Note from Diana Hsieh, 22 Feb 2012: If you’ve come to this page via “Checking Premises” or something similar, please note that I’ve written a length commentary on the criticisms circulating about me, including explaining my views of various controversial matters, in this post: On Some Recent Controversies. I’d recommend reading that, then judging me based on my full range of work, not just a few out-of-context snippets. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me privately at diana@dianahsieh.com.

***

Paul wrote this post, and Diana edited it with him. We meant to publish it under Paul’s account, but we messed that up by mistake.

Last week, Dr. Leonard Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Institute issued statements regarding John McCaskey’s resignation from the boards of the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation:

Diana and I have been giving serious thought to these statements. In addition, we had an in-person meeting with Yaron Brook in Denver on November 11th when he came to town on business, followed by a phone call on November 19th. We greatly appreciate the fact that he was willing to talk with us and help us better understand these issues. We had frank and constructive conversations, and at his request we are keeping the details private (with one exception below where he has granted his permission to discuss it publicly).

As a result of this new information, we’ve had to do a lot of hard thinking, and we’ve reconsidered some of our earlier views and actions. Our purpose here is to discuss our current evaluation of the events, including acknowledging some of our errors. In this post, we will discuss what we regard as the three most important issues, namely:

  1. ARI’s statement
  2. Peikoff’s statement
  3. Our “Fact Finding” Post

We will offer our judgments on some topics but not others. Now that ARI has clarified its view of recent events and its policies, each person can now fairly determine his future relationship with ARI, based on his concerns and interests. We don’t regard our thinking and decisions on some matters as appropriate fodder for further public discussion, although friends may inquire with us privately.

1) ARI’s statement

First, given ARI’s position that The Logical Leap is a “major ARI project” on which they must take “one consistent position”, then it makes sense that McCaskey’s criticisms of the book constituted a conflict of interest incompatible with his serving on the ARI Board. We’re glad that ARI has made this known in its recent statement. In earlier internet discussions, some people made similar arguments, and in retrospect, one of our errors was to not give this view sufficient credence.

As an explanation of our earlier views, I (Paul) have served on the Board of Directors of a corporation — namely, my own medical practice. My medical group is not a small office practice but rather a major business operation with over 300 employees doing over $40 million of business a year. Its board members routinely make multimillion dollar decisions, and they take their fiduciary and conflict of interest policies very seriously. As part of that conflict of interest policy, board members of my practice cannot undermine or criticize major board decisions once made — such as opening a new branch office or signing a new hospital contract.

In other words, the group has a “one consistent position” policy on such major issues, much like ARI. Board members are expected to freely debate such issues as part of the process of arriving at a decision. But once the board has made its decision, individual board members are expected to support it publicly, or at least keep their disagreements private. (The board also has a mechanism for revisiting prior decisions when new evidence warrants.)

Furthermore, the board also supports for-profit medical conferences, lectures, and books, with the revenue flowing back to the medical corporation. So in this respect, there is a loose similarity to ARI. For such work, my medical group has established a policy that board members are allowed to dissent with medical and scientific conclusions expressed in books and lectures sponsored by the group, without that dissent being considered a conflict of interest. Hence, if a board-supported book written by one of the group’s physicians takes a particular position on, say, the proper use of MRI to diagnose certain cancers, any board member would be free to respectfully dissent in his own speaking or writing on that subject. In other words, my group exempts that sort of professional disagreement on medical issues from its “one consistent position” policy.

We assumed — wrongly, in retrospect — that ARI had a similar policy towards McCaskey’s disagreements with The Logical Leap, given that its theory of induction is new work, not part of Objectivism. We weren’t aware of our error until ARI released its recent statement.

ARI’s statement does not say when the Board decided to apply this policy to The Logical Leap. Yet we recognize that once that policy was in effect, McCaskey could not be on ARI’s Board. We’re pleased that McCaskey is now free to state his views of The Logical Leap, whether we agree with them or not in the end.

The range of views that ARI should support under its “one consistent position” policy is a separate question. We regard this policy as wholly proper for Objectivist principles and their public policy applications. Diana has serious concerns about applying it to new philosophic or other scholarly work, however good, including The Logical Leap.

Of course, ARI’s decision to apply their “one consistent position” policy to The Logical Leap is entirely their prerogative. That’s their decision to make, which donors can support or not.

2) Peikoff’s statement

We also appreciated Dr. Peikoff’s statement stating his reasons for demanding that the ARI Board remove McCaskey. In particular, as donors we appreciated his clarifying the nature of his relationship to the ARI Board. He has stated that he has and will exercise veto power over ARI’s Board, according to his judgment. In effect, Peikoff assumes the role of final Quality Control Officer over ARI’s Board, with ARI’s assent.

Prospective donors can have a range of legitimate responses to this new information. If a donor has confidence in Peikoff’s judgment on such issues, he may choose to maintain or increase his financial support. On the other hand, if a donor has concerns about Peikoff’s judgment on such issues, he may wish to earmark or reduce his donations so they won’t be affected by Peikoff’s judgment. Each donor will have to make this determination for himself. As donors, we are now glad to have this greater clarity which will allow us to better decide whether and how we wish to financially support ARI.

Peikoff also clearly expressed his personal negative moral judgment of McCaskey. Based on our own knowledge of McCaskey, we completely reject Peikoff’s characterization of him as “an obnoxious braggart” and “a pretentious ignoramus.” We regard that as a serious misjudgment of McCaskey. In the seven years we’ve known him, McCaskey has always acted as a gentleman and a scholar. Similarly, we still regard Peikoff’s earlier characterizations of McCaskey’s actions and views as unfathomable. Peikoff is not required to explain his personal judgments, nor are we asking him to. We merely wish to register our disagreement. We expect to continue to enjoy McCaskey’s intellectual work as well as our friendship with him.

Such disagreements over personal judgments are not unusual in intellectual movements. Peikoff himself notes that he is at “personal enmity” with some long-standing ARI Board members to the point that he is no longer on speaking terms with them — and this includes individuals that many other Objectivists deeply respect. Such disagreements need not be a problem provided that the relevant parties behave objectively towards one another.

3) Our “Fact Finding” Post

Some people have publicly criticized us for making our inquiries about this issue and publicizing our findings in our NoodleFood post, “The Resignation of John McCaskey: The Facts.”

Our actions and motives were also criticized by ARI during their call to the OAC students in ways we considered inaccurate and unfair; we were greatly disturbed and angered when we learned of them. Yaron Brook also bluntly criticized our actions during our in-person meeting with him on November 11, and we had a frank discussion about this issue.

Yaron Brook has granted us his permission to publicly discuss his criticisms of our actions, so that we could publicly respond — and we greatly appreciate that.

In ARI’s view, the fundamental problem wasn’t that our post was inaccurate or biased. Rather, the problem was our very attempt to inquire about what they regarded as a fundamentally private matter, including Peikoff’s initial e-mail.

Yaron Brook explained to us that the core issues were covered by ARI Board confidentiality provisions, and that anything we discovered could only be “nibbling at the edges” of a core that we could not know about. Hence, our inquiries as such were inappropriate and would only fuel more unwelcome public debate at a time when the right thing would have been to encourage others to remain patient and calm. He told us that the proper alternative would have been to express our concerns to him privately (which Diana did shortly after McCaskey resigned), accept the fact that he could only tell us some information, and then deal with the inherent uncertainty as best we could — which might in essence include telling him, “We don’t like what’s going on, and as donors we’re keeping our eye on you.” (Yaron Brook’s words, not ours.)

We understand his position, and in retrospect we can see why ARI takes that position. Unfortunately, ARI contributed to this difficulty by allowing the release of Dr. Peikoff’s e-mail, then refraining from substantive comment for two months. They’ve subsequently apologized for that, and we appreciate it.

As for us, we had important values at stake as moral and financial supporters of ARI — as we explained in our post. We didn’t know what Peikoff’s letter implied for ARI’s future, particularly whether ARI would turn away from its policy of “fostering a rational, vigorous discussion of Objectivist ideas” — a policy we greatly valued and supported. We couldn’t ignore Peikoff’s letter and continue to support ARI, as if nothing had happened. Yet we didn’t want to withdraw our support from ARI absent compelling reasons.

Basically, we were stuck in limbo due to our lack of information about what had happened and what ARI’s future policies would be. We didn’t expect that more information would be forthcoming from ARI or Peikoff, after our initial inquiries. Hence, we attempted to gather whatever relevant information we could, so we could make the best possible decisions. In essence, we wanted to learn precisely the kind of information that Peikoff and ARI have now provided.

As to why we published our factual post, we knew that many of our friends felt similarly confused and conflicted about the implications of Peikoff’s letter for ARI and the Objectivist movement as a whole. Many were struggling to understand the basic facts, such as what the “forum” was that Peikoff referred to in his e-mail. We were troubled that so many online arguments were premised on false factual claims — for instance, that McCaskey published his Amazon review before resigning from ARI’s Board.

Also, Diana planned to write a post on Robert Tracinski’s “Anthemgate” essay, which we regarded at the time as an unfair and dishonest attack on ARI. To do that, readers first needed to be clear about the publicly-available facts about McCaskey’s resignation.

For these and other reasons, we regarded our factual post as helpful to people sincerely concerned about these events. And at the time, we received many supportive e-mails from people on all sides thanking us for our factual post.

Notably, during our “fact finding” inquiries, we never asked anyone to breach any confidentiality agreements. We made sure to first secure McCaskey’s permission for the release his e-mails (or to report on his spoken remarks) about The Logical Leap before inquiring with those who received those e-mails (or heard those remarks). We didn’t pester strangers, but only contacted people we already knew. We never asked any ARI Board members for confidential information. Rather, we wrote Yaron and one other Board member we knew to express our concerns as donors. Our motive was not to dig into private matters, but to learn what we could about matters already made public by Peikoff, ARI, and McCaskey in order to guide our own choices. Moreover, we were careful to identify the limits of our knowledge as best we could.

Furthermore, recall that the online debates at the time were highly charged, fast-paced, and divisive. We hoped to help steer them in a more constructive direction by encouraging people to focus on facts rather than engaging in speculation, to remain calm rather than acting in anger, and to keep the full context in any moral judgments. In addition to our public posts and comments, we made numerous private efforts to discourage friends from making baseless attacks or overblown criticisms of ARI, Peikoff, and McCaskey. We think we helped reduce some of the most egregious speculations and wild emotionalism by our public and private comments.

Ultimately, the online discussions snowballed wildly out-of-control, particularly in the wake of the OAC call. To some extent we were caught up in that, and we regret that. However, once the statements by Peikoff and ARI were published, we realized that people (including us) needed time to think rather than to continue the heated arguments, and so we closed the relevant NoodleFood comment threads.

In retrospect, we recognize that we did not (and could not) have understood some critical issues at the core of the controversy until Peikoff and ARI released their respective statements. Most illuminating were their statements about their respective policies for dealing with these kinds of conflicts.

Since meeting with Yaron, we’ve re-examined our choice to make our inquiries and write that factual post. After some hard thinking, we believe that we acted reasonably on the whole, given what we knew at the time. Of course, knowing what we know now, we would have acted differently. But we cannot criticize ourselves on that basis: actions should be judged in their actual context, not in retrospect.

4) Concluding Thoughts

In this post, we’ve tried to give a fair evaluation of the major events and to explain why we acted as we did. On the whole, we attempted to steer the debate in a constructive direction. Yet sometimes we acted hastily, from anger, or based on supposition. That was wrong of us, and for that we apologize.

We’re certainly willing to take any justly-deserved lumps for our mistakes and to learn from them. We’re willing to accept criticism, but we think that any such criticism should be based on our actual actions, statements, and motives — as opposed to inaccurate portrayals thereof. So if you believe that we owe you an explanation or apology for something we’ve done — or if you want the facts about what we’ve done and why — please e-mail us.

