Saturday, June 22, 2013

Now We Know

The site Objectivist Answers has provided an answer at least one burning question; namely, who is and who isn't an Objectivist. From their FAQ:
  • You are not an Objectivist if you consider yourself to be a libertarian (or associate with the Libertarian Party), advocate revising Objectivism (like David Kelley's "open system"), or associate with false advocates of Objectivism (like David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Chris Sciabarra)
Actually, the question it really answers is how Rand's allegedly rational approach to defining terms really operates in practice.


ungtss said...

behold the contradiction inherent in forming an ideologically-driven organization and movement ostensibly premised on individualism and free thought.

Daniel Barnes said...

Or you could just put it down to ordinary human nature at work.

ungtss said...

I don't see those as mutually exclusive. Tolerating contradictions in one's life and ideas is quite ordinary.

Daniel Barnes said...

Of course.

Bryan M. White said...

"You are not an Objectivist if you consider yourself to be a libertarian (or associate with the Libertarian Party), advocate revising Objectivism (like David Kelley's "open system"), or associate with false advocates of Objectivism (like David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Chris Sciabarra)"

...or if need a website's FAQ to tell you who you are.

ungtss said...


Elliot Temple said...

Peikoff does not criticized Kelley merely for wanting to revise Objectivism. The link does not say that. Here's an example of a criticism:

> As one of his examples of an intellectually honest man, to whom others should show “tolerance” and “benevolence,” David Kelley offers not a groping teenager, but “an academic Marxist,” i.e., an adult who devotes his life to the job of teaching unreason, self-sacrifice and slavery to generations of young minds.

Isn't this correct? Isn't this attitude to academic Marxists incompatible with Objectivism? Isn't it a rejection of Objectivism and disagreement with Objectivism, rather than a revision or refinement?

Here is one test we might consider to judge what is a revision or not: how much of Atlas Shrugged has to be thrown out if you accept something?

To accept Kelley's pro-Marxist stance, I think you'd have to throw out a ton of Atlas Shrugged. On the other hand, to accept my no-induction revision of Objectivism, wouldn't little of Atlas Shrugged need changing?

Peikoff says in the article that Kelley is proposing largescale renunciation of Objectivism, not revision:

> The absence or rejection of the concept of “objectivity” on this profound a level means the rejection not only of Ayn Rand’s ethics, but also of her epistemology: it is the rejection of her view of truth, of her theory of concepts, of her fundamental position on the proper relationship between a volitional consciousness and existence. In methodological terms, it is the rejection of her view of logic ...

Peikoff clarifies what he wants and has a problem with, and it isn't any revision whatsoever:

> Now I wish to make a request to any unadmitted anti-Objectivists reading this piece, a request that I make as Ayn Rand’s intellectual and legal heir. If you reject the concept of “objectivity” and the necessity of moral judgment, if you sunder fact and value, mind and body, concepts and percepts, if you agree with the Branden or Kelley viewpoint or anything resembling it—please drop out of our movement: drop Ayn Rand, leave Objectivism alone. We do not want you and Ayn Rand would not have wanted you—just as you, in fact, do not want us or her. As a matter of dignity and honor, tell yourself and the world the exact truth: that you agree with certain ideas of Ayn Rand, but reject Objectivism.

There's one tricky part:

> Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system—its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch—is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author.

Whatever this says, it's not "no revision". And it really depends on which things are deemed essential. Let's see what Peikoff considers essential:

> The most eloquent badge of the authentic Objectivist, who does understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy, is his attitude toward values (which follows from his acceptance of reason). An Objectivist is not primarily an academician or a political activist (though he may well devote his professional life to either or both pursuits). In his soul, he is essentially a moralist—or, in broader terms, what Ayn Rand herself called “a valuer.”

I think that's fair. And it means no Kelley, but allows for better critics and revision on many topics. (If you want to revise too much, they are correct to say that would no longer be "Objectivism").

ungtss said...

there's a saying among relatively reasonable religious people to the effect that "all truth is god's truth." it serves as the antidote to endless argument within institutionalized religion about who's a Christian and who's not, what's a "Christian Idea" and what's not.

