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Friday, December 30, 2016

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: A Symposium on Nathaniel Branden

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies
Volume 16, Numbers 1 - 2, December 2016

The new edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is a symposium on the work and the legacy of Nathaniel Branden. Its collection of essays reveal a new kind of image of Nathaniel Branden that may have been out of view to many people.

In the prologue Robert L. Campbell and Chris Matthew Sciabarra say that “despite criticisms of Rand in his later work, Branden became a veritable “neo-Objectivist”…” This is a striking statement, one that gives rise to several questions. How does a “neo-Objectivist” differ from an Objectivist? Did Nathaniel Branden prefer to be regarded as a neo-Objectivist? How do we define neo-Objectivism?

Duncan Scott has written the first chapter “The Movement That Began on a Dining Room Table.” Scott begins with a quote from Dr. David Kelley: “It is hard to imagine that there would have been an Objectivist movement without [Nathaniel Branden].” The overall purpose of the Journal’s symposium on Branden is subsumed in this line attributed to Dr. Kelley—it is to prove that Branden had a seminal role to play in the development of the Objectivist movement.

Scott points out that the creation of a philosophical system and the creation of a philosophical movement are not one and the same. He says that Ayn Rand did a great job of integrating her philosophy into her fiction, but Branden was the driving force behind the systematic presentation of her philosophy. He goes on to narrate the story of how the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) came into being and the kind of work that the organization did before it was abruptly shut down after the breakup between Rand and Branden.

The most shocking chapter in the Journal is Susan Love Brown’s “Nathaniel Branden’s Oedipus Complex.” Brown claims that during the 1970s she heard Branden say in reference to Frank O’Connor: “He is nothing. Nothing.” She picks up this comment and goes on to deduce a rather tragic picture of the O’Connor household in the period when Rand was having a relationship with Branden. Perhaps Brown can be accused of rationalization, but the picture that she presents is somewhat convincing (in my view) and that is why it is shocking.

Branden’s November, 23, 1996, lecture and Q&A before the California Institute for Applied Objectivism has been transcribed by Roger E. Bissell in the chapter, “Objectivism: Past and Future.” In this chapter we have Branden reminiscing the experiences that he and few other young people (including Leonard Peikoff) had when they were part of Ayn Rand’s circle. He also offers his ideas on the future of Objectivism.

To those who are interested in making converts to Objectivism, Branden says: “If you want to fight for Objectivism, we’d better start learning something a little more about civility than we seem to be practicing now, a little more about benevolence and good will, and giving the other person the sense that at least they are truly heard, because this is how you touch and reach another mind.”

While reflecting on why Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not as popular as her literature, Branden says that it is in the nature of art to simplify and stylize. “And when you write dialogue, not an essay, you are still writing art, not philosophy.” He is of the view that a literary presentation is not enough; the Objectivist ideas must be developed technically. Further in the lecture he says, “Because in the modern world in which we’re living now, for Objectivism to catch on in a wider sense, it has to find its way into the universities. It has to find its way into the philosophical journals.”

The three chapters that I have described above are from the Journal's Section I, which is titled “The Rand Years.”  The Section II of the journal, titled “Reflections,” has five articles in which the writers are reflecting on their past association with Branden. The articles are somewhat hagiographic but they give you an idea of how Branden was perceived by people who were closely associated with him. In Section III, titled “If Branden’s Works Were Studied More By Academic And Clinical Psychologists…”, there are five articles on Branden’s work in psychology.

In the epilogue, “Nathaniel Branden in the Writer’s Workshop,” by Stephen Cox, we are introduced to Branden who is in the final years of his life—now he seems eager to go beyond psychology and philosophy and work on fiction ideas (novels and plays) that have been germinating in his mind for decades. Branden used to show his manuscripts to Cox and seek his advise. Cox had a high opinion of the fiction work that Branden is doing. Unfortunately Branden was unable to complete his novels and plays for reasons that are unclear.

Cox’s description of how Branden matured over the years is quite interesting. “Nathaniel was the rare person who, as he aged, actually changed in important ways. He was something like the opposite of the arrogant young founder of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, a man who had been lacking in perspective on both himself and other people. The Nathaniel I knew enjoyed others for who they were. He was tolerant of bores and knew how to make them less boring. He was benevolently amused by young people, and knew how to advise them, firmly but kindly…”

The journal ends with an extensive bibliography on Nathaniel Branden’s published works. Overall, this is a well-designed edition—it succeeds in elucidating the life and works of Nathaniel Branden. It gives the reader the feeling of reading Branden’s entire intellectual history.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published today in 1973 in Paris. The novel describes the torture and murder of tens of millions of Soviet citizens by the communist regime in the Soviet Union (mostly during the rule of Josef Stalin from 1929 to 1953).