Now that ARI has explained recent events and its future policies, we do not regard further debate on those matters as fruitful. Donors, students, and intellectuals can and should decide for themselves the nature and scope of their future support for and involvement with ARI based on their individual context of knowledge and values.

Personally, we’re glad for the clarity we’ve gained from the recent statements from Peikoff and ARI, as well as from our discussions with Yaron Brook. We’re now able to evaluate these matters for ourselves and act accordingly.

We do not plan to offer any further public comments on our views. Instead, we plan to return to our own intellectual and activist projects. During this process, we never wanted ARI to implode over this matter — unlike Robert Tracinski or the supporters of David Kelley. Even when angry and distressed, we still hoped that ARI would weather the storm and thrive. We still want that now, even though our own future relationship with ARI is not fully settled.

For now, we merely want to repeat something I (Paul) wrote on November 2, 2010: “As the current election shows, America needs Ayn Rand’s ideas more than ever, and we need the ARI to help disseminate those ideas.” We still believe that. With ARI’s latest statement, we hope that it will be able to return to devoting its full energy to spreading Objectivist ideas in the culture. We hope they succeed in this vitally important task.

Note: Because we do not wish to fuel any unnecessary further online controversy, we are disabling the comments for this post. Anyone with comments or questions can e-mail us privately.

A Note on Recent NoodleFood Comments

 Posted by on 12 November 2010 at 9:15 am  ARI, McCaskey Resignation
Nov 122010
 

I’ve been completely overwhelmed with the volume of comments on the posts on Dr. Peikoff’s and ARI’s statement over the past two days. I’ve deleted plenty of offensive and rude comments, but I’m sure that I’ve missed others. I was from home most of the day yesterday, and utterly exhausted when I got home. But to be honest, I’m sure that I’ve let some slide that I should not have due to my own frustrations. That’s wrong, and I regret that.

So… if ever you see a comment that you regard as out-of-bounds, please hit the “flag” link at the bottom of the message. Then I’ll review it as soon as I can. Please understand that I’m not at my computer 24/7, so that process might take a few hours.

To be clear, my general policy is that anyone is welcome to express their disagreement with or disapproval of Dr. Peikoff, Dr. McCaskey, Dr. Brook, the Drs. Hsieh, ARI, Craig Biddle, or The Man in the Moon. They’re welcome to agree and praise too. Those judgments should be based on fact, not fiction. They should be explained, not merely asserted. They should be sober and respectful, not insulting.

At this point, however, I’d like to offer a stronger suggestion than basic civility and fairness. You should chill out for a few days, so as to give these matters some serious thought. That’s what Paul and I are doing. If I can figure out how to shut down these comments for the next few days, I’ll do that. (If I can’t do that by technical means, I might do it by fiat.) Frankly, I need the break, as I feel like I’ve got 50 people talking to me at once.

Emotions are running high, and it’s too easy to get caught up in them. That’s not helpful to anyone. So I recommend that you take a few days — alone with your own thoughts, and perhaps in serious conversation with someone you respect and trust — to process what has been said in these two statements. In thinking about the mistakes that others made, you might also think about whether you might have acted better too, given what you knew at the time. Again, that’s something that Paul and I are doing.

With these two statements, we have a new level of clarity about what has happened and what ARI’s policies are. Let’s not squander that opportunity to seriously think about these matters in a fresh light.

Update: For now, I’ve closed the comments on all of these posts, including this one. Now… how about that mosque in New York City? ;-)

Nov 112010
 

The Ayn Rand Institute has posted its statement on John McCaskey’s resignation. Again, Paul and I expect to comment on these matters next week.

Leonard Peikoff Explains

 Posted by on 10 November 2010 at 1:56 pm  ARI, Leonard Peikoff, McCaskey Resignation
Nov 102010
 

Leonard Peikoff has posted a statement explaining why he demanded John McCaskey’s resignation from ARI’s Board. People interested in this matter should read it. I should mention, for the sake of clarity, that Craig Biddle is the magazine founder and I’m the PhD with a podcast.

Paul and I will comment on this statement and some other matters later, likely early next week. Until then, and thereafter, I can only ask that my Objectivist friends and supporters, however upset, strive to be calm. We’re all in danger of saying things in the heat of anger that we’ll later regret, and I’d recommend against that. My hope has always been that the Objectivist movement not self-destruct over this issue, and I still think that’s possible.

My super-strict comment policy will remain in force on this post.

Biddle Answers Questions

 Posted by on 8 November 2010 at 2:00 pm  ARI, McCaskey Resignation, Objectivist Movement
Nov 082010
 

Craig Biddle has posted a short FAQ entitled, “Answers to Questions about ‘Justice for John P. McCaskey’“. This is his reply to various questions he has received on his essay, “Justice for John P. McCaskey“.

 

Note from Diana Hsieh, 22 Feb 2012

If you’ve come to this page via “Checking Premises” or something similar, please note that I’ve written a length commentary on the criticisms circulating about me, including explaining my views of various controversial matters, in this post: On Some Recent Controversies. I’d recommend reading that, then judging me based on my full range of work, not just a few out-of-context snippets. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me privately at diana@dianahsieh.com.

***

In the debate about John McCaskey’s resignation from the Boards of ARI and Anthem, one point of contention is whether McCaskey acted properly in publicly posting Leonard Peikoff’s letter. No one denies that he had permission to do so, from both Peikoff and ARI. The question is whether he had good reason to make the letter public, given the ensuing controversy.

Although I can’t speak for McCaskey, I believe that a person is entitled to defend himself against claims and demands he regards as unjust by sharing the relevant facts with interested parties.

In this case, McCaskey had a legitimate interest in ensuring that he was judged fairly by friends, colleagues, and donors in light of his resignations from the ARI and Anthem Boards. Given the serious accusations made by Peikoff, that required McCaskey to reveal the precise claims and demands made by Peikoff, in Peikoff’s own words.

Furthermore, McCaskey’s resignations from the ARI and Anthem boards would be public knowledge and, given McCaskey’s prominence in both organizations, would be natural topics of public discussion by Objectivists. Hence, as I shall explain below, it was appropriate for McCaskey to publicly post Peikoff’s letter as part of his explanation for his resignations.

