Saturday, June 11, 2011

Notes On Cultism In the Logical Leap 3: The Stupid, It Burns!

I was expecting The Logical Leap: Induction In Physics to be really, really terrible, and I have not been disappointed. Just to get a good handle on how it serves as a dutiful cultic delivery vehicle for Rand's immaculate conceptions I've had to go back to the ITOE, and it takes a while to extract any clarity from that shambles. I'll type that up soon. But to sum up TLL, where it does not merely consist of warmed over Randian tripe, is basically an exercise in philosophic Calvinball with Harriman straining to retrofit the giants of Enlightenment science into Team Objectivism. Of course, this would be a complete intellectual embarrassment if not for the fact that such Objectivists have no shame.

As for the Harrikoffrand arguments themselves, that will have to be a separate, eyerolling post. Suffice to say for now that we might judge how good they are by the quality of their conclusions, so I now present an example of the amazing power of Objectivist "induction". On p26, Harriman claims that, using this unique Randian inductive method, from a single observation of paper burning in a fireplace, we can conclude that the statement "Fire burns paper" is "a universal truth".

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good grief, I followed the link to amazon.com, and look at the rediculous number of reviews (most sycophantically positive) that this book has acrrued in a very short time!

This is a real thing with Rand and Rand-related books: the cult members publish review after review after review to make it look like the stuff is popular, high-quality, life-changing, even if it is really esoteric, poorly argued and banal. Bad reviews are flamed like mad. (Boy, you objectivists/conformists really hate individuals with opinions of their own, don't you!?)

I think my computer needs an Objectifilter to keep out all the useless verbiage they clog the internet up with.

- Chris

Neil Parille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Parille said...

But if a child sees one (or more) instances of fire being set to paper followed by the paper burning, don't we have nothing more than a statistical correlation?

Remember what Rand said about tobacco and lung cancer. You can't prove anything by statistics. You need to show the mechanism.

-Neil Parille

Xtra Laj said...

Neil,

I think very few Objectivists (if any) have delved into the philosophy and practice of statistics, a field that buttresses practically all contemporary science.

So I don't even think that Objectivists appreciate correlation etc. Their view, as far as I can tell, is something like if it feels like 100% correlation and it feels like there is a satisfactory mechanism, then we have causation.

Of course,they would not use the world "feels", but I can't use any other word to distinguish between correlation and causation when you review the Objectivist approach to the matter. There are far more sophisticated efforts that may come up short in other regards, or that may even be satisfactory given the limitations these efforts accept, but Objectivist they ain't.

Mr. A said...

Fireproof paper? Well, you have to put Harriman and Peikoff in context. All paper is flammable, except when it's fireproff paper.

Aha! What problem of induction?

Geez loiusez...

Daniel Barnes said...

The philosophical innovation here is indeed groundbreaking and revolutionary. For Harrikoffrand has solved the problem of induction by brilliantly redefining universal truths as statements that are true in every time and place in the universe, except when they aren't. Take that, evil skeptics!!

Jeffrey said...

All right, I think it's time to come out of the closet. I am Mr. A, if you hadn't figured that out already, and I must alert you guys to an outstanding debate going on right now between myself and some objectivists over the is-ought gap:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/permalink.php?story_fbid=214821391890739&id=1059916049&notif_t=share_reply

Join in if you please! (Hopefully that link works for you...)

Lloyd Flack said...

Xtra Laj,

Rand seemed ignorant of how scientists actually go about their business. OK, most people actually are too.

Rand wanted to prove things by logical inference from known facts. She wanted her conclusions to have complete certainty and this approach will provide that if it is possible. But scientists don't do this.

They do not seek one conclusive proof of a theory. They look for consilience, the convergence of evidence. If a hypothesis is correct then there should be many testable consequences. Usually no test of a hypothesis is conclusive by itself. Scientists seek multiple tests of a hypothesis. When a hypothesis has survived multiple tests, even if no single one is completely conclusive, then scientists may regard it as proved beyond reasonable doubt.

For example evidence for evolution comes from a huge number of sources, from paleontology, from genetics , from morphology etc., etc.. You can often come up with a contrived alternative explanation for many of these. But you have to come up with too many just so stories to be believed. To claim that all of these are wrong is preposterous.

And this sort of incremental increase in certainty with additional information is alien to Rand's approach of seeking the single conclusive proof.

Daniel Barnes said...

Can't seem to get the link to work, Jeff?

Jeffrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey said...

Hrmm perhaps you have to be friends with Betsy Speicher, so I'll just copy and past it all in several parts...


Jeffrey Newholm Sorry guys, but the is-ought gap probably means there's no such thing as 'rights' after all, just emotional preferences. Don't shoot the messanger, I used to be an Objectivist myself, but unfortunately Hume was right all along
2 hours ago · Like.







John Mullinax Force dominates in the absence of rights.
2 hours ago · Like.



Jeffrey Newholm So it does. What's wrong with that? Thus the crux of the is-ought gap: quickly we see that "right" and "wrong" are arbitrary conventions with no actual grounding in reality, except for our emotional preferences. Again, don't shoot the messanger here: I used to be a die-hard Objectivist myself, but I don't think there's any way around this age-old problem. I do welcome your comments.
2 hours ago · Like.







Paul Beaird
After an intenseve Master's Degree work in philosophy, precisely to see how Rand's ideas stand up in the company of the Old Men of technical Philosophy, I learned that each philosopher presented his ideas in a manner that differed from all the others and Rand's plain-English style merits attention, in spite of not being the dialogues of Plato, the extensive student notes of Aristotle, the Q&A style of Aquinas, the personal ramblings of Augustine, or the treatises of Locke and Hume. When it comes to the is-ought dichotomy, Hume was dead wrong. It is not mystery that you read Rand and fail to see that she is solveing that old "knot", her method of proof is totally different than that of any of the empiricists, rationalists, idealists, or intuitionists. Decades ago, I did a graduate seminar with Dr. John Hospers, in which he conducted class discussion based on the prior reading of a key figure in the history of moral theory. Each class sessiojn ended with some open questions, which, amazingly were answered by the next reading, but left open que4stions of its own. As the questions began to add up to a definiton of the field of moral theory, and narrowed as each was answered, the remaining open questions focused like a lazer on what the real challenges of moral theory are. The very last reading was Ayn Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics". The class session that followed was nearly silent with a deep sense of satisfaction. The very last question, the very last challenge had been answered. Finally, we had a fact-baased set or relationships that said what value IS. Finally, we had the factual basis that is needed for objectivity in ethics. Finally, we had real facts of nature that showed how value flows from a specific set of facts. RAnd;'s exposition of life as conditional, as dependent on unyielding requirements of nature, as the final step in the answer to "what for?", as the facing the ultimate set of alternatives in the universe. . .all made for a proof, for the very first time, in the field of value theory. Rand was right. Hume was shallow, voluntarily dependent upon a faulty empiricism, and didn't ask what facts of reality give rise to the concept of value. As he admits, he just didn't see value inside his sensory impressions.

about an hour ago · Like.

