Paul Joins NoodleFood

 Posted by on 9 August 2004 at 9:01 am  Uncategorized
Aug 092004
 

I’m inordinately pleased to announce that my husband Paul will be posting on NoodleFood on occasion. Paul has his own blog GeekPress, but it’s not a suitable forum for philosophic posts. So I’m happy to lend him NoodleFood for his philosophical commentaries. He’ll be sure to fancy up the place with his well-deserved reputation for calm, thoughtful, and reasonable analysis.

Paul’s first commentary — posted is just below this one — concerns the morality of association with libertarian organizations. For the record, I agree with it wholeheartedly. In fact, it was an earlier version of his analogy that originally convinced me that David Kelley was wrong to speak to the Laissez Faire Supper Club.

I should mention, however, I do not sanction Paul’s non-standard punctuation, in which periods and commas are placed outside of quotation marks. It might be more consistent with the structure of the sentence, but it just looks funny. :-)

 

Once upon a time, there was a young heart surgeon named David who had just finished his medical training, (including 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 6 years of general surgery residency, and 3 years of cardiothoracic surgery subspecialty fellowship training). He had just started practicing in his hometown as a heart surgeon, and his practice was thriving due to a combination of his excellent technical skills and his compassionate bedside manner. David enjoyed his work immensely, and took pride in his ability to improve his patients’ health based on application of reason and science to their medical problems. As a conscientious surgeon, he believed that preventative medicine was an important part of his therapeutic arsenal, so he was also an active advocate of a healthy lifestyle, counseling his patients on the need for good nutrition, regular exercise, etc., in order to prevent cardiac disease. Because of his friendly and effective communication style, David quickly became a popular and regular speaker on local TV and radio talk shows.

One day out of the blue, David was contacted by one of his medical school classmates, Bill. Bill said that he had been impressed by David’s work as a health care advocate and wanted to know if David would be interested in joining his organization. Their discussion follows:

Bill: I’m the head of the local chapter of the Organization of Health Practitioners or OHP. Everyone in our group is health practitioner of some sort, and our goal is to promote health in our patients. Based on your work, we think you’d be an excellent candidate and we’d love for you to join our organization.

David: Oh, really? So what kind of health practitioners are in the OHP and what do they believe in? Is it an organization of MDs?

Bill: Oh, no, we’re much more broad-minded than that. The OHP consists of a variety of health practitioners, including some MDs as well as practitioners of fields such as reflexology (people who believe that massaging zones of the foot can cure diseases in other parts of the body like the liver or spleen), iridology (people who believe they can diagnose diseases from the color patterns in the iris of the eye), homeopathy (people who believe that administering ultra-dilute solutions of toxic compounds can cure disease), etc. We even have a few faith-healers who believe that guided prayer can cure disease without the need for medicine or surgery. But what unites us is that we are all advocates of good “Health” in our patients. In fact, one can’t join the OHP unless you take the OHP Oath stating that you will practice your craft in order to better the Health of your patients.

David: I don’t see that I have anything in common with your group. My advocacy of good health practices is based on a solid grounding in sciences like biology, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy. I think that any advocacy of health is impossible without a firm basis in the biological sciences. Does your organization believe in the need for a scientific basis for health?

Bill: Sure, we do – at least most of us do. Of course, we don’t always agree on the underlying scientific theories behind our views of health. Some of us MDs believe similarly to you. Others believe that the key to Health is massaging special pressure zones in your feet to align the life-energy flows within your internal “meridians”. Still other believe that the key to health is giving chemicals to bind your circulating internal blood toxins. Others believe that the key to health is giving a special dilute preparation of toxins to cancel the illness caused by too many other toxins. I admit that OHP also includes a few faith-healers that reject the need for any scientific theory at all and believe that faith alone is sufficient, but these folks are in the minority.

David: So you don’t believe that you need to agree on a single scientific theory in order to be a member of OHP?

Bill: Of course not! We’re a health advocacy organization, not a scientific organization. Since there are many ways to advocate patient health, we don’t exclude people on the basis of mere disagreements on underlying science. We’re very proud of the fact that we’re scientifically tolerant at OHP, and in fact the constant internal debates between the various subgroups at OHP keeps things interesting and lively. But what unites us all is our concern for Health, so even the faith-healers are welcome at OHP as long as they take the OHP Oath to promote patient Health.

David: But that’s the very problem! By its very nature, the OHP rejects science whether you recognize it or not. First of all, the OHP is willing to include under its banner faith-healers that explicitly reject the need for any scientific basis for their methods. Second, even within the rest of the OHP which claims some sort of “scientific” basis for its practices, the various alleged scientific bases are a hodge-podge of mutually inconsistent theories, which inevitably leads to an incoherent approach to health advocacy.

The “scientific tolerance” that you’re so proud of is basically a refusal to make the judgments necessary to distinguish between genuine science and junk science. If you’re willing to acknowledge all of those incompatible theories as valid “science” and as legitimate grounds for advocating good health, then you’re rejecting the genuine concept of “science”. Even if you privately believe that some of those theories are wrong, but remaining willing to embrace those practitioners as genuine allies and advocates of “Health”, you’re essentially saying that science is unimportant to your goal of promoting “Health”, and hence once again rejecting science whether you acknowledge it or not.

This nebulous goal of “Health” is an indication of this fact. The practitioners at OHP may all superficially sound like they’re advocating the same thing, but in reality they don’t agree on what “Health” is (whether it be a balance of “toxins”, the proper flow of “chi” along the body’s “meridians” or whatever) or how to promote it. I don’t want to promote your vague notion of “Health”, I want to promote genuine, scientifically-based medical care that leads to biological flourishing and a long active, productive life.

In fact, you even went to the same medical school as me, so you should know better. I don’t blame the reflexologists or the faith-healers that much for wanting join the OHP, hoping to gain some legitimacy in the eyes of the public as genuine advocates of “Health”. I can understand their incentives – they benefit from an intellectual package-deal in which the concept of “Health Practitioner” includes them as well as genuine MDs. But I do blame you and the other MDs who are helping them gain this unearned legitimacy, and I want nothing to do with you!

Bill: Come, now – you don’t have to be so dogmatic! I can see that you won’t join us. But would you be willing to come to speak to us at our next OHP meeting? You can speak on any topic you want, even it’s to attack our approach and defend your own approach based on your concept of science. Last year, one of our old medical school professors came and gave a talk to the OHP explaining why the concept of Health could only be based on rational scientific grounds, which he then proceeded to spell out. The follow-up debate was quite spirited, and we believe that debate and discussion is the heart of our intellectual growth.

David: Absolutely not. Even by giving a public talk at the OHP, I’d be granting it an unearned legitimacy as a place where genuine health advocacy takes place, and that’s precisely the one thing I don’t wish to grant. It’s not that I’m unwilling to debate reflexologists or iridologists – I’ve done so before in neutral online discussion groups. But I won’t do so under the banner of the OHP. Even if there are some better, more reasonable people at the OHP that I could reach, I can reach them in other venues, like the local medical society meetings or through my appearances on the local TV and radio talk shows. And hence, I think that our former medical school professor did a grave disservice to legitimate practitioners of medical care by appearing in front of the OHP.

The OHP has nothing of value to offer me, and for me to join or even speak at the OHP would undercut everything that I’ve worked for these many years – namely, the practice and promotion of medical care grounded in genuine rational science.

Bill: Well, I’m very disappointed in you. I guess we won’t be seeing much of you.

David: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along…

FINIS

This little fable is obviously an analogy for the issue of why as an Objectivist I don’t support libertarian organizations. Lest some of the readers think I’m exaggerating, I’d like to cite some real-life data. A few years ago, I attended some Libertarian Party functions in order to learn first-hand if the criticisms made of the LP by Objectivists were true. One of the things I did was ask LP members and officials what they believed, and why.

In particular, I was interested in their answer to the following questions:

(1) What are your political beliefs, and the political beliefs of the LP?
(2) What moral foundation do you hold for your political views?
(3) Do you believe that others in the LP share your moral views?
(4) Do you believe that it’s important for the other LP members to share the same moral views or not?

The nearly universal responses were as follows:

(1) The LP party and LP members believed in promoting something they called “Liberty”. Some of it was couched in the language of rights, but the only ideological condition for membership in the LP was taking their Oath of Non-initiation of Force.

(2) The LP members I met had a variety of moral foundations for their political views, some better and some worse. A few were explicitly subjectivist, such as the woman who told me, “Since there is no objective right and wrong, it would be wrong for the government to tell us what to do”. The obvious internal contradiction was so blatant that it was almost funny. Besides the subjectivists, I learned that there were Christian Libertarians who believed that rights came from God, atheist Libertarians who believed that rights were part of human nature, utilitarians who didn’t believe in rights but advocated the “Non-initiation of force” principle because it maximized “social utility”, Hayekians, Milton Friedman fans, Rothbardians, some supporters of Ayn Rand, some people who were actively hostile to the ideas of Ayn Rand, some single-issue advocates who liked what the LP said on one topic or another (such as drugs or guns or foreign intervention) but disagreed or had little interest in other topics, etc.

(3) They all agreed that there was not anything even remotely resembling agreement on the moral foundations of their varied defenses of Liberty.

(4) They all agreed that it was not important for the members of the LP to agree on the moral foundations of Liberty. In fact, the common refrain I heard was, “We’re a political organization, not a philosophical organization. We don’t need to agree on the correct moral philosophy in order to advocate our political views.” In fact, many of the LP members were quite proud of their philosophical tolerance and considered it a strength rather than a weakness.

Besides their disagreement on moral foundations, there were quite a few disagreements on what Liberty meant in theory and in practice. I learned that there were minimal-government Libertarians who believed that government was essential for protecting individual rights, anarchist Libertarians who believed that any government at all was automatically a violation of individual rights, pro-choice Libertarians who believed that women had an inviolable right to abort their fetuses, pro-life Libertarians who believed that abortion was a violation of the fetus’ rights, Libertarians who believed that spanking a child was a violation of it’s rights, Libertarians who believed that outlawing spanking was a violation of the parents’ rights, etc.

All claimed that their views were consistent with their Oath of Non-initiation of Force. But since they held such different moral theories, this led to different opinions of what constituted “force”, and hence (sometimes radically) different opinions on who should or should not be sent to jail for the use of such “force”.

Yet all were embraced as Libertarians. Sure they might have vigorous internal debates, but they all considered themselves allies in the overall cause of Liberty.

The more I saw, the less I liked.

In contrast, I’d like to make my own views explicit so that there’s no confusion. The analogies with the above fable should be pretty clear:

(1) Advocacy of the proper political philosophy can proceed only from the proper objective moral foundation.

(2) Political advocacy groups like the LP that embrace members with a hodge-podge of philosophic foundations for their politics are in essence embracing subjectivism. Sometimes the subjectivism is explicit (as in the case of the recent appalling events with the Libertarian Party of Colorado as documented by Ari Armstrong in this essay), and sometimes it’s slightly more indirect (as in the case of tolerating multiple, inconsistent, ill-grounded notions of “Liberty” as compatible with a genuine advocacy of individual rights). But in either case, the subjectivism is present, and is in fact the core of the LP philosophy.

(3) An Objectivist has no value to gain from joining or speaking to the LP. To do so would merely grant legitimacy to its underlying subjectivism, and thereby undercut his own rational advocacy of individual rights and proper government. If one wants to reach the better people in the LP, there are other means that don’t sanction the subjectivism inherent in the LP. Similarly, if one wants to debate the mistaken Libertarians, there are other forums in which to do so that again avoid conferring any sanction of subjectivism. And although I’ve focused primarily on the LP, this analysis applies equally to any other libertarian organization that adopts a similar subjectivist “tolerant” or pluralistic defense of Liberty.

It took me a while to come to these conclusions, and I don’t expect automatic or immediate agreement with my views. But I hope my short fable helps illuminate my reasons for holding them. As a physician, I found that by translating these abstract philosophical issues into a more concrete medical context the issues became much clearer to me, and I hope they will for you, too.

– Paul S. Hsieh, MD

Footnote:

Those who want to read more about the specific alternative “health” practices I’ve described above can find more information at the following:

Reflexology (treating disease by massaging zones of the foot)
http://www.ofesite.com/health/reflex/chart/index.htm

Iridology (diagnosing disease from color patterns in the iris)
http://www.kevala.co.uk/iridology/

Homeopathy (treating disease by giving dilute “toxins”)
http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/homeo.html

Chelation Therapy (treating disease by removing “toxins”)
http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/chelation.html

Technological Progress

 Posted by on 7 August 2004 at 9:02 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 072004
 

The author of this article lived for ten days only using the technology of 1954. It’s quite amazing how much the world has changed in a mere fifty years. (Found via my beloved Mr Woo.)

Pain and Suffering

 Posted by on 6 August 2004 at 4:58 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 062004
 

Today I was planning to run at least four miles, but my knees started to bother me at about two and a half, so I quit at three. I feel cheated; I hadn’t even really break a sweat! On the other hand, as someone who is naturally averse to running and most other forms of strenuous exercise, it’s quite delightful that three miles seems insignificant to me these days.

As for my knees, they have been bothering me somewhat over the past few weeks of running, but usually not until I’ve run past four or five miles. I’ve been icing them regularly, which does seem to help. However, after I finished my three miles today, I couldn’t even bend my right knee without significant pain.

The problem doesn’t really correspond to any of the common knee-running problems listed on this page or that page. The pain is focused in the lower outside quarter of the edge of the knee, mostly in my right knee. I already wear my orthotics when running, as I do have a problem with my iliotibial band in my left hip. Also, the pain disappears fairly quickly after I stop running. I haven’t twisted or otherwise traumatized my knee lately, although hiking down the Grand Canyon in mid-May did cause a great deal of knee pain and weakness. Also, although I’m running more than I ever have, I was pretty good about slowly ramping up my mileage. So really, I’m not sure what the problem is.

Fortunately, I just happen to be married to a musculoskeletal radiologist who should be able to squeeze me into the MRI schedule at one of his group’s outpatient facilities tomorrow. Yeah!

Update: It seems that my knee pain is due to inflammation of my iliotibial band after all. Paul even helpfully marked up these images; the white area is the inflamation.

So the problem isn’t all that serious, although I do need to attend to it.

A New Low for The Objectivist Center

 Posted by on 6 August 2004 at 2:31 pm  Libertarianism
Aug 062004
 

The person who forwarded me the following announcement wrote at the top, “*Groan* This is gonna’ be a train wreck, I can already tell.” I agree completely.

If you are in the Washington, D.C. area or traveling through here next Tuesday, Aug 10, you are cordially invited to the below event, put on by IHS for the Koch Fellows and other friends of liberty!

———

The Institute for Humane Studies and Koch Fellowship program invite you to a debate on:

Are Ethics Objective or Subjective?

Pro Objective:
Edward Hudgins
Washington Director
The Objectivist Center

Pro Subjective:
Max Borders
Program Director
Institute for Humane Studies

Are ethics ultimately objective or subjective? This is an important question for classical liberals and libertarians. All agree on the goals of individual liberty, free markets and limited governments in a society in which individuals deal with one another based on mutual consent rather than the initiation of force. But on what moral grounds can they defend such a society and government? In this debate Edward Hudgins will take the objective side, basing his argument on the philosophy of Ayn Rand while Max Borders will take the side of a skeptical subjectivist.

When:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
5:30pm: Refreshments
6:00-7:30pm: The Debate

Where:
The Cato Institute
F.A. Hayek Auditorium
1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

RSVP:
John Coleman
703-993-4969
jcolema2@gmu.edu

Just remember folks, we’re all “friends of liberty”! And we all “agree on the goals of individual liberty, free markets and limited governments in a society in which individuals deal with one another based on mutual consent rather than the initiation of force.” We just want to know on what moral grounds we can defend liberty.

Sheesh. What ever happened to the idea of not making common cause with the so-called “subjectivist wing” of the libertarian movement?!? Perhaps it officially died with David Kelley’s “Party of Modernity” article, in which he indicated that philosophic foundations aren’t so important to political movements after all:

[A party of modernity] is especially important for those who have committed themselves to the political cause of liberty, individual rights, limited government, and capitalism. We are more likely to find allies and converts among those who value reason, happiness, individualism, and progress than among those of premodern or postmodern values. It was the Enlightenment that gave us liberty as a moral ideal and a practical system. The culture of modernity is still liberty’s natural home.

Notice the implications of the claim that “we are more likely to find allies and converts among those who value reason, happiness, individualism, and progress than among those of premodern or postmodern values.” Kelley does not rule out the possibility that genuine political “allies and converts” can be found among advocates of the “premodern” and “postmodern” worldviews. He specifically allows for such a possibility, merely noting that the odds are better among “modernists.” In other words, the necessary philosophic foundations of liberty — such as the primacy of existence, reason, individualism, egoism, and moral principles — are dispensable conveniences in a political movement. Freedom is primary; “reason, happiness, individualism, and progress” are merely means to that end.

Notably, way back when Kelley gave his schism-precipitating “Objectivism and the Struggle For Liberty” lecture to the Laissez Faire Supper Club, he argued for reason, egoism, and mind-body integration as the three preconditions of a proper defense of liberty. As with so much else at TOC, those minimal standards have been discarded as inconvenient. So we ought not be surprised to find Ed Hudgins, the “Washington Man” without an adequate understanding of Objectivism, publicly and animcably debating skeptical subjectivist libertarianism on the premise of total political agreement. And yet, it does seem to be a new low for TOC… or at least it will be.

As a final note, let me suggest a worthy topic for Ed Hudgins’ next debate: “Is reality real?” Now that would be exciting!

Bias in Action

 Posted by on 5 August 2004 at 3:30 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 052004
 

Some radiologist I know pointed me to this disturbing but fascinating news story on the discrepancies between the findings of paid experts compared to those of neutral parties in asbestos lawsuits. Here’s the gist:

The study by Johns Hopkins University radiologists found that medical experts who testified on behalf of plaintiffs in asbestos suits almost always [96% of the time] found something suspicious on their X-rays, whether it was asbestos dust or a likely malignant tumor.

But six disinterested radiologists asked to review the same 492 chest X-rays found something wrong only 4.5 percent of the time.

Wow. Happily, the rest of the article is devoted to indignant condemnations of the dishonest charlatans by honest practicing radiologists, as well as a bit of information on the economic costs of such lawsuits.

We Have Police, So Why Not a Police State?!?

 Posted by on 3 August 2004 at 6:57 am  Uncategorized
Aug 032004
 

Not too long ago, I read Robert Garmong’s op-ed advocating the abolition of the FCC. It presented a good, clear, and straightforward argument. Apparently, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published it, for yesterday my “Ayn Rand” Google News Alert pointed me to this lengthy response, entitled “Free market or just chaos?” Reading it reminded me of the fact that wisdom does not come naturally with age.

The response starts off by declaring that “there are elements desiring to destroy the very foundations of our country on which our forefathers worked so hard to build.” Yes, apparently our forefathers weren’t so concerned about free speech, but rather more with the great degradation of the public good that comes with the utterance of rude language. And yes, those destroyers are “Garmong and his Ayn Rand do-gooders.”

His next argument is almost unbelievable:

On Page 2, for example, we read our “correctional population” hit a high of 6.9 million people who are either in prison at this time or are on parole or probation. This alarming statistic means that despite the best effort of many defense lawyers, opponents of capital punishment and other “do-gooders,” over 3 percent of our fellows are or have been convicted criminals.

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if there were no criminal laws, no police and no correctional facilities? Would one expect that crime growth would decrease by osmosis? We read that with all the police and all the jails, the number of both Americans and foreigners under our own criminal control increased last year by 130,700 and is continuing to rise. No thinking person in any thinking country would consider living in a society without judicial controls, knowing full well the consequences of a policeless society.

Why, then, should we not want to control the filth that is slowly but surely taking over our radio and TV and nonsubscriber cable networks?

Ah yes, failing to regulate broadcast media for dirty words is tantamount to allowing criminals to run free! Oh, those nilistic anarchists of the Ayn Rand Institute! This argument, of course, would be an excellent method of eliminating all free speech. For example: Given that we shouldn’t allow criminals to run free, why should we allow people to express false and destructive political opinions? Given that we shouldn’t allow criminals to run free, why should we allow people to worship their false gods? Given that we shouldn’t allow criminals to run free, why should we allow people to ever say unkind things about each other?

Sheesh. I think we need a campaign to make “non sequitur” a household word.

A Good Recommendation

 Posted by on 2 August 2004 at 1:17 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 022004
 

On the off chance that I ever need a recommendation for “Fun Objectivist Travelling Companion,” now I know that I can count on Don Watkins for a good review. (I had a great time driving up and back to OCON with him. I didn’t even mind getting lost… in his neck of the woods, no less!)

The real news, of course, is that Don is blogging again.

Documents, Sanction, and Confusion

 Posted by on 1 August 2004 at 12:02 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 012004
 

This post is largely a response to the issues raised by Eyal Mozes in his long comment on my disassociation from The Objectivist Center, the Kelley split, the history of ARI, and so on. Let me begin with an issue that has been on my mind of late, namely the relationship between David Kelley’s initial short essay “A Question of Sanction” and his longer monograph “Truth and Toleration.”

In his comment, Eyal Mozes charged that “ARI’s entire policy on this matter constituted a complete rejection of the Objectivist view of independence, because it was based on the expectation that people will accept the condemnation of Kelley on authority, with no need for rational argument.” Don Watkins responded thusly:

This is either confused on dishonest. The Objectivist response to Kelley’s views is contained in Peikoff’s article “Fact and Value” as well as a host of other essays responding to Kelley’s essay, “A Question of Sanction.” The fact that Kelley chose to write a lengthier tract on these issues did not impose an obligation on any Objectivist to do the same. On the contrary, to do so would have been to grant “Truth and Toleration” more attention and respect than it deserves. (It is proper for Diana to give it that much attention given her history with TOC.)

I am in complete agreement with Don on this point. Let me indicate my reasons.

When I originally sided with David Kelley ten years ago, I regarded the lack of a response to Truth and Toleration (T&T) as quite telling. It seemed to be a tacit admission of weakness in Peikoff’s position, perhaps even an appeal to authority. At the same time, I was also rather befuddled by some of the claims Kelley made in “A Question of Sanction” (AQOS). (Given that I was brand-new to Objectivism, that’s hardly surprising.) The then-IOS certainly downplayed AQOS in favor of T&T; I followed that suggestion in my own thinking about the split. (In July 1994, a staff member at IOS said the following to me in e-mail about “A Question of Sanction”: “[It is] an out of date, 4 page essay circulated in March 1989. We do not want to encourage its continued circulation because _Truth and Toleration_ gives a more thorough treatment of the issues and that is where interested people should look.”)

But as I have pondered the arguments surrounding the Kelley split over the past few months, I’ve concluded that the major errors of T&T are all present — and are more apparent — in AQOS. (That was based upon my re-reading of T&T, noticing various substantial errors, then later re-reading AQOS.) Perhaps a critique of T&T would have helped confused newbies like me understand the issues better. But such a response was hardly incumbent upon Peikoff or his supporters, given that Kelley had already laid out the essentials of his views in AQOS, to which responses were written. In the Q&A of his Moral Virtue course, which was given after AQOS and F&V but before T&T, Peikoff explicitly said that he would not respond to any longer treatise from Kelley, since he had already addressed the essentials in “Fact and Value.” I think he was right to do that; life is too short.

Notably, T&T is not some fundamentally new and different document. It is an elaboration of the ideas found in AQOS, plus a few responses to criticisms of that article. As such, if AQOS represented a substantial departure from Objectivist principles, then T&T would too. Examples are not exactly difficult to find. For example, in AQOS, Kelley claims that he “cannot engage [his] opponents without conferring some benefit on them, in some indirect and attenuated fashion as buying their books, helping them retain their audience, or the like.” In light of such inevitable benefits to evildoers, he then outlines his method of deciding upon speaking engagements:

In any given case, therefore, I weigh the costs of association against the possible gains. Before I accept a writing or speaking engagement, I consider whether my sponsors are offering me access to an audience I could not otherwise have reached; or whether I would be helping them attract an audience they could not otherwise have earned. I consider whether my sponsors have a definite editorial policy or ideological commitment opposed to Objectivism, and, if so, whether they are willing to have me state my disagreement explicitly. I consider whether the format of my appearance would suggest that I endorse other speakers and their views. And I consider what I know of their moral and intellectual character. In weighing these and other matters, I am always looking for long-range strategic gain at minimal cost. That’s how you fight a war of ideas.

In “On Moral Sanctions,” Schwartz criticizes this view as pragmatism, writing that:

Moral judgment, and not some pragmatic calculation of losses and gains, is what must precede any decision about whom to associate with. As Dr. Peikoff makes clear (in his lecture “Why Should One Act on Principle?” and, much more extensively, in his forthcoming book on Objectivism), there cannot be any “cost-benefit analysis” of justice versus injustice, or of not sanctioning versus sanctioning evil (or of the alleged pro’s and con’s of any proper moral principle). The moral is the practical. No matter what the short-range appearances may be, there are no real “benefits” in acting unjustly, and no “losses” in acting justly. There can be no value in pretending that the irrational is rational. The moral principles of Objectivism identify the kind of action — the only kind of action — that is in accord with the demands of reality and therefore beneficial to man’s life. If an action is consonant with moral principles, then and only then can the question of costs versus benefits legitimately arise. Only then can various alternative courses offer genuine advantages and disadvantages that need to be compared. But the immoral — the unjust, the dishonest, the irrational — is by its nature the anti-life and can offer no value.

So we might wonder: Does T&T in any way counter this charge of pragmatism? Not one iota. Kelley merely repeats and expands upon his claims from AQOS. After a discussion of his idea that benefiting evil is necessary in the pursuit of value, Kelley writes:

Within this context [of participating in the marketplace of ideas], our goal should be to avoid aiding evil any more than necessary. We should make sure that any such aid is an unavoidable byproduct of a rational purpose. We should try to tailor our action so as to minimize such aid. And we should avoid the action when the evil is of a magnitude that outweighs the positive benefits of the action. These commonsense standards require that we weigh the costs and the benefits of an action, including the particular degree of good and bad that may result. This is not a policy of pragmatism, as Schwartz alleges. A benefit is a value, and a cost is a disvalue. The essence of pragmatism is not its concern with costs and benefits; that concern is shared by any value-oriented, teleological ethics, including ethics. The essence of pragmatism is its claim that costs and benefits can be measured without the use of principles. That is why, as the old joke says, pragmatism doesn’t work.

Moral principles tell us what kinds of things are valuable or harmful, beneficial or costly to our lives. They tell us which traits of people are virtuous or vicious, and thereby tell us whom it is in our interest to deal with. To pursue our interests, therefore, we must act on principle: the moral is the practical. This point is not in dispute. But Schwartz writes as if every action we consider is governed by a single principle. In fact, that is almost never the case. The circumstances in which we are normally complex, and the consequences various. We use principles to identify the goods and ills at stake, but we must then weigh the good against the ill, in the manner I’ve indicated. This normally requires that we consider specific degrees of good or harm. For example, we do not hesitate to put our money into savings instruments, despite the fact that we thereby lower the cost of loans to evil governments, because the benefits are substantial and the harm negligible. These are quantitative judgments, and they are not always this obvious. Such weighing of costs and benefits is the only possible method of acting on principle, and it is therefore morally required of us: the practical is the moral. (T&T 21)

Notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary, Kelley’s view is most certainly a form of pragmatism. Objectivism holds that moral principles are contextually absolute guides to action, not merely means of identifying goods and ills for later weighing. In moral decision-making, we do not weigh the costs and benefits of honesty and productiveness against those of lying and thieving. The whole point of thinking in and acting on principle is to absolutely rule out lying and thieving in advance, since we already know that the apparent gains of lying and thieving are illusory in the context of a whole life. And then, as Schwartz notes, “if an action is consonant with moral principles, then and only then can the question of costs versus benefits legitimately arise.” (Notably, the plausibility of Kelley’s whole analysis rests upon the initial false premise that the pursuit of values necessarily requires benefiting evil.) Kelley’s view is fundamentally at odds with the Objectivist view of moral principles. I defy any defender of Kelley’s views to find a passage in Ayn Rand’s writings (or those endorsed by her) that even remotely resembles Kelley’s view as quoted above.

As such, Schwartz’s criticism of AQOS on this point is just as applicable to T&T; no separate response is required. (Of course, I would not say that all supporters of Peikoff have accurately represented or adequately understood Kelley’s views. And I do think that my own history with IOS/TOC renders a detailed commentary on the issues a worthwhile activity, if not morally obligatory. But those are separate issues.)

Eyal does have some justification to complain about the delay in my own detailed commentary on Kelley’s views. When I published my public statement disassociating myself from TOC, I expected to finish my longer commentary in a few weeks. That was a reasonable estimate, given that I had already written most of it. However, as I thought about and discussed the issues further, I realized that I needed further time and study to allow my understanding of the issues to mature in both breadth and depth. (That is not to say that I wasn’t wholly justified in disassociating myself from TOC when I did. Rather, my point is merely that a detailed philosophic analysis demands more.) Happily, I’m finally at a point where I can resume active work on the project, as I have over the past week. (I will, however, largely need to start from scratch in my writing.) Also, all of my reading, thinking, discussing, and writing about Kelley’s views last spring took time away from graduate school. So this summer, my top priority has been to write the papers to close out my three incompletes, two of which were from the spring semester. And that means much less time to write on the Kelley issue. (Frankly, I’m not sure when it will be finished. But I am working on it.)

However, I do not think that Eyal has much cause to complain about my claim that “at least some supporters of Kelley are honestly in error, either confused about the philosophic issues or confused about Kelley’s own views” just because my own analysis has yet to be published. That judgment is largely based upon my own intellectual history, as well as lengthy and lengthy conversations with past and present supporters of David Kelley, many of whom I’ve known for over 10 years. And of course, it was merely an observation emphasizing my rejection of the idea that all supporters of Kelley’s views are dishonest, not any kind of argument.

However, I should note that Eyal represents a very interesting case for me. Like a small number of other friends and acquaintances, he is very knowledgeable of and committed to Objectivism, dissatisfied with TOC’s course in recent years, yet strongly committed to the ideas in T&T. To be clear, the existence of such people does not raise any doubts in my mind about the substantial errors in Kelley’s views on moral judgment, sanction, toleration, and Objectivism as an open system. (That would be second-handedness, after all.) But I will be particularly interested in their responses to my future analysis of Kelley’s views, as I expect it will be illuminating for both sides.

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