Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don’t be a Dogmatic Objectivist - Quotes from Ayn Rand

Here are some interesting quotes from Ayn Rand, where she emphasises that the Objectivists should avoid the tendency of becoming dogmatic and displaying cultish behaviour:

“Philosophy cannot give you a set of dogmas to be applied automatically. Religion does that—and unsuccessfully. The dogmatic Objectivist desperately tries to reduce principles to concrete rules that can be applied automatically, like a ritual, so as to bypass the responsibility of thinking and moral analysis. These are “Objectivist” ritualists. They want Objectivism to give them what a religion promises, namely, ten or one hundred commandments, which they can apply without having to think or judge anything.”

“The purpose of philosophy is to guide a man in the course of his life. Unfortunately, many Objectivists have not fully accepted, concretized, and integrated this principle. For example, in the presence of a given event, work of art, person, etc., too many Objectivists ask themselves, “What do I have to feel?” Instead of, “What do I feel?” And if they need to judge a situation I have not discussed before, their approach is, “What should I think?” instead of, “What do I think?” This is the childhood remnant of anyone who to some extent was influenced either by the religion of the culture or, later in college, by Platonism. Both give the impression that the good, the important, the philosophical are like church on Sunday: you use them on special occasions, but they have nothing to do with your daily life. If any part of this attitude remains in you, it is important to eliminate it.”

“For example, someone submitted to The Objectivist a movie review that was chaos. I could not tell whether the author was reviewing a movie or preaching Objectivist morality. The two aspects were totally unintegrated. He would say something about the movie, and then start into a diatribe on the evil of presenting such people. (It was a gangster movie.) The diatribe was not integrated with what he was saying about the movie. The author thought that you could not review a movie of that sort without making it a platform for Objectivism. Of course, it was unconvincing in regard to the Objectivist slogans he used, and it was unconvincing as a review. He had two intentions: to say what he wanted about the movie, and to fulfill his “duty” to Objectivism. Well, that was the attitude at the height of the Middle Ages, when nothing was permitted except what led to the greater glory of the Church.”

“It is not the duty of an Objectivist writer to smuggle in something to the glory of Objectivism, along the lines of waving the flag or a cross. When you write an article in which you evaluate cultural phenomena rationally, you do more for Objectivism than you could in any other form—even if you never mention reason, man, his means of survival, or any other Objectivist bromides which ritualistic “Objectivists” too often use inappropriately.”

“If, for example, you are an advocate of individualism, and you suddenly observe that you write like a collectivist, that is all right. That has taught you something; you have material that you can correct. But to sit in fear, thinking: “I believe in Objectivism with all my soul, but what if the printed page shows me to be a monster?”—is to take a mystical approach, which indicates that you do not understand free will. There is nothing wrong in having “demons.” What is wrong is evading them and doing nothing about them.”

“Some people think that when they write, they must practice Objectivist “company manners.” Such a person guards his subconscious, because he worries that if he let himself go he might write improperly. Nothing could be better calculated to stop you from writing. In fact, the opposite premise is necessary. When you write, you must trust your subconscious, and more: you must allow your subconscious to be the sole authority in the universe. Otherwise you cannot write. This does not mean that man is only the subconscious and that the conscious mind does not count. It is the mind that uses the subconscious. But the subconscious is a programmed computer, and if it is programmed incorrectly, there is no way for you to write if you repress your machine.”

“In fact, if you have written some bad sentences, or expressed some wrong ideas, the conclusion should be not that your subconscious has demons, but you did not think though the subject carefully and that your subconscious is fallible. But you are there to correct the mistake. Again, there is nothing wrong in making mistakes. What is wrong is not correcting them.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quarrel over Immanuel Kant’s philosophy results in shooting

A philosophical argument over views on Immanuel Kant descended into violent mayhem in southern Russia, leading to a man being shot several times.

The dispute occurred when two men waiting for a beer became involved in an increasingly fractious argument over the work of Kant – the author of canonical philosophical text Critique of Pure Reason – according to a police spokeswoman in Rostov-on-Don, the town where the argument broke out.

The row ended with one of the men producing an air gun and firing several rubber bullets at his opponent.

Police did not identify the men but said that the gunman had been detained after fleeing the scene, while the victim was in hospital with non-life-threatening wounds. The attacker now faces up to 10 years in prison for intentional infliction of serious bodily harm, police said.

It is not known which of Kant’s many theories was the subject of debate.

However, it is highly unlikely the violent nature of the argument would have pleased Kant, left, the widely revered philosopher best known for his writing on ethics and his habitually sedentary lifestyle.

Kant’s theory on duty-based ethics were based on the principle that no decision should be made unless morally good in itself, regardless of predicted consequences – a thinking he called the categorical  imperative.

The philosopher only took time out of his studies for a walk at 3.30pm every day – a tradition he kept up for nearly 60 years  before his death at the age of 79 in 1804.

Less than 5ft tall, Kant suffered from bad health throughout his life and never left his Prussian home town of Königsberg – now Kaliningrad in modern-day Russia.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ayn Rand: The Art of Fiction

"I can give the reason for every word and every punctuation mark in Atlas Shrugged — and there are 645,000 words in it by the printer's count. I did not have to calculate it all consciously when I was writing. But what I did was follow a conscious intention in relation to the novel's theme and to every element involved in that theme. I was conscious of my purpose throughout the job — the general purpose of the novel and the particular purpose of every chapter, paragraph, and sentence." ~ Ayn Rand in The Art of Fiction

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ayn Rand on "Anti-Concepts"

An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate . . . .

One of today’s fashionable anti-concepts is “polarization.” Its meaning is not very clear, except that it is something bad—undesirable, socially destructive, evil—something that would split the country into irreconcilable camps and conflicts. It is used mainly in political issues and serves as a kind of “argument from intimidation”: it replaces a discussion of the merits (the truth or falsehood) of a given idea by the menacing accusation that such an idea would “polarize” the country—which is supposed to make one’s opponents retreat, protesting that they didn’t mean it. Mean—what? . . .

It is doubtful—even in the midst of today’s intellectual decadence—that one could get away with declaring explicitly: “Let us abolish all debate on fundamental principles!” (though some men have tried it). If, however, one declares; “Don’t let us polarize,” and suggests a vague image of warring camps ready to fight (with no mention of the fight’s object), one has a chance to silence the mentally weary. The use of “polarization” as a pejorative term means: the suppression of fundamental principles. Such is the pattern of the function of anti-concepts.

Thomas Sowell: Global Warming Manufactured by Intellectuals?

Author Thomas Sowell argues that public demand for intellectuals is largely manufactured by intellectuals themselves. He says intellectuals make alarming predictions using causes like global warming to create a need for their services.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A possible purpose for writing the story...

Socialism breaks eggs, but does not make any omelettes...

On ne saurait faire une omelette sans casser des oeufs.

Translation: “One can’t expect to make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

With those words in 1790, Maximilian Robespierre welcomed the horrific French Revolution that had begun the year before. A consummate statist who worked tirelessly to plan the lives of others, he would become the architect of the Revolution’s bloodiest phase—the Reign of Terror of 1793–94. Robespierre and his guillotine broke eggs by the thousands in a vain effort to impose a utopian society based on the seductive slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

But, alas, Robespierre never made a single omelet. Nor did any of the other thugs who held power in the decade after 1789. They left France in moral, political, and economic ruin, and ripe for the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.

As with Robespierre, no omelets came from the egg-breaking efforts of Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini either.


The Metaphysics of Mathematics

Numbers have long fascinated the human mind. They are essential to our lives and practically universal — children across the globe grasp mathematical concepts at a young age. But as important as they are, few people sit down and ask: what is a number?


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ayn Rand on religion

In March 1964, Ayn Rand gave an interview to Playboy. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Playboy: You have said you are opposed to faith. Do you believe in God?
Ayn Rand: Certainly not.

Playboy: You've been quoted as saying "The cross is the symbol of torture, of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. I prefer the dollar sign." Do you truly feel that two thousand years of Christianity can be summed up with the word "torture"?
Ayn Rand: To begin with, I never said that. It's not my style. Neither literarily nor intellectually. I don't say I prefer the dollar sign -- that is cheap nonsense, and please leave this in your copy. I don't know the origin of that particular quote, but the meaning of the dollar sign is made clear in Atlas Shrugged. It is the symbol, clearly explained in the story, of free trade and, therefore, of a free mind. A free mind and a free economy are corollaries. One can't exist without the other. The dollar sign, as the symbol of the currency of a free country, is the symbol of the free mind. More than that, as to the historical origin of the dollar sign, although it has never been proved, one very likely hypothesis is that it stands for the initials of the United States. So much for the dollar sign.
Now you want me to speak about the cross. What is correct is that I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn't that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.

Playboy: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?
Ayn Rand: Qua religion, no—in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy. And, as philosophies, some religions have very valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very—how should I say it?—dangerous or malevolent base: on the ground of faith.

Playboy:  Then you would say that if you had to choose between the symbol of the cross and the symbol of the dollar, you would choose the dollar?
Ayn Rand: I wouldn't accept such a choice. Put it another way: If I had to choose between faith and reason, I wouldn't consider the choice even conceivable. As a human being, one chooses reason.

Playboy: Do you consider wealthy businessmen like the Fords and the Rockefellers immoral because they use their wealth to support charity?
Ayn Rand: No. That is their privilege, if they want to. My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Playboy: What is the place of compassion in your philosophical system?
Ayn Rand: I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty. If one feels compassion for the victims of a concentration camp, one cannot feel it for the torturers. If one does feel compassion for the torturers, it is an act of moral treason toward the victims.

Playboy: Would it be against the principles of Objectivism for anyone to sacrifice himself by stepping in front of a bullet to protect another person?
Ayn Rand: No. It depends on the circumstances. I would step in the way of a bullet if it were aimed at my husband. It is not self-sacrifice to die protecting that which you value: If the value is great enough, you do not care to exist without it. This applies to any alleged sacrifice for those one loves.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thorough tech support...

On the right to self-defense

An essay by James Stevens Valliant 

A person may use physical force upon another person, even deadly force, when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it to be necessary to defend himself or a third person from a physical attack by another. The level of force used may be greater than that used by the attacker, but it must not be disproportionate to the level of force used in the attack. (One may not use a deadly weapon, for example, if merely slapped in the face, but one may use a gun if the attacker is aiming a club at your head.)

A person may use force to defend someone else who is being attacked under the same standards and with the same limitations as he may lawfully defend himself. A person may do so even if the victim of the attack is not himself acting to defend himself.

