Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Autopsy of The Objectivist Standpoint on Kant

Ayn Rand has called Kant the most evil man in mankind's history—she and her Objectivist followers hold him responsible for some of the worst philosophical and political problems of our age.

But Fred Seddon, in his article, “Kant on Faith,” shows that Rand’s position on Kant is outrageous and is the outcome of sloppy thinking and ignorance of Kant’s texts.

This sentence from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is often quoted in Objectivist literature:

“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

In Kant's original German writing, this is how this sentence appears:

"Ich mubte also das Wissen aufheben, um zum Glauben Platz zu bekommen,..." 

Seddon says that the Objectivist philosophers have misunderstood the ideas which Kant wants to communicate by the words “knowledge” and “faith.”

Here’s a look at the line of arguments that Seddon uses in his article to clarify the meaning of the above quoted sentence from Kant:

1. The sentence occurs in the preface to the second edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In the time of Kant it was generally believed that the preface is not the right place for making important philosophical points. The important points are generally made in the chapters that follow the preface.

2. Before writing that sentence Kant posits that knowledge is either scientific or “a merely random groping.” He holds that metaphysics is in the latter category, while logic, mathematics and science are in the former category as they follow the path of science. He wants metaphysics to be science rather than a “merely random groping.”

3. Kant points out that logic, mathematics, and physics are secure sciences because their domain of inquiry is limited. Rand has berated Kant for saying that the sciences are limited. But her criticism is not valid, because Kant is simply saying that science is valid only so long as it deals with the world.

4. Kant makes a distinction between general and special metaphysics, and between reason in its speculative versus reason in its practical employment. In context of this discussion, the most important distinction Kant makes is between knowledge and thought. By examining the sentences in which Kant has elucidated his view of knowledge and thought, Seddon conjectures that Kant’s intention may have been to use the word “Gedanke” (which means “thought”), but for some reason he ended up with“Glaube” (which means “faith” or “belief”).

5. Even if we accept that Kant’s original intention was to use the “Glaube” in the sentence, it is clear that there is a fundamental difference between what he means by Glaube/faith and what the Objectivists mean by “faith.”

6. For Ayn Rand “faith” is a claim to a strange kind of knowledge which is not based on evidence or proof, but that is precisely what Kant is trying to deny.

7. The German word “Glaube” has been translated in English in two ways: “belief” and “faith”. It is noteworthy that for Kant there is only one word, “Glaube”, but his translators have rendered that word into two English words: “belief” and “faith”.

8. In the later section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant divides belief into that having to do with skill versus that having to do with morality. For instance, a doctor uses his skill when he diagnoses a patient’s diseases by observing his symptoms. An example of a moral belief will be the doctrine of the existence of God. However, Seddon points out that Kant does not mean by “God,” a substantive or constitutive concept, but rather a merely regulative one.

9. Kant does not believe in God. He places God in the service of science by positing that God orders things systematically and human beings can hope to find that system.

10. According to Kant, all knowledge is a product of both the sensory and the rational. For example, we cannot know God, even though we can think him.

11.Kant’s sentence is: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Seddon posits that if we take into account the idea that Kant is trying to communicate, we can rewrite this sentence as: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for thought.”

12. What are the idea which Kant is trying to counter in this sentence. Seddon says that the dogmatists (the rationalists) are one of the groups that Kant names in the same page where the sentence occurs in his book. Metaphysics, Kant believed, is a playground for the rationalists because it is not based on science. But if we reject metaphysics, then we must jettison any belief in free will and hence morality

13. Kant’s aim in the Critique of Pure Reason is to save morality by critiquing pure reason. However, his conclusions undercut both the rationalists and the skeptics.


Fred Seddon’s “Kant on Faith,” is published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7, no. 1 (Fall 2005), Page 189–202

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trump Nailed it On Socialism At UNGA

"The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented."

"Wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure."

~ Donald Trump speaking at the UN General Assembly. Here's the link to the full speech.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lord of The Objectivists

In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies a British airplane crashes into an uninhabited tropical island. The only survivors are boys between the age of 6 to 12. The island is peaceful and gorgeous, food and water are easy to find, and it seems that the stage is set for the boys to have a great time.

But the boys are unable to govern themselves. Disagreements breakout between them and soon they are indulging in savage violence. They discover in themselves the urge to inflict pain on their rivals and realize that they enjoy dominating others.

I wonder what will happen if instead of young boys a group of Objectivists get stranded on a tropical island. Will the Objectivists be able to cooperate with each other to ensure that they have a good time on the island? Or will they start indulging in acrimonious arguments about issues such as: Who is moral and who isn't—Who is loyal to Ayn Rand and who isn’t?

What if the Objectivists, like the boys in Golding’s novel, get divided into two warring camps which will eventually try to settle philosophical disputes through violence! The boys fought for material dominance of the island, but the Objectivists may fight for overcoming the rationalizers, compromisers, moral monsters, and the enemies of Rand.

Was the British Empire a good or bad thing for the world?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Greg Nyquist on The Legacy of Leonard Peikoff

In his article, “Future of Objectivism 8,” Greg Nyquist says that Leonard Peikoff’s legacy is in tatters due to his heavy handed, narrow-minded, and sometimes philosophically-unsound and even hypocritical methods of dealing with the issues concerning Ayn Rand’s life and philosophy.

Nyquist's article opens with these lines:
"How will Leonard Peikoff be remembered by future Objectivists? Will even the orthodox remember him all that fondly? Will he continue to be influential? Rand's most steadfast and controversial protege casts a long shadow over orthodox followers of Ayn Rand. His legacy is definitely of the questionable, perhaps even dubious, variety. While he exhibited some skills as a teacher, lecturer, and expositor of Objectivist orthodoxy, whenever he attempted to stray from the Randian straight and narrow, and take flight on his own intellectual steam, the consequences were often deeply embarrassing. The man simply has very little in the way of independent judgment. Couple this with an over-sensitivity to criticism and a deep-seated distrust of anyone who refuses to defer to even his most outlandish ideas, and you have the perfect recipe for the paranoid ideologue, separated from the world by his own political and moral delusions. His apologists describe him as a man who does not well suffer fools; which is an overly kind way of saying that Peikoff is not a nice man.
I will not pass an opinion on what Nyquist has to say about Peikoff’s legacy. But I think Nyquist’s articles offer some kind of an explanation for why the world is full of people who are inspired by Ayn Rand’s literature but feel alienated by her philosophy of Objectivism.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wittgenstein Thought that Darwin was Wrong

Maurice O'Connor Drury in Conversations with Wittgenstein, ed. Rush Rhees (Oxford, 1984), pp. 160-161:
One day, walking in the Zoological Gardens, we admired the immense
 variety of flowers, shrubs, trees, and the similar multiplicity of
 birds, reptiles, animals.

Wittgenstein: I have always thought that Darwin was wrong: his
 theory does not account for all the variety of species. It hasn't
 the necessary multiplicity. Nowadays some people are fond of saying
 that at last evolution has produced a species that is able to
 understand the whole process which gave it birth. Now that you
 can't say.

Drury: You could say that now there has evolved a strange animal
 that collects other animals and puts them in gardens. But you can't
 bring the concepts of knowledge and understanding into this series.
 They are different categories entirely.

Wittgenstein: Yes, you could put it that way.
Source: Maverick Philosopher

Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Kelley on John Searle’s Philosophy of Mind

David Kelley's review of John Searle’s Mind: A Brief Introduction is worth reading. As the review’s title, “Still Deferring to Descartes?”, indicates, Kelley’s main point is that even though Searle is a prominent critic of Cartesian dualism, he is not fully free of Cartesianism. Some kind of dualism is there in Searle’s philosophy of mind.

Kelley points out that several contemporary thinkers, who reject Cartesian dualism, accept an amended dualistic view which is called “property dualism.” Property dualism “holds that while there is only one entity in the equation—the brain or, in some versions, the person—that entity has both mental and physical properties, and those properties are as radically distinct as Descartes alleged.”

In his book, Searle says that mental states are ontologically irreducible to neural states, but they are causally reducible. But this can lead to the conclusion that consciousness is simply a byproduct of brain's evolution—consciousness is real but it is causally inert. However, Kelley clarifies that this is not Searle’s position.

In several chapters of his book, Searle discusses “the nature of deliberate rational action, the possibility of free will, and the nature of the self, and in each of these areas he seems to attribute a vital causal role to consciousness.”

Searle’s argument is that when people choose between alternatives, make decisions and take action, they act with a sense of “I.” They have a first person awareness of themselves as subjects of experience and as agents of action.

Kelley says that he is impressed by Searle’s argument that consciousness plays a causal role in human action. Here's an excerpt from Kelley's review:

“The unity of a person’s field of awareness, which allows him to bring rival goals and diverse information to bear on a decision, is something the person himself experiences but is not observable from the outside. The same is true of the difference we experience between our sense of agency when we act for a reason and the sense of passivity when we are moved by outside factors or by inner compulsions. Yet Searle also holds, as we saw, that the causal role of consciousness is nothing over and above the causal role of the neural substrate.”

Even though Kelley does not directly say that Searle is a property dualist, it is clear that Searle’s ideas are very close to property dualism. Kelley ends his review with praise for Searle’s work:

“Searle’s work in the philosophy of mind is at once a major contribution to philosophy and a crucial framework for interpreting neurobiology. Across a wide range of issues, Searle is insightful, well-informed, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Mind: A Brief Introduction can be read with profit by anyone studying mind and brain from the perspective of virtually any discipline. It is an introduction that will open doors.”

Like Kelley, Edward Feser also finds some kid of dualism in Searle’s philosophy of mind. In his paper, “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist,” Feser argues that Searle’s anti-materialist arguments in philosophy of mind entail property dualism. According to Feser, property dualism is unavoidable in the way in which Searle describes his theory of biological naturalism. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche and John Dewey Contrasted

John Dewey
It is difficult to think of any commonality in the ideas of Nietzsche and Dewey. I think Nietzsche’s √úbermensch is poles apart from Dewey’s pragmatic man.

But historian W. T. Jones offers a convincing contrast between the two thinkers:
“Dewey’s anthropological and psychological analysis of metaphysics is obviously similar to Nietzsche’s. Both philosophers agreed that the object of metaphysical thinking are “fictions” that function to allay the insecurity people feel in the presence of change, decay, and death. But they differed sharply in their attitudes towards this discovery about the basic insecurity in human nature, as is shown not only by what they said but by the very styles in which they wrote.  Nietzsche’s writing was metaphorical, contentious, and highly personal. He shared the underlying insecurity that others experienced and differed from them in choosing to face it rather than flee from it. He felt, as they did, that humankind is hanging precariously on the edge of an abyss; his response was too affirm life despite its terror. In contrast, Dewey’s exposition of the roots of metaphysics was calm, detailed, and scholarly. Since he did not experience any abyss within himself, since he did not feel divided and alienated, he was not personally involved in the discovery that most people experience deep insecurity. Rather, he looked at the situation from the outside, as a physician and psychiatrist might. He believed that the cure for insecurity was not (as Nietzsche had held) to bite the snake that had bitten one—to Dewey, this was a truly desperate remedy. The cure was to become involved in the day-to-day task of improving humankind’s estate. Hence, though Dewey too affirmed life, he did not feel this affirmation to be particularly difficult or heroic. Further, the life that he affirmed did not involve a quantum jump to a level “beyond good and evil”; it consisted in a gradual, even “prosaic,” advance to more-intelligent practice.”  
A History of Western Philosophy (Volume V), The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida by W. T. Jones; Chapter: “The Nature of Reality: Experience” (Page 46—47)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Here's an excerpt from Nicholas Rescher's The Strife of Systems: An Essay on the Grounds and Implications (Page 205 - 206):

"The history of philosophy is akin to an intellectual arms race where all sides escalate the technical bases for their positions.  As realists sophisticate their side of the argument, idealists sophisticate their counterarguments; as materialists become more subtle, so do phenomenalists, and so on.  At the level of basics, the same old positions continue to contest the field -- albeit that ever more powerful weapons are used to defend increasingly sophisticated positions."

I think it is true that there is very little consensus in philosophy. The major philosophers in history do not seek consensus with past philosophers and their contemporaries—they may be inspired by other philosophers in a technical sense but they endeavor to develop their own original doctrine.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Philosophy in the Modern World

Philosophy in the Modern World
(A History of Western Philosophy, Volume IV) 
Anthony Kenny 
Oxford University Press 

Philosophy in the Modern World, the fourth and the final volume of Anthony Kenny’s A History of Western Philosophy series, covers modern philosophy (from 1757 to 1975).

In the first three chapters Kelly conducts a chronological survey of the intellectual environment: 1. Bentham to Nietzsche; 2. Pierce to Strawson; and 3. Freud to Derrida. In these chapters there is also a discussion of philosophers like Darwin, Marx, Kierkegaard, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Sartre.

Freud regarded himself as a scientist, but Kenny includes him in the book because he thinks that Freud has exercised heavy influence on most philosophers who are engaged in teaching philosophy of mind, ethics, or philosophy of religion. However, for some reason, Kenny has left out the philosophers of postmodernism: Bergson, Foucault, Rorty and others.

The nine chapters which follow the first three chapters are on particular themes of modern philosophy: 4. Logic; 5. Language; 6. Epistemology; 7. Metaphysics; 8. Philosophy of Mind; 9. Ethics; 10. Aesthetics; 11. Political Philosophy; and 12. God.

While talking about the philosophical movements, Kenny does not describe the social and cultural environment in which the philosophers did their work. He confines himself to describing the personal histories and the general ideas of the philosophers. At times, he is opinionated and defends some points of view while rejecting others.

He is clearly a Wittgenstein sympathiser. He calls Wittgenstein the most significant philosopher of the 20th century. But Kenny is not enthusiastic about Derrida. He holds that Derrida was an important philosopher, who he had nothing of importance to say. He writes:

“Is it not unfair, then, to include Derrida, whether for blame or praise, in a history such as this? I think not. Whatever he himself may say, he has been taken by many people to be a serious philosopher, and he should be evaluated as such. But it is unsurprising that his fame has been less in philosophy departments than in departments of literature, whose members have had less practice in discerning genuine from counterfeit philosophy.”

To readers who have some kind of familiarity with this stretch of philosophy, the ground that Kenny covers will seem familiar. He does not offer any new kind of analysis on the philosophers and their philosophies, but he gives a good description of what is already known. I think that this book can serve as a good reference text for the students of philosophy. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Impact of Aristotle’s Works on Medieval Philosophy

Frederick Copleston
The following lines are borrowed from the Volume III of Frederick Copleston’s celebrated eleven volume work on history of western philosophy, A History of Philosophy:
“The assertion that the most important philosophical event in mediaeval philosophy was the discovery by the Christian West of the more or less complete works of Aristotle is an assertion which could, I think, be defended. When the work of the translators of the twelfth century and of the early part of the thirteenth made the thought of Aristotle available to the Christian thinkers of western Europe, they were faced for the first time with what seemed to them a complete and inclusive rational system of philosophy which owed nothing either to Jewish or to Christian revelation, since it was the work of a Greek philosopher. They were forced, therefore, to adopt some attitude towards it: they could not simply ignore it. Some of the attitudes adopted, varying from hostility, greater or less, to enthusiastic and rather uncritical acclamation, we have seen in the preceding volume. St. Thomas Aquinas's attitude was one of critical acceptance: he attempted to reconcile Aristotelianism and Christianity, not simply, of course, in order to avert the dangerous influence of a pagan thinker or to render him innocuous by utilizing him for 'apologetic' purposes, but also because he sincerely believed that the Aristotelian philosophy was, in the main, true. Had he not believed this, he would not have adopted philosophical positions which, in the eyes of many contemporaries, appeared novel and suspicious. But the point I want to make at the moment is this, that in adopting a definite attitude towards Aristotelianism a thirteenth- century thinker was, to all intents and purposes, adopting an attitude towards philosophy. The significance of this fact has not always been realized by historians. Looking on mediaeval philosophers, especially those of the thirteenth century, as slavish adherents of Aristotle, they have not seen that Aristotelianism really meant, at that time, philosophy itself. Distinctions had already been drawn, it is true, between theology and philosophy; but it was the full appearance of Aristotelianism on the scene which showed the mediaevals the power and scope, as it were, of philosophy. Philosophy, under the guise of Aristotelianism, presented itself to their gaze as something which was not merely theoretically but also in historical fact independent of theology. This being so, to adopt an attitude towards Aristotelianism was, in effect, to adopt an attitude, not simply towards Aristotle as distinguished, for example, from Plato (of whom the mediaevals really did not know very much), but rather towards philosophy considered as an autonomous discipline. If we regard in this light the different attitudes adopted towards Aristotle in the thirteenth century, one obtains a profounder understanding of the significance of those differences.” 
A History of Philosophy, Volume III, Ockham to Suarez by Frederick Copleston

Frederick Copleston on Schopenhauer

Friday, September 8, 2017

Five Ways of Proving God's Existence

In  Medieval Philosophy: An Introduction, Frederick Charles Copleston offers a precise account of Thomas Aquinas's five ways of proving the existence of God. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 6, "St. Thomas Aquinas":
"Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica, gives five ways of proving God's existence. First he argues from the fact of motion (which does not mean simply locomotion, but, as with Aristotle, the reduction of potentiality to act) to the existence of a first mover. This argument is based on Aristotle's argument in the Metaphysics. Secondly, he argues that there must be a first efficient cause; and, thirdly, that there must be a necessary being. We see that there are at any rate some beings which do not necessarily exist, for there are beings which begin to be and cease to be. But, these beings (contingent beings) would not exist, if they were the only type of being; for they are dependent for their existence. Ultimately there must exist a being which exists necessarily and is not dependent. The fourth argument proceeds from degrees of perfection observed in the world to the existence of a supreme or perfect being; and the fifth argument, based on the finality in the corporeal world, concludes with asserting the existence of God as cause of finality and order in the world. In these proofs the idea of dependence is fundamental, being successively applied to the observed facts of motion, efficient causality, coming into being and passing away, degrees of finite perfections, and lastly finality. None of the proofs were entirely new; nor did Aquinas think they were new. He was not writing for atheists but was engaged in showing the rational foundation of faith as a preliminary to treating of theological matters. The only proof which he develops at any length (in the Summa contra Gentiles) is the first, namely that from motion."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Aristotelians Versus Platonists

