October 02, 2007

An Eye on the Brights

Stephen Pinker has written a new book The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.

Has anyone heard anything about it?

I'm suspicious of it just because of the circles that Pinker travels in; he's one of the Brights. I would be interested to know what someone who is better versed in epistemology has to say about the book.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 24, 2007

I'm Through

I've finally lost the steam to continue to pester that git Colin McGinn.

In his latest comments he remarks:

Let me make it clear that I haven't said a word against Rand. In fact, I've never read anything by her. The kind of egoism I was commenting on is the kind espoused by Glaucon in Plato's Republic and Thomas Hobbes. How Rand's views correspond to this I have no idea. However, what has been said here by "Randians" has not inclined me to take the plunge.

And then:

Wrong and confused again. Not Plato, Glaucon--Socrates rejects his egoism. I refuted a vew that is well defined and well established in the philosophical literature. Whether Rand holds exactly this view I don't know. In any case, I didn't have her in mind.

I couldn't resist one bland parting remark:

No one thinks that you did say anything about Rand directly, McGinn. But everyone can clearly see that it was your hope to address ethical egoism at large, a category of ethical arguments under which the Objectivist argument is subsumed.

Your attempt to formulate a system of ethics that balances both egoism and altruism would benefit from researching the topic further.

Those who argued along side McGinn may not realize it, but he has insulted them as well with this juvenile attempt to move the goalposts on his own argument.

I can't really dispute his assertion that he's presented a well-established presentation of ethical egoism. Clearly defined may be a different issue, I wouldn't know, but the Objectivist argument is certainly under-represented in philosophical circles.

I am actually astonished at the obvious foolishness of McGinn's argument, though. Look at it again:

The topic this week was ethical egoism. What a terrible theory it is! An action is right if and only if it's in your own self interest. That means that helping others, with no benefit to self, is immoral. Rubbish. Particularly pathetic is the argument that apparently atruistic actions are really egoistic, since you get pleasure from doing good. This just conflates the object of a want with its consequences. You might as well argue that economic actions, like buying a television, are really altruistic, because someone else benefits, namely the people you buy it from. Motives are of several kinds: egoistic, altruistic, malicious, and self-destructive.

So far this term I've dispatched the three most popular ethical theories in America today--relativism, divine command theory, and egoism. It wasn't difficult work.

Look at it. Seriously, look at it. It's so vapid and presupposing! I really am shocked by it.

The first statement is: an action is right if and only if it's in your own self interest.

The next logical step from there is: helping others, with no benefit to self, is immoral.

I am actually one of these people who holds that all actions are either moral or immoral. I've not really given much thought about what the logical implications are of arguing that some actions may not have any moral value at all, neither good nor bad, so I wouldn't take that tack.

But McGinn responds to statements one and two with his conclusion: Rubbish! There is no explanation why and where you would expect some illucidation, McGinn proceeds to address an argument that we all agree is one of the weakest arguments for egoism presented.

A commenter on this very blog cited a "principle of charity" that I agree with:

There is a principle in informal logic called the Principle of Charity [...] the principle saying that you should interpret an opponent's argument in the strongest way possible, adding extra premises, reworking order and logical structure, fixing up definitions, anything possible without contradiction. Before you refute your enemy, you must try to prove them correct first.

You don't just say something is rubbish and then turn to the weakest argument you can think of to prove your case. Not only does that fail to prove anything, it shouldn't even be regarded as starting to make your case.

Now, I realize that McGinn isn't presenting any extensive philosophical treatises on his blog. (I hope none of your are expecting that of me!) But we do have to expect more substance than this.

We go from observing his not only pitiful representation to his absolutely shameful conduct throughout the discussion.

At first, my address to him and his mob was passionate but in general good humor. When the began insulting me and the other Objectivists, I lost my sense of humor, but remained within the bounds of civility. When my comments started getting deleted, righteous rage is what I felt and I let McGinn know that he was the cause.

People tend to regard emotional responses as being weak or out of control. You may or may not be aware of this but I have a terrible temper and there have been times when it has gotten the better of me. But this time I was actually really impressed with my ability to both experience the fullness of that emotion and retain most of the clarity of thought with fixed attention to the proper cause. Although McGinn's blog fixed my attention for a while, I was also pleased at the lack of transference.

Without getting into too much detail, I'm extremely pleased with the flow of my subconscious throughout. Sadly, I can't claim that the actual debate came to a satisfying conclusion.

His most recent comments are simply cowardly. I don't know any other word for it. Not only is he willing to confront challengers to his own position directly, he even remarks that he is unwilling to challenge his own premises.

I think that was the last straw for me.

Update 1: I just got an email from Mr. McGinn which said simply:

What a pompous fool you are.

I responded, of course.

More name-calling? Really?

Seriously, professor, I'm not sure which is in worse shape: your manners, your logic, or your integrity.

Update 2: It continues.

There are a lot of fools in the world. The internet has given them a voice they wouldn't otherwise have. You are a particularly egregious example of the type. I am simply stating the facts.

So, I responded with a bit more length:

The same could be said of intellectual cowards and their university posts particularly in the case of philosophy departments.

Has it occurred to you that you're engaging a complete stranger -- one you've deemed to be obnoxious junk and a pompous fool -- with petty insults? You seem to do so without any sense of irony about it. Compounding the irony is the fact that you are again hiding your shameful behavior from others. If your conclusion is so factual, why didn't you just post an additional comment to your blog calling me a pompous fool?

I've told you why I think you're a shameful and dishonest, not to mention condescending and rude, but as usual you haven't provided any citations or examples to support your conclusions. No, you've simply ejaculated your opinion into this medium and expected others to slaver over it. To use another's phrase, it's a bukkake of stupid with you.

You disgust me.

I'm starting to wonder what the head of the philosophy department or the dean of humanities at the University of Miami would think about his extracurricular online activities.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:49 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

The God Delusion: My Review

Over the weekend, I finally finished reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and I have to say: I can't figure out why they made the cover look that way.

Overall the book is pretty good. Dawkins has filled the books with interesting quotations and stories and he does make some very strong arguments about the Bible/Koran and morality and the generally deleterious effects of abandoning reason.

As I've discussed at great length, I disagree with his metaphysical analysis of the anti-concept "God" in the Muslim-Judeo-Christian-Bahai-whatever tradition.

Dawkins reminds me a lot of Sagan. I know they were buddies and they were/are both scientists so that their approach and thinking on this topic is similar comes as no surprise to me. To be perfectly honest, what I've read from the two of them is generally pretty enjoyable. I think I prefer Sagan's style a little more, but Dawkins hides his limousine leftist politics a bit more cleverly.

I especially enjoyed Dawkins's discussion of the ill-effect that religion has on children. I think he has a strong point there, that giving children a religious education is akin to neglect at best and child abuse if we're honest about it. I also really liked his commentary on the morality reflected in the Bible and the Koran. His commentary there is hilarious to say the least. And because he is a scientist of some sort (evolutionary biologist says Wikipedia) I enjoyed his discussion of evolution. The discussion of cosmology was a bit afield of my own scientific interests and understanding. Oh! And I also liked his talk about the American founding fathers and their religion. There's a whole lot of hay being made over seemingly theist remarks made by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and others, but the facts do not support the argument that America was in any significant sense "a Christian nation." AND! I like his discussion about the evolution and development of the bicameral mind in relation to the advent of theistic hypotheses/religions in civilization. (Apparently, people used to not understand that the voice they hear in their head is their own mind.)

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I probably would recommend it to people who are interested in the topic of atheism because in spite of its flaws, it is good to go over the discussion.

Ultimately, I do not think folks like Dawkins, Sagan, Pinker, and Dennett will be successful in wiping out theism and the anti-science mysticism that do seem to dominate popular thinking today. And it is because of the flaws like accepting the possibility that God exists that they will fail.

The optimist in me hastens to say that there is a certain mainstream appeal to folks like Dawkins. He's a cute old man with a keen wit and a positively vicious sense of humor. As an American, I think his accent is adorable, too. He's been on the Colbert Report, a sure sign of his appeal to the really cool people out there. So, I really hope he is successful in steering things away from faith and more toward reason.

But I was pointing this out to Mister Bookworm yesterday afternoon. Dawkins and Sagan both (my exposure to Dennett and Pinker is through secondary sources) concede the possibility of God's existence and proceed directly to the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim. Their conclusion, therefore, is that one ought not believe in God because there isn't a reason to. For those deeply committed to science-based thinking, this seems logical and indeed I think it is the best method for understanding nature.

Science, however, is not philosophy. Science begins only after one has established some understand about the nature of existence (metaphysics) and truth (epistemology).

Unfortunately, people like Dawkins and Sagan write as if science is where we start. (They are very intelligent men, so I wouldn't presume to say that they actually believe this, but what I've read of that work might lead someone to think that they do.) It is through this tiny door that the mystics creep.

In Dawkins book he tries desperately to pin down the mystics and "prove" that they haven't a leg to stand on. God, he says, maybe might could exist but it is extreeeeeeeeemly unlikely that he does. So the mystics respond with specious arguments like, "Well, until you can prove that he doesn't I will just go on believing." Every rational person understands this response to be idiotic at best but it does remain extremely persuasive to many intelligent people. I'm not kidding. It really does.

I believe that until the atheist "movement," if it can be called that, adopts a rational approach to metaphysics and epistemology, they will be playing a game of whack-a-mole during their philosophical parlor games. Basically, they need Objectivism.

Science needs philosophy first so that our great minds do not spend time on questions like this. God does not and cannot exist. There is absolutely no question on the matter.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:44 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

September 21, 2007

It Doesn't Stop

McGinn's mob has made a couple of remarks about Objectivism (which they keep referring to as "Randism") today and the compare it to a religion. I responded:

That is a grotesque misrepresentation of Rand's philosophy.

You said, "Rand's philosophy can be likened to religion because modern human beings find themselves in a new world of nature, namely politics and economics. The guiding Randian ethic in this new world is not physical survival as it was for Adam and Eve but rather psychological survival or happiness. "

That's not even what it means for a system of ideas to be a religion -- at least not as the term "religion" may be defined for any meaningful discussion.

On a very basic level, Rand's ethics are predicated on metaphysical and epistemological arguments which may be summed as describing human beings as "rational animals." To promote happiness at the expense of survival would be an obvious contradiction given that one cannot be happily dead. Further, achieving happiness requires a continued exploration of existence and promoting a greater understanding of the facts of reality -- an observation Rand repeatedly made and described in her discussions of the role of scientists in human existence.

McGinn, I actually agree with you here.

There are many popular misconceptions about the nature of capitalism and even the mechanisms of economic development that it properly uses and especially what constitutes rational business/economic decisions in a free or semi-free market environment. Many supposed egoists in business have frighteningly short-range views of their activities.

The NYT published an article recently that interviewed various business people about the influence of Ayn Rand on their careers and they displayed a shocking misunderstanding of the ideas she was promoting. One lady even equated them with Buddhism!

But my agreement is cautious because you mention "the consequences of rampant capitalism on the general good." I don't know what you mean by that (although I could probably guess) and I wouldn't presume to describe your political philosophy to you. I will simply say that while it is tempting to see what you describe, we should resist that temptation given the overt misunderstandings of Objectivism by people in business.

I really grant that man too much benefit of the doubt.

Update 1: Thanks to a reminded from Monica, I added another comment over there.

Also, I'd like to submit a term for the mob's use and approval: Randroid

I've seen it elsewhere among those who wish to denigrate Objectivists. Personally, I think it's a hoot and a half, so I'm just throwing it out there.

I guess Drake hadn't heard of it when he called me a robot earlier.

Fun fact: no one has ever referred to me directly as a "randroid" and I'm kind of jealous of those who have.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 11:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

September 20, 2007

I'm Out of My Mind

The conversation over at McGinn's struggles onward. Last night, McGinn took to purging all of my comments because he regards anything I say as "junk."

Nevertheless, he had a commenter, Nicholas, who put a basic egoist argument together in some fairly plain language. And I couldn't help but respond to him. It was a herculean task for me to restrain myself from snarking on McGinn's woeful conduct in the discussion.

Nicholas, there's a certain irony to your comments, but I'm not certain from which perspective it's intended or intended at all. :o)

If you read higher up, people mention something called "psychological egoism" which basically posits that anything a person does choose to do does benefit them. I'm not sure if you're familiar with this, but part of what you've said seems to echo that idea. The problem is that it is descriptive and can't really be disproven. How are we to know that person A is doing X to his benefit or not? It also doesn't provide us with any sense of criteria for what is good or bad since each person might pick any standard they please for their benefit.

The original intent of McGinn's post was to examine the proposition the following proposition: "An action is right if and only if it's in your own self interest. That means that helping others, with no benefit to self, is immoral." The contrasting version of egoism is a normative one. It's called "ethical egoism" and attempts to tell us how we ought to behave. And that quotation is how he has defined it for this discussion -- that is not to say that his definition is accepted, but such is a constraint he established.

We set the bar rather high because we all agree with McGinn's criticism of the argument that it's silly to claim that if one finds altruism pleasurable then one is actually an egoist.

By contrast to the egoist, McGinn also states that "altruism requires only that one gives some weight to the interests of others" and that the reason for doing so is for the sake of other's interests in themselves. Again, this is the definition McGinn has provided for us, but it is not necessarily the definition others here accept for the term.

Proceeding from there, various examples have been posited in which some individual does something and it is asserted that there is absolutely no benefit to that individual at all, meaning whatever that individual's interests are, they are not served by the action in question.

If we accept all these definitions as provided, then as I've stated in previous comments, we have no choice but to accept the conclusion that whatever the action is that is given, if it provides no benefit to the individual, then it is to be condemned.

The objection to ethical egoism that follows is that it would allow people to do things that most people would describe mildly as objectionable. These are things like raping, murdering, allowing babies to drown, defaulting on loans, etc.

But the egoists in this discussion reject the conclusion on several grounds, some of which you've highlighted. In short-form, here are a few of the objections posed:

- That there is/was a confusion between psychological and ethical egoism.
- That the standard of good used to discredit egoism assumes the premise of the counter-argument, namely altruism.
- That the range of benefit is unfairly constrained to restrict egoists from their rational faculty or a long-view of what constitutes a benefit reducing them to shabby hedonists.
- That the scenarios given all assume conditions that do not and cannot exist in reality.

Without going on about it at too much length, when Rand formulated her argument for ethical egoism, she started in a similar way that you did by asking what the purpose of ethics and morality is. "If we are to discover the proper way to behave on Earth..." She asserted that such a discovery is predicated by rational thought and assumed it in her discussions of the topic. In fact, she took pains to describe and reiterate the requirement of rationality in her discussions and based her arguments on the nature of human beings as "rational animals." (I believe McGinn has dedicated some of his energy to this very topic, but I doubt he'd like to turn this discussion in that direction at the moment.)

The impasse in this discussion is a bit of a mystery to me. The charge that the objections raised by the egoists are patently offensive, ill-reasoned, or whatever is a bit strange. But best wishes to you in sorting through all of this. I hope these comments assist you or at least give you some food for thought -- if these comments survive McGinn's delete button.

I really need to let this thing go. McGinn has demonstrated that he is irredeemably committed to irrationality and poor manners.

I think I may write a lengthy post addressing some of the typical arguments I saw over there and restating the Objectivist position on the matter. Maybe that will get it out of my blood.

Update 1: So far I haven't been deleted and others are commenting on the post. Another commenter remarked on Rand, so I felt the need to respond to that as well:

Rand rejected the notion of psychological egoism whereby we might ascribe egoist motives to any action an individual might undertake. Alcoholics, adulterers, and the rest may believe they're pursuing happiness, but if they are they're most likely doing so irrationally. In most situations such activities would be regarded as immoral.

Interestingly and to explain why I had to heavily qualify the above statement, Rand did present a case of an innocent alcoholic in her book We the Living in the character of Leo who turned to alcoholism to escape the torment of living in Soviet Russia. The story is a tragedy and all the heroic figures are eventually destroyed in order to highlight the theme of the necessity of freedom for human beings to live and thrive.

This goes to your statement above about "a civilized society," I think. Rand rejected the practice of ascribing intrinsic moral value on any particular action, but instead described abstract values, like rationality, productivity, and pride, that one must hold in order to pursue one's happiness, which is to say more simply: context matters.

Update 2: One of the more obnoxious commentors returned and objected to my comments saying:

One more time.

On the description of ethical egoism given by the self-ascribed egoists in this thread, ethical egoism requires -- call it whatever else you want -- paradigmatically altruistic behavior. (Cf. egoist responses to the case of Al the hermit.)

But to reconceive paradigmatically altruistic acts as "selfish" in this way is a patently vacuous move: A theory of selfishness that characterizes saving babies as "selfish" truly provides no guideline as to what could count as selfish and what could not.

To wit, if a baby-hating hermit's saving a baby is "selfish," then nothing isn't.

And I responded simply:

Per the terms outlined, saving the baby would be a contradiction and would be immoral for Al the hermit.

The egoists on this thread do not agree with the terms given, though. I listed numerous reasons why above.

Update 3: A commenter called into question the idea of standards -- a question I had challenged the group with repeatedly.

Which is precisely why the standard of good/bad is relevant to this discussion. The Objectivist egoists in this discussion have pointed to the standard they accept repeatedly and it is only within that standard that this discussion can fruitfully proceed toward a mutually agreed upon conclusion.

Otherwise, we're but playing word games with drowning babies and dancing hermits.

Update 4: The guy with the silly hermit sighed at my reply about not agreeing with his terms. I asked:

If you don't address the strongest argument for the proposition, how can you claim to have dispelled it?

Update 5: They're now stooping to open mockery.

Update 6: Uh oh. Ergo has joined the discussion. They're in trouble now because Ergo's responses are far more exhaustive than mine, but he's at least as tenacious -- although he probably won't commit himself to excoriating McGinn's character the way that I would.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 11:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 19, 2007

It's Like Picking a Scab

I just can't pull myself away from this altruism/egoism debate that is going on over at Colin McGinn's.

The altruists' energy seems to be flagging, but they do not seem to understand what it means to beg the question. To challenge them to reveal their underlying philosophical prejudice, I asked them to answer the following:

Why is a drowning baby is a bad thing?
Why is giving a dollar to a beggar a good thing?

Update: hahahahaaaaa... It's official! I've had comments deleted from the McGinn blog. He said, "I am now deleting all comments on this subject I judge to be offensive, ill-considered or hopelessly confused."

I wish I had saved my earlier, longer comment that explained what lead to the questions above.

Even still, I replied to McGinn's comment with this:

By what standard are you using to make that determination?

If you consider yourself any sort of thinker, it should not offend you to consider honest questions that lie squarely within your field of expertise.

What standard are you using to decide that things like giving to beggars is good or saving babies from drowning? Given the clear implication that this is the case, what is the answer?

Update 2: It looks like McGinn is trying to close the discussion. I just wrote to him:

I don't think you deleted those comments with regret at all. The comments that you've deleted have been documented on the respective blogs of those who posted them and they have not been "irresponsible" or "offensive, ill-considered or hopelessly confused."

The worst part of this is that you've been fueling the "unruliness" of the discussion with your patronizing comments about cults and ideologues.

Instead of addressing the calmly presented arguments of your opponents with reason and clarity, you've responded repeatedly with insults and bullying. If you honestly hope that anyone has profited from this discussion after the way you've been leading it, I would suggest that your hope is absurdly misplaced.

Update 3: Users have been posting comments for and against his deleting comments and about ending the discussion. I commented:

It would be uncharitable to assume that McGinn is completely irrational, so we assume that it was out of self-interest that he started this blog and propagated the "ranting and raving."

I definitely support McGinn's right to delete comments from his blog for any reason at all, but don't let's all buy into his dishonesty about the nature of the comments he deleted. As some say in the south, "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining."

I wonder if "piss" is as offensive to him as reading from the dictionary.

Update 4: Colin McGinn responded to my comment:

I deleted them for one simple reason: so that my site would not be overrun with junk. I used the same criterion I use when I grade student papers--intellectual quality. After thirty years as a philosophy professor, I'm well able to distinguish views I disagree with from shoddy work. Those were D postings. What I regret is having to deal with and eliminate drivel. And yes, if it seems to me like I cult I'll call it one. Scientology anyone?

And I continue to berate him:

One of the comments you deleted and implied was "irresponsible" and you now characterize as "shoddy" was a simple, civil, and direct challenge to your assertion about the consensus on a definition of philosophical terms. It cited the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy and clearly laid out one of the essential terms for this discussion. It even provided a common philosophical example of the term as an illustration.

The other two comments of mine you deleted were direct rebuttals to two of the examples that have been repeated throughout. Strangely, you deleted them even though I accepted the arbitrary stipulation you yourself placed on that argument, only I pointed out why it was an arbitrary stipulation that contradicted the accepted meaning of the other philosophical term we've been debating. I then pressed again for a clarification of your standard to which you and others on your side of the discussion were making -- something you have yet to do. The only apparent difference is that I was willing to allow you all to be as grotesque as you cared to be. Had you answered my question, it would have illustrated that your argument does beg the question.

If redefining terms to suit you and lacing the discussion with insults isn't the mark of low intellectual quality and shoddy work, I think you should consult the meaning of the word "junk" in order to reassess the character of this blog. You disappoint the expectations 30 years of experience sets for you.

Update 5: I just posted two more comments. Let's see what happens to them.


Judging from your own conduct, I couldn't tell that you appreciated civility. But your appreciation of the remark is telling.

Dave's comment is very nice, but it doesn't really debate any of the issues, but glosses lightly over the top of this particular topic. I doubt anyone really agrees with him whole cloth, but I think few would find the points of disagreement compelling enough to engage. What is most striking is the flattery he deals to you.

By contrast, in my comments, I ignored your specious jabs and condescension and made few to no remarks about the quality of your character or intellectual capacity until you started deleting comments.

and then:

By the way, you've shifted the definition of altruism AGAIN, but this time you're getting closer to answering the question I've been asking of you. What standard are you using? You said that in part, you are using the interests of others "FOR THEIR OWN SAKE," but you haven't said why.

Why should we respect the interests of others for their own sake as opposed to respecting our own interests. I see that you expect a person to sometimes choose between one standard and the other, but you haven't given a reason why or how one should do that.

What do you suppose is the purpose of having ethics at all?

Update 6 He deleted those comments, too. I'm going to try one last parting shot:

Now you're just deleting all comments from people who rankle you?

Again, I support your right to do that, but it is telling.

Update 7: One of Colin's other readers, Dave, has engaged me. I responded with this:

I don't doubt your sincerity, I question McGinn's character based upon his observed behavior. His ego apparently cannot stand direct critique but he has no problems casting aspersions on others. I will have to decline your invitation to study any of his other work, on the same in addition to the quality of his discourse here.

I'm not sure why you think I'm missing the broader issue. As I mentioned in one of my deleted comments, I've minded my manners and conducted this discussion in general good humor in spite of the insults. It is only now that my comments are all being categorically deleted that I've allowed good humor to fall by the wayside. The reason being that I do think the world can benefit from a steady progression toward reason instead of away from it.

It does seem unlikely that a majority of people will become Objectivist any time soon, but there's no reason they couldn't.

I'll take your word for it that McGinn is "moving somewhat in an 'Objectivist' direction," but this discussion reveals him to be quite far away from Objectivism, rational thought, and his manners

Update 8: I got an email from McGinn himself!

I'm deleting all comments from you in particular--exercising my right to expunge what I regard as obnoxious junk.

I responded:

That is your business.

Your conduct has been absolutely shameful. You should not be surprised when insulted persons respond to you with hostility. At least I have the honesty to be open and direct about it.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 01:43 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

September 18, 2007

A Digression in the Extreme

I'm not sure how much longer McGinn will allow me to continue to post on his site and I have to say that I'm getting a little tired of the discussion. But one commentor on the chain is obsessed with this egoistic hermit named Al who lets babies drown.

Al lives in a cabin in the woods, surviving off the land and the fruits of his own labor. He has no desire for solidarity with others, and his existence is not dependent on any interaction with society. He loves his life, works hard for his own survival, and has never been the least bit of a burden to anyone. And he's a marvelous dancer. But he doesn't much care for people, or babies, and in his only encounter with one (our unfortunate hypothetical baby from above), he opts to let it drown.

Here's my question: can you think of a situation in which a rational person would opt to be a hermit given a pluralistic society such as the one we have in the United States and barring some psychological/emotional injury?

Maybe I lack imagination, but I can't think why a psychologically normal person in our society would impose exile upon himself in the way described.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:35 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

I'll Have the Cult Cult Cult Cult with Cult Cult Sandwich and a bit of Cult Cult Cult Cult on the Side

Well, the altruists over on Colin McGinn's website have finally reached the point where they are referring to Objectivism as a cult or being cult-like.

This is fairly typical of these sorts of debates, so I can't claim surprise.

I posted two new challenging comments and then headed over to Diana's site where I found out that Mr. McGinn deleted two of Diana's comments without warrant. She reprinted her comments in the comments section of her site.

I'm particularly tickled that she challenged him on an issue that I almost brought up but didn't because I didn't have a handy citation, which is his proposed definition of the term "altruism." Instead, I implied the challenge in my remark about James Rachels's work on the matter. I'd like to highlight Diana's comment on this point:

Colin said: "As philosophers use the term, altruism requires only that one gives some weight to the interests of others, as opposed to oneself; its opposite is egoism, which takes account only of one's own interests in decision-making."

That's a sloppy characterization of egoism and altruism. The question is not whether the egoist can take account of the interests of others: he obviously can and should, if and to the extent that the welfare of others matters to his own welfare. The key point is that the egoist regards his own welfare as the ultimate justification for his actions. The altruist, in contrast, regards the welfare of others as the ultimate moral justification of his actions.

Moreover, altruism is understood to require the sacrifice of oneself. That's why the widow is morally superior to the rich men in the story of the Widow's Mite: she sacrificed more, even though she gave less. That's also why the surgeon who performs life-saving surgery is not regarded as an altruist (or moral praiseworthy) if he's paid for his life-saving work as he deserves.

As for what philosophers think, in the _Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy_, altruism is defined as "disinterested concern for the welfare of another, as an end in itself." In other words, altruism (like egoism) is about ultimate justification in ethics, not whether the interests of others are considered in decision-making.

I don't know if I'm quite through following the discussion over on his blog, but I do find his conduct to be unjust and dishonest. (Dishonest in that he implies that Diana's remarks are "irresponsible." Equating intellectuals with dictionaries with children with handguns is a new one to me.) I don't think I'll follow the debate much further.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 04:27 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

September 17, 2007

Hide Your Women! The Altruists Aren't Raping People Again!

Colin McGinn has a post up on his blog which he believes decisively refutes ethical egoism as a rational system of ethics.

His argument consists of saying that ethical egoism is "rubbish." That sort of argument would never have passed in any of the philosophy classes I've taken, so it's needless to say that those of us who support ethical egoism are left unsatisfied with his ill-founded self-satisfaction.

Diana has been calling him to the mat on the discussion. I threw a tiny comment in there, too.

Impressively, it seems like most of the discussion pretty civil --although some of the comments are really quite ridiculous -- which is more than can be said of most of these sorts of exchanges that I see on the global intarwebs.

Update: In case you're confused, the title of this post refers to the shockingly common strawman that altruists often throw up -- Mr. McGinn does not fail -- that if it weren't for the morality of altruism, people would just go about raping people as it suits them. It frightens me to consider what might happen if these people wake up one day realizing how specious altruistic ethics are.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 01:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

The Anthropic Principle

I'm cruising through The God Delusion and expect to finish it this week at which point I will present you with my final review. Right now, however, I wanted to discuss and item that Ergo mentioned some interest in: the anthropic principle.

I gotta say: I don't really understand this.

Dawkins stresses that the Anthropic Principle is an alternative explanation for things like the origin of life in contrast to theistic assertions that God did it. The exact definition of the principle escapes me, but Dawkins describes it in a planetary context this way:

Two main explanations have been offered for our planet's peculiar friendliness to life. The design theory says that God made the world, places in the Goldilocks zone, and deliberately set up all the details for our benefit. The Anthropic approach is very different, and it has a faintly Darwinian feel. The great majority of planets in the universe are not in the Goldilocks zones of their respective stars, and not suitable for life. None of that majority has life. However small the minority of planets with just the right conditions for life may be, we necessarily have to be on one of that minority, because here we are thinking about it. (p 136)

This is confusing to me because it doesn't seem like the Anthropic Principle explains anything, really. Let me try to create an example.

Let's say I bought a lottery ticket and I won the lottery. I might ask myself, "Did anyone else win the lottery? It is extremely improbable that I would have won. How could I have won?"

If I understand the Anthropic Principle correctly, it simply states that even though it is improbable that I would win, I did in fact win, therefore whatever the mechanism for choosing numbers was (ping-pong balls in a mixer, randomly generated by a computer, a gang of monkeys flinging poo at a bingo card, whatever) it was of the sort that would generate numbers matching those on my lottery ticket.

This is not an explanation in any sense of the word that I understand.

Seeking greater clarity about the importance of this supposed principle, I went to my favorite source of completely and totally reliable sixth hand information on all subjects, Wikipedia.

Carter's Weak anthropic principle (WAP): "we must be prepared to take account of the fact that our location in the universe is necessarily privileged to the extent of being compatible with our existence as observers." Note that for Carter, "location" is a space-time position.

