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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kelley’s Review of Peikoff’s OPAR

Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (OPAR) enjoys a high status in Objectivist circles. Most Objectivists believe that everything Peikoff has said in OPAR is beyond reproach. But the book has several imperfections, a few of which David Kelley has identified in his review, “Peikoff’s Summa”.

Kelly published “Peikoff’s Summa” in 1992—about 3 years after Peikoff published his article, “Fact and Value,” which accuses Kelley of betraying the fundamental principles of Objectivism and committing intellectual and moral improprieties. But in his review of OPAR, Kelley does not return the favor by tearing into Peikoff. His review is fair and informative. He praises many features of the book, and he justifies with evidence and logic his criticism of Peikoff’s vague, confused and at times flawed presentation of some of the material.

In what follows, I will focus only on the flaws that Kelley finds in OPAR. I don't need to mention the good things that he has to say about the book because its virtues are already overhyped in Objectivist circles. Here’s a list of the flaws that Kelley finds in OPAR:

Inadequate discussion of epistemological principles
Peikoff places a lot of importance on hierarchy and context, but his treatment of epistemological principles is inadequate. For instance, on page 179 Peikoff says: “A conclusion is 'certain' when the evidence in its favor is conclusive." But if the evidence is conclusive when it adds up to a proof, when does the evidence add up to a proof? Kelley says, “[Peikoff] says nothing on this subject beyond alluding to the standards employed in particular areas of knowledge, such as the legal requirements for proof of criminal guilt.”

Failure to deal with the hard cases for the contextual theory
On page 173, Peikoff says that “knowledge at one stage is not contradicted by later discoveries,” but he does not explain how this applies to the legal cases where a suspect who has been pronounced guilty on basis of available evidence is found to be innocent when new evidence becomes available. Peikoff goes on to qualify his formulation: “Within the context of the circumstances known,” suspect S is guilty. But Kelley points out that “the suspect's guilt or innocence is a fact of the matter — either he committed the act or he didn't — and it is not dependent on anyone's context of knowledge.”

Flawed discussion on of the hierarchical theory of knowledge
As knowledge is hierarchical, the validity of a concept or the truth of a propositional conclusion can only be established by the process of reduction, which is the tracing of a concept of conclusion back to its perceptual bases. But the only example of such reduction that Peikoff gives — an analysis of the concept “friend” — is incoherent. Kelley has conducted an autopsy of Peikoff’s exercise of reducing the concept “friend” in a sidebar to the main article, “What is a friend?”

Flawed definition of proof
On page 120, Peikoff defines proof as "the process of establishing truth by reducing a proposition to axioms, i.e., ultimately, to sensory evidence." Here’s what Kelley has to say on this definition: “This definition suggests that our knowledge has the following structure: Sensory evidence tells us that something exists, that it is what it is, and that we are aware of it (the axioms of existence, identity, and consciousness); from these axiomatic propositions we then infer everything else that we know. This picture is wildly inaccurate. Axioms are involved in any proof, since they underlie the canons of logical inference. But the substance of any conclusion is derived from sensory observation of particular objects and events, from which we form generalizations by induction and scientific hypothesis.”

Peikoff’s rationalism
On page 218, Pekoff says that with a few exceptions (the exceptions he has in mind are presumably the axioms), fundamental principles are supported by induction. But on page 406, he declares: “Capitalism is a corollary of the fundamentals of philosophy. Whoever understands capitalism sees it as the social system flowing from the axiom that "Existence exists” —just as whoever understands the axiom sees it ultimately as the principle entailing capitalism.” This comment makes no sense. Kelley says, “Comments of this kind lend credence to the common misconception that Objectivism is a form of rationalism in the manner of Descartes or Spinoza.”

Choice to live as a kind of higher-order duty
In Galt’s speech Rand says: "My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live." This means that the choice to live precedes all morality—it is the foundation of all normative claims, and so cannot itself be morally evaluated. But on page 248, Peikoff asserts: "A man who would throw away his life without cause ...would belong on the lowest rung of hell." (248) Kelley says that “the reason for this inconsistency is that he does not really regard the choice to live as a moral primary. Since life is existence, the choice to live is subsumed under the wider principle of adhering to existence, which Peikoff implicitly seems to regard as a kind of higher-order duty.”

Kelley further explains:

“The problem here is of more than theoretical significance. The duality which Rand identified at the base of ethics runs throughout her moral code. The choice to live is the fundamental source of motivation, the axiom of existence the fundamental principle of cognition. The choice sets our goal-seeking nature in motion; the axiom directs us to look to reality for guidance, to identify the natures of things, including our own human nature and needs, and to identify the types of actions required to achieve our goals. The choice to live is the fountainhead of that passionate energy, that love of life, which characterizes Rand's heroes. The commitment to reason and reality is the source of their confident command of themselves and their world. In his quest for theoretical unity, Peikoff collapses the choice into the axiom, with effects that are evident throughout his presentation of the Objectivist ethics. He tends to elevate principles over goals, virtues over values, in a way that gives the flavor of a duty ethic.”

Flawed conception of morality
On page 284, while discussing justice, Peikoff declares: “morality is man’s motive power.” But this is a flawed view of morality. Here’s Kelley’s perspective on this issue: “Since morality is a code of values accepted by choice, and a code in turn is a system of principles, Peikoff's statement suggests that we are motivated not by the desire to achieve our goals, but by the desire to conform to our principles. But one's motivation flows from one's purpose. One does not live for the sake of being moral; one acts morally in order to make the most out of his life. We obey nature in order to command it.”

An uninviting picture of life in Objectivism
Kelley says that he would not recommend OPAR to anyone who is unfamiliar with Objectivism because the book creates an uninviting picture of a life in accordance with the Objectivist code.  He points out that in the chapter on virtue, which is the longest chapter in the book, Peikoff presents the virtues “as forms of rationality and as constraints on the ends we can choose, rather than as means for living a happy life.” He does talk about happiness in a section in the chapter, but he does not grant primacy to happiness.

Best student and designated heir?
In his Preface to OPAR, Peikoff claims that he is qualified to present Rand’s philosophy as he is “her best student and designated heir.” My personal opinion is that such an assertion is not only in bad taste, it is also unbelievable. Kelley says that OPAR is not a scholarly analysis of Rand’s thought. “[Peikoff] writes in his own voice, and puts philosophical propositions forth as true of reality; his writing is therefore properly subject to the customary standards of clarity, rigor, and truth by which a work in philosophy must be judged.”

It is noteworthy that Kelley has identified these flaws (barring the last one) by focusing solely on a theme that Peikoff regards as central to the book: epistemological self-awareness. Kelley declares in the beginning of the review that he is not offering a complete inventory of the book. Can there be any doubt that if he were to go through the entire book with a fine-tooth comb many more flaws will come to light! Several commentators, including the philosopher Henry B. Veatch, have excoriated Peikoff for using vague and at times flawed arguments in OPAR.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Free Will: A Response to Sam Harris

Free Will: A Response to Sam Harris
Kurt Keefner 

Sam Harris’s Free Will (Simon & Schuster, 2012) crams lot of ideas that I find irrational. Consider these lines from the beginning of the book:

“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control.”

Harris claims that a murderer may not be responsible for his choices, and that a brain tumor may transform a normal man into a murderer:

"Imagine this murderer is discovered to have a brain tumor in the appropriate spot in his brain that could explain his violent impulses. That is obviously exculpatory. We view him as a victim of his biology, and our moral intuitions shift automatically. But I would argue that a brain tumor is just a special case of physical events giving rise to thoughts and actions, and if we fully understood the neurophysiology of any murderer's brain, that would be as exculpatory as finding a tumor in it.”

