December 29, 2005
Well, first of all, there's a reason people do that and it's because those terms are well defined in Objectivist texts. There's no point to making up new words and phrases when there is already a word that means exactly what one intends to say. It may sound repetitive, but if one is to complain about clarity and specificity, then one is not to be entertained in debate.
In other cases, particularly where alternative phrases could be efficiently substituted without sacrificing clarity, the use of a particular phrase is used to both communicate the specific meaning as defined in the Ayn Rand texts and pay homage to their originator.
Secondly, these same individuals said that these particular phrases are strange, weird, and robotic. They said no one talks or thinks like that. Except Objectivists, right? If Objectivists didn't talk or think like that, then there would be no complaint about the use of these phrases. And if everyone talked and thought like Objectivists, then everyone would be Objectivist.
But what I think was cute in the particular discussion I was reading, is that the speaker who made the vapid complaint about re-use of certain words and phrases went on in the discussion to ignore the definitions offered by Ayn Rand and substituted his own to try to disprove the Objectivist argument. Yes, that's right. He complained about the use of certain words, but ignored the meaning that was being used. Talk about dishonest!
In essence, his complain boils down to little more than displeasure over certain sounds in the English language.
December 14, 2005
As far as I understand, a philosophic system is a set of interrelated philosophic principles. So while the ways in which a philosopher applies his principles to a particular issues often illuminates the scope or meaning of them, those applications are not part of the philosophy itself.
To illustrate this point, she provides some good examples and discusses the importance of integrity of such systems.
She even mentions, the internal contradictions of Kant, Reader Martin Clark. Go check it out and see what she has to say. She seems much more well-read on the topic than I am and she's also much more adept at working with ideas than I am at the moment, so you'll likely appreciate the clarity and directness she brings to these discussions. I know I do.
I can safely say that insofar as her post is a discussion of what a philosophy is (as distinct from its specific applications) and the nature of philosophies as closed systems we agree.
I actually don't spot anything in her discussion with which I do disagree although the comment about a woman president is curious. (I have yet to really dig into concepts of masculinity and femininity.) And, of course, I haven't read Kelley's book, so I'm taking her word for it on those items.
Go check her post out. It's very interesting.
She's my favorite Darth Vaderette ever!
Update: I'm reading through an older post of Diana's now about Kelley's "Open System" idea and it is most facinating. Go read it!
December 10, 2005
Per her recommendation, I went and read David Kelley's essay A Question of Sanction.
Now, before I comment on that I want to reiterate that I'm not an expert on Objectivism. I've read most of the major works once, but I can't say that I've integrated or mastered all of the ideas. In my own mind, I think I am but a beginner in the realm of Objectivist philosophy.
In my last post, I wrote "I gather no directive from this essay that when one hears another say something evil that one should spit venom in their eyes and stomp away." I should have included the word "immediately" in that sentence, because certainly there does reach a point where one need not waste more time considering bad ideas.
When I was younger, I used to spend quite a lot of time finding people on the internet with whom to debate issues like whether or not God exists. I don't think anyone changed their mind based on those conversations.
The lesson I learned is that attempting to persuade the unpersuadable is a great big waste of time.
I hate the expression "agree to disagree" largely because so many of those "debates" ended that way. It's as if the other person is saying that our positions on the matter are of equal value.
There comes a point where you know that your opponent is not going to change their mind. They can't at that point, be said to be earnestly pursuing the truth because they won't even acknowledge that their position isn't intellectually viable. They just "agree to disagree."
I think that if someone says something evil and you give them the squinty look and inquire after that idea. If you find out that there is some misunderstanding or honest mistake, then it's ok. In the end, everyone is set right and truth and justice prevails. If, however, you find out that this person is just wrong and they won't acknowledge it, the I think you've reached the venom spitting and stomping threshold.
I don't like the Libertarian Party because they're a group of people who seem to be resigned to being unresigned on political issues. As a political party, that is a vile and stupid position to take. There are anarchists, laissez-faire capitalists, and keynesian mixed-system folks all bundled into the same group and they allegedly support the same thing: freedom.
What? The three groups I just named don't even agree on what freedom IS. How can they possibly be working to the same ends?
I've told people before that one cannot defend freedom while simultaneously undermining the foundation of the concept and there's the Libertarian Party trying to amass a membership from all sorts of people fighting for and against the foundations of freedom under the guise that, in the end, they all support freedom. This is an impossible contradiction and as a whole, they don't seem to mind. I guess that they "agree to disagree."
To make matters worse, there comes to be a sort of equivalence between all of these various positions on political philosphy. Anarchy is equal to Capitalism? That's absurd and disgusting.
So, in Kelley's essay, he brings up three primary points of contention that he has with his Objectivist enemies.
1) A sense of proportion.
Here, Kelley is objecting to being compared to Soviets. I haven't seen where this comparison is made, but if the Libertarian Party and the Soviets share basic philosophical principles, a comparison is relevant and warranted.
Objectivism places strong emphasis on the importance of ideas and if the Libertarian Party is like Soviet Russia in philosophy, then to claim that a comparison should not be made just because the Libertarians haven't slaughtered millions is to ignore that they are philosophical bretheren and deny the importance of ideas, which contradicts Objectivist principles.
2) Evil vs. error.
There are actually several parts to Kelley's argument here, so go check it out.
My primary objection to this part is that because there is a connection between ideas and action, there is a certain point at which one must be responsible for one's ideas in as much as one is responsible for one's actions.
Certainly, some make honest errors, but there comes a point where the errors are no longer honest, but the result of willful evasion. It is proper to identify those people and condemn them as evil people who think false things and act for evil reasons.
I don't think that a Marxist professor is innocent. I don't think that the Libertarian Party, as a group, is innocent. Both are evil because of their resolve to either be wrong or to refuse to reject that which is wrong.
Now, here's where I get down-right snotty about things. "Tolerance" is idiotic; it's not a virtue in any realm. Tolerance means that you're putting up with something and that something is something bad/wrong/foolish.
If someone comes to you and they are saying something idiotic, you don't "tolerate" it. You say, "Hi! What's that you say? Why do you think that? Oh, really? Well, that doesn't work and I'll tell you why." You spell it out. If they persist with the idiocy, you explain to them that you won't tolerate foolishness.
At the point where a person refuses to accept reason, you can't really do anything more with them. There's no sense in pursuing it and continuing to deal with them, particularly in the cognitive realm, is offering them your sanction for their bad ideas. You're saying, "Well, you're wrong, but that's ok." It's not ok.
I think it's fine to approach individuals and ask them why they think some thing or another and then address that. I think engaging others about ideas is a good way to learn new things and strengthen one's own understanding of concepts. That sort of process only works when both parties are committed to reason.
When I was first learning about philosophy, I met someone who introduced me to Objectivism. I was a Christian at the time and most all of our conversations revolved around faith and the existence of God. He continued to talk to me for one reason: I acknowledged every single time I lost an argument. To his credit, most of the time it was clear I had lost. Ocassionally, it wasn't so clear, but we came back to it and I wound up losing. Today, I'm atheist.
If the Libertarian Party said, "Our party platform is to accept reason and objective reality as the foundation of our political philosophy" I think the story would be quite a bit different. But that's not what they say. They say, "We're fighting for freedom! Never mind what freedom means or how we know this is a good thing. Never mind where freedom comes from. We're just here for the freedom." They're attempting to evade the connection between reality and freedom and they are old enough to know better. There is no sense in putting up with that.
I'm sure that Kelley is an intelligent person and clearly he has accomplished quite a bit. There is no excuse for him to be so sloppy about thing. At this point, we can't even excuse the remarks as merely sloppy because he should definitely know better.
If I wrote something like this essay, I would expect someone to come to me and say, "Trey, you are so wrong and I'm about to lay some learning on you." And I would be all "Well, I never!" And I'd think about it and see who I think is right. But I'm not David Kelley. I haven't spent my whole life studying philosophy and Objectivism. I think he is beyond excuse at this point. He has crossed the threshold into which we can safely say that his "Objectivism" is not helpful within the context of man's life.
I think I might have to go find Schwartz's essay next to see about this comparison of Kelley to the Soviets.
December 04, 2005
But I managed to read Peikoff's Fact and Value this afternoon while working.
Some quotations that I found interesting:
The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality. The evil is a species of the false; it is a form of contradicting reality. Or: values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live.
Just as there can be no dichotomy between mind and body, so there can be none between the true and the good. Even in regard to metaphysically given facts, cognition and evaluation cannot be sundered. Cognition apart from evaluation is purposeless; it becomes the arbitrary desire for "pure knowledge" as an end in itself. Evaluation apart from cognition is non-objective; it becomes the whim of pursuing an "I wish" not based on any "It is."
Human action is an expression of a volitional consciousness. This is why human action (as against sunlight) is morally evaluated.
An action without effects on man's life (there are none such) would be outside the realm of evaluation — there would be no standard of value by which to assess it.
In judging an idea morally, it is not relevant whether its results are enacted by the idea's originator or by his later followers.
This item reminds me of the discussion of Kant in which those who've studied him point out that Kant claimed to support individual rights while spending all day talking about duty, analytic/synthetic dichotomies and whatnot.