Carter's Strong anthropic principle (SAP): "the Universe (and hence the fundamental parameters on which it depends) must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage. To paraphrase Descartes, 'cogito ergo mundus talis est'." The Latin tag ("I think, therefore the world is such [as it is]") makes it clear that "must" indicates a deduction from the fact of our existence; the statement is thus a truism.

One man's truism is another man's tautology, it would seem.

Apart from the fact that those using the Anthropic Principle seem to imply naturalistic causes, I can't see how this can be regarded as an alternative to creationistic causes. Might not a creationist say, "It is evident that God put us in the 'Goldilocks zone' and this is evident by the fact that we are in the Goldilocks zone?' "

I would welcome some clarification on this.

Meanwhile, the part that impresses me about the Anthropic Principle is that it echoes not so much Darwin, which is what Dawkins likes, but that it has faint echoes of Rand in the axiom of Consciousness.

A consciousness consists of the sum of those things of which one is conscious, which includes percepts, concepts, and abstractions as well as thoughts, fantasies, internal dialogue, etc. Contrary to what many mystics would have you believe, consciousness is a part of and derived from existence. The aspect of this that makes consciousness axiomatic is because in order to discuss anything at all, you must assume consciousness, just as you must assume consciousness and the non-contradictory identity of anything actually in existence.

Axiomatic concepts do have the appearance of tautologies, but they are actually critical premises that are inherent in all discussions (rational or not) and provide the essential foundation for those discussions. Perhaps the Anthropic Principle functions as a sort-of axiom for cosmological scientific theory.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 10:53 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

September 11, 2007

Richard Dawkins: Champion for Atheism?

I've just started reading Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and I'm only about half way through the first chapter. I have to say: I am woefully unimpressed. Much like Carl Sagan on the matter, he concedes too much. He allows Theists to get away with their silly word games and omni-flexible definitions and confines his discussion not to the simple fact that the supernatural does not exist but to a particular perspective on that fantasy.

I'll continue reading, but I've been mentally ranting about him all the way into work this morning.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 08:34 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)

September 04, 2007

Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia

I also read Robert Mayhew's Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia on my birthday vacation. It was a really fascinating read and a very well-organized book.

It's difficult to say much about this book without spewing forth various facts and arguments made in the book. I will say this: a lot of what I read surprised me, although I have to admit I haven't spent much time learning about this part of American history.

The book focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in 1947. These hearings preceded the McCarthy hearings that get so much publicity. McCarthy wasn't involved in these at all.

I did not know that the HUAC was actually one aspect of an ongoing criminal investigation into Soviet activities in the US and that Soviet Russia actually was engaged in funding and organizing the Communist Party in the USA along with acts of espionage and other treasons against the American government.

People like to claim that sending the Hollywood Ten to jail for contempt of Congress (they refused to answer questions, namely whether or not they are or were members of the Communist Party) was a violation of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, that argument really doesn't hold up given the criminal nature of the Communist Party. The mafia, for instance, cannot claim that it is a violation of their First Amendment rights if they refuse to say whether or not they're part of organized crime. They might plead the Fifth while on trial, but this wasn't a trial.

After quoting Rand at length on the matter (If you take issue with this, I strongly recommend reading Ayn Rand's full remarks on this issue, which can be found in the Journals of Ayn Rand, pp 381 - 84) Mayhew adds two remarks including this one:

[T]he availability of previously secret documents from both the United States and the former Soviet Union confirms Rand's claims about the nature of the Communist Party: it was an organization funded by, controlled by, and working in the interest of a foreign government, namely Soviet Russia. Further, a number of members of the Communist Party were engaged in espionage and worked directly with the Soviet government. It makes no difference that not every member of the Party was engaged in espionage or sabotage (or even was as devoted to the Party as the Party demanded). The HUAC was investigating possible illegal activities of the Communist Party; no one was on trial for treason. But given the nature of the Party, membership alone was enough to justify the government simply asking questions as part of a criminal investigation. (pp 86)

Like most people in the US, I have been lead to believe that Hollywood Communists are victims of fascist witchhunts in Washington fueled by some insane fear of communism that was sweeping the nation. These poor people -- though very, very wrong -- were innocent victims of government oppression and blacklisting.

As it turns out, these blacklists were private actions -- not governmental -- and Communists actually engaged in their own blacklisting as well. Further, some of the "Hollywood Ten" continued their careers by writing under pseudonyms, which is to say, they continued their careers fraudulently.

It's also flagrantly dishonest that these people would claim that their First Amendment rights were violated when they wanted to do away with First Amendment rights for anyone they claimed was a fascist, which is to say, anyone who is non-communist.

I'm also rather appalled at the dishonesty that Mayhew discovered in other "scholarly" works on this topic. Errors in dates and names as well as some pretty obvious cherry-picking from testimonies are apparently somewhat common.

Back to the topic of blacklists. I was somewhat surprised by this claim: "As we have seen, Ayn Rand believed that -- at least in the case of the Hollywood Ten -- there was no (or no effective) Hollywood blacklist of Communists."(90) Originally, I misunderstood the discussion in the book (due to careless reading) and thought the claim was that there weren't ANY blacklists against Communists, but Mister Bookworm and I were discussing it and I went back and re-read the remarks and he looked up the blacklists on the internet and we noted the specificity of that claim.

Mister Bookworm and I discussed this book meanderingly but at some length. He hasn't read it, but I do recommend it to him and others.

The scholarship is impressive; I really like the extensive, careful notation of sources and references. It's a short book and, as mentioned, it's well organized.

In our discussions, we debated over the relative success of the Communists and non-Communists. Mayhew contends that the Communists won in Hollywood but that outside of Hollywood their ideology has been thoroughly repudiated.

I agree that the Communist Party in the US today is an all but dead and the economics of communism have been proven repeatedly as destructive and immoral, but I also notice that on this blog I spend a lot of time arguing against policies that are in line with the Communist agenda. We have presidential candidates running with socialized medicine as major parts of their campaign. The vast majority of candidates are almost uniformly interventionist when it comes to government involvement in trade and support the redistribution of wealth.

With the exaggerated influence of religion in today's political atmosphere adding momentum to these socialistic/communistic (I regard attempts to draw a distinction between socialism and communism as silly and naive if not dishonest attempts at distraction.) policies and ideas...

An idea just struck me as I was about to finish that thought.

I was just thinking about the (ongoing) debate about whether religion or communism poses the greater threat to freedom and I remembered: there is a single threat to freedom. In the realm of politics, the threat is that of statism.

That sounds so bland, but there isn't a name for that ideology at the political level.

The threat is the ideology that makes people think in politics that they (or a committee of them) know better than you about your life. But it's deeper than that. The threat is the ideology that makes people think -- in their private lives -- that they owe you something and they resent you for not thinking that you owe them more.

This debate about whether or not religion or communism is the bigger threat misses the point. It's the same threat. The question is only about which form is metastasizing at the moment.

I think the confusion arises because "Communism" is a name we give to a political ideology. "Religion" is a name we give to a metaphysical and ethical ideology. People think, "Well, you can have Communist Christians and Capitalist Christians. The two aren't exclusive."

That's exactly the point. They aren't exclusive. In fact, given the rise of right-wing support for both religion and communist/socialist policies, we could even argue that they go together all too well.

They go together because they have at their core, the same basic set of ideas.

Those who argue that communism represents the greater threat -- on the grounds that their policies are rampant -- is ignoring the simple fact that no one of importance is calling themselves communist or even socialist. The people who are promoting the policies that we associate with communists aren't communists by name. They're conservative and liberal and increasingly they're religious "nuts."

Yes, they're the same evil. They've only changed their name and the veneer that they wash over their justification for these policies. The communists used to say things about stopping the "exploitation" of the "proletariat." The religionists say things about serving their fellow man. The words are different, but the meaning is the same.

Contrary to many people's assertions to the contrary, I do think that George Bush did represent a majority of Americans when he was elected -- both times. I shudder to think it, but he probably represents a majority now. This is due largely to his pandering to the Christian Right.

I still think the Christian Right is, in itself, is a minority, but I think they exert a huge influence on the rest of the American public by being very successful in advancing their ideas and that's how they've come to influence these elections. I don't have any facts to support this and I haven't seen any facts to contradict it. I just have a hard time thinking ill of Americans at large.

What do we do? We're mired in a two party system and that won't change any time soon. Neither party really seems to be moving toward a more rational ideology. So, what do we do?

The best we can really hope for is a deadlock, I think. Obviously, we need to do what we can to stop the Christian Right. In terms of elections, we need to work against those who pander to them and they back. This means voting for Democrats.

I didn't start this post meaning to go on about this, but I suddenly figured out what the problem was so many months ago, what Leonard Peikoff was trying to get out there.

Anyway, Robert Mayhew's Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia is a good book. Go read it.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 12:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


CNN Headline News is reporting this morning about people in Tuscon who believe that moonbeams have healing powers, including one man who thinks that the symptoms of his asthma have been alleviated by standing around in moonbeams.


For those not afflicted with this lunacy, I want everyone to do their part to encourage rational, scientific thinking.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

August 14, 2007

Sad Story

I started reading Flowers for Algernon last night and I'm to the part where Charlie is realizing that people were making fun of him for most of his life.

I dislike the journal format and I especially hate reading his entries from before the operations. But it's really sad to read about how horrible people treated him.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 01:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

I Struggle

Intellectual Property rights are a rather difficult issue. It's something I haven't given extensive thought to and I try to follow a standard of general good will in place of a rationally devised principle. For example, I don't download music but from licensed distributors like the iTunes store. That's not my usual standard for things, but I can only do so much in my life at a time.

Well, this presents me with a challenge on this blog because I like to repost things like cartoons (see yesterday's posts) and YouTube videos.

I do try to check news sources for reproduction rules to see if they have a word limit. Capitalism Magazine, for instance, has a 200 word limit and you can bet I count the words in my block quotes. In all cases, I try to provide links back to the owner or source site for things. And, of course, if ever asked to remove rights protected materials from my site, I would do so immediately and with many apologies.

Well, now that I've given a little more thought to it, I can't repost things like cartoons. That's bad. I will be updating that most recent post here shortly.

