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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

What Is Philosophy?

 Posted by on 15 July 2010 at 6:00 am  Leonard Peikoff, Philosophy
Jul 152010
 

[This post was originally written for Modern Paleo.]

Lately, I’ve begun re-reading Leonard Peikoff’s book Ominous Parallels. In the second chapter, I was struck by the clarity of his explanation of what philosophy studies. People are often baffled by the very subject of philosophy: they confuse it with religion, psychology, or anthropology. When teaching introductory philosophy courses in graduate school, I always spent a class or two on philosophy itself, so that my students wouldn’t be utterly confused about the purpose of the course.

So for anyone not quite clear, these paragraphs might be illuminating:

Philosophy is the study of the nature of existence, of knowledge, and of values.

The branch of philosophy that studies existence is metaphysics. Metaphysics identifies the nature of the universe as a whole. It tells men what kind of world they live in, and whether there is a supernatural dimension beyond it. It tells men whether they live in a world of solid entities, natural laws, absolute facts, or in a world of illusory fragments, unpredictable miracles, and ceaseless flux. It tells men whether the things they perceive by their senses and mind form a comprehensible reality, with which they can deal, or some kind of unreal appearance, which leaves them staring and helpless.

The branch of philosophy that studies knowledge is epistemology. Epistemology identifies the proper means of acquiring knowledge. It tells men which mental processes to employ as methods of cognition, and which to reject as invalid or deceptive. Above all, epistemology tells men whether reason is their faculty of gaining knowledge, and if so how it works–or whether there is a means of knowledge other than reason, such as faith, or the instinct of society, or the feelings of the dictator.

The branch of philosophy that studies values is ethics (or morality), which rests on both the above branches–on a view of the world in which man acts, and of man’s nature, including his means of knowledge. Ethics defines a code of values to guide human actions. It tells men the proper purpose of man’s life, and the means of achieving it; it provides the standard by which men are to judge good and evil, right and wrong, the desirable and the undesirable. Ethics tells a man, for instance, to pursue his own fulfillment–or to sacrifice himself for the sake of something else, such as God or his neighbor.

The branch of philosophy that applies ethics to social questions is politics, which studies the nature of social systems and the proper functions of government. Politics is not the start, but the product of a philosophic system. By their nature, political questions cannot be raised or judged except on the basis of some view of existence, of values, and of man’s proper means of knowledge.

Of course, the best overall introduction to philosophy is Ayn Rand’s essay “Philosophy: Who Needs It?” in her anthology Philosophy: Who Needs It. Nothing beats that.

Leonard Peikoff at OCON

 Posted by on 1 July 2010 at 8:40 pm  Leonard Peikoff, NYC Mosque, OCON
Jul 012010
 

As you might recall, Leonard Peikoff clearly requested that he not be asked any further questions about the NYC Mosque in his recent podcast. I wanted to remind everyone of that, given that OCON starts tomorrow. For his sake — and for the sake of a fun-filled OCON — I ask that everyone respect his request.

See you tomorrow! Yay!

Jun 302010
 

[Note from Diana: Alas, I spoke too soon! Shortly after I closed off the contentious debate about the NYC Mosque here on NoodleFood, Amy Peikoff posted a really excellent essay in defense of Leonard Peikoff's view. So an unpleasant debate has turned into a really fascinating and friendly discussion. Yay!

I'm so grateful for Amy's careful examination of many of the points that I and others raised: that's the kind of argument that I needed. At this point, I still lean toward my original view that the mosque should not be stopped using by unjust laws -- for the reasons that Paul articulates below. However, I've got a much better grasp of the merits of the opposing view -- and I'm glad of that.

As for the comments on this post, please restrict yourself to just one or two comments. I don't want the kind of fruitless back-and-forth that cropped up in other threads.

And now for Paul...]

Amy Peikoff has posted a nice analysis of the NYC mosque issue, and I wanted to thank her for it. She’s raised some excellent points and given me much important food for thought. I very much liked her principled approach to the various issues and I highly recommend everyone read her piece.

In particular, I’m glad she addressed my primary concern, namely the issue of rule-of-law and the specific question of using current bad non-objective laws (such as zoning regulations) to stop the mosque construction, even while opposing such laws in principle.

One of the many good points she raised was that if one takes a long-term vs. a short-term perspective, trying to adhere to proper legal procedure could put Americans at potential tremendous risk in the immediate future, and that the government isn’t strictly following those procedures anyways.

Others have made similar points online, for instance arguing that using these bad zoning laws wouldn’t create new victims but could help stop an immediate threat.

However I’m still extremely concerned about the danger of setting such a bad legal precedent, precisely because I view it as the greater long-term danger. I’d like to explain why, below.

First, I completely agree that the Islamists would love to destroy the US and/or impose totalitarian Sharia law upon us. And they are working hard to achieve this (as Amy notes) both “via immediate violence and via cultural/infiltration persuasion”.

However, I don’t think that the Islamists could actually impose Sharia law here in the US. (This is in contrast to some European countries where the Islamists are taking over the culture alarmingly quickly through both methods.)

Based on my best reading of the current American culture, I believe the Jihadists would fail in their quest to impose Sharia law here. Yes, they could do tremendous damage in the process, killing thousands of Americans. Because of our government’s failed policies, I believe we are at serious risk of future 9/11-style attacks or attacks along the lines of the failed Times Square bombing or attacks as have already occurred in London and Madrid.

And in my darker moments, I also fear “nightmare scenarios” such as the bad guys sneaking 10 Iranian-made nuclear bombs into the 10 largest US cities and detonating them all simultaneously. Such attacks would be devastating and kill millions of Americans.

But as devastating as such attacks could be, I don’t think this country would just roll over and submit to Sharia law. Instead, I believe we would face a much more serious danger — specifically, from the resultant backlash.

A renewed attack (or series of attacks) on American soil would be the one thing that could rouse the dying embers of the American sense of life — and channel it into a dangerous totalitarian direction. The populace would (rightly) demand that we “do something” and I fear that this sentiment would sweep into power extremely bad conservative ideologues who would (correctly) identify the enemy as Islamic Totalitarianism — but instead offer as their alternative a Christian right-wing tyrannical regime.

Already, such social and religious conservatives are working hard to exploit the anti-Obama sentiment at Tea Parties to advance their agenda. Any successful serious jihadist attacks on US soil could greatly accelerate this dangerous trend, and quickly propel American religionists into power. And they would have tremendous popular appeal. They would use all the right language of “protecting America”, demanding a “muscular response” in “self defense”, etc. And they would speak with a moral confidence that Americans desperately seek (and which our recent governments have lacked).

Just as one example, I heard Brigitte Gabriel speak at the same LPR 2009 conference that Yaron Brook spoke at. She is a staunch Christian who took an uncompromising stand against the Islamic threat to America. She told some heart-rending stories of life as a Christian under Islamist rule in Lebanon. She made a compelling case that the Islamists want destroy America. And she had the mostly-conservative crowd eating out of her hand.

And she’s just one of many eloquent Christian conservatives out there on the lecture circuit making their case against the Islamic threat — and arguing that the only solution is for this country to recommit to Christian values.

If they ever gained power, these American religious statists would also have tremendous staying power compared to the current secular statists for precisely the reasons Leonard Peikoff has discussed multiple times.

Furthermore, these religious statists would have no qualms about using bad legal precedents set by prior secular leftist statists for their own ends — another danger that Leonard Peikoff warned about in one of his recent podcasts. So even assuming these American religious statists took some better (and much-needed) military actions against the jihadists at home and abroad, they would very likely also use the precedents of non-objective law to destroy freedoms at home in the name of “protecting American values”.

So although we wouldn’t create any immediate new victims, we could create many more later victims under a future government which would tell us:

“We’re denying the Ayn Rand Institute permission to expand its building facilities. According to our zoning board, the ARI has been violating anti-blasphemy laws by criticizing the religious agenda of our new President.”

“The philosophy of selfishness has no place in America’s schools. The books sent to our impressionable youths under the ARI Books for Teachers program are corrupting their morals and undermining core Christian American values of selflessness and sacrifice for the greater good. The works of Ayn Rand are hereby placed on the banned list for K-through-12 schoolchildren.”

“Dr. Paul Hsieh has been making pro-abortion statements on his blog. Now that the Congress has recognized a fertilized egg as a legal person with full rights, such statements are an incitement to murder. Because he is not a licensed journalist, his actions fall outside the scope of protected free speech, and we are thus issuing this warrant for his arrest.”