At the time McCaskey was considering resigning, for him to request some public statement from Peikoff as to what exactly Peikoff believed McCaskey to have done was reasonable. As we’ve learned, Peikoff subsequently chose to make his previously private letter to Arline Mann as his statement for public consumption — as opposed to editing it or issuing a different statement. That decision was entirely Peikoff’s prerogative. And once Peikoff made that choice, McCaskey was then entitled to use that letter as his basis for explaining his resignation.

In various e-mail and internet discussions, some have suggested that McCaskey could have resigned from the ARI and Anthem Boards without releasing Peikoff’s letter. They further claim that McCaskey should have done so, given how damaging the public release of that letter has been to ARI, Anthem, and Peikoff himself.

If McCaskey resigned without releasing the letter, supporters of Anthem and ARI might naturally wish to know why he resigned. His choices would then include:

1) Giving a false excuse (e.g., “family demands” or “other commitments”).

2) Refusing to offer any reasons (even to friends/donors) and instead remaining silent on the issue.

3) Explaining his reasons, but paraphrasing (without quoting) the reasons cited by Peikoff.

4) Explaining his reasons but only circulating Peikoff’s e-mail via private conversation and/or correspondence.

However,

1) Would have been dishonest.

2) Would require McCaskey to remain silent in the face of suspicions of wrong-doing by his friends, colleagues, and donors that he could only regard as undeserved. A silent resignation would naturally lead people to wonder whether McCaskey had done something wrong to force his resignation — or if he had quit on a lark. But on this approach, he would be unable to defend himself by explaining what had really happened. Expecting him to silently fall on his sword in such a fashion would be asking him to commit self-sacrifice.

A silent resignation would have also been a grave disservice to ARI and Anthem donors who have donated substantial sums based (in part) on confidence in McCaskey’s work and judgment. Many donors, including Diana and me, would want to know the facts, so that we could act on those facts, rather than from ignorance or supposition.

3) Would have strained people’s credulity given the surprising accusations made by Peikoff against McCaskey. Any summary or paraphrasing that McCaskey offered would have seemed incredible, and many people would have doubted McCaskey’s truthfulness. Again, this approach would subject him to unjust moral judgments from friends, colleagues, and donors.

Instead, McCaskey could have been more vague: he could have merely cited some intellectual disagreement between himself and Dr. Peikoff. However, that might have raised doubts about his commitment to Objectivist principles, unfairly so, in his view. Moreover, McCaskey’s resignation was due to Peikoff’s ultimatum, not merely an intellectual disagreement. That ultimatum is essential to any explanation for the resignation, particularly from Anthem, an organization that McCaskey founded. An explanation without mention of the ultimatum would have been less than honest, and it would have only raised more questions.

4) Would have been untenable in the long run. Given the number of people reasonably wanting to know why McCaskey resigned and given the nature of Peikoff’s letter, that letter would have been publicly posted somewhere in short order — but in a far less-controlled fashion.

Such a posting would have created a controversy similar to what we’re seeing now, but with much wilder and more baseless speculations. The current firestorm has been bad enough. But that controversy has been made more manageable by the fact that that McCaskey cited Peikoff’s letter in the up-front, sober fashion that he did, rather than having the letter be first publicly posted on any of the various disreputable anti-ARI websites.

Given these other four alternatives, I think McCaskey acted reasonably in requesting that any accusations against him be made available to the public in a form authorized by Leonard Peikoff himself. That way, others could judge for themselves whether Peikoff’s claims and demands against McCaskey were appropriate.

Of course, people can (and do) differ in their judgments as to whether Peikoff’s claims and demands against McCaskey were accurate and just. But at least the various discussions are made easier by the fact we know in Peikoff’s words, what Peikoff believes McCaskey to have done wrong. Think of how much more contentious any discussion would be without that information.

In summary, McCaskey was morally entitled to defend himself by releasing Peikoff’s charges against him in Peikoff’s own words. If the specific tone and contents of Peikoff’s letter has caused any damage to ARI, Anthem, and the Objectivist movement, then the primary responsibility lies not with McCaskey but with the letter’s author — who chose to authorize its release in that particular form and who has chosen to let that letter be his only public statement on this issue.

Finally, from ARI’s standpoint, the release of Peikoff’s letter has created an unwelcome controversy. They’ve had to divert resources they could have allocated for other uses such as their public outreach, cultural, and educational programs. Personally, I believe that the long-term negative impact on their effectiveness can be minimal, provided that they navigate through the current short-term problems in a proper fashion. As the current election shows, America needs Ayn Rand’s ideas more than ever, and we need the ARI to help disseminate those ideas.

Nonetheless, the conflict between Objectivists on this issue reveals a real divide. That suggests to me that a controversy of this sort was likely to erupt sooner or later anyways. McCaskey’s resignation may have been the trigger in this particular case, but I strongly suspect that some other issue would have eventually arisen that would have created a similar level of controversy.

Hence, we may as well work now to learn what we can from this conflict — and in particular, to identify principles to help us better manage the inevitable disagreements (whether major or minor) between Objectivists. We are paying an unpleasant price right now for the controversy over Peikoff’s letter. But if we don’t pay it now, we will almost certainly have to pay a higher price in the future when the next big conflict arises, particularly as Objectivism becomes more prominent in the culture over time.

As difficult as this conflict has been, I believe that McCaskey did the right thing in releasing Peikoff’s letter. And in the end, I think the Objectivist movement can emerge from this controversy stronger than ever.

Diana helped Paul edit this post, and she agrees with it fully.

 

This morning, Craig Biddle posted the following update to Facebook:

I regret to announce that because of my recent statement “Justice for John P. McCaskey,” the Ayn Rand Institute has cancelled my ARI-sponsored speaking engagements in the coming weeks. These include scheduled lectures at Kansas State U, U of Michigan, U of Minnesota, U of Wisconsin-Madison, and U of California-Irvine. I’m sorry that ARI has canceled these events, and I hope to reschedule them in the near future.