Kurt Keefner’s monograph Free Will: A Response to Sam Harris offers good arguments to show that Harris’s ideas on free will make no sense. In what follows, I will give a brief account of Keefner's philosophical case. In the first chapter, “Why It Matters,” Keefner points out that if we take free will as an illusion and the rational world as deterministic then hardworking and enterprising men will not get the credit for their success, and the serial murderers won’t be blamed for their depravities.

According to Keefner, the roots of Harris’s denial of free will lie in his dualism. While Harris does not believe in body and soul dichotomy like Descartes, he is still a dualist in a broader sense because he believes that the self constitutes of pure consciousness and unconscious processes. The idea of separating the pure consciousness from the unconscious, says Keefner, is “a philosophical move, even a theological move, but not a scientific one. His preposition that consciousness is “pure” is what underwrites his version of determinism.”

Consciousness is an attribute of an organism—it cannot exist on its own. The separation between pure consciousness and unconscious processes has no basis in science. In the chapter 3, “The Integrated Self,” Keefner identifies four levels of consciousness:

“There are non-conscious processes, such as the filtration of blood by the kidneys and the neural process that give rise to perception. Next there are the unconscious processes, such as our knowing how to speak our own language without being able to enunciate the rules of grammar explicitly. Third are the preconscious processes, such as remembering my sister’s name when I’m not thinking about her. Fourth are the conscious processes such as looking at my computer or taking about free will.”

All four processes of consciousness are fully integrated with the organism. “To act consciously is also to act preconsciously, unconsciously and non-consciously. They are a nested hierarchy. Being conscious intrinsically involves processes one is not directly conscious of. The idea of a “pure” consciousness is a fiction unrelated to real awareness.”

But with his idea of a dichotomy between conscious self and the unconscious self in place, Harris goes on to deduce the argument that “if any factor outside our awareness determines any part of our thoughts and actions, we don’t have free will.” This is an invalid argument and Keefner points out that “there is no reason why unconscious forces could not shape part of our mental lives while we consciously exercise some kind of decisive control.”

To defend his theory that the brain makes decisions before consciousness becomes aware of them, Harris uses the experiments conducted by the physiologist Benjamin Libet. But Keefner questions the validity of Libet’s experiments—he points out that it is illogical to see consciousness separately from the brain. “On the integrated view of the self, a conscious decision is something a person makes, not parts or aspects of a person, like a brain or a consciousness.”

On Harris’s controversial contention that murderers are not responsible for their actions, Keefner says that “such men often have exceptional disorders that diminish their power of choice so that their situation is not relevant to rest of us. Also, criminals are not known for their power of introspection—which may be part of the reason they become criminals in the first place—and thus their cases cannot be generalized to ours.”

While refuting Harris’s idea that free will is illusion, Keefner does not aim to prove the existence of free will. This is because “free will” is an axiomatic concept, like consciousness—you can’t prove the existence of free will for the same reason for which you can’t prove the existence of consciousness. Free will cannot be proved, but it can be observed. In the chapter, “Conclusion,” Keefner says:

“Apparently, for Harris if human beings are not created in the image of God, they are squalid animals driven by dark urges for things like beer and murder. Reason is not worth considering as a motivation. For Harris we not only do not have the dignity of being free, we do not even have the dignity of being intelligent. This diminution of man is actually worse than that of some religions.”

I will end this article with a question to Harris: Does he enjoy the fact that he is a successful writer and not a murderer? Well, I am sure he does.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

On Leonard Peikoff’s Dissertation

Leonard Peikoff received his doctorate in 1964 at New York University under the direction of the American pragmatist philosopher Sidney Hook. In his dissertation titled “The Status of the Law of Contradiction in Classical Logical Ontologism,” Peikoff shows an alignment towards Aristotelian empiricism.

Stephen Boydstun is conducting a study of Peikoff’s dissertation in the Objectivism Online Forum. This is an ongoing project—so far Boydstun has made two posts in which he mainly looks at Peikoff’s treatment of Aristotle in his dissertation.

In the posts that follow, Boydstun will look at what Peikoff has to say about Immanuel Kant and Peikoff's contemporaries, including John Dewey and Thomas Nagel. Here’s an excerpt from Boydstun’s first post on Peikoff's Dissertation:

“Under the term classical in his title, Peikoff includes not only the ancient, but the medieval and early modern. By logical ontologism, he means the view that laws of logic and other necessary truths are expressive of facts, expressive of relationships existing in Being as such. Peikoff delineates the alternative ways in which that general view of PNC [principle of noncontradiction] has been elaborated in various classical accounts of how one can come to know PNC as a necessary truth and what the various positions on that issue imply in an affirmation that PNC is a law issuing from reality. The alternative positions within the ontology-based logical tradition stand on alternative views on how we can come to know self-evident truths and on the relation of PNC to the empirical world, which latter implicates alternative views on the status of essences and universals.”

Boydstun’s study of Peikoff’s dissertation is of interest because it sheds light on how Peikoff’s thinking was influenced by the training in philosophy that he received for his doctorate.

On a side note, in his podcast on October 27, 2014, Peikoff has said that he does not think highly of the University system under which he achieved his doctorate. He has nothing good to say about his dissertation. He seems to suggest that it was meaningless exercise that he went through under the direction of disinterested and unmotivated instructors.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Benevolent Individualism

Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence 
David Kelley
The Atlas Society, Revised Edition, 2003

I remember a discussion on “Individualism” that I had with a person who has been an Objectivist for many years. He told me that he regards Howard Roark, the protagonist in The Fountainhead, as an ideal individualist.

“Why?” I asked. To my surprise, he offered me the lines from the novel that Peter Keating uses to describe Roark’s character to Ellsworth Toohey: “He'd walk over corpses. Any and all of them. All of us. But he'd be an architect.”

But is Howard Roark so ruthless that he will walk over corpses for the achievements of his ambitions? Is he totally bereft of benevolence?

In his monograph Unrugged Individualism, David Kelley argues that benevolence is not the converse of individualism. He begins by reflecting on Roark’s first meeting with the sculptor Steven Mallory. Roark finds Mallory in a state of semi-drunken despair. Mallory’s artistic ambitions have been battered by the cynical and vulgar cultural environment. But when he notices that Roark’s idealism is genuine, he breaks down.

Roark is not disgusted by Mallory’s lapse into drunken despair. He does not berate Mallory for his weakness and failure to fight for his values. Instead, he offers Mallory kindness and understanding. Kelley says, “It is a moving scene of benevolence between human beings, one of many that occur in Rand’s novels.”

The idea that Roark’s individualism makes him capable of walking over corpses is Peter Keating’s opinion. Keating is a negative character in The Fountainhead—he is a collectivist and he is bound to feel insecure in face of Roark’s individualism.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “benevolence” as “the quality of being well meaning; kindness.” This definition fits Roark’s attitude towards Mallory. Roark is benevolent but he is not self-sacrificing or altruistic. Benevolence must not be confused with self-sacrifice or altruism, which Objectivist ethics rejects as a moral principle.

In chapter 2, “Background,” Kelley investigates the reasons for which some philosophers equate “benevolence” with “altruism.” He points out that in Atlas Shrugged when the Starnes factory is reorganized by the altruist principles of the founder’s heirs — “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” — there is loss of benevolence among the workers.

