
>Good luck demonstrating that 'theories affecting matter' is still POE.

The theory "E=MC2" sure affects a bit of matter! Or more humbly, even Dr Johnson kicking a stone in an attempt to disprove Berkeley's theory.

>On the obverse, good luck explaining how genetic material (metaphysically given physical substance) is part of W3.

Eg: the computer you are typing your conscious thoughts down on. Or a piece of paper, or a book.

>On that last, not content to contend that ideas affect matter, that inclusion means nothing other than matter is cultural knowledge.

Are you saying that knowledge isn't abstract? What would Rand say!?...;-)

But stop steering this into a debate over the rights and wrongs of Popper's theory: what is at issue is that the world on which these other worlds depend, the primary world that precedes them all and makes them possible, is "World 1", the physical world. This makes Popper's theory a primacy of existence theory, just like Rand's. Further, Rand advocated that consciousness was not the same as physical existence - it was abstract, not physical - hence she also had a recognisable "World 2". So now we have a theory that matches Rand's 2/3 of the way, and adds a third level to account for some of the problems that neither previous world, nor Rand's musings, properly accounts for, such as mathematical infinities.

But I'm sure the narcissism of minor difference will prevent you from acknowledging these strong resemblances...

Once again, it pays to remind ourselves of David Ramsay Steel's immortal words that Randian doctrine is "bluff, buttressed by abuse of all critics"...;-)

John Donohue said...

you actually claim you have been out bluffed and outdone on abuse?

And like I said, get rid of those superstitious formulations, which you did not touch (in fact made worse with the notion that Einstein's equation [w3] affects matter [outrageous bluff]) and then justify to the world why this thing is needed; or must I quote the immortal words of Occam which you surely stomp on every day.

It is the height of narcissism to whip up a confused mess when no one needs it or ordered it up for lunch, then promote it as a value.

Jim Caton said...

@ John: You never confronted my post on subjectivism and your denial of a reality that is much more complex than you are willing to admit. Perhaps you could understand my "poem" if you understood my earlier post.

Daniel Barnes said...

Donohue, J:
>you actually claim you have been out bluffed and outdone on abuse?

Yes, I bow to yours and Rand's undeniable superiority in this..;-)

gregnyquist said...

JD:

Daniel Barnes you soiled yourself.

What's with the scatalogical references? What are you, four years old?

It is pure Primacy of Consciousness to assert that "The 3 Worlds hypothesis is meant as a way of explaining how it is that theories and their implications can affect both mind and matter (Worlds 1 and 2)"

If so, then Rand herself is an exponent of pure Primacy of consciousness; for not only does she belief ideas determine the course of history, but that a man's character is determined by his basic premises and that reason is efficacious! These are all instances of ideas (World 3 objects) affecting consciousness and the physical world. Rand's primacy of existence is not meant to rule out the possibility of consciousness affecting the physical world. (That would be the most dire materialism.) It merely denies that consciousness created the physical world. But consciousness, once it arises within nature, can change aspects of the physical world. It can mine ore, transform it into steel, and built skyscrapers. These all involve affecting changes within the physical world. But consciousness cannot do any of this without ideas to direct it.

There is nothing in any of this that is inconsistent with Rand's view. JD has confused Popper's World 1 with physical laws. The former can be changed by consciousness acting under the guidance of ideas. The latter cannot. Rand acknowledges this when she quotes Bacon's phrase, "Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed." The physical world can be changed, but one must follows nature's laws to do so. JD not only demonstrates an incapacity to understand Popper, he doesn't even get Rand right.

Michael Prescott said...

Greg, you've just witnessed an outstanding example of Objectivist argumentation. It goes like this:

Critic: Rand was frequently guilty of equivocation and question-begging.

Objectivist: Poopy-pants! Poopy-pants!

Critic: For instance, in her meta-ethical argument she equivocates on the term "life."

Objectivist: Did the baby poop in his pants? Ha ha, poopy-pants!

Critc: This equivocation allows her to beg the question by assuming the objective necessity of various moral values, when the ostensible purpose of her argument is to derive these values from biological facts.

Objectivist: I smell something bad! I think somebody pooped his pants!

Critic: There doesn't seem to be much point in continuing this discussion.

Objectivist: Of course there isn't. You can't come up with any response to my devastating logic, Mr. Poopy-Pants!

Technically this is known as the argumentum ad scatologicum. I believe it was introduced by Thomas Aquinas, age six, in a playground dispute with William of Baglione.