The word "Gulag" refers to the far-flung system of forced labor camps run by the Soviet secret police and its institutions. The prisoner population in these camps grew from a relatively small number after the revolution of 1917 to more than 15 million during the peak of Stalinist terror.

Solzhenitsyn has relied on his own experience as a prisoner for 8-years in a gulag labor camp, and on eyewitness accounts and research material to give a comprehensive picture of the terrible methods that the Soviet police and interrogators used to mount pressure on the citizens.

The saga of the Soviet gulag experience is told in a series of vignettes.

A citizen is threatened by an interrogator that his daughter will be locked up in a cell filled with syphilitics. When a prisoner protests that when the crime for which he was being accused occurred he was only 10-years-old, he is threatened that he should not try to insult the Soviet intelligence service. A infant's coffin is searched for hours in front of the parents.

At times the prisoners are murdered in mass killings, at times deliberately frozen to death in punishment isolators, and at times shot by guards eager to claim bonuses for killing escapees. But the vast majority of the prisoners are not killed directly; they are denied food so that they slowly starve to death. Hunger is the biggest killer in the gulags.

Why did the Soviet regime destroy the lives of tens of millions of its citizens? Solzhenitsyn rejects the idea that the murderous acts of Josef Stalin were an aberration in communist history. He is of the view that the idea of attaining and maintaining political power by unleashing a reign of terror is ingrained in the Marxist-Leninist ideology, which, he points out, is devoid of moral principles.

In Part VII of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn writes: "Oh, Western freedom-loving "left-wing" thinkers! Oh, left-wing labourists! Oh, American, German and French progressive students! All of this is still not enough for you. The whole book has been useless for you. You will understand everything immediately, when you yourself — "hands behind the back" — toddle into our Archipelago."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Isabel Paterson: On The Banditry of Paper Currency

"If a bandit holds up the owner of a motor car at the point of a gun, takes the car, and rides off in it, and then obtains gas, repairs, and whatever else he requires by the same means, what kind of an economy is he running on? If a sufficient number of bandits should seize the whole economy in the same manner, but "legalize" it by compulsion of the courts and legislatures; and if they should also "pay" for what they take in paper currency, in whatever sums they chose, what kind of an economy would it be?”

~ Isabel Paterson in The God Of The Machine

Monday, December 26, 2016

Isaac Newton: Money Must Have Fixed Quantity of Precious Metal

In Isabel Paterson’s classic book The God Of The Machine, there is an informative discussion on the nature of sound money in the chapter, “Why Real Money Is Indispensable.”

Paterson says that the economists who advocate fiat money (paper currency not redeemable in gold) are below the mental level of savages. She shows that the economic prosperity of a nation directly linked to the soundness of its currency. When money gets debased, economic activity comes to a standstill. She says that “the material used for money must be durable, divisible, incorruptible, portable, not easily imitated, and found in nature in sufficient but limited quantity.”

The chapter has an interesting account of Isaac Newton's argument on why money needs to have a physical value attached to it.

Here’s the excerpt:
"Sir Isaac Newton was asked by the British Treasury officials and financiers of his day why the monetary pound had to be a fixed quantity of precious metal. Why, indeed, must it consist of precious metal, or have any objective reality? Since paper currency was already accepted, why could not notes be issued without ever being redeemed? The reason they put the question supplies the answer; the government was heavily in debt, and they hoped to find a safe way of being dishonest. But Newton was asked as a mathematician, not as a moralist. He replied: "Gentlemen, in applied mathematics, you must describe your unit." Paper currency cannot be described mathematically as money. A dollar is a certain weight of gold; that is a mathematical description, by measure (weight). Is a piece of paper of certain dimensions (length, breadth, and thickness, or else weight) a dollar? Certainly not. Is a given-sized piece of paper a dollar even if numerals and words of a certain size are stamped on it with a given quantity of ink? No.”
Unfortunately the modern economists and politicians have forgotten Newton’s answer to why the monetary pound must have a fixed quantity of precious metal.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Mikhail Gorbachev’s Resignation Speech

Twenty-five years ago, on December 26, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last President of the Soviet Union, resigned and declared his office extinct.

Gorbachev was forced to resign because four days earlier 11 of the former Soviet republics had established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), effectively throwing the Soviet Union into the garbage dump of history.

In his resignation speech, Gorbachev accepts that in the Soviet Union people were doomed to cater to a totalitarian ideology. He says that the communist regime had caused unimaginable devastation, and he sees the rejection of communism and the acceptance of free-market ideas as a positive development. Here’s an excerpt from his resignation speech:
We had a lot of everything -- land, oil and gas, other natural resources -- and there was intellect and talent in abundance. However, we were living much worse than people in the industrialized countries were living and we were increasingly lagging behind them. 
The reason was obvious even then. This country was suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic command system. Doomed to cater to ideology, and suffer and carry the onerous burden of the arms race, it found itself at the breaking point. 
All the half-hearted reforms -- and there have been a lot of them -- fell through, one after another. This country was going nowhere and we couldn't possibly live the way we did. We had to change everything radically. 
It is for this reason that I have never had any regrets -- never had any regrets -- that I did not use the capacity of General Secretary just to reign in this country for several years. I would have considered it an irresponsible and immoral decision. I was also aware that to embark on reform of this caliber and in a society like ours was an extremely difficult and even risky undertaking. But even now, I am convinced that the democratic reform that we launched in the spring of 1985 was historically correct. 
The process of renovating this country and bringing about drastic change in the international community has proven to be much more complicated than anyone could imagine. However, let us give its due to what has been done so far. 
This society has acquired freedom. It has been freed politically and spiritually, and this is the most important achievement that we have yet fully come to grips with. And we haven't, because we haven't learned to use freedom yet. 
However, an effort of historical importance has been carried out. The totalitarian system has been eliminated, which prevented this country from becoming a prosperous and well-to-do country a long time ago. A breakthrough has been effected on the road of democratic change. 
Free elections have become a reality. Free press, freedom of worship, representative legislatures and a multi-party system have all become reality. Human rights are being treated as the supreme principle and top priority. Movement has been started toward a multi-tier economy and the equality of all forms of ownership is being established. 
Within the framework of the land reform, peasantry began to re-emerge as a class. And there arrived farmers, and billions of hectares of land are being given to urbanites and rural residents alike. The economic freedom of the producer has been made a law, and free enterprise, the emergence of joint stock companies and privatization are gaining momentum. 
As the economy is being steered toward the market format, it is important to remember that the intention behind this reform is the well-being of man, and during this difficult period everything should be done to provide for social security, which particularly concerns old people and children.

The Thinking Man


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Where Are The Socialists From?

A Supermassive Black Hole
Men are from Mars.

Women are from Venus.

Socialists are from a Black Hole from which not even a ray of light can escape. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

On Currency-Money Dichotomy

The idea of currency-money dichotomy is analogous to the theory of body-soul dichotomy. 


Currency consists of the banknotes and coins issued by the central bank that are in circulation. When the central bank issues currency, it is issuing credit. 
A transaction through currency is a transfer of debt from one party to another. In a currency based transaction the debt is not extinguished; it is merely transferred.  


Money stands for something like gold, silver, or any other commodity that has an objective value of its own. Economist Keith Weiner points out that money is the most marketable commodity.

When the transactions are carried out through real money the debt is not transferred; it is extinguished. This is because the currency being used has an objective value of its own. It is not necessary for the currency to be made from gold, silver, or any other commodity. In a gold standard system paper currency can be issued by the central bank or the private banks. But this paper currency must be redeemable in gold.

Just as the theory of soul-body dichotomy has created a havoc in ethics and epistemology, the idea of currency-money dichotomy is creating a havoc in economics.

When currency does not have an objective monetary value, the financial transactions have to be backed by government power.

In a paper money system, the financial value of the piece of paper or coin that we regard as currency is dependent on the pleasure of the government. Out of political considerations or economic confusion, the government may demonetize the currency at any point of time leading to incredible hardships for the people and the businesses.

Also, when the currency is not linked to real money (which is gold, silver or any other commodity), the government enjoys the power to issue credit for speculative bubbles which result in speculative mania and inflation in the price of assets. When the bubble bursts there is massive sell-off and many businesses get ruined.

As long as the government has control over the issuance of currency, the economy will be plagued with all kinds of problems. We must adopt gold standard because it is the only way of safeguarding the private property of the individuals and businesses, and ensuring economic growth. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Robert Paul Wolff On Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason

Professor Robert Paul Wolff is an anarchist in politics and Marxist in economics.

But a Professor who is devoted to anarchism and Marxism is, in my view, qualified for elucidating Immanuel Kant’s philosophical system. After all, Kant’s ideas are the basis on which the structure of Marxism and anarchism is built.

