Sunday, March 12, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, March 2023

The big news is that Craig Biddle and Stephen Hicks will be debating Open Objectivism at next month’s Ayn Rand Europe’s Belgrade conference.  Hicks, who is associated with David Kelley’s The Atlas Society, will be taking the Open Objectivism position.  The push-back by the Closed position advocates has been intense, see here and here.  James Valliant was particularly irate, arguing that Open Objectivism is dishonest, an anti-concept, a repudiation of Ayn Rand, etc.  He says that to debate Hicks on the topic is equivalent to debating a Holocaust denier, a flat earther, and an advocate of slavery.  Valliant’s anger toward The Atlas Society apparently goes back to 1986 when Kelley allegedly said that there should be a debate over Barbara Branden’s just-published biography of Rand.  Valliant is upset that when he published The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics in 2005, Kelley refused to debate.  Perhaps Kelley changed his mind in the intervening 29 years or concluded that it wasn’t worth his time to debate the author of a book who considers throwing surprise parties immoral.

For background on the Open Objectivism controversy see here and here.  The debate seems to be mostly about the amount of judgment and condemnation that Objectivists should have toward non-Objectivists (particularly leftist academics) and group rivalries than about the essentials of Rand’s philosophy.  For example, Closed Objectivists don’t get worked up over the Ayn Rand Institute purporting to know what Rand would have thought about Donald Trump.

[Contributed by Niel Parille.]

Monday, March 06, 2023

The mRNA Vaccine Controversy and "Reason"

Ben Bayer, "director of content" over at ARI, wrote an article back in May of 2022 arguing that "vaccine refusers" (i.e., people who refused to take the mRNA vaccines) should not be criticized for being "selfish," that on the contrary, getting vaccinated is very much in the individuals rational self-interest. Bayer of course takes it for granted that the mRNA vaccine's are "safe and effective":

While some people have good medical reasons not to get vaccinated [writes Bayer], others are disproportionately worried about rare side effects. Of these, far too many are irrationally allowing themselves to be taken in by quackery and conspiracism.

Now Bayer believes he has come to this conclusion by the use of his "reason." This means he has evaluated all the relevant facts and, through "logic" and valid concept formation, has arrived at a correct (and "certain") conclusion. But here's the problem. He actually hasn't done any of that. He undoubtedly thinks he has, but he's deluded. His conclusion, far from being based on all the relevant facts and/or logic, is instead derived from an argument from authority (which is technically a logical fallacy). Because the medical and scientific establishments have claimed that the mRNA vaccines are "safe and effective," he has decided that's good enough for him. However, there's a potential contradiction here. How can Bayer be certain that these establishments are in all respects trustworthy? After all, can Bayer truthfully contend that he always accepts the conclusions of the scientific establishment, regardless of what they might be? Would he, for example, accept the scientific establishment's views on climate change and global warming? If not, why not? If he accepts one and not the other, isn't that an example of cherry picking the evidence?

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, February 2023

1.  In 1983 Leonard Peikoff released his long-awaited book The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America. Peikoff argued that the United States was on the same road as Germany during the Weimar Republic's descent into Nazi madness. Two-thirds of the book consisted of a discussion of the rise of Nazism, which Peikoff viewed as caused by irrationalist philosophy, particularly that of Immanuel Kant. The remainder of the book was an overview of American history and thought, arguing that the United States, thanks to its Kantian-influenced philosophers, was on the same path as Germany in the 1920s and 30s.

Libertarian philosopher David Gordon gave the book a scathing review in 1983.  Forty years later he revisits it here.  I’ll make a couple additional points:

i.  At Michael Berliner's suggestion, Peikoff decided to publish the chapters concerning Germany as a stand-alone book in 2013, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany. Based on Peikoff's new introduction, I get the impression that he thinks this is the more important part of The Ominous Parallels and didn't get the attention it deserved. The text of these chapters is identical to the original, with the exception of changing a few sentences that refer to the omitted chapters. That's a problem since The Ominous Parallels contained numerous mistakes in intellectual history. One of the biggest problems is Peikoff's repeated references to Rauschning's Hitler Speaks (aka The Voice of Destruction), a book of largely manufactured discussions with Hitler. While the fraudulent nature of Rauschning's book wasn’t known until after The Ominous Parallels was published, it widely known by 2013.  A friend of mine told me that when he first read The Ominous Parallels, he thought some of the quotes (for example, “the age of reason is over”) were “too good to be true.”

ii.  Peikoff references all number of (in his view) anti-rationalist writers and thinkers such as Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, Ernst Cassirer, etc. but hardly ever mentions that these people were anti-Nazi.  Of course Peikoff could argue that they didn’t draw the conclusions to Kant’s work that a consistent Kantian would, but an author should take into account possible objections to his thesis.

2.  Timothy Sandefur recently published The Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness.  It’s an account of the friendship of these foundresses of modern libertarianism in the context of the politics of their time.  I have only skimmed it, but it looks outstanding.  I was naturally interested in the sources Sandefur would use for Rand’s life.  He says he relies principally on the late Anne Heller’s 2009, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, while noting that Rand’s followers view this and other (unnamed) biographies differently.  He doesn’t cite Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand (or mention her at all) much less a certain critic of the Branden biography.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, January 2023

Not much happening.  The Ayn Rand Institute just released their 2022 report.  It contains a previously unanthologized essay by Rand about the Spanish painter Jose Manuel Capuletti.  The ARI reports that it is currently digitizing the Ayn Rand Archives.  For those of us who would like to see the unbowlderized Rand Journals and other material, don't expect to see them anytime soon.  It will be a "multi-year project."