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Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Autopsy of The Objectivist Standpoint on Kant

Ayn Rand has called Immanuel Kant the most evil man in mankind's history. She and her Objectivist followers assert that some of the worst philosophical and political problems of our age have been inspired by Kantian ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trump Nailed it On Socialism At UNGA



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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lord of The Objectivists

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Greg Nyquist on The Legacy of Leonard Peikoff

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wittgenstein Thought that Darwin was Wrong

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Kelley on John Searle’s Philosophy of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche and John Dewey Contrasted

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Philosophy in the Modern World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Impact of Aristotle’s Works on Medieval Philosophy

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

Frederick Copleston on Schopenhauer

Friday, September 8, 2017

Five Ways of Proving God's Existence

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Aristotelians Versus Platonists

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

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

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galt goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand and the Issue of Taxation

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Peikoff's Arbitrary and Frankfurt's Bullshit

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

Alexander of Aphrodisias



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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Induction and Concept-Formation in Francis Bacon and William Whewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

Adler’s Rejection of The Darwinian Theory of Evolution

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

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

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

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reisman and Objectivism

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

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

The excommunication of Reisman is a great loss for Objectivism. 

The Snooty Bookshop


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wittgenstein’s Hypnotic Absurdities

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

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

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Robert Efron On The Nature Of Perception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Leonard Peikoff Says That He Is Not A Philosopher

Leonard Peikoff
Most Objectivists are convinced that Leonard Peikoff is one of the world’s greatest philosophers. But in his podcast on July 21st, 2008 (episode 22), Peikoff emphatically declares that he is not a philosopher and that philosophy is not an area of interest for him.

Here’s an excerpt from a transcription of Peikoff’s podcast, episode 22 (4 minutes from start):
“And the fact is that I'm not an epistemologist, let alone a technical one. The older I get, I realize I'm not a philosopher, and never really was. My real interest in life is cultural analysis. How does philosophy influence, for instance, the rise of Hitler or kind of educational system we have or great plays ... that's always been the kind of thing I've done. The only exception is OPAR, which was pure philosophy, but that was simply paying off a debt. I had to do that to Ayn Rand in exchange for what she had, you know, taught me for 30 years. But other than that I never would wanna write or really lecture on philosophy. I don't see that there's anything wrong with that, but that is just not what I do.” [Transcription by Elliot Temple
I agree with what Peikoff has said in the above transcript—he is certainly not a philosopher. Since he took charge of Objectivism after Ayn Rand’s death in 1982, he has hardly done any philosophical work of scholarly importance. The only work of pure philosophy that he has done is OPAR, but this book is merely a restatement of Rand’s ideas.

In the podcast he reveals that he wrote OPAR because he was “simply paying off a debt” to Ayn Rand. This means that he was motivated by a sense of “duty.”

For Ayn Rand, “duty” is a bad word. In her novel We The Living, Rand writes, “There is no such thing as duty. If you know that a thing is right, you want to do it. If you don't want to do it—it isn't right. If it's right and you don't want to do it—you don't know what right is and you're not a man.”

The Objectivists must let this point sink in:

Leonard Peikoff, the heir to Ayn Rand intellectual legacy, admits that he wrote OPAR out of a sense of duty. This means that spent months writing OPAR simply because he wanted to pay the debt that he thought he owed to Ayn Rand who was his teacher for 30 years. Apparently the writing and the book’s publishing brought him no personal joy.

Therefore OPAR was not a labor of love for him; it was a labor of duty.

And that’s the way the cookie crumbles. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Veatch’s Survey of Popper’s Flawed Model of an Open Society

Karl Popper
In his essay, “Plato, Popper and the open society: Reflections on who might have the last laugh,” which was delivered at the Sixth Annual Libertarian Scholars Conference held in October 1978 at Princeton University, Henry Veatch has done a superb analysis of Karl Popper’s work on political philosophy, The Open Society and its Enemies.

Veatch agrees with Popper that the political program laid out by Plato in the Republic will lead to a closed society. But, according to Veatch, the particular line of attack on Plato in The Open Society and its Enemies is neither well-mounted nor well-executed. Popper claims that Plato was a historicist, but Veatch rejects the idea. He says, “I just don't believe that Plato was a historicist. Marx, to be sure, may well have been one. Yet Plato was no Marx, nor Marx Plato.”

