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Post 60

Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 6:18amSanction this postReply
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Michelle,

I, too, believe that a thorough grounding in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics is important. I will concede a touche on not having studied enough Aristotle. However, regarding the central issues of ARI/TOC, I think we can consider the arguments directly.
 
I want to advance a sketch of an argument against Peikoff's stated theory of "Certainty as Contextual" in OPAR. I think this has been one of my main intellectual sticking points with Peikoff from the beginning. It is, I believe, of more consequence than his true/false/arbitrary trichotomy, which I also believe to be flawed. It is also another example of Peikoff's overreliance on the coherence theory of truth.
 
In OPAR page 171:
 
         In the previous chapter, I stressed the importance of relating a new idea
         to the full context-- of seeking to reduce the idea to the data of sense and
         to integrate it with the rest of one's conclusions. Now I want to develop a
         further point: once these logical requirements have been met, the idea has
         been validated. If a man evades relevant data: or if defaulting on the process
         of logic, he jumps from the data to an unwarranted conclusion; then of course
         his conclusion does not qualify as knowledge. But if he does consider all the
         available evidence, and he does employ the method of logic in assessing it,
         then his interpretation must be regarded as valid.
         Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is
         necessary and sufficient to establish the idea's truth.
 
Now, the last sentence of this passage is just plain false. The truth of an idea is its relationship to the facts of reality, my reasoning about it or logical processing of an idea within my context of knowledge has no bearing on its truth. Peikoff's argument conflates the idea of validity, which is an epistemological term designating a best effort standard for an argument (i.e. I have considered the available evidence and made no logical or inferential errors) with the idea of truth which represents the relationship between an idea and the facts of reality independent of anyone's apprehension of it.
 
This passage that I quoted is not an isolated instance. Throughout Peikoff's writings he seems more concerned with how an idea fits together with what he already knows than gathering additional data. In fact, there is always an epistemological tension between gathering new data and integrating the knowledge we have and it is a difficult balance. The standard I use concerning the rigor of an argument is the maintenance of that balance. Are the counterarguments considered? What are the sources of evidence of which I may be in ignorance? Is there any disconfirming evidence? The process of continuing to consider these questions is key in maintaining objectivity.




Post 61

Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 4:10pmSanction this postReply
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James,

Your criticism of OPAR is a point against Peikoff, and against ARI for promoting OPAR. But how is it automatically a point in favor of TOC?  Can you direct me to where TOC provide the correct theory of "Certainty as Contextual?" Is it in the "Logical Structure of Objectivism?"

In any case, while I agree with you that OPAR has errors and flaws, I disagree with your specific example. If prior knowledge was established based on correspondence to reality, then new data can be evaluated against this prior knowledge. Coherence with prior knowledge is a part of the process of establishing the truth or falsity of an idea. It's impossible to have an integrated hierarchy of knowledge if all one has are isolated items of information, each corresponding to reality, but having no coherence between them.  When a new idea is highly abstract, relating it directly to reality may be impossible so that intermediate ideas may be required.  This is when the new idea is evaluated according to its coherence with intermediate ideas which correspond to reality.  

-- Michelle






Post 62

Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 5:38pmSanction this postReply
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A quick comment on something that Ryan Hacking said:

"Flip through the pages of Social Philosophy and Policy and you'll see pieces by Mack, Miller, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Robert Campbell, Neera Badhwar, etc.  These are philosophers associated to a greater or lesser extent with TOC--they have lectured at conferences, written articles, and so on.  I think one major value offered by TOC is that it comes much closer than ARI to being a genuine marketplace of ideas within which Objectivist-minded scholars can operate."

I believe that all of the other folks abovementioned have published in Social Philosophy and Policy, which IMHO
is well worth reading.  But I haven't.  I'm a psychologist, not a philosopher, and my professional work is either outside the purview of social and political philosophy, or on the margins of those endeavors.

I agree with Ryan's overall point about the genuine marketplace of ideas.  Would ARI-affiliated philosophers be able to publish in Social Philosophy and Policy without risking expulsion from the fold?  Or would that be as unforgivable as publishing in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies?
 
Robert Campbell






Post 63

Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 5:46pmSanction this postReply
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Michelle,

I don't know where in the TOC literature a criticism or correction of the "Certainty as Contextual" theory exists. However, I did attend an IOS lecture by Kelley in 1994 which treated certainty an ordinal continuum between uncertain and certain. The idea is that qualitative comparisons are possible between the degrees of certainty with which we hold various elements of knowledge. He also outlined the conditions under which one could be certain a proposition was true. These were that no disconfirming evidence existed, that significant positive evidence existed for the truth of a proposition, that all possible alternatives had been ruled out and that no new evidence could be introduced that would contradict the proposition.

Now, this is a much stronger criteria for certainty than the one Peikoff puts forward in OPAR. Kelley's joke about this was that if we hang a man, we want to be certain, not certain within our context of knowledge. There is a difference between how we acquire knowledge and how we establish the truth of a philosophical proposition.

As for coherence, when we test an idea against our prior knowledge, if it does not cohere, then one of two things is possible: either the new idea is wrong or some other previously held idea is wrong. At that point I would go through some premise checking and evidentiary evaluation to find out which idea was wrong. So coherence is a necessary condition for the truth of a proposition. However, it is a not sufficient condition. We need to test correspondence with reality in some way to establish the idea's truth. The  idea could cohere with our previous knowledge and still be wrong. We need a stringent set of epistemic norms to establish certainty.

--Jim




Post 64

Monday, December 27, 2004 - 6:26amSanction this postReply
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Robert wrote:
Would ARI-affiliated philosophers be able to publish in Social Philosophy and Policy without risking expulsion from the fold?  Or would that be as unforgivable as publishing in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies?
Tara Smith published "The Practice of Pride" in the Winter '98 issue of Social Philosophy and Policy.  She also published “Money Can Buy Happiness” in the current issue of Reason Papers. Not only wasn't she expelled, she is the recent recipient of a grant from the ARI-associated Anthem Foundation. Another example is Andrew Bernstein's publication in The Freeman. Yes, things have changed.


 




Post 65

Monday, December 27, 2004 - 6:37amSanction this postReply
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James wrote:
I don't know where in the TOC literature a criticism or correction of the "Certainty as Contextual" theory exists. However, I did attend an IOS lecture by Kelley in 1994 which treated certainty an ordinal continuum between uncertain and certain.
That's the problem. Compare the effect on a newcomer to Objectivism when a person from ARI points him to a section in OPAR, and the effect on the same person when you tell him "I attended a lecture by Kelley eleven years ago. I don't know if and where it is included in the TOC literature, so you'll have to rely on my memory."  (I don't criticize James, I criticize TOC for not publishing something equivalent to OPAR.)




Post 66

Monday, December 27, 2004 - 8:08amSanction this postReply
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Michelle,

I stand corrected.

Since you have read some things by Tara Smith that I haven't... in any of her work, have you come across citations of Machan, Mack, Den Uyl, Long, Rasmussen, or of anyone else who was expelled or excluded from the fold in the past?  They don't have to be positive citations--critical references will do just fine.

And do you foresee any submissions by the ARI-affiliated to the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies any time soon?  (Andrew Bernstein had to go through a public penance for putting a one paragraph reply in JARS two years ago.)

Robert Campbell




Post 67

Monday, December 27, 2004 - 7:02pmSanction this postReply
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Robert,

Tara Smith's Viable Values includes references to John Hospers' article "Why be Moral."  There are no references in "Money Can Buy Happiness" to Machan, Mack, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, etc, but it's only 14 pages. I don't have a copy of "The Practice of Pride" or other articles by Smith. I can testify that in her presentation on Viable Values to the Ayn Rand Society in 2000, Smith countered Harry Binswanger during the Q&A. I don't recall the exact details, but she rejected his point without any deference.

I don't foresee that it will be acceptable for ARI-affiliated scholars to publish in JARS in the near future, but I doubt JARS will want to publish them anyway given its critical approach to Rand and Objectivism.

Michelle 






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Post 68

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 5:58amSanction this postReply
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Michelle,

I have never worried about the effect of either ARI or TOC on newcomers to the philosophy. I would never start a newcomer with OPAR or TOC materials anyway. They should spend time digesting Rand first hand. The real question, I think, for the future is: how do we nurture the next generation of Objectivist intellectuals? In this cause I think all three major Objectivist organizations are coming up way short.

The problem is that any intellectual worth their salt wants to work on big problems. As I pointed out earlier in this thread, the big problems left in Objectivism and philosophy in general are not, strictly speaking,  philosophical. So why is the focus so much on turning out PhD's in philosophy? The original Objectivist movement was not this way. The merits of their contributions can be questioned, but I think Nathaniel Branden and Alan Greenspan have had much more of an effect than Leonard Peikoff or David Kelley. The latter two have had an effect in the immediate Objectivist movement, but this is the wrong place to aim.

One of the extreme ironies of the recent criticisms of TOC by Diana Hsieh and the whole existence of the ARI scholarly programs is this: if they really feel Objectivism is a closed system, why bother going into the field of philosophy? Why go through years of doctoral work in a field where you feel you can't make a significant contribution?

In many ways, in the current Objectivist movement, you could turn the remarks of Hugh Akston in Atlas Shrugged on their head: the leaders of the Objectivist movement recognize the value of philosophy, but not physics or any other significant field in moving Objectivism forward.




Post 69

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 8:46amSanction this postReply
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James,

I recall Peikoff saying that if there were enough Objectivist professors of philosophy at major US universities they could have a genuine impact on the field. According to this line of thinking, the reason to become a PhD in philosophy is not to expand on Objectivism, but to teach it as it is to as many students as possible, and apply it in books and articles without changing the closed system. Now that there are tenured ARI-affiliated professors of philosophy like Gary Hull and Tara Smith, it remains to be seen what impact they will have. Smith already made an impact by publishing books and articles within the field. Hull was not as prolific to my knowledge.

Michelle




Post 70

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 10:41amSanction this postReply
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Michelle,

I agree that ARI has been successful placing academics in Philosophy departments coming out of ARI graduate programs. I took 1 course from Darryl Wright and my brother took a couple of philosophy courses from him while we were undergraduates at Harvey Mudd College. We also had Gary Hull and Linda Reardan attend several of our Objectivist club meetings. My experience with them was generally positive and they were willing to take on controversial topics in informal settings.

At the time we knew nothing of the Peikoff/Kelley split. I was a TIA subscriber, but did not read the May 1989 issue in which Fact and Value appeared because I was leaving for my freshman year of college. A couple of our club outings involved attending speeches by George Reisman including Capitalism the Cure for Racism. We must have been living under a rock because we were unaware that any problem existed. In fact, our club president was a nonvocal member of the Libertarian Party. He once asked Hull directly whether we could obtain materials with conditional clauses from Second Renaissance. Hull said those restrictions did not apply to students and our president obtained the materials with disclosure.

To my knowledge, none of  us attended an Objectivist Conference while in college because of the expense (in one case I was invited to a summer course with Peikoff but declined because I didn't want to pay Southern California rent during the summer)  and the only confrontational problem we ever encountered was with a Claremont Graduate School student named Dan Drake. We finally stopped advertising our meetings because of his penchant for excoriating new attendees for partial support of social programs and the like.

I only later discovered the extent of the rifts in the Objectivist movement. It angered me to figure out the degree of nondisclosure involved in all of this, but we did not have the overt negative experiences reported by many others.  

Linda Reardan and  Jerry Kirkpatrick later left ARI with the Reismans in 1995 . I am not sure of the degree to which, if any, they still talk to Gary Hull.

The silliness of all of this still astounds me. I have my undisguised opinions about all of this, but my main opinion is that if Peikoff and Schwartz had showed some simple leadership all of this could have been avoided. I wish all ARI and TOC (and former ARI and TOC :-)) academics well and hope they change academia for the better.

I am encouraged by the presence of Darryl Wright, Gary Hull, Allan Gotthelf, Tara Smith, James Lennox, Fred Miller, Lester Hunt and others in teaching positions. However, I wonder if both ARI and TOC have the best interests of the students in mind in encouraging them to pursue PhD's in philosophy. It's a little bit like joining up for the priesthood and they should do it with eyes wide open.




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Post 71

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 2:26pmSanction this postReply
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As an aside, many years ago I attended a talk by George Reisman titled "Capitalism: The Cure for Racism." It was a good talk, but during the question period he was asked "What is reality?" I thought, Gee, that's an easy one.

Reisman demurred, however, saying only that "Ayn Rand could probably give you a beautiful definition." My respect for Reisman's grasp of the philosophy went down considerably.

Perhaps he has improved since then. I hope so.



Post 72

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 2:38pmSanction this postReply
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Sorry for not keeping up on the discussion here, I've been away from the computer for a few days. 

Michelle - The work of those philosophers I mentioned in Social Philosophy and Policy do incorporate Objectivist ideas, although they do not always mention Rand by name.  As for as the paucity of Aristotle scholars at TOC, Fred Miller and James Lennox are well known throughout academia and not just Randian circles.  I'm not sure of where their "institutional affiliations" stand, but I think they both have/had TOC connections and they have written books on Aristotle.  Gotthelf is somewhat known, but not on the level of Miller or Lennox--he wrote a handful of articles on Aristotle's conception of final causality and that is all I have seen him cited for.  Also, I think you are right in your characterization of the ARI approach to academic philosophers--their goal is not to expand, refine, or analyze Objectivism, but to propogate it. 

Robert - I don't remember any citations in either Tara Smith's book or articles to Mack, Rasmussen, et al.  I think Viable Values could have been much improved by grappling with their work--I mean, these guys have been analyzing issues within Rand's ethics for decades!  Oh well.  Also, I highly doubt that ARI will ever approve of someone publishing in JARS.  The ARI-types have discussed JARS with are either extremely hostile or dismissive of the whole enterprise.   




Post 73

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 3:40pmSanction this postReply
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Ryan wrote:
As for as the paucity of Aristotle scholars at TOC, Fred Miller and James Lennox are well known throughout academia and not just Randian circles.  I'm not sure of where their "institutional affiliations" stand, but I think they both have/had TOC connections and they have written books on Aristotle.
The only material available from Miller are his comments in Roderick Long's monograph "Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand."  I could not find any material related to Aristotle by Lennox. They both had TOC connections, but their books were not reviewed and are not sold by TOC.  

(To be fair, I do recommend the sole audiotape on Aristotle, "Was Aristotle an Egoist?" to which the answer is "yes.")




Post 74

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 4:34pmSanction this postReply
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Although TOC does not sell them directly, Lennox authored Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology and, among others, a very interesting essay entitled something like The Biological Roots of Virtue in Aristotle.  Miller wrote Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle's Politics, which I highly recommend. 



Post 75

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 7:33pmSanction this postReply
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A year or so after Lennox wrote a review of Sciabarra's book in Reason, Gotthelf wrote an e-mail on HBL saying Lennox repudiated TOC.

Fred Miller has had John Lewis, Tara Smith, Robert Mayhew, Darryl Wright, C Bradley Thompson as visiting scholars at his Social Philosophy and Policy Center. So you can hardly call him on side or the other.

(Edited by Bob on 12/28, 9:18pm)




Post 76

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 9:17pmSanction this postReply
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(To be fair, I do recommend the sole audiotape on Aristotle, "Was Aristotle an Egoist?" to which the answer is "yes.")
While it is unfair of me to speculate too much without having heard the tape, I think that the following Brand Blanshard quote is probably going to apply to the analysis on that tape quite well.  I cite Blanshard from Scott Ryan's book:

“It must be admitted…that anyone who takes self realization or self-fulfillment as the [ethical] end is very likely to be so classified [i.e., as an egoist]. He is bound to concern himself with what will realize or fulfill a self, taking it for granted that he will be read as talking about any and all selves.”

 

[“Reply to Oliver A. Johnson,” in The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard, p. 294; emphasis his].

 

For some reason, a few philosophers confuse self-realization with egoism.  There is a difference - traditionally, the egoist doesn't care about the self-realization of others.  And in that sense, Aristotle is not an egoist - no egoist would preach eudaimonia.

 

Of course, Objectivism sometimes doesn't care about traditional definitions.





Post 77

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 9:27pmSanction this postReply
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Jim,

Your Post 60 on this thread is very well written.  Peikoff's claims are vary important for his belief that Objectivism is a closed system.  I would personally think that even if a person

a) supports a rational and determinist metaphysics, even if it somewhat subsumes human nature
b) respects reason, even if he accepts that there are other drives in nature that can influence it sometimes for the worse.
c) supports an ethics of self-realization, though he doesn't support it for just himself was egoism traditionally does.
d) supports capitalism, even if he finds Rand's view of it a bit too ideological

that one cannot be an Objectivist anymore.  I personally think that this is a part of the problem facing the TOC.  The ARI is better off because apart from having more money from Rand, they also have an ideological consistency that the TOC will find much harder to maintain if they entertain criticism of Rand in the empathetic spirit.

Do you really think that the TOC can spread Objectivism with the open-mindedness that it tries to and maintain a consistent message?




Post 78

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - 6:55amSanction this postReply
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Next,

Yes, I think that TOC can spread Objectivism in a spirit of open inquiry. However, they will have to develop a sharp, polemical focus in their outreach. There is a difference between insisting on stringent epistemic norms for certainty and being wishy-washy with your content. There is a difference between saying the Objectivist stand on X issue is Y and saying you are not an Objectivist if you don't believe Y.

TOC will have to decide what its editorial stand is in the Navigator and on their website and continue to promote free and open inquiry in their academic programs.

I would actually say that ARI has the worse problem: how do you run an effective academic program without free and open inquiry? It can't be done in practice. Interestingly, the course (a terrific course by the way) that I took from Darryl Wright, an ARI scholar, at Harvey Mudd College included content from John Hospers as well as Rand. John Hospers is a Libertarian with a psychologically determinist ethics.

It is possible to run a "training" program in Objectivism without free and open inquiry, but the likelyhood is that you run the risk of rampant errors including the one I pointed in post 60 of this thread.

Jim




Post 79

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - 3:42pmSanction this postReply
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James,

I agree that free and open inquiry is a good thing.  Where I might differ from you is the answer to the question of what effect free and open inquiry would have on Objectivism in general, only because when I have pursued it, I have often found myself at odds with the certainty with which Objectivism asserts controversial questions as settled.

The viewpoint sketched out in my last post to you is essentially mine.  I do not think that free and open academic inquiry is compatible with an ideology like Objectivism, because inevitably, one will have to be somewhat humble and recant various claims, or at least, repeatedly qualify one's position.  And since (I think you agree) the attitude with which one states a position is important for gaining adherents, having to retract this or that claim can make one look very uncertain.

The problem is that Objectivism, like many ideologies, has settled some of the most difficult questions at the beginning of its inquiry, while academic and scientific inquiry tends to postpone judgment on those issues until after sufficient evidence has been collected and debate has been carried out.  Rand didn't have too much respect for the social and evolutionary aspect of academic inquiry.  For any ideology that needs a lot of conviction on the part of its adherents, this is important, but it doesn't foster free academic inquiry.

What should ideally be done, and I follow Arthur Lovejoy in this belief about how philosophy should be pursued, is to sketch out what propositions seem philosophically compatible, what the core points of agreement are, and to see where the differences lie.  Then the position an individual picks depends on what he or she thinks is most important, but might change with new relevant evidence that settles issues conclusively.

As an example, even if you reject libertarianism for determinism, there should be a general agreement as to what determinism and libertarianism logically entail, and if knowledge comes up in the future that might call into question determinism, you know that you have to defend your position or at least, attenuate it.  I have no doubt that there are a lot of propositions that Objectivists and libertarians can agree on philosophically, even if the implications of those propositions are not always agreed upon.  Then testable ways of resolving the differences can be established.

The error you that you pointed out has also been highlighted in a variety of criticisms of Objectivism and OPAR.  I particularly recommend George Smith's "Why Atheism" for its lucidity, if you haven't read it already.

However, I do not think it is an error of judgment - I think that what Peikoff wrote is a necessary part of his general goal of keeping Objectivism closed and allowing him to proclaim that many difficult questions have been solved with certainty. It also allows him to insulate his criticisms from new evidence and to take the attitude that new findings cannot upset his previously held positions.




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