Neil Parille said...

I'm happy to see that this post has produced more comments than any of my other posts, but it would be nice to see Mr. Donohue comment on the substance of my article.

Instead we get junk such as:

____

insult blathter blusters bravely
content null negatory nada

therefore zero

____

I'll say this for Mr. Donohue -- he makes Jim Valliant and Peter Schwartz look like intellectuals.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the discussion evolved this way because objectivists primarily lecture at each other. They don't get much practice at dialogue or give-and-take discussion on big issues. Indeed, they don't seem to see much value in real dialogue, IMHO.

- Chris

Anonymous said...

If I had to guess, John Donohue is Diana H.

Ayn Rand and objectivism have much to offer mainly because most of it is lifted from other, more respected philosophers or directly from Americas founding documents...

The problem with some of these objectivist is they are total cult members.

Blind faith to their leader, Ayn Rand.

For a bunch of atheist they sure do believe in their god.



Criticism? I am still waiting for one of them to define the word “action” and one of them to correct the is-ought problem.

Cheers!

John Donohue said...

Now to respond to Mr. Parille's topic:

No, Objectivism Cannot Be Criticized by the people running this blog and other posters.

Disqualifications:

Mr. Nyquist: "Rand's primacy of existence is not meant to rule out the possibility of consciousness affecting the physical world."
Yes it is and yes it does. The notion that an idea actually affects a metaphysically given existent is superstition. So you fail. After all this time, you STILL do not understand Ayn Rand - and this is the most important idea in her position - and you are therefore highly unqualified to criticize Objectivism.

Mr. Prescott: "...deductions from "existence exists" are similarly based on question-begging. In itself, "existence exists" tells us nothing." etc etc etc etc. You have been corrected on this so many times, including by me in this thread (look it up above), that I am tempted to raise the ante on the "question" of this essay and say, not only are you unqualified to criticize Ayn Rand, you are unsafe at any speed. I hope you are not driving any heavy machinery or influencing any children. You fail.

Mr. Barnes: fatal on merely thinking that you, the rude thug of the blog, have been out-abused by my one counter shot, which seems to have preoccupied you all. I'll throw in that you are scary wrong on that interpretation of Popper, too: if the interpretations by you, Mr. Nyquist and other interpreters I read on it are accurate, it is POC. So, you fail.

Mark c: you fail for your attempt to construct that while existence means "all existents" you still provide for the possibility that there is a mind such that it is not part of existence, a mind with no physical locus. That is worse than superstition and sets free people like Mr. Prescott (he credits you!) to cling to contradictions and therefore make any magic work, especially God. You way fail.

Collective (irony) braincloud disqualification. The issue around the word "supernatural" is not trivial. It is not 'merely semantics.' People using "supernatural" want to cheat reality. They cling to the idea that "there could be" something, like a Deist mind or God, that could be "above or other than" objective reality. The untold damage done to the world by the enabling of this irrationality is vast, lingering and deadly. Objectivism won't rest until the inherent contradiction in the word "supernatural" is faced by the grown up citizens of this planet.

Note: the enumeration of these disqualification, although each wholly fatal in themselves, do not constitute the entirety of failures by the identified poster; you have all persisted in failing time after time after time. None of you are qualified to criticize Ayn Rand.

So that's it for now. I have answered the topic. Signing off to pursue more challenging things.

Ellen Stuttle said...

John Donahue:

Mr. Nyquist: "Rand's primacy of existence is not meant to rule out the possibility of consciousness affecting the physical world."
Yes it is and yes it does. The notion that an idea actually affects a metaphysically given existent is superstition.


Um. Rand claims that a state of consciousness -- thinking (or not) -- determines states of the physical human organism.

Please forgive if I'm completely missing the issue being discussed. I haven't had time to read stuff here lately, but on checking current posts, that one leapt out.

(I haven't vanished permanently from the aesthetics thread on which I was posting. I'm hoping to get back to that.)

Neil Parille said...

A couple years ago John Donohue popped up on Bill Vallicella's blog, as did Harry Binswanger.

Even Diana Hsieh wasn't impressed by John's comments:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/view.pl?entry=6517177867826210217

___________

Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

For the record, I agree with Mike's analysis of John Donohue's comments. They were rude, inappropriate, and frankly embarrassing to Objectivist philosophers.