Another mistake that Popper makes in his analysis of Plato’s ideas is that he does not consider Platonic theory of Forms worthy of any consideration. Veatch says that if Popper had paid attention to the theory of Forms he would have had the opportunity to analyze the Form, or the nature, of man.

Veatch writes, “In other words, what I am suggesting is that the philosophical legacy of Plato, that Popper chose to renounce, is just this notion that, by his very nature as a person or as a human being, a man has a job to do, a natural end or goal, a kind of natural fulfilment or perfecting of himself that he needs to aim at and strive for, that no one else-no, not any power under heaven or even in heaven-can achieve for him, and that he's simply got to do himself.”

The Book I of Plato’s the Republic begins with the question: “What is justice?” Veatch points out that in this question Plato is raising the question of justice, and more specifically he is raising “the question as to justice in the life of the individual.” Plato answers this question just after the beginning of Book II of the Republic.

Veatch suggests that we should reverse Plato's order and consider the ethical before the political. ”We first consider what it is that our nature demands of us as individual human beings, and only subsequently consider what may be required of us, or what it might be right for us to do, or how we need to live our lives considered as members of the political community and of society.”

Once Plato’s order of priorities is reversed, it becomes obvious that certain responsibilities are incumbent upon individuals, and at the same time “certain constraints are naturally imposed upon our fellow human beings and upon society to respect the natural obligations and needs and requirements that are incumbent upon us by our very nature as individual human beings.”

Thus we reach the conclusion that man’s nature demands an openness in and of society. Now the question is why didn’t Popper take cognizance of Plato’s inverted priorities? Veatch offers persuasive arguments to show that Popper’s flawed theory of science is to a large extent behind his decision to ignore such obvious problems in Plato’s theory.

Popper believed that scientific theories do not rest on observation and experiment—instead, the great scientific geniuses dream up or invent the scientific theories which miraculously correspond to reality. Science, strictly speaking, cannot tell us the way things are, and therefore it is not possible to discover the natural values of human life by scientifically examining human beings.

So what kind of values the people living in Popper’s “open society” must have? Instead offering people the freedom of choice, Popper resorts to preaching his own list of values which, he maintains, every member of his open society ought to follow. But if values have to be imposed on man, then why shouldn't people accept Plato’s values instead of Popper’s?

Here’s an excerpt from Veatch’s essay:

“It is a freedom, Popper thinks, that each of us has, simply to choose his own image or ideal of what a human being should be or of the good life for man and of what it ought to be. Not only that, but Popper immediately follows this up with his own recommendation as to what he thinks that image of man is that all of us ought to choose and thus freely embrace. It is the image of man as free, as rational, as altruistic, as a happy denizen of the Open Society, etc. All well and good! Yet still, do we not need to ask just why this particular image of man should be the preferred one?”

Veatch goes on to say that if people have to accept the values of any philosopher or leader, then they have countless choices. They can as well reject the values preached by both, Plato and Popper, and accept the values of Marx, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, or anyone else. “In other words, Popper's particular libertarian vision of man is not one whit better, and has nothing more going for it than let us say Plato's totalitarian vision.”

“Popper's faith in the Open Society—at least to judge by the logic of Popper's over-all philosophical position and even implicitly by his own admission—amounts to no more than a sort of child's game of "Let's pretend'-let's pretend that man should be free and fraternal and rational, let's pretend that man should be allowed to bask in the pure air of an Open Society; let's pretend that such is the way man is and ought to be-and let's pretend it, even as we admit that it is all only a fiction and not a reality at all, only a pretend game, and one that is not and cannot be anything for real.”

On the whole, in his essay Veatch conclusively proves that Popper believed that a free society can only be achieved when there is some kind of social engineering by the intellectual elite. While seeming to reject Plato, Popper accepts Plato’s worst political ideas. In essence, Popper is as much an enemy of freedom and open society as Plato is.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Typical Objectivist Logic—My Philosophy is Closed, Yours Isn't

Leonard Peikoff, in his 1989 article, “Fact and Value,” made the stunning proclamation that Objectivism is a closed system, by which he meant that Ayn Rand’s philosophy is complete, and nothing new can be added to her system.

With his closed system doctrine, he essentially established that Objectivism consists solely of Rand’s own works and those specific works by other thinkers which she endorsed during her lifetime. But he reserved for himself and his followers the privilege of deciding which works by which thinkers are endorsed by Rand and can be included in Objectivism.

Thus he effectively turned Objectivism into a gated community which is guarded by his chosen acolytes. I don’t know of any other philosophy in the entire history of humanity being held as a closed system. Only “religions,” “cults,” and “totalitarian political ideologies” are held as closed systems by their brainwashed fundamentalist followers.

It is noteworthy that Peikoff conferred the privilege of being “closed” only on Objectivism. What about the systems developed by other philosophers? Are the systems developed by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel and others open or closed?

In “Fact and Value,” if Peikoff had offered a broad argument for every philosophy being regarded as a closed system his position would still be irrational but he would have escaped the charge of being a bigoted and biased intellectual. But his stance seems to be that only his philosophy of Objectivism is closed, and everyone else's philosophy is wide open.

Here’s a quote from The History of Philosophy lecture, in which Peikoff is defending the attribution of the“Law of Identity” to Aristotle, even though Aristotle did not discover this law:
"Now as to the law of identity, just for the record, although it always goes along with the other two [the law of contradiction and excluded middle] is regarded as an Aristotelian law, and although it’s obviously all over the place in Aristotle implicitly, as a formally defined law, the law of identity was not discovered, as far as I can tell until the 12th century AD by a philosopher known as Antonius Andreas. But that’s just a minor wrinkle because it’s always called an Aristotelian law because it’s so obviously the same essential point as the law of contradiction and excluded middle. Contradiction and excluded middle Aristotle defined and named." ~ Leonard Peikoff, The History of Philosophy, Lesson 15, Aristotle: The Father of Logic (Section 4) @ 0:49 / 4:53.  [Transcription by Kurt Keefner
If Antonius Andreas is allowed to complete Aristotelian system by describing the “Law of Identity” which is in line with Aristotelian thought, then why are contemporary philosophers barred from filling up the “huge gaps” which are there in Ayn Rand’s thought?

Many people believe that the closed system doctrine has very little to do with safeguarding the philosophy of Ayn Rand. It is, in essence, a power-play by Leonard Peikoff and his key aides—they proposed this doctrine because they want to ensure that there is no threat to their complete hegemony over Rand’s legacy. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Plato - Allegory of the Cave

This is a good animated introduction to Plato's Allegory of the Cave:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Al Gore Versus Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler, 1942
The global temperatures are cooler now than in 2007 when Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize based on warning of an imminent apocalypse due to anthropogenic global warming, but the “inconvenient truth” is that the global temperatures are not rising.

It is worth looking at the accomplishments of Irena Sendler who Al Gore beat out in the race for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Irena Sendler is the Polish woman who, along with her underground network, rescued 2,500 Jewish children in Poland during World War II. I think, unlike Gore, Sendler has some "real" accomplishments.

Here’s an excerpt from Sendler’s Wikipedia page:
Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled approximately 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and shelter outside the Ghetto, saving those children from the Holocaust. With the exception of diplomats who issued visas to help Jews flee Nazi-occupied Europe, Sendler saved more Jews than any other individual during the Holocaust. 
The German occupiers eventually discovered her activities and she was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, and sentenced to death, but she managed to evade execution and survive the war. In 1965, Sendler was recognised by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations.[6] Late in life, she was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour, for her wartime humanitarian efforts.
Here’s the link to the video of Glenn Beck telling the story of Irena Sendler

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Why is Jordan Peterson Popular?

It is refreshing to watch the videos of Jordon Peterson. He has the courage (which is a rare quality for an academic) to speak clearly on contentious social issues. Here’s a brief list of reasons for which, I think, he has earned millions of followers:

1. He speaks clearly and with precision against the postmodern narrative of the leftists. He is well-informed and is good at communicating his ideas.

2. He rejects the postmodern doctrine of political correctness, which is being spread by large sections of the academia, mainstream media and the cultural and political establishment.

3. He is steadfastly opposed to the nonsensical postmodernist arguments on issues such as: gender identity, gender-neutral pronouns, minority rights, immigration, Islamic statism and terrorism, and freedom of speech in the academia.

4. He speaks in a colorful, jargon-free language which makes his videos quite entertaining.

5. He makes lot of sense in his lectures on psychology, history, politics and even issues related to religion. He is a magnet for people who are fed-up of the trivial nonsense being peddled by the left.

The large number of followers that Peterson has (despite being against the left) testify that people are now totally sick and tired of the leftist narrative.

Here's a Peterson's video in which he is analyzing the reasons behind his own popularity: 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tibor Machan’s Advice to Philosophers: “Check Your Premises”

Tibor R. Machan provides a clear advice to philosophers that they must observe Ayn Rand’s “check your premises” policy. He suggests that even the Objectivist philosophers need to “check their premises” at regular intervals.

Here’s an excerpt from his letter (Dated: 12 Nov, 1995) to Roger Bissell:
Philosophy is often a kind of pleading of one's own case, of trying to show that how one lives, what one thinks, squares with a comparatively superior account one can give of reality.  I have never known of any major or minor philosopher who does not at the end of the day try to give an account of the world that in some ways makes sense of his life and shows him to be something of a happy camper in the process, doing the best one can do at living one's human life.  This runs the terrible risk of making philosophy terribly subjective, and if one does not keep checking back—that old "check your premises" policy Ayn Rand recommended—conscientiously, relentlessly, with every halfway decent objection taken reasonably seriously, one will fall prey to such subjectivity or wishful thinking.  Indeed, one reason I think the inner circle Objectivist crowd, as well as many other dogmatists, misunderstand philosophy - the debate between Kelley and Peikoff on truth is a case in point - is that they do not take seriously the awesome responsibility of never being able to close the book on the process.” 
In an early paragraph of the same letter, Machan makes another interesting point:
When one remarks that his misconduct occurred "because I didn't think," as in "Dammit, I didn't think" said in a reproachful way, one implies that it was an option to think or not to, on which important things hinge.  This power of thinking is at once the power of self-direction.  So thinking and freedom are two aspects of the same power human beings possess qua human beings.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in Machan's words.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Logic as a Human Instrument

Logic as a Human Instrument by Francis H. Parker and Henry B. Veatch is an excellent book which leaves the reader with a good understanding of some of the most important concepts and methods in logic. Here are some useful definitions that I picked up from the book’s Chapter One, “What is Logic?”:

Study of logic
[The study of logic] will be concerned not with the psychological acts and operations of human thinking as such but with the methods and techniques and instruments which must be employed in thinking, if such thinking is ever to lead to knowledge. Or looked at a little differently, logic itself is the means or the technique which, when we observe it and use it, insures that our thinking will be correct and valid and, so far as possible, even true. Thus it was that the title which eventually came to be given to the logical writings of Aristotle, who first systematically formulated what we now know as logic, was the Greek word organon, which means literally “tool” or “instrument.” Thus it is too that, defined in terms of purpose, logic is simply the tool or instrument of knowledge.

The three W’s
[The] three questions—“What?” “Why” and “Whether?”—are natural and inescapable for us; one could hardly imagine a day passing without their being asked in some form or other. That they seek three kinds of object—a characteristic, a reason, and a fact—is also clear and natural, though perhaps somewhat less explicit. When we express the situation in ontological terms and say that the mind intends three aspects of reality—essencecause, and existence—you are likely to say , like Monsieur Jourdain, “Is that what I am seeking to know?” “But still,” you will add, “I see the connection.”

…[The] three W’s as we have called them, are precisely correlated with and actually determine the character of the three different logical tools.” …The tool for knowing a “what” or essence is a term or concept… The tool for knowing a “whether” or existence is a proposition… The tool for knowing a “why” or cause is an argument or demonstration.

