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Post 120

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 3:06pmSanction this postReply
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Jason,

I have not been following all the threads that are being discussed with Rich, but let me say a word or two in his favor.

Just as soon as he started posting here, there had been a few other posters who were religious and seeking converts (one to Judaism and two others to Christianity). Rich came on board with talks about a church and I saw red. I went after him - just like you are doing here. I went pretty hard, too.

After some interaction both online and off, I have come to the conclusion that he is merely a seeker of truth and has expunged dogma from his thinking. That includes what he sees as Objectivist dogma.

His thinking is a bit aligned with my own in some areas. For example, if we limit reality only to what is perceivable by the five senses, then hard core atheism is the only rational conclusion. If we hold that there might be aspects of reality for which we have no sense organs, if we simply say that in this case, we do not know what we cannot know because of our biological limitations, then we can seek ways to try to see if there is a "something more" out there to bring to our sensory awareness.

I daydream in this direction at times.

btw - None of this contradicts the fundamental axioms of Objectivism. The downside is that there is no sensory evidence to base such speculation on. It's almost like science fiction - you look outward and inward toward what you can't see and try to imagine what could be and what is out (and in) there.

That is where I see Rich coming from - at least so far. Not any predefined mystical doctrine. Definitely he is not seeking converts. I have come to my own conclusion about that to my complete satisfaction.

Also, Rich to me is one of the good guys. He is very handy when the mob starts ganging up because he has balls, a great sense of life and an extremely colorful way of expressing himself.

I wouldn't send him to ARI to talk about axiomatic concepts, though. That just wouldn't work.

Whenever I see something really out there in one of his posts, I merely think, "Oh, that's just Rich again." Sort of like with Fred Seddon and even Linz at times (among others) - in their own fashions. Each has a distinctive style and they make the tapestry of Solo rich and colorful.

Well, enough. That is my two cents and I hope it is helpful in calming down the acrimony a bit - since I think there is more alignment of thinking underneath it all than opposition. But Rich actually doesn't need me for this and he certainly can take care of himself.

Back to you, Rich.

Michael



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Post 121

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 3:22pmSanction this postReply
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It took a long time but someone got there.  Cultish behavior in Objectivism is mostly a direct result of Objectivist pretensions to infallibility, which may be "contextual" or otherwise.

Of course, cultish behavior has benefits and costs - the military has used certain aspects of cultish behavior to produce loyal soldiers, as have fraternities of various kinds.  However, the simplest way to see how cultish Objectivists can be is to note how many Randroids/Objectivists deny the possibility of plausible alternative explanations for certain phenomena, rather than entertain the possibilities and explain in detail what some of the benefits and costs of such possibilities might be and how evidence supports and weakens such possibilities.

Laj.




Post 122

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 4:45pmSanction this postReply
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Abolaji, I agree
Bonk!




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Post 123

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 7:08pmSanction this postReply
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Question for Tom Rowland and others who think that Objectivism is a closed system:

Suppose that David Kelley develops a theory of propositions that is based on Rand's theory of concepts as enunciated by her in ITOE. Are you saying that he cannot call it an "Objectivist Theory of Propositions," because Rand herself didn't personally write it or see and approve the final product? If so, then Objectivism is not a philosophy that admits of any further extensions or developments, even though were Rand alive, she might very well carry on those developments. And what is Kelley supposed to call his theory, if not an "Objectivist theory of propositions," if it is squarely within the Objectivist tradition and entirely consistent with Rand's epistemological foundation? If there are certain respects in which Objectivism can regard itself as Aristotelian, even though Aristotle didn't write Rand's philosophy, then why can't an Objectivist philosopher like Kelley or Peikoff regard his work as Objectivist, even though Rand herself didn't produce it?

Or consider this possibility: Suppose that Rand were able to complete only half of ITOE before she died, but that Leonard Peikoff, because he understood her basic epistemology so well, was able to complete the rest of it, just as Rand would have done had she remained alive to finish the monograph. Is the second half of ITOE as completed by Peikoff not to be considered part of Objectivist epistemology, simply because Rand herself didn't actually write it or see and approve the final product? Doesn't it seem a little strange to say that Peikoff's work in this hypothetical example does not deserve to be called "Objectivist"?

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 10/01, 7:11pm)




Post 124

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 8:33pmSanction this postReply
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Bill, good questions.

I see Objectivism as 'closed' in a different sense than that you obviously mean (ie. in the very sense you view Objectivism in!). What I mean by 'closed' is that any and every 'extension' need be integrated noncontradictorily. She broadened the noncontradictory horizon (of Reason and Reality) as far as she did. We are free and able to broaden it further (within the very same confines: reason & reality). Everything new has to fit with the old. That is the sole constraint on growth.