Basically, the antidote is, "Who cares? If it's true it's true."

The real value in ideas is not determining whether they fall within a particular malleable definition, but whether they align with the truth.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"I think that's fair. And it means no Kelley, but allows for better critics and revision on many topics. (If you want to revise too much, they are correct to say that would no longer be 'Objectivism')."

So what did you think of the McCaskey affair?

P.S. I was disappointed to see you smear Kelley as "pro-Marxist". That is a real disappointment - especially given some of the criticisms you made on your blog about some of Nyquist's looser statements in ARCHN.

Daniel Barnes said...

>To accept Kelley's pro-Marxist stance, I think you'd have to throw out a ton of Atlas Shrugged.

Woah. "Pro-Marxist"?

I saw what you just did there.

Daniel Barnes said...

Let's see. Here's David Kelley in an essay from 2011 contrasting Hayek and Rand:

"As an Objectivist epistemologist and philosopher of mind, I side with Rand on every point of contrast, and consider Hayek‘s approach fundamentally wrong-headed, as the works of mine I have cited will make clear."

This is "pro-Marxist"??

Elliot Temple said...

What do you want me to call it when he says all this nice stuff about Marxists that they don't deserve? It's immoral to say or think it, it's favorable to Marxists, how is "pro-Marxist" not an acceptable summary term?

If someone urged benevolence and "tolerance" or whatever to Stalin or Hitler, and suggested we learn stuff from them, and asked anti-Hitler people to calm down with all the moral judgment, and so on, I would absolutely call them pro-Stalin or pro-Hitler.

Gordon: if you are disappointed and think there is a conflict between my positions, I would suggest criticizing the contradiction and/or checking your premises.

Gordon Burkowski said...

Before checking your own premises - which you should - you might also want to check your use of plain English.

Any rational use of the prefix "pro" suggests far more than mere tolerance. Someone who hears that a person is "pro-Marxist" will reasonably conclude that the person so described must support a class warfare theory, economic determinism and state ownership of the means of production.

Kelley does not support these things. That is why your characterization was a smear. Case closed.

Lloyd Flack said...

Elliot Temple,

You appear to be attacking Kelley for recognizing integrity in someone that he disagrees with. Might I suggest that refusal to recognize integrity where it is present is a dishonest act. And disagreement, even radical disagreement, with you is not a good reason to challenge another's integrity

Elliot Temple said...

From the dictionary:

preposition& adverb
in favor of: [ as prep. ]

and now for "favor" (noun):

overgenerous preferential treatment


an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual

also from favor (verb), "give unfairly preferential treatment to" and "work to the advantage of"

so i'm using standard dictionary english. there's 4 different definitions that work fine for me.

btw, declaring "case closed" is a closed-minded way to discuss.

Elliot Temple said...

Lloyd, as Peikoff explained in the article -- and no one here has criticized -- academic Marxists are not making innocent errors. They do lack integrity. And Kelley implicitly denies that, which is why his stance is so bad.

I'm glad to see, at least, that you know we're disagreeing about substance, not merely words. Thank you for that :)

Gordon Burkowski said...

Let's get real here. If I recommend tolerance toward Muslims, it doesn't make me "pro-Islam". If I'm tolerant to Democrats, it doesn't make me "pro-Democrat". This is a common sense point - and citing dictionary definitions in the absence of a context doesn't change anything.

No, my mind is not closed on this. Just made up. I know an unjust characterization when I see one.

gregnyquist said...

so i'm using standard dictionary english. there's 4 different definitions that work fine for me.

I'm glad to see, at least, that you know we're disagreeing about substance, not merely words

If you're citing dictionary definitions, then you're not really arguing about "substance." The trouble with the debate between Peikoff and Kelley is that it is has been staged on a very broad level, using vague terms such as "benevolence" and "tolerance." But the argument over the academic marxist, to the extent that it has any practical relevance at all, revolves around the question of how Objectivists should behave toward academic marxists. What does it mean, , to be "intolerant" to an academic marxists. Should you merely shun him? Condemn him to his face? Humiliate him? Beat him? Imprison him? Kill him? Although Peikoff doesn't spell it out all that clearly, I take him to mean that one should "morally" condemn the academic marxist, and perhaps shun him as well. What about Kelley? What does Kelley mean when he suggests that one should be tolerant to at least some academic marxists? Does it mean you should endorse marxism? Endorse indoctrinating students with marxism? Endorse all academic marxists, regardless of the viciousness (in terms of behavior) of particular individuals? Like Peikoff, Kelley is none too specific on this point. As far as I can make out, he merely believes that it's not necessary to publicly condemn each and every academic marxists, and that it's okay to have a dialogue with academic marxists who behave decently and are willing to discuss points of disagreement in a civil manner.

Now we can see that if the argument is actually conducted on the basis of specific behavior, it takes on an entirely different cast. It's not so much about tolerance as it is about whether one should have civil relations with people who behave civily, regardless of professed beliefs.

ungtss said...

^ truth ^

ungtss said...

At heart, fighting over undefined terms is endemic of the worst rationalism has to offer.

In one of Peikoff's lectures, he uses his own writing, from early in graduate school, as an example of bad writing. He specifically criticizes himself for his early rationalism, and credits rand for helping him overcome it.

I speculate that he has a natural tendency, and that without rand to keep his feet firmly attached to the ground, he slipped back into it.

Elliot Temple said...

Kelley is clear enough about his position:

> Some [libertarians] are honest and rational, some are not. The same is true for any other ideological group, including Objectivists. It is a gross non-sequitur to infer that because an idea is false, its adherents are evil for holding it.

What he's saying is:

Some academic marxists are innocent, rational, honest, and some are not, just like any other group, including libertarians or Objectivists. Academic Marxists merely hold some ideas we believe to be false, and from that we can infer nothing about them being evil, irrational, dishonest, evaders, etc... Any given academic Marxist is just as likely to be a bad person as someone from another group like Objectivists.

This position is not OK.

gregnyquist said...

Kelley is clear enough about his position

Kelley is not clear about the practical consequences of his position. Yet this is really the crux of the matter. Doctrinal disagreements are of no practical significance (they are just arguments about words) unless they lead to different practical consequences. So what are the different practical consequences arising from the respective positions of Peikoff and Kelley?

[Kelley's] position is not OK.

Why is it not okay in practical terms? What practical consequences does it lead to that are not okay? Why is it not okay to engage in dialogue with people who are civil, and who are willing to have their beliefs challenged in a friendly debate?

Any given academic Marxist is just as likely to be a bad person as someone from another group like Objectivists.

Kelley did not say "just as likely." He merely stated that it is an illogical inference to conclude a person is evil from that person's professed beliefs. He didn't say anything about various ideological groups being "as likely" as another to be evil.

Gordon Burkowski said...

“So what are the different practical consequences arising from the respective positions of Peikoff and Kelley?”

I don’t know about Kelley, but we do know quite a bit about the practical consequences that would likely arise from Peikoff’s position. It’s not a pretty picture.

In her Ayn Rand biography, Anne Heller provides a telling anecdote about Peikoff:

“In 1987. . . his second wife, Cynthia Pastor, wrote a poignant letter to Sidney Hook, her husband’s former academic adviser at NYU, pleading for help in finding her husband a post in which to exercise ‘his talent and passion for teaching’. . . Hook replied, not unkindly, that before recommending his former student for another teaching job, he would have to be satisfied that Peikoff would not inject, where inappropriate, Randian dogma into classroom instruction. ‘I made that a condition before giving him a couple of classes to teach at NYU many years ago,’ Hook wrote. ‘He didn’t live up to the condition. . . I still recommended him in hopes he would mature and try to follow the pedagogic model to which he had been exposed in my classes. . . I do not believe, concerned as he is with teaching the message, he is interested in students as individual human beings and helping them develop their own independent personalities.’ The eminent professor also cited longstanding reports of Peikoff’s ‘spiteful fury’ against associates who differed with him, manifested in boycott campaigns against colleagues’ books and in nuisance lawsuits, in the intensity of which he exceeded even Rand.”