Objectivism hasn't made major inroads in academia in the past ten years by Objectivists spewing personal attacks, offering strawmen, and ignoring arguments. That is nothing but an *emotional indulgence* -- and it makes Objectivists seem like dumbass dogmatists. Every time a semi-reasonable academic encounters such a hot-headed person, that academic is likely to think ill of Objectivists and Objectivism -- and with some justification. And then real Objectivist philosophers have to clean up the damage by working just that much harder. That sucks, and it's very much not appreciated.
_____________

I recall Harry Binswanger saying something to the effect that "John Donohue is not a qualified spokesman for Objectivism" but can't find it.

-Neil Parille

Anonymous said...

Objectivists come in many different flavors so I try not to generalize or use an overly broad brush.

There is a Colorado blog, and the operator is extremely sensitive, I have had many comments deleted or never posted because the blog operator interpreted my criticism as smear. Oh so sensitive.

http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/2011/05/lets-smear-ayn-rand.html#comments

Lloyd Flack said...

Gaaah!

John Donohue, you have argued dishonestly from the start of the thread. But then I don't think you can recognize the difference between honest and dishonest arguments. You are so wrapped up in vindicating your opinions that you never seem to re-examine them as a result of discussion. I think you love certainty far too much.

You claimed that this article was posted to justify claims of the existence of God. Neither I nor others could see any such intent. As far as every poster except yourself could see you made an interpretation of the posters motives that you had no justifiable reason to believe. It looked like you were just trying to attack the posters anyway you could, with no examination of whether your accusations were true or not.

In trying to prove that by definition the supernatural could not exist, you again argued dishonestly. You used definitions of natural and supernatural that led to the idea of the supernatural being a contradiction in terms. Unfortunately no-one else was using those definitions. Most words have multiple definitions and cover multiple concepts. Most of the time we can easily tell which meaning was intended from the context. Sometimes we can't and have to ask the other person in which sense they meant a word. Since other people were actually referring to different concepts to you, your arguments did not refer to the concepts that they were dealing with. I think it should have been obvious from the context what concepts others were referring to. You do not get to redefine the terms that others use, prove your point in terms of your revised definitions and then claim that you have disproved anything that was framed in terms of their definitions. That is intellectual dishonesty.

Anonymous said...

Arguing with thyself, alter ego.

“A couple years ago John Donohue popped up on Bill Vallicella's blog, as did Harry Binswanger.

Even Diana Hsieh wasn't impressed by John's comments:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/view.pl?entry=6517177867826210217”

Michael Prescott said...

I have to admit, that entire exchange with John Donohue was fun. His last comment on this thread made me literally LOL, and I hardly ever do that.

gregnyquist said...

I recall Harry Binswanger saying something to the effect that "John Donohue is not a qualified spokesman for Objectivism" but can't find it.

Not surprising if so, since it's clear that Mr. Donahue does not really understand Objectivism. In fact, he's a complete philosophical illiterate who merely repeats philosophical expressions parrott-like, without any depth of understanding. In this sense, he represents an extreme case. However, what ails Mr. Donahue afflicts many (if not all) orthodox Objectivists, who in some degree or another appear incapable of understanding any of the more detailed criticisms of Rand. For in order to understand those criticisms, they would have to examine them symphathetically, with an eye to appreciating their most plausible contentions. Yet if this approach was followed consistently, they would come to realize that Rand has no singular monopoly upon the truth, and that many thinkers whom Rand and her disicples more or less dismiss out of hand have a great deal more to offer in terms of insights about human nature and the human condition then one would ever find in Objectivist writings. Objectivism depends on the denigration of all rival views simply because, if those views were compared in a spirit of sympathy and generousity to Rand's, Rand's would be found wanting.

If you have any doubts on this score, simply compare a work like Hayek's Constitution of Libery with Rand's Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. There's simply no comparison between the sophistication, depth insights, great learning of Hayek's work with the simplistic ideological posturing of Rand's.

Mark C. said...

Where'd the last nine or so comments go?

Anonymous said...

Google blogger went under some “scheduled maintenance” and the changes caused instability. Due to this instability GBlog decided to roll back the maintenance upgrade, in the process all comments from the past 24 hours were deleted. They claim they are restoring comments. Matter of fact, a recent broadcast from Gblog said all comments had been restored.

The missing 10 comments were good.

I wonder how many other comments across the Globe were not restored?

Anonymous said...

If Ayn Rand were President, our thoughts would be controlled by her copyright. JH

Anonymous said...

