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Post 80

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - 6:49pmSanction this postReply
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Next,

You wrote:
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
 I disagree with the first half of this statement, mostly because I don't regard new objections as a threat to the philosophy. If someone proves me wrong, I'm happier for having gained the new knowledge. Interestingly, I don't believe in a determinist metaphysics, but I am a heirarchical reductionist. I'm posting the below, which I'm still working out as a sketch, because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is. Let's begin at the beginning as Dagny would say.

 Determinism, Free Will, and Modern Science

 

     The problem of free will versus determinism has plagued philosophy for the 300 years or so and there good reasons why this debate is so fierce. There is a societal and cultural divide between those who prefer studies of human intentionality and those who prefer investigations of nature. C. P. Snow was the most eloquent spokesman describing this divide between the hard sciences and the humanities. How many philosophers could describe in even vague terms the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and how many scientists

 can enjoy a Shakespearean sonnet?

      How can we resolve the conundrum of the everyday experience of free will in a universe governed solely by physical forces? The typical Objectivist argument for free will is some combination of arguing that it is an axiom, claiming that those who deny it are engaged in a stolen concept fallacy, and introspective evidence. The typical Objectivist argument against determinism is that it is self-defeating, that someone who holds determinism cannot verify that his thought processes and arguments are reliable since he could not, according to his own thesis, have thought otherwise. The argument for free will is hardly a rigorous proof and the argument against determinism answers the arguer but not the argument.

       As an engineer, I am a reductionist. Matter can be reduced to its smallest constituents and in order to understand what happens at the macro-level in nature, we have to understand the micro-level. However, I am a hierarchical reductionist.

As Richard Dawkins observed:

 

                        The hierarchical reductionist…explains a complex entity at any

                        particular level in the hierarchy of organization, in terms of entities

                        only one level down the hierarchy; entities which themselves , are

                        likely to be complex enough to need further reduction into their own

                        component parts; and so on (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker pp 13).

 

Therefore, there is no sense in which we explain human beings directly at the level of quarks! However, let’s start at the level of subatomic particles. This is a world that is decidedly not deterministic. Many laymen misunderstand quantum mechanics as merely a measurement problem, that if only we measure accurately enough we could determine the position and momentum of  elementary particles with precision. To demonstrate that this is not the case, I’ll use a simple example.

 In nuclear fusion research, there is a method of catalyzing the fusion of  two hydrogen nuclei called muon catalyzed fusion. The muon is a negatively charged elementary particle with a mass that is 207 times heavier than an electron. In order to catalyze the fusion a chemical bond is created between two hydrogen nuclei using a muon. Since the muon is so much heavier than an ordinary electron, the two hydrogen nuclei are brought much closer together than with an electron. The strong nuclear force then binds the two hydrogen nuclei together.

But here’s where it gets interesting! If the two hydrogen nuclei were really point particles with a definite position and momentum, they would not fuse. They would be too far apart for the strong nuclear force to act. In actuality, what happens is that the quantum mechanical wave functions of the two hydrogen nuclei overlap and at the two extreme ends and come close enough to fuse.

So what does this have to do with anything? After all, if quantum mechanical perturbations only move things around on a micro-level how does that affect the macro-level? We are, after all, concerned with whether micro-level perturbations cause macro-level phenomena. Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist, has done pioneering work in self-organizing systems. Far from equilibrium chemical systems become more complex with each chemical reaction. Biochemists believe that the very origins of life occurred in chemical systems like this. Prigogine demonstrated that quantum mechanical perturbations cause irreversible changes in certain far from equilibrium chemical systems (Cf. Prigogine, The End of Certainty). These discoveries lay waste to the idea that quantum mechanics does not play a role in more highly organized entities. Determinism does not hold sway universally, even in the realm of highly complex molecules.

Determinism is a straw man in philosophy of science that has obscured the rightful role of  hierarchical reductionism. Understanding the scientific mechanisms of human free will going forward will require a synthesis of modern science, thermodynamics and neurology. Making arguments about self-regulation, introspective evidence and the like without a physical basis to explain it or verification by experiment  is mere philosophical handwaving.




Post 81

Thursday, December 30, 2004 - 4:59amSanction this postReply
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James,
 I disagree with the first half of this statement, mostly because I don't regard new objections as a threat to the philosophy. If someone proves me wrong, I'm happier for having gained the new knowledge. Interestingly, I don't believe in a determinist metaphysics, but I am a heirarchical reductionist. I'm posting the below, which I'm still working out as a sketch, because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is.
I agree with your attitude to knowledge, but I've given my argument as to why this is a problem for a philosophy that tries to settle with certainty the hardest questions early in the inquiry.  An individual is not quite the same thing as an organized movement.  Or maybe Objectivists think that the hardest questions are not so hard after all.  The fact that knowledge is often connected means that settling the hard questions early can lead to a cascade of changes in one's philosophical worldview when new data calls into question your answers to the hard questions.

I do not see how hierarchical reductionism, which I also agree with, constitutes a defence against determinism.  However, this will probably be raised on another thread sometime.  Or you could post your article underneath the "distorting determinism" thread in the "dissent" forum and we can thrash it out there.

Cheers.



Post 82

Thursday, December 30, 2004 - 6:42amSanction this postReply
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Next,
You wrote:
I agree with your attitude to knowledge, but I've given my argument as to why this is a problem for a philosophy that tries to settle with certainty the hardest questions early in the inquiry.
David Kelley has put out a lecture series called Perennial Questions of Objectivism. Unfortunately, I have not yet obtained the lecture series, so I cannot comment on it. The perennial questions included free will/determinism, reason/emotion, virtue/self-interest, survival/flourishing, government/anarchy. I'm sure there are other objections/problems that will continue to be raised.

However, the problem is that in order to say anything at all about epistemology, ethics, and politics you have to take a stand on the issues that are fundamental to these fields. The skeptic is under no less burden than an Objectivist to justify his positive claims.The skeptic also carries the burden of assuming the practical implications of his objections.

In the case of determinism, an honest determinist cannot talk about ethics, politics or epistemology in ways that assume human choice. He must deal with these issues according to mechanistic laws or failing that admit to being unable to deal with them. In the meantime, he still has to get up in the morning, decide how he wants to interact with his neighbors and his boss. At election time he has to vote or not vote. In all of these matters, determinism will not give him guidance.

Objectivism will have to come up with more rigorous positive arguments for free will or at least solid arguments against determinism. It cannot have its cake and eat it too. Advocates of free will must indicate how they think it will arise in a mechanistic universe, but given the beginning of an argument I gave in my previous post, I think this is a much easier task than the determinist takes on.

--Jim




Post 83

Thursday, December 30, 2004 - 4:08pmSanction this postReply
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Jim,

David Kelley has put out a lecture series called Perennial Questions of Objectivism. Unfortunately, I have not yet obtained the lecture series, so I cannot comment on it. The perennial questions included free will/determinism, reason/emotion, virtue/self-interest, survival/flourishing, government/anarchy. I'm sure there are other objections/problems that will continue to be raised.
This is a good thing.  Like I said, my preference is that philosophers spend some time empathetically debating such positions and then allow people to make choices.  Opinionated introductions to such issues should cite the sources that the introductions are criticizing.

However, the problem is that in order to say anything at all about epistemology, ethics, and politics you have to take a stand on the issues that are fundamental to these fields. The skeptic is under no less burden than an Objectivist to justify his positive claims.The skeptic also carries the burden of assuming the practical implications of his objections.
Yes, but taking a stand on these issues doesn't morally permit you to misrepresent your opponents.  It is possible to present the issues, criticize them as best you can, then take a stand. Find the best philosophical defense of whatever position you are against, and deal with it.

In the case of determinism, an honest determinist cannot talk about ethics, politics or epistemology in ways that assume human choice. He must deal with these issues according to mechanistic laws or failing that admit to being unable to deal with them. In the meantime, he still has to get up in the morning, decide how he wants to interact with his neighbors and his boss. At election time he has to vote or not vote. In all of these matters, determinism will not give him guidance.
I disagree, and it is this caricature of determinism that leads me to wonder whether you and people who argue similarly have actually read determinists like Spinoza, Brand Blanshard, Sir David Ross, David Hume, the Stoics, or, in more recent times, Daniel Dennett.  It all depends on what your understanding of determinism is.  Many determinists accept volition and are hence compatibilists - their view of volition is not quite the same as that of indeterminists/libertarians, but when one looks at the differences, then a person can make his/her own choice.  In my opinion, the Objectivist position on free will is barely libertarian and Objectivism should embrace a form of compatibilism, since Objectivism focuses more on ideas as primary causes of behavior.  However, that is an argument I will make elsewhere.