At present, I’m not aware of any further public information on that decision. As much as that worries me, I’d recommend not leaping to conclusions, as I can imagine some reasonable explanations for ARI’s action. Whatever those reasons, I very much hope that ARI explains its decision and its policies publicly. That strikes me as very important now.

Also, I strongly urge OAC students to take advantage of the upcoming OAC call in order to better understand ARI’s position on this whole controversy. (Even though I’m still an OAC graduate student, I won’t be on the call because I’m not currently involved in any OAC programs. They didn’t offer any graduate classes last year, and they don’t seem to have plans to do so this year.) I hope the call goes well, and that it’s helpful to students.

 

Craig Biddle posted a personal statement this morning about Leonard Peikoff’s moral condemnation of John McCaskey. You can find it on his personal web site, here: Justice for John P. McCaskey.

If you’re interested in this issue, I recommend that you read it. Paul and I will have something to say about it next week.

My comments are open to discussion of this statement and related matters. However, my strict comment policy stands: any commenters must be not just civil but also respectful in the process. I will strictly enforce the rule against personal attacks by deleting objectionable posts.

Update 10/29: To forestall any confusions, Paul and I wanted to make one point clear now. Like Craig Biddle, we think that a person can judge Dr. Peikoff’s ultimatum about and moral condemnation of Dr. McCaskey as wrong, while still very much respecting and admiring Dr. Peikoff and his achievements. Moreover, a person can do that while judging the Ayn Rand Institute to be blameless in this matter. That’s basically Paul’s and my view. We have some concerns about ARI’s future, but we regard their silence on Dr. Peikoff’s letter and Dr. McCaskey’s resignation as the right course. Unless something changes, we expect to continue our support of ARI.

Update 11/7: Craig Biddle has posted a short FAQ — Answers to Questions about ‘Justice for John P. McCaskey’ — to reply to questions that he’s received on his essay.

Open Thread on Induction

 Posted by on 21 October 2010 at 8:50 am  McCaskey Resignation, Philosophy, Science
Oct 212010
 

In the comment thread on The Resignation of John McCaskey: The Facts, some people expressed an interest in discussing the questions about induction raised by David Harriman’s book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. Yesterday, I said that people were welcome to discuss that in that comment thread. However, given that that post has over 200 comments, I realized that it would be better to simply create an open thread for that topic.

Hence, this post. As with the post on the facts of Dr. McCaskey’s resignation, I expect any commenters to adhere to high standards of civility, even when in violent disagreement.

 

Note from Diana Hsieh, 22 Feb 2012

If you’ve come to this page via “Checking Premises” or something similar, please note that I’ve written a length commentary on the criticisms circulating about me, including explaining my views of various controversial matters, in this post: On Some Recent Controversies. I’d recommend reading that, then judging me based on my full range of work, not just a few out-of-context snippets. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me privately at diana@dianahsieh.com.

***

This post is the joint work of Paul and Diana Hsieh.

As some of you might already know, Dr. John P. McCaskey resigned from the Board of Directors of both the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship in early September. He did so in response to an ultimatum by Dr. Leonard Peikoff in an e-mail to Arline Mann, the co-chair of ARI’s Board.

Before you read further, you should read Dr. McCaskey’s announcement of his resignation. It includes Dr. Peikoff’s letter in full, reproduced with the permission of Dr. Peikoff and ARI.

We — Diana and Paul — are deeply concerned about this conflict because of its three-fold impact on our values. First, we’ve been public supporters of and donors to ARI and Anthem for many years. We care about their use of our donations, and we want them to be effective in performing their respective missions. Second, we’re heavily invested in the broader Objectivist movement. We’re concerned for its efficacy, direction, and credibility. We do not wish to see the recent work of scholars, intellectuals, and activists undermined, or future work derailed. Third, we know, respect, and like Dr. Peikoff and Dr. McCaskey. We were surprised to learn of a conflict of this magnitude between them.

We have tremendous respect and admiration for Dr. Peikoff, as an intellectual and a person. During his many years of speaking and writing, he has done more to advance Objectivism than has any person other than Ayn Rand. Every Objectivist has profited hugely by his work, including us. His book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is a monumental achievement. Time and again, we’ve been impressed with the insights in his writings and lectures. Also, we’ve known Dr. Peikoff personally for many years, and we’ve enjoyed and respected him on that basis. We would not expect him to condemn someone morally without good reason.

We’ve known Dr. McCaskey for many years too. We’ve seen him give a stellar course at OCON and two lectures to FROST (Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks). We’ve admired his remarkable achievements with the Anthem Foundation. Diana was consistently impressed in her scholarly interactions with him, including for Anthem projects at CU Boulder. We regard him as one of the three trailblazers (along with John Allison and Yaron Brook) who’ve forged Objectivism’s remarkable in-roads into academia and the culture over the past decade. In every interaction, Dr. McCaskey has always been the consummate gentleman — unfailingly polite and even-keeled. He’s a scholar in the best sense — concerned to draw the proper conclusions from a detailed and careful understanding of the facts. Very recently, Diana saw him take the trouble to do right in a serious (but private) matter of justice.

(Henceforth, for the sake of brevity, we’ll refer to the principal participants by their last names, without their titles.)

Already, Peikoff’s letter and McCaskey’s resignation have been the subject of much discussion — and some acrimonious debate — among Objectivists. Some have judged matters already — whether in favor of McCaskey or Peikoff. Others are confused by these events and waiting for more information. Initially, we thought the matter too murky to state any firm conclusions — although we saw much of grave concern in Peikoff’s letter. Given its importance to our values, we sought out relevant information from people we know over the past few weeks.

At this point, we’ve gathered as much information as we can. We cannot claim to know everything, and we hope that more facts will be revealed in time. The most critical gaps in our knowledge concern Peikoff’s judgments and actions. Unfortunately, he does not seem likely to say anything further on the subject.

In this post, we’re presenting what facts we can, as they shed light on Peikoff’s letter and McCaskey’s resignation. (We won’t report on everything we know, as some information is private.) Our purpose is to enable other people with values at stake here to judge these events based on facts rather than assumptions and speculations. We will post our judgments of this matter — as well as the lessons that we think Objectivists should learn from these events — over the coming weeks.

Of course, if you have any relevant information that you’d like to share or if you think that any claims in this post are inaccurate, please e-mail us so that we can update and/or correct the record as needed.

Some Background History

The background context for McCaskey’s resignation stretches back some years. We think that the following points, mostly public knowledge, might be helpful to those seeking to understand this matter.

  1. Dr. Leonard Peikoff is the executor of Ayn Rand’s estate. He founded the Ayn Rand Institute in 1985, and he served as the first chairman of its Board. He has not been a member of the Board for some years. The nature and quality of his relationship to ARI’s current board is not public knowledge.
  2. Dr. John P. McCaskey is a lecturer and a visiting scholar of history and philosophy of science at Stanford University. He founded the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship in 2001, and he served on its board until his recent resignation. He joined ARI’s Board in 2004.
  3. Mr. David Harriman earned a master’s degree in physics from University of Maryland, and a master’s in philosophy from Claremont Graduate University. He has worked as an applied physicist. He is the editor of Journals of Ayn Rand and the author of The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics.
  4. About ten years ago, Peikoff studied physics under Harriman for a few years, then produced two lecture series in 2002 and 2003, now sold as Induction in Physics and Philosophy. Peikoff’s web site describes the lectures as “the Objectivist solution to the problem of induction,” whereas the Ayn Rand Bookstore describes them as “the solution to the problem of induction.”
  5. David Harriman’s book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics, was released on July 6, 2010. Parts of that book are based on Peikoff’s Induction in Physics and Philosophy lectures, and Peikoff wrote the book’s introduction. The book was written with the support of grants from ARI, as the author states in his preface.
  6. In e-mail to us, McCaskey reported that he traded occasional emails about the history and philosophy of science with Harriman, as well as about their respective writings. In addition, they attended each other’s lectures and discussed related topics in person. Their last interaction was at OCON 2010 in Las Vegas. Regarding The Logical Leap, McCaskey states: “Over the years, the author shared drafts of the book with me (the Institute provided funding for the book and I was the board member most knowledgable on the subject matter), he submitted excerpts to a journal of which I have been an editor, I have heard him lecture on the material, and he and I have had live one-on-one discussions about it.”
  7. From July 11th to 13th, 2010, a workshop was held to discuss philosophical issues raised in Harriman’s book. It was part of a long-standing series of workshops on topics in Objectivist epistemology. The eight participants were Objectivist academics with PhDs in science and engineering, history of science, or philosophy. They agreed (verbally) to keep comments made in the workshop confidential. (That’s nothing unusual.)
  8. Some notable Objectivist scholars reviewed The Logical Leap on Amazon this summer, including Travis Norsen (July 25), Allan Gotthelf (August 11), and Harry Binswanger (August 23).

On Dr. Peikoff’s Letter

On September 3, 2010, McCaskey posted his announcement of his resignation from the Board of Directors of ARI and Anthem on his own web site. That announcement included an e-mail from Peikoff to Arline Mann (co-chair of the ARI Board), also cc’ed to Yaron Brook (President of ARI), dated August 30, 2010. The e-mail seems to have been prompted by two phone calls to Peikoff from Mann, received only as voicemail messages.

The e-mail concerns McCaskey’s criticisms of David Harriman’s book The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. Peikoff describes the book as “a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me.” Peikoff says McCaskey “attacks” and has “denounced” The Logical Leap. He says that McCaskey’s disagreements “are not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue.” He does not say whether he means philosophic principles of Objectivism or those of his own theory of induction. He does say that McCaskey is either (1) claiming to understand Objectivism better than Harriman and Peikoff or (2) claiming that Objectivism is inadequate on “these issues” (presumably on induction).

Peikoff explains that his judgment is based on e-mails written by McCaskey, as well as what Peikoff heard of its “overall tenor and content” from “others who attended” the workshop. The e-mails are presumably those forwarded by Harriman. We have not learned of any other possible correspondents.

Regarding the workshop, McCaskey does not believe any of the participants spoke to Peikoff directly. Also, Peikoff and McCaskey never spoke about Harriman’s book. McCaskey reports that he has “rarely spoken with Dr. Peikoff and never about this book” and that Peikoff did not “seek [him] out for a first-hand discussion” of it.

Peikoff was not concerned with whether McCaskey’s criticisms were expressed outside the workshop, stating that “I do not know where else he has voiced these conclusions, but size to me is irrelevant in this context.” Peikoff told Arline Mann that, because of McCaskey’s criticisms, “someone has to go, and someone will go,” and that “it is your prerogative to decide whom.” In so doing, he said, “I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism.” In addition, Peikoff condemned McCaskey on moral grounds, stating that McCaskey’s work for ARI and Anthem “raises him one rung in Hell.”

Peikoff’s e-mail was originally written as private correspondence to Mann and Brook. After McCaskey’s resignation from the boards of ARI and Anthem, McCaskey posted it to his web site, with Peikoff’s and ARI’s permission.

On Dr. McCaskey’s Resignation

McCaskey resigned from the boards of directors of ARI and the Anthem Foundation on September 3, 2010. He posted an announcement of that resignation on his web site. (He has since made, and noted, a few changes.) In McCaskey judgment, “Peikoff’s weighing of my criticisms [was] hardly objective, his remarks [were] insultingly unjust–especially that part about Hell–and his ultimatum, as such, [was] a threat to the Institute.” He said, “I believe it would be damaging to the Institute if the Institute acted either way, either acceding to his demand or rejecting it.” As a result, he resigned from the boards of ARI and Anthem. As already noted, that announcement included a copy of Peikoff’s e-mail.

We asked McCaskey why he published this e-mail. He replied:

When I first heard of Peikoff’s demand that I be removed from the board, I broached the obvious possibility of my resigning. But I said I thought that would make good sense only if Peikoff were willing to go public with his denunciation and demand. It became increasingly clear to me that the Institute would be seriously damaged if it took either horn of the dilemma, but I still had seen nothing in writing that articulated exactly what Peikoff was demanding and why.

After I received a copy of the email, I offered to resign if he gave permission to release that. It was the only thing in writing I had. I expected he would edit it first. He preferred to have it stand as is. The Institute also gave me its permission to release the email.

We would like to add two observations of our own.

First, while a member of ARI’s Board, McCaskey had a legal obligation to protect ARI’s best interests. If he thought that asking the Board to choose between Peikoff and him would be more damaging than his resignation, he was obliged to resign. Also, the Board could have removed McCaskey before he resigned, but opted not to do that. We do not know its reasons.

Second, McCaskey could have remained silent about his reasons for his resignation, but that would have raised even more questions and doubts for ARI and Anthem donors. Personally, we prefer to know the facts, even when difficult, so that we can judge and act accordingly.

McCaskey’s Criticisms of The Logical Leap

McCaskey’s Amazon review of The Logical Leap was his first public comment on that book. It was posted on September 4, 2010, after he announced his resignation from the ARI and Anthem boards.

Before posting that review, McCaskey’s criticisms of the book were, in his words, “always shared privately.” The “consistent theme” of his criticisms was that “[t]he historical accounts as presented are often inaccurate, and more accurate accounts would be difficult to reconcile with the philosophical point the author is claiming to make.”

McCaskey cites this Amazon review as an example of the sorts of criticisms he made privately. It largely concerns details about Harriman’s presentation of the history of science. McCaskey’s basic point, stated in the first sentence, is that “readers of the book should be aware that the historical accounts presented here often differ from those given by academic researchers working on the history of science and often by the scientists themselves.”

In his conclusion, he writes: “The theory of induction proposed here is potentially seminal; a theory that grounds inductive inference in concept-formation is welcome indeed. But the theory is still inchoate. If it is to be widely adopted, it will need to be better reconciled with the historical record as the theory gets fleshed out and refined.”

McCaskey gave the book three out of five stars. In a subsequent comment on his own review, McCaskey says that he did not intend his remarks to be a comprehensive book review. Instead, he writes, “I limited my contribution to something I happen to know a lot about and something I thought would help potential buyers decide whether to read the book and if so, how to get the most out of doing so. Since I wasn’t providing a comprehensive review, I picked the neutral 3-star rating.”

Recently, and at Paul’s request, McCaskey posted some representative samples of his e-mails to David Harriman. The page includes three full e-mails, plus an excerpt from one that concerns the proper view of induction in the history of science. Like the Amazon review, these e-mails largely concern details in the history of science. On that page, McCaskey reports that “references to Objectivism in my exchanges with Mr. Harriman were rare.”

Further Information

Since learning of McCaskey’s resignation, we took the following steps to gather more information.

1. Diana sent two separate e-mails to Peikoff. The first was sent on September 6. It was very brief, simply requesting that he say more about his letter. The second was sent on September 17. It explained in some detail that his letter looked very bad on its face, such that Diana and others were put in a very difficult and unpleasant position by its publication without further explanation.

As of this time, Peikoff has not responded — not even to say that he would be willing to say something in a few weeks or months. In the past, Diana was used to receiving replies to her letters within a few days, at most. Based on that, plus his characterization of some issues as “not worth talking about,” we doubt that Peikoff will choose to explain himself further.

2. Diana spoke to McCaskey on the phone in early September, as well as in early October. Paul spoke to him on the phone in early October. In addition, Paul and Diana have corresponded with him via e-mail over the past few weeks. He has been willing to answer questions about his views and actions, including some of the challenging questions that arose in online and other discussions.

For example, Diana spoke to him about why he decided to post Peikoff’s letter for public consumption, whether he plans to attend any future ARI events, whether the Board is free to comment on his resignation, why his Amazon review was worded so cautiously, and more. His answers have been thoughtful and illuminating.

If you have questions about McCaskey’s views or conduct, we suggest that you ask him in the comments on this post, rather than engage in speculation. He’s not obliged to answer every inquiry, of course, but he might choose to respond to some polite questions.

3. Paul and Diana asked a few of the participants of the July workshop about the comments and criticisms McCaskey made there. McCaskey gave them his permission to report on “their impressions of the tone, spirit, and general content” of his remarks. They’ve chosen not to say anything for the public record.

4. Paul and Diana spoke to Craig Biddle about McCaskey’s comments on portions of The Logical Leap published as articles in The Objective Standard. McCaskey is a contributing editor to the journal. He reviewed some of Harriman’s submissions and provided comments to Biddle, who then forwarded them to Harriman. According to Biddle, McCaskey’s criticisms were always polite and professional.

5. Paul contacted McCaskey to see if he would be willing to share his half of any relevant e-mail correspondence with Harriman criticizing Harriman’s book (or the precursor articles in The Objective Standard). McCaskey was willing to publish his whole e-mail correspondence, and as a result of Paul’s request, he did publish the page of sample e-mails.

Paul contacted Harriman with the same request, specifically inviting him to include whatever he considered especially harsh or damning. Paul said that he’d already obtained McCaskey’s permission to release that material. Harriman sent Paul the following reply. In subsequent correspondence, Harriman invited Paul to post this e-mail to NoodleFood.

Date: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 1:30 PM
From: DAVID HARRIMAN
To: Paul Hsieh
Subject: Re: Question about McCaskey’s criticisms of your book?

Dear Paul:

I don’t think you need access to private emails in order to reach a judgment on this conflict. Professor McCaskey has published a negative review of my book on Amazon. He has also published articles expressing some of his own views on induction, and praising the ideas of William Whewell (a 19th century Kantian).

Anyone who is interested can read my book, read the writings of McCaskey, and come to their own judgment. I realize that most people know little about the history of science, and so they may believe that they lack the specialized knowledge required to make a judgment in this case. But I do not think the basic issues are very complicated.

McCaskey claims that Galileo discovered the law of free fall without even understanding what is meant by “free fall” (since Galileo allegedly had no clear concept of friction). Likewise, Newton discovered his universal laws of motion without understanding the concepts of “inertia,” “acceleration,” and “momentum.”

In effect, scientists stumble around in the dark and somehow discover laws of nature before they grasp the constituent concepts. This view is typical of academic philosophers of science today. I am well acquainted with it; in my youth, I took courses from Paul Feyerabend at UC Berkeley. But how believable is it?

In short, I ask you which is more believable — that Isaac Newton was fundamentally confused about the difference between “impetus” and “momentum,” or that John McCaskey is confused about this issue?

A favorite pastime among academics today is to find “feet of clay” in great men. But that is not the purpose of my book.

Sincerely,

David

In essence, Harriman’s view is that McCaskey’s publicly-available writings (such as his Amazon review and articles) are sufficient for others to reach a judgment about him. That judgment does not require access to the private correspondence between them, nor specialized knowledge of the history of science. Whether that is also Peikoff’s view, we do not know.

As for McCaskey’s “articles expressing some of his own views on induction, and praising the ideas of William Whewell,” Harriman seems to be referring to “Induction and Concept-Formation in Francis Bacon and William Whewell.” McCaskey’s web site describes that paper as being “presented at Concepts Workshop, a workshop primarily on aspects and applications of Ayn Rand’s theory of concepts, Department of [History and Philosophy of Science], Pittsburgh, May 2004.”

In the paper, McCaskey states that his purpose is to introduce his readers to “a line of British philosophers from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) to William Whewell (1794-1866) who, like Rand, held induction to be closely associated with concept-formation” in order to “learn more about this association on which Rand left frustratingly little.” If Harriman means to refer to any other papers by McCaskey, they can be found on his web site.

6. Diana e-mailed and then spoke to Yaron Brook in early September. In her e-mail, she sought Brook’s answers to questions concerning background context, ARI’s position on McCaskey’s resignation and Peikoff’s letter, and ARI’s view of the limits of acceptable disagreement for intellectuals and scholars associated with ARI. (Diana forwarded this same e-mail to a member of ARI’s Board whom she knows. As she expected, that person was not at liberty to speak on the matter, presumably due to the confidentiality requirements of the Board.)

In her subsequent phone call with Yaron Brook in early September, Brook was able to discuss his answers to only some of her questions. Instead of summarizing those remarks, we shall let Brook speak for himself. On October 11, 2010, he sent Diana a statement via e-mail, with permission to quote it. Of McCaskey’s resignation, he writes:

Dr. McCaskey resigned as a result of a conflict between him and Dr. Peikoff, regarding David Harriman’s newly published book on induction, in the creation of which Dr. Peikoff had a large role. We are not going to comment here on that conflict itself, but we do want to make clear that the issue for Dr. Peikoff was only whether or not Dr. McCaskey should remain on ARI’s Board, not his continued involvement in ARI activities.

In other words, contrary to claims that some are now making, no “excommunication” was demanded by Dr. Peikoff or considered by any Board member. While Board members were still weighing this matter, Dr. McCaskey decided to resign.

We understand the public’s interest in changes in ARI’s Board membership, but our internal discussions about Board composition are properly kept confidential.

The fact that the Ayn Rand Bookstore continues to sell McCaskey’s (excellent, in our view) lecture course on The Philosophy and Influence of Sir Francis Bacon supports Brook’s denial of an “excommunication.”

Also, we don’t think that Brook’s comments should be taken to mean that McCaskey resigned unilaterally. In the message quoted earlier, McCaskey said that he “offered to resign if [Peikoff] gave permission to release [the e-mail]” and that he was given such permission by Peikoff and ARI. ARI’s Board was somehow involved in that process of obtaining and granting permission. We don’t know why the Board chose that course, but it could have done otherwise (such as by delaying or by acting on Peikoff’s ultimatum, one way or the other) if it had seen fit.

Further Questions

The events surrounding McCaskey’s resignation have raised a host of questions. Here, we wish to state what we regard as some of the important but unanswered questions of fact:

  • What criticisms by McCaskey did Peikoff find unacceptable — and why? Does Peikoff regard his theory of induction as part of Objectivism — and, if so, why?
  • Do the members of ARI’s Board think that Peikoff’s e-mail was appropriate in its claims and demands? Did Peikoff offer them more detail about his objections to McCaskey’s criticisms in prior communications?
  • Why did Peikoff morally condemn McCaskey, as opposed to merely thinking him mistaken? Why didn’t Peikoff seek out McCaskey for a discussion of these matters?
  • What is Peikoff’s relationship to ARI’s Board? What would it mean for him to “go”? Might Peikoff (or his heirs) issue similar ultimatums in the future? If so, what will the ARI Board do, if it disagrees with the demand?
  • What does ARI regard as the limits of acceptable disagreement — including the public or private expression thereof — for people associated with the Institute in various capacities (e.g., as Board members, employees, OAC students, grant recipients, OCON speakers, campus club speakers, etc.)? What is Anthem’s view of those limits?
  • What else has happened here that we don’t yet know but that might affect our judgments?

We hope that these questions will be answered someday, preferably sooner rather than later. However, perhaps those who know the answers have good reason to remain silent. We don’t know. Again, if anyone wishes to share relevant facts, whether anonymously or with attribution, we would be happy to update this post accordingly. Further comments from McCaskey, Peikoff, Harriman, and Brook are particularly welcome. You can e-mail us at diana@dianahsieh.com and paul@paulhsieh.com.

In the meantime, we — and others with values at stake in these events — must judge as best we can based on the information available, while being willing to revise our judgments in light of any new information. We hope that the information in this post will help others make better-informed judgments of these events. In addition, we hope that discussions of this topic, whether online or in-person, will be conducted with greater concern for the facts, mutual respect, and basic manners than we’ve seen from many people so far.

In the NoodleFood comments, people are welcome to state their views of these recent events. However, any commenters must be not just civil but also respectful in the process. We will strictly enforce the rule against personal attacks by deleting objectionable posts.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha