Comments from NoodleFood


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Comment #1

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 11:05:26 mdt
Name: James Heaps-Nelson

Diana,

I disagree with a few points made in this Blog entry. If it were necessary for people to be fully consistent logically to support freedom, life and human happiness, this country would never have been founded. Many American GI's would never have fought the Nazis in WWII. I think it is vitally important for an Enlightenment or reformation to happen within Islam.

Jim



Comment #2

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 11:17:43 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Jim, you wrote: "I disagree with a few points made in this Blog entry. If it were necessary for people to be fully consistent logically to support freedom, life and human happiness, this country would never have been founded. Many American GI's would never have fought the Nazis in WWII. I think it is vitally important for an Enlightenment or reformation to happen within Islam."

I'm saying that the intellectuals who advocate those values must be fully consistent -- if they wish to defend them effectively. Otherwise, they will be all-too-easily undermined by opponents, as seen this country's political trajectory since its founding and in the death of the Islamic middle ages. Regular people can accept good values on good grounds, even if they don't understand the technical philosophy. I have no problem with that, so long as the intellectuals understand and advocate the full case. But that's a very different situation from grafting them onto a wholly contradictory philosophic foundation like Islam.

(I did speak positively about people being influenced by good ideas to varying degrees, even if they don't fully accept them. In case I wasn't clear enough, I do regard that as positive change.)

You are right that Islam needs Enlightenment and/or reformation. That's not going to happen if even its opponents refuse to acknowledge it for what it is: irrational primitivism. Remember, that was a standard view of Christianity during the Enlightenment!)

I hope that clarifies. Ask away if you have other questions or concerns!



Comment #3

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 12:13:35 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

As I observe Kelley's wasting away intellectually (I wouldn't say "go off the deep end," as that would suggest a sudden lurch and Kelley's all about progressing slowly and carefully towards his ultimate intellectual demise), it happens that I went to the link mentioning the Five Pillars of Islam. First off, I'm struck by how they hardly amount to anything substantive other than belief in Allah and some rituals. I got this sort of feeling reading it that I do reading the Scientology website. But there is one substantive thing I picked out in the Five Pillars, under "Almsgiving." And that is the claim that all wealth is a gift from Allah.

Now, Kelley doesn't seem to grasp the essential here. Allah "may or may not" be a religion of peace, etc., and yet we have at least one tenet here that cannot be rationally integrated with a pro-life-on-earth, pro-reason, pro-peace worldview. Either that tenet goes, or the contradiction (between that tenet on the one one hand and human life on the other) spreads. As "benign" as this tenet seems to be, it's intellectually cancerous. It becomes meaningless to speak of Islam as a pro-life worldview when the spernicious implications of this one tenet, the manner in which it subverts reason and life, are spelled out.

And this is a *seemingly benign* tenet, no less. Now, start quoting the parts of scripture that aren't so seemingly benign and the point starts to set in.



Comment #4

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 13:55:03 mdt
Name: GCS

Diana,

You distinguish between regular people who “can accept good values on good grounds, even if they don't understand the technical philosophy” and intellectuals, who “must be fully consistent.” But isn’t the real point, with regard to Kelley the dishonesty and subjectivism?

If some new Islamic philosopher arose who opposed the Islamists with Locke-style arguments for reason, religious toleration, and individual rights, while still advocating Islam, I think this would be a major positive development. And I think it would be fine for an Objectivist, who understands this man’s errors, to write positive articles about this person, or to work with him on certain delimited projects, so long as in doing this one does not trivialize his errors. An Objectivist intellectual would properly say of this person: “Many of his ideas are good, and arguments sound, but they are incompatible with his advocacy of religion. Only on a fully rational basis, which leaves no room faith, can freedom be defended.” (Though I agree that it would be wrong to say even this under the auspices of a group advocating this philosophy.)

Kelley is not saying this. He’s saying, in effect: “To hell with ideas. Sure we all have systems of ideas, but that doesn’t matter because they mean whatever we want them to mean. What matters is concretes, like whether or not we support violent Jihad, so you guys should just make your ideas mean that violent Jihad is wrong, and then all will be well.” This is total subjectivism. It is philosophically more false and more dangerous than the mixed philosophy the Islamic thinker in question. Indeed, we ought to think worse of the Muslims for sanctioning Kelley, than we do of Kelley for sanctioning these Muslims. Moreover, it’s dishonest. Kelley knows better than this, or at least he would know better if he had any interest in the truth.