You are speaking/writing to one determinist right now who does talk about ethics, politics and epistemology in a way that assumes human choice, but with a slightly different conception of these issues from a libertarian free will advocate.

There is also a fair amount of debate over the nature of causation.  If/When I do complete my article on Objectivism and Free Will (I plan to cover OPAR and Machan's work, and put it next to Dennett's to some degree), I will show some of Dennett's answers to your objections.  His "Freedom Evolves" is the definitive text on compatibilism right now.  If there are problems with his exposition of causation and determinism, we'll see over time as his critics are obviously doing battle with him right now.

 
Objectivism will have to come up with more rigorous positive arguments for free will or at least solid arguments against determinism. It cannot have its cake and eat it too. Advocates of free will must indicate how they think it will arise in a mechanistic universe, but given the beginning of an argument I gave in my previous post, I think this is a much easier task than the determinist takes on.
Are you familiar with Dennett's answers?  And if so, what are your objections?



Post 84

Friday, December 31, 2004 - 1:41pmSanction this postReply
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Michelle,

In your post number 67 you said:

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.

As Associate Editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I can tell you that ARI-affiliated authors are welcome in our pages, as they have been since the journal was founded.  Several others besides Andrew Bernstein have been invited to submit articles.


Unfortunately, I agree with you that ARI-affiliated scholars will continue to risk excommunication for publishing in JARS.
 
Robert Campbell
 
 




Post 85

Saturday, January 1, 2005 - 2:15pmSanction this postReply
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Next,

When I talk about free will, I mean that in a given situation with choices A,B and C if I chose A, I actually had the power to choose B or C. I take determinism to mean I was necessitated in some way to choose A. I am sympathetic to certain forms of compatibilism that argue that the physical situation of being necessitated to choose A is physically indistinguishable from being free to choose A,B or C.

In fact, both Richard  Feynman (in his third volume in the lectures on physics)and John Searle in his Minds, Brains, and Science make these types of arguments. However, neither of them claims to have settled the question of free will/determinism.Feynman finds the distinction uninteresting and Searle believes we will never settle the question. I did not say that determinists cannot talk about ethics, politics, and epistemology. I said that they can't talk about them from a determinist framework.

Incidentally, I believe in a form of free will that is much more delimited than the typical Objectivist conception. I believe that an understanding of evolutionary psychology is important in avoiding clashes between our conscious choices and our in-built tendencies.

I understand that determinists and compatibilists have a different conception of choice than  adherents of free will. But from the standpoint of being "responsible" in ethics or having "rights" in politics there is a strong sense in which we have to have the conception of choice I mentioned at the outset in order to make the idea of rights or responsibility meaningful. Does it make sense to hold someone responsible for behavior when he could not have done otherwise? In the realm of rights, does it really make sense to ask people to uphold our rights when they were necessitated to violate them?

I also don't believe that determinism has established its case in the physical world in the sense that with perfect information you could predict state B at time T2 from state A at time T1. Given the expermental evidence of indeterminacy in quantum mechanics, whither determinism in the first place?

I do think there is a softer sense in which we say that every event has a physical basis, but what rational person doesn't agree with that?

--Jim

P.S. I have enjoyed this interchange and hope that my relative illiteracy in determinist and compatibilist thinkers hasn't handicapped it  (I have not read Dennett or the thinkers you mention.Not being a philosopher, I have not found the time.) I have read a fair bit of J.S. Mill and John Searle and I am not sure they encompass the arguments you find to be most persuasive.




Post 86

Saturday, January 1, 2005 - 11:53pmSanction this postReply
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James,

I agree that indeterminism on the quantum level is currently the best scientific hypothesis.  However, most philosophers agree that quantum indeterminacy is a form of randomness that will not support free will in a sense that promotes moral responsibility.

Since you are an engineer, you should be able to see parallels between human nature and machines.  Choice is a result of the physical nature/structure of the human nervous system.  It is similar to what a computer does when it plays chess.  The chess computer anticipates outcomes based on its algorithms (which would be the innate mental modules that the brain has evolved over years) and selects a move (as we humans would make a choice).  Of course, human beings are far more complex than computers, but complexity shouldn't be confused with ignorance.  Neuroscientists do have some strong insights into what aspects of the brain participate in certain mental processes, and sometimes, how and why.

I have not read Feynmann, but Searle, in my opinion, is  ideologically committed to indeterminism about the will and is allergic to anything smacking of materialism.  I wish I could provide more than an ad hominem, but I will have to rest on that right now.

I'm not sure what you consider a determinist framework.  If you try discussing the behavior of a machine which performs what human beings do mentally, you usually have to use language that describes things in terms of intelligence.  For example, when people describe the behavior of a chess computer, they talk about the computer's "thoughts" and "decision making process" and so on.  Dennett covers the different levels of causal systems in many of his books, but the main point is that intelligence, or quality of choice, should not be confused with how the choices are made.   If a system is designed to make intelligent choices, the system, whether biological or mechanistic (if this is a genuine dichotomy) is a volitional system.   

The point is that choice can be given a determinist basis.  In fact, I would argue that ethics, politics and epistemology can only be argued on a deterministic basis.  You can't analyze human behavior without assuming that it is predictable under certain circumstances.

Incidentally, I believe in a form of free will that is much more delimited than the typical Objectivist conception. I believe that an understanding of evolutionary psychology is important in avoiding clashes between our conscious choices and our in-built tendencies.
You are not too far from compatibilism then, and I think that your resistance to determinism is more because you do not appreciate how rich determinism is, and how consistent with different cultural perspectives it is.  If you were truly an indeterminist, you would refuse to accept that inbuilt tendencies ultimately influence behavior.  Your conception of choice is probably compatible with my materialist view that the volitional drive sometimes wins out, but there are other competing drives that need to be understood to know how to contain them while enhancing the benefits of the volitional drive.

If you are philosophically uncomfortable with materialism, or think that determinism is synonymous with fatalism, then by all means, reject determinism.  However, I think that everything you find important about libertarian free will can be given a rational determinist basis.  Morality doesn't rely on free will being indeterministic.

Some parts of some individualist notions of morality, including the idea that a person must be (as opposed to can be treated as) some irreducible causal agent whose acts cannot be analyzed in terms of causal influences, must however be given up.  There is no you apart from your brain and body.  You are your brain and body, and free will comes, to some degree, from being able to use your mental perspectives to dissociate yourself from them and reinterpret your conception of yourself (and others) for moral and cultural purposes.  Free will is a function of culture and ideas, not the ability to escape the deterministic realm.

This freedom doesn't affect many of the biological mechanisms that are a precondition for it, and it also doesn't allow for people who are not in cultures that support it to easily express it.

Yes, I know this is a poor substitute for free will for people who want the libertarian variety, but I think that anyone who studies neuroscience will see what happened to the libertarian variety years ago.

I wish I could discuss the issue in more depth, and I like, you have enjoyed the exchange.  It's just that I know that Dennett wrote a whole book to avoid misrepresentation and it is hard to summarize ideas that were carefully elaborated over about 300 pages in a short post.  I will briefly probe the libertarian view of choice and the fatalistic conception of determinism and explain why I think that they are overblown (following Dennett).

1) Consider a man who strengthens his will so that he will make a certain decision in the same way over and over when he is faced with a choice (maybe a monk who practises abstinence).  On the libertarian view, is his behavior meaningful?

Well, this man is committing himself to certain choices.  He is closing himself off from certain possibilities.  Does he care for his libertarian freedom?  No, and I would argue that most people do not care about whether a person could choose otherwise as much as they care about the nature of the act the person committed and what they reveal about the thought process of the person in question.

Therefore, you can hold people responsible for acts when they could not do otherwise because choice requires a consideration of alternate possibilities, not a claim that there are no innate tendencies to make certain kinds of choices, nor any claim for the action being actually able to do otherwise.

Moral responsibility can be grounded in many things. I am only trying to show that the claim that it is necessarily grounded in the actual ability to equally choose good and evil in the same circumstance is not true (some people deny that it has ever been grounded in such a claim).


2) Following the same tack, consider the claim that the person couldn't do otherwise, but made a choice.  In this case, you are saying that the person could anticipate different outcomes.  Now, human beings evolved to consider outcomes and make choices.  It is our nature to do so.  So we anticipate outcomes and we head for them or avoid them.  Now, whatever happens in the real world is the actual outcome.  This is true, regardless of whether determinism or indeterminism is the case.  The claim that the person could do otherwise is only interesting for considering alternate possibilities, and there is no reason why this is inconsistent with determinism.  In fact, determinism is what makes the consideration of alternate choices meaningful, because one can reuse certain causes and effects in the other anticipated outcomes.  If the person could have done B just as he could have done A, then looking over the choices to improve the quality of  future decisions makes no sense.

Therefore, the fatalism that follows from determinism is a meaningless fatalism that no one should take seriously.  It should only be retrospectively used for causal analysis- knowing that something must have happened is very different from WHY it happened.  It does not imply that a person's nature cannot be flexible - whether a person is inflexible or not is a question for empirical analysis.

It is because of the last point that I find any modern discussion of determinism and free will that doesn't deal with neuroscience to be evading the main issue.  The main issue is whether it makes sense to exculpate an individual from moral or criminal responsibility for his acts on the basis of biological or genetic evidence that is considered internal to his will.

This post might not be very clear (my eyes are closing), but given the good spirit in which we have discussed so far, I hope that I will be given a chance to clear up misconceptions and admit points of uncertainty.





Post 87

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 - 8:08amSanction this postReply
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Robert Campbell wrote:
As Associate Editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I can tell you that ARI-affiliated authors are welcome in our pages, as they have been since the journal was founded.  Several others besides Andrew Bernstein have been invited to submit articles.


My question is, will JARS publish a positive article about Rand or Objectivism without negative criticism?  Can you point to such articles published by JARS in the past?

Thanks,

Michelle






Post 88

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 - 8:08amSanction this postReply
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Duplicate deleted.
(Edited by Michelle Cohen on 1/04, 8:11am)




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Post 89

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 - 8:19pmSanction this postReply
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Michelle asks: 

My question is, will JARS publish a positive article about Rand or Objectivism without negative criticism?  Can you point to such articles published by JARS in the past?


 I don't think criticism is necessarily "negative."  There have been "negative" critiques of Rand in JARS, but clearly a disagreement with Rand on this or that point doesn't translate into "negative" criticism.  For example, Stephen Boydstun's recent article on "Universals and Measurement" is a constructive and respectful engagement with an aspect of Rand's epistemology.  Another example:  your own article, Michelle, "Poetry and History:  The Two Levels of Ninety-Three," which was published in the Fall 2001 issue, and which includes some criticism of Rand. But I would surely not consider it a "negative" article.

As for other articles that might be viewed as "positive" with regard to Rand, here's just a sampling from the first six years of JARS:

Fall 1999:  Outsides and Insides: Reimagining American Capitalism - Stephen Cox; Ayn Rand and the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology - Robert Campbell

Spring 2000:  The Role of Tragedy in Ayn Rand's Fiction - Kirsti Minsaas; The Art of Fiction - Stephen Cox

Fall 2000:  Critical Neglect of Ayn Rand's Theory of Art - Michelle Kamhi/Lou Torres; Flourishing Objectivism - Lester Hunt; A Primer on Ayn Rand - Aeon Skoble; What Were the Counting Crows? - Richard Shedenhelm

Spring 2001:  The first and only symposium devoted completely to Rand's aesthetics, which includes many positive discussions by aestheticians, philosophers, and artists---from David Kelley to John Hospers to Randy Dipert to Michael Newberry.

Fall 2001:  On Human Capability - Ron Beadle and Martyn Dyer-Smith; Revival of Objectivity in Scientific Method - Doug Fraedrich; Reclaiming Rand - Karen Michalson; Rethinking Rand and Kant - R. Kevin Hill

Spring 2002:  Having Your Say - Stephen Cox

Fall 2002:  Reason, Emotion, and the Importance of Philosophy - Wayne A. Davis; Conceptualism in Rand and Abelard - Peter Saint Andre

Spring 2003:  Object-Oriented Programming and Objectivist Epistemology - Adam Reed; What Rand's Aesthetics Is, and Why It Matters - Michelle Kamhi

Fall 2003:  Rand, Rock, and Radicalism - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Spring 2004:  The Magnificent Progress Achieved by Capitalism - Henrik Van Den Berg; Art as Microcosm - Roger Bissell; Ayn Rand in England - Nicholas Dykes.

Fall 2004:  A symposium celebration of Rand's literary and cultural impact with very positive articles by Chris Sciabarra (The Illustrated Rand), Erika Holzer (Passing the Torch); Stephen Cox (Completing Rand's Literary Theory); Jeff Riggenbach (Ayn Rand's Influence on American Popular Fiction); and many others.

And our forthcoming Spring 2005 is an equally celebratory symposium of "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians"---the first time that Austrian economists have been assembled in a single volume devoted to the positive values that Rand offers to Austrians, and to the possibilities for productive engagement.

I must confess, however, that I believe it is the job of JARS to publish constructive engagement with its subject matter.  Sometimes it is negative, sometimes it is positive.  But it should always be thought-provoking.  We've had enough "hagiography" through the years; Rand's approach is strong enough to withstand the most serious of criticisms.

(Edited by sciabarra on 1/04, 8:37pm)




Post 90

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 - 10:47pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the list, Chris. I agree that my article was not negative.




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Post 91

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - 4:14amSanction this postReply
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You're welcome!
 
I should point out, of course, that JARS has had its share of "negative" criticisms of Rand.  Among these essays, there have been a few that have committed a number of ad hominem fallacies.  The vast majority of these, however, show up in the "discussion" section of the journal, where we often are a bit more "liberal" since the replies are almost always met with rejoinders written by the original essayist to whom the replies are addressed.  So, for example, left-winger James Arnt Aune, in his reply to Leland Yeager, makes the following comment (a comment noted by James Valliant in his forthcoming book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics): 
 
I am curious what Rand scholars think about my claims that Rand enthusiasts apear mired at an adolescent stage of psychological development, that her style is peculiarly authoritarian, that she has nothing to say to those of us who have children or who are handicapped in some way, and that the particulars of her private life call into question the validity of her moral philosophy.

 
Aune doesn't restrict his criticisms to Rand; he takes swipes even at Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, and other libertarians.  But, like it or not, the above quote does give concrete expression to a fairly typical response to Rand's work among scholars and critics.  I prefer that the journal air these grievances on occasion, met with appropriate rejoinders; sometimes, acknowledging a criticism---however fallacious---is the best way of transcending it.
 
It is no coincidence, however, that this same Professor Aune also states in his reply to Yeager:
 
One of the dismaying current features of life in academe is the intense polarization of faculty along political and methodological lines. And, I confess, members of the academic Left generally do a dreadful job of including conservative or libertarian or classical liberal points of view in their journals.  I am thus grateful to Chris Matthew Sciabarra for graciously allowing me to respond to Leland B. Yeager's (2001) review of my book, Selling the Free Market: The Rhetoric of Economic Correctness . . .

 
My point here is that JARS can lead by example.  We don't have to be afraid of "rocking the boat"; we don't have to be afraid of criticism aimed at Rand or her philosophy.  This kind of give-and-take has been going on in scholarly discourse for centuries.  And as I once stated on another occasion: 

 

For those who fear "rocking the boat," let me simply quote Ayn Rand, from her essay, "The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus." Rand writes: "It is obvious that a boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be rocked hard, if it is to regain its course—but this realization presupposes a grasp of facts, of reality, of principles and a long-range view, all of which are precisely the things that the 'non-rockers' are frantically struggling to evade." I believe this statement applies as much to Objectivism as to any other -ism or any other issue in the sea of discussion.

 

And so, we take pride at the journal for publishing substantive and interpretive critiques of Rand:  e.g., Eric Mack's essay, "Problematic Arguments in Randian Ethics," George Walsh's essay, "Ayn Rand and the Metaphysics of Kant," and so forth.  We take pride in publishing responses to these critqiues.  We take pride in publishing rigorous interaction on diverse subjects, such as free will, anarchism v. minarchism, aesthetics, dialectical method, culture, and so forth.  We take pride in publishing pedagogical pieces, surveys of Rand references in the scholarly literature, reviews of books of interest to Rand scholars, and so forth.  And it is one of the few journals in existence where one can find names as diverse as George Reisman (forthcoming, Spring 2005), Erika Holzer, David Kelley, Tibor Machan, Douglas Rasmussen, Douglas Den Uyl, William Thomas, Stephen Hicks, Steven Horwitz---and Slavoj Zizek, Bill Martin, James Arnt Aune, and Gene Bell-Villada (all writers on the left).

 

The era of insulation is over.  And it is because of many of the people I've mentioned (Machan, Rasmussen, Den Uyl, etc.) that such insulation is a thing of the past.  Such people have been trailblazers in their long-time engagement with critics.  That JARS makes such engagement a centerpiece of its format is, I think, one of its greatest strengths.

(Edited by sciabarra on 1/05, 2:15pm)




Post 92

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - 6:38amSanction this postReply
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Man, you are such a self-congratulating self-promoting self-justifying egotist. But we like that in you! Keep up the good work, Chris.

I agree; criticism is important. We even need to deal with some of the lame criticism of Objectivism since it is so common. It’s so important to open the debate, face criticism, and respond with consideration just to be in the game. As I’ve said before, getting respect is often more important that getting agreement – especially in the initial stages of scholarship. Now you can congratulate yourself again, you've earned it. ;)




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Post 93

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - 11:08amSanction this postReply
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Jason writes: 

Man, you are such a self-congratulating self-promoting self-justifying egotist. But we like that in you! Keep up the good work, Chris.
I agree; criticism is important. We even need to deal with some of the lame criticism of Objectivism since it is so common. It’s so important to open the debate, face criticism, and respond with consideration just to be in the game. As I’ve said before, getting respect is often more important that getting agreement – especially in the initial stages of scholarship. Now you can congratulate yourself again, you've earned it. ;)
hehehe...

Truth is:  I've spent so many years answering critics who doubt (or, worse, assault) the value of my work, and the value of the work I actively promote in various anthologies and journals and magazines---and I figure it this way:  If I believe in my work (and I do)... who better to promote it?  Lou Torres once called me the "P.T. Barnum of Objectivism."  :)   But what better title than that---when we're all involved in the Greatest Show on Earth!
 




Post 94

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - 8:00amSanction this postReply
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So the rule of JARS is: you can commit ad hominem attacks on Rand or our other writers as long as you brown nose the editor.

What percentage of journals allow ad hominem fallacies to be printed as scholarship?

If you ran a journal on the Hannah Arendt's work, would you invite David Irving to attack "jewish intellectuals?"




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Post 95

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - 2:07pmSanction this postReply
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Bob writes: 

So the rule of JARS is: you can commit ad hominem attacks on Rand or our other writers as long as you brown nose the editor.  What percentage of journals allow ad hominem fallacies to be printed as scholarship?  If you ran a journal on the Hannah Arendt's work, would you invite David Irving to attack "jewish intellectuals?"


You miss the point, Bob.  The point is that ad hominem attacks on Rand are not allowed as a matter of policy in JARS, but that these kinds of attacks must be dealt with by Rand scholars because they are so widespread in the secondary literature on Rand.  If you look at Aune's comments, for example, what he asks is:  How will Rand scholars respond to the various [ad hominem] claims he has made?  And indeed, Leland Yeager took him to task for it, and hit a grand slam in his critique.

And other Rand scholars have responded in the pages of JARS by telling Aune and others like him that ad hominem has no place in intellectual discourse, that the focus should be on Rand's ideas, not on Rand the person.

My point is that this fallacy of ad hominem needs to be confronted.  It cannot be confronted if we act as if it doesn't exist.  In the scholarly discussions in JARS (emphasis on discussions, which are only a small fraction of each issue), we rely on the wisdom of our discussants to point out the fallacies in each other's arguments.  And overall, we rely on the wisdom of the peer readers and editors of the journal to point out to all discussants when they have erred in factual or scholarly matters.

For formal articles, that review process is far more rigorous.  It is double-blind peer review that usually requires the contributor to make two or three revisions before the paper is published. And many papers are rejected throughout the process of review.

We have made a concerted effort (and it shows in the evolution of the journal) to confront and eliminate the legitimacy of the ad hominem attack on Rand.  This does not mean we can (or should) wipe out historical discussions with regard to the Objectivist "movement" or the various problems it engendered.  But it does mean that the focus here is on "Ayn Rand Studies." 

And if you trace the evolution of our discussion in the pages of JARS, you will see precisely what I'm talking about.  Do we have a perfect track record?  Of course not.  But Ayn Rand studies are still in their infancy, and we're doing better and better with each passing year.

As for ad hominem in other journals:  Take a look at other scholarly journals in the evolution of various schools of thought, and you'll see the fallacy of ad hominem on display in countless ways.  Those who have attacked Marx, or Nietzsche, or Wittgenstein, or Freud, or any number of other thinkers for the peculiarities of their personal lives---rather than the peculiarities of their ideas.  Unfortunately, ad hominem has a grand history in intellectual affairs.  We do our best when we confront such fallacies head-on.

(Edited by sciabarra on 1/05, 2:18pm)




Post 96

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 - 2:40pmSanction this postReply
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While I agree with some of Mrs. Cohen's criticisms, and find that there seems to be an unusually high amount of criticism of Ayn Rand in JARS, I do not agree that there exists some unwritten ‘litmus’ test requiring disagreement or criticism with Rand. I have been a subscriber to JARS for quite some time, since the fall of 1999 edition. Like any publication of this type you are bound to get a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of the articles. To this day some of the articles stick out in my mind and I have often gone back and referred to them, articles such as; Ayn Rand: A Feminist Despite Herself by Lisa Dolling, The Rand Transcript by Chris Sciabarra, Music and Perceptual Cognition by Roger Bissell, and Reasoning About Art by David Kelley. That said, whenever I judge the value (or lack of) a publication I use the 'scales' system. In other words, in the aggregate does the value far outweigh the lack of value? For me the 'value' is determined by the degree to which the articles in JARS made me reflect in a manner that resulted in the furtherance of my intellectual development as an Objectivist. Using this standard, for me personally, the answer to this question has been a resounding YES.

 

George


(Edited by George W. Cordero on 1/05, 2:43pm)




Post 97

Thursday, January 6, 2005 - 4:29amSanction this postReply
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George:
I do not agree that there exists some unwritten ‘litmus’ test requiring disagreement or criticism with Rand.
Chris: 
We've had enough "hagiography" through the years;
In my opinion, papers written by ARI-associated scholars are likely to be considered "hagiography."




Post 98

Thursday, January 6, 2005 - 4:35amSanction this postReply
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Robert Campbell:
Unfortunately, I agree with you that ARI-affiliated scholars will continue to risk excommunication for publishing in JARS.
I have this question: Does anybody know for a fact that an ARI-associated scholar wants to publish at JARS and the only reason he/she does not do it is fear of excommunication? (You don't have to name him/her.)




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Post 99

Thursday, January 6, 2005 - 7:37amSanction this postReply
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On the subject ARI-affiliated scholars, let me say a few things:

1.  JARS has extended the invitation to various ARI-affiliated scholars to contribute to our periodical.  Aside from Andrew Bernstein, who contributed a brief paragraph in reply to Kirsti Minsaas's review of his Cliffsnotes, only to retract that contribution in a public apology posted to the humanities.philosophy.objectivism usenet group, no ARI-affiliated scholars (thus far) have contributed to the journal.   

In the meanwhile, we continue to publish reviews of books written by scholars who are affiliated with ARI, including positive reviews such as Aeon Skoble's discussion of Allan Gotthelf's On Ayn Rand, Lester Hunt's discussion of Tara Smith's Viable Values, and Lisa McNary's discussion of the business literature, including works by Edwin Locke and others.  We've also published more critical takes by Dean Brooks (a discussion of the Sures memoir) and Eric Mack (a discussion of Craig Biddle's Loving Life), for example.

2.  I am impressed with recent scholarly publications written by ARI-affiliated scholars, including, but not limited to, the work of Tara Smith, for example, and a recent anthology entitled Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living, and Robert Mayhew's new book, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood.  JARS will feature reviews of these two books in forthcoming issues.  I am also looking forward to Shoshana Milgram's forthcoming biography of Rand.  Clearly, there is very worthwhile scholarship being done by writers affiliated with ARI, and we do a disservice to these individuals by painting in broad strokes.

3.  All of this said, I should note that I have been critical of, and will continue to voice my dissatisfaction with, a peculiar "partisanship" that seems to be at work in both the publication and citation practices of a few Rand scholars.  I do not think it is appropriate, however, to equate the writings of all ARI-affiliated scholars with "hagiography."  That's simply unfair.  I think that there has been an element of the "worshipful" in some works, however.  These works show few signs of critical engagement with their subject matter, and an unwillingness to even cite from the sources that one is criticizing either implicitly or explicitly.  Since I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with that practice elsewhere, I do not wish to revisit it here.  We've beaten this subject to a bloody pulp. 

I can say, however, that there is an open invitation to all scholars, regardless of their affiliation, to contribute to JARS.  And, to answer Michelle:  Yes, several ARI-associated writers have shown interest in writing for JARS, but there has been a certain reluctance expressed for various reasons (there are few people who are reluctant for a single reason).  Let me just say:  I suspect this will change in the future.  In fact, in time, I am fairly confident that it will change.  Just don't ask me to give you names or dates.  :) 

The simple fact is, however, that the Rand scholarly universe is a small one, but Rand scholarship is a growing industry.  Over time, it will be impossible to hermetically seal various scholars from one another.  The key here is patience and persistence.




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