=================
Doesn't it seem a little strange to say that Peikoff's work in this hypothetical example does not deserve to be called "Objectivist"?
=================

Darn tutin' -- it seems strange! Because Objectivism is objective (the same for all), and not subjective (different for each), it can be expanded without contradicting any former part of it. There is nothing standing in the way of building on it and extending it -- and still calling the extensions to be "Objectivism." This is true by the very nature of the objectivity of it.

What is objective -- is the same for all viewers (everyone can see whether something fits, or doesn't).

Ed





Post 125

Sunday, October 2, 2005 - 3:07amSanction this postReply
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Laj: “Cultish behavior in Objectivism is mostly a direct result of Objectivist pretensions to infallibility, which may be "contextual" or otherwise…”

I think this is very true, Laj, although I would add a related factor, and that is the charismatic leader. In fact, it can be very difficult to separate the charismatic leader from the belief system, because he is very often the creator of the system.

This also makes it difficult to separate the philosophical from the psychological. In Rand’s case, for example, her ethical theory requires that her life should be her standard of value. In that case, her belief system would need to reflect that goal. It’s not hard to see how the belief system could become geared to satisfying the ego requirements of a strong-minded and charismatic woman such as Rand.

It’s a short step from there to the sort of cultish behaviour attributed to Randroids, where one identifies what is good for one’s own life with what is good for Rand’s life.

Brendan




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Post 126

Sunday, October 2, 2005 - 12:43pmSanction this postReply
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Laj:
“Cultish behavior in Objectivism is mostly a direct result of Objectivist pretensions to infallibility, which may be "contextual" or otherwise…”

Dammit Laj, you've just said in a single sentence what I've spent a bunch of posts fluffing about with!

This statement explains quite a lot about the Randroid phenomenon:

1) The psychological appeal. Sick of annoying human error? Why, now you too can be infallible with this amazing new method!+ Solve all major philosophical problems of the ages! Create eternal peace and prosperity! Rid the world of evil! Annoy your conformist parents! Impress your friends! This bestselling book explains how!

2)The enduring "cult of personality". One of the things you always hear is that while Rand herself was fallible, the system she discovered is not.

But what lies unspoken is the question of *what sort of person* would be capable of such an intellectual discovery - something that has eluded the greatest minds of history? And indeed, *what sort of person* is capable of knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this system is infallible? Surely that can only mean that person must be great beyond our knowing? She is, after all, capable of detecting the greatest philosphical criminals of all time *without even reading them*! How good is that! And unlike great scientists or inventors, whose moral qualities are more or less irrelevant to their discoveries and inventions, she discovered an infallible *moral* system too....So surely that means...well, you can fill in the blanks yourself.

So it is clear that in terms of both personality and doctrine there are tempations aplenty for the wanna-be-infallibilist - that is the psychological type that I think Ed is trying to outline.

- Daniel


+Fine print: Any that errors occur while you are using this system are your fault, and cannot not be the system's - it is infallible. See manual.




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Post 127

Sunday, October 2, 2005 - 12:52pmSanction this postReply
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If Objectivism is the philosophical system developed by Rand, then the question is what actually comprises that system.  For example, belief that capitalism is the only moral system, Rand's theory of concept of formation, and her advocacy of rational self-interest would appear to be part of it.

But what about:

1. Rand's view of homosexuality; and

2. Rand's views of other philosophers?

If the ARI types feel comforatble in saying that Rand was wrong concerning (1) because that doesn't impact her system, what about (2) which is even more tangential.  Objectivism could be 100% true even if Rand was 100% wrong about Bertrand Russell, Kant or whomever.

The problem I see with the ARIans is that defending Objectivism means defending everything Rand said (with the exception of (1) for some reason).  I think that's why they have lost credibility.




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Post 128

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 5:37amSanction this postReply
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Brendan,

I know Rand was charismatic, but so are many other thinkers and writers. Of course, ideological (as opposed to empirically motivated) discourse lends such charisma more importance, but the cultist has to have a desire to maintain conformity, and this desire is fostered by Objectivism's claim to infallibility/certainty and the refusal of Objectivists to deal honestly with the issues of subjectivity, individuality and culture. That the cultish elements of Objectivism have survived Rand's death implies to me that the foundation of Objectivism's tendency towards dogmatism must have been at least as much a function of Rand's doctrine as of her personality. Of course, as I will argue ( and the argument doesn't originate with me, since what I will say was also an explicit goal of Rand's ), Objectivism is simply a substitute for traditional religion.