In short, my biggest concern is that if we use non-objective law to stop the mosque, we may help temporarily stop creeping Sharia law and we may stop some immediate attacks (which could save many lives). But because we still wouldn’t have dealt with the underlying problem in a proper fashion (i.e., by declaring and fighting a proper war), the danger from abroad will not be prevented — but merely delayed.

And because of the non-objective means we chose to stop the mosque, reality will extract its inevitable price in the form of accelerating the trend towards a home-grown religious tyranny.

Again, I’m not unmindful of the danger posed by the jihadists. The prospect of a new NYC mosque inspiring jihadists at home and abroad as a rallying point (and as a symbol of American weakness) fills me with dread. The prospect of further attacks on US soil make me sick to my stomach. And the prospect of thousands of needless American deaths fills me with horror.

But in my personal judgment, I don’t think the jihadists — as violent and barbaric as they are — can ultimately conquer and enslave Americans. On the other hand, we Americans can enslave ourselves.

Or to quote from Shakespeare’s “Richard II“:

This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world… That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

(Just substitute “America” for “England” and you’ll have our current unfortunate circumstances.)

In other words, we may be on the verge of falling into the trap that Benjamin Franklin warned about of “trading essential liberty for a little temporary security”.

As before, I recognize that others who I know and respect have come to the opposite judgment call on the NYC mosque issue. Again, this is a consequence of the fact that the only good option (of waging a proper war) has been taken off the table.

I also again acknowledge that if the specifics of this particular situation were different, then I might come to the opposite conclusion and make that painful trade while hoping to best avert the dire downstream consequences. Likewise, if there is sufficient evidence that the mosque and/or its supporters are planning terrorist attacks against the US, then we should use all appropriate means to protect ourselves, including closing the mosque.

As someone else who I respect noted on Facebook, during the Cold War we properly respected the free speech rights of Marxists (as odious as their views were), yet also properly employed government force against members of the Communist Party of the USA (who were receiving orders and funding from Moscow with the intent to overthrow the US government). We can and should apply the same principles to the current situation.

I don’t want to leave this post on a too-gloomy note, so I want to end by thanking Amy for her post.

She raised good points that I had not thought of before. She advanced the discussion in a positive direction and helped me understand the issue better. And she helped me re-examine and re-affirm my love for this great country in which I can still work, speak, and live as a relatively free man to pursue my own happiness and self-interest — something I will be especially thankful for this July 4 at OCON.

Jun 272010
 

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 his most recent podcast, Leonard Peikoff offers his view of the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. I encourage you to listen to his podcast for yourself.

I agree with much that he says, including his view of the threat posed by totalitarian Islam. However, I cannot regard this mosque as an objective threat to the rights of others without concrete evidence of ties to terrorism. For all the reasons outlined in my original post and Steve Simpson’s post, I regard Dr. Peikoff’s recommendation of stopping the building of the mosque by “any way possible” as wrong. That’s a grave threat to my life and liberty, and I cannot support it.

In Dr. Peikoff’s commentary, as well as in the recent round of Facebook comments, I’ve noticed a serious equivocation in the claim of my opponents that “we are at war.”

Undoubtedly, the west is in a cultural war with Islam — a war that most governments, organizations, and people refuse to acknowledge, let alone fight. Undoubtedly, our government should be at war with the states that export totalitarian Islam, pulverizing them into dust if necessary. Nonetheless, the fact remains that our government is not at war with our Islamic enemies, not in any real sense. Our political and military leaders are not willing to declare, let alone fight, a proper war in our self-defense.

As a result of that failure, the actions of the government toward those enemies are limited. For example, our government cannot prosecute imams for treason when they give aid and comfort to enemy terrorist groups like Hamas. Yes, that’s wrong — but that’s what happens when a government refuses to identify its enemies. Similarly, our government cannot regard the proposed mosque as an enemy outpost, as it might, if we were truly at war.

The solution is not to pretend as if war has been declared — and thereby empower the government to violate people’s rights willy-nilly. The solution is not to eliminate the few remaining limits on government power that protect our capacity to speak freely. The solution is press hard for a proper war — a war against our true enemies, a war fought purely on the basis of American self-interest.

Until we get that explicit declaration of war against our Islamic enemies, the hands of our government should be tied. That’s a frightening prospect, as the Muslim terrorists will take advantage of that weakness. Yet if we loose the hands of Uncle Sam, others with seemingly threatening views will soon be crushed too… and that means you and me. Once that happens, we’ll not have a civilization worth saving from the Muslims.

As much as I respect Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic judgment, I cannot ignore that risk to my life and limb.

Update as of 26 January 2012: I wrongly attributed the phrase “any means possible” to Dr. Peikoff in the original version of this article. According to Trey Givens’ transcript, Dr. Peikoff said, “Any way possible permission should be refuse[d] and if they go ahead and build it, the government should bomb it out of existence, evacuating it first, with no compensation to any of the property owners involved in this monstrosity.”

 

Leonard Peikoff recently gave a fascinating interview with professional magician Steve Cohen.

Among the many topics they discussed were magic, knowledge, belief, deception, art, and entertainment.

Here’s an excerpt:

SC: We often hear the axiom “seeing is believing.” However on p. 319 of Atlas Shrugged, there is a quote from Dr. Ferris’ book “Why Do You Think You Think” that states: “Only the crassest ignoramus can still hold to the old-fashioned notion that seeing is believing. That which you can see is the first thing to disbelieve.”

My question is: what can we trust if not our eyes? What is the nature of belief, and how can someone like me (who is forever trying to convince people of something that is not necessarily true) create conviction in others?

LP: I say that, absolutely, seeing is believing. You can trust your eyes, and all your senses. In fact, they are necessarily valid because the only way to establish any truth is by reference to the sensory data. That’s the basis on which we form concepts and conclusions. If your senses aren’t valid, you can’t even have such a word as valid.

Now people get confused on this, because they don’t distinguish what the senses tell us from the interpretation that we place on that data. If I see a man in a red suit and a white beard and a big stomach, and I say, “I see Santa Claus,” my senses do not deceive me, but my interpretation does.

That’s true of all alleged cases where you perceive something, and then blame the senses.

So for any issue, you must distinguish: what do you see? And what do you make of it? Now a lot of people will see something that they can’t explain, and then come up with mystical interpretations. Whether that’s the occurrence of the seasons, or the tides, the attraction of magnets, or whatever it happens to be. They will resort to inner spirits, God, and so on. Their senses — what they see — is valid. However, their interpretation, their mysticism, is not relevant.

A proper attitude would be, if you can’t explain something that you do perceive, you just say the truth: “I do perceive it, and I can’t explain it.” Half of the things that were not explicable in the past, later became so. And many of the things that are not explicable yet, will be in due course. That would be a rational attitude…

…No rational person would ever think that what a magician performs is more than a trick. You have to go by facts and the conclusions of logic and science. Over the centuries, a tremendous number of incredulous, unthinking people who go by matters of desire rather than fact… Hundreds of thousands who quote seeing “miracles,” and it’s all nonsense. It’s all motivated by emotion. And I wouldn’t even say that these people have a conviction. They just have the mood of the moment.

You have to ask, is that the kind of audience you want?

Being a magician, you are a rare commodity as a mystery-monger. But if you’re claiming supernatural powers, you have to put yourself up against Buddha and Moses and all the rest of them. To me, that would be a desecration for you, with your talent.

SC: Then why would people search out a magic show?

LP: To me, it’s the same category as watching a great hockey player or baseball player, or a pianist, for that matter. When you see a skill that someone has mastered, and are able to experience complete enjoyment of that skill, it’s a pleasure to anyone who values human life and human achievement. I mean, how many people in any field acquire that kind of skill?

I don’t have any metaphysical need to come see a magic show. If I thought that you were going to take me into a supernatural world, I would not enjoy it at all. First of all, I would feel fear. If this guy can suspend the laws of nature, then they are not reliable. They’re not absolute. Who knows what’s coming next? I could fall through the floor, or disappear, maybe disintegrate. Plus, I would lose any admiration of you, the magician. Because if you are a vehicle of the supernatural, why should we give you any credit? Why would we admire you?

There is an absolute, legitimate state called the “suspension of disbelief.” This is not at all the same as wanting to be deceived. If you watch a movie, and you see one person stalk another, you won’t call the police. You know it’s not really happening. On the other hand, it has a reality to you. It’s not just shadows on the screen. You’re pulled into it. You feel fear, apprehension. It’s a state in which you know what you believe, but you are suspending that within limits. That’s exactly what you do when you watch a magician. You know that he is not turning a rabbit into a hippopotamus. But you suspend your disbelief by saying, I watched it happen, isn’t that fantastic. While not considering that somewhere there’s an explanation. As soon as you reach the end of the performance, the audience’s disbelief is no longer suspended. It’s a way of enjoying one aspect of a total. But there is no element of escaping from reality.

(Read the full interview.)

For a nice example of close-up magic with a jaw-dropping finale, take a look at this performance. (Although the dialogue is in Chinese, you don’t need to understand the language to follow the action.):

Nov 302009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 10, “The Culture of Hatred” — a reference to the rise of Nihilism in the German culture. Topics we discussed included:
  • We explored how “the first truly modern culture” in the world emerged, more accepting of contemporary-everything: the “Weimar culture,” shaped by the “free spirits” of the German Republic, the avant garde in the humanities, sciences, commentary, journalism, and so on. A key question to answeris: what is “modernity” is in this sense? What principle unites Kaiser, Kandinsky, Schoenberg, Mann, Barth, Freud, Heisenberg?
  • Touring the culture, Peikoff started with literature (“art is the barometer of a culture, and literature is the barometer of art”). The prominent philosophical novel by Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain) was characterized by a contemporary as the “saga of the Weimar Republic.” “To a country and in a decade swept by hysteria, perishing from uncertainty, torn by political crisis, financial collapse, violence in the streets, and terror of the future — to that country, in that decade, its leading philosophical novelist offered as his contribution to sanity and freedom the smiling assurance that there are no answers, no absolutes, no values, no hope.” It was a hit that resonated with the culture.
  • Turning to poetry like that of Rainer Maria Rilke, a Christian mystic admired across the board, as well as Kafka, Peikoff finds them offering “nightmare projections of nameless ciphers paralyzed by a sinister, unknowable reality.”
  • Turning to the philosophy of Existentialism and Martin Heidegger, it underscores existence being unintelligible, reason invalid, man a helpless “Dasein” — a creature engulfed by “das Nichts” (nothingness), in terror of the supreme fact of his life: death and doomed by nature to “angst,” estrangement, futility. Heidegger’s works rejected any systematic defense of his ideas and were praised as the “intellectual counterpart of modern painting.”
  • In contrast to Heidegger’s rejection of religion and God, the avant-garde theologians tried to reconceive these in modern terms — “Avant-garde religion, in short, consists in ditching one’s mind, prostrating oneself in the muck, and screaming for mercy.”
  • Next was the new psychology with the psychoanalysis of Freud. In the name of science it leaves us “Caught in the middle between these forces — between a psychopathic hippie screaming: satisfaction now! and a jungle chieftain intoning: tribal obedience! — sentenced by nature to ineradicable conflict, guilt, anxiety, and neurosis is man, i.e., man’s mind, his reason or “ego,” the faculty which is able to grasp reality, and which exists primarily to mediate between the clashing demands of the psyche’s two irrational masters.” More generally, the “new science — like the new philosophy, the new theology, the new art — becomes instead a vehicle of the willful, the arbitrary, the subjective.”
  • Finally, touching on sociology, political science, education, art historians, social commentators, philosophers… and even physics and math, we find everywhere that “The notion of ‘reason enthroned’ disappears into myth, and the rational man collapses…”
  • In sum, we find that what is new and distinctive across the board is Nihilism: hatred of values and of their root, reason — this, Peikoff contends, is the essential that underlies, generates, and defines “Weimar culture.”
  • How Peikoff traces Nihilism as a cultural force back to Kant’s philosophy.
  • How this new culture compares and contrasts with other eras of mysticism — and how Peikoff’s framing of it in this book relates to the way he is framing similar phenomena in his new DIM Hypothesis work (forthcoming).

Peikoff summarized the results, social and political:

In the orgy which was the cultural atmosphere of the Weimar Republic, the Germans could not work to resolve their differences. Disintegrated by factionalism, traumatized by crisis, and pumped full of the defiant rejection of reason, in every form and from all sides, the Germans felt not calm, but hysteria; not confidence in regard to others, but the inability to communicate with them; not hope, but despair; not the desire for solutions to their problems, but the need for scapegoats; and, as a result, not goodwill, but fury, blind fury at their enemies, real or imagined.

Nihilism in Germany worked to exacerbate economic and political resentments by undermining the only weapon that could have dealt with them. The intellectuals wanted to destroy values; the public shaped by this trend ended up wanting to destroy men.

The social corollary of “Weimar culture” was a country animated, and torn apart, by hatred, seething in groups trained to be impervious to reason.

The political corollary was the same country put back together by Hitler.


If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha