September 24, 2007
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.
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.
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.
September 21, 2007
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.
September 20, 2007
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.
September 19, 2007
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.
September 18, 2007
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.
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.
September 17, 2007
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.
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.
September 11, 2007
I'll continue reading, but I've been mentally ranting about him all the way into work this morning.
September 04, 2007
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:
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.
For those not afflicted with this lunacy, I want everyone to do their part to encourage rational, scientific thinking.
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