In the second part of the chapter, Kelley looks at the relationship between benevolence toward others and the benevolent view of the universe. He points out that the universe is not malevolent—“achievement, success, and happiness are not only possible but normal, where they are the to-be-expected, the primary virtues must be those by which we pursue and achieve them: rationality, courage, productiveness, integrity, pride.”

Ayn Rand has said that “Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep—virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it.” So what is the value that benevolence aims at? In chapter 3, “The Nature of Benevolence,” Kelley draws the relationship between benevolence and the trader principle. He defines benevolence as “a commitment to achieving the values derivable from life with other people in society, by treating them as potential trading partners, recognizing their humanity, independence, and individuality, and the harmony between their interests and ours.”

But when there is coercion in society, people stop feeling benevolent towards others. In Atlas Shrugged, when Hank Rearden is blackmailed by the government into signing over the rights to Rearden Metal, he is filled with such lack of respect for the men around him what he no longer wishes to engage in trade with them. Here’s the paragraph from Atlas Shrugged in which Rearden’s thoughts are described:

“He felt nothing at the thought of the looters who were now going to manufacture Rearden Metal. His desire to hold his right to it and proudly to be the only one to sell it, had been his form of respect for his fellow men, his belief that to trade with them was an act of honor. The belief, the respect and the desire were gone.... The human shapes moving past him in the streets of the city were physical objects without any meaning.”

In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey opines that kindness is more important than justice—he accuses Howard Roark of being unkind. But is there a conflict between benevolence and justice? Kelley says that benevolence, being the commitment to achieving certain values in our relationship with others, does not conflict with justice. “If it becomes clear that those values are not available from a specific person—for example, if his behavior or character make him a positive threat— then it is not an act of benevolence to extend sympathy, kindness, or generosity.”

In chapter 4, “The Practice of Benevolence,” Kelley considers the specific kinds of actions, habits, and policies that are part of the practice of benevolence. He says that civility, sensitivity, and generosity are the specific virtues of benevolence.

He defines “civility” as the expression of “one’s respect for the humanity and independence of others, and of one’s intent to resolve conflicts peacefully.”

“Sensitivity,” he says, “is the alertness to the psychological condition of others.” The Fountainhead offers several instances of Roark and Dominique controlling their reactions to another person in order to spare him the pain of showing what he has revealed. For instance, Roark displays lot of sensitivity when he sees Keating after many years.

“Roark knew that he must not show the shock of his first glance at Peter Keating—and that it was too late: he saw a faint smile on Keating’s lips, terrible in its resigned acknowledgment of disintegration.” ~ (The Fountainhead)

Kelley defines “generosity” as “the willingness to provide others with goods without the expectation of a definite return, either as aid in an emergency or as a nonspecific investment in their potential.” The relationship between generosity and individualism is captured in several scenes in Atlas Shrugged. For instance, Dagny saving a tramp from being thrown off the train and inviting him to dinner with her—Rearden’s indulgent attitude towards the Wet Nurse.

Unrugged Individualism offers a wealth of instructive reading on Ayn Rand’s literature and philosophy. It makes an important contribution to Objectivist ethics by demonstrating that benevolence is an Objectivist virtue.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Parrot, The Wind, The Gremlins, and Peikoff’s Doctrine of Arbitrary Assertion

When I read Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (OPAR) a few years ago, I was impressed by his exposition of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. But I also had some misgivings about certain ideas in his book—for instance, his doctrine of arbitrary assertion did not appear logical to me.

Recently I discovered Robert Campbell’s article, “The Peikovian Doctrine of the Arbitrary Assertion” (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Volume 10, No 1, Fall 2008). Campbell offers a thoughtful critique of Peikoff’s doctrine of arbitrary assertion. His article has me convinced that my misgivings on the doctrine are not farfetched. Peikoff’s doctrine is rife with logical flaws.

Campbell’s article is 86 pages long—in comparison, Peikoff’s explanation of the doctrine in OPAR extends across about 9 pages (Chapter 5, “Reason”; Section: “The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False”; Pages: 163-171). Campbell analyzes the doctrine from every angle—he looks at the steps through which Peikoff has developed his doctrine, he provides information on the philosophical background in which the doctrine was originated, and he goes on to expose the instances where Peikoff and his acolytes are themselves guilty of making arbitrary assertions.

Since 1976 when Peikoff gave his lectures on Objectivism, the doctrine of arbitrary assertion has become a prominent feature in Objectivist epistemology. The publication of OPAR in 1993 has put the doctrine in front of a wider audience. But Campbell argues that the doctrine raises several questions. He begins his article by listing a few of these questions:

“Does an epistemology firmly grounded in facts about human mental functioning, as Rand’s claims to be, require a notion of the arbitrary? Is Peikoff’s notion of an arbitrary assertion clear? Does the concept have the scope of application that Peikoff stakes out for it? Should arbitrary assertions all be handled as Peikoff prescribes? Are the arguments for the doctrine sound?”

Campbell says that “these questions bear on the nature and quality of Peikoff’s work as a philosopher, and on the viability of Objectivism construed as a closed system.”

Consider the fact that in his 9-page elucidation of the doctrine in OPAR, Peikoff does not offer clear instructions on how to identify an arbitrary claim. He presumes that a rational person knows which claims are arbitrary, as he or she would know which ones are emotionalistic or irrational. By arbitrary, Peikoff does not mean false—he regards the arbitrary claims as being worse than falsehoods.

Here’s an excerpt from OPAR:

“An arbitrary statement has no relation to man’s means of knowledge. Since the statement is detached from the realm of evidence, no process of logic can assess it. Since it is affirmed in a void, cut off from any context, no integration to the rest of man’s knowledge is applicable; previous knowledge is irrelevant to it. Since it has no place in a hierarchy, no reduction is possible, and thus no observations are relevant. An arbitrary statement cannot be cognitively processed; by its nature, it is detached from any rational method or content of human consciousness. Such a statement is necessarily detached from reality as well. If an idea is cut loose from any means of cognition, there is no way of bringing it into relationship with reality.” ~ (OPAR, page 164)

Campbell detects several logical problems in this paragraph. He argues that “if what Peikoff says is true, what is the status of a correct judgment that a claim is arbitrary? How does one arrive at that judgment? How could one rationally judge an assertion to be arbitrary, except by engaging in correct cognition in relation to reality? If ‘the soul survives the death of the body’ is truly incapable of being cognitively processed, how can a rational person judge what evidence or arguments would be required to support it? For if the rational person has no idea what would be required, how can he or she go on to determine that the evidence or arguments have not been presented, consequently the assertion must be dismissed?”

Peikoff claims that the arbitrary statements are completely out of context, to the extent that they cannot be evaluated on the basis of any previous knowledge. Yet the four examples of arbitrary assertions that he gives in OPAR—belief in the existence of soul, belief in astrology, belief in existence of a sixth sense, and a convention of gremlins studying Hegel’s logic on the planet Venus—are intelligible. It is possible for us to evaluate these assertions on the basis of previous knowledge and declare that these statements are falsehoods.

If we believe Peikoff’s proposition that “gremlins” is an arbitrary concept which can never be cognitively processed then what about Phlogiston, the stuff that chemists in the mid-eighteenth century believed makes some materials combustible and is used up when they burned! Peikoff’s doctrine will lead us to believe that Phlogiston is an arbitrary concept and is therefore beyond the scope of human cognition. Campbell asks if the chemists in the 1770s and 1780s could have discovered what is wrong with the Phlogiston concept if they had adhered to Peikoff’s doctrine?

Peikoff makes hardly any sense when he asserts that a rational person must regard every arbitrary idea as a noise. “An arbitrary idea must be given the exact treatment its nature demands. One must treat it as though nothing has been said.” (OPAR, Pages 164-165). He makes even less sense when he claims that the arbitrary is outside all epistemological categories. “None of the concepts used to describe human knowledge can be applied to the arbitrary; none of the classifications of epistemology can be usurped in its behalf… An arbitrary statement is neither ‘true’ nor ‘false.’” (OPAR, page 165)

It is difficult to imagine a statement which is neither true nor false. Campbell posits that “if a claim can be refuted, it is not arbitrary; if it has been successfully refuted, one ought to conclude that it is false.”

In his 1997 lecture “Objectivism through Induction,” Peikoff claims that when we recognize an assertion as arbitrary we are trapped into an unthinking condition. “When you see that a claim is arbitrary, then you cannot think about its cognitive status at all. You can’t think about its validity as a claim. You can’t weigh it, assess it, determine its probability, its possibility, its invalidity, its truth, its falsehood, anything. It is non-process-able. A rational mind stops in its tracks, in the face of any attempt to process such a claim.” According to Peikoff, a tryst with an arbitrary assertion induces paralysis in a rational mind.

Campbell wonders “what the supposed paralysis would feel like, and whether one might need extensive training in order to experience it.” But Peikoff uses a shoot and scoot strategy in his lecture—he drops the word “paralyzed,” but refrains from explaining the nature of the paralysis.

In OPAR, Peikoff offers the examples of a wind-blown sand and a talking parrot to establish the charge that the arbitrary claims are meaningless. Here’s an excerpt:

“A relationship between a conceptual content and reality is a relationship between man’s consciousness and reality. There can be no “correspondence” or “recognition” without the mind that corresponds or recognizes. If a wind blows the sand on a desert island into configurations spelling out “A is A,” that does not make the wind a superior metaphysician. The wind did not achieve any conformity to reality; it did not produce any truth but merely shapes in the sand. Similarly, if a parrot is trained to squawk “2 + 2 = 4,” this does not make it a mathematician. The parrot’s consciousness did not attain thereby any contact with reality or any relation to it, positive or negative; the parrot did not recognize or contradict any fact; what it created was not merely falsehood, but merely sounds. Sounds that are not the vehicle of conceptual awareness have no cognitive status.” ~ (OPAR, page 165)

He goes on to declare:

“An arbitrary claim emitted by a human mind is analogous to the shapes made by the wind or to the sounds of the parrot. Such a claim has no cognitive relationship to reality, positive or negative. The true is identified by reference to a body of evidence; it is pronounced “true” because it can be integrated without contradiction into a total context. The false is identified by the same means; it is pronounced “false” because it contradicts the evidence and/or some aspect of the wider context. The arbitrary, however, has no relation to evidence or context; neither term, therefore—“true” or “false”—can be applied to it.” ~ (OPAR, page 165-166)

The idea that a human being who makes an arbitrary assertion will have his cognitive abilities downgraded to parrot level is unbelievable. Campbell writes: “Even if we accept Peikoff’s contention that putting forward any assertion that he deems arbitrary is ipso facto an irrational act, it does not follow that the assertion is the product of a sudden complete interruption to one’s functioning as a cognitive agent—even if it is an interruption from which one can somehow quickly recover.”

But Peikoff prefers to preach with the zeal of an Augustinian monk living in Europe’s dark ages. He is convinced that all who disagree with his ideas belong to the lowest rung of hell. Consider these lines from OPAR (page 248): “A man who would throw away his life without cause, who would reject the universe on principle and embrace a zero for its own sake—such a man, according to Objectivism, would belong on the lowest rung of hell.”

In case of the doctrine of the arbitrary, Peikoff is, thankfully, not consigning the disbelievers to the lowest rung of hell, but the punishment he has in mind is still quite harsh. “The arbitrary, however, if a man indulges in it, assaults his cognitive faculty; it wipes out or makes impossible in his mind the concept of rational cognition and thus entrenches his inner chaos for life. As to the practical consequences of this difference, whom would you prefer to work with, talk to, or buy groceries from: a man who miscounts the people in his living room (an error) or who declares that the room is full of demons (the arbitrary)?” (OPAR, page 166)

It is clear that Peikoff is offering a blatantly loaded alternative. Campbell says, “Every day, human beings make mistakes with much higher impact than most simple miscounts will ever have. People fail college courses, run cars off roads, alienate friends, mismanage businesses into bankruptcy, crash airplanes. Conversely, from Peikoff’s point of view, if a prospective seller, coworker, or conversational partner believes that his friend who recently died is now in heaven, walking on streets of gold, he is as fully in the grip of ‘the arbitrary,’ and should be as assiduously shunned, as the man who believes that his living room is swarming with demons.”

Once he is done with exposing the logical inconsistencies in Peikoff’s doctrine, Campbell moves on to conduct an investigation into the doctrine’s origins. In the introduction to OPAR, Peikoff has denied making any creative contributions in the book. He says that much of the book’s material comes from the philosophic discussions that he had with Ayn Rand over a period of decades. He says, “Our discussions were not a collaboration: I asked questions, she answered them.” (OPAR, Page xv) Should we then believe that Ayn Rand is the real author of this doctrine?

But Campbell points out that there is no evidence to suggest that Rand could have articulated the doctrine in the flawed form in which Peikoff presents it in OPAR. “She used the word ‘arbitrary’ rather often, but never in a way that signals the technical meanings that Peikoff expounds in OPAR.” In the context in which she uses the word “arbitrary,” it functions as a close synonym for “nonobjective” or “irrational,” and in some cases it serves as a substitute for “subjective.”

Campbell says that in a somewhat different form, the doctrine was articulated by Nathaniel Branden in an article in the 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. In his article, Branden says: “When a person makes an assertion for which no rational grounds are given, his statement is—epistemologically—without cognitive content. It is as though nothing has been said. This is equally true if the assertion is made by two billion people.”

Branden did not take the idea of “arbitrary” to the level where it might serve as an alternative to “truth” and “falsehood.” Campbell writes: “Branden restrained himself from concluding that ‘arbitrary’ is a truth value, or a way of being wronger than wrong, and he tried to qualify his claim that arbitrary assertions are ‘without cognitive content.’ He neither declared that arbitrary assertions ‘cannot be cognitively processed,’ nor offered comparisons with dunes shifted by the wind or speech sounds mimicked by a parrot. Branden indicted agnostics for cowardice, but not for zero-embracing nihilism. The focus of his article was on the irrationality of demanding evidence or argument in violation of the onus of proof principle.”

Also, Branden did not turn the arbitrary into a basic epistemological category. “He regarded the distinction between faith and reason as fundamental, not the distinction between the arbitrary and the non-arbitrary.”  Campbell informs us that Branden reflected on the arbitrary assertions in two Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures. While Branden believed that assertions about witches and goblins refer to nothing, he did not declare that arbitrary assertions cannot be cognitively processed. For him, “the negative consequences of accepting arbitrary assertions are one and the same as the negative consequences of supposing that faith is a shortcut to knowledge.”

While there are problems in Branden’s  theory of arbitrary assertions (Campbell discusses these in his article), his version of the theory is more robust than the doctrine that Peikoff’s offers in his 1976 lectures and OPAR. Campbell presents evidence to show that Branden (writing under the guidance of Rand) was the primary author of the doctrine of arbitrary assertion. Peikoff picked up Branden’s doctrine and dished it out in a vastly distorted format. Also, Peikoff’s failure to acknowledge Branden’s contribution to the doctrine is unethical and unscholarly.

In the article's final section, Campbell comments on the issue of denial of credit to Branden: “The implications for Peikoff’s standing as a philosopher are distinctly negative. If Peikoff lifted the core idea without attribution from Branden’s (1967) lectures, as he appears to have done, he is guilty of intellectual dishonesty. His refusal to credit Branden’s (1963) prior publication on the subject is, in any event, unscholarly. He has elaborated the doctrine significantly; however, the best that can be said about Peikoff’s own contributions is that he has performed better on many other occasions.”

I conclude my article with this question: Will Peikoff’s doctrine of the arbitrary assertion survive Campbell’s critique?

It is clear that that the doctrine is illogical but the intellectuals with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) continue to defend it—as if Campbell’s article does not exist. Campbell published his article in 2008 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies—in the past nine years his article has provoked very little discussion in Objectivist circles. I find it strange that an article which practically demolishes the doctrine proposed by a personality such as Peikoff has not been comprehensively evaluated by the ARI. The lack of reaction to Campbell’s article exposes the insular and cultist nature of the Objectivist elite.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Reminder to Orthodox Objectivists


John Galt said, “'I will stop the motor of the world.” He didn't say, “I will unfriend and block everyone who disagrees with me.”

Monday, May 8, 2017

People want nothing but mirrors around them

When you read these lines by Ayn Rand, you get the feeling that she is describing the mindset of the Orthodox Objectivist community:

"You wanted a mirror. People want nothing but mirrors around them. To reflect them while they're reflecting too. You know, like the senseless infinity you get from two mirrors facing each other across a narrow passage. Usually in the more vulgar kind of hotels. Reflections of reflections and echoes of echoes. No beginning and no end. No center and no purpose." ~ (Dominique Francon to Peter Keating in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead)

The Orthodox Objectivists are directionless. They reflect on reflections and hear the echoes of echoes. They are not ready to open their ears to any new ideas. Theirs is a "Closed System." 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

On The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

It is not possible to ignore The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS). I have read a number of articles published in past issues of JARS and I find these articles to be very well argued. Their logic is undeniable. Most Objectivists (of the dogmatic mindset) want to avoid JARS, which they regard as the repository of heretical thoughts. To them I say that you can’t gain full understanding of Objectivism (the ideas and the issues) until you explore the philosophical positions that this journal is taking.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Kant and the Nineteenth Century by W. T. Jones

I am now reading Kant and the Nineteenth Century which is the Volume four of W. T. Jones’s five-volume work on history of Western philosophy. But I wonder why Jones decided to name this volume on Kant? After all, he has not named the first volume in the series, which is on Ancient Greek philosophy, after Aristotle or Plato—he called it The Classical Mind.

The Volume four has nine chapters out of which four are on Kant. In comparison, David Hume has only one chapter in Volume three. It is possible that W. T. Jones has devoted more than 50 percent of the Volume four to Kant because he is himself a Kantian. But as of now I am not sure about his personal philosophy.

W. T. Jones’s survey of Kant begins in the chapter 2, “Kant: Theory of Knowledge.” This is followed by the chapter, “Kant: Theory of Value.” I find the sections in chapter 4, “Reactions Against Kantianism:  Hegel and Schopenhauer,” quite surprising.

While I can understand Schopenhauer’s description as a philosopher who reacted against Kant, I don't think that Hegel, who has made several philosophical contributions, deserves to seen purely from the perspective of Kantianism. However, the chapter is of 60-pages, in which 40-pages are on Hegel, and the rest is on Schopenhauer.

The Chapter 5, “Science, Scientism, and Social Philosophy” starts with a discussion on Kant’s heritage and it has sections on the Utilitarians, Comte and Marx.

The Chapter 6 is on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. The chapters 7, 8 and 9 are on C. S. Pierce, William James and F. H. Bradley. The structure of the chapters 6 to 9 is also surprising, because famous names like Hegel, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche do not have independent chapters, while C. S. Pierce, William James and F. H. Bradley have it.

However, I am having these thoughts after reading only the Table of Contents, the Preface and the Introduction. I am sure that in the chapters that follow I will find an explanation for the book's structure.

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction in which W. T. Jones describes his view of the Post-Kant philosophy:
“Philosophy since Kant has been largely a series of modulations of, and reactions against, his formulations. Kant maintained first that since cognition involves construction, things into which this constructive activity has not entered are literally unknowable, and second that there is a realm of reality that is unaccessible to human minds because they have not participated in its construction. Post-Kantian philosophy has divided into two main streams, depending on which part of this double thesis was accepted and which part rejected. Some philosophers agreed with Kant that knowledge is limited to the spatiotemporal world but rejected his unknowable things-in-themselves as mere vestiges of an outmoded metaphysics; as a result they concentrated their attention on this world and its problems. Other philosophers agreed with Kant that there is a reality independent of human minds but did not want to admit that this reality is unknowable. Accordingly, since these philosophers accepted Kant’s contention that reason is limited to the spatiotemporal world, they had to rely on some other mode of access to the reality they believed lay behind the phenomena. The result was a reaffirmation of metaphysics, but in an antirational (or at least arational) form very different from the pre-Kantian rationalistic metaphysics.”

On Truth

“It is a poor mind that will think with the multitude because it is a multitude: truth is not altered by the opinions of the vulgar or the confirmation of the many. It is more blessed to be wise in truth in face of opinion than to be wise in opinion in face of truth.” ~ Giordano Bruno (1548—1600)

The Dirty Red Secrets of May

This is the left. It returns, like a dog to its vomit, to the dream of the true radicalism of a totalitarian leftist state. It occasionally deals with uncomfortable truths. Circles around them. And then it lapses back into an opium dream of Marxists sitting around a kitchen table and debating which windows to smash first and whom to shoot first.

(Read More)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

On Objectivism

Question: Is Objectivism a system of philosophy or a sense of life movement?

Answer: While Ayn Rand conceived Objectivism as a philosophy, it is now a sense of life movement. I say this because most contemporary Objectivist scholars tend to avoid intricate philosophical theory—they do not aim to influence other professional philosophers and they never answer any objections to their ideas; their focus is only on preaching a rational sense of life to an audience which has a very limited experience of philosophy. Preaching sense of life is a good thing, but it isn't philosophy.

(Here's the link the Facebook discussion on my timeline.)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ayn Rand on Endorsing Anyone’s Future Work

“Since men do not think or write automatically, since nothing gives them an automatic guarantee of reaching the right conclusions, it is impossible to endorse anyone’s future work, particularly in the field of ideas.” ~ Ayn Rand in “To The Reader” (The Objectivist Forum, Feb 1980)

(When I read such lines in Ayn Rand’s articles I get the feeling that she was against the idea of having an “authority figure” in Objectivism. When she finds it impossible to endorse anyone’s future work in the field of ideas then how can we expect her to anoint anyone as an “authority figure”!)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The March of Philosophy from Hobbes to Hume

Today I start reading the Volume III of A History of Western Philosophy by W. T. Jones, titled Hobbes to Hume. Volume I and Volume II were a great read and I anticipate a similar experience from Volume III.

This book has chapters on Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley and Hume. But the analysis of the life and works of these philosophers starts from the chapter 4, which is on Hobbes.

The first three chapters are devoted to describing the intellectual and political background in these philosophers proposed their ideas. The first chapter is “Renaissance,” the second chapter is “Reformation,” and the third chapter is “Science and Scientific Method.”