I find Wolff's lecture series on Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason very interesting and informative. In these lectures Wolff explores not only Kant’s ideas but also the range of philosophical disputes that Kant was trying to grapple with.

Kant lived in a period in which epistemology had replaced metaphysics as the world’s first philosophy. For more than two hundreds years before Kant the leading philosophers of Europe had been trying to decipher how the human mind acquires knowledge. Wolff draws a connection between Kant and the epistemological ideas of Descartes, Locke, Newton, Leibniz, and Hume.

In the time of Kant a dispute was razing across Europe between the continental rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, and the British empiricists like Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Wolff says that as Kant looked into this philosophical dispute, he dove so deep into the depths of human knowledge that he emerged from it, not as Immanuel Kant the professor of logic, but as Immanuel Kant the world’s leading philosopher.

Wolff is an admirer of Kant; in his lectures he repeatedly points out that he regards The Critique of Pure Reason as the greatest work in philosophy since Aristotle and Plato. In his view Kant is the world’s leading moral philosopher, and he claims that teaching Kant has been the greatest experience of his lifetime.

In his Inaugural Dissertation (1770), Kant has said that both the rationalists and the empiricists are right, and their differences are because they are trapped in Antinomies. According to Wolff, Kant’s intellectual universe was turned upside down in 1772 when he read the German translation of An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth by James Beattie and became acquainted with the ideas of David Hume. In this work, Beattie has made extensive use of Hume’s ideas.

Wolff lectures in a rather rambling style. Every now and then he digresses from the main topic to reminisce about his past experiences with students, colleagues, some famous philosophers, and other things. But I think these digressions are of some value as they lead to a better understanding of not only Kant’s ideas but also of how Kant is seen in the contemporaneous period.

For instance, Wolff has described his meeting (when he was a 20-year-old student of philosophy) with Bertrand Russell, who was then regarded as the world’s intellectual pope. When Russell learned that Wolff was reading Kant, he said, “You prefer fiction, do you?” Russell also asserted that he hadn’t “read Kant seriously since 1897.” Wolff says that after meeting Russell he realized that famous people are quite useless.

As of now there are nine lectures by Wolff on The Critique of Pure Reason—each lecture is of around one hour. He has not made any syllabus because he says that he plans to set the agenda for the next class on the basis of the progress that has been made in the previous class. Overall, this is turning out to be an interesting survey of Kant’s life and ideas.

Professor Wolff is well known for his work on Kant. He is the author of books like In Defense of AnarchismKant's Theory of Mental Activity, and Understanding Rawls

The Real Consensus


Monday, December 19, 2016

Ayn Rand’s Criticism of Orwell’s Animal Farm

George Orwell is often regarded as a right-wing writer, but he was a lifelong socialist. In his writings he has criticized totalitarianism but he never said anything in favor of capitalism.

His famous book Animal Farm is a satire on Soviet Union—every event in the book mirrors an event in the Soviet Union, from the Bolshevik Revolution to Stalin’s purges and personality cult.

But Animal Farm is not a critique of socialism and communism, just Stalin’s regime. Orwell did not regard Stalin’s Soviet Union as a socialist country. He thought that Stalin had corrupted the socialist ideal. Orwell abandoned the Soviet Union but continued to call himself a socialist. He thought that a real socialist state cannot be totalitarian, and that a socialist state ruled by a benevolent liberal government was the best option for mankind.

Orwell had a low opinion of capitalism. He believed that the capitalist countries are rife with class warfare and oppression of the masses. He equated capitalism with fascism. Animal Farm is full of egalitarian ideas and it can be seen as a parable on the problems caused by capitalism.

On August 29, 1946, Ayn Rand wrote a letter to Leonard Reed in which she said that Orwell’s Animal Farm was a preachment of communism and a perverse disfiguration of rational political ideas. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

As an advance warning, for God’s sake DON’T recommend Animal Farm. You have probably heard about it—it’s a little booklet that has just come out and is being whopped up as a lesson against Communism, which it is not. I have read it. It made me sick. It is a book against Stalin, not against Communism. In fact, it is the mushiest and most maudlin preachment of Communism (I suppose the author would call it Socialism, but there is no difference), that I have seen in a long time. The moral of the book is not: “Communism is evil,” but: “Stalin’s Communism is just as evil as Capitalism.” Don’t let’s help preach that idea.” ~ (Source: Letters of Ayn Rand)

It is worth noting that there is lot of anti-booze propaganda in Animal Farm. The Bolshevik type revolution happens in the animal farm when the farmer gets drunk and forgets to feed the animals. When Napoleon, the pig, wants money for whiskey he has the horse Boxer killed for his parts. In the novel’s climax there is a drunken brawl between the humans and the pigs.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Companion to Aristotle

A Companion to Aristotle
Edited by Georgios Anagnostopoulos

A Companion to Aristotle is a good presentation of Aristotle’s life, methods, and ideas. The book of 650-pages is divided into five parts and has articles from 37 professors of philosophy from major universities.

