Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Great Moments In Randian Argument

In the recent ARCHN Quote of the Week we discover Ayn Rand's amazing insight that the standard proper for determining the requirements of man's life's life!

We realise the profundity of this insight is pretty tough to beat. But fortunately, the greatest philosopher of the past 2000 years is up to the challenge. From her "Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology" Chapter 2, Concept Formation:
"I shall identify as ‘length’ that attribute of any existent possessing it which can be quantitatively related to a unit of length, without specifying the quantity."
Yes folks, according Ayn Rand 'length' is that 'attribute' which can be 'quantitively related' a 'unit of'....wait for it...'length!'

Phew! It's just as well for Western Civilization that Rand was around to straighten out such challenging philosophical issues.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Give Me Death

The tireless Randzapper brings us more oozings from the pro-genocide, pro-infanticide wing of the Ayn Rand fanbase:

Step forward Mr Fred Weiss:
"I can't imagine her regarding the Arabs as anything but something approaching sub-humans who should be bombed back to the Stone Age if necessary and if that were required to get them to behave. That's pretty much how she viewed the American Indians and she (Rand) fully supported their annihilation."
And Mr Bob Kolker:
"I have no problem with infanticide on a day old infant or a week old infant. I get antsy around a month. This is based on experience with my own children."
So the guy would clearly get a little "antsy" about murdering his own children if they were around a month old - but not before. Get a little "antsy"?

Friday, November 24, 2006

ARCHN Quote of the Week

"An organism's life depends on two factors: the material or fuel which it needs from the outside, from its physical background, and the action of its own body, the action of using that food properly. What standard determines what is proper in this context? The standard is the organism's life, or; that which is required for the organism's survival." - (Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p 16)
This passage demonstrates to perfection Rand's method of demonstration. She begins with an appalling banality: life depends on "the material or fuel which it needs" and on "the action of its own body." This vacuous assertion is used to introduce the next appalling banality. Rand asks:"What standard determines what is proper in this context?" (ie., in the context of the requirements of man's life)? Rand answers: "The standard is the organism's life." In other words, the standard proper for determining the requirements of man's life is man's life! Imagine the profundity of the woman who could come up with such an insight.
- Greg Nyquist, ARCHN, p211

Monday, November 20, 2006 reviews OPAR

Regular commenter Neil Parille over at his Objectiblog points us to David Gordon tearing Leonard Peikoff a new one over at Enjoy. (warning, PDF. Scroll about halfway to find the review)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Charge the Electrodes

There are the intelligent, thoughtful and articulate Ayn Rand fans. And then there are the others. Thus we at ARCHN hail the new Randzapper blog, boldly trolling the internets seeking the nuttiest Randian commentators - so you don't have to. The ARCHN team recognise at least one batshit crazy unit from round these parts, and should the mysterious owner of Randzapper wish to drop us a line sometime, we're sure we can throw a few other gems their way. (hat tip to Michael Prescott)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

ARCHN Quote of the Week

"While it is true that Rand's philosophy of Objectivism officially adopts the view that all knowledge ultimately comes from experience of the external world, this concession turns out, on closer examination, to be shallow and unrigorous. All philosophers like to believe their doctrines are in accord with empirical reality. The question, however, is whether this belief is justified." - ARCHN p. xvii

Friday, November 10, 2006

Is Objectivism Dangerous?

It would be a mistake to assume that merely because Objectivism is misguided or wrong, it is therefore dangerous. The assumption that a wrong philosophy must ipso facto be a dangerous one is naive. It fails to take account of (1) to what extent conduct is or is not affected by philosophical beliefs, and (2) what sort of people are likely to embrace a given set of philosophical ideas.

Although Objectivist ideas are intensely moralistic and political, they tend to discourage political involvement. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, Objectivist political principles are impractical and unrealistic. The phrase "laissez-faire," so important to the Rand's political philosophy, is a slogan rather than a coherent policy of political economy. All political action is conducted in the context of intense ideological, personal, and economic rivalries. It is grossly implausible to assume either that one interest or ideology can "impose" laissez-faire on all the others, or that all interests, all ideologies (or even a majority of ideologies and interests) would ever agree to adopt laissez-faire economic policies. And even if (per impossible) laissez-faire could be established, whether by force or consensus, it is not clear that an advanced industrial economy with sophisticated asset markets can be maintained by a strict hands-off approach. Markets require a sophisticated framework of law defining property, contracts, and credit. The notion that any governing body could just declare a "separation" between the state and economy and then proceed to sit back and do nothing cannot be taken seriously. Only a rationalist with no first hand experience with law and economic policy could ever believe that.