The law of self-defense (or defense of others) does not excuse an illegal act of force--it renders the act totally lawful and innocent.

In deciding whether the person acted reasonably, the jury is instructed to consider all the facts and circumstances as they were known to and appeared to the person acting under a claim of self-defense, and determine what a "reasonable person" in the same or a similar situation (and with similar knowledge) would have acted. If his beliefs were reasonable, the danger does not need to have actually existed at all. The belief that he (or someone else) was threatened may be reasonable even if he relied on information or evidence that was not true but reasonably appeared to be true.

A person acting in reasonable self-defense need not retreat (under the classic, old fashioned law of self-defense that existed long before contemporary "stand your ground" laws), and a defender may make sure that he is safe before ending his own responsive force. Say, for example, you have been attacked by someone with a knife. He slashes at your face and throat, but you manage to deflect the blade so that it cuts only your forearms and hands. You are able to push back your attacker and pick up a stick. You start hitting him with the stick. You may continue to hit the attacker with the stick until you are reasonably certain that the potentially deadly attack will not recommence, i.e., you can make sure that he will not get up again. You need not stop merely because the attack itself has stopped.

If a person who is justified in using force against an attacker instead (and/or also) accidentally harms an innocent bystander, he does not lose his legal justification for harming the aggressor, of course, but the harm caused to the innocent bystander is also generally considered to have been legally justified. The attacker need not be using the third party as a "human shield" as Hamas uses children, either. Now, the defender is not legally justified if he acted carelessly with regard to other lives, and he still may be subject to a charge of manslaughter under those circumstances, as with other negligent homicides. Thus, shooting back at an attacker through a crowd would likely be seen as unreasonably subjecting innocent bystanders to harm, for example--unless, say, the attacker was himself in the act of throwing the switch on a bomb that would have killed everyone. The question is one of the apparent necessity of the act. However, the mere fact that an innocent bystander was harmed does not in itself render an act of self-defense unlawful.

It does not matter if the attackers outnumber the victim(s). If ten people seem to be involved in a violent attack on a single person, if threatened with serious injury, he may kill them all in order to preserve his own safety. Indeed, the very number of the attackers in itself implies the reasonable possibility of great harm to the defender. The burden is on each of the attackers to unmistakably withdraw from the attack before he regains any legal claim against the defender.

Consider the following scenario: a bank robber straps a bomb to the chest of an innocent person who he kidnapped for the purpose of robbery, and tells him to go rob a bank or the explosive will be detonated. The poor victim is wired with mics and told that if he should let on about the bomb, it will be detonated as well. He is given a fake gun that looks real, one he is told is fake (and, thus, that HE can actually harm no one). Say the poor fellow under such duress actually tries to rob the bank using the realistic but fake gun. Let's say a security guard sees him pointing the fake gun and shoots him. Has the security guard committed any crime, even though the man with the "gun" was himself innocent? No, just being himself an instrumentality of force gave others the right to use force against him even though he was innocent.

Who is responsible for the death of our "innocent" robber? The law says that the security guard is completely innocent and that the only one liable for the murder is the kidnapping, bomb-strapper.

Thus, the person acting in self-defense is not legally liable for the "collateral" damage of his own force on even innocent third persons so long as he acted reasonably by the same objective test.

When it is an entire nation that is acting in self-defense or defense of another, that nation, too, may regard the instrumentalities of an enemy nation--innocent or not--as fair targets (e.,g., factory workers in the war machine of the enemy.) The guilt for the death of innocent third parties and bystanders is forever squarely and completely on the shoulders of the aggressive nation's leadership, if we are to apply the classic law of self-defense to the situation.

The law of self-defense is simply applied egoism. It assumes, correctly, that peaceful coexistence is best for everyone, but it also permits you to intentionally kill another person if that person has threatened you with serious injury. You may, in other words, treat your own life as more important than your attacker's life. The altruist response would be to submit to evil, to "turn the other cheek" to aggression, as Christ put it, or to take the stance of the pacifist. Indeed, if we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then how can I place my life above that of anyone else? Thus, St. Augustine taught that killing in self-defense was still a sin even if necessary to preserving your own life. Christians have since walked back the demands of Jesus. Aquinas held that reasonable self-defense was not a sin.

In any case, in demanding that for war to be ethically permissible any collateral damage must always be avoided, the libertarians are imposing a mystical and altruistic standard of self-defense that is both contrary to common sense and the law of self-defense in civilized nations.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Interesting quotes from Friedrich Hayek

Friedrich Hayek (8 May 1899 – 23 March 1992), born in Austria-Hungary as Friedrich August von Hayek and frequently known as F. A. Hayek, was an Austrian, later British, economist and philosopher best known for his defense of classical liberalism.

"A society that does not recognise that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom."

"The effect of the people's agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing on the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they want to go; with the result that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all."

"There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means as De Tocqueville describes it, 'a new form of servitude.'"

"Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one's government is not necessarily to secure freedom."

"It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regards as the public good."

"The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments."

"In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules. Since he is essentially opportunist and lacks principles, his main hope must be that the wise and the good will rule — not merely by example, as we all must wish, but by authority given to them and enforced by them. Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people."

"It is not democracy but unlimited government that is objectionable, and I do not see why the people should not learn to limit the scope of majority rule as well as that of any other form of government. At any rate, the advantages of democracy as a method of peaceful change and of political education seem to be so great compared with those of any other system that I can have no sympathy with the antidemocratic strain of conservatism. It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem."