According to the book’s editor Georgios Anagnostopoulos, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, the book's aim is to treat some central topics of Aristotle’s philosophy in as much depth as is possible within the space of a short chapter.

In the book’s first part titled “Aristotle’s Life and Works,” the focus is on Aristotle’s life and certain issues about the number, edition, and chronology of his works. Anagnostopoulos is the author of the two articles in this section. He says: “Aristotle was the last great individual philosopher of ancient times, one of the three thinkers – the others being Socrates and Plato.”

The second part, “The Tools of Inquiry,” has articles from five authors on the ideas on deductive logic and knowledge that Aristotle has proposed mainly in the Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics. However, Aristotle has commented on such topics in passages from several works, and therefore this section of the book includes brief discussion of MetaphysicsCategoriesPhysicsde Anima, and other works.

The third part, “Theoretical Knowledge,” is subdivided into four parts — Part A is on Metaphysics, Part B is on Physics, Part C is on Psychology, Part D is on Biology. This is the longest, and in my view the most important section of the book. It has 16 chapters by different authors and it gives a lucid overview of Aristotle’s seminal contributions in philosophy and science. Here’s a quote from Aristotle’s Metaphysics—on his firmest principle, the principle of non-contradiction: “For the same thing to hold and not to hold of the same thing at the same time and in the same respect is impossible, given any further specifications added to guard against dialectical objections.”

The fourth part, “Practical Knowledge,” with 13 chapters is subdivided into two parts: Part A is on, and Part B is on Politics. The practical focus of Aristotelian ethics comes to light in the section on ethics. As Aristotle says in the very first sentence of the Nicomachean Ethics, “Every craft and every inquiry, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good. For which reason people have rightly concluded that the good is that at which all things aim.” Dr. Robert Mayhew, an expert in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, has written a chapter, “Rulers and Ruled,” in the section on politics.

The final or the fifth part of the book carries the title, “Productive Knowledge.” It has two parts, each with two chapters—the first part is on Rhetoric, and the second is on Art.

On the whole, A Companion to Aristotle offers a careful analysis of the elements of Aristotelian thought. It brings to light the greatness or the vast scope of Aristotle’s works. In my view, the book’s presentation is sufficient to convince you that it is Aristotle’s ideas that stand between civilization and barbarism.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On The Moral Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Philippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe

A Companion to Ayn Rand
Edited by: Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri

The similarity in the moral philosophy of Ayn RandPhilippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe is briefly mentioned in two chapters of A Companion to Ayn Rand. The first chapter is “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values)” by Gregory Salmieri, and the second is “The Morality of Life” by Allan Gotthelf (completed by Gregory Salmieri).

The focus of Salmieri’s, “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values),” is on tracing the act of valuing as an activity of the soul or mind that can be found in Ayn Rand’s literature, and in the notes that she made while planning her novels.

Salmieri looks at the acts and thoughts of several characters in Rand’s novels. While discussing James Taggart (the negative character in Atlas Shrugged), Salmieri mentions that there are a few parallels between the moral ideas of Rand and Foot.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values)":

“Though James Taggart’s failure to choose to live does place him beyond the reach of moral guidance, it does not change the fact that his chosen actions are contrary to morality (that is, to the code of values a person needs to follow in order to live); nor does it change the fact that he has, by his own choice, become an enemy of life. Therefore, those who do value their lives must judge him as evil and treat him accordingly… On Rand’s view, life-haters like Taggart can and must be morally condemned, but their evil cannot be understood as a violation of an obligation to live, for Rand held that there are no such categorical obligations or duties. Rather she shared the view that Philippa Foot nicely expressed in the title of a (1972) paper: ‘Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives.’”

To elucidate Rand’s formulation of the point, Salmieri quotes from Philosophy: Who Needs It. “Life or death is man’s only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.”

Further, Salmieri writes: “For Rand, as for Foot, morality’s grip on a person depends on his holding a value that not all people hold. In particular, for Rand, it depends on his valuing his life. This value is not one among a set of alternative values that someone might hold, for (as we have seen) Rand held that the phenomenon of valuing only arises in the context of an organism’s pursuit of its life as its ultimate value.”

In all her major works, Philippa Foot has acknowledged the great intellectual debt that she owes to Elizabeth Anscombe whose works on moral theory were published in 1958, around the time when Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was published. While giving this information in the notes to his chapter, Salmieri points out that it is worth exploring the parallels between Rand and Anscombe.

In the notes to the chapter by Allan Gotthelf, “The Morality of Life," Salmieri has mentioned Elizabeth Anscombe. Salmieri points out that Rand’s answer to Hume’s famous challenge — it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is” — is similar to the one made by Anscombe. In The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand answered Hume in this way: “the fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.” Anscombe has written on the subject in her classic paper “Modern Moral Philosophy.”

According to Salmieri, there is no evidence that either Rand or Anscombe was familiar with the other’s works—the similarities between them could be due to the common influence of Aristotle.

Related:

Moral Evil Is Due To A Natural Defect

Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives

Book Review: A Companion to Ayn Rand

Monday, December 12, 2016

Aristotle for Objectivists

Aristotle for Objectivists 
Robert Mayhew

In this lecture Robert Mayhew provides an analysis of the good ideas that those who follow Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism can hope to find in Aristotle's works.

Ayn Rand has called Aristotle the “Philosophical Atlas who carries the whole of Western civilization on his shoulders.” She has said: “Whatever intellectual progress men have achieved rests on [Aristotle’s] achievements.” (“Review of Randall’s Aristotle” by Ayn Rand; Voice of Reason)

Yet Rand is also critical of several Aristotelian ideas. She has said that Aristotle’s ethics and politics are not his greatest achievement.

In Virtue of Selfishness, she says: “The greatest of all philosophers, Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.”

But Rand has not explained in detail the logic and the method that she has used in formulating her views on Aristotle’s ideas.

In his lecture, Mayhew provides the context behind some of the comments that Ayn Rand has made on various aspects of Aristotelian thought. He offers the specific chapters that the Objectivists may prefer to read in Aristotle’s MetaphysicsNicomachean EthicsPosterior AnalyticsCategoriesPoliticsPoeticsDeAnima, and other works.

However, Mayhew's primary focus is on Aristotelian Metaphysics; the discussion on Ethics and Politics is quite brief.

The list of books that Mayhew recommends for further reading on Aristotle’s own writings is helpful. Here is a quote from Aristotle by Jonathan Barnes, one of the books that Mayhew has suggested that I already have with me: 


“Aristotle died in the autumn of 322 BC. He was sixty-two and at the height of his powers: a scholar whose scientific explorations were as wide-ranging as his philosophical speculations were profound; a teacher who enchanted and inspired the brightest youth of Greece; a public figure who lived a turbulent life in a turbulent world. He bestrode antiquity like an intellectual colossus. No man before him had contributed so much to learning. No man after him might aspire to rival his achievements.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Moral Evil Is Due To A Natural Defect

Natural Goodness
Philippa Foot

Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness is a slim volume of 125-pages, but it carries the remarkable agenda of reorienting our understanding of practical rationality and making a case for a naturalistic theory of ethics. In the first chapter, “A Fresh Start?”,  Foot sheds light on what she is aiming for in the book:

“I have in this book the overt aim of setting out a view of moral judgement very different from that of most moral philosophers writing today. For I believe that evaluations of human will and action share a conceptual structure with evaluations of characteristics and operations of other living things, and can only be understood in these terms. I want to show moral evil as ‘a kind of natural defect’.”

If subjectivism in values is allowed then moral judgement must become linked to individual feelings—instead of the facts of the natural world being the criteria, morality will become dependent on the speaker’s emotions, attitudes, intentions, or state of mind.

Foot asserts that life is at the center and “moral evaluation does not stand over against a matter of fact, but rather has to do with facts of a particular subject matter." Further, she states, "On barren Mars there is no natural goodness, and even secondary goodness can be attributed to things on the planet only by relating them to our own lives, or to living things existing elsewhere.” When facts get separated from values, there is dissociation between morality and rationality.

A few other academic thinkers have come up with a similar interpretation of Aristotle’s ideas on life and values. For instance, John Herman Randall in Aristotle has talked about the Aristotelian idea of the relationship between life and values. In Rational Man, Henry B. Veatch has advocated the practical life of reason where the aim is "living intelligently" as opposed to a life in which contemplation is supreme. In The Perfectionist Turn Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen point out that there is a relationship between an individual’s well-being or flourishing and his or her capacities or nature.

Foot traces the problem of flawed moral judgements to David Hume’s view that morality is necessarily practical, serving to produce and prevent action. She says that the intellectuals have been trying to meet Hume’s “practicality requirement” in a wrong way, and she suggests a simple solution: “acting morally is part of practical rationality.”

Human beings can act on moral, as well as non-moral considerations, so how can a virtuous individual who wants his action to be a good action know what is the right moral judgement?

In answering the question, Foot invokes the Aristotelian idea that a creature must act in accordance with its nature. And the same thing holds for human beings: The action that we take must depend on our human nature. Therefore a right moral judgement can only be derived by taking cognizance of the nature of the human beings.

In the chapter, “A Fresh Start?”, Foot posits:

“Nobody would, I think, take it as other than a plain matter of fact that there is something wrong with the hearing of a gull that cannot distinguish the cry of its own chick, as with the sight of an owl that cannot see in the dark. Similarly, it is obvious that there are objective, factual evaluations of such things as human sight, hearing, memory, and concentration, based on the life form of our own species. Why, then, does it seem so monstrous a suggestion that the evaluation of the human will should be determined by facts about the nature of human beings and the life of our own species?”

Foot thinks that by aligning moral judgments with man’s nature society can prevent a monstrous evil like Hitler’s Nazi regime from arising once again in the future.

It is noteworthy that Foot became interested in moral philosophy when the news of the atrocities that the Nazis had committed became known after the World War II. She thought that the evil politics of Nazism was the result of the flawed subjective value system that had seized the intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, and continues to grip them today.

In the final chapter, “Immoralism,” Foot has analyzed Nietzsche’s attack on morality and its premises. The explanation that she offers is quite convincing. She points out that human beings are limited to the life form of their own species—for being a superman we would require to evolve into a different species.

“Nietzsche believed that under his influence a higher type of man could develop on earth, and wrote as if he could imagine this new being: as if he saw the possibility of a new species or life form that could develop from our own. My point is that it is only for a different species that Nietzsche's most radical revaluation of values could be valid. It is not valid for us as we are, or are ever likely to be.” 

If The Socialists Are Unemployed It Is Good For The Country

When the citizens are unemployed it is a sign that the nation is collapsing; when the socialist intellectuals and politicians are unemployed it is a sign that the nation is advancing.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Socialism is Cure for Obesity

Socialism is the ultimate cure for obesity—it wrecks the economy, forcing people to be malnourished and skinny. The poor citizens in socialist nations face negligible risk of becoming overweight.

Friday, December 9, 2016

On Meeting A Socialist

After you have met a socialist you come to realize that the socialists are personally more contemptible than their disastrous ideology.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Friedrich Nietzsche Versus George Santayana

George Santayana; Friedrich Nietzsche
Considering that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra in the early 1880s, it is surprising how relevant and invigorating many of the book's ideas remain in 2016.

In the book’s Part One (Section: “Of the New Idol”), Nietzsche says:
A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears to me, for now I will speak to you about the death of peoples. 
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: "I, the state, am the people."
It is a lie! It was creators who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
Destroyers are they who lay snares for the many, and call it state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.
Where there are still peoples, the state is not understood, and is hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs. 
Nietzsche’s view of the state is clearly anti-egalitarian. In fact, anti-egalitarian elements are there in most of his works, and that is why he is criticized by the egalitarian thinkers like George Santayana.

Santayana sneeringly refers to Nietzsche as the author of “boyish blasphemies,” which were put into the mouth of the protagonist of Thus Spake Zarathustra.

In Reason and Society, Santayana says:
The state may be a monster, as Nietzsche called it; a monster of unnecessary size; but its centralized tyranny has the virtue of abolishing the miscellaneous and innumerable petty tyrannies by which life was of old pestered and confined. One master pirate, accepting tribute quietly, is better than a hundred pirates, taking toll without warning and without stint. 
Santayana accepts that the State is a monster —he likens the State to a master pirate—but he wants people to accept its rule because of his conviction that civilization can only be conducted by a totalitarian system.

In another work The German Mind: A Philosophical Diagnosis, Santayana criticizes Nietzsche’s ethics and theory of superman. He accuses Nietzsche of "subjectivity in thought and wilfulness in morals."

There no justification for the insults that Santayana has levelled on Nietzsche.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blaise Pascal on Cleopatra’s Nose

Bust of Cleopatra at Altes Museum, Berlin
“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed,” says Blaise Pascal in his famous work Pensees (Thoughts) which was published posthumously in 1669.

Pascal was of the view that the nose is an indicator of a person’s character, and if Cleopatra’s nose had been smaller she would have lacked the strength of character and she could not have mustered the will to dominate the world.

