Thursday, August 25, 2016

Unity in Epistemology and Ethics by Leonard Peikoff

Unity in Epistemology and Ethics
Course by Leonard Peikoff 
ARI Campus

Unity in Epistemology and Ethics, a course which Leonard Peikoff originally gave in 1996, has both metaphysical and epistemological components.

The course discusses the significance and implications of the principle that all knowledge is interconnected. As this is one universe, metaphysically everything in interconnected. Epistemologically all knowledge is interconnected.

The 7-hour course is divided into four lessons:

Lesson 1: Knowledge as a Unity
Lesson 2: How to Unite History and Philosophy
Lesson 3: The Principle of Two Definitions
Lesson 4: Is Morality Difficult or Easy to Practice?

In Lesson 1, Peikoff points out that the concepts of “integration” and “unity” are unique features of Objectivism as a philosophy. He explores the idea of everything in the universe being interrelated and all knowledge being interconnected.

In Lesson 2, which in my view is the most interesting lesson in this course, the discussion is mainly on the relationship between philosophy, science, and history, and on the role that historical facts play in validating the principles of metaphysics or epistemology or ethics.

Peikoff says that history is the greatest laboratory in the study of man. A study of history gives you the chance to observe man in all kinds of conditions—in the states of knowledge and ignorance, freedom and slavery, prosperity and penury. So in a sense history is the inductive source for philosophic principles.

Knowledge is not a straight line, it is a spiral. Peikoff makes use of the “spiral” theory of knowledge and the specific philosophical achievements of the past to explain the relationship between history and philosophy.

Several interesting ideas get presented during this lesson. For instance, Peikoff points out that the Industrial Revolution was essential to the formulation of Objectivist ethics.

“Ayn Rand said to me several times that she could not have grasped the full role of reason in man’s life, nor thus her distinctive ethics, before the Industrial Revolution. Even though the basic information of the role of reason was available to mankind all the way back to the Greeks, they had no way to emphasize, centralize, or exploit it.”

On how Aristotle and Ayn Rand grasped the potency of reason, Piekoff says:

“Aristotle grasped the epistemological potency of reason: that it was valid, it was our means of knowledge. Ayn Rand grasped the metaphysical potency of reason—that that is the thing that enables man to achieve his values, and above all his survival here on earth. And she was the first one to apply this new knowledge to philosophy itself. And therefore, in her view, for the first time, philosophy become a literally life and death practical matter, which it had never been.”

In Lesson 3, Peikoff has explained why philosophical terms such as ‘value,’ ‘virtue,’ and ‘morality,’ require two definitions, both of which are necessary to maintain the unity of knowledge.

What is the definition of value? The standard answer is given in the Galt’s speech: “‘Value’ is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” But what if someone has an irrational goal! Would it not be better if the definition of ‘value’ was as follows: “‘Value’ is that which one acts to gain and/or keep, if life were the actor’s standard.”

Peikoff points out that both definitions of value are necessary for the integration of knowledge. “The first definition which does not yet incorporate Objectivism or any philosophy, represents the tie to reality. It is the direct tie to observation.” If the first definition were rejected then we would be claiming that no one pursues values except the Objectivists. Such a view would be ridiculous because everyone does pursue values.

“There are things which unite Taggart and John Galt and a dog, as against a rock—they all need values. There are things which unite Taggart and Galt, as against a dog—they need self-esteem, they need a moral code, etc.”

The discussion on racism towards the end of this lesson is quite interesting. Peikoff posits that the modern definition of racism amounts to a total assault on values, life and reason.

In Lesson 4, Peikoff explains that the achievement of morality is not supposed to be a painful struggle for a rational man. He concludes this lesson with a detailed discussion of the moral conflict that Hank Rearden faces in Atlas Shrugged because he is sleeping with Dagny despite his marital commitment to Lillian.

“[Rearden] learns from Dagny, and even comes to grasp a whole new code of ethics, which finally frees him from the conflict and restores the unity to his consciousness. So you could say on one level, integration was impossible to Rearden, and therefore the unity of integrity couldn't be achieved by him. But on the deeper level, Rearden sleeping with Dagny always was an act of integrity, because it’s his deepest values responding to hers.”

Overall, this is an interesting course. It tells you about how to perform integrations, how to connect,  and why integration is key aspect of consciousness. 

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