This short play called Mozart Was a Red is the ultimate criticism of Any Rand. Funny!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIk5C2qsRH8

Anonymous said...

Yet another classic critique.


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


Ayn Rand and the Is-Ought Problem
by Patrick M.O'Neil
Department of History
State Universiry of New York, Binghamron
The Essential Subjectivity of Objectivism

Anonymous said...

Oh my, the crown jewel.

The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult
by Murray N. Rothbard

http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard23.html

Anonymous said...

Kumbaya?

http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/stottlemyer/Ayn_Rand_and_Murray_Rothbard_Cant_We_All_Just_Get_Along.shtml

Neil Parille said...

Some people have criticized Rothbard's Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult as being inaccurate and exaggerated.

Rothbard is the only one who has said that there was a narrow reading list for Objectivists or that Objectivists had an official position on smoking.

Neil Parille said...

The Maverick Philosopher has another post on Rand, which is related to what we have been talking about.

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/rand-ayn/

Anonymous said...

“Rothbard is the only one who has said that there was a narrow reading list for Objectivists or that Objectivists had an official position on smoking.”

Rothbard is one of few who escaped.

Anonymous said...

"The Maverick Philosopher has another post on Rand, which is related to what we have been talking about."

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/rand-ayn/

Which article, I could not find it?

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, objectivists are atheist, confusion is the natural result.

How is that for philosophy!

Mark C. said...

Well, I'll go ahead and post what my response to the now-vanished post of John Donahue in which he responded to all of us.

@John,

I realize you're probably not coming back to this thread, but I want to respond to your accusations.

Mark c: you fail for your attempt to construct that while existence means "all existents" you still provide for the possibility that there is a mind such that it is not part of existence, a mind with no physical locus. That is worse than superstition and sets free people like Mr. Prescott (he credits you!) to cling to contradictions and therefore make any magic work, especially God. You way fail.

The primacy of existence can, so we are told, be described in any of three, supposedly equivalent, ways:

1. The axiom "existence exists".
2. Equivalently: The universe exists independent of any consciousness.
3. Equivalently: Things are what they are; they possess a specific nature, an identity.

1 and 3: Duh. No one disputes them, not even supernaturalists (unless they have a completely unintelligible notion of existence).

2: It uses the term "universe". In what I quote from you, you use the terms "existence" and "physical". Don't criticize me for equating them, because it is you who did -- not I. As far as I'm concerned, "existence" refers to absolutely everything. "Universe", however, can mean, possibly among other things, "the bubble of spacetime we can potentially interact with", "everything physical", "absolutely everything", or "an element of the multiverse". I would consider "physical" to be the most nebulous of the terms, but also the least encompassing.

I hope you realize that your quoted criticisms make you, in a way, a detractor of the principle of the "primacy of existence", since all I did was analyze its three interpretations and point out that the only posited supernatural entities it is incompatible with are those that are universe-creating or universe-sustaining. It hardly rules out other gods, spirits, ghosts, and whatever else.

So congratulations! You have disagreed with the primacy of existence (in the sense that you think its current form is insufficient).

Neil Parille said...

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/05/ayn-rand-on-existence-exists.html

Anonymous said...

Yes Neil, that article is a decent criticism.

Anonymous said...

Randians are addicted to arguing. In other words, playing devils advocate. For example, the argument between Randians and Libertarian. The only 2 groups who want to reduce government by 90% yet the Randians want to focus on the last 10%. Randroids are too simple to realize, you cannot argue about the last 10% until you get there or at least closer. Arguing about it now is talking about something yet to exist. I thought pre-existence was contra Objectivist law?

A giant argument about how to prune a tree, when you have not even planted the seed.

Neil Parille said...

Oh this is great, according to ARI prez Yaron Brook, Alan Greenspan "might not have understood" Rand's ideas!

http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/alan-greenspan-betrayed-ayn-rand-ruined-economy-says-124734929.html

Discussion close to the end.

Anonymous said...

Greenspan did not follow principles of Capitalism that both Objectivist and Libertarians agree upon.

Greenspan believed in a risk based society. Those who risk the most, gain the most. To an extent this is good. But first define risk? IT is risky to stick you dick into a transvestite with aids. Was this the kind of risk Greenspan thought should cause man to proper financially?

Study Greenspan, he was evil at his core and his policy reflect this. The false idolatry of him was media creation.

Anonymous said...

How come the deleted 9 comments were never restored by Google Blogger? Where is Jessie Ventura when you need him? If I had to guess, Colorado Rand unleashed her army of lawyers.

Anonymous said...

Greenspan said “ Who’s to say what is irrational exuberance?”.

Kinda reminds me of another famous quote (my twist at the end, wants rather than needs).

From each according to his ability’s, to each according to his wants.

Anonymous said...

“While her overall plagiarism of philosophy, economics and The United States Constitution is mostly accurate, the lie of atheism is neatly tucked inside. As Rand lulls you into complacency, this lie of atheism will strike out and bite you. Ayn Rand is nothing more than hypnotic poetry spoken from the mouth of Satan…” JH

Anonymous said...

Keep digging and you never know what you may find!

In an “Introduction” dated February 1991, to a reprint of
“Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of
Labor,” Rothbard refines his critique even further. He notes,
following M.H. Abrams, that the Romantic myth of primitivism
rests upon a yet deeper layer of myth. According to the
“emanationist” view, which has influenced both neo-Platonism
and gnosticism, creation is fundamentally evil. Human beings
must be reabsorbed into the primitive oneness of all things.
Rothbard sees this strange doctrine as “constituting a heretical
and mystical underground in Western thought” (p. 297).
It is clear that Rothbard views Romanticism in decidedly
negative terms, at least so far as its impact on politics is concerned.
He makes clear the nefarious consequences of
Romanticism in “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty.”
3 The exaltation of the primitive, which characterizes
the Romantics, by no means is confined to the Left. Quite
the contrary, it underlies apologies for what Rothbard terms
the “Old Order” of feudalism and militarism. Both European
conservatism and socialism reject the free market. Accordingly,
Rothbard argues, a task of lovers of liberty is to oppose
both these ideologies.
In doing so, he maintains, libertarianism must adopt a revolutionary
strategy. Not for Rothbard is the path of compromise:
all statist ideologies must be combatted root-andbranch.
He notes that Lord Acton, long before Leon Trotsky,
advocated “permanent revolution” (p. 29). Rothbard
reiterates his support for revolution in the short essay, “The
Meaning of Revolution.”4
Introduction to the Second Edition vii
3This essay originally appeared in Left and Right, Spring, 1965, pp. 4–22.
4The essay was first published in The Libertarian Forum, vol. 1, no. 7,
July 1, 1969.


http://mises.org/books/egalitarianism.pdf

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, this is getting fun.

Society, Rothbard has argued, rests on the division of
labor. Given the manifest advantages of peaceful cooperation
that uses human differences in abilities to the greatest extent
possible, what blocks human progress? Why has not history
been an uninterrupted march of progress? Rothbard locates
the chief obstacle to human betterment in his essay, “The
Anatomy of the State.” Unlike voluntary exchange, which by
its nature benefits those who freely choose to engage in it,
the state rests on predation. Following Franz Oppenheimer
and Albert J. Nock, Rothbard contends that the state cannot
create wealth: it can only take from some and give to others.
But does not this account raise a new problem? Given the
manifestly predatory essence of the state, how has it survived?
Why have not popular rebellions put an end to the
triumphant beast? Our author blames “court intellectuals.”
Throughout history, a group of the literate elite has always
been ready with a facile justification for the depredations of
the powers-that-be.

http://mises.org/books/egalitarianism.pdf

Ken said...

Anonymous: "Given the
manifestly predatory essence of the state, how has it survived?"


This is where a study of history is useful. There have been plenty of instances when a state has not survived. Typically you get a period where the barbarians ride in and steal everything not nailed down, then burn the rest. People soon realize that, in terms of "can only take from some and give to others," there are far worse options than a state, and they act to create a new one.

Anonymous said...

Re: Rothbard and the state -- This is an aspect of libertarian rhetoric which I find particularly opaque. In the first place, I would never concede Rothbard's premise which pits a "predatory/parasitic state" against a "productive/voluntary-exchanging private sector." It is plainly apparent that the state more-or-less reflects and reinforces the distribution of economic power in a society. State power gets allied to economic power, unless there are significant checks and balances, as well as vigorous counterbalances in terms of labor movements.

For these reasons, Rothbard's arguments read like fantasy to me, nothing like the real world. And I'm left wondering if the predatory state vs. productive minority opposition is something libertarians really believe in, or if they know it's a sham but think it's good, easy-to-understand propaganda that keeps people voting for the kind of state they *really* want.

- Chris