Jeffrey said...

Part II

Paul Beaird And, if you don't "get" how rights flow from the nature and requirements of life, ask someone.
about an hour ago • Like.


John Mullinax A gap between is and ought is no argument against ought. The first order of cognitive thinking is recognition of what is. The second is to formulate what ought to be that serves one's own self interest.
about an hour ago • Like.

Jeffrey Newholm
Mr. Mullinax: But that begs the question: why pursue one's self interest? Mr. Beaird: well, I did ask somebody. Craig Biddle in fact, Objectivism's leading ethicist, in Clemson. I asked, 'why choose life?' To be fair, he gave the best answer I have yet heard: to ask for answers to questons is to pursue a value, which means I've already chosen to live. OK then, but 1)if the choice to live comes before any reasons, it's not really an 'objective' choice, is it now, and 2) Rand's theory of values rests upon the live proper to 'man' (whatever that means), and this pre-reason 'choice' to live does not include the choice to live a live proper to 'man', just to live as such.

about an hour ago • Like.



Jeffrey Newholm
This quote probably sums it all up perfectly: "Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot —and General Custer too— have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil.
[All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.
-Arthur Allen Leff" As far as I can tell, this argument is insurmountable, and there goes literaly every theory of ethics out there (not just Rand's). Sorry!

about an hour ago • Like.

Jeffrey said...

Part III


Paul Beaird
Jeffrey, what you "understand" of Rand's theory of value is all ajumble. Rand does not discuss morality, until long after she has offered the meta-ethical proof of the factual basis for "value. Her value theory, which I summarized much too quickly above, provides reasons for regarding life as the root fact and concept prior to the concept of value. But, the issue of your life being a value to you, only if you choose it. . .comes much later in Rand's discussion. And the standard of HUMAN value being "man's life qua man" refers t the fact that you, as a man, have an identity, and nature has wpecific requirements of you, if you choose to keep ane enlarge and enjoy it. There is a progression of concepts in Rand's discussion and she does not make that difficult. The most basic is disucssed first, then on that concept the next stage of the discussion can take place, then the next, until, at the last of her essay, she is discussing happiness. I admit that there are several in academia, even some purportedly sympathetic to Rand's view, who have jumbled the entire discussion in her essay "The Objectivist Ethics" in such a way as to make later quesitons into objections to the earlier parts of the discussion. But, to be confused over the fact that morality only has "reasons" to offer a man about HOW to live his life AFTER he has chosen life itself, should not be somethiing you would get confused by. Have you read Dr. Tara Smith's brilliant Chewing" of these dconcepts and their order in concept building ih ner book Viable Values? Heavens! I understood it, when I was 19. But, then I do know how to outline an essay. If you will outline Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics", you'll see the progression, the building from one concept to the next by the addition of facts. It isn't that tough.

about an hour ago • Like.


Paul Beaird Your poem is vapid. It fails to answer one simple question of each moralistic pronouncement. Why?
about an hour ago • Like.

John Mullinax Mr Newholm, would ask why pursue someone else's self interest if not one's own?
about an hour ago • Like.

Jeffrey said...

Part IV

Jeffrey Newholm
‎"Your poem is vapid. It fails to answer one simple question of each moralistic pronouncement. Why?" But "Why?" is exactly the question being asked in that passage. Why is it wrong to napalm babies and starve the poor? Most people would say: "Of course it's wrong! That's terrible!" But upon further reflection, there is no inherent why, just that we feel that it's wrong. All right, I haven't read Tara Smith, but I have read the Objectivist Ethics and find Rand's attempt to overcome the is-ought gap is insufficent. I quote: "In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or value and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existance of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life" (VOS, 18). But how so? Perhaps I must concede the point that the 'good' is the good for me in some respect, but what type of life I choose to live is still an arbitrary choice; there is no moral difference, afraid to say, between Rand, the Pope, and bin Laden. Mr. Beaird, I fear that our discussion is become filled with more and more vitriol from both of us. It is not my intention to combat you, but to reach some sort of understanding. Allow me to apologize for turning up the heat in this discussion; I wish to engage in intellectual discourse, not an exchange of insults, which I fear you and I are on the verge of.

about an hour ago • Like.

Jeffrey Newholm
Mr. Mullinax: I think the question is, why pursue anyone's interests at all? Why do anything? Alas, there is no reason, although I do think Mr. Biddle may be on to something in that we are all hard-wired to attempt to pursue our self-interests (and before you ask yes, I have read Nathanial Branden's essay, "Isn't everybody selfish?") Now, for all I know Tara Smith answered this question, but I still have a gazillion things to read before I get to her. To use Objectivist lingo: within the current context of my knowledge, the is-ought gap is devestating to the Objectivist Ethics.

about an hour ago • Like.


Paul Beaird If the poiem merely asks "why", it fails to refute any moral system or even put it on the defensive. It does not say why those acts are evil. So, it plays the skeptical dilettante, asking questions, but never answering. Vapid. Rand, on the other hand, offers a fact-based view of values that makes the question answerable.
about an hour ago • Like.

Jeffrey said...

Jeffrey Newholm
The burden on proof is on he who offers up a statement, though. That passage is not saying that those acts are evil or good. And by itself it doesn't refute much of anything, your'e right. But it is a flashlight that allows us to see, upon further reflection, the the moral emporors of philosophy have no clothes; there is no evidence to support them at their root. "Rights" and "duties" can be equivocated freely: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Allen_Leff Again, Objectivism is by no means alone here. The passage provides no answers because, sadly, there are no answers (hence the "God help us", I do not think it is without some remorse that Leff comes to these conclusions). A code of morality can be comforting, and can rescue people from the impulsivity of hedonism. I've seen this first hand with an Objectivist friend, and there are anecdotes of people turning to the bible and turning around lives gone arwy. But they all must be accepted on faith, because no proof can be given.

50 minutes ago • Like.


Paul Beaird
Objectivism IS alone here. It alone rejects faith, when it comes to so important a question as, What facts of reality give rise to the concept "value" at all? It alone finds that fact and the relationship between it (life) and nature's re...See More

50 minutes ago • Like.

John Mullinax Diminishing the so called gap is job one of objectivism. The why, one can just as easily say why not Things are and actions matter.
49 minutes ago • Like.

Jeffrey Newholm
‎"I don't know that you know what they are or how they would answer the question. Your rejection of them is probably too facile." Your'e probably right. I take ethics next semester in Whitewater, and will probably have a better understanding of those theories afterwords. And I certainly don't accuse Objectivism of ENCOURAGING faith, but I fail to see 'objective' reasons for accepting its code of morality over, for example, taking morality from the bible and just ignoring the religious aspects. But again, within the context of my knowledge, I don't see how Rand overcame the is-ought gap. Here's another article that demostrates how our value-judgments are just rationalizations from our emotions in the first place: http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2010/12/rand-and-empirical-responsibility-8.html. As far as I can tell anyways, emotions come first, and value-judgments and morality follow.