When I think of how some Objectivists think/argue, the first parallel that strikes me is fundamentalist Christianity. Christianity has a substantial amount of wisdom, but what fosters the cultish elements in Christianity are the use of Christianity to support cultural standards. The more widely the standards are held, the less likely that cultism will be an accusation (obviously, the whole idea of a cult is that few people hold the idea, and there is the lesser but not invisible implication that deviations from the norm are less likely to be right).

Using an ideology to support social standards will invariably facilitate some elements of cultish behavior. The reason is simple - unlike science, where failure is the ultimate feedback, many cultural norms can be violated by freeloaders etc., and there has to be some penalty to maintain conformity. Imagine what the world would be like if people were allowed to steal or lie a little whenever they thought it might serve their ends! And since Objectivism doesn't sanction the use of force, there has to be some way of keeping people in line and this has to be through some emotional manipulation, similar to the kind that Christians place on those who even ask questions about the truth of Biblical ideas. Sometimes, punishing thoughts is more effective than punishing actions.

Of course, the lengths to which a person will have to go to defend infallibility are incredible. Obviously, the ARI has decided to go that route.

The bad news for the ARI is that lots of things Rand said commit the ARI to scientifically dubious positions and philosophy is the kind of field that rewards openness of perspective as well as correctness of perspective. No great philosophers will ever be heirs to the Randian tradition because Objectivism impairs the kind of flexibility required to grapple with modern science and mathematics. The most important problem with Objectivism as a philosophy of science is that it has an impoverished understanding of statistical reasoning.

Laj.



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Post 129

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 8:23amSanction this postReply
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MSK-

Thank you for your kind words, they came at a good time- like most of us, there are times when I struggle to maintain my composure, so as to refrain from using the pen as a sword- something that violates my principles, my self-interest, and good manners in general.

Again I will say that I found this thread to be very significant and productive. I am in the process of preparing a piece that discusses mysticism, and will submit it as soon as possible while avoiding premature birth. If the baby is to be drowned in its own bathwater, I want it to be as fully-formed as possible... :)

I wish to make it clear that I am not on some sort of holy crusade against Ayn Rand's System of Philosophy<tm>. This would be impossible, given how long it has been with me, and the position it occupies in my life.

(Edited by Rich Engle on 10/03, 9:10am)




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Post 130

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 9:41amSanction this postReply
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Laj, I started this thread and have said enough for people to know where I stand. Briefly, my position is that it is not the philosophy that is the problem but the people it attracts. Now you can argue (as you have) that if it weren't for the philosophy, true believers wouldn't be attracted to it in the first place. But I don't think that argument will stand up very well under scrutiny. Other contributors have pointed out that the Objectivist philosophy includes many objections to cultish behavior. Viz., "An error made on your own is better than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, whereas the second destroys your capacity to distinguish between truth and falsehood." Etc.

The problem is that certain people have established themselves as leaders in the Objectivist movement and they in turn have attracted others like them. These people are a disgrace to Rand's philosophy, and may ultimately sabotage its influence on the many decent people, like yourself, who would otherwise be attracted to it. You say Objectivism is just another religion. I say that, properly understood, it's an antidote to religion. Rand's philosophy has so much to offer that contemporary philosophy lacks that there's simply no comparison. When I was attending U.C. Berkeley back in the '70's, a friend of mine gave Wallace Matson, then chair of the Philosophy Department, Rand's monograph on Objectivist epistemology. It had yet to become a book. Matson, as you might imagine, was no Objectivist, but he did hold a distinguished position as an academic philosopher, having written a widely used history-of-philosophy text.

Matson returned the monograph to my friend a week later, with the following comment: "This is the best thing that I've seen written in philosophy in the last 50 years." Now you may not consider that a ringing endorsement, but coming from a distinguished professor of philosophy who was scarcely an apologist for the Objectivist movement, it is high praise indeed, especially when you consider that Rand had no degree in philosophy. Her major field of study at university was history.

Then, of course, there was John Hospers, the author of several widely used texts in epistemology and ethics, who occupied the chair of Philosophy at the University of Southern California for a number of years. Hospers, as you are probably aware, carried on an extensive correspondence with Rand and was personally associated with her. He remarked that, absent much reading in the field, she was capable of generating a remarkable amount of philosophically insightful reasoning on her own.

These philosophers - Matson and Hospers - were not groomed by Rand. They were well established in their profession before ever coming in contact with her. Yet they recognized and applauded her genius.