So who would you rather be instructed by – Sidney Hook or Leonard Peikoff?

Incidentally, the recent McCaskey affair is proof positive that we have the same Peikoff today that we had 25 years ago. Sad.

Daniel Barnes said...

I note that Elliot goes much further than accusing Kelley of not being an Objectivist and being too tolerant of Marxists.

What's interesting to me is that he calls Kelley an actual "opponent of Objectivism". He also regards the content of the Atlas Shrugged movie series as "stuff that we don't want, endorse, stand behind etc".

I guess I'm really struggling to see the substance of Elliot's criticism.

What you've got with Kelley is a guy who's spent his life studying and promoting Ayn Rand's doctrines. He spoke at her graveside. He has published many books defending Rand's various doctrines, such as the reliability of the senses and relationship between selfishness and benevolence. He has put his case clearly in the endpapers of The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, in that he agrees with all the essentials of Rand's philosophy, from objective reality to concept formation to volition to life as the standard of value to individual rights to the morality of selfishness to capitalism to the virtue of achievement and man as a heroic being.

Yet here's Elliot calling him an "opponent" of Objectivism.

Likewise, regardless of their aesthetic merit as films, the series promotes the essential characteristics above - or at least as they were expressed in the book Atlas Shrugged, which has been translated into a movie with emphatic unoriginality. Yet Elliot claims the movies are filled with "stuff" True Objectivists "don't want, endorse, stand behind etc", so much so that we're "slandering" Objectivism by even discussing them. As if the makers had put Atlas Shrugged titles on "Song of Russia".

In fact it seems Kelley's disagreements are over non-essential elements - such as her theory of history, her theory of aesthetics, whether Kant was the most evil man in history, and whether it's ok to give speeches to libertarian audiences. As it is unlikely any human will produce a philosophical system - or movie - entirely free from error this sort of disagreement is entirely predictable. But we are talking about substance, not perfection. Further, if Objectivism is the knowingly fallibilist system Elliot seems to believe it is - and I note that fallibilism is never touted as one of Objectivism's primary virtues by its adherents, including Kelley - then Kelley's critical attitude should logically be embraced, not rejected.

Elliot said...

> What you've got with Kelley is a guy who's spent his life studying and promoting Ayn Rand's doctrines.

If someone says they are a friend, and their activities constitute 'promotion', that doesn't make it true.

Even if they honestly believe it (which is not clear here), it still wouldn't make it true. They could, for example, be confused about which activities are helpful and which aren't.

The movie is a good example. Why would a bad presentation of Objectivism help Objectivism?

You also misunderstood my position. The slander wasn't to discuss the movies. Discuss whatever you want. The problem to criticize Objectivism using the movies. If you want to criticize Objectivism, you should criticize the best version you can find, not a bad version. This to show the danger of bad presentations of Objectivism -- they mislead people about what Objectivism is like and present easy targets and the possibility of people thinking that by shooting those easy targets they refute Objectivism.

Daniel Barnes said...

But again: where's the substance of your disagreement?

You make it sound like Kelley, and the movie series, has a position that profoundly opposes Rand in substance - as if, say, Kelley espoused the opposite of Rand's philosophical principles, and denied objective reality, individuality, capitalism etc, and as if the AS series was made by Michael Moore and was a pean to big government.

Of course this is not the case.

Elliot said...

Peikoff already explained the substance in his essay that you linked. Why should I repeat it? No one has criticized it here.

If you're going to say that "of course" the Objectivist position is false, I don't know why you would invite an Objectivist to talk with you. Are you interested in Objectivist positions or only interested in talking to non-Objectivists along the lines of Kelley?

gregnyquist said...