It is a tradition to regard the Aristotle and Plato as the two opposite poles of philosophy. Plato is idealistic, utopian, other-worldly, whereas Aristotle is realistic, practical, commonsensical. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge has nicely articulated this traditional view in a passage of his Table Talk, dated 2nd July, 1830: 
Every man is born an Aristotelian or a Platonist. I do not think it possible that anyone born an Aristotelian can become a Platonist, and I am sure no born Platonist can change into an Aristotelian. They are the two classes of men, besides which it is next to impossible to conceive a third. The one considers reason a quality, or attribute; the other considers it a power. I believe that Aristotle never could get to understand what Plato meant by an "idea." 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Rape of The Mind: The Paradox of Education and Technology

Joost A. M. Meerloo
In his classic work on brainwashing The Rape of The Mind, Joost A. M. Meerloo says that modern education turns students into better followers and worse thinkers, and makes them susceptible to totalitarian ideologies. In chapter 16,“Education For Discipline or Higher Morale,” Meerloo says:
The paradox of universal literacy is that it may create a race of men and women who have become (just because of this new intellectual approach to life) much more receptive to the indoctrination of their teachers or leaders. Do we need conditioned adepts or freethinking students? Beyond this, our technical means of communication have caught up with our literacy. The eye that can read is immediately caught by advertising and propaganda. This is the tremendous dilemma of our epoch.
When education does not encourage free expression and discussion of dissenting ideas, even modern technology can hasten the process of the mind being turned into totalitarian channels. In the chapter 12, “The Paradox of Technology,” Meerloo says:
The dangerous paradox in the boost of living standards is that in promoting ease, it promotes idleness, and laziness. If the mind is not prepared to fill leisure time with new challenges and new endeavours, new initiative and new activities, the mind falls asleep and becomes an automaton. The god Automation devours its own children. It can make highly specialized primitives out of us.  
Just as we are gradually replacing human labour by machines, so we are gradually replacing the human brain by mechanical computers, and thus increasing man's sense of unworthiness. We begin to picture the mind itself as a computing machine, as a set of electrochemical impulses and actions. The brain is an organ of the body; its structure and its actions can be studied and examined. But the mind is a very different thing. It is not merely the sum of the physiological processes in the brain; it is the unique, creative aspect of the human personality.  
Unless we watch ourselves, unless we become more aware of the serious problems our technology has brought us, our entire society could turn into a kind of super-automatized state. Any breakdown of moral awareness and of the individual's sense of his own worth makes all of us more vulnerable to mental coercion.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dwyer’s Argument Against The “Objective Standard of Value”

Dale Lugenbehl’s article, “The Argument for an Objective Standard of Value,” was published in March 1974 issue (Volume 55, Issue 2) of The Personalist. In this article, Lugenbehl is making a case for the Objectivist theory of value, in face of claims from Robert Nozick and a few other philosophers that this theory is not sound. 

The same issue of The Personalist has William Dwyer’s article, “The Argument Against an ‘Objective Standard of Value’,” which as the title suggests is a response to Lugenbehl’s article. 

I think Dwyer has raised some valid concerns about the soundness of the Objective standard of value. He shows that Ayn Rand and her supporters are often unintelligible on this issue, as many of their statements are contradictory. In fact, some of their statements seem to contradict the arguments which Lugenbehl deploys to argue for the Objective standard of value. 

In his article, Dwyer gives examples of several contradictory statements from Rand and Nathaniel Branden. He also exposes the disconnect between what Rand says in her philosophy essays and what she says in Atlas Shrugged

For instance, John Galt says to Dagny: “At the first mention of a threat to you, I will kill myself and stop them right there.”

Galt goes on to say:

“I don’t have to tell you,” he said, “that if I do it, it won’t be an act of self-sacrifice. I do not care to live on their terms, I do not care to obey them, and I do not care to see you enduring a drawn-out murder. There will be no values for me to seek after that—and I do not care to exist without values.” 

But Galt’s statements contradict the Objectivist position that life is the basic value that makes all values possible. Rand seems to be sanctioning suicide (under certain circumstances) in Atlas Shrugged, and her stance cannot be reconciled with her idea that man’s life makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible and is the ultimate standard of value. 

In April 1964, Nathaniel Branden’s article, “In the context of the Objectivist ethics, what is the justification for knowingly risking one’s life?,” was published in The Objectivist Newsletter (a magazine edited by Ayn Rand). Dwyer offers this quote from Branden’s article: 

“The man who, in any and all circumstances would place his physical self-preservation above any other value, is not a lover of life but an abject traitor to life—to the human model of life—who sees no difference between the life proper to a rational being and the life of a mindless vegetable. His treason is not that he values life too much, but that he values it too little.” 

If we go by Branden’s contention, then John Galt can be accused of being a traitor when he promises to kill himself at the first sign of threat to Dagny’s life. Dwyer is right when he asserts that the Objectivist position on this issue is quite confused. 

Ayn Rand adds to the confusion when in some of her writings she contends that the achievement of an emotional state of happiness is a rational goal, and if an individual is able to achieve such a goal then it is rational for him or her to commit suicide. 

For instance, in Atlas Shrugged there is the character, Cherryl Brooks, who Rand says committed suicide “with full consciousness of acting in self-preservation.” Clearly, Rand is endorsing Cherryl’s suicide because there is no hope for Cherryl to achieve happiness. However, Dwyer shows that Rand is against the hedonist position which holds happiness as the basic aim of life.

Dwyer brings to light several weaknesses in the formulations that Rand and Branden have used in their various assertions on this issue. At times, Rand and Brandon seem to contradict themselves within the confines of the same statement. I think Dwyer’s concerns have to be taken seriously and the Objectivist philosophers must revisit their premises on this issue. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand and the Issue of Taxation

Many Objectivists seem to believe that Alan Greenspan is an Objectivist follower of Ayn Rand. They even accuse him of some kind of moral misdemeanour because of his failure to act like John Galt or Howard Roark while he was the FED Chairman.

I have no idea from where these Objectivists get the idea that Greenspan is (or was) a follower of Rand. He has never said anything like that. Sure, he talks about his admiration for Rand's philosophy, but he does not see himself as her follower. In fact, he disagrees with Rand on a number of issues.

In his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, Greenspan talks about why he disagrees with Rand’s theory of taxation. Here’s an excerpt:
According to Objectivist percepts, taxation was immoral because it allowed for government appropriation of private property by force. Yet if taxation was wrong, how could you reliably finance the essential unctions of government, including the protection of individuals’ rights through police power? The Randian answer, that those who rationally saw the need for government would contribute voluntarily, was inadequate. People have free will; suppose they refused?  
I still found the broader philosophy of unfettered market competition compelling, as I do to this day, but I reluctantly began to realize that if there were qualifications to my intellectual edifice, I couldn't argue that others should readily accept it. (Page 52)
In the book, he also says that Rand used to refer him as "the Undertaker," partially because his manner was so serious and partially because he always wore a dark suit and tie. "Over the next few weeks, I later learned, she would ask people, "Well, has the Undertaker decided he exists yet?" (Page 41)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Peikoff's Arbitrary and Frankfurt's Bullshit

Leonard Peikoff's theory of arbitrary claims is to a large extent similar to Harry Frankfurt's theory of bullshit. 

In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, (Chapter 5, "Reason"), Peikoff says: "An arbitrary claim is one for which there is no evidence, either perceptual or conceptual. It is a brazen assertion, based neither on direct observation nor on any attempted logical inference therefrom."

In his 1986 article, "On Bullshit," Frankfurt defines bullshit as a statement that "is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit."

To me it is clear that what Peikoff regards as arbitrary claim—Frankfurt calls bullshit. They use different kinds of arguments but they reach essentially the same conclusion that an arbitrary claim or bullshit is something that is total nonsense.

In 2005, Frankfurt expanded his thesis on bullshit into a 67-page book Bullshit, which has been quite popular with readers.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Alexander of Aphrodisias

Alexander was a Peripatetic philosopher and commentator, active in the late second and early third century CE. He was the greatest exponent of Aristotelianism after Aristotle, and his commentary on Metaphysics 1-5 is the most substantial commentary on the Metaphysics to have survived from antiquity. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Induction and Concept-Formation in Francis Bacon and William Whewell

Portrait of Francis Bacon
Ayn Rand offers a glimpse of the close relationship between induction and concept formation in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Leonard Peikoff mentions the word “induction,” on page 90-91 in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Induction lies at the core of the Objectivist theory of concepts, but, as of now, we have very little information on how induction works. Objectivism still does not have a proper theory of induction.

Today I read a paper by John P. McCaskey, “Induction and Concept-Formation in Francis Bacon and William Whewell,” which offers a good introduction to Bacon’s and Whewell’s ideas on induction.

According to McCaskey, Bacon and Whewell, like Rand, believed that there exists a close association between induction and concept-formation, and by exploring their works we can learn more about this association.

McCaskey begins with an analysis of Bacon’s Novum Organum, which is a 60,000-word treatise on induction. McCaskey observes that “Bacon probably wrote more on induction than all European authors since Aristotle combined.” In Novum Organum, the subject of induction is introduced with these words:

“The syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, and words are tokens for notions. Hence if the notions themselves (this is the basis of the matter) are confused and abstracted from things without care, there is nothing sound in what is built on them. The only hope is true induction.”

In the above quote, Bacon is claiming that the validity of syllogism rests on induction. It is not only the major premise which depends on induction, but every notion (by which Bacon means a “concept”) which is there in every proportion is dependent on induction. In case the induction is poorly formed, the syllogism is rendered invalid.

McCaskey sums up his discussion of Bacon’s theory with these lines: “Bacon has proposed that true induction is the process by which a predicate notion is properly formed, and if that notion is properly formed, that it can be used in the structuring of an inductive argument in such a way as to yield a valid, certain, and universal conclusion.”

The next section in the paper is on Whewell’s work on induction.  Whewell describes his theory of induction in books like History and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, and in a few articles. According to Whewell, “Induction is a term applied to describe the process of a true Colligation of Facts by means of an exact and appropriate Conception.” A knowledge of the basic outline and terminology of Whewell’s theory of knowledge is necessary to understand his theory of induction.

McCaskey points out that for Whewell every valid induction must be accompanied by a new properly formed conception. “The ―Inductive Step is ―the Invention of the Conception.”

Overall, this is a fine paper, but as it is of only 15 pages it leaves many questions unanswered. I hope that McCaskey will someday publish an expanded version of this paper. Here are a few points for which I would like to have an explanation:

1. McCaskey says in the paper that “David Hume did not write anything skeptical about induction,” but this is contrary to the fact that Hume denied universals and basically concepts, and therefore he is bound to reject induction.

2. McCaskey says that the meaning of the word “induction” has changed from the time of Bacon and Whewell. In what ways has the meaning changed? Some kind of explanation is necessary?

3. The paper does not offer a comparative analysis between Ayn Rand’s ideas on induction, and the theory of induction that Bacon and Whewell have proposed. Also, has Ayn Rand commented on the epistemological theories of Bacon and Whewell?

4. What are the reasons for which Bacon’s theory of induction failed to make an impression on the British empiricists like David Hume?

5. McCaskey left ARI in 2010 in controversial circumstances (Robert Tracinski has talked about this controversy in his article, "Anthemgate"). What I would like to know is what does McCaskey think of the present state of the Objectivist theory of concept-formation and induction?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Adler’s Rejection of The Darwinian Theory of Evolution

Mortimer J. Adler has been an active and outspoken opponent of the Darwinian theory of evolution. He has attacked the theory of evolution in several books and articles. In his book What Man Has Made of Man, Adler brands evolution a popular myth, insisting that it is not an established fact.

Here are three excerpts from What Man Has Made of Man: 

The Origin of Species is full of guesses which are clearly unsupported by the evidence. (To the extent that The Origin of Species contains scientifically established facts, these facts are not organized into any coherent system.) Furthermore, these guesses, which constitute the theory of evolution, are not in the eld of scientific knowledge anyway. They are historical. This conjectural history, begun by Darwin, was even more fancifully elaborated by the 19th century evolutionary "philosophers.” ~ Page 115  
It is true that philosophical questions can be answered in an arm-chair, but success in scientific work is neither preparation for, nor a mark of ability to perform, the philosophical task. Darwin is another example of a scientist who concerned himself with questions his evidence could not possibly answer. The concluding chapter of The Origin of Species so confused scientific with philosophical and theological questions that the i9th century never fully recovered from the vertigo it suffered in trying to separate them. As a result we are all heirs to the myth, the religion, of evolution. If Darwin had had any competence in philosophy or theology or if, lacking it, he had contented himself with reporting the data and conclusions of his research, the conflicts about "evolution" which embroiled science with religion and generated the elaborate guess-work of 19th century thought, could never have occurred. ~ Page 140  
The radical error in The Origin of Species is the attempt to define species as the extremes of a series of graded intermediates, differing quantitatively. Species are said to originate through the extinction of the intermediate varieties. It is this error which the discovery of mutations corrects and which changes the interpretation of all of Darwin's data. Whether mutations produce accidental or essential differences is not here the question. If they are only accidental, mutations do not constitute an origin of species; but the varieties of species which result are discontinuous.” ~ Page 183 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reisman and Objectivism

In my opinion, George Reisman is one of the best economists in the world today. I find his book, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics even better that Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action. Unfortunately, Reisman was excommunicated from Objectivism for some flimsy reason which has nothing to do with philosophy.

In his article, "Reisman Insights Without George Reisman," Per-Olof Samuelsson's says that the "fact that such a man as George Reisman exists, that he is a long time Objectivist, and that he has revolutionized economic theory, is obviously a closely guarded secret."

The excommunication of Reisman is a great loss for Objectivism. 

The Snooty Bookshop

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wittgenstein’s Hypnotic Absurdities

Brand Blanshard's Reason and Analysis is a good critique of Pragmatism, Logical Positivism and other linguistic philosophies.

Once you read this book you will feel surprised that even today there are many people who have some kind of high opinion of the works of philosophers like Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Bertrand Russell. Its seems most people are hypnotized by demented philosophers.

Here’s an interesting paragraph on Wittgenstein from Chapter V, “Theory of Meaning,” in Reason and Analysis:
“There must have been something hypnotic about Wittgenstein which made listeners accept as oracles what in other mouths they would have dismissed as absurdities. Fortunately or not, the present writer never fell under the basilisk eye. He has therefore no inhibitions in calling absurd, even in Wittgenstein, what plainly seems so. He is also free to express astonishment at the unoriginality of this view. For in essentials it is Hume over again—his solipsism without any vestige of his humor, clarity, or grace. Of course the difficulties of Hume have been discussed almost ad nauseam. They were discussed, for example, with monumental thoroughness by Green in the great ‘introduction’, now so seldom opened. If Wittgenstein had ever read a page of this or any other criticism of Hume, there is no indication of it.”

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Robert Efron On The Nature Of Perception

What is Perception?
By Robert Efron 
Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science

In his essay, “What is Perception?”, Robert Efron shows how the knowledge of perception can be used to develop a better understanding of the disease called visual object agnosia.

He writes, “Unfortunately, the exact nature of perception has never been adequately defined or conceptualized, with the result that those who attempt to study disorders of cognitive function do not always know whether a disturbance of cognition is due to a defect in a sensory, perceptual or conceptual process.”

He takes up the case history of a 24-year old soldier, Mr. S, who has developed a severe cognitive disturbance over an accidental over-exposure to carbon monoxide. Mr. S, Efron explains, used to be totally blind, but after a period of some time his vision returned with a striking peculiarity—he is not able to name any common object at which he looks despite the fact that his visual acuity is at least 20/100.

After evaluating the entire range of symptoms that Mr. S is exhibiting, Efron reaches the conclusion that he is suffering from “visual object agnosia.”

While conducting an analysis of Mr. S’s ailment of visual object agnosia, Efron provides a good explanation of not only perception but also sensation and consciousness.

He defines perception as “the direct, immediate awareness of discriminated existents which results from patterns of energy absorption by groups of receptors.” The term “discriminated existent” is used to apply to “the segregated, isolated, cohering, ‘thing’ which is perceived. The objects we see or touch; the notes, tones or voices we hear; the odors we smell, and the flavors we taste, are all ‘discriminated existents’.”

I learned about the works of Robert Efron from Roger Bissell. Here's what Bissell has to say about Efron:

Robert Efron is a retired neurophysiologist living in Northern California. He has worked at veterans hospitals in New York and California and done pioneering research and theorizing on perception and hemispheric lateralization (right brain/left brain, for those of you who eschew polysyllabization).

For several years during the mid-to-late 1960s, Efron was part of Ayn Rand’s circle of intellectuals. During this period several articles he wrote on consciousness, perception, and related issues were published in professional journals. One of them, “Biological without Consciousness – and Its Consequence,” originally appearing in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, was reprinted in The Objectivist, and another, “The Conditioned Reflex – a Meaningless Concept,” was published in the same journal and reprinted as a pamphlet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute.

His essay “What is Perception?”, originally appearing in Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, was not published by Rand or Branden, but was presented live to at least one Objectivist campus group and was announced in The Objectivist.

Efron dropped out of Ayn Rand’s circle during the turmoil of the breakup of the Nathaniel Branden Institute,. his sister Edith already having parted ways with Rand a year or two previously over personal differences.