42 minutes ago • Like.

Jeffrey said...

Part VI

Betsy Speicher Jeffrey: Holding the premises you do, I can see why you are a Humean and not an Objectivist like me. Since you are still young and considering ethical alternatives, keep reading and keep thinking,
37 minutes ago • Unlike • 1 person.

Jeffrey Newholm Thank you, Ms. Speicher. That's what sucked me into Objectivism into the first place: Rand's assurances that "there is only one evil thought: the refusal to think". But i'm in cahoots with your enemies now, so I don't think you have any use for me. We will probably have to go our seperate ways.
32 minutes ago • Like.

John Mullinax As we all should. Good advice accepted here
32 minutes ago • Like.

Paul Beaird
Jeffrey, I appreciate your forthrightness about the state of your knowledge concerning ethics. If I were teaching your course, I wouldpose these standing questions by which to measure the argument of every philosopher or school of thought. If we human beings have this universal regard for morality, could it be the case that is has NO factual basis? If we expect morality to apply to our dailiy lives in action and to have some consequences, isn't that already a factual context? What is the base concept at the start (or bottom) of all discussions of moral values? Is it "value"? Without sayhing at all what values we ought to pursuie, what is value at all? Is there anything to which falue is an inescapable fact? Is there any fact which must exist first before value can even be considered? What fact is that? All these questions are PRIOR to any discussion of "ought", any prescription of what values ought to guide our choices and actions. Strictly speaking, these quesitons are meta-ethics, or the metaphysics of value theory. They are factual questions, not ethical questions. Most of the philosophical theories concerning morality or avlue in Western thought end up saying there is NO factual basis we can find for the concept "value". That is where Ayn Rand differes. Her focus was on reality, not on what people say or urge you to do. So, she found the factual answer to those factual questions. Read her essay "The Objectivist Ethics" with those questions in mind and you'll have an easier time see wht her proof is and what she considers a proof to b e.

30 minutes ago • Like.

Jeffrey said...

End

Jeffrey Newholm all right, I have my reading assignment in addition to reading Kelly's "the unrugged individualist", "Unspeakeable Ethics, Unspeakable law", "Loving Life" and Tara Smith. It will take me some time to read all this. Goodnight, my friends. Good debate. Until we meet again...
26 minutes ago • Like.

Paul Beaird
If I were in conversation with David Hume, I would ask for his forbearance while I enumerated all the facts of reality and the realtionships between them pressented in Rand's discussions on the factual foundation of value. Then, I would ask Mr. Hume, Why didn't you consider these facts and relationships, when you were discussing values? I would ask him, If you hold to the view that there is no factual foundation for the concept of value, what do you do with those facts and relationships Rand enumerates? If you don't think those facts and the relationships between them add up to the concept of value, what do they add up to, what else do you offer as the basis of value? Since my mind can refer to these facts, when making value choices, instead of looking to some feeling or desire of mine (whose source I may no know), doesn't that one example of a man treating value rationally, instead of emotionally, provide a factual basis for questioning your assertion that reasong about value is only feeling-justification (ratinhalization)?

20 minutes ago • Like.


Paul Beaird
The problem with such a discussion is that Hume's starting point was the faulty empiricism he borrowed from John Locke and shredded with his skeptical analysis. So, the discussion would inevitabley turn to epistemology, instead. Why, facts of reality? What on Earth are those? And how to you think you know any? Yes, Rand provided answers to those questions, too. But, don't be too quick to dismiss the ethical questions until you have considered what Rand's view of sensory evidence a is and how it feeds concept-formation. Philosophy is complex. Rand made it understandable. Wait until you try to READ Immanuel Kant, Jeffrey.

17 minutes ago • Like

Jeffrey said...

Oops, this got left out of part V:


Objectivism IS alone here. It alone rejects faith, when it comes to so important a question as, What facts of reality give rise to the concept "value" at all? It alone finds that fact and the relationship between it (life) and nature's requirements to keep it. It alone offers a proof, even if you don't recognize the style of a proof offered by someone who argues strictly from facts, not imaginary scenarios. Objectivism provides an answer as to WHY the evil deeds n the "poem" are evil. It has a standard by which to measure this. As for the other moral thoeories, I don't know that you know what they are or how they would answer the question. Your rejection of them is probably too facile.

Daniel Barnes said...

Jeff, here's my view.


The whole debate is premised on a misunderstanding. The "is-ought" gap is not a bug, it's a feature!

If it didn't exist, all moral decisions would be logically derivable, like a book of log tables.

The freely-made, human decision content would be the same as a book of log tables: zero

Therefore the moral responsibility for any of those ethical derivations would be the same: zero

Therefore if you think free will and individual moral responsibility are good things, you don't consider the is-ought gap a problem in the first place!

Daniel Barnes said...

Paul Beaird to Jeffrey:
>It is not mystery that you read Rand and fail to see that she is solveing(sic) that old "knot", her method of proof is totally different than that of any of the empiricists, rationalists, idealists, or intuitionists.

Oh, rilly? The "method of proof" that was found wanting by Hume et al was a valid logical derivation from a fact to a value.

In the history of Objectivism, no Objectivist - not Rand, not Peikoff, not Binswanger, not Harriman, not anyone - has ever produced such a derivation. Y'know, with premises and conclusion laid out and labeled for everyone to see. Likewise, not one of your interlocutors, no matter how much they waffle on an appeal to this or that authority or magical personal experience, will be able to do so either. I've done this many times and the answer is always the same! Blank Out! Try it for yourself, see how you get on. Ayn Rand's logical derivation of value from fact occupies approximately the same status in Objectivism as Joseph Smith's golden plates do in Mormonism: they talk about it all the time, but no-one's ever seen it...;-)

Of course, if Rand "proved" it in some way that's "totally different" from logic, there's nothing very interesting at all about such an "achievement"!

Jeffrey said...

Mr. Barnes,

Let me make sure I undertand you right: do you mean the is-ought gap leads to moral creativity? Well, I suppose this could help explain how, for instance, sports fans always thinks it's right to root for their team, but if someone gets seriously injured everyone is concerned, even if it's someone from the other team. Humans love to argue a lot over morality, but at the root most aren't all that different-they have an emotional prefernce to propser and see others prosper too.

Personally, I think I can have a field day using the is-ought gap, e.g.,"It's patriotic to do such and such, you know". "But remember the is-ought gap. Why should we be patriotic?" Howwwl! What laffs!

But I was in over my head with those professionals; just couldn't resist the opportunity to try to tweak those objectivists. Alas, I revealed I have a ways to go if I want to combat them effectively.