Comment #5

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 14:42:41 mdt
Name: NS
URL: http://www.noumenalself.com

GCS: "We ought to think worse of the Muslims for sanctioning Kelley, than we do of Kelley for sanctioning these Muslims."

Brilliant, GCS!



Comment #6

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 15:37:21 mdt
Name: anonymouszz

Wow. These entries on Kelly, Branded and the TOC are awesome. Whatever claim to objectivity these people may have had is now thouroughly destroyed. As a new student of Objectivism you have given me the tools to seperate the rational thinkers from the snake oil salesmen. Are you going to comment on Chris Sciabarra and his interpretations of Rand? He also seems like someone who is peddles stinky garbage.



Comment #7

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 15:46:52 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

GCS: I'm a bit confused. Do you think that my post was ambiguous on Kelley's dishonesty and subjectivism? I certainly tried to be clear on those points, although I'll readily admit that your pithy summary outdid my long post.

I do suspect that we are talking about two different types of cases: I agree that your Lockean-type Islamic philosopher would be a positive development to be encouraged, so long as his errors and inconsistencies are appropriately noted. However, that Aquinas-type case of attempted peaceful co-existence between separate spheres of faith and reason is not in play here. From what I read on the "Free Muslim Coalition" web site, they seem to be working on an Augustinian model in which western values are supposed to be the handmaiden to Islam. So democracy is only an option because the Koran does not tell us how to govern and violent jihad can be abandoned only because Islam no longer has enemies. That is not a rational defense of Western values, but rather an attempt graft some superficial Western values onto a foundation of Islam for the sake of encouraging Muslims to blow themselves up less often. I don't regard that as a step in the right direction.

If I'm right in that reading, then the "Free Muslim Coalition" deserves David Kelley. If they are Muslims in the mold of Aquinas, you're right that it's far worse for them to be sanctioning him than him to be sanctioning them. (In any case, my concern in this final flurry concern the supposed Objectivists, not the supposed Muslims.)

Perhaps I'm still confused, however. If so, please straighten me out!



Comment #8

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 15:47:07 mdt
Name: michael

Yet again, we see from TOC an "inversion of the hierarchy," putting political positions ahead of any other philosophical ideas, including the very roots of those political positions.

For example, in Kelley's speech, the criticisms of Islamism are primarily limited to the political realm:

"...Islamists have no real political philosophy or program..."

"The Islamists, like many other fundamentalists and like all totalitarians, are opposed to secular political institutions: democracy, individual rights, the rule of law, freedom of religion and speech.."

Rather than compare the depredations of 2001 to the Crusades or the Inquisition -- which would hint at fundamentals -- Kelley chooses a regular comparison to communism and fascism. Again, political ideology, rather than the "big ideas" of philosophy, seems to be what dominates his argument.

But the kicker is his statement:

"The Islamists, like the communist and fascist totalitarians, hate individualism. There is no room in their worldview for individual freedom of thought, or for the pursuit of individual happiness."

This is a strange contrast with his starting paragraph, where he exhorts us to unite in the "name of values that transcend differences in religion and worldview."

I guess some worldviews really do imply value differences we care about...



Comment #9

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 16:13:40 mdt
Name: David Arceneaux

I think the subtext of Kelley's speech is: "We need press attention and donor money."

I'm sorry that I ever funded this group-even at the student donation level.



Comment #10

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 17:55:18 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

anonymouzz wrote: "Wow. These entries on Kelly, Branded and the TOC are awesome. Whatever claim to objectivity these people may have had is now thouroughly destroyed. As a new student of Objectivism you have given me the tools to seperate the rational thinkers from the snake oil salesmen. Are you going to comment on Chris Sciabarra and his interpretations of Rand? He also seems like someone who is peddles stinky garbage."

Nice try, Lindsay Perigo, but I'd recognize
you anywhere, you old trouble-maker! And
you might want to brush up on your sentence
construction skills a bit. That last sentence,
whew! :-)

But sure, come on, Diana, make our day. Let's
hear what you have to say about Chris Sciabarra
and his Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Roger Bissell



Comment #11

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 18:10:09 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

anonymouszz,

I wouldn't put Chris Sciabarra in the same group. Reading recently through the first part of his book -Total Freedom-, what strikes me the most is the very academic style. He's not at all like Ayn Rand in terms of target audience. That's a stylistic difference between Sciabarra and Rand, no question. And it helps not at all when he employs the buzzword "dialectics" given its historical associations with Hegel and Marx. He is, however, making arguably a valid argument, that "dialectics" properly has its origin in Aristotle and that the likes of Hegel and Marx misapplied and abused the concept. Sciabarra's understanding of dialectics means keeping the entire context, the result being proper integration of things that all too many philosophers historically have dichotomized, pitting, e.g., mind against body, reason against independent reality, logic against experience, etc.