She could have not have held the powerful men of the Roman empire, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, under her spell if her nose had been longer or smaller by a few millimetres, and then the great wars of that era would not have been fought.

Pascal's Pensees is a defense of Christian religion, but in it he has included several random ideas and jottings.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Labour of Zarathustra

Friedrich Nietzsche
In my view, “The Labour of Zarathustra”  is the most interesting chapter in Daniel Halevy’s The Life of Frederich Nietzsche.

Halevy has described how Nietzsche got the inspiration for his book Thus Spake Zarathustra. Here’s an excerpt from The Life of Frederich Nietzsche:
Friedrich Nietzsche never ceased to hear and gather the words of Zarathustra. In three distiches of a soft and almost tender seduction he tells how this companion entered into his life :  
I sat there waiting—waiting for nothing,
Enjoying, beyond good and evil, now
The light, now the shade; there was only
The day, the lake, the noon, time without end.
Then, my friend, suddenly one became two—
And Zarathustra passed by me.
But Nietzsche could not find a publisher for Thus Spake Zarathustra. Eventually he agreed to pay for the book’s publication. Less than 50 copies of the first-edition got sold, and no one praised it. The sad fate of his book further actuated Nietzsche’s feeling of loneliness.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Marx is in the scrapyard, but there is no respite from Marxism


Marx is in the scrapyard, but there is no respite from Marxism. The Marxists continue to wreak havoc with their irrational political, economic, and cultural ideas.

Fashion changes. Weather Changes. People change. But a socialist society never changes—it is always one government-made catastrophe away from utopia.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

100-years Of Socialism Has Taught Us Nothing

Forced Labor in Soviet Union
The Russian Revolution of 1917 which brought the Soviet regime to power in Russia was a pair of revolutions.

The first revolution in February 1917 resulted in the old regime being replaced by a Provisional Government. In the second revolution of October 1917, the Provisional Government was removed and replaced with a Communist State.

According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author of several harrowing books on the Soviet gulag system, the Soviet State murdered more than 60 million people during the reign of Josef Stalin.

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression reveals that the communist regimes in the world have been responsible for close to 100 million deaths.

100-years of large-scale destruction and bloodshed in the name of socialism has taught us nothing. We still have idiots pitching atrocious socialist lies.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Will Durant On The Rediscovery Of Aristotle

Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy has a good concise account of Aristotle’s life and ideas. It is true that Aristotle is such a vast subject and Durant has barely skimmed the surface, but in my opinion Durant has provided a good overview.

Here’s an excerpt from The Story of Philosophy where Durant is talking about the rediscovery of Aristotle in Europe:
It may be doubted if any other thinker has contributed so much to the enlightenment of the world. Every later age has drawn upon Aristotle, and stood upon his shoulders to see the truth. The varied and magnificent culture of Alexandria found its scientific inspiration in him. His Organon played a central role in shaping the minds of the medieval barbarians into disciplined and consistent thought. The other works, translated by Nestorian Christians into Syriac in the fifth century A.D., and thence into Arabic and Hebrew in the tenth century, and thence into Latin towards 1225, turned scholasticism from its eloquent beginnings in Abelard to encyclopaedic completion in Thomas Aquinas. The Crusaders brought back more accurate Greek copies of the philosopher’s text; and the Greek scholars of Constantinople brought further Aristotelian treasures with them when, after 1453, they fled from the besieging Turks. The works of Aristotle came to be for European philosophy what the Bible was for theology—an almost infallible text, with solutions for every problem. In 1215 the Papal legate at Paris forbade teachers to lecture on his works; in 1213 Gregory IX appointed a commission to expurgate him; by 1260 he was de rigueur in every Christian school, and ecclesiastical assemblies penalized deviations from his views. Chaucer describes his student as happy by having 
At his bedded hed
Twenty books clothed in blake or red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie; 
and in the first circles of Hell, says Dante, 
I saw the Master there of those who know,
Amid the philosophic family,
By all admired, and by all reverenced;
There Plato too I saw, and Socrates,
Who stood beside him closer than the rest.
  
Such lines give us some inkling of the honor which a thousand years offered to the Stagirite. 

Yes Prime Minister - Humphrey Explains How Polls Are Rigged

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Critical Political Lesson of 2016

A Cash-Cow in Every ATM
Who could have realized—the economic ideas of the Nationalists are as catastrophic as that of the Marxists! Nationalism and Marxism are two sides of the same counterfeit coin. This is the critical political lesson of 2016.