We do Rand and her philosophy a profound disservice if we dismiss it as simply another popular cult that has indoctrinated the young and impressionable in a secular substitute for religion.

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 10/03, 11:47am)




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Post 131

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 10:53amSanction this postReply
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To all,

Kant, where is thy sting?

"One of the good guys" re: Rich

"Objectivism impairs the flexibility required to grapple with modern science and mathematics"
re: what? A is not A?

"No great philosophers will ever be heirs to the Randian tradition." re: what? All the great philosophers that are heirs to the Kantian tradition?

If "corrections" and "flexibility" are the answer, why are we in such trouble? Certainly 2000+ years ought to be enough time to "correct" and "flexible" our way to the truth contained in Aristotle.

And how about YOU?  To what tradition do your comments, gripes, complaints, compartmentalizations and sense of life add anything?  Are you the great philosopher so many of the people on this thread are waiting for?  Ayn Rand had the courage to claim that the only philosopher in whose tradition she was willing to stand was Aristotle's, but she did not call her philosophy "Aristotilianism"  Why? She could have, given the sort of argument I've seen here. But she didn't. Why?

I have suggested that it is because she was taking a stand as an independent thinker with her own independent thoughts and ideas that she didn't want to have confused with anyone else's. She could have ridden on the coattails of the Aristotelian tradition, claiming that her insights were the logical extensions of things that Aristotle said. But it is precisely that that would have marked her forever as a second level philosopher. She wanted to claim her own ground. And she wanted those that followed her -- whatever the size of their contribution -- to stand on theirs. Anyone that wants to "correct" Objectivism (which, btw, is not the same as being objective, Ed. Aristotle was objective, most scientists are objective; that doesn't make them Objectivists) and still call it Objectivism is engaging in a contradiction in terms, the only motive for which is to gain an unearned audience.

Peikoff, in my judgment has earned the right to ARI's audience. 30+ years of study with the source of Objectivism trumps 18 years and a very visible denunciation any day. And David's claims to being the true voice of Objectivism are becoming more questionable with every year that passes. Were he to come up with a theory of propositions that was true and consistent with Objectivism as I understand it, I would welcome the truth, of course, but deny it a place in the Objectivist canon (I trust that "the set of true propositions is larger than the set of Objectivist  propositions" is a proposition that we can all agree to. I hold a simple, easy to understand and implement criterion for "Objectivist canon" -- Ayn Rand said it or endorsed it. Objectivism is not everything she said or endorsed, but it is only what she said and endorsed).

One of the fundamental principles for my judgement about Peikoff is that Peikoff does not start with the premise that it is possible to "correct" Objectivism AND STILL CALL THE RESULT OBJECTIVISM. I am convinced that were he to come across a philosophical doctrine of Ayn Rand's with which he disagreed he would say so, and he would take the position that he supported most of Objectivism but could no longer claim to be an Objectivist. Many, if not most, of the people on this site seem to believe that it would be OK for him to fool us all, and continue to wrap himself in the "Objectivist" flag while disagreeing with it. Or are we talking a real double standard here.

Philosophy is not one of the special sciences, in which it is possible to wrap oneself in the flag of "science" and continue to disagree about the proper significance of the recent studies of the brains of liers. In this context, it is not possible to wrap oneself, I believe, in the flag of Objectivism while believing that this study demonstrates anything affecting Objectivism's theory of free will (there is, I believe, the chicken/egg problem that is relevant here -- but that's a story I have no desire to get involved in here.)

A philosophy, particularly one that claims to have an integrated view of the entire range of issues with which philosophy deals, is either true or false. A mistake in any one aspect affects the whole structure, and the first thing to go, if any of its propositions is false, is its claim to be a system. ("'A is A' is false" implies "'Objectivism is a philosophical system' is false") So, if you honestly believe that there is a mistake in Objectivism, it is time to reject the system, rather than cling to the empty hope that everyone is going to agree with you and adopt YOUR NEW SYSTEM OR MISH-MASH in the name of Objectivism.

To exercise that vain hope is to want to have one's cake and eat it too. Objectivism holds that A is A and it can't be done.

What allows for the belief that one can have one's Objectivist cake and eat it too? To put it simple: the belief that Sense of Life is enough. If your sense of life drew you to Ayn Rand that's enough to entitle you to call yourself an Objectivist. I have piano students that believe the same thing about being a musician. It ain't so.  You can't just "feel an emotional response to music" and call yourself a musician. There are things you have to know, principles you have to accept, daily application that you have to perform. And choosing the right teacher -- one who teaches those things, principles and practices -- is crucial.

In my musical training I chose  a tradition that started with a revolutionary teacher -- Tobias Matthay -- and continued with a straight line  to the teacher I had at Maryland University: Stewart Gordon. I continue the tradition, since I believe that it has a unique handle on the truth with respect to the problems involved in playing the piano.

Likewise, in my philosophy, I choose the tradition that started with a revolutionary teacher -- Ayn Rand -- and continues in an unbroken line of teaching and endorsement (a kind of certification in Objectivism) to Leonard Peikoff and those trained at ARI.

A cult? An authoritarian enemy of the truth? Bull tacky. I know better.

If you are not convinced, that's too bad, we aren't likely to be friends. I take the same position with regard to you as that taken by Galt with respect to Dagny when she was not convinced that she needed to go on strike. She was free to act on her own judgement, but that did not change the fact that she was wrong and that as long as she made that choice she would be Galt's enemy.

That's it for this thread, for me.

Tom

PS David should call his theory "A theory of propositions" by David Kelley and promote it as the truth without referencing Objectivism, just as Peikoff calls his work "The DIM Hypothesis; the Epistemological Mechanics by which Philosophy Shapes Society" by Leonard Peikoff and promotes it as "of significant value" without referencing Objectivism (i.e. he doesn't make any claim that this is an extension of, correction of, or part of the philosophy of Objectivism; he simply makes his case, you be the judge. Once again, Objectivism doesn't rise or fall on anything that Peikoff says, and I say, that's a good thing. Don't you agree?

(Edited by Tom Rowland on 10/03, 11:11am)




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Post 132

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 11:40amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Rand was a towering intellect with a forceful personality.  Such people make a strong impression on others.  No matter what one thinks of the quality of Rand's work in this or that respect, it is the work of genius, in the same way that Marx's, Nietzche's and Kierkgaard's are.  A genius is a genius regardless of the factual accuracy of this or that aspect of her work.  No person would seriously doubt that Rand was high IQ individual.  No one can seriously doubt that *some* of her insights would be illuminating and that is merely because she is an intelligent individual and intelligent individuals tend to be insightful, more intelligent ones especially so!  The real question is whether Rand or her philosophy fostered dogmatism and certain forms of conformist, cultist behavior.  And the answer to my mind is yes.

The Objectivist objections to cultish behavior can be given weight, but I think that any philosophy that postures as infallibly correct on a wide range of issues, especially those pertaining to moral and cultural standards, will be cultish, whether you like it or not, especially if the conclusions of such a philosophy assault common sense and require compliance.  The strength of ideas is that they influence those who hold them. 
And Rand might have relished a certain part of the cultural influence of her ideas more strongly than your view of her and her ideas makes out.

Many people who aren't professional philosophers have deep philosophical insights.  I doubt anyone who has read Richard Feynmann's "Cargo Cult Science" can seriously doubt it is a contribution to philosophy.  It is the intelligence of the individual that often supports the insights.

Philosophy is about wisdom.  Einstein wrote some good philosophical essays.  Philosophy is one field where professional study is not necessary unless one is studying highly specialized questions or one needs to convince oneself that one is being original.

We do ourselves a great disservice if we downplay Rand's genius.  We also do ourselves a great disservice if we overestimate the correctness of Rand's conclusion. And to my mind, we do ourselves the greatest disservice if we are unable to see that Rand was trying to achieve certain answers to questions where it is not even clear that certainty is philosophically desirable.

Laj.




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Post 133

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 12:42pmSanction this postReply
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When responding to a dogmatic Randian, it's hard to figure out where to begin. 

Tom,

"Objectivism impairs the flexibility required to grapple with modern science and mathematics"
re: what? A is not A?

And I assume that A is A tells you something that a child has failed to understand?  Parading insights that even high school kids use when creating geometry proofs is surely not a sign of originality.  The real problem is that "A is A" can be naively interpreted to claim contradictions when one is really substituting ideology for genuine knowledge.

"No great philosophers will ever be heirs to the Randian tradition." re: what? All the great philosophers that are heirs to the Kantian tradition?
I'm not so oblivious to the variety that exists within philosophy that I believe that all great philosophers are heirs to a single philosopher.  Many philosophers mix and match insights from many sources.  I am simply claiming that no great philosopher will owe his or her primary debt to Ayn Rand, because Rand's limitations as a philosopher are too great!

Today, philosophy is greatly overrated - experimental science is the jewel.  Most of what passes as modern science is supported by mathematical and statistical reasoning.  No one takes the importance of philosophy that seriously anymore unless philosophy is allied with some empirical field (for example, the mind-body problem, or evolutionary insights into the mind).  If you can name one scientific discovery that relied explicitly on some observation of Rand for its philosophical motivations and would have been impossible without that observation of Rand's, then I might revise my estimation of Objectivism.  However, one can find many scientists who will tell you that Popper's reflections of the nature of science helped them greatly to better estimate the worth of this or that scientific theory and the evidence presented to defend it.

I guess you buy into Rand's interpretation of Kant.  I know that this interpretation is fairly common, but the more and more I've looked into Kant, the more I've discovered that one should not read Kant if one is looking for simple answers or straightforward thinking, but also that one should not confuse Kant with Hegel - Kant is actually trying to answer the questions that he poses with real solutions, no matter how wrong those solutions might be.  Moreover, evolutionary theory and cognitive science are very much in agreement with some of the things that Kant said about the senses.

And how about YOU?  To what tradition do your comments, gripes, complaints, compartmentalizations and sense of life add anything?  Are you the great philosopher so many of the people on this thread are waiting for?  Ayn Rand had the courage to claim that the only philosopher in whose tradition she was willing to stand was Aristotle's, but she did not call her philosophy "Aristotilianism"  Why? She could have, given the sort of argument I've seen here. But she didn't. Why?
Anyone who is waiting for a great philosopher needs serious psychological help. 

You are a dogmatic Randian, so you can never see any criticism or comments about Objectivism as being anything but "gripes" and "compartmentalizations".   So you've performed your moral obligation.  A round of applause.  Now surprise me by empathetically considering alternatives to your worldview.  I'd be a fool to wait for miracles.
 
Laj.




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Post 134

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 1:02pmSanction this postReply
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Laj wrote, "The real question is whether Rand or her philosophy fostered dogmatism and certain forms of conformist, cultist behavior. And the answer to my mind is yes. The Objectivist objections to cultish behavior can be given weight, but I think that any philosophy that postures as infallibly correct on a wide range of issues, especially those pertaining to moral and cultural standards, will be cultish, whether you like it or not, especially if the conclusions of such a philosophy assault common sense and require compliance."

Okay, now I see your argument. You're saying that the cultish behavior is motivated by a belief in the infallibility of the philosophy. It is true that Objectivism claims that its principles could not be mistaken, but I don't think there's anything objectionable about that, nor do I think that such a view necessarily fosters dogmatism. If I really understand something to be true, I don't believe that I could be mistaken about it. For example, I don't believe that the laws of arithmetic or the principles of geometry could be mistaken. I don't believe that I could be wrong in my belief that murder is bad, that productive work is good, that independence is a virtue, etc. There are many, many ideas that I don't believe could be in error. Does that make me a dogmatist or a true believer? No, I don't think so.

What is characteristic of a dogmatist or true believer is not that he claims to be certain, but ~how~ he claims to be certain. If he adopts an idea thoughtlessly and carelessly and clings to it doggedly in the face of evidence to the contrary - if he doesn't consider it important to validate his beliefs - if he believes something only because it feels good or because his significant others agree with it - then he is a dogmatist irrespective of the fact that his ideas may be true. What characterizes a cultish mentality is not so much what he believes as why he believes it. If he accepts an idea on faith or on the basis of some similarly non-rational motive, then he is a true believer. In short, what is characteristic of a true believer is that he lacks both intellectual independence and a respect for evidential support and rational justification.

A belief that one's ideas could not be mistaken does not imply that they lack evidential support or rational justification, nor does it imply a lack of intellectual independence, although I'm uncomfortable using the term "infallible" to describe such a belief, because it suggests that the person holding it is ~inherently~ incapable of error. Everyone is capable of error ~if~ he does not validate his beliefs - does not make sure that they're true by a process of sensory evidence and rational proof. But this approach to knowledge, far from being the archetype of a cult mentality, is its exact antithesis. The hallmark of a cultist is precisely his ~failure~ to think independently and rationally, not his belief in certainty or in the efficacy of his own judgment.

Indeed, one of the reasons people are attracted to cults is that they lack a sense of certainty and confidence in their own judgment, and are therefore prone to let others do their thinking for them. Objectivism, properly understood, serves as a protection against this kind of intellectual and moral hazard.

- Bill


(Edited by William Dwyer
on 10/03, 5:12pm)




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Post 135

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 1:40pmSanction this postReply
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Bill writes:
>Other contributors have pointed out that the Objectivist philosophy includes many objections to cultish behavior. Viz., "An error made on your own is better than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, whereas the second destroys your capacity to distinguish between truth and falsehood."

Yes, but this is the point at issue. As I have said before, Objectivism is *ostensibly* anti-cult. This is accepted by all contributors. Yet *despite this* it also seems to regularly produce strongly cult-like behaviour, like a kind of machine. This is the puzzle.

Let me shoot for a summary so far. The theories as to *why* seems to fall into three strands

1) "It's a psychological problem (turned into a political one)"
Certain psychological types - "bad apples"- that are drawn to the philosophy have made their way into the hierarchy of Objectivist institutions.
As you put it - "These people are a disgrace to Rand's philosophy, and may ultimately sabotage its influence on the many decent people... who would otherwise be attracted to it". This is the theory put forward by yourself, Ed, and quite a few others.

2) "It's a fundamental problem"
While Objectivism offers *overt* injunctions against cultish behaviour, it nonetheless *covertly* incites such behaviour by appeals to classic cult themes such as absolutism and infallibility. Thus, while its outside packaging contains various strong appeals to individualism, close examination reveals that both its internal intellectual engineering (borrowed from Aristotle) and its aims are geared *exactly the opposite way*. This fundamental dysfunction is concealed by rhetoric, making it difficult to see, and produces the confused phenomena we observe ie: individualists who nonetheless carry a sense of deep disenchantment that they find difficult to pinpoint, blissfully happy conformists reciting catechism, those in-between who find themselves alternately attracted and repelled by it, frequent violent schisms, a pervasive sense of stagnation or philosophic paralysis, bursts ecstatic optimism for the movement alternating with busts of deep despair etc. It's like an engine with the accelarator and the brake hooked up to the same pedal. This is the theory put forward by myself, Laj etc

3) "There is no problem".
It's all a smear that's not worth discussing.

- Daniel


(Edited by Daniel Barnes
on 10/03, 1:43pm)

(Edited by Daniel Barnes
on 10/03, 1:45pm)

(Edited by Daniel Barnes
on 10/03, 1:47pm)




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Post 136

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 1:47pmSanction this postReply
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Tom asked:

"Ayn Rand had the courage to claim that the only philosopher in whose tradition she was willing to stand was Aristotle's, but she did not call her philosophy "Aristotilianism"  Why? She could have, given the sort of argument I've seen here. But she didn't. Why?"

There is the "obvious" answer Tom seems to be suggesting. However, I would like to throw a possible motivational explanation. It would be a bit speculative, but not implausible. A characteristic feature of someone who is narcissistic, which Rand definitely showed in her writing--regardless of the Brandens wrote about her--is to make self-aggrandizing claims. To create and name a unique philosophy is surely ambitious, but it may also be viewed as an arrogant, self-aggrandizing claim. I think if Rand situated her ideas within the context of existing philosophies (e.g., Locke's theory of rights), I think she would garnered more credibility from academic philosophers. If she did this, I also think she would have also not come across as arrogant. People like Sciabarra and George Smith have published work along these lines and it seems current Objectivist-friendly students are doing the same.

I don't want to diminish Rand's philosophical contributions, but I think one needs to consider her narcissistic personality in the way she expressed herself in her writing. Rand, of all things, was definitely not modest!

My two cents,

Walter
Narcissism...the Greeks were onto something there

(Edited by Walter Foddis on 10/03, 1:50pm)




Post 137

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 1:58pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

I think that we agree on quite a few things.  Where we might differ is the degree to which we think that objectivity leaves room for subjectivity and skepticism.

Okay, now I see your argument. You're saying that the cultish behavior is motivated by a belief in the infallibility of the philosophy. It is true that Objectivism claims that its principles could not be mistaken, but I don't think there's anything objectionable about that, nor do I think that such a view necessarily fosters dogmatism. If I really understand something to be true, I don't believe that I could be mistaken about it. For example, I don't believe that the laws of arithmetic or the principles of geometry could be mistaken. I don't believe that I could be wrong in my belief that murder is bad, that productive work is good, that independence is a virtue, etc. There are many, many ideas that I don't believe could be in error. Does that make me a dogmatist or a true believer? No, I don't think so.

Well, it's not just about believing that you could be mistaken about things - it's also about considering the ways in which another person's view of the same issue might be similar to or different from yours, and how and why.  Moreover, some differences may or may not matter in different contexts.

Error can be conceived of in a variety of ways, but if one takes the Popperian conception, which is not so different from that espoused by certain schools of
Critical Realism and Absolute Idealism, error is only significant to the degree that it detracts from a solution.  One doesn't need the absolute truth (if such a thing exists) to agree with the claim that some ideas are better than others when applied as solutions to certain problems.  From this perspective, error and infallibility do not become as important as solutions that work!  And when looking for solutions that work, there might be a variety of similar and dissimilar perspectives that are deserving of consideration.  Focusing on infallibility often blinds one to that possibility.

What's the difference between someone who is 99% certain and who is a 100% certain?

What's the difference between a physicist who believes that God created the world and one that doesn't?

What's the difference between a man who believes that certain forms of sex are depraved and other forms aren't?

In some contexts, such differences do not matter.  But cultists who need conformity will make these differences matter in many contexts.

What is characteristic of a dogmatist or true believer is not that he claims to be certain, but ~how~ he claims to be certain. If he adopts an idea thoughtlessly and carelessly and clings to it doggedly in the face of evidence to the contrary - if he doesn't consider it important to validate his beliefs - if he believes something only because it feels good or because his significant others agree with it - then he is a dogmatist irrespective of the fact that his ideas may be true. What characterizes a cultish mentality is not so much what he believes as why he believes it. If he accepts an idea on faith or on the basis of some similarly non-rational motive, then he is a true believer. In short, what is characteristic of a true believer is that he lacks both intellectual independence and a respect for evidential support and rational justification.

Again, the key is not just "contradictory evidence" but "alternate perspectives" and the salience, coherence and truthfulness of these perspectives.  Sometimes, the believer who searches for the one true way blinds himself to the fact that there are often many ways with different benefits and costs.

Indeed, one of the reasons people are attracted to cults is that they lack a sense of certainty and confidence in their own judgment, and are therefore prone to let others do their thinking for them. Objectivism, properly understood, serves as a protection against this kind of intellectual and moral hazard.

Again, only if one is seduced by the kind of truth that excludes other possibilities.  I look for the kind of truth that embraces other possibilities.  Of course, truth is a contextual thing, but my point is that the"my way or the highway mentality" that Objectivists foster in the land of ideas is inherently cultish.  And I think that this kind of thinking is required in the battle between philosophical ideologies that do not lend themselves to efficient testing and whose truth value partly depends on the agreement of others.  It is these parts of Objectivism that are dubious - most of Objectivism that is scientifically or logically respectable was incorporated into science, ethics or traditional religion years ago.

The reason that cultishness is necessary amongst battling ideologies is this: if one philosophy was truly more efficient than others, it would be selected for and the inefficient ones would be weeded out.  This is the way in which bad scientific ideas get eliminated.  However, philosophy doesn't provide the same level of feedback.  Therefore, bad philosophies tend to thrive much longer than bad scientific ideas as long as some individual or group of individuals is able to gain some power by pushing the ideology.  The individual, purposely or coincidentally, values the hierarchy he controls more than the truthful ideas that would lead to better solutions. 

My primary point is that many perspectives are compatible with the truth as we currently know it and that knowing what is wrong is far easier than knowing what is right.  However, cultists prefer to have it the other way round.

Laj.




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Post 138

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 3:02pmSanction this postReply
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Laj,

You call for solutions while denying their possibility.

You ask for the degree to which objectivity has room for subjectivity and skepticism.
Should I be skeptical of the answer? How would I know?

You disdain the power of philosophy while engaging in what can only be called philoso-bable on a site dedicated to a philosopher.

You rip and tear at a straw man while being a one-man demonstration of the power of that which you disdain. The perfect speciman of Homo Kanterectus.

And serving as the intended final blow to all of this is the dogmatic assertion that I am a dogmatic Randian. I quake, I tremble, I ROFL.

Tell me, why are you here? To convert the heathen? To pass wind? To engage in public self-gratification? To prove that you are master of your own domain?

And tell me this: why in the hell should anyone on this site take you seriously?

Tom

PS I know you will accuse me of failing to deal with your arguments and name-calling instead. Bingo! You and your "arguments" are worth nothing more.




Post 139

Monday, October 3, 2005 - 3:38pmSanction this postReply
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Bill:
>Everyone is capable of error ~if~ he does not validate his beliefs - does not make sure that they're true by a process of sensory evidence and rational proof.

Bill, here you claiming here that using a combination of sensory evidence and logic, I can be infallible ie:incapable of error.

Firstly, can I ask *by what infallible means* you established the infallibility of this method in the first place? It seems to me that humans use logic and the evidence of their senses all the time, yet still err.

Secondly, this translates into a claim that if *everyone* simply used logic and sensory evidence, *all humans* would no longer make errors ie: become infallible. The saying "to err is human" would no longer be true. Do you believe this would be the case?

Thirdly, do you think admitting the possibility of error in judgement makes judgements themselves entirely useless? Some seem to, but I for one don't actually think it follows.

- Daniel



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