Daniel Barnes said...

>Let me make sure I undertand you right: do you mean the is-ought gap leads to moral creativity?

Well that too, but I first meant moral responsibility.

If 2+2=4, that's neither your particular virtue nor your vice. It really has nothing to do with you, it's objectively derived. Hence no personal responsibility rests with you over this result.

On the other hand, if your decision leads to someone's suffering (or not), that's your free choice - no formula or log table or logical derivation can determine it. From this freedom emerges personal responsibility.

See what I'm getting at?

Lloyd Flack said...

The whole debate is premised on a misunderstanding. The "is-ought" gap is not a bug, it's a feature!

If it didn't exist, all moral decisions would be logically derivable, like a book of log tables.

The freely-made, human decision content would be the same as a book of log tables: zero

Therefore the moral responsibility for any of those ethical derivations would be the same: zero



I disagree here. Our choice is whether we act morally or not. Whether an act is moral or not is not our choice. We choose whether or not we assault someone. But we do not choose whether or not assault is wrong.

Now whether we can be certain if an act is moral or not is another question. I think the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. By certain, I mean certain beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all possible doubt. We can be certain beyond reasonable doubt that the Nazi genocides were wrong. I think reasonable people can come to different opinions about the morality of abortion.

Rand sought to base morality on a version of Natural Law. She tried to deduce moral principles from what she thought human nature was. Unfortunately she was wrong in many respects about human nature. More, we do not know the nature of consciousness and volition and without that knowledge we cannot derive morality from first principles. You can't do that if you don't really know what the first principles are.

Now, in science we always try for parsimonious explanations. But I think this leads us astray when it comes to morality. Human beings are complicated and I suggest that proper conduct for human beings is also complicated. Can morality be expresses as a set of simple statements? I think it can't. I think morality is more a matter of approaches and guidelines than it is than a matter of rules. Of course Rand was not the only or even the worst offender here. It is a general, I think mistaken, tendency in Western philosophy.

This does not mean that morality is not part of the nature of reality, independent of any human wishes. It does mean that it cannot be expressed concisely and it cannot be known with certainty.

What should we base morality on?

I was attracted to Objectivism because it had the promise of creating a moral code that could be demonstrated to be right, one that everyone could agree on. That code had some aspects which went against my personal preferences but I was willing to put up with that if it delivered the end of irresolvable conflicts. I never was convinced by the epistemology. It always looked like something jerry-built to support the ethics. There were also other reasons to seriously consider Objectivist ethics which I will go into in another post.

So I provisionally accepted Objectivist ethics. But bit by bit I found ways in which it just did not work. I gradually realized that the only things that I could base morality on, at least in the absence of knowledge of the basis of consciousness and volition, were ethical intuitions. That did not mean that logic had no place. Logic is required for consistency checks and for predicting the consequences of one's actions. But it can't create the basis.

Lloyd Flack said...

The whole debate is premised on a misunderstanding. The "is-ought" gap is not a bug, it's a feature!

If it didn't exist, all moral decisions would be logically derivable, like a book of log tables.

The freely-made, human decision content would be the same as a book of log tables: zero

Therefore the moral responsibility for any of those ethical derivations would be the same: zero



I disagree here. Our choice is whether we act morally or not. Whether an act is moral or not is not our choice. We choose whether or not we assault someone. But we do not choose whether or not assault is wrong.

Now whether we can be certain if an act is moral or not is another question. I think the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. By certain, I mean certain beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all possible doubt. We can be certain beyond reasonable doubt that the Nazi genocides were wrong. I think reasonable people can come to different opinions about the morality of abortion.

Rand sought to base morality on a version of Natural Law. She tried to deduce moral principles from what she thought human nature was. Unfortunately she was wrong in many respects about human nature. More, we do not know the nature of consciousness and volition and without that knowledge we cannot derive morality from first principles. You can't do that if you don't really know what the first principles are.

Now, in science we always try for parsimonious explanations. But I think this leads us astray when it comes to morality. Human beings are complicated and I suggest that proper conduct for human beings is also complicated. Can morality be expresses as a set of simple statements? I think it can't. I think morality is more a matter of approaches and guidelines than it is than a matter of rules. Of course Rand was not the only or even the worst offender here. It is a general, I think mistaken, tendency in Western philosophy.

This does not mean that morality is not part of the nature of reality, independent of any human wishes. It does mean that it cannot be expressed concisely and it cannot be known with certainty.

What should we base morality on?

I was attracted to Objectivism because it had the promise of creating a moral code that could be demonstrated to be right, one that everyone could agree on. That code had some aspects which went against my personal preferences but I was willing to put up with that if it delivered the end of irresolvable conflicts. I never was convinced by the epistemology. It always looked like something jerry-built to support the ethics. There were also other reasons to seriously consider Objectivist ethics which I will go into in another post.

So I provisionally accepted Objectivist ethics. But bit by bit I found ways in which it just did not work. I gradually realized that the only things that I could base morality on, at least in the absence of knowledge of the basis of consciousness and volition, were ethical intuitions. That did not mean that logic had no place. Logic is required for consistency checks and for predicting the consequences of one's actions. But it can't create the basis.

Ken said...

Daniel Barnes: In the history of Objectivism, no Objectivist [...] has ever produced such a derivation. Y'know, with premises and conclusion laid out and labeled for everyone to see.

The attempts, in my experience, generally fall into two types. The first type is:

1) A is A {axiom}
2) ...
3) Therefore capital gains taxes are wrong. {1, 2, induction}

This has an "underpants gnomes" structure, and step 2 is always missing. However that means you can put anything you want in for step 3. The proof is not normally set out in the above manner, but in reverse; claim 3 is made, someone questions it, and the Objectivist says "A is A" as if that is logical support.

The second proof type has the structure:

1) Taxation is theft. {Atlas Shrugged page 597}

Some people would call this an argument from authority, not logic, but it can be proved (with similar logic) that those people are wrong. This is a more restricted proof form as you can only prove things that appeared in one of Rand's works, but why would you ever want or need to do anything else?

gregnyquist said...

We can be certain beyond reasonable doubt that the Nazi genocides were wrong.

This is a typical argument of ethical intuitionism. Although it appears, at least superficially, as a strong argument, it nonetheless commits the fallacy of ad hominem. It really doesn't offer any explanation for why Nazi genocides are wrong. It merely uses the horror that most people feel towards those genocides to intimidate anyone who, on foundational grounds, would question the notion that good and evil are objective properties and that at least some values are universal.

Unless one appeals to some sort of transcendence (e.g., ethical monotheism), objective, universal values are not warranted. On naturalistic grounds, the moral unit is the individual, and values are relative to the vital needs and natural sentiments of each person. This does not mean, however, that morality is subjective in the disparaging sense of the word. As each individual does in fact have a complex web of natural, vital needs, which are not a product of choice (as nature cannot choose it's origin), his values are not, therefore, merely a matter of whim or subjective preference.

gregnyquist said...