YouTube videos are more difficult because it's so hard to tell who is posting the video with permission and without. Music videos, for instance, are often posted by the record label and reposting is permitted and encouraged.

I bring this up because a reader over at Noodlefood snarked about her posting a YouTube video that is alleged to be in violation of the copyrights of the video.

I really don't have any conclusions to draw at this time. I'm just fretting over the difficulty I've had with grasping the principles behind intellectual property rights.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 08:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

July 29, 2007

Problems of a Supreme Consciousness

This morning in the shower, I was thinking about the various philosophies which place Consciousness "above" Existence. I'm talking about these people who think that either objective reality doesn't exist or, if it does exist, is unknowable as an objective reality.

In extreme cases, people expounding these philosophies claim that consciousness actually creates reality, that what you think you see is really what you imagine. I'm not sure what these people imagine contains this consciousness. Where does this amazing machine exist? No idea. But some people think this.

Most of the time, the claim isn't that one's consciousness actually creates reality, but blinds us to reality.

I can see how this line of thinking might arise from Plato and his analogy about shadows on a cave wall. It's an obviously imperfect analogy and why no one challenged it at the time is somewhat mysterious to me. I digress.

If your brain is obscuring reality from your knowledge or understanding, it must do so either consistently or inconsistently.

If it does so consistently, then there really doesn't seem to be a reason to think that your brain is doing it at all because you would lack any reason to believe that you're being blinded as the whole of your perception and understanding of reality would fall in line with the alleged illusion.

Allow me to illustrate: let's say you are presented with the illusion of a large puddle of water. You might walk around it and never know that it is an illusion, in which case the illusion would seem to be of little consequence at all. But let's also say that you decide to confront the illusion obviously not aware that it is an illusion.

You might drop a rock in the puddle and in order to keep deceiving you, your brain would make you see ripples. You might bend down and stick your hand in the water and in order to keep deceiving you, your brain would have to make you feel the wetness of the water. You might splash a passerby and your brain would have to present you with the image of them complaining or dodging in order to maintain the illusion. You might fill a glass and drink from the puddle and in order to keep deceiving you, your brain would have to give you the sensation of drinking water complete with wetness and flavor. It might also have to make you sick for having drunk from a puddle or hydrate you for having had water.

If at any point, however, you do not have the corresponding sensations and perceptions of reality, you may safely conclude that you aren't being deceived at all because no matter way it appears that you aren't being deceived. The assertion that you are being deceived is but an arbitrary claim without any evidence.

Even if presented with mirages or tricks to the eye, we can test them in other ways and learn to not only exclude the data that lead us to make mistaken judgments like there being a puddle in front of you, but you can also discover the mechanism by which you are tricked and why your eye can be tricked in that way.

So, that leaves us with the notion that our brains deceive us inconsistently. That simply doesn't hold up. Sometimes you see the puddle and sometimes you don't? In those cases, you can again test and see what results are most consistent and go with that as your conclusion.

If the results of your tests are consistently balanced to both conclusions, then that's not exactly your brain being inconsistent, but actively and consistently working to prevent you from discovering any truth about reality.

At this point, we have some other problems.

First, how does your brain know what is the right and what is the wrong conclusion? Is your brain actually, secretly omniscient?

It is perhaps a separate, malevolent being that is sharing your sense organs and living only to torment you? If that were the case, we'd immediately have to investigate the question of how it serves this evil creature's interest to inhibit your survival capabilities.

I can see how a person might be tempted to think that reality is unknowable given the number of mistakes a person makes in their lifetimes, the ease with which one's senses can be fooled, and with the seemingly eternal chorus of people saying that truth is a matter of opinion.

I do not, however, understand philosophers who have spent the greater part of their careers contemplating these things continuing to repeat this notion.

It is the fundamental task of every human being to think for themselves, so don't think that I'm letting people off the hook just because I understand that there is a not insignificant amount of peer pressure asking a person to stifle their good sense.

But if you make it your job to think about these things and you still espouse the notion that reality is unintelligible because our brains are inept... well, I find myself raising an eyebrow: are you really trying to use reason to disprove reason?

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 11:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 26, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Nuke Flies

My best friend, Johndavid, sent me a link to this article on Capitalism Magazine earlier this week. (This has been in the hopper for a while as I've been trying to keep this post from rambling too much! Thank yous accepted in the form of cash.) He pointed out the editor's note that the bottom which reads:

* Editor's Note: William's is wrong here -- see Ayn Rand's essay on the Objectivist Ethics: "Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every 'is' implies an 'ought.'"

The lines that sum up William's mistake best are these:

The statement "Scientists shouldn't split the atom" is a normative statement. Why? There are no facts whatsoever to which we can appeal to settle any disagreement. One person's opinion on the matter is just as good as another's.

From a certain perspective, this statement would seem quite common sensical and true. There are so many things in life that really depend on your particular situation in life.

Let's assume that you're sitting around your apartment and a large fly comes in through a window to annoy you while you are watching your favorite television show. Should you split an atom?

Fact: In the time it would take you to launch your nuclear weapon at the fly, you'd probably miss Flavor of Love.

Fact: Detonating an atomic bomb in your apartment would cause you to lose your security deposit.

Fact: Flies are quickly and effectively slain by sprays and fly swatters.

If I spent a little more time, I am confident I could make a list of similar facts the sum of which objectively establish that you really shouldn't split atoms to kill flies.

If, however, you find yourself running a town and you need a cheap, safe, reliable source of energy, splitting atoms might be a very good way to get it.

So, it depends. In some cases it's good to split atoms and in some cases it's not. You certainly wouldn't want to do it willy-nilly. So, this is why people think normative statements are a matter of opinion.

But this perspective is really limited and that's where Williams goes wrong. He has blanked out on the particulars of a given situation and assumed that no overarching statements about atom splitting can be made. Not so. I just said that whether or not one should split atoms depends on one's context. That is an overarching, normative statement about atom splitting, granted it's not the simple yes/no statement that Williams seems to want, but we're not intrinsicists, are we?

Our conclusion refers to facts of reality; it isn't merely a matter of opinion, but it does rely on everyone agreeing that destroying your apartment to kill a fly would run counter to your long-term goals even if you manage to somehow salvage your television to watch Flavor of Love.

If we treat ethics the way Williams does we quickly imagine all sorts of silly situations where we might feign righteous indignation over some particular decision.

Miscegenation should be outlawed!

We should exterminate the Jews!

Hugh Jackman should be forced to submit to me as my love slave!

I should kill a fly with an A-Bomb so that I can get back to watching Flavor of Love on VH1!

How dare they judge me! My opinion is as good as theirs!

With perhaps the exception of Hugh Jackman's freedom, I am quite certain that there are facts to which I can appeal to prove that those statements are quite wrong regardless of anyone's opinion.

Although the rightness or wrongness of a decision may depend on your particular situation, your particular situation is an objective fact unto itself.

Walter Williams and others shouldn't shun normative ethics, they should embrace it because normative ethics requires that moral values be tied to the way human beings live and exist as human beings. What they should shun are simplistic, intrinsic statements of morality such as "thou shalt not kill" or "thou shalt not steal." Obviously, we can imagine cases where it may be very, very good to kill or steal.

Intrinsicists try to put all life in a box. They seem to think that the life of pygmies in a jungle should be governed the same way as life in a war zone which should be run by the same principles as a human living in the year 3025. I have no idea what sort of challenges confront a person living in 3025, but I feel confident in saying that if I lived in Darfur right now, my list of priorities would be a lot shorter and have a lot less nuance than the one I have today in New York City.

Objectivism as a philosophy doesn't attempt to lay out rules about specific actions that you have to follow to live a sin-free life. If it did, Objectivism would have less intellectual significance than your daily horoscope when it comes to telling you how to live your life. No, Objectivism is a powerful system of ideas that deals with the proper conduct of one's life throughout the span of one's life in any context that one may encounter or even imagine encountering.

As a rational philosophy grounded in reality it looks to values to guide your decision making. Values which are established by the reality that people may live or die. That may be happy or sad. We don't need a list of do's and don't's. The successful life is led by carefully considering reality (what is) and how one can achieve what one needs to live a happy, healthy, successful life (what one ought).

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 04:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 16, 2007

Miss Rand Goes to Washington

From Noodlefood:

Yesterday afternoon, Yaron Brook announced that, thanks to the generosity of a donor, Ayn Rand Institute will open a satellite office in Washington, DC, likely in 2008. That east coast office will help ARI more easily and effectively advocate cultural and political change.


Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 06, 2007

The Danger of Being an Objectivist

One of the reasons I merged my old blog into this one was to put some brand distance, if you will, between my professional life and my real life.

If you're a regular reader, you've probably picked up on my opposition to things like environmentalism, multiculturalism, and the like. You can guess that I think "corporate citizenship" is a lot of baloney as well. But these things carry a fair amount of weight in the professional world and although my views are perfectly rational and as justified as they are righteous, it is possible that potential employers will find my views threatening.

Well, Dr. John Lewis who used to teach at Ashland University in Ohio ran into this problem full force.

Officials at Ashland have made their discomfort with objectivism abundantly clear. In January the university, in Ohio, rejected Mr. Lewis's application for tenure, and officials told him in writing that his support for objectivism was the sole reason for the denial.

A memo from Robert C. Suggs, who was then Ashland's provost, to Frederick J. Finks, the university's president, said that Mr. Lewis's tenure application was "a unique and particularly thorny one." Mr. Suggs wrote that Mr. Lewis's publications, teaching, and service all met or exceeded the university's tenure standards, but said that his support for objectivism, an atheist philosophy, "stands in unreserved opposition to the Judeo-Christian values found in the university's mission and the beliefs of the founding organization, the Brethren Church."

In the memo, Mr. Suggs conceded that Mr. Lewis had not proselytized objectivism in the classroom. But he argued that Mr. Lewis's scholarly publications expressed ideas that were contrary to Ashland's mission. He pointed in particular to Mr. Lewis's chapter in an edited volume, Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem (Lexington Books, 2005). There Mr. Lewis celebrated Rand's "break with the Judeo-Christian condemnation of ambition and pride."

Mr. Lewis was floored by the rejection. "I was denied tenure explicitly on the basis of objectivism," he says.

The entire article is an interesting read and chronicles Dr. Lewis' fight and the conservative school's disgraceful, cowardly approach to the whole situation.

Diana Hsieh is going to blog this later. She recommended the article which she found over on the Primacy of Awesome.

As a note, I guess I should point out that I do support private universities' right to hire and fire whom they please, but they must explain the terms of employment up front. And I would also point out that this incident does provide some grounds to argue the hypocrisy of the conservative perspective.

Case in point:

Mr. Lewis and Mr. Thompson added that the mission argument was especially weak in this case because throughout Mr. Lewis's six years at Ashland, the university accepted grants from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, a California-based organization that encourages the study of Rand's thought. The grants were used to pay for release time that allowed Mr. Lewis to concentrate on his research. "That release time was always approved by the dean," he said. The grant, he said, "was used to hire adjuncts."

Mr. Finks, however, said the grants Ashland accepted, while initially intended for the study of objectivism, were significantly revised in response to the university's concerns. "If you would read the grants, they are not for the promotion of that at all," he said.

Mr. Finks declined to share the text of the grants with The Chronicle. A copy of the final Letter of Understanding provided to The Chronicle by the Anthem Foundation appears to contradict Mr. Finks's account. "The primary purpose of the fellowship is to fund release time so that Professors Thompson and Lewis can pursue research and writing on Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism," it reads.

Anyway, it's a good article. Check it out.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

July 05, 2007

Excused from Responsibility

I'm an Old Testament kind of God. I think, if you do something wrong, then you get smote. Smite! Smite! Smite!

Today's divine retribution is SO slack! People do dumbass things and instead of being smote with the stone of brim, people just get sent to rehab.


It's ridiculous that starlets can just prance into a dayspa and call it rehab. Unless they teach you how to wear panties, rehab just doesn't satisfy anything I hope to get out of these things.

And I am doubly offended by the notion that someone can go to rehab to cure his homophobia, anti-semitism, or simple idiocy. Smite! Smite! Smite!

Today, it struck me (not unlike being smote but only lightly) that this rash of people running to "rehabilitation" programs to excuse themselves from being the responsibility of their actions is the social manifestation of the liberal notion that prison is for rehabilitating criminals.

Rehabilitating criminals in prison is an absurd idea and undermines the point of them being smote in the first place. It is an injustice to even attempt it because you can't punish people while at the same time trying to teach them to integrate rational ideas about the rights of other human beings. They're passed the point of learning that and they should be punished. Smite! Smite! Smite!

You have to have a pretty low opinion of humanity, I think, to suggest rehabilitation for criminals. I mean, you'd have to start off with the notion that there's no real fundamental difference between law-abiding citizens and the ones who do the raping, murdering, and pillaging.

Let's get this straight: there is a world of difference between the person who goes about trying to make their way in the world as a CRIMINAL and a person who actually earns their living through work and rational thought. I, for one, won't entertain suggestions to the contrary. This idea of rehabilitating criminals and excusing them from being punished is predicated on this idiotic and savage view of human beings -- as if it's too much to ask that a person behave themselves.

So, first we have this effort to make prison a nice place to be to set these otherwise kind, gentle souls back on the path to righteousness.

THEN, we get people who do a crime and then the run right into a rehab program or they promise to go into a rehab program and in exchange the court makes their sentence lighter. The punishment aspect is all but removed! It's just rehab!

And in the social scene, we have someone being impolite or saying things that other people find offensive and they run into rehab so that people won't think they're a bad person.

Here's my proposed solution: SMITE! SMITE! SMITE!

For social problems, don't talk to rude, offensive people. Don't be their friend. Don't date them. Don't buy things from them. Just shun them completely.

For criminal problems, punish them as appropriate to their crime. What is appropriate is a question for another post and the entire career of legal philosophers.

I'm bringing this up because I just clicked over to CNN and saw this:

CNN: Spokesman: Gore's son getting treatment

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Former Vice President Al Gore's son is getting treatment after his arrest on suspicion of drug possession, according to a Gore spokesman.

Al Gore III, 24, was arrested early Wednesday in Los Angeles after being stopped for speeding, according to a sheriff's department spokesman.

Police found four types of prescription drugs in the car, but Gore did not have a prescription for any of them, according to Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino. He also said a small amount of marijuana was found in the car.

Gore faces three felony drug possession charges and one misdemeanor possession charge, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Obviously, he still faces the criminal charges, but you can bet that his immediate move to rehab is partially motivated by a desire to alleviate his sentence some.

"In a 2004 plea deal, Gore was sentenced to a substance abuse program."

I mean, it worked before, why not try it again?

From a philosophical perspective, this blurring the line between criminal and non-criminal behavior has the very distinct odor of subjectivism, the idea that there's no such thing as good or bad, really, it's all just a matter of perspective.

I have a solution for those people: SMITE! SMITE! SMITE!

P.S. I do actually know how to conjugate the verb "to smite" but "smitten" isn't as fun and doesn't communicate the collateral devastation that I think should be involved.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 04:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

July 02, 2007

Eff the Ineffable, Y'all.

I don't know who keep doing it, but whoever you are, I want you to stop saying that time and the universe began with the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is not an event that brought about existence, ok? Things in some form or another have always been around. The Big Bang is an event that simply marks the advent of a cosmic reconfiguration of matter and energy.

TIME, my friends, is the measurement of change. Time is a characteristic of existence. Just like there was stuff going on before the Big Bang, so was time passing.

There is no need to discuss or debate this fact; any alternative that may be proposed makes no sense.

And then I find this on The Binary Circumstance:

The Big Bang is often thought as the start of everything, including time, making any questions about what happened during it or beforehand nonsensical. Recently scientists have instead suggested the Big Bang might have just been the explosive beginning of the current era of the universe, hinting at a mysterious past.

You must be joking me.

I've been saying this for years, but apparently the news is only just catching on in science circles. I had no idea I was revolutionizing physics with my statements of the obvious.

I love how prior to some naked mole rat in a lab somewhere suggested that someone check their premises that there were people just wandering around thinking about the time before the Big Bang as being "nonsensical."

Eff the ineffable, y'all. If it exists, then it can be defined and understood.

How do you even BE a scientist while sitting around thinking, "Oh, well, sooner or later I just knew I'd run into something that defies reason and comprehension?" Any scientist who is going around thinking otherwise should be fired.

Someone get me my Nobel Prize, cuz I really think I deserve one when I hear about stuff like this. (In all seriousness, I think the offending remark in the cited article is an example of shoddy science journalism. I doubt that any serious physicists were saying that.)

Oh, but the good news is that they think they might actually be able to deduce SOME things about what the universe was like prior to the Big Bang. That's pretty cool.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 03:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

July 01, 2007

History Is the Story of Women Following Behind With a Bucket

I'm presently watching the movie History Boys and there was a scene just now in which the boys were practicing their university interviews and one of the teachers went on a rant about women not being allowed to play a role in history. History, she says, is really the tale of male incompetence. Apparently, women have been -- historically speaking -- mere toys -- not even toys -- useless accessories like those fish, remoras, that stick to sharks. Actually, I question whether or not her opinion is that high. Perhaps my metaphor should have included some sort of intestinal parasite.

That particular teacher is a feminist.

The thing that strikes me about feminists is the notion that perhaps things would be better if women had been involved or if, perhaps, the roles were reversed and women lead history.

My multicultural sensibilities are offended by the notion!

How dare anyone suggest that my mental faculties are somehow deficient or impaired by virtue of their relative proximity to a pair of testicles?

The sexism doesn't actually bother me because, well, I have a hard time taking feminists seriously. They're like Al Sharpton to me: ridiculous, racist/sexist, and not worthy of any serious intellectual consideration.

Tragically, my disregard for them is likely a costly mistake in terms of intellectual warfare.

But I am about to lay a revelation on y'all: when it boils right down to it, men and women don't actually think all that differently.

Yes, yes, they display some different tendencies in the way they communicate and relate to one another. But the core motives of men and women are much the same. And when it comes to solving the problems of the world, men and women usually come up with the same ideas.

It is patently absurd to think that if women were in charge that -- somehow -- WWI and consequently WWII would not have happened, or that the Cold War would have amounted to little more than a intercontinental brunch with cucumber sandwiches and a dab of borsht.

There are right ideas, wrong ideas, and none others. Men and women alike have them.

One might pose the question to this feminist: if men are so incompetent and women so capable, then why did women follow about for so long? Why did this alleged paucity of feminine influence ever happen? Why didn't women rise up and bring some enlightenment to our poor little male heads?

I'll gesture now broadly to women like Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ann Coulter and Mary Maitlin as examples of my point and counterarguments to the feminist thesis. I don't see a single woman in politics today who is proposing any idea that has not already failed, been disproven, or been shown to repeatedly lead to ruination.

I'm not saying that I see any males in politics who aren't proposing the same, I'm just pointing out that men and women who are in the mainstream and making history today are a lot of the same. There's no reason to qualify any statements about them by saying "men and women" because bad ideas abound and they aren't exclusive to either sex.

Fortunately, there are people -- with testicles and without -- with good ideas out there who are fighting to get the right ideas heard and practiced. We have along way to go.

P.S. History Boys is an OK movie. I got really annoyed with the lack of the subjunctive mood in much of their speech. That may have been the point because they do mention the subjunctive a lot, but it was really, really bothersome to hear these British people abusing their verbs like that. And they're supposed to be teachers!

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 01:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 29, 2007

Integrate Your Own

I really can't express or quantify the intellectual debt that I owe to Ayn Rand. The woman was a genius and she outlined the philosophy by which I try to run my life.

But you may have noticed how rarely I actually quote Ayn Rand. I do have almost all of her books on my bookshelf and I am familiar with how to use an index. But I rarely quote her for a reason.

I think people quote her for a reason.

There's nothing wrong with providing a quotation or reference. I mean, Ayn Rand did say things better, like, all the time.

I think lots of people parrot what she said, though. They say it, but they don't really understand it.

Diana remarked on this tendency recently:

However, Paul's comment did have a more serious point, namely that Dr. Peikoff's fine example has become something of an Objectivist bromide, overused (and misused) by other Objectivists, such that the principle might seem to rest largely on that single example. The same thing happens with Ayn Rand's various furniture concepts (e.g. coffee table, desk, table, bookcase, furniture) as examples of a low-level hierarchy of concepts. Those examples have been so overused that sometimes it seems like the Objectivist theory of concepts is good for nothing but forming concepts of furniture! (One side-effect is ignorance of the difficulties of forming some low-level concepts, e.g. those those of species of living organisms.)

As I tell my students, if you can't construct your own examples, then you really don't understand the abstract principle in question. Using Ayn Rand's own examples might be legitimate in some contexts, e.g. when introducing Rand's own views to those unfamiliar with her work. However, the re-use of standard Objectivist examples often seems to stem from haste (i.e. inadequate time to think of a new example), laziness (i.e. unwillingness to exert the effort to develop a new example), or timidity (i.e. fear of using a misbegotten, half-baked, or problematic example).


Speaking for myself alone, I'd rather say it my own way and get it wrong than quote her and still get it wrong. And, really, I'd rather get it right with my own, too.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 07:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

June 27, 2007

The Stars May Lie

I am really astonished by the number of people who believe in astrology.

Most people don't think that you can tell the future by them, but many people seem to think that when you're born affects your character and personality. The whole notion is insane. But people still love it.

Of course, when I object and point out all the reasons why it's idiotic, they just smile like they think they're my grandmother and say, "You're such a virgo."

How to Recognize a Virgo

Married or single, it's fairly simple to spot the Virgo in public. For one thing, he won't be making much noise. He's not exactly garrulous, and he'll stand out as a loner. See that gentle, attractive man over there in the comer, with the thesaurus under his arm? The one with the tick-tock mind, clicking away the hours neatly and methodical­ly noticing the smallest details? If you look closely, you can almost see him measuring each minute for what it's worth. He's a Virgo. See that quiet girl with the beautiful, soft eyes, waiting for the bus? Notice her spick-and-span white gloves, her cool manner. She'll have the exact coins for the fare ready in her hand. She wouldn't dream of asking the bus driver to change a five dollar bill. She's a Virgo.

The description of a Virgo is so wide-ranging that it would almost be impossible for any person to not be a Virgo. I'm sure the same is true of other signs.

It probably wouldn't bother me so much if people just regarded it as an odd, antiquated system of ideas, but they don't. People think it's real.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 02:58 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

June 21, 2007

OAC Matriculating Class of 2008

I received this press release from ARI this afternoon:

Ayn Rand Institute Offers Educational Program for the Study of Rand's Philosophy

Irvine, California (June 14, 2007)--Fifty years after the publication of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, interest in Ayn Rand has never been greater. For those who want to study her ideas in depth, the Ayn Rand Institute's educational program, the Objectivist Academic Center, offers systematic instruction in Rand's philosophy, Objectivism.

More than one hundred students currently participate in the OAC's graduate and undergraduate programs, which for years have been offered as a supplement to a standard college education. The undergraduate program helps students develop a basic understanding of philosophy, of Objectivism as a philosophical system, and of the art of clear, objective thinking and writing. The focus of the graduate program is on mastering Objectivism, with special attention paid to proper philosophical methodology.

Students from all over the world attend classes online and via teleconference. Local students also have the option of attending classes at ARI's headquarters in Irvine, California. Select courses are open to auditors.

As a benefit to students who would like to receive college credit for their OAC coursework, ARI has partnered with Chapman University to offer two OAC courses, "Introduction to Philosophy" and "Introduction to Writing," through Chapman's distance learning program. Students are able to take the classes for credit, transfer the credits to their own university, and apply them toward their college degree.

Most full-time students receive tuition waivers, as well as other generous scholarships to help defray the costs of participating in the OAC. Additionally, ARI offers a wide array of support for OAC students, including grants, scholarships, and mentoring.

The application deadline for the 2007-08 academic year is July 30.

For more information on this program, please visit the Objectivist Academic Center website at http://www.objectivistacademiccenter.org/ or contact:

Debi Ghate
Vice President, Academic Programs
Ayn Rand Institute

I'd love to attend the OAC, but I just don't see it happening. The expense of it aside, it's also a bit more of a time commitment than I'm willing to make right now.

I suppose that one might constantly continue to make such excuses, but a commitment one isn't committed to really isn't quite a commitment at all, is it?

Anyway, I've heard nothing but great things about the OAC, so if you're at all interested in the program, I am comfortable recommending it in spite of having never participated myself.

Thanks to Diana for the press release!

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 08:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 20, 2007


When I'm chatting with people online they often ask to not discuss a topic because they think that it is not easy for them to express their ideas online.

I don't understand this.

It's easier for me to express myself in writing than it is in speech because my writing isn't interrupted with pauses for me to think or say "um" or "like" or "you know."

I usually think that when people make this excuse that they don't really know what it is they think on a topic. It's OK to not know about something, but I don't like that some blame the medium for their inability to communicate what it is they think.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 02:09 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

January 26, 2007

Philosophy is the Talk on a Cereal Box

Remember how before I moved to New York, I was going to go back to school to study philosophy and art history? But with the whole career thing moving forward again, that plan was sidelined.

Well, the other night I was talking to my mom about my new apartment and how I will save a lot of money on rent.

She suggested that with the extra money, I could do all kinds of stuff including take classes.

I agreed and said that I might like to take some cooking classes or something like that.

But she followed it with, "But you could find somewhere to take some philosophy classes. You enjoy it and philosophy will help you in anything."

I was so surprised, that I really didn't respond. She wasn't very supportive of the notion of me going back to school, so for her to suggest that I take classes was really unexpected. I know that her primary concern is my career. Her lack of enthusiasm for going to back to school was largely a response to the idea of me not having a job. Even so, this was a pleasant, apparent change in direction.

She's right, though. I've wanted to take classes from ARI for a while. Perhaps I will take that up this year... We'll see.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 08, 2005

It Should Go Without Saying

I was just listening to the radio and this lady called into the show and told a story about how her fiance left her when she was five months pregnant.

Let me say that again in different words. The two people entered into a romantic relationship and concieved a child and then the male terminated the relationship.

I have two thoughts on this.

First, whatever the condition of your relationship with another you are not morally bound to continue that relationship without regard to the condition of that relationship. In fact, I would even argue that relationships can ONLY continue with due respect to the various conditions surrounding the relationship.

I love kids. I think they're wonderful. I also have a great deal of respect for the parental occupation. And I am amazed by the biological process of pregnancy and birth, not to mention the subsequent development and progress of both parent and child.

But if you have ever known a pregnant lady, you know that some of them, particularly those late in term, can be completely insane and quite unpleasant. So, I can understand why someone might feel compelled to terminate relationships with their pregnant ladies.

But my second thought is this:

If you cannot understand why pregnant ladies get so unpleasant sometimes, look at a very pregnant lady and contemplate the location of her internal organs. Where are her lungs? Kidneys? Intestines? All those things are smooshed into various corners of her body to make space for that child. I can't possibly know what it's like, but I get a little crabby even from a little constipation, so the pregnant situation it a bit odd for me to even ponder.

And that doesn't even begin to list the number of things that are pressing on that woman's mind and person during this time in her life.

What kind of schmuck makes a baby but doesn't even stick it out through the pregnancy? He's not even carrying the child! I'm not saying that it's easy, but making babies is a really important and, yes, difficult, life-altering decision. You don't just go about that and then blithely take to the street when you get cross.

Generally speaking, I think guys who leave their pregnant ladies are cads. Totally lame.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 02:38 PM | Comments (1)

November 14, 2004

Today's Horoscope

I was born in early September:

Traditional Virgo Traits

Modest and shy
Meticulous and reliable
Practical and diligent
Intelligent and analytical

On the dark side....

Fussy and a worrier
Overcritical and harsh
Perfectionist and conservative

I was also born under the fire sign of the snake in the Chinese horoscope:

Snake people enter a room and there is Music, Music, Joy! Everyone dances! Such high spirit! The Snake is so intense and passionate, just as likely to take out the castanets as to climb mountains of snow. Snake year people are charming and romantic, often planning delightful hideaway surprises. Possessing tremendous wisdom, they are deep, quiet thinkers, calm by nature, but most intense. They often get involved in great causes, bigger than life, and often serve as mentors to the young. To paraphrase Confucius, they have a kind of inner beauty that arises, hovers, then comes to nest. They will have an abundance of good fortune and a long and prosperous life.

Sharkfin Soup and Chinese Cabbage are among keys to good health!!

The Fire Snake is like a meteor in the sky, brilliant and alive. With spellbinding eloquence, the Snake converses with conviction on a broad range of topics, but realizes that good conversation lies as much in the listening as the talking. The Snake does both very well, raising communication to a very high and elegant art. People love to be in the company of this very graceful Fire Snake, who is always pleasant, provocative, humorous, and quick witted. With split second reflexes, they are constantly conceiving new ideas and coming up with new schemes. This entrepreneurial spirit makes headlines and the Fire Snake is much admired. Because of their ambition, perseverance, and infinite patience, and wise financial moves made early in life, their fortunes grow steadily. By the time middle age arrives, financial fortune is truly theirs. Relationships follow the same path, through faithfulness, perseverance, and willingness to make relationships really work, the future is always bright.

Famous Snake People: Mao Tse-tong, Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Ferdinand Marcos, Abraham Lincoln, Lady Pamela Mountbatten, Martin Luther King, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy, Edgar Allen Poe, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bob Dylan

Horoscopes are so stupid. When people read them to be funny; I laugh. But I get really angry when people talk about them like they're real.

For example, let's say that I take the time to describe the mental process of learning something. And then some silly person makes a remark like, "Well, I'm a gemini, so I was born knowing that."

Hi. No you weren't. You may have learned it and you were born between some such days, but the two facts are not related.

My cousin, the one who can gleet, is two days younger than me. We are polar opposites in almost every single way imaginable. We have different personalities, philosophies, and abilities, but we were born under the same exact stars.

They're patently offensive to any person who prides themself on their ability to think. Thinking is an option. You don't have to do it. But horoscopes like to claim that your choice is determined by the stars. Or maybe they're trying to say that your ability to think is determined by the stars? Who knows? Who cares. It's wrong and silly.

My mother's mantra to me while growing up was "You can do anything you put your mind to" and I still take that literally. I will be damned if I'm going to let some silly star tell me otherwise. Horoscopes are total garbage.

Today's horoscope for me says:

Feeling better? Bet you are. Bet you're feeling so darned fine that you'll want to have a bit of a gathering at your place to celebrate. Go ahead. You could certainly stand to blow off some steam, right?

I'm going out to run 10 miles now and I'm not having a party. So, there.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 02:46 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2004

Cooperation is Not a Sin

I was reading over at Ebon Musings about atheism and came across an essay on ethics in which there is the following passing on Objectivist ethics:

Ayn Rand: Objectivism

Author Ayn Rand's philosophical system, known as Objectivism, holds that the ultimate value upon which all other values depend is the individual's life, and that ethics ultimately consists of self-interest, each individual doing whatever benefits his or her life the most. Objectivist moral philosophy rejects altruism, instead arguing that each person should do only what is best for that person.

However, as should be obvious, the glaring problem with Objectivism is that it fails to accommodate Prisoner's Dilemma-like situations. If two or more Objectivists were placed in such a situation, each would immediately pick the option that was best for him individually, and the result would be a poor outcome for all. If all the individuals in this situation are rational (and rationality is a key tenet of Objectivism), they would all soon realize that the only realistic way for any of them to attain a good outcome is for each of them to cooperate and pick the less selfish course of action, i.e., to be altruistic. But this is a contradiction with the basic Objectivist tenet of selfish behavior. The fact that the selfish interests of rational individuals very often conflict, and the fact that doing what is best for us individually sometimes requires acting in altruistic ways, cause the entire system of Objectivism to collapse. To find a workable universal moral code, we must look elsewhere.

The first paragraph is, by my estimation, essentially correct. The Objectivist hierachy of values begins with one's own life.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is loads of fun. It is an illustration of the underlying principles of microeconomics even. Basically, without being able to communicate, two parties are ostensibly given the option to act in their own interest or in the in interest of the other party. Cooperation by both results in the best outcome for the pair. If one betrays the other, the cooperating party loses big time while the betrayer wins big. If they betray one another, the two share the pain, so to speak.

Objectivist ethics does not actually address prisoner's dilemma situations unequivocably because the dilemma lacks context.

How well do the prinsoner's know one another?
Did they not plan for this contingency?
What are the stakes exactly?
What are their chances after the outcome of the game?

At first blush, it's easy to say, "Objectivist ethics requires that each individual act in his own self-interest." But is it not clear that it would be in his best self-interest to cooperate with his partner?

That's the other thing. Objectivist ethics does not permit each individual to completely ignore the contextual information that IS available - namely the benefits of cooperation.

It is not un-selfish, for lack of a better term, to work for your own greatest profit by helping others work to theirs and in the Prisoner's Dilemma it is actually required in order to succeed. Being selfish does not mean that you're bent on the destruction of others; if it did THAT would be a contradiction because one's own success is not defined by the success of others. Putting it more simply, just because someone else succeeds does not mean that all others fail. Just because one helps another does not mean one is being altruistic.

This is perhaps one of the most common misconceptions regarding Objectivist ethics. It's probably honestly earned, but it has been addressed many times over in Objectivist literature.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 05:05 PM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2004

I Am Better Than You

Anyone who tells you that they aren't better than anyone else is right. I firmly believe that.

It's a fact of reality that some people are better than others and anyone who goes through the effort of saying they aren't better than someone else must be aiming to be the lowest of the low in some way or another.

Did you catch that? Not all men are created equal.

As human beings, we all have a rational capacity that allows us to deal with reality. Broadly speaking, most all human beings share this same capacity; it's what makes us human! But 'the force' just isn't as strong with everyone.

Did you catch THAT? Some men are more able than others.

That's right! The most critical aspect in which people differ is in ability, and most importantly in their mental ability.

If you're a person of superior mental ability and you're preoccupied with not appearing to be better than anyone else, how likely do you think you will be to apply your superior ability?

The important lesson to get from all this, though, is that there is very little value in trying to compare yourself to everyone else. Surely you have something better to do with your time and energy. Your ability, however great or small, is not established by comparison, but by demonstration.

So, get off of your butt and stop talking about how better or worse you are has a human being and show us.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 09:59 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2004


On CNN.com today the instapoll asks, "Should the basement where Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down be turned into a tourist attraction?"

I find myself unable to answer the question.

I wouldn't want to see that. I also wouldn't want to run such a tourist attraction even though I'm sure that there is a certain segment who would pay good money to see it.

On the other hand, I see no reason why it can't be a tourist attraction. If someone wants to do that, go for it. What do I care?

But the question is "SHOULD" it be that way?

How do I know? I'm neither a person who wants to own a tourist attraction nor a tourist who is attracted by things like that.


Suddenly readers of CNN are encouraged to make proclamations about what someone else might do with their property for whatever reason.

This irritates me because though I might think it's a bad idea, there isn't any reason why some other people might think it's a good idea and proceed. Frankly, it's not my business.

But we live in a day and age when folks think they have a right to tell other people what to do with their bodies, property, and even minds. CNN isn't the cause it's a symptom of that sort of thinking.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2004

It's Not Just Sometimes That You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do - Do It All the Time

To the Virgins, to make much of Time by Robert Herrick

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

A friend of mine and I were talking about sex. Particularly the practice of sex with a partner to whom you know you have no intention of being committed.

His thought was that while it's best not to practice willy-nilly hedonism generally, there are times when you just want to lie back and enjoy yourself. He actually said that he is a fairly conservative but he's trying to teach himself to "sieze the day."

My response to that sort of thing is that while it is important to take opportunities as they present themselves, one should never take opportunities that lead one away from one's long-term goals. This means that while living in the moment is (technically unavoidable) a terribly hip sentiment, the moment cannot be considered outside of the context of the entire lifetime.

It's for that reason that I don't "hook up." I'm not looking for sex. Sex is easy to get. I'm looking for a fulfilling, monogamous, long-term relationship that supplements and enhances my life. Having sex and not meaning it may not necessarily take me further from that goal, but it certainly doesn't bring me closer, so I'm not interested.

The rest of the world would do well to identify what's important in their lives and work only for those things. It saves time and regret.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 01:48 AM | Comments (3)

August 28, 2004


I find Christianity disgusting. I think worse of Buddhism. There is a long list of silly ideas that I hate. If the truth be told, I don't spend so much time considering all the ways so many people are wrong in life, but whatever amount of time I spend thinking on particular breeds of idiocy is far too much.

A friend of mine has a saying, "People get what they deserve." And it's true. The consequences of action are derived from causality and the axiom of Identity; there's just nothing you can do to avoid it.

Interestingly enough, it's sometimes hard to tell who is getting their just desserts at any given time.

If you're a person who is opposed to the death penalty and you successfully lobby to have the practice outlawed, when will you see the consequences of your actions? That's a tough one and you may never notice the consequences, but they're there. Maybe one more serial killer comes to your state knowing he can kill and not worry about being killed by the state. Maybe your taxes go up from having to keep alive so many who would otherwise be killed.

One of the consequences of just having bad ideas might be suffering. If you think something stupid, you might come to some pain for it. Imagine the outcome of believing that you can walk through walls. For more abstracted aspects of philosophy, it's more difficult to envision the consequences of being wrong, but they are no less real.

Interestingly enough, the bigger, most profound cost of being philosophically corrupt isn't pain and suffering. The cost is happiness.

I'm not saying Christians aren't happy. Surely by some measure many are. But they aren't as happy as they could be if they weren't Christian. It's just not possible to experience the highest levels of happiness and joy that can be achieved as a human being if you flout the essentially human characteristic of rational thought.

I just think it's notable that the consequences of many people's actions isn't always sadness and hurting but they aren't happiness either.

In my book, not having happiness is the same as suffering, but my use of the words in this post comment on the gradations of pain and pleasure.

Every time you make a decision, you should be considering rationally whether or not that decision will bring you more or less happiness. One should only choose those decisions that, in the most rational terms, will bring them the most happiness possible.

Of course, some, like Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, et al, make it their business to do just the opposite. Foolishness.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 07:32 PM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2004

I Ain't No Libertarian

It may seem that I'm a Libertarian most of the time. My rants about a need for more freedom, my wholesale support of laissez-faire Capitalism, my opposition to the war on drugs even though I myself do not use drugs.

Well, Dr. Hurd has published some remarks on the Libertarian party:

Q: Dr. Hurd, I understand you dislike both the Democrats and the Republicans. But why vote Republican as the lesser of two evils? Why not vote Libertarian for President? They favor strongly limited government, like you do.

A: The Libertarian Party is worse than either the Republican or Democratic parties--and that’s saying something.

The Libertarian Party is the party of unapologetic pacifism. They make John Kerry blush. Their 2004 presidential candidate proposes, for example, that all U.S. troops everywhere be sent home immediately. Why? Because, apparently, all government is bad. Anything the government does to intervene in the rest of the world--even if those interventions are to protect the United States at home--is bad.

The Libertarian Party is completely unprincipled and takes strides to avoid answering the question of WHY they support limited government. WHY is Capitalism so good? WHY is all taxation bad? (They don't even say that all taxation is bad, though.)

Read the full article. It's worth while.

Hat tip to the Rule of Reason!

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at 06:18 PM | Comments (0)