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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Molyneux and the Objectivist Tradition 1

UPB: intro. Stefan Molyneux’s theory of Universally Preferable Behavior (i.e., UPB) is an attempt to establish moral principles on the same firm “objectivie” basis as the best theories in science. Essentially Molyneux wants to show how the a moral proposition such as “rape is wrong” can be “verified” in the same way as Einstein’s theory of relativity or the motions of the stars and planets have been “verified” through the scientific method. If he could succeed in this endeavor, Molyneux believes this would demonstrate the objective truth of moral propositions—especially the moral truth of various social and political ideals that Molyneux holds close to his heart, such as the non-aggression principle, “voluntarism” (i.e., anarcho-capitalism) and “peaceful parenting.” Molyneux’s foudationalist mindset is very much in line with what Rand attempted in her own ethical speculations.

In her essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand sought to show how a morality in line with her preferred political system, “laissez-faire” capitalism, could achieve the same level of truth and objectivity that scientifically “verified” theories about the material world enjoy. This ambition to conflate ethical propriety with empirical truth takes even greater importance in Molyneux’s moralistic speculations. In some respects, it is the basis of Molyneux’s whole system. Yet, to be fair, that’s hardly the starting point of UPB.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Objectivist "Tradition" Going Forward

Philosophical traditions, like viruses, must mutate if they wish to remain relevant even among their adherents. Orthodox Objectivism has remained steadfastly true to its author's original vision, sedulously resisting the temptation to evolve in ways that would enable it to better fit with emerging paradigms and concerns. The denizens of ARI still hold fast to a hawkish foreign policy in the Middle East, even when most Americans have tired of the endless wars; they still believe in “open borders," even when most people toward the right side of the political spectrum (outside of a few elites) are against them; they are still for absolute “free trade,” even though free trade in both capital goods and the basic necessities of a principality cause harm to millions of Americans and constitutes a threat to national security; they are still somewhat militant in their atheism, despite growing awareness of a meaning crisis among the younger generations; and they remain stubbornly resistant to allying themselves with to their potential allies on the political  the right, preferring instead to retreat into ever increasing ideological and political isolation.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Objectivism and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the response from government presents various challenges to the political ideology of Objectivism, since it presents a crisis that can't be solved merely by letting it alone. In a podcast entitled "Thinking Philosophically About the Pandemic," Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri valiantly attempt to navigate between the dire necessities involved in defending three-hundred and thirty million people from a potentially deadly virus and the imperatives of the "laissez-faire" ideology.