But I was in over my head with those professionals; just couldn't resist the opportunity to try to tweak those objectivists. Alas, I revealed I have a ways to go if I want to combat them effectively.

The only people in over their heads are the so-called professionals. I've crossed swords with Paul Beaird before, and while he seems a well-meaning enough fellow, he's completely innocent of any of subtleties and nuances of philosophy. His understanding is confined to a handful of over-generalized phrases, which he repeats ad nauseum. He is actually incapable of providing detailed arguments defending of any of his vague pronouncements. He just repeats Objectivist boilerplate, and when he's criticized, he smugly asserts that his opponent just doesn't know how to "outline an essay," as if that is the supreme method of determining matters of fact.

Jeffrey said...

On naturalistic grounds, the moral unit is the individual, and values are relative to the vital needs and natural sentiments of each person.

This is where the fantasy of Rand's assertion that there are no conflicts between 'rational' men becomes concerning. For example, sexual sadists have natural sentiments that most people in society just can't live with. In order to morally justify jailing them, society needs to fall back on some sort of utilitarian arithmatic. Is this a valid moral proposition? Or, if we go by Hume, is there no such thing as an invalid moral proposition?

gregnyquist said...

...if we go by Hume, is there no such thing as an invalid moral proposition?

If by "invalid," you mean, "illogical" or "contrary to 'reason'," then there is no such thing as a valid moral proposition concerning an end. According to Hume, "reason" and/or logic may discover the means by which a given end is realized, but the end itself is a given.

In regard to a sexual "sadist" (or predator), Hume would appeal to sentiments of nearly everyone, who abhor sexual predation, particularly of the involuntary and/or involving children variety. Hume, however, had little interest in "justifying" such moral abhorence; he merely wished to explain it. Generally, theories which focus primarily on justifying moral propositions degenerate rather quickly into casuistry. The actual morality that people follow in real life tends to be strongly situational and thus far too complex to be adequately summed up in the abstract principles of a philosophy. This is corroborated by scores of sophisticated psychological experiments, which show that people made decisions largely via the cognitive unconscious, and then try to square those decisions with moral propositions after the fact.

Michael Prescott said...

Jeffrey, I had no idea you were the mysterious Mr. A. Thanks for going undercover!

My thoughts on is-ought were the subject of a recent blog post:

http://tinyurl.com/3tj5bvs

FWIW, I concluded that ethics can escape subjectivism only if they are grounded in some form of intuitionism, which can be atheistic (see Michael Huemer's book Ethical Intuitionism) or supernaturalistic. I opt for the supernatural variety because I think there are good reasons to believe in the supernatural; indeed, I think any explanation of existence that omits the supernatural is incomplete. But that's another story.

In the appendix to The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis presents a variety of moral positions drawn from different cultures, in order to show that certain moral precepts are virtually universal. I think the persistence of these precepts across space and time argues for some form of intuitionism, though other explanations have been offered (usually grounded in evolution and game theory).

Even the Nazis seemed to know the Holocaust was wrong, since they covered it up while it was in progress, and used euphemisms to describe it. The death-camp guards reportedly had high rates of alcoholism, a common approach to dulling the voice of conscience.

Daniel Barnes said...

@Ken, LOL!

@Lloyd, the "is/ought" dichotomy is perhaps better phrased as the "fact/decision" dichotomy. That is, you can't derive any decision, including moral ones, from any fact or set of facts. Thus from the fact that it is Tuesday, or the fact of Auschwitz, no decision follows of logical necessity.

But that's really only a problem if you're looking for some kind of final justification (or perhaps final solution). Of course, there is no final justification for any decision, moral or otherwise, just as there is no final justification for any scientific theory. Which is just fine, as Popper and later Bill Bartley discovered, because it turns out all you really need to search for truth is free criticism, not the justification of some authority.

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

@Jeffrey: I was in over my head with those professionals; just couldn't resist the opportunity to try to tweak those objectivists. Alas, I revealed I have a ways to go if I want to combat them effectively.

I'm not sure what you think it takes "to combat them effectively." But I can tell you that debating skill won't do it, knowledge of the (real) history of philosophy won't do it, reasoning with them won't do it. The sad truth is that, for all their professed allegiance to reason and reality, the mindset of the typical Objectivist is, at root, religious. They believe that after centuries of near-misses and outright failures by countless would-be philosophers, Ayn Rand finally discovered the "right" method of thinking, thereby enabling reason to "prove" all sorts of things that it previously couldn't do. Ken's characterization of Objectivist methods of proof (above in this thread) carries more than a grain of truth, especially the first one. They really believe that Rand showed how all truth could be proven by induction from "A is A."

I know whereof I speak. I clung to Objectivism for a very long time (roughly 20 years), dismissing all arguments that it didn't make sense, was unrealistic, or ignored inconvenient facts. Such objections amounted to irrational nonsene spouted by people who couldn't think in essentials or think in principles or properly understand abstractions or grasp that A is A. The list of errors Objectivists can attribute to their opponents is virtually endless; the bottom line is that all naysayers must have some fundamental problem in their thinking methods that prevents them from seeing the truth that Rand made so plain.

I don't think you can break through that kind of faith by arguing specific points. I think that if you want to "combat" them, in the sense of talking them out of it, you have to find a way to challenge their worldview at its root. That is hard to do. When you challenge someone's basic worldview, you create cognitive dissonance. Few people (regardless of ideology) are willing to put up with cognitive dissonance long enough to understand and resolve it. The more likely response is retreating deeper into their worldview, as I did for so long. What finally got me out wasn't an argument at all; it was a question that made me look at the worldview from a broader perspective.

Of course, you can also "combat" the spread of Objectivism without ever de-converting an existing Objectivist. It is worthwile to present the counter-arguments for the benefit of the unconvinced. (I doubt any such people would be reading a thread on Betsy Speicher's Facebook wall, but I could be wrong.) Since they're not wedded to the Randian worldview, they will benefit from being shown where the reasoning is flawed or weak, or where the ideas aren't empirically supported. So you may be able to prevent them from getting snared into Objectivism in the first place.

Daniel Barnes said...

ECE:
>the bottom line is that all naysayers must have some fundamental problem in their thinking methods that prevents them from seeing the truth that Rand made so plain.

I was once told by a veteran Objectivist that at some point in my development - probably in the cradle - I'd failed to make some crucial integration amongst all the thousands of concepts forming, buzzing and blooming in my brain. Thus I was blinded, perhaps permanently, by the inherent faultiness of my conceptual structure, and was therefore unable to see the reality so evident to Ayn Rand, who, natch, had correctly integrated all her concepts since birth. This immaculate conceptual integration meant Ayn Rand could look at reality and truly see it, as can all those who accept Objectivism and integrate it without error. Whereas those poor damned souls such as myself, well....

I am not making this up.

On the plus side, however, I replied with a pretty merciless, extended parody of this position which as I recall ended all comment on that particular thread. And he never debated me again...;-)

Xtra Laj said...

ECE,

As a man related to two Objectivists and who was once a fan of Rand and was to some degree libertarian, I second your post heartily. But in my opinion, Jeffrey might need to argue his position and find equilibrium - I remember that it took me a while to become content with the idea that debating religion was a waste of time, so I hardly do it. Same for politics. People overestimate the power of argument to arrive at truth, so they sometimes think it is the powerful logic of arguments that make them believe things or change their minds, when the truth is far more complicated, sometimes unfortunately.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Xtra Laj: People overestimate the power of argument to arrive at truth, so they sometimes think it is the powerful logic of arguments that make them believe things or change their minds, when the truth is far more complicated, sometimes unfortunately.

Agreed, and well put.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Daniel Barnes: I was once told by a veteran Objectivist that at some point in my development - probably in the cradle - I'd failed to make some crucial integration amongst all the thousands of concepts forming, buzzing and blooming in my brain. Thus I was blinded, perhaps permanently, by the inherent faultiness of my conceptual structure, and was therefore unable to see the reality so evident to Ayn Rand, who, natch, had correctly integrated all her concepts since birth.

I believe it. I've heard variations of this theme, that we are all somehow at the mercy of our pre-conscious cognitive development. Harry Binswanger once claimed that even in a Perfect Objectivist Society(TM), only a small fraction of the population would be capable of being first-handed.

What I can't figure out is how Objectivists reconcile this with their theory of free will. It would seem that if one just chooses to come into focus, one could correct all those pre-conscious errors and see reality correctly. But then again, the choice to focus precedes all other choices and can't be explained; some people just don't come into full focus. But then again, Objectivists will morally condemn people for refusing to be in focus, even though it seems like a pre-moral choice ... all of which makes me realize that this stuff gets less coherent every time I try to think about it.

By the way, I'd like to read your "pretty merciless, extended parody of this position." Is it still around somewhere?

madbehemoth said...

ECE,

I also agree with what you posted, that sort of faith indeed cannot be broken through by citing specific points on which Rand was wrong. For some people, including me once, Objectivism was so egosyntonic that I was unable to accept that it could have significant faults.

But I do consider the effort by ARCHN's creators very important nevertheless. At some point it became clear to me that Objectivism was not leading me to happiness, whereas I did meet happy non-Objectivists. The cultist behavior I'd see among other Objectivists and various dubious ethical statements by Rand also gave me pause. But, having been convinced since my early teens that there was an unbroken chain of reasoning from "A is A" to "The roads should be privatized," there was a part of me that, in essence, was thinking, "Objectivism isn't making me happy, but it's right."

It was at this point that I read Scott Ryan's "Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality" and any belief in that chain of reasoning was obliterated. There does come a time when some of these people do become open to questioning the Objectivist foundationalism, and I'm very glad there are writers who spend the time to point out the flaws.

Discussions of problems in all reaches of Objectivism still have appeal to me, but I still find ARCHN most satisfying when it breaks down critical links in that big chain with "A is A" at its start and "man must live qua man" (i.e. the full Oist ethics) at its end. The "Empirical Responsibility" series stands out for me, as do the "Metaphysics" and "Cognitive Revolution" essays. A true believer may not be convinced by anything, but someone doubting Objectivism will have a hard time getting through those and still believing that Rand had truly reasoned from basic logic all the way to a guide to life.

So, many thanks for the efforts of the people behind this site. Keep up the good work.

Daniel Barnes said...

Madbehemoth:
>So, many thanks for the efforts of the people behind this site. Keep up the good work.

Well thank you MB.

As I say, if you read the original About this Site link this was initially intended to be a low volume site - I originally envisaged it as a kind of gradually accumulating archive of Objectivist criticism, starting with what I considered to be the most comprehensive and engaging criticism of Rand yet, Greg's ARCHN volume, with a couple of riffs I'd picked up over the years stuck in for good measure. I saw that there were any number of proselytizing Objectivist sites on the internets, yet what little decent criticism there was was scattered to the four winds. It felt like it needed at least some central point where the inquisitive Rand skeptic - or the recovering Objectivist - didn't have to keep reinventing the wheel. When I first encountered Objectivism and started to explore it it took a great deal of effort to get a purchase on what's wrong with it. I was simply hoping to make future critics' job a little easier. I had no idea that Greg, having already done such a great job off his own bat with ARCHN itself, would be such a continuing wellspring of great material.

As it happens it's turned into a site with an ever-expanding audience, some really terrific regular contributors and a lively, intelligent standard of comment. So our thanks to you in return, we really appreciate your interest.

Lloyd Flack said...

Greg,

At the moment I don't think we can base morality on naturalistic grounds. We don't have the knowledge. I also think it cannot be based on authority. Authority is either a part of or a consequence of morality. I think we have to use our intuitions as a starting point. Unfortunately this means that we cannot demonstrate to others that we are right. We can only ask them to examine the same intuitions and think through the consequences of those intuitions.

What is behind those intuitions? For the most part I think the framework for them was formed by evolution. I think the function of those intuitions is to allow us to successfully live in societies.

I don't think you can base morality solely on the well being of the individual, however you define that well being. The cohesion of a society is also a consideration. If you ignore that the society is unable to protect itself and eventually the individuals suffer as a result.

I think our moral intuitions have multiple bases and can conflict. We then have to use our judgment and balance competing moral considerations against each other. This can mean that sometimes there is no good solution to a moral quandary, that the nature of the Universe makes moral perfection impossible. I think that an attempt to derive morality from first principles is likely to lead to it having a narrow base and to leaving out important considerations when decisions are made. And Objectivism is a really bad offender here.

But perhaps Objectivism was a necessary counterbalance. It is very easy to frame morality in terms of social goods or in terms of the good of the majority of a society. (These are not the same thing and they can clash.) But Rand made a moral defence of the liberty of all individuals. Self interest is all to easily seen as not being a moral issue. Rand rightly claimed that it was. Her failure was in trying to make it the only moral consideration. But without her I think there would have been fewer non religious people sticking up for individual liberty and human accomplishment. She encouraged a lot of people to stick up for themselves even after they had examined and rejected her philosophy. For all her errors, she had a point.

Ken said...

@ECE: I've heard variations of this theme, that we are all somehow at the mercy of our pre-conscious cognitive development.

Scientology can help with that. They have electronic devices that can identify the pre-conscious engrams that inhibit your thinking and rid you of them. Ultimately you will become a clear; from your comment it looks like this would be called "first-handed" in Objectivism.

gregnyquist said...

At the moment I don't think we can base morality on naturalistic grounds. We don't have the knowledge.