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s Introduction:
Just as Greek philosophy, with its emphasis on independence, autonomy, and self-realization, seemed irrelevant to the survivors of the collapse of classical culture and the wreck of the Roman Empire, so medieval philosophy, with its emphasis on an infinitely good God and its assumption of man’s finitude and sin, could not satisfy the Renaissance man who emerged in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Shaped by capitalism and new money power, by the idea of sovereignty and ideals of Humanism, by the discovery of America and the Protestant reformation, this new man was an individualist increasingly concerned with this world and its values.  
Perhaps the most momentous element in the great change from medieval to modern times was the development of the scientific method. Indeed, if it can be said that classical philosophy was overthrown by the Christians’ discovery of God, then it can be said that the medieval philosophy was overthrown by the scientists’ discovery of nature. This discovery was not a merely revival of classical naturalism and secularism; it was the discovery of a world of facts that seemed indifferent to man and his affairs.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Roger Bissell’s 40-Page Review of The DIM Hypothesis

In his Preface to The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out, Leonard Peikoff guesses that there is an 80 to 85 percent chance that Ayn Rand "would agree with the book, extol its virtues, and regard it as of historic importance.”

However, after reading Roger Bissell’s broad 40-page review of The DIM Hypothesis ("Beneath The DIM Hypothesis: The Logical Structure of Leonard Peikoff’s Analysis of Cultural Evolution"; The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2013), I am constrained to say that there is negligible chance of Rand agreeing with the book—she would not find much virtue in it and it is certain that she would not regard it as of historic importance.

Peikoff posits in The DIM Hypothesis that the three great philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, offer the three “pure” (primary or fundamental) modes of integration. In addition to these three primary modes of integration, there are, he says, two “mixed” modes which are formed by joining the elements of the pure modes.

Thus, according to Peikoff, there are only five modes of integration: three “pure” and two “mixed.” But Bissell shows that there are problems in Peikoff’s DIM mixtures. Whereas Peikoff has asserted that there can be only two “mixed” modes, Bissell says that there can be six “mixed” modes in addition to the three “pure” modes.

Here’s the list of six “mixed” modes, according to Bissell:

1. Plato primary + Aristotle, Peikoff’s M1 

2. Kant primary + Aristotle, Peikoff’s D1 

3. Aristotle primary + Plato, rejected by Peikoff 

4. Aristotle primary + Kant, rejected by Peikoff 

5. Plato primary + Kant, not mentioned by Peikoff 

6. Kant primary + Plato, not mentioned by Peikoff 


Peikoff claims that Thomas Aquinas’s  thinking does not qualify as a DIM mixture for two reasons: firstly, Aquinas does not present an integrated view of fundamentals; secondly, he rejects Aristotle and Christianity as the basis or ground for the other.

But Bissell disagrees with Peikoff's view on Aquinas. Bissell says that “while it is true, as Peikoff says, that Aquinas “denies that the fundamentals of Christianity rest on the Aristotelian philosophy,” it is not true that “he denies the reverse.”” He also shows that Peikoff has misinterpreted the significance of the philosophy of Hegel and Spinoza.

According to Peikoff, Bentham and Mill are inspired by Kant. Here’s the relevant excerpt from The DIM Hypothesis: “In ethics, the most influential expressions of Knowing Skepticism are Comte's Religion of Humanity and the Utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill.... Being Kant-inspired, both regard elements within consciousness as the only basis for a distinction between good and evil.” But where is the evidence that Bentham and Mill were inspired by Kant? Bissell points out that the positions of Bentham and Mill are not Kantian—they are essentially Humean.

Bissell goes on to propose that rather than Immanuel Kant, David Hume “should be tagged as the arch-villain of modern philosophy, the paladin of the D2 Disintegrative position.” He devotes close to 50 percent of his review to exposing the weaknesses in the Objectivist position on Kant. “Hume seems much more Anti-Integration and nihilistic than Kant. At the very least, Kant seems more Pro-Integration and non-nihilistic than Rand, Peikoff, et al. give him credit for.”

Peikoff, it seems, has misinterpreted many of the statements that Kant makes in his works. For instance, from the famous Kantian statement—“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith”—Peikoff deduces that in ethics, Kant denied happiness, in order to make room for duty. He cites this as an instance of Kant’s attack on reason, this world, and man’s happiness.

But Bissell is of the view that Kant was not interested in attacking happiness or knowledge. He says that Kant’s “thrust in epistemology was to limit knowledge to a basis in experience, and to insist that theoretical reason could not produce either a proof or a disproof of free will, the existence of God, and so on, which are not found in our experience. These latter things can only be believed in, not known. In other words, Kant was denying that knowledge could be had of trans-experiential things, in order to make it clear that they had to be taken on faith (or not)—and that theoretical reason and knowledge had nothing to do with them.”

Finally, Bissell says that “the decades-long Objectivist condemnation of Kant, the branding of him by the philosophy’s founder as “the most evil man in mankind’s history,” and Peikoff’s equating of Kant with the Anti-Integration/Nihilist pole and his indictment of Kant’s philosophy as a “systematic negation of philosophy” are overripe for a careful examination and discussion.”

Bissell’s review of The DIM Hypothesis is profoundly important because it identifies significant problems not only with the logical framework of Leonard Peikoff’s hypothesis but also with the Objectivist theory of history.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Immanuel Kant and The League of Nations

John David Lewis in Nothing Less Than Victory says that the ideas that Immanuel Kant has developed in his essay "Perpetual Peace" (1795) served the purpose of creating an intellectual climate to support the creation of the League of Nations in 1920.

Woodrow Wilson, the US President at that time, was a former president of Princeton University with a Ph.D in political science. When Wilson stressed that the creation of the League of Nations would facilitate the development of a relationship between equals within an international whole, he was articulating ideas that he had received from intellectual predecessors like Kant.

In "Perpetual Peace", Kant says that the sovereign republics exist in a lawless state of nature. This state of nature is a “state of war,” because there are no standards of justice and institutions to resolve the disputes between nations. When there is no single international authority, each nation is unrestrained and can prey upon other nations.

According to Kant, international peace can be achieved only when the nations subordinate their foreign policy to an international authority, which he calls “league of peace” (foedus pacific). Here’s an excerpt from "Perpetual Peace":

“For states in relation to each other, there cannot be any reasonable way out of the lawless condition which entails only war except that they, like individual men, should give up their lawless (savage) freedom, adjust themselves to the constraints of public law, and thus establish a continuously growing state consisting of various nations [civitas gentium], which will ultimately include all the nations of the world.”

In Nothing Less Than Victory, John David Lewis writes:

“The League of Nations put the Kantian ideal into practice, in a new world order that eschewed the competitive nationalism of the previous century. Wilson’s ideals—equality, national self-determinism, and collective security—were the League’s foundation, were derivable from Kant’s ideas, and were highly influential. These ideals promised an effect alternative to the unpredictable actions of unrestrained sovereign nations. They became the moral compass that shaped the decisions of British leaders.” 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Confessions Of An Orthodox Objectivist

The Signer
I have a confession to make. For two years I was an Orthodox Objectivist.

On any usual day, I used to make nice and reverent comments in the social media about some Objectivist God or demigod (I will reveal later in the article who the Gods and the demigods are). I was a member of the “Orthodox brigade” on FB—we used to “like” each other’s nice and reverent posts and leave complementary comments. Such activities made us feel that we are part of a large network of Objectivists and that we were taking concrete steps to make the movement grow.

But not every activity of the Orthodox community is saccharine coated. Along with liking each other’s posts and saying nice things about our Gods and demigods, we also needed to orchestrate vigorous campaigns to expose and denounce the heretics (where there are Gods and demigods, there will also be heretics). By the way, these campaigns were lots of fun because they allowed us to disgorge the accumulated bile in our minds, forget our personal problems, and feel relaxed.