Intentionality of knowledge
The most fundamental feature of knowledge—and indeed of all awareness—is that it is always of or about something other than itself. We have an experience of war, a feeling of pain, a concept of a triangle. We make propositions about bodies gravitating, and arguments about the interior angles of a triangle equalling two right angles. All awareness, all consciousness, all knowledge, is about something other than itself. It tends into, or intends, something distinct from itself. For this reason this most fundamental trait of knowledge is called its “intentionality.” All knowledge is “intentional”; every piece of knowledge is an “intention.”

… The most basic trait of knowledge is its intentionality—the fact that it is always of or about something other than itself. And this trait sharply distinguishes instances of knowledge from other things. Your concept of a triangle, or your proposition about its interior angles, is of or about the triangle; but the triangle isn't of or about anything—it is just itself. So intentionality is the distinguishing feature of all items of consciousness, and the most basic general characteristic of knowledge.

What is a sign? 
The instruments involved in knowledge must also be intentional. Our knowing tools, like knowing itself, must be revelatory, disclosive, meaningful. That is to say, the instruments by which we know reality must be significant of reality. In brief, then, all cognitive instruments are signs. But what is a sign? This question belongs specifically to the science of semantics (from the Greek sema, “sign”), but an understanding and use of logic requires knowledge of the nature of signs. What, then, is a sign?

…Every sign is representative, and representative of something other than itself… For every relation of a sign to its signatum there is another relation which underlies and justifies the particular relation of significance in question. This justifying relation we shall call the foundation-relation.

What is a word?
In forming words, therefore, we are attempting to reduce to a minimum the multiplicity of traits which characterizes natural sensory images.  In short, a word is an ideal sensory image. It is a natural sensory image artificially idealized and purified of all accidental accretions and thereby qualified to convey or signify a single abstract trait.

A word, nevertheless, still signifies only materially; it is still only a material sign since it is a mark or sound in its own right with certain properties of its own which are quite different from the properties of its meaning or signatum. In spite of the purity or singles of its significance, it is still not pure and single in the way in which an idea or formal sign is, for the latter is nothing but significant of its signatum… Moreover, the word is also an artificial sign since its significance depends essentially on an arbitrary human act. And since this is so, its significance will vary in place and time.

The second intentions
Our minds in knowing are first directed toward the world of real, independent beings, and we are not aware of the instruments and operations in which that knowing consists. Real beings, then, as objects of knowledge are our primary objects of attention and intention; they are first intentions, and all of their real properties are called first intention properties. But when in reflection we turn to the instruments involved in this primary intention, we make them objects of a second intention, they are thus second intentions, and all of their peculiar properties are known as second intention properties. This is true of all those features which things come to have just in so far as they are known—such properties as being a concept or a subject or a predicate. That is, the properties belonging to the cognitive status of things, to the status of things as formal signs, are second intentions. This, of course, is not true of material signs like words, since they are real beings with real properties of their own in addition to being signs. Like a pair of glasses, formal signs, though they are involved in our knowledge of reality, are themselves objects only of second intention. Logical instruments, then, are not only beings of reason; they are also second intentions.

The practical point of this second intentional status of logical instruments is to realize that increased proficiency in knowing the real world requires a temporary withdrawal from the real world… to those instruments and techniques without which no knowledge of the real world is possible. This is the job of logic as a study. But logicians, like Plato’s philosopher-kings, must then return to the “cave” of the real simply because the very meaning of the things which concern them in their withdrawal is to signify or reveal the real.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Philosophy of Language and Meaning

Some Questions About Language: A Theory of Human Discourse and Its Objects 
Mortimer J. Adler 
Open Court

In Some Questions about Language, Mortimer J. Adler conducts a philosophical examination of the subject of language. But his specific focus is on the theory of meaning.

He takes a systematic and structured approach and presents his arguments in a conversational format, as an orderly series of questions and answers which clarify the basic problems about language and meaning, while expounding the logical framework of Adler's own theory of meaning which serves as a solution to these problems.

In the first chapter, “Scope of a Philosophy of Language,” Adler explores the range of problems that philosophy is competent to deal with. He differentiates these problems from the closely related problems that are beyond philosophy’s scope, and, in addition, are incapable of being dealt with until the prior problems have been solved.

It is not possible for people to have a conversation unless the words which they are using are “meaningful.” The “meaning” is something which grants what would have been a meaningless sound the status of a “word.” Words have referential significance—they refer to or signify that which we apprehend, and the “meaning” refers to the relationship between a “word” and the “object” to which the word refers to.

Here are the four questions that Adler answers in the first chapter:

1. What is the primary fact that a philosophy of language should try to explain or account for? 2. What aspects of language should a philosophical approach to the subject not attempt to deal with? 3. What, specifically, should be avoided in developing a philosophical theory of language? 4. How are the philosophical problems of language related to the concerns of the logician and the grammarian dealing with language?

Answering the first question, Adler says, “The task of philosophy, as I see it, is to construct a theory that attempts to explain the reality or fact of communication which I have taken as its point of departure.“ His objective is to describe how men communicate by using natural language. He holds that philosophy is not concerned with the truth or falsity of a statement. He says, in his answer to the second question, “A philosophy of language, in short, is concerned with the communicability of statements that can be either true or false, but not with their truth or falsity.”

I think that the most interestingly worded question that Adler offers in the book comes in the Epilogue: “What is it that confers referential meaning on otherwise meaningless marks or sounds, thus making them into the meaningful words of a language?” This question, as he himself declares, is about the genesis of meaning.

Adler says that there are three different approaches to the philosophical consideration of language:

1. The syntactical approach
2. The “ordinary language” approach
3. The semantic and lexical approach

He rejects the first two approaches, and his own philosophy of language follows the semantic and lexical approach, which he says, “commits itself to ordinary language as a satisfactory instrument of both philosophical and everyday discourse.” This approach takes a philosophical view, and not a historical one, in offering the explanation of “the genesis of referential meaning by the voluntary imposition of meaningless notations on the objects of our apprehension.”

According to Adler, we voluntarily grant referential significance to meaningless notations when we impose these notations on objects of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, which we apprehend by means of ideas. He explains this point in chapter 3, “Solution of the Primary Problem,” while answering the question: “Can meaningless notations acquire referential significance by being imposed on ideas?”

Here’s an excerpt from Adler’s answer to the above question:

“The ideas in the mind of one individual are numerically and existentially distinct from the ideas in the mind of another. If a given individual ceased to exist, his ideas would cease to exist with him, for their existence is subjective in the sense that it is totally dependent on his existence as the subject who has them. Precisely because ideas are subjective in the sense indicated, making them the objects that are signified or referred to by the words which have been imposed on them as their names prevents language from being used as an instrument of communication.”

Adler’s point is that the acquisition of referential meaning cannot be explained in terms of an individual’s voluntary imposition of meaningless notations upon his own ideas as the objects to which they refer. The subjective ideas in our mind are never the objects which we apprehend when we perceive, remember, imagine or think.

The next question which he answers in chapter 3 is, “Why is it that meaningless notations can acquire referential significance in no other way than by being imposed on the objects of perception, memory, imagination, and thoughts?”

In answering the above question, Adler points out the basic fact that we can never apprehend our own ideas. This is because the ideas in our mind are not the objects which we apprehend, rather they are the instruments or means by which we apprehend objects. It not possible for any individual to inspect or be aware of the ideas that he has in his mind. You can only have inferential knowledge of the ideas. The ideas serve as the means by which we apprehend objects which we can name or designate by single words or descriptive phrases.

The definition of an idea which Adler offers in chapter 3 is worth noting: "The products of these several acts—percepts, memories, images, and concepts—can all be grouped together under the term "idea," just as all the acts by which they are produced can be grouped under the term "acts of the mind.”"

But how do we apprehend abstract nouns such as “freedom,” “justice,” “n-sided polygon,” and so on which cannot be perceived as particulars? Adler offers a solution for this problem in chapter 7, “Objects of Thought.” He says that in discussing freedom or justice, it is possible to give examples of the universal object that is before our minds by describing a man in a particular setting as being free or unfree, or by describing a man performing a certain act as being just or unjust. The ideas that cannot be described in a particular setting are apprehended by us through reference to the technical terms that go into the formulation of those very ideas. 

On the whole, Adler’s Some Questions About Language is an interesting book. It introduces the reader to a number of important issues in philosophy of language and the theory of meaning.