People who favor impractical political principles tend to get pushed to the margins in democratic politics. But when they are also unwilling to compromise, this further pushes them out of the mainstream. Representational government is essentially government through compromise. The political mechanism of democratic elections is a kind of game that is played to see which political factions get the lion's share of political power. Coalitions are required to win elections and to pass legislation, and compromise is necessary to form coalitions. Those who refuse to compromise for moral reasons (i.e., because compromise is "evil," as Rand would put it) condemn themselves to having no say in legislative decisions.

Rand appears to have intuitively sensed that she could not change anything through political means. Her experiences campaigning for Wendel Wilkie in 1940 presidential election turned her against political activism. Refusing to play a game in which she could never have her own way, she instead began arguing that metaphysics and epistemology are "fundamental," that is, prior and determinative of ethics and politics, so that if you want to change a society's politics, you must first change their metaphysics and epistemology. Hence, the Randian doctrine that real political change can only be brought about by solving the problem of universals.

Now let us consider for a moment the sort of people who would be attracted to a philosophy that contends that political goals can achieved without ever engaging in political action. Will it attract people eager to engage in politics, people who have a talent for political action, people full of energy and vigor and charisma who are willing to get hands dirty and fight for a place at the political table? No, an anti-political philosophy like Objectivism will turn off such people. This will leave only the dispirited, the lackluster, the armchair intellectuals—those who, in brief, lack energy and initiative and would rather talk about politics than do anything about it. In other words, it leaves just the sort of people we find running the Ayn Rand Institute.

So is Objectivism dangerous? Not in a political sense. Politically, Objectivism is largely impotent and hence does not pose a serious threat or danger to the community. Objectivists may say things that sound dangerous or scary, but without any political power, such verbal histrionics are no more efficacious than the idiotic howlings of a pack of demented, toothless curs.

Get Your DIM On

Peikoff's lecture series outlining his DIM hypothesis is available on line at the ARI. It's free - all you need to do is register.

There are 15 sections, each in two parts, and each part seems to be about 45mins to an hour or more long. So anyone who's got a mere 20-30 hours to spare can, apparently, get the vital philosophic context that is necessary to understand Peikoff's recent nutso remarks.

The ARCHN site's team of trained analysts will of course be sparing no effort to parse Dr P's utterances whilst doing the dishes, folding the washing etc for the next 6 months...;-)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Short Theory of Objecti-Schisms

This should really be a longer post, but apropos of the latest Objecti-schism, I want to touch briefly on the recurring topic of exactly why Objectivism is particularly prone to such upheavals - especially over what seem to outsiders as minor issues. There are a number of competing, and often complex theories as to why this is the case, involving the history of the movement, Ayn Rand's particular personality, the machinations of evildoers etc.

However, I'm going to suggest that that there is a simple, logical mechanism that accounts for this, and that logic extends from a basic proposition at the heart of the movement. I will roughly summarise this proposition as follows:

Everything is reducible to philosophy.

That is to say, all human feelings, thoughts, emotions, theories, hopes, preferences, ambitions, and character qualities are, in theory, all consistent with and ultimately reducible to a specific set of philosophic propositions. These propositions in turn can either be correct (ie: Objectivist) or incorrect (anything else).

Once you have accepted the Objectivist propositions, this supposed philosophic consistency offers the possibility of having what is called a "fully integrated" personality, where all one's character traits, from opinions to emotions to subconscious thoughts, are not only perfectly consistent with each other, but also consistent with a true fundamental philosophical basis. This happy ideal would see a perfect harmony from the fundamental to the trivial, both within ourselves, and ultimately between all our fellows, and perhaps is why Rand thought that there could be no conflict between rational men.

However, what is less discussed is what happens when you run the logic the other way: that is if you have disagreements about theories, hopes, preferences, emotions, character qualities etc between Objectivists. Because if we accept that there is no human activity - n matter how trivial - that does not have a fundamental philosophic basis, therefore there is, in principle, no disagreement so trivial that it cannot be explained by a fundamental philosophic disagreement. And as philosophy is the vitally important, all encompassing part of human existence, it is likewise possible - and perhaps even necessary - to escalate trivial disagreements into vitally important, all-encompassing ones!

Of course, one way out of this bind is to simply reject the idea that everything can be reduced to philosophy. But this would be a major rejection of a central Randian doctrine.

Who is the False True Objectivist?

In comments,(scroll down)Dragonfly notes the arrival of Schism #1,376 in Objectivism, triggered by the following statement:
"In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world."

- Leonard Peikoff, founder of the Ayn Rand Institute, and self-described as 'the world's foremost authority on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism.'
It seems that absolute agreement with the ARI leader on politics is necessary in order to be a True Objectivist. Sadly, it seems other True Objectivists disagree - here, here, and here for example. This can only mean one thing: that someone has to be the False True Objectivist. But who will it be? Game on!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hoisted from comments: Nyquist on the Dualism(s)

From comments on our "Double Trouble" thread below, Greg Nyquist chips in with his take on dualisms in Objectivism:

The apologist(s) for the Randian position have spread more heat than light on this issue of dualism, which is actually critical since it touches upon an important area of difference between those of us who are critics of Rand and those who defend the author of Atlas Shrugged. So a restatement may be in order.

There are two major forms of dualism related to this issue: epistemological dualism and psycho-physical dualism. Epistemological dualism is the view that an idea is not identical with the thing in reality that it represents. Hence the idea of a cat is different from the cat itself. The idea is a mere representation of the cat. This is a view held most famously (and in a rather crude form) by Locke and Descartes. According to the malicious critics of knowledge (i.e. idealists), this is severely problematic, because it leads to a supposedly unanswerable problem, which the philosopher Santayana introduced as follows: "How is it possible to posit an object [i.e., the existence of external object] which is not a datum [i.e., not an idea], and how without knowing positively what this object is can I make it the criterion of truth in my ideas? ... If I know a man only by reputation, how should I judge if the reputation is deserved? If I know things only by representations, are not the representations the only things I know?"

Now how does Rand answer this question? Well, she doesn't really answer it directly, but through scattered remarks throughout her works, we piece together a rather inadequate reply. She begins by accepting the idealist critique of epistemological dualism, which caricatures this dualism as a complete separation of ideas and their objects. But epistemological dualism doesn't separate objects from ideas, it merely distinguishes them. Then Rand conflates epistemological with psycho-physical dualism and dismisses the former as being tainted with the (alleged) mysticism of the latter. Then having dismissed epistemological dualism, she sets up in its stead a view that is, for all intents and purposes, a version of epistemological dualism. For she accepts nearly all the positions held by epistemological dualists. She agrees with them, for example, that ideas (or, in her terminology, concepts) are not identical with the objects in reality they stand for. She also agrees that the mind does not mirror reality. So where does she differ from epistemological dualism? She differs only in that she wouldn't agree with the inevitable conclusion of epistemological dualism. How in fact is the leap from idea to object justified? Rand actually never addresses this issue specifically. Even in IOTE she ends up, perhaps unwittingly, addressing a separate issue (i.e., the relation between sensation and percepts on the one side, and concepts on the other). She dodges the whole issue of how percipient representations "correspond" with their existential objects. It is fairly obvious why she would do so. The simple fact of the matter, there is no viable solution to the problem that Rand would accept, because Rand believed that you had to prove or validate knowledge in order for knowledge to be useful and trustworthy. This is a false ideal deriving from Rand's theory of history. Those who appreciate and understand the problem of epistemological dualism realize that the only viable solution is one that embraces the conjectural nature of knowledge. The leap from idea to object is, as Santayana put, made under the steam of "animal faith," so that knowledge becomes "faith mediated by symbols." But this is not an arbitrary, groundless faith caricatured by Rand, but a justified faith corroborated by every moment of intelligent wakefulness.

Memo from the ARCHN Quality Control Dept.

Due to some recent minor trollular activity, comment moderation will be switched on for a while.

We Have A Winner!

Our team of analysts is proud to announce the incisive Ellen Stuttle is the winner of the 'best comment' prize our recent competition. She gets a free copy of Greg Nyquist's "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" courtesy of your soaraway ARCHN site. Well done, ma'am.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Double Trouble

Here's a quick thought for the weekend:
"A philosophy that rejects the monism of idealism or materialism does not thereby become 'dualist.'"
- Leonard Peikoff, 'Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand' p 35
The trouble is then how, exactly, one can reject monism without accepting some form of dualism or pluralism!

Leonard Peikoff's solution is to make up a new word.
"In this situation, a new term is required..."Objectivism"'" (p 35 ibid)
In the common parlance, this is called a fudge. Chris Sciabarra's solution, on the other hand, is to call it "dialectics".
" not anti-dualism any more than it is anti-monism. It is pro-context."
I am not sure we are any the wiser after this either.

But does Objectivism really reject both philosophic monism and dualism as aggressively as its rhetoric suggests? Here's Rand herself:
"I want to stress this; it is a very important distinction. A great number of philosophical errors and confusions are created by failing to distinguish between consciousness and existence -- between the process of consciousness and the reality of the world outside, between the perceiver and the perceived." - Ayn Rand, ITOE, "The Role of Words - Words and Concepts"
While this is still vague, it is to all intents and purposes a strongly dualist statement in the entirely ordinary philosophical sense. That is, "a very important distinction" exists between "consciousness" and "existence" ie: the "reality of the world outside." While of course we can then go on to roll up these two elements and call it a "monism" if we want, this would be merely pedantry, as you could equally do this to traditional dualist cosmologies. In short, if walks like a dualism, and quacks like a dualism, it doesn't really matter what you try to dress it up as.