Now take the case of Ayn Rand, who discovered true ideas on a virtually unprecedented scale. Do any of you who agree with her philosophy respond to it by saying "Yeah, it's true" — without evaluation, emotion, passion? Not if you are moral. A moral person (assuming he understands philosophy at all) greets the discovery of this kind of truth with admiration, awe, even love; he makes a heartfelt positive moral evaluation. He says: Objectivism is not only true, it is great! Why? Because of the volitional work a mind must have performed to reach for the first time so exalted a level of truth — and because of all the glorious effects such knowledge will have on man's life, all the possibilities of action it opens up for the future. And this latter applies whether Ayn Rand herself actualized these possibilities or left that feat (as she had to) to the generations still to come.
Actually, I'm going to stop quoting there, because there are tons of items that are worthy of note in the essay. Just go read it.
There are lots of complex ideas contained therein, but it's written patiently and clearly, so I think you can handle it. (This is coming from a person who read the first sentence of the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology six different times on six different occasions before being able to read on.)
But, let me say this: though I am not clear on the exact situations that brought rise to this essay, anyone who espouses or promotes the ideas that Peikoff attributes to David Kelley in this essay is flat wrong. I would totally give them the frowny-squinty-eyes-and-raised-eyebrows look of darkest suspicion.
I'm not sure how a person could, with full understanding of man's relationship to ideas, say that with tolerance is how bad ideas should be greeted.
I gather no directive from this essay that when one hears another say something evil that one should spit venom in their eyes and stomp away. I have noted that this essay is sometimes criticized for offering no definitive threshold by which a person can distinguish the errors of another as either honest mistakes or just plain evil.
Based on this essay, such a request is absurd and can only be submitted by a person who either misunderstood or ignored a rather large part of the essay with regard to the parts about intrinsicism and subjectivism.
Peikoff clearly outlines the process for evaluating facts, ideas, and people. He begins with an example of evaluating the sun and he repeatedly states that the process and standard of evaluating things is the same for each of the sets of entities listed above and that the value is set by its relationship to man's life.
Does anyone think it's reasonable for Peikoff to name an exact amount of sunlight that is good for every person? The idea is just as laughable as the other request.
I haven't mastered all of the ideas the Peikoff outlines in his essay, but the conclusion is clear enough to me.
Finally, this whole "closed-system" debate also seems clear to me now.
I've declined to judge this in the past because I didn't know or understand what the idea meant. Peikoff writes:
In his last paragraph, Kelley states that Ayn Rand's philosophy, though magnificent, "is not a closed system." Yes, it is. Philosophy, as Ayn Rand often observed, deals only with the kinds of issues available to men in any era; it does not change with the growth of human knowledge, since it is the base and precondition of that growth. Every philosophy, by the nature of the subject, is immutable. New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system — its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch — is laid down once and for all by the philosophy's author.
Regardless of what others have written about what texts and remarks actually outline Objectivism, this statement is true.
Ayn Rand commented on lots of particulars and applications of her philosophy above and beyond the basic statements of her philosophy. To tell the truth, the larger part of her writing is about the "New implications, applications, integrations" of Objectivism.
My understanding of that statement is that the particular "implications, applications, integrations" Ayn Rand herself named and described are not necessarily part of what would be called her philosophy although they are provided as a means of understanding it by way of example and analogy and in a sense are subsumed by the term "Objectivism." If she had lived in 300 BC and outlined her philosophy, the philosophy would be the same, but the rest she described would not.
Objectivist philosophy itself in this sense is "closed."
Now, I'll say something that may seem to disagree with Peikoff's statement that, "Objectivism does have an 'official, authorized doctrine,' but it is not dogma. It is stated and validated objectively in Ayn Rand's works." If she, and (this is the relevant disclaimer to those who see dissent in my remarks) I am not prepared to produce any instances where she did, did not correctly or consistently apply her philosophy, it does not invalidate her philosophy. Further, it seems to me that this also does not mean that the correct application is not a part of Objectivism, but that the correct application would be -- where the term "Objectivism" describes her philosophy and the application and movement of promoting her philosophy. Applications of philosophy to some particular issue or situation are of minor value in light of the basic principles themselves of which the philosophy consists.
If I am wrong in my description of the term "Objectivism" the worst that can be said is that correct applications of Ayn Rand's philosophy, though not Objectivism, would be described as consistent therewith; which is, in my opinion, a distinction of very little worth in itself. Also, if I'm wrong there, I have no idea how one would classify a mistake Ayn Rand herself made in terms of "Objectivism," if one believes that every word she wrote and word she spoke is subsumed under the term.
I'm definitely not an expert on Objectivism. I'm trying to work it all out, but this much seems clear to me based on this essay. If any more knowledgeable folks can add, clarify, or correct anything I've written here, I would be happy to hear your thoughts on the matter.
(Does anyone know the threshold I have to cross before I can be considered a "Randroid?")
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