I used to happily participate in the social media campaigns for exposing and excommunicating the anarchists, libertarians, moral agnostics, religious conservatives, and the supporters of Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Dr. David Kelley and other intellectuals who have been morally condemned by the Gods of Objectivism. I also contributed by passing nasty comments on the journals, and the online forums where they have freewheeling discussions on Objectivist issues.

Being fully convinced that the Orthodox Objectivists are the true followers of Ayn Rand, I started a FB group to support their cause. In this group it was normal for at least five or six people to be identified as heretics every month—these heretics would be hauled before an inquisition committee composed of the Orthodox members (including me), they would be accused of various crimes of heresy, and if they did not come up with an explanation (in most cases they couldn’t) they would be severely castigated and trolled before being unfriended and excommunicated.

Eating the Forbidden Fruit and Loss of Orthodoxy

Alas! I lost my orthodoxy when I ate the forbidden “apple” from the tree of heretical knowledge—which means that I read a few books, essays, journals and websites which are not endorsed by the Objectivist Gods and demigods. The quantum of my sin was further magnified by the fact that I praised some of these sacrilegious books, journals and articles in my blog and social media timeline. But I also criticized some of them. Yet, this did not matter. For, now neither heaven nor hell could save me from the wrath of the Orthodox community.

One day the inevitable happened: The heavy boot of the Objectivist inquisition fell on my forehead. My inquisition was a rather messy affair. It went on for about 15-days and it had all my best friends in FB turning against me and questioning my character, my intellect, my knowledge and my moral values. Having observed the Orthodox community for two years, I knew very well that it was futile to try to defend myself—the inquisition, once it starts, will only end after it has utterly mowed down the victim under a gigantic roadroller of insults and accusations.

Now I am no longer Orthodox; I am just an ordinary Objectivist. I have been denounced, castigated and trolled. I have been unfriended by most members of the Orthodox clique. I have been booted out of the cult of passive minds. Yet I have not given up on Ayn Rand. I continue to be an admirer of her literature and philosophy—only now the veil of orthodoxy is gone and I can approach her ideas with an unprejudiced, open and irreverent mindset.

Please allow me to shed light on the theological structure and the ten commandments of Orthodox Objectivism.

The Theological Structure of Orthodox Objectivism

Having emerged from the cocoon of Orthodoxy, I now realize that no one has “sinned” more against the legacy of Ayn Rand than the Orthodox Objectivists, who are the dogmatic sticklers of her philosophical system. I use the word “sinned” deliberately because for the Orthodox Objectivists, Rand is equivalent to God and her writings have the status of a Holy Scripture.

A believer in Rand’s system is required to say “yes” to each and every letter, word and punctuation mark in her corpus; you have to believe that every decision that she ever made in her entire life was holy and perfect. If you harbor a single doubt over a single line that she has spoken or written, or if you think that she has made a single incorrect decision in her lifetime, then you face the risk of being denounced as a heretic and excommunicated. To be fair, the Orthodox Objectivists do believe Rand made some “errors of knowledge”, just no “errors of morality”; her biggest “error of knowledge” was trusting Nathaniel Branden for eighteen years, apparently. Hard to believe that such a wise God could have been so deceived for so long.

But the orthodoxy of the Orthodox Objectivists does not remain confined to Rand—in the Objectivist paradise there are other Gods and demigods who must be appeased. Dr. Leonard Peikoff is the number two God and the intellectuals endorsed by him are the myriad demigods. Like Rand, the number two God is infallible. As Dr. Peikoff is infallible, the demigods that he has endorsed are also infallible. Also, the only holy Objectivist institutions are the ones that are supported by him.

In his 1989 article, “Fact and Value,” Dr. Peikoff asserted that in his view Objectivism is “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded.” And under his godhood, Objectivism has, indeed, transmogrified into a “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded” cult.

The Ten Commandments of Orthodox Objectivism 

Ayn Rand saw herself as the philosopher of reason, but the Gods and demigods who followed her have transformed her into the ultimate God of revelation and this has resulted in her philosophy of Objectivism deteriorating into some kind of a revealed religion or a cult.

Here are the ten commandments of Orthodox Objectivism which I had been assiduously following in the recent past:

1. Ayn Rand is the first God, her intellectual heir (Dr. Peikoff) is the second God, and those endorsed by the intellectual heir are the myriad demigods.

2. You shall not take the name of the Gods or the demigods in vain.

3. You shall regard every word written or spoken by the Gods and demigods as a holy writ that must be blindly accepted as the holy truth.

4.You shall regard the Gods and demigods as the most intelligent, knowledgable and effective philosophers in the entire history of human civilization.

5. You shall unleash all your firepower against anyone who finds himself in agreement with the viewpoints of Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Dr. David Kelley and other heretical intellectuals.

6. You shall keep away from the enemies of Objectivism: the libertarians, moral agnostics, anarchists, and all those whom the Gods and demigods have condemned morally.

7. You shall believe that Nathaniel Branden was the one to blame for all that went wrong in his relationship with Ayn Rand, who, being a Godly figure, can never commit any mistake of morality.

8. You shall believe that The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden is“non-cognitive”. You must never read it and you must do all you can to dissuade the newbies from reading it.

9. The enemies of the cult are everywhere. You must be on lookout for not only the heretics outside the cult but also for the enemy within. If an Orthodox Objectivist develops heretical thoughts, you must not show him mercy—boot him out of the cult.

10. You shall share the quotes and articles of the Gods and the demigods in your social media timeline, and treat with suspicion all those who fail to like or retweet your posts.

I owe an apology to those who were target of the castigation, trolling and excommunications campaigns in which I participated during the days when I was part of the Orthodox Objectivist cult. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Orthodox Objectivism is dead, long live Objectivism! 

Related:

My Farewell To Organized Objectivism

The Boy Scout Objectivists Must Check Their Premises

Marxism Explained in 2 Minutes, with Deirdre McCloskey

Saturday, April 15, 2017

104 Years of the Income Tax

Plato and Aristotle: Augustine and Aquinas

Painting of Thomas Aquinas
by Carlo Crivelli (1476)
Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are separated by almost eight centuries but both are Christian thinkers. Is it possible that there is a continuity of thought and feeling between the two? Historian W. T. Jones has explored this question in The Medieval Mind.

Here’s an excerpt:

"Plato and Aristotle, the two dominant philosophers of the classical period, were teacher and pupil. They lived in essentially the same world, understood its problems in much the same way, and sought a common solution for them. Between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the correspondingly dominant figures of the medieval period, there was a similar continuity of thought and feeling, for they were both Christian thinkers and thus had a common core of doctrine and faith. Yet these two figures were separated by no less than eight centuries. This is a long time by almost any standard—longer than the whole of the classical period. And though the rate of cultural change was much slower in the Middle Ages than it is today, a great many new values and attitudes developed, new institutions were fashioned, and new values were experienced during the long period between Augustine’s death and Thomas’ birth. All these changes were naturally reflected in the Thomistic synthesis of the thirteenth century. Thus, though Thomism shared many of the basic insights of Augustinianism, it faced new problems and dealt with old ones in new ways."

(Source: The Medieval Mind (A History of Western Philosophy, Volume II) by W. T. Jones; Chapter: “The Medieval Interval”) 

400 Bites podcast interviews arranged by theme

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Philosophical Zombie


But if a being without consciousness is a "philosophical zombie", what is a consciousness without being?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From The Fountainhead To The Future

From The Fountainhead To The Future and Other Essays on Art and Excellence
Alexandra York

Alexandra York’s essays in From The Fountainhead To The Future thoroughly explore the idea that good art can inspire better society.