No one has criticized it here.

I've criticized Peikoff's article in this thread. I've stated that it doesn't really spell out what is wrong with Kelley's position in practical terms. I insist on practical terms because isn't that really what is significant in any debate that isn't merely about words? Peikoff tries to build his case against Kelley largely on the basis of Kelley's skepticism that you cannot infer that a person is evil from their professed beliefs. Peikoff conflates this inference with a rejection of objectivity and morality. Peikoff's argument, however, seems based on a misunderstanding of what Kelley means by "tolerance" and "benevolence." This misunderstanding is easily vanquished by insisting upon the practical consequences of each position. Insisting on the practical consequences dispels all misunderstanding due to the vagueness of terms and places the issue squarely in empirical reality. We're not interested in debating over Peikoff's interpretation, or rather misinterpretation, of what Kelley means by "benevolence" and "toleration." We would rather know how a person should behave towards academic marxists if Peikoff is right, as opposed to how they should behave if Kelley is right. So I ask again: why is it not okay to be civil and discuss points of disagreement with an academic marxist if that marxist is willing to be civil in return? Why must one morally condemn people who otherwise would behave decently toward you? What practical benefit is gained from behaving like that? These are not difficult questions to answer; yet they would clear up so much difficulties for those of us who have observed this debate from the outside.

Elliot said...

So you don't understand the full implications of Peikoff's philosophy, and ask to be educated. They do include practical implications.

Your lack of understanding does not constitute a criticism of his position because it wasn't his fault.

More broadly, you don't understand the practical consequences of Ayn Rand's philosophy, and ask for education. She has covered topics along these lines, e.g. in "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?" (in VoS) and in Atlas Shrugged.

It's not that you bested the Objectivist arguments. You instead plead ignorance of them and call that a criticism.

The practical implications of people not properly standing up to academic American Marxists (and various other enemies of life) include Obamacare and many other bad laws. These make us poorer, restrict our freedom, sometimes literally get us killed, and so on.

The problem is that I don't believe you. I don't believe it just never occurred to you that Marxists have consequences like bad laws (which can only be passed when enough people have bad ideas on the topic, which Marxists spread), which have practical consequences for your life.

Did it really never occur to you that, e.g., saying immoral people are not immoral could help extend their influence? And that that would have practical consequences?

Nor do I believe that you want an Objectivist education. If that's what you wanted, you would have sought it out before writing a book trashing Objectivism.

I've finished reading ARCHN (book) and am writing a blog post that will explain my position in more detail.

Lloyd Flack said...


You said

“From the dictionary:

preposition& adverb
in favour of: [ as prep. ]

and now for "favor" (noun):

overgenerous preferential treatment


an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual

also from favor (verb), "give unfairly preferential treatment to" and "work to the advantage of"

so i'm using standard dictionary english. there's 4 different definitions that work fine for me.”
Let’s see what you just did.
“In favour of” is a collocation, a group of words that are commonly used together in a particular way. While the words that comprise it may have several meanings only one combination of those meanings is normally used and the meaning of the complete phrase may not be what one would normally expect from that combination of words. You have equivocated by using meanings of words that are not used in the collocation in question.
“In favour of“ means “believes this is a good thing”. It does not mean “is tolerant of” or “is civil towards”. Favour here means support or approval. It does not have either of the meanings that you gave. You tried to blur the distinction between support and tolerance by trying to claim that civility towards those that you disapprove of is the same thing as actually supporting them. You equivocated to try to win an argument.

Samson Corwell said...

In response to Eliot Temple's first comment:
I suppose it might be incompatible with Objectivism, but I see nothing wrong with tolerating academic Marxists. I've conversed with two individuals who subscribe to Marxism (on a conservative message board no less) and they seem to be very nice people, which I think is an important part of morality [being nice]. I've yet to meet an academic Marxist, but it would be the Machiavellian types who want rich people's heads to roll that I'd be scared of.

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