If by "base morality" one means justify it logically or empirically, then of course no basis for a naturalistic morality can be found, regardless the amount of knowledge. I was merely criticizing the notion, promulgated by G.E. Moore that we have intuitions of universal, objective moral truth. On naturalist grounds, Moore's ethical views are not warranted.

What is behind those intuitions? For the most part I think the framework for them was formed by evolution. I think the function of those intuitions is to allow us to successfully live in societies.

That view is entirely consistent with naturalism, and, indeed, is naturalism. The intuition is merely discovering the individual's vital needs, one of which is to get on with his fellows (as this is necessary for survival and reproduction). On naturalist assumptions, these vital needs are most likely formed in the crucible of evolution.

It seems to me that many people who have come, for palpably compelling reasons, to reject religious based claims about transcendent meaning and purpose, nonetheless lack the courage to accept all the logical consequences of their (supposed) acceptance of naturalism.

But without her I think there would have been fewer non religious people sticking up for individual liberty and human accomplishment.

Well, perhaps so. Most individuals have both egoistic and "altruistic" sentiments; and to what extent philosophical rationalizations may tip the balance from one to the other is difficult to determine empirically. What is the actual effect that Rand has had on conduct, rather than just on what people say? And do people become Objectivists because they already sympathize with Rand's ideas? Or do they come to sympathize with Rand's ideas because the become Objectivists? Does Objectivism merely reinforce sentiments already existing in the individual? Or is there an actual change in the sentiments themselves?

Lloyd Flack said...

The intuition is merely discovering the individual's vital needs, one of which is to get on with his fellows (as this is necessary for survival and reproduction). On naturalist assumptions, these vital needs are most likely formed in the crucible of evolution.

Not merely the individual's needs but those of the society. The individual is dependent on the survival and well being of the society. Thus our moral intuitions have components whose function is the protection of social cohesion.

Jeffrey said...

This seems like a good time for a case study in that Objectivist friend I keep talking about on this site, who I'll call "Joe".

From what I can piece together, Joe was once a Christian-turned-hedonist before he encountered Rand. He claims that he was already very close to Objectivism before reading Rand, having (somehow) already recognized the choice to focus or not and saw Howard Roark as holding many of his values. And I don't doubt that the Objectivist ethics has allowed him to lead a better life.

I think most people are terrified at the thought that 'right' and 'wrong' are arbitrary, and are comforted by a systematic, absolute code of morality. As I alluded to in my debate above, however, such a morality must ultimately rest in, to quote Arthur Allen Leff, "the Grand Sez Who" of authority, usually God: a moral authority. Rand's ethics is simply a workaround for those who want absolute morality but don't like the idea of faith (I pause here, for Mr. Prescott's sake, to acknowledge that not all supernatural beliefs are backed by faith; in my experiences, having been raised in a Catholic family, most people aren't willing/able to go through the formal proofs of God and just take the ethics on faith because they feel a need to do so [Blaise Pascal is a great advocate of this approach, but again I think most religious people aren't deep philosophical thinkers and don't know about this sort of thing; nonetheless it is there for us thinking types])...whew, I digress.

Anywho, Objectivism allows followers to accept an absolute morality on faith without calling it faith; it's "reason" (see Paul Beaird above). Thus those who are unsatisfied with Sunday school's explanation that "you should believe because...just because", and don't like/know about the formal proofs for religion (sadly in my time in Sunday school these were rather lacking) replace God with Rand for "the Grand Sez Who".

Another thing about Joe. He disagrees with Rand on one important respect: while Rand acknowledged that there are natural differences among individual's intellectual ability, Joe claims that intelligence is largely a result of "free will"! Once while I mentioned that he was probably a little bit smarter than I was, he mentioned in passing his pet hypothesis that it was probably something or another he did as an infant...but stopped, not wanting to sound "too" egoistic (I didn't know there was such a thing in Objectivism). This is from the same guy whose favorite band sings about socialism, and just shrugged when I told him, "But joe, aren't you sanctioning the enemy by seeing them in concert?" To echo Rand on altruism, you can never fully accept Objectivism as long as you live, but the extent of your misery is determined by the degree to which you approach that ideal which is the randroid .

Yikes, what's a guy supposed to do with a case like this? As smart as he is, he lists only three things he disagrees with Rand with, hold a deep suspicion of psychology, and claims to be perfect. I tried to show him this site, but I doubt it will do much good. As echo said, it's probably best to warn people about Rand before they get neck deep in the first place.

To echo Rand again, ideology puts chains where your mind should have grown wings.

Xtra Laj said...

Not merely the individual's needs but those of the society. The individual is dependent on the survival and well being of the society. Thus our moral intuitions have components whose function is the protection of social cohesion.

None of this is incompatible with naturalism until you start to argue that any of this is objectively *right* in a way that is independent of the person who is valuing it, or that your insight should be shared by all right-thinking people. Such moral propositions depend on other value judgments which other people may not agree with in general, or more realistically, may not agree applies to the particular situation under discussion. But what you will also find is that these moral judgments supposed to support social cohesion can be rationalized in various ways, showing that the intuition's basis in emotion is likely far more fundamental than the reason being proposed for it, and that if the reason was defeated in an argument, another reason would be found to take its place very quickly. Pareto did some good writing on this.

Xtra Laj said...

Yikes, what's a guy supposed to do with a case like this? As smart as he is, he lists only three things he disagrees with Rand with, hold a deep suspicion of psychology, and claims to be perfect. I tried to show him this site, but I doubt it will do much good. As echo said, it's probably best to warn people about Rand before they get neck deep in the first place.

Jeffrey,

Happiness/well-being are complicated issues and I think the consensus of people who have studied the subject is that there is no magic bullet. Martin Seligman, who studies how to live a happy/good life, had this as his original formula, which I think he has revised recently:

H = S+C+V

The S is your genetic set point (yes, everyone has a genetic set point on mood, a result that I think was influenced by the study of identical twins and relatives), C is the conditions of your life, and V is the voluntary choices made for achievement etc. The V part often involves using your strengths in a manner that brings your a sense of fulfillment and pleasure.

The C part is pretty interesting (I think the dominant aspect of it is your relationship with people, though there is a wealth component that tapers off at a reasonable level for graduate level learners in the US, though maybe not for the broader population). The V part would have to do with things that put you in flow.

In my view, the reason why Objectivism is dangerous is not because it gives your ridiculous beliefs, but because it can have a dangerous effect on your relationships with people because of how it encourages you to behave and because of the dissonance of its values with common sense. Therefore, individuals with marginal personality disorders can be encouraged to deemphasize social skills that they could build with experience and the right motivation. Nerds who might be gawky as youth fail to assimilate because rather than build adjustments, they are encouraged to exhibit behaviors that socially out of touch.

Why did I go into all that? I want to point out that there are many people who are happy in religious belief, and it is partly because the social ties and shared values encouraged by traditional religion tend to be a great source of happiness. I think if Joe's interaction with other people is hurt by Objectivism, then you should get worried. Otherwise, it sounds relatively mild to me.

Anonymous said...

I see that Daniel Barnes is still doing his dishonest blathering.

He writes: “On p26, Harriman claims that, using this unique Randian inductive method, from a single observation of paper burning in a fireplace, we can conclude that the statement "Fire burns paper" is "a universal truth".”

Other than Harriman writing "Fire burns paper" on p. 26, Barnes is a liar. Harriman uses "fire burns paper" to describe a child learning this generalization for the first time. He describes it as a “statement of a concrete observation”. He does not say it is a single instance nor present it as a universal truth or “Every S is P”. Children at that age don’t think in terms such as “some”, “every” or “all.” Eventually most children, even ones as stupid as Barnes, will learn there are exceptions, for example, paper that is water-soaked. This is such common knowledge there was no need for Harriman to say so, except to foil a dishonest critic like Barnes.

gregnyquist said...

Barnes is a liar. Harriman uses "fire burns paper" to describe a child learning this generalization for the first time. He describes it as a “statement of a concrete observation”. He does not say it is a single instance nor present it as a universal truth or “Every S is P”.

This argument strikes me as confused. What on earth is the difference between between a "statement of a concrete observation" and single instance? Isn't any "concrete observation" ipso facto a single instance? And isn't a child learning his first generalization also learning his first universal truth?

But more to the point, why is Harriman bothering himself speculating about a child's first generalization? What does Harriman know about such matters? Is he familiar with any of the peer reviewed literature concerning experiments on child cognition? Has he conducted any such experiments himself? What does he expect to prove by his empirically impoverished speculations?

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Barnes is a liar.

If I am, I must be a particularly stupid one, given that I offer the page reference of the book in question so readers can examine it for themselves - a basic standard of intellectual honesty, yes, but strangely one almost completely absent from the work of Anon's intellectual idol.

I'm away traveling right now, but when I return tomorrow I'll reproduce the passage in question and we'll see whether a) I'm a liar or b) our brave Anon can't read. If I'm wrong I'll happily retract.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Other than Harriman writing "Fire burns paper" on p. 26, Barnes is a liar. Harriman uses "fire burns paper" to describe a child learning this generalization for the first time. He describes it as a “statement of a concrete observation”.

It's a floor wax, and a desert topping!

Daniel Barnes said...

Actually, Anon, why wait? Clearly you've got a copy of The Logical Leap, why don't you just reproduce the para on p26 where the term "universal truth" occurs, and the preceding one, which I recall talks about "fire burns paper", and prove my alleged untruthiness yourself?

Jeffrey said...

Hmm, looks like we have a "Mr. B" who likes making jabs at Mr. Barnes-only this one seems to mean it :)

Jeffrey said...

...and if it's neither a single instance nor an universal truth, what is it then?

Jeffrey said...

Children at that age don’t think in terms such as “some”, “every” or “all.”

So young children neither think in black and white nor in shades of grey.

Eh?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

From p.26 of my autographed-by-Harriman copy of The Logical Leap:

"In utilizing concepts as his cognitive tools, he [the first-level inducer] is thereby omitting the measurements of the particular causal connection he perceives. 'Fire' relates the yellow-orange flames he perceives to all such, regardless of their varying measurements; the same applies to 'paper' and to the process of 'burning.' Hence his first statement of his concrete observation: 'Fire burns paper.' This statement is simply a conceptualization of the perceived data -- which is what makes it a generalization." (emphasis in original).

In other words, the observation is just a concrete observation, but the act of stating the concrete observation in words makes it a generalization -- well, at least as long as the words correspond to validly-formed concepts (which opens up a whole other can of worms). And somehow our first-level inducer is not just observing that there is a fire and that paper by the fire is turning to ash but perceiving that the fire is causing the burning ... apparently because of his validly-formed concepts "fire," "paper," and "burn." It's a head-scratcher.

In any event, I don't see any lying or dishonesty on the part of Daniel Barnes. Sorry, Anon.

gregnyquist said...

"In utilizing concepts as his cognitive tools, he [the first-level inducer] is thereby omitting the measurements of the particular causal connection he perceives. 'Fire' relates the yellow-orange flames he perceives to all such, regardless of their varying measurements; the same applies to 'paper' and to the process of 'burning.' Hence his first statement of his concrete observation: 'Fire burns paper.' This statement is simply a conceptualization of the perceived data -- which is what makes it a generalization."

I wonder if this passage is consistent with the overall thesis of Harriman's tome; because what Harriman seems to be suggesting is that, because concept formation involves making "generalizations" (i.e., it involves a process of induction), that Rand's alleged "validation" of concepts in effect validates induction as well.

Now as far as I know, I was the first one to note that Rand's theory of formation involves and 4even presumes induction. I brought up this point to prove that, even by Objectivist standards, Rand could not claim that her theory of concept formation "validated" conceptual knowledge, since, by her own admission, Rand had not validated induction, and as long as induction remains unvalidated, Rand cannot logically claim that she had validated conceptual knowledge. Has Harriman merely stood this on its head (thereby, in effect, reversing cause and effect) and claimed that Rand's alleged validation of concepts actually validates induction (even though it really should be the other way around)? Since when can an unproven conclusion be used establish the bona fides of one of its premises?

Daniel Barnes said...

@ECE, as I don't have my copy of TLL handy, could you do me a favour and reproduce the para on p26 that contains the term "universal truth"? I think it's the one directly after the para you've cited. Many thanks if you could.

@Greg, yes I've just been re-reading the ITOE passages where she uses the white swan example - normally used in discussion of induction - but to discuss concept formation. The problem of induction is directly analogous to the problem of universals, as Popper noted back in the 30s. But it reads more like Rand doesn't know that much about either of them.

Daniel Barnes said...

actually ECE, don't worry, I got it...

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Daniel Barnes: Glad to see you found what you needed.

@Greg Nyquist: Now as far as I know, I was the first one to note that Rand's theory of [concept] formation involves and []even presumes induction.

Sorry, Greg, but you were beaten to that particular observation by none other than Rand herself. From ITOE (p.28, according to the Ayn Rand Lexicon):

"The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction. The process of subsuming new instances under a known concept is, in essence, a process of deduction."

As far as I can tell, this makes the Peikoff/Harriman "solution" to the problem of induction completely meaningless. Their solution is that induction is justified by valid concepts. Specifically, Harriman explains that, "Induction is the conceptualizing process itself in action." (TLL, p.35).

So putting together Rand's statement with Harriman's, we end up with the following: Concept-formation is an inductive process, so it's valid to the extent that induction is valid. But induction is just the concept-forming process in action, so it's valid to the extent that concept-formation is valid. Is that circular, or is something else making me dizzy?