Friday, January 15, 2021

Anne Heller, as long ago as 2009, published her biography of Ayn Rand. I have finally gotten around to reading it and will at some point make a post or two commenting upon it. In this post I want to turn to another issue --- namely, one of the two organizations tasked with the propagation of Rand's ideas, The Atlas Society. I had not realized the extent to which Heller had used TAS in research for her book. It is notorious that ARI refused Heller access to their archives until long after her book was finished. But it appears Heller didn't need ARI because she had TAS and David Kelley, who explained Rand's philosophy to Heller. It wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration to call Ayn Rand and the World She Made the official Rand biography of the Atlas Society --- although technically that's not true.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Molyneux and the Objectivist Tradition 6

UPB: Criterion for ethics. Universally preferable behavior, which is the core concept of Molyneux’s ethical speculations, is not an easy theory to wrap one's head around. It is not always clear what Molyneux means by it. Consider the ambiguity which clings to the terms of the following passage:

We all have preferences – from the merely personal (“I like ice cream”) to the socially preferable (“It is good to be on time”) to universal morality (“Thou shalt not murder”).

There is little point writing a book about personal preferences – and we can turn to Ann Landers for a discussion of socially preferable behaviour – here, then, we will focus on the possibility of Universally Preferable Behaviour. (50)

Note how Molyneux goes from “personal” preferences to “social” preferences to “universal morality.” Interpreted in one sense, Molyneux seems to be suggesting a relation between personal and social preferences on one side and “universal morality” (presumably Universally Preferable Behavior) on the other. But this transition is not well explained. It’s as if Molyneux wants us to think of universal morality as a preference, but not a preference in the same way as a sweet tooth for chocolate can be a preference. What precisely is the difference? How does one transition from “I prefer chocolate” to “thou shalt not murder”? How are those two statements both preferences?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Molyneux and the Objectivist Tradition 5

UPB: The necessary premises of debating, pt. 2. Molyneux argues in his book Universally Preferable Behavior that denying his theory of morality is “innately self-contradictory,” because “saying that there is no such thing as universally preferable behavior is like shouting in someone’s ear that sound does not exist.” Is Molyneux right about this? Is UPB, which Molyneux identifies more broadly with “moral rules,” valid because it is self-contradictory to deny them? Let’s take a closer look at Molyneux’s arguments:  

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Molyneux and the Objectivist Tradition 4

UPB 4: The necessary premises of debating 1. Molyneux’s sophistry reaches its apex when he commences on the thankless task of “validating” his theory.

“Universally preferable behavior” must be a valid concept,” [insists Molyneux, because] “if I argue against the proposition that universally preferable behavior is valid, I have already shown my preference for truth over falsehood – as well as a preference for correcting those who speak falsely. Saying that there is no such thing as universally preferable behavior is like shouting in someone’s ear that sound does not exist – it is innately self-contradictory. In other words, if there is no such thing as universally preferable behavior, then one should oppose anyone who claims that there is such a thing as universally preferable behavior. However, if one “should” do something, then one has just created universally preferable behavior. Thus universally preferable behavior – or moral rules – must be valid. (35-36)

This is such a mass of confusion and unsubstantiated assertion that it will take a bit of effort to sort all out. I can identify at least three serious problems with Molyneux’s formulations:

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Molyneux and the Objectivist Tradition 3

UPB 3: Preferences and morality. In his book Universal Preferable Behavior, Molyneux begins his disquisition on ethics by comparing assertions about preferences with assertions about matters of fact. Statements of fact, notes Molyneux are “objective, testable—and binding,” whereas statements of preference are “not generally considering binding … in any way.” Preferences are mere statements “of personal fondness.” It is not incumbent upon anyone to share our preferences. (22)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Molyneux and the Objectivist Tradition 2

UPB 2: Foundationalism and logic. Central to Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is the largely unsubstantiated assertion that the “objectivity of reality,” along with human knowledge in general, require “validation”; and that in the absence of this validation, human beings become cognitively helpless and hence defenseless against power-lusting authoritarians. Once, however, knowledge is properly “validated,” the masses of people in the civilized world will once again regard their senses, their “reason,” and their minds as reliable guides to reality, which will lead them to embrace “rational” moral and political ideals (i.e., Objectivism).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Slouching Toward the Next Schism

There are the makings of a potential schism at ARI. Since 1985, Carl Barney, whose made millions in the education industry, was ARI's largest donor. In 2019, Barney left ARI's board and devoted his resources to Craig Biddle's The Objective Standard periodical and to Barney's own Prometheus Foundation. Then, on May 1, 2020, Barney made the following announcement:

“Dr. Peikoff has given me (Prometheus Foundation ...) permission to publicize and deliver worldwide his courses and lectures.”
“He has also granted me permission to use his trademark, “Ayn Rand,” as well as excerpts from his and Ayn Rand’s works, which will aid me in marketing. With these assets and my considerable resources, I am eager and ready to ensure that Dr. Peikoff’s courses and lectures reach and continue to reach minds throughout the world. ... 
“I do not intend to start another ARI or to compete with ARI. I don’t intend to establish a new organization of any kind. I intend only to support and fund other organizations and individuals who promote Ayn Rand and advance Objectivism.”
Of course, Barney has to insist he is not competing with ARI; and perhaps his insistence is sincere. But this clearly lays the foundation for trouble in the future. What has happened in the world of orthodox Objectivism is that, with the retirement of Peikoff, there exists no authority figure to adjudicate the inevitable disputes that arise among the Objectivist faithful, particularly among ambitious types jostling for status and influence in the movement itself. Theoretically, these disputes should be adjudicated by "reason." But what goes by "reason" in Objectivism is largely imaginary; and many of the issues which divide people in real life are too complex to be resolved by some "objective" standard of rationality in any case.