Saturday, June 30, 2012

Objectivist To Run Cato (Temporarily)

Successful banker and Ayn Rand Institute board member John Allison IV has been appointed as the acting head of Cato following an ugly public battle for control between former head Ed Crane and the fellow founders Koch brothers. Allison, while reasonably prominent, is a rather bland figure if his recent interview in Ayn Rand Nation is anything to go by. Certainly while he substantially funded various Rand related programs in a few colleges, there seems little about his values-based approach in his former bank, BB&T, that is actually very Randian. If anything it's old-fashioned conservative business ethics, and somewhat refreshing at that. Probably the most interesting thing about it is the spectacle of an ARIan consorting openly with libertarians! Clearly the Yaron Brook approach of corporatist compromise rather than purist isolationism is winning out at ARI HQ. Former Cato employee Will Wilkinson has some concerns as to foreign policy however. Watch this space.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 2

The primary fallacy behind the Objectivist Epistemology. Since human cognition (mostly) operates below the threshold of consciousness, the operations of the mind are not available to introspection; nor can these operations be deduced a priori, since no matter of fact can be determined by a priori reasoning. Rand, in embarking on her epistemological project, found herself in a bit of a bind. She could not base her epistemology on experience (i.e., introspection) or on logic, since neither of these processes can penetrate beneath the veil of the cognitive unconscious. Where, then, is the persuasive force behind Rand's epistemology? How was Rand to convince her followers that her epistemological speculations accorded with reality?

Unable to appeal either to fact or logic, Rand appealed to an old standby: sheer intimidation. If she couldn't persuade with sweet reason, she would resort to browbeating instead. Here's how it works. Rand begins by arbitrarily declaring that man's mind is under attack and needs to be defended.

To negate man's mind, it is the conceptual level of his consciousness that has to be invalidated. Most philosophers did not intend to invalidate conceptual knowledge, but its defenders did more to destroy it than did its enemies. They were unable to offer a solution to the ‘problem of universals,’ that is: to define the nature and source of abstractions, to determine the relationship of concepts to perceptual data—and to prove the validity of scientific induction.... The philosophers were unable to refute the witch-doctors claim that their concepts were as arbitrary as his whims and that their scientific knowledge had no greater metaphysical validity than his revelations. [FTNI, 30]

By "invalidating" conceptual knowledge, modern philosophers opened the door to mysticism, altruism, and collectivism:

It is the philosophy of the mysticism-altruism-collectivism axis that has brought us to our present state and is carrying us toward a finale such as that of the society presented in Atlas Shrugged. It is only the philosophy of the reason-individualism-capitalism axis that can save us and carry us, instead, toward the Atlantis projected in the last two pages of my novel. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 1

Introduction. Now we venture forth into the thorniest reaches of Rand's philosophy: the Objectivist Epistemology. Rand's epistemology is largely speculative and rationalistic. It's conclusions were determined well in advance and the arguments were added later. It contains a great deal of what can only be described as imaginary assumptions; that is, assumptions presumably based on "introspection," which, as is well known from experimental psychology, is illusory, at least in terms of monitoring cognition. Most of our thinking occurs below the threshold of consciousness, hidden from view; so how Rand actually knows the things she claims to know about human cognition is often a bewildering mystery. One of the main conceits of Objectivism is that epistemology provides a method of cognition:

Man is a being of volitional consciousness: beyond the level of percepts—a level inadequate to the cognitive requirements of his survival—man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion. He needs a method of cognition, which he himself has to discover: he must discover how to use his rational faculty, how to validate his conclusions, how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to set the criteria of what he may accept as knowledge. Two questions are involved in his every conclusion, conviction, decision, choice or claim: What do I know?—and: How do I know it? It is the task of epistemology to provide the answer to the “How?”—which then enables the special sciences to provide the answers to the “What?”