"I am certain that nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after this mirage of social justice."

""Emergencies" have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded."

"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The purpose of the state is to oppress people, and not to allow freedom. ~ Friedrich Engels

In a letter (Dated: March 18-28, 1875) that Friedrich Engels wrote to August Bebel, he suggested that the real purpose of the communist state is to oppress the people. He defined a free state as a state that is free of demands of freedom from the people. Here is an excerpt from the letter written by Engels:

"The free people’s state is transformed into the free state. Grammatically speaking, a free state is one in which the state is free vis-à-vis its citizens, a state, that is, with a despotic government. All the palaver about the state ought to be dropped, especially after the Commune, which had ceased to be a state in the true sense of the term. The people’s state has been flung in our teeth ad nauseam by the anarchists, although Marx’s anti-Proudhon piece and after it the Communist Manifesto declare outright that, with the introduction of the socialist order of society, the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore suggest that Gemeinwesen ["commonalty"] be universally substituted for state; it is a good old German word that can very well do service for the French “Commune.”"

Read complete letter here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ayn Rand on Liberals

The basic and crucial political issue of our age is: capitalism versus socialism, or freedom versus statism. For decades, this issue has been silenced, suppressed, evaded, and hidden under the foggy, undefined rubber-terms of “conservatism” and “liberalism” which had lost their original meaning and could be stretched to mean all things to all men.

The goal of the “liberals”—as it emerges from the record of the past decades—was to smuggle this country into welfare statism by means of single, concrete, specific measures, enlarging the power of the government a step at a time, never permitting these steps to be summed up into principles, never permitting their direction to be identified or the basic issue to be named. Thus statism was to come, not by vote or by violence, but by slow rot—by a long process of evasion and epistemological corruption, leading to a fait accompli. (The goal of the “conservatives” was only to retard that process.) From ‘Extremism,’ or the Art of Smearing - [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]


The most timid, frightened, conservative defenders of the status quo—of the intellectual status quo—are today’s liberals (the leaders of the conservatives never ventured into the realm of the intellect). What they dread to discover is the fact that the intellectual status quo they inherited is bankrupt, that they have no ideological base to stand on and no capacity to construct one. Brought up on the philosophy of Pragmatism, they have been taught that principles are unprovable, impractical or non-existent—which has destroyed their ability to integrate ideas, to deal with abstractions, and to see beyond the range of the immediate moment. Abstractions, they claim, are “simplistic” (another anti-concept); myopia is sophisticated. “Don’t polarize!” and “Don’t rock the boat!” are expressions of the same kind of panic. From Credibility and Polarization - [The Ayn Rand Letter]


In the 1930’s, the “liberals” had a program of broad social reforms and a crusading spirit, they advocated a planned society, they talked in terms of abstract principles, they propounded theories of a predominantly socialistic nature—and most of them were touchy about the accusation that they were enlarging the government’s power; most of them were assuring their opponents that government power was only a temporary means to an end—a “noble end,” the liberation of the individual from his bondage to material needs.

Today, nobody talks of a planned society in the “liberal” camp; long-range programs, theories, principles, abstractions, and “noble ends” are not fashionable any longer. Modern “liberals” deride any political concern with such large-scale matters as an entire society or an economy as a whole; they concern themselves with single, concrete-bound, range-of-the-moment projects and demands, without regard to cost, context, or consequences. “Pragmatic”—not “idealistic”—is their favorite adjective when they are called upon to justify their “stance,” as they call it, not “stand.” They are militantly opposed to political philosophy; they denounce political concepts as “tags,” “labels,” “myths,” “illusions”—and resist any attempt to “label”—i.e., to identify—their own views. They are belligerently anti-theoretical and—with a faded mantle of intellectuality still clinging to their shoulders—they are anti-intellectual. The only remnant of their former “idealism” is a tired, cynical, ritualistic quoting of shopworn “humanitarian” slogans, when the occasion demands it.

Cynicism, uncertainty, and fear are the insignia of the culture which they are still dominating by default. And the only thing that has not rusted in their ideological equipment, but has grown savagely brighter and clearer through the years, is their lust for power—for an autocratic, statist, totalitarian government power. It is not a crusading brightness, it is not the lust of a fanatic with a mission—it is more like the glassy-eyed brightness of a somnambulist whose stuporous despair has long since swallowed the memory of his purpose, but who still clings to his mystic weapon in the stubborn belief that “there ought to be a law,” that everything will be all right if only somebody will pass a law, that every problem can be solved by the magic power of brute force. From The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus - [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]


The majority of those who are loosely identified by the term “liberals” are afraid to let themselves discover that what they advocate is statism. They do not want to accept the full meaning of their goal; they want to keep all the advantages and effects of capitalism, while destroying the cause, and they want to establish statism without its necessary effects. They do not want to know or to admit that they are the champions of dictatorship and slavery. From Conservatism: An Obituary - [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]

Monday, September 14, 2015

The oldest question in philosophy...

Socrates in jail - should he escape or not?

In the Crito, Socrates is in prison awaiting execution for impiety and corrupting the youth. His impiety was judged to be a matter of questioning and possibly disbelieving the traditional gods, and his corrupting the youth was a matter of his teaching them to do the same.

Crito arrives at the prison having arranged an escape opportunity for Socrates, and they proceed to debate whether it would be just for Socrates to escape.

Socrates argues that while the verdict was wrong, it was nonetheless reached through legitimate procedures — the trial was conducted according to the established rules, he had a chance to make his case, and the voting was done by citizens.

Read more at Stephen Hicks 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Arguments with non-philosophers can be taxing..

Quotes of Margaret Thatcher -- Exposing the Illusions of Socialism

"There  are only two political philosophies, only two ways of governing a country. One is the Socialist-Marxist way in which what matters is not the people but the State. In which decisions affecting people’s lives are taken from them, instead of being taken by them. In which property and savings are taken from the people instead of being more widely held among them. In which directives replace incentives. In which the State is the master of the individual, instead of the servant. The other is the free economic system, which not only guarantees the freedom of each individual citizen, it is the surest way to increase the prosperity of the nation as a whole.”
"The economic success of the Western world is a product of its moral philosophy and practice. The economic results are better because the moral philosophy is superior. It is superior because it starts with the individual, with his uniqueness, his responsibility, and his capacity to choose….Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose.” ~ Thatcher in her 1977 “New Renaissance” speech.

In her 1978 speech, Thatcher quoted the 19th century French economist Frédéric Bastiat, and wondered, “Since the natural inclinations of mankind are so evil that its liberty must be taken away, how is it that the inclinations of the socialists are good? Are not the legislators and their agents part of the human race? Do they believe themselves moulded from another clay than the rest of mankind?”

"No," she said: “You can’t make people good, kind, generous, thoughtful or dutiful by compulsion. True harmony comes from the willing cooperation of free men. It is not served by an over-regulated society. Socialists, on the other hand, believe in increasing the power of government, in reducing the choices left to the people, and hence in diminishing their liberties. Their methods are high taxation, regimentation, compulsion, closed shops and blacklists.”
In 1980, Thatcher said, “I am not declaring war on the unions or their leaders. But I am challenging their illusion that Government can be a universal provider. The fact is that if the public sector unions take more it will mean less for those who work in the private sector….When expansion comes, it will be just as important to match pay to productivity as it is now during the recession. The new leadership being shown by management, the new realism being shown by workforces, must continue. If our own industries do not become more efficient and produce the products that people want, other nations’ industries will. They will get our business and our jobs.”
In 1981, during a round of fiscal tightening, she said of her opponents, “I tell you what they really mean, they mean, ‘We don’t like the expenditure we have agreed, we are unwilling to raise the tax to pay for it. Let us print the money instead.’ The most immoral path of all. Because what that is saying is let us quietly steal a certain amount from every pound in circulation, let us steal a certain amount from every pound saved in building societies, in national savings, from every person who has been thrifty.”

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Immanuel Kant Song

The creator of this song has got Kant's philosophy right. He clearly refers to the ideas that Kant got so wrong. For instance these lines:

"Thus space and time
are forms of our perception
whereby sensation's synthesized in orderly array;
the same must hold
for rational conception:
in everything we think, the laws of logic must hold sway. "

or these lines:

"These constant laws
whereby we shape experience
are simply those which regulate our reason: that is plain.
So don't ask why
the stars display invariance --
the Cosmos is produced by your disoriented brain!"

The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!

This is a statement made by Hank Rearden at his trial for an illegal sale of a metal alloy which he had created and which has been placed under government rationing and control.

“I do not want my attitude to be misunderstood. I shall be glad to state it for the record. ... I work for nothing but my own profit—which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage—and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner. I am rich and I am proud of every penny I own. I have made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with—the voluntary consent of those who employed me when I started, the voluntary consent of those who work for me now, the voluntary consent of those who buy my product. I shall answer all the questions you are afraid to ask me openly. Do I wish to pay my workers more than their services are worth to me? I do not. Do I wish to sell my product for less than my customers are willing to pay me? I do not. Do I wish to sell it at a loss or give it away? I do not. If this is evil, do whatever you please about me, according to whatever standards you hold. These are mine. I am earning my own living, as every honest man must. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact of my own existence and the fact that I must work in order to support it. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it and to do it well. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it better than most people—the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability—I refuse to apologize for my success—I refuse to apologize for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it. If this is what the public finds harmful to its interests let the public destroy me. This is my code—and I will accept no other. I could say to you that I have done more good for my fellow man than you can ever hope to accomplish—but I will not say it, because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognize the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life. I will not say that the good of others was the purpose of my work—my own good was my purpose, and I despise the man who surrenders his. I could say to you that you do not serve the public good—that nobody’s good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices—that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation—as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won’t. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own—I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!”

Friday, September 11, 2015

175 word sentence John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women

John Stuart Mill has penned this 175 word sentence in the Chapter One of his The Subjection of Women:

"If the authority of men over women, when first established, had been the result of a conscientious comparison between different modes of constituting the government of society; if, after trying various other modes of social organisation — the government of women over men, equality between the two, and such mixed and divided modes of government as might be invented — it had been decided, on the testimony of experience, that the mode in which women are wholly under the rule of men, having no share at all in public concerns, and each in private being under the legal obligation of obedience to the man with whom she has associated her destiny, was the arrangement most conducive to the happiness and well-being of both; its general adoption might then be fairly thought to be some evidence that, at the time when it was adopted, it was the best: though even then the considerations which recommended it may, like so many other primeval social facts of the greatest importance, have subsequently, in the course of ages, ceased to exist.”

HT: Stephen Hicks 


HT: Not PC

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ayn Rand's letter to her niece

To Connie Papurt, AR’s niece, a daughter of Frank’s sister, Agnes Papurt 
May 22, 1949

Dear Connie:

You are very young, so I don’t know whether you realize the seriousness of your action in writing to me for money. Since I don’t know you at all, I am going to put you to a test.

If you really want to borrow $25 from me, I will take a chance on finding out what kind of person you are. You want to borrow the money until your graduation. I will do better than that. I will make it easier for you to repay the debt, but on condition that you understand and accept it as a strict and serious business deal. Before you borrow it, I want you to think it over very carefully.

Here are my conditions: If I send you the $25, I will give you a year to repay it. I will give you six months after your graduation to get settled in a job. Then, you will start repaying the money in installments: you will send me $5 on January 15, 1950, and $4 on the 15th of every month after that; the last installment will be on June 15, 1950—and that will repay the total.

Are you willing to do it?

Monday, September 7, 2015

The First Progressive Economist

Murray Rothbard on Organized Crime

An article by Per-Olof Samuelsson

Murray Rothbard was a great economist[1], and a disaster when it came to politics.
A while ago, I came across this article, about The Godfather I & II and other Mafia movies. A few quotes:
The key to The Godfathers and to success in the Mafia genre is the realization and dramatic portrayal of the fact that the Mafia, although leading a life outside the law, is, at its best, simply entrepreneurs and businessmen supplying the consumers with goods and services of which they have been unaccountably deprived by a Puritan WASP culture. […]
Hence the systemic violence of Mafia life. Violence, in The Godfather films, is never engaged in for the Hell of it, or for random kicks; the point is that since the government police and courts will not enforce contracts they deem to be illegal, debts incurred in the Mafia world have to be enforced by violence […]. But the violence simply enforces the Mafia equivalent of the law: the codes of honor and loyalty without which the whole enterprise would simply be random and pointless violence. […]
Organized crime is essentially anarcho-capitalist, a productive industry struggling to govern itself; apart from attempts to monopolize and injure competitors, it is productive and non-aggressive. Unorganized, or street, crime, in contrast, is random, punkish, viciously aggressive against the innocent, and has no redeeming social feature. [Italics mine.]
What is the logic (or praxeology) of this? Let me take it step by step:
  1. States are organizations. A particular state may be well organized or badly organized, but an “unorganized state” would be a contradiction in terms.
  2. According to Rothbard and his followers, states are criminal by their very nature. This is why they dismiss the idea of a rights-respecting and rights-protecting state (limited government or a “night watchman” state) as illusory. No matter how hard we try to establish such a state or government, it will always end up with our rights being violated.
  3. Thus, a state is an example of organized crime.
So, if Rothbard (and his followers) is in favor of organized crime, what justification does he (or they) have for opposing the state?
Well, the answer to this seems to be that the state or government is doing a bad job of enforcing law and order. Privately organized crime is simply more effective that governmental organized crime.
And isn’t there a kernel of truth in this? When the state or government does not do its job of enforcing rights – and, instead, violates our rights – other organizations will step in to fill the vacuum.
Organized crime thrives on “victimless crimes”. When drinking is outlawed (as during the Prohibition era) – or taking drugs or gambling – this is when the Mafia takes over and supplies the goods. And when there are heavy taxes on tobacco and alcohol, then organized smuggling takes over. With a truly rights-respecting and rights-protecting government or state, this would not happen. But this, of course, is precisely what the anarcho-capitalists dismiss as illusory.
Rothbard has this graphic illustration of how much better the Mafia is than the government:
One errant, former member of the Corleone famiglia abases himself before The Godfather (Marlon Brando). A certain punk had raped and brutalized his daughter. He went to the police and the courts, and the punk was, at last, let go (presumably by crafty ACLU-type lawyers and a soft judicial system). This distraught father now comes to Don Corleone for justice.
Brando gently upbraids the father: “Why didn’t you come to me? Why did you go to The State?” The inference is clear: the State isn’t engaged in equity and justice; to obtain justice, you must come to the famiglia. Finally, Brando relents: “What would you have me do?” The father whispers in the Godfather’s ear. “No, no, that is too much. We will take care of him properly.” So not only do we see anarcho-capitalist justice carried out, but it is clear that the Mafia code has a nicely fashioned theory of proportionate justice. In a world where the idea that the punishment should fit the crime has been abandoned and still struggled over by libertarian theorists it is heart-warming to see that the Mafia has worked it out in practice.
Now, states are sometimes at war with one another, and sometimes at peace; and this is true of different Mafia groups, as well. About this, Rothbard writes:
In many cases, especially where “syndicates” are allowed to form and are not broken-up by government terror, the various organized syndicates will mediate and arbitrate disputes, and thereby reduce violence to a minimum. Just as governments in the Lockean paradigm are supposed to be enforcers of commonly-agreed-on rules and property rights, so “organized crime,” when working properly, does the same. Except that in its state of illegality it operates in an atmosphere charged with difficulty and danger.
But governments, too, “mediate and arbitrate disputes”. This is what diplomatic services are for – trying to prevent disputes from developing into wars. And wars commonly end with a peace treaty.[2]
It is, of course, true that governments today (and in the past) do a very bad job of protecting our rights and a very good job at violating them. But this is also true of private robber bands. – And I assume that if Rothbard is opposed to unorganized street crime but in favor of organized crime, then he must be opposed to private muggers, who mug on their own with no organization behind them, but in favor of organized robber bands, just because they are organized – or should be, if he follows his own praxeology.
It is also true that the struggle for a proper, limited government (a “night watchman state” or a “constitutional republic” or whatever name for it you prefer) is an uphill struggle. Just think of how many politicians will lose their power, as well as their salaries and other advantages, if this would become true. They will fight back with all their might. But this is also true of Mafias and of all the other “private protection agencies” that the anarcho-capitalists envision. If politicians can be corrupted by power-lust, so can Mafia bosses.
But if this struggle is impossible and illusory, our only choice would be to throw in the towel.
[1]) I haven’t read his magnum opus Man. Economy and State; but the introduction to his America’s Great Depressioncontains what may be the best explanation of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory and why it is the only possible explanation of the “boom-bust” phenomenon. And his shorter monographs What Has Government Done to Our Money? and The Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar are excellent presentations of the case for a 100% gold standard. I also recommend The Mystery of BankingThe Myth of Free Banking in Scotland and The Essential von Mises.
[2]) I once heard a story about Harry Binswanger discussing the idea of “dispute resolution organizations” (DROs) with Ayn Rand, and her reply was: “You mean, like the United Nations?”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

H L Mencken on Democracy

"Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right."

"Democracy is the pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Friday, September 4, 2015

There is a sacred horror about everything grand ~ Victor Hugo

“There is a sacred horror about everything grand. It is easy to admire mediocrity and hills; but whatever is too lofty, a genius as well as a mountain, an assembly as well as a masterpiece, seen too near, is appalling. Every summit seems an exaggeration. Climbing wearies. The steepnesses take away one's breath; we slip on the slopes, we are hurt by the sharp points which are its beauty; the foaming torrents betray the precipices, clouds hide the mountain tops; mounting is full of terror, as well as a fall. Hence, there is more dismay than admiration. People have a strange feeling of aversion to anything grand. They see abysses, they do not see sublimity; they see the monster, they do not see the prodigy.” ~ Victor Hugo in Ninety-Three

Letter from Ludwig Mises to Ayn Rand

January 23, 1958

Mrs. Ayn Rand
36 East
36 Street
New York, N.Y.

Dear Mrs. Rand:

I AM NOT A professional critic and I feel no call to judge the merits of a novel. So I do not want to detain you with the information that I enjoyed very much reading Atlas Shrugged and that I am full of admi- ration for your masterful construction of the plot.

But “Atlas Shrugged” is not merely a novel. It is also—or may I say: first of all—a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society, a substantiated rejection of the ideology of our self-styled “intellec- tuals” and a pitiless unmasking of the insincerity of the policies adopted by governments and political parties. It is a devastating exposure of the “moral cannibals,” the “gigolos of science” and of the “academic prattle” of the makers of the “anti-industrial revolu- tion.” You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.

If this be arrogance, as some of your critics observed, it still is the truth that had to be said in this age of the Welfare State.

I warmly congratulate you and I am looking forward with great expectations to your future work.

Ludwig Mises

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to Judge a Political Candidate? by Ayn Rand

In view of the general confusion on this subject, it is advisable to remind prospective voters of a few basic considerations, as guidelines in deciding what one can properly expect of a political candidate, particularly of a presidential candidate.

One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy — only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials). It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job. It is only political consistency that we can demand of him; if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours.

A contradiction of that kind, will, of course, hamper the effectiveness of his campaign, weaken his arguments and dilute his appeal — as any contradictions undercut any man’s efficacy. But we have to judge him as we judge any work, theory, or product of mixed premises: by his dominant trend.

A vote for any candidate does not constitute an endorsement of his entire position, not even of his entire political position, only of his basic political principles…

It is the basic — and, today, the only — issue by which a candidate must be judged: freedom vs. statism.

If a candidate evades, equivocates and hides his stand under a junk-heap of random concretes, we must add up those concretes and judge him accordingly. If his stand is mixed, we must evaluate it by asking: Will he protect freedom or destroy the last of it? Will he accelerate, delay, or stop the march towards statism?

Ayn Rand in The Objectivist Newsletter, March 1964

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Irrational facts? in Ludwig von Mises’ Theory and history

I suppose you all know what an irrational number is. And I trust you don’t take the existence of such numbers as an assault on rationality or an injunction against using reason when dealing with mathematics.
Now I came across this in Ludwig von Mises’ Theory and history:
The human search for knowledge cannot go on endlessly. Inevitably, sooner or later, it will reach a point beyond which it cannot proceed. It will then be faced with an ultimate given, a datum that man’s reason cannot trace back to other data. In the course of the evolution of knowledge science has succeeded in tracing back to other data some things and events which previously had been viewed as ultimate. We may expect that this will also occur in the future. But there will always remain something that is for the human mind an ultimate given, unanalyzable and irreducible. Human reason cannot even conceive a kind of knowledge that would not encounter such an insurmountable obstacle. There is for man no such thing as omniscience. […] It is customary, although not very expedient, to call the mental process by means of which a datum is traced back to other data rational. Then an ultimate datum is called irrational. No historical research can be thought of that would not ultimately meet such irrational facts. (P. 183f; italics mine.)
Now wait a minute. Facts are neither rational nor irrational. They are just facts. The terms “rational” and “irrational” pertain to what we do in our minds with the facts. It is a misnomer and an equivocation to call the facts rational or irrational.
Or does he mean that reason cannot deal with those “ultimate givens”, just because it cannot trace them back to something even more ultimate? But this is ridiculous. If reason encounters an ultimate given that cannot be traced further back, it simply accepts it as an ultimate given. There is nothing irrational about that.
Apart from this objection (and some others I may come to think of later),Theory and History is a book I heartily recommend.

Irrational ends?

(Added May 16.)
The following quote is more troublesome:
All ultimate ends aimed at by men are beyond the criticism of reason. Judgments of value can be neither justified nor refuted by reasoning. The terms “reasoning” and “rationality” always refer only to the suitability of means chosen for attaining ultimate ends. The choice of ultimate ends in this sense is always irrational. (P. 167.)
And if you know your Mises, you know that this idea is repeated over and over in his works.
Obviously, Mises never considered Ayn Rand’s explanation of the link between “life” and “value” (or if he did, he might have considered it “irrational” and “beyond reason”).
But her derivation is fact-based. To take some high-lights: That living organisms require a specific course of action to remain alive is a fact. For lower organisms this is automatic, but for man it involves deliberation and choice, and that is a fact. And it is a fact in the sense of an “ultimate given”, because it can hardly be traced back to even more basic facts. To choose life, and the preservation and enhancement of one’s life, is certainly the rational thing to do.
A couple of pages later Mises writes:
… there is a far-reaching unanimity among people with regard to the choice of ultimate ends. With almost negligible exceptions, all people want to preserve their lives and health and improve the material conditions of their existence. (P. 269f.)
True enough. Very few people, I would venture to guess, deliberately act to harm their lives, their health, their well-being. There are exceptions, but most people, when they harm themselves, do it because of some error in their reasoning. They find the wrong means, means not suitable the end sought, to use Mises’ way of expressing it.
But an appeal to majority is not a good argument. Majorities are sometimes wrong. And on Mises’ own reasoning and with his terminology, the majority here is as irrational as the small minority that does not take life and health as their ultimate goal.
There is a similar quote in the very beginning of the book:
Judgments of value […] express feelings, tastes or preferences of the individual who utters them. With regard to them there cannot be any question of truth and falsity. They are ultimate and not subject to any proof or evidence. (P. 19.)
That values or value judgments have no “truth value” and are just expressions of feelings or tastes is something we are taught by virtually every philosopher who is not an Objectivist. It is as common and ubiquitous as the closely connected idea that one cannot (and must not) try to derive an “ought” from an “is” – and as wrong.
Mises uses the example of someone preferring Beethoven to Lehar (or vice versa). This is a value judgment. The person who says it is saying that Beethoven, to him, is a higher value than Lehar (or vice versa). And here it is OK to talk about a difference in taste, and there is no point in trying to dispute it.
But there are so many issues where this would be nonsensical. If we prefer capitalism to socialism, this is not a matter of taste. Neither is it a matter of taste whether we prefer life to death, health to illness, happiness to misery or wealth to poverty. Such an issue can only come up when a man is so ill, or so disappointed, that he loses his taste for life. (Situations where Immanuel Kant would demand that he continues to live out of duty.)
Closely connected is the idea, so often repeated by Mises, that economics (and science in general) should be value-free (of wertfrei; for some reason Mises retains the German word). But this idea is contradictory on the face of it. It says that a theory should be “value-free” rather than “value-laden” – i.e. that such a theory is better than other theories – i.e. that is more valuable.
Now, I have not said anything about the very good things to be found in Theory and History. That will have to wait for another time.

What are the metaphysical lessons of Homer’s world?

In his essay, The Birth of Philosophy: Thales and Homer, Stephen Hicks writes:

What then are the metaphysical lessons of Homer’s world?

First, naturalistic human agency alone does not cause events on earth. The gods and goddesses are active participants, and their desires, decisions, and actions are important: Zeus could have decided differently, Athena could have switched her affections, and, consequently, Hector’s fate and the outcome of the Trojan War could have been very different.

Second and closely related: In Homer’s world, the supernatural are the more powerful and important causal force. If the gods decide against something, it will not happen. And if the gods decide something will happen, it will. Human agency is a lesser power.

A third theme in Homer is that the gods and goddesses are often whimsical and divided among themselves. Zeus is often driven by his changeable passions. He gets into quarrels with Athena and the others. There is, consequently, no stable and predictable causal order in the natural world. (There is a notion of Fate operative in Homer, but it’s not consistent and its role is not clear — at least not to me.)

A fourth point worth mentioning concerns ethics in Homer’s world: humans worship the gods not because they are moral but because they are powerful. The gods are far from morally admirable and given to a wide range of vices and foibles. So what is the source and purpose of justice and other morally important realities? Concepts of right and wrong are not foreign to the gods, but the gods are not ethically clear or consistent, either in word or deed. And since humans are also not ethically clear or consistent, the place of morality in the universe is at best tenuous. Amoral power seems to rule both the natural realm and beyond.

“Open Mind” and “Closed Mind”

[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an “open mind.” This is a very ambiguous term—as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having “a wide open mind.” That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices—and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear.

~ Ayn Rand in “Philosophical Detection,” (Philosophy: Who Needs It)