Other than some uproar about the mere use of the term "dialectics" or his highly academic style, I haven't seen a substantive criticism of Sciabarra's argument that refutes this understanding of it. If Aristotle is the father of dialectic properly conceived and applied (and there's evidence that term goes all the way back to his time), in contrast to Plato's dualism, then I think that would speak well for it.

That said, I don't think Sciabarra is required reading if you're not into reading highly technical, academic stuff. His main concern is to highlight Rand's methodology, though it's all already pretty much there in her writings and Peikoff's articles (most prominently "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichtomy") and lecture courses (such as "Understanding Objectivism").



Comment #12

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 18:22:47 mdt
Name: anonymouszz

Roger Bissell:

I'm not Lindsey Perigio. What would give you that idea?

I realized that I had made typos after posting but didn't want to take up more space with a correction.

And I would like a rational opinion about Sciabarra's "dialectical libertarianism" and his view of Ayn Rand as a "Russian Radical", as well as his JARS journal. I can't imagine that he is a positive force for advancing Objectivism.



Comment #13

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 18:31:43 mdt
Name: Glenn

On the Free muslims coalition web site there is a link to a Washington Post video of the event. One third in, David Kelley is standing in line with the other speakers waiting to speak. There are more speakers then people listening.

Little Green Footballs had a picture of this event the day afterwards and at most it looked like 25 people showed up.



Comment #14

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 20:12:31 mdt
Name: Brian Fritts

Nice post. This act by Kelley was the last straw for me. It was the act that made me lose any hope that The Objectivist Center may has a useful function. I can no longer support it.

One of my favorite Ayn Rand insights was the discovery of the corollary between Faith and Force. The older I get (I'm currently 32), the more I realize the genius of this observation. In my book, Kelley's speech is a great embarrasment. The fact that The Objectivist Center would tout it as a major accomplishment is one of the most foolish things I have ever seen from an "objectivist."



Comment #15

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 20:23:45 mdt
Name: GCS

Diana,

I don't disagree with anything in your initial post, nor with your assessment about this Muslim group (about which I know little), only with a minor point you made in the comments. There someone made the point that the American founders, many US citizens and soldiers, and other such people had good ideas but held contradictory fundamental premises. I took your reply to be that this is true, but that (1) this very fact is responsible for America's present problems and (2) a regular person who holds some significant good views in the context of a contradictory philosophy man be a good person, but an intellectual who holds good views in the context of a contradictory philosophy is bad. I agree with (1) but disagree with (2), and cite Locke or Aquinas as a counter-example to (2). (And were there a prominant Locke- or Aquinas-like Muslim thinker today, that would be a good thing.) It is true that the consequences of the mistakes and inconsistencies of intellectuals have larger effects than those of other people, but so too do their accomplishments, and in some contexts an inconsistent philosophy, with good and bad elements can be a great achievement and a terrific improvement on what came before. I don't think you disagree, and perhaps this is what you meant by (2). But, I don't think this difference between regular people and intellectuals is really what's at issue here. Bringing it in doesn't answer the objection about the founders and US soldiers and the like, b/c some of them were intellectuals, and bringing that point in calls attention to the real difference between these people and Kelley. These (good) people were striving for consistency, and more generally they were striving to be objective (whatever errors or lapses they may have made). Kelley has rejected objectivity on principle. The problem with Kelley is not that he fails to be as consistent as an intellectual (as opposed to normal person) needs to be (as bringing in (2) above implies), but that he's a dishonest subjectivist.

-GCS



Comment #16

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 21:02:30 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

GCS: Thanks for the clarification; I now understand your point. Looking back, I think that comment was muddled due to some conflated distinctions. I think we're in complete agreement.



Comment #17

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 22:11:27 mdt
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

"anonymouszz:"

You write about Chris Sciabarra, "I can't imagine that he is a positive force for advancing Objectivism." He would not necessarily disagree. CS often makes the point that he is NOT an Objectivist; he is a "Randian" in the sense that he is more influenced by Ayn Rand than by any other philosopher, but he has differences with some aspects of Rand's philosophical system.

Now, is it good or bad for Objectivism to have "Randian" but explicitly non-Objectivist academics writing about Ayn Rand? This is an interesting question, but not the subject of this thread. If Diana writes something to invite a discussion on that topic, then - and only then - will it be appropriate to discuss it on her blog.



Comment #18

Monday, August 8, 2005 at 22:49:37 mdt
Name: GS

The term dialectic predates Aristotle. Plato used it to describe a method of doing philosophy that he took to be common between himself, Socrates, and the Eleatics. It is Plato not Aristotle who advocates dialectic as *the* method of philosophy. For Plato it is the method by which a philosopher transcends the hypotheses on which the various sciences are based to achieve a synoptic insight into The Form of Good. This insight completes the philosophers abandonment of interest in the perceptible world which, by this time, he has long learned is less-than-fully real. Aristotle denies all of this. What exact role dialectic plays for Aristotle (and even what he means by "dialectic") is not entirely clear, but he is clear that, whatever uses dialectical argument may have, dialectic is not the essence of philosophy or of knowledge. So it is a mistake to call Aristotle a “dialectical” philosopher, at least if we’re using "dialectical" in any sense that we would expect Aristotle to recognize. (The term has been used in many ways throughout the history of philosophy.)

Hegel and Marx's conceptions or dialectic is a sort of variant of Plato's. The common theme between the three is that the dialectician synthesizes a plurality of often contradictory ideas into some sort of coherent unity.

Now (Sciabarra's pseudo-scholarly prattling aside) how does this all relate to Objectivism? Objectivism holds that integration and context-keeping are crucial to knowledge, and there is some (limited) commonality to Plato, Hegel and the like here. Like these views Objectivism stresses that a heap of disconnected pieces of information is not sufficient for knowledge, that knowledge constitutes a coherent, systematic whole, and that, therefore, we need to integrate our various conclusions and to eliminate any contradictions that we may find in our thinking. However, this does not make Objectivism "dialectical," the need for integration is only one of two centrally important topics in the Objectivist epistemology. The other topic is hierarchy, and on this topic Objectivism is radically different from Plato and from the 19th and 20th century "dialectical" philosophers. This difference leads to a totally different view of integration than is held by any of the other thinkers mentioned, with the result that Objectivism's approach to knowledge has little in common with the so-called "dialectical" theories, and it is totally illegitimate to say that Objectivism countenances a "dialectical method."

Explaining the differences in any detail is a subject for an article, not a blog-comment, but let me just indicate them here. Objectivism does not hold that there is any value in transcending dualities or dichotomies as such. In particular it does not hold that any set of competing viewpoints need to be synthesized. Often one side is just wrong. When one encounters a contradiction in one's own thinking, Objectivism advises him to "check his premises," by which it means: to reduce the contradicting ideas back to perceptual evidence that gave rise to them. In doing this, you will see that at least one of the contradictory ideas is the result of an error. More generally, Objectivism advises us to reduce all of our knowledge to the perceptual level. It is by attending to the steps by our concepts and conclusions are derived from perception that we validate our concepts and prove our conclusions. Integration and context-keeping have no value whatsoever unless the material one integrates and the context one keeps *has a rational basis*. (For those familiar with Dr. Peikoff's "DIM Hypothesis," the difference between Objectivism and dialectics, is the difference between "I" [rational integration] and "M2" [extreme irrationalist misintegration].")

Not only is it worthless to keep context without reducing, it's also impossible. Practitioners of this sort of method inevitably drop huge and relevant portions of the context. The prime example of this are the dialectical pseudo-scholars of Objectivism who justify their claim that Objectivism is dialectical by taking one portion of the Objectivist methodology out of its proper context, thus stripping it of its meaning, and converting it into its opposite. Notice in this connection that the index of Sciabarra's copious *Russian Radical* does not include any entries for hierarchy, proof, validation, or reduction (in the relevant sense of that term).

When Whittaker Chambers claimed that Ayn Rand was a fascist bent on sending people to the gas chamber, he did her less of an injustice than did Chris Sciabarra in calling her a "dialectician" bent on "transcending formal dualism." It is imperative that Objectivists entirely repudiate this breed of "Ayn Rand Studies" and those who practice it, as we repudiate Chambers, his shameful article, and the National Review. In a time where Objectivism is just starting to be a force in the culture and to be taken seriously in academia there are few worse fates possible for it than to be confused with this sort of rubbish.



Comment #19

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 1:49:44 mdt
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

GS,

"Reduce the contradicting ideas back to perceptual evidence that gave rise to them - and you will find that at least one of the contradictory ideas is the result of an error. Objectivism advises us to reduce ALL of our knowledge to the perceptual level."

This is a superb two-sentence summary of exactly how Rand's primacy-of-existence philosophical methodology differs not only from Sciabarra's "dialectical" tradition, but from ALL primacy-of-consciousness traditions in philosophy. Thank you!



Comment #20

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 5:17:11 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

GS and Adam Reed offered some (for me) eyebrow-raising characterizations of dialectics in relation to Objectivism. GS wrote:

"Objectivism advises us to reduce all of our knowledge to the perceptual level. It is by attending to the steps by our concepts and conclusions are derived from perception that we validate our concepts and prove our conclusions. Integration and context-keeping have no value whatsoever unless the material one integrates and the context one keeps *has a rational basis*. (For those familiar with Dr. Peikoff's "DIM Hypothesis," the difference between Objectivism and dialectics, is the difference between "I" [rational integration] and "M2" [extreme irrationalist misintegration].") Not only is it worthless to keep context without reducing, it's also impossible."..."When Whittaker Chambers claimed that Ayn Rand was a fascist bent on sending people to the gas chamber, he did her less of an injustice than did Chris Sciabarra in calling her a "dialectician" bent on "transcending formal dualism." It is imperative that Objectivists entirely repudiate this breed of "Ayn Rand Studies"..."

Where is the evidence that dialectics eschews or ignores the importance of reduction to context-keeping? To the contrary, in ~Ayn Rand, the Russian Radical~ (1995), Dr. Sciabarra stresses the fact that a "concept can be reduced to its component parts ['two or more perceptual concretes--or units', p. 169] whenever analysis is needed." Indeed, he says, "physical concretes and conceptual units must never be disconnected. And abstractions must never be left floating in disregard of the existential reality that gives them meaning." (p. 171)

GS also comments that "the index of Sciabarra's copious *Russian Radical* does not include any entries for hierarchy, proof, validation, or reduction (in the relevant sense of that term)." True enough, but as already noted in the instance of "reduction," that is a shortcoming of the index, not the text. Further, Sciabarra's focus in Russian Radical on context and integration (as against hierarchy and reduction) is for the purpose of showing how ~dialectics~ is a characteristic of Rand's philosophical method, and ~a~ characteristic, not its complete essence.

So, what's this bit about dialectics being "extreme irrationalist misintegration" and Sciabarra worse than Whittaker Chambers? Good grief!

Also, Sciabarra's work on dialectics (which encompasses much more than Russian Radical) and his editing of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies are two distinct enterprises, though it does not surprise me to see the tarring of the latter by association with the former. (FYI, I contributed a favorable comment on the back cover of the revised edition of Russian Radical, I consulted on and contributed footnote and other material to Total Freedom, and I have done reading for and contributed articles to Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. So, if GS is going to crucify Sciabarra for his work, as he seems determined to do, he'd better grab some extra lumber and nails!)

Adam's comment was short and sweet, but just as far off base: [replying to GS's comment, "Reduce the contradicting ideas back to perceptual evidence that gave rise to them - and you will find that at least one of the contradictory ideas is the result of an error. Objectivism advises us to reduce ALL of our knowledge to the perceptual level."] This is a superb two-sentence summary of exactly how Rand's primacy-of-existence philosophical methodology differs not only from Sciabarra's "dialectical" tradition, but from ALL primacy-of-consciousness traditions in philosophy."

It's not clear whether Adam is referring to the tradition of dialectics as a whole, or to Sciabarra's version of it. But it is clear to me that the latter is fully consistent with the Primacy of Existence. As Sciabarra says in ~Total Freedom~, "...if a dialectical analysis is to help us understand the real world, it must relate first to the facts of that world...[W]ithout a ~proper~ identification of facts, and without logic, dialectics is doomed to be the handmaid of irrationality, as history has shown." (150)

Roger Bissell, musician-writer



Comment #21

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 13:13:30 mdt
Name: Jason Pappas
URL: http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/

I suspect that TOC has taken the viewpoint of Daniel Pipes that Islam isn’t the problem " only militant Islam. I argue otherwise [1]. In addition, TOCers hope that Islam can do what Christianity has done in the process of coming to grips with modernity. CGS also says this and you are sympathetic. Again, I argue that Islam is not a candidate for such a transformation [2] Thus, I find it shocking that you see such a possibility as an Islamic Locke! What next? An Islamic Rand! Please!!

[1] <http://tinylink.com/?7X8x4Hhrwp>
[2] <http://tinylink.com/?r5X1L4dRV0>



Comment #22

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 14:01:13 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Diana: "Since a person's values are determined by his worldview, whether in the form of religion or philosophy, what values might possibly "transcend differences in religion and worldview"?"

You've got it exactly backwards. A worldview is, like a "sense of life," an "integrated sum of basic values." A person's worldview is determined by her values. Remember that most people don't have a conceptually formulated philosophy, and rely primarily on its "pre-conceptual equivalent."

Either way, it should not be so difficult to make sense of the common sense idea of values that transcend differences in worldview. If I value my happiness, and I have one worldview, and you value your happiness, and you have another worldview, then personal happiness is something we value in common. This is not an advanced point. "Transcending the differences" is a too-fancy way of saying "shared."

I hope no one is perplexed by the fact that the same word can express a different concept for different people. It is true that everyone who claims to value liberty does not have the same thing in mind. But it is also true that many people who claim to value liberty do have a common concept of liberty in mind, whether or not they agree on all their other philosophical premises.

It is worth pointing out, as a technical aside, that concepts are individuated by their referents, not by their relations to other concepts. The meaning of 'liberty' is an objective condition of persons. The meaning is not a construct determined by its relation to other concepts in a theory. That's why it is not necessary to share a common theory in order to think and speak of the same kind of thing. And that is why it is possible for people with different worldviews (theories, philosophies) to share objective values, such as happiness, freedom, and the free exercise of reason.

Diana again: "What values might be consistent with a wide range of positions on the basic nature of existence, the nature and means of knowledge, and the standard of the good? In fact, no such free-floating values are possible, as Ayn Rand certainly understood. That's why the complex abstractions of philosophy matter so very much!"

I don't think this makes any sense. I assume would agree that values JUST ARE those things required for a properly human life. So, if reason is a value, it is a value, no matter what your THEORY of existence, knowledge, and value happens to be. The "complex abstractions of philosophy" have exactly nothing to do with that in virtue of which reason is a value. It is a value because of its relation to life, it is a value for everybody, and was a value before anyone had an explicit philosophy. The same goes for freedom, happiness, etc. Philosophy has to do with how one identifies that something is a value, and how one acts to achieve it.

Surely, people who identify something as a value for the wrong reason may not be effective champions of that value. But, then again, it is also possible that they WILL be effective champions of that value. It depends on how wrong they are, and precisely how they are wrong.

There is so much more to say. Let me just say, Diana, that I believe you're unfairly distorting the plain sense of Kelley's remarks, and being more than a little philosophically sloppy.



Comment #23

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 14:40:10 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Will: I'm quite unmoved by your defense of David Kelley's speech, as it wholly depends upon your own misunderstandings of and disagreements with Objectivism. (For example, not only do your comments reject the Objectivist view of the powerful influence of philosophy in human life, they also rely upon an intrinsicist, acontextual view of value.) If others here wish to respond to your claims, they are welcome to do so. They aren't of sufficient interest to me to bother writing up my thoughts.



Comment #24

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 15:05:12 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Will writes:

"It is worth pointing out, as a technical aside, that concepts are individuated by their referents, not by their relations to other concepts. The meaning of 'liberty' is an objective condition of persons. The meaning is not a construct determined by its relation to other concepts in a theory. That's why it is not necessary to share a common theory in order to think and speak of the same kind of thing."

This represents a crucial misunderstanding of the Objectivist position. A concept DOES mean its referents, but we can't form higher-level concepts directly from their referents. They are integrations of lower-level concepts. This is why a higher-level concept IS in fact "determined by its relation to other concepts in a theory." To accurately identify the referents of a higher-level concept (or idea), you have to be able to reduce that concept (or idea) to its perceptual roots.



Comment #25

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 15:12:27 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Diana, Your quite grand refusal to address my comments rests on further careless errors of philosophical diagnosis on your part. First, nothing I said implies the rejection of the view that philosophy has a powerful influence on human life. Second, the view of value I was setting forth is the Objectivist view. Something is a value in virtue of the relation it bears to human life. These relations are facts about the world that exist independently of human cognition. Do you reject this view?

The intrinsicist view would be the view that something may be a value independent of its relationship to human life, or