Thursday, October 24, 2013

Future of Objectivism 2

Authority in Objectivism. One of the challenges for ARI moving forward is to deal with the problem of authority. In any organization there are bound to be conflicts between various individuals. Many, if not most, of these conflicts cannot be resolved by "reason" (i.e., rational argumentation). Rational thinking, at best, can only resolve differences about matters of fact. It cannot resolve differences arising from moral preferences (and all moral ends are preferences). Consequently, conflict is inevitable, even between people pretending to be "rational." Inevitably, Objectivists will disagree with one another. If the disagreements involve competition for resources and/or status, they may become quite heated. How are these conflicts to be resolved?

In the past, routine conflicts could be resolved via ARI's board. But when major conflicts have broken out among board members, only one source of authority could be relied upon: Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff himself, in his apologia for having McCaskey removed from the ARI board, explained how this all works:

An organization devoted to spreading an ideology is not compatible with “freedom” for its leadership to contradict or undermine that ideology. In theory. the best judge of such contradiction would be the person(s) , if he exists, who best understands and upholds the ideology, as evidenced objectively by his lifelong intellectual consistency, philosophic attainments, and practical results. In practice, the best judge would be the person, if he is still alive, who founded the organization and defined its purpose, in this case as a step in carrying out a mandate given him by Ayn Rand. On both counts, only one individual qualifies: me.

The logic of this argument could be extended to cover any conflict, not just ones arising from intellectual criticism of one of Peikoff's pet projects. Because of Peikoff's unique position as the heir of Rand's estate and the individual who, among the living, "best understands" Rand's ideology, he was the obvious choice to occupy the role of Objectivist pope. Peikoff, however, will not be around forever. After Peikoff leaves the scene, who will be "best qualified" to fill the necessary role of authority at ARI (and, by implication at least, of the orthodox Objectivist movement)?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Future of Objectivism 1

Intro. Having gone through most of the official philosophy of Objectivism, we can now turn our attention to some of the cultural and sociological aspects of the Objectivism movements. There are two major challenges to making prognostications about the future of Objectivism: (1) the future is inherently unpredictable; and (2) lack of sociological data about Objectivism. For these two reasons what is put forth in this series will be highly conjectural. We'll be dealing with possibilities, not facts, questions, not answers.

Throughout I will be operating on several assumptions:

(1) That Objectivism does not exist in a vacuum. What goes on in society and the world will affect the future course of Objectivism. We saw this on a small scale in 2008, with the financial meltdown followed by Obama's election. These events caused sales of Atlas Shrugged to increase. One can imagine scenarios which could potentially decrease interest in Ayn Rand: for example, major attacks on USA involving weapons of mass destruction, catastrophic climate change, collapse of democratic government in America.

(2) That the political allegiances are rarely made based on purely "rational" reasons. Nearly everyone has ingrained biases, some of them rooted in genetics, others in life experiences, which influences political beliefs. Consequently, it is very difficult to get people to change their political beliefs via argumentation. It rarely happens.

(3) That factionalism is a built-in feature of society. The elites of society are involved in a battle for status and pre-eminence. Non-elites will tend to attach themselves to whichever party of elites best furthers their interests and satisfies their sentiments. The competitive nature of society means that people have no choice but to join forces with like-minded individuals. The few mavericks who refuse join one of the major factions remain isolated and powerless, without a voice within the governing factions.

(4) That the Objectivist movement requires an authority figure to settle inevitable disputes. Since Ayn Rand's "reason" is a myth (there's no such method), and since the Objectivist ethics is a bit vague (lacking, as Nathanial Branden has noted, a "technology"), there exists no sure-fire way of settling the inevitable disputes that arise among various Objectivists in a rational, "objective" manner. Only by having an authority respected by all members of the group can meddlesome issues be arbitrated.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 49

Conclusion. Many years ago someone handed me a copy of Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and said, "This will help you think better." That sounded kind of intriguing, so I gave it a try. The experiment proved a failure. ITOE did not improve my thinking; nor have I run across any evidence that ITOE has improved anyone else's thinking. Leonard Peikoff, for example, probably knows ITOE better than any person living. Has it improved his thinking? This is a man who, in 2006, wrote:

Socialism–a fad of the last few centuries–has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast–the destroyer of man since time immemorial–is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

Six years later, Peikoff entirely changed his tune:

As I have explained in The DIM Hypothesis, Obama is in essence a destroyer for the sake of destruction, a nihilist, the first such to become President. The object to be destroyed is America....

Many evils are in store for us if Obama wins a second term, ranging from crippling taxation and Obamacare to the war on energy and the imminence of economic collapse....

I intend to vote for whatever Republicans in my district are running for the House and the Senate. Republican control of at least one of these bodies, however weakened they have become, is still some restraint on Obama if he wins.

How did the Democrats go so quickly from being "avowed anti-ideologists" to supporters of "a destroyer for the sake of destruction"? How have the Republicans been transformed from a "philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government" to the only force capable of exercising "some restraint" on Obama and the Left?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 48

The rationalist core of the Objectivist Epistemology. Ayn Rand defined rationalists as "those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts." Since Objectivist theory rejects this approach, Objectivists have always believed that they were free from the rationalist taint. However, there is a problem with the Objectivist approach to this issue. If we go by the Objectivist definition, who actually qualifies as a rationalist? Which philosopher, thinker, ideologue obtains all his knowledge of the world exclusively via deduction from concepts, entirely free from the perception of physical facts? In practice, no one does this. It would be impossible. So, practically speaking, who is in fact guilty of rationalism? What, specifically, do those of us who dislike rationalism and criticize it at every opportunity object to?

The critics of rationalism object to the practice of determing complex matters of fact through "logical" deductions from over-generalized descriptions of facts. Use of over-generalized facts is often a symptom of insufficient knowledge. People who lack mastery (i.e., relevant factual knowledge) of a given subject don't realize the extent of their ignorance. They are therefore incapable of appreciating why their conclusions are false. The problem with rationalism, therefore, is not that the rationalist derives conclusions without factual evidence, but that he derives conclusions without sufficient evidence. The rationalist suffers from empirical irresponsibility.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 47

Meaning, precision, and vagueness. In the final chapter of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand introduces some rather peculiar speculations on "further problems of epistemology." She begins by applying her mathematics metaphor, which she used in her "solution" to the problem of universals, to propositions:

Since concepts, in the field of cognition, perform a function similar to that of numbers in the field of mathematics, the function of a proposition is similar to that of an equation: it applies conceptual abstractions to a specific problem.

A proposition, however, can perform this function only if the concepts of which it is composed have precisely defined meanings. If, in the field of mathematics, numbers had no fixed, firm values, if they were mere approximations determined by the mood of their users ... there would be no such thing as the science of mathematics. [IOTE, 75]

I have already noted Rand's conflation of identity with understanding. In this passage Rand is guilty of conflating meaning with reference. This conflation is hardwired into the very warp and woof of the Objectivist epistemology. It is implicit in Rand's mania for establishing the "validity" of concepts. Remember, for Rand, concepts are knowledge; which means they must have a reference in reality (for if they did not "stand" for something in reality, they could not be regarded as knowledge.) If we follow the (implicit) logic in the Objectivist epistemology, unicorn is an "invalid" concept because it has no referent. For Rand a "valid" concept must have both a meaning and a reference.