She analyzes the repercussions of the artistic trends in different epochs of history—ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the Renaissance—and develops a convincing view on what the postmodernist art of today portends for the future of the Western civilization.

In her Preface, York says: “The Time is ripe for philosophically inspired art to emerge from our midst like “homing” search lights beamed onto viable paths that might lead us out of our present morass into the natural sunlight of a tomorrow where people will have learned again to cherish beauty and rational values.”

In the chapter, “The State of Culture,” York says: “Art is a shortcut to philosophy. This is why the art that predominates in any given culture can be read as a barometer of that culture’s basic philosophical content. All artists are not always conscious of the values they express in their work but conscious or not, we can be very sure that their deepest, most personally held values are revealed in their art, for good or ill.”

York posits that when the present nihilism of postmodern art fades away, Western civilization will see a new renaissance of much greater philosophical and political significance than the Italian Renaissance.

In the chapter, “Romantic Realism: Visions of Values,” she points out that a “renaissance” must not be regarded as a mere “revival,” because the word means a “rebirth.” “We cannot and should not seek to repeat the past. No matter how ground-breaking was ancient Greece or how brilliant the Italian Renaissance or how progressive the Enlightenment, we must begin here and now.”

She warns that “If we fail to generate a Renaissance of the twenty-first century, then surely we shall suffer a Dark Age.”

The idea of a Twenty-first century Renaissance is further explained in the chapter, “The Legacy Lives: Embracing The Year Three thousand in Philosophy and Art.” York says that the “art produced during any epoch—from Paleolithic cave drawings to the Parthenon—is always an accurate philosophical and spiritual testament to the degree of progress or primitivism of its own time and the ideas that informed it.”

Taking this idea in mind she draws her inference about our artistic testament today and in the future. She accepts that nihilism is the dominant trend in modern art, but she feels that this artistic nihilism can pave way for a better tomorrow. “But strange as it may seem, this chaos can actually serve us, because it leaves the way out of the ruins open and obstacle-free of ossified preconceptions that might otherwise hinder our judgement.”

The analysis of Michelangelo’s David, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker and EvAngelos Frudakis’s The Signer in the chapter, “Art As Interactive Experience,” is very interesting. York’s analysis of these timeless masterpieces reminds us of the vital role that art plays in inspiring us to develop ideas for improving the world that we inhabit.

The book ends with the chapter, “Sharing The Miracle” in which York points out that art is the most beautiful, noble and life-enriching of all human creations.

The eleven essays in York’s book are compatible with Ayn Rand's theory of romantic art, and although the use of The Fountainhead signifies the base from which her study of art on the world flows as the fountainhead of Western civilization--Ancient Greece—many readers may connect with Rand’s novel of the same name.

My One-Line Commentary On The Sancho Panza Mindset in Objectivism

Don Quixote Charging the Windmill
Like Sancho Panza they blindly follow the arrogant knight errant Don Quixote who wages philosophical battles against the windmills.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Platonic State and George Orwell’s 1984

The Classical Mind 
W. T. Jones
Harcourt, Brace & Word, Inc.

In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones analyzes the implications of Platonic political theory and reaches the conclusion that while Plato was himself not a totalitarian, a state founded on Platonic principles will be close to the totalitarian state that George Orwell describes in 1984.

Here’s the excerpt from the chapter, “Plato: The Special Sciences”:
"Plato was not a totalitarian in intent, even if, as we may suspect, this is where a state founded on Platonic principles would end in fact. It is true that in its externals the Platonic state is close to that of George Orwell’s 1984. There is a Ministry of Propaganda, indoctrinating the public with useful fictions; a Ministry of Censorship, rigidly suppressing dangerous thoughts; the same military flavor; the same powerful police, the same discipline, the same denial of a domain of private rights; the same omnipresent state; the same ruling and self-perpetuating clique. The only difference—but a basic one—is in the character of the ruling elite. The rulers of Plato’s state know the truth and act in accordance with it for the good of all. The rulers of Orwell’s state are Thrasymacheans*, not Platonists; they have taken over Thrasymachus’ nihilism, cynicism and egoism and applied modern techniques of advertising and political control to accomplish results that Thrasymacus did not dream of, but that he certainly would have applauded. In Plato’s state, the rulers lie to the people for the good of the people; in the Orwellian state, the rulers lie to the people for the good of the rulers. In Plato’s state there is a tension of opposing economic, social, and political forces in the producing class, but this is held in check and in balance by the rulers, whose passionless knowledge has put them outside the struggle for power; in the Orwellian state the struggle for power infects the whole state and becomes more bitter, cruel, and savage in the more intelligent classes, for reason is not regarded as an instrument of self-discipline but as a tool for satisfying the passions. It is true that we have grounds for fearing that even Plato’s rulers might be corrupted by power, but it would be unfair to assume, because of this doubt, that Plato was advocating a totalitarian state. At a theoretical level, at the level of what has been called intent, Plato was poles apart from the totalitarians."
Thrasymachus is a character in Plato's Republic.

The Academics And The Peripatetics

After the demise of Plato and Aristotle what methods did their followers in Ancient Greece use to safeguard the integrity of the philosophical systems developed by the two philosophers? In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones offers a few insights into the damage that was caused by the doctrinal orthodoxy of the followers of Plato and Aristotle.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, “The Late Classical Period”:

“The Academics were centered in the Academy that Plato had founded. For years after the founder’s death—such was the impress of his personality—his views were handed down dogmatically by a succession of hero worshipers. Like the Academics, the Peripatetics (as the members of Aristotle’s rival Lyceum came to be known, because of their master’s practice of walking about while lecturing) showed little originality. For the most part they were content to expound the encyclopaedic learning of Aristotle.”

W. T. Jones suggests that the growth of both Platonism and Aristotelianism was strangulated as the dogmatic followers of Plato and Aristotle focused solely on preserving the purity of the texts that the two philosophers had left behind. A few years after Plato and Aristotle there was sharp decline in the popularity of their ideas as people in Ancient Greece started looking at other schools of thought for solution to their social problems.

When the Greek civilization faded, there was rise of the Roman Empire where certain aspects of Platonism and Aristotelianism appeared in the form of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism.

In the final chapter, “The Late Classical Period,” W. T. Jones points out that the popularity of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism in the Roman Empire indicated that “this was a tired and discouraged society in which peace of mind, relief from the struggle, had replaced such positive goods as social progress and self-improvement. Now, peace of mind can conceivably be won by the natural means—by science or, alternatively, by suspension of judgment. But this natural peace could not hope to compete with the appeal of that deeper peace—the peace that passeth understanding—that was assured by a transcendent and otherworldly religion.”

The Classical Mind has an interesting description of how the ideas of Plato and Aristotle were used by philosophers like Epicurus and Lucretius in Epicureanism; by Cicero, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius in Stoicism; and by Sextus Empiricus and others in Scepticism. The book makes the case that the popularity of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism contributed to the moral and political decline of the Roman Empire and made it possible for the Dark Ages to takeover Europe.

The point is that the doctrinaire orthodoxy of the followers of Plato and Aristotle could not safeguard the integrity of the ideas of the two philosophers. The efforts of the orthodox followers resulted in the dissociation of Platonism and Aristotelianism from mainstream culture and this paved way for the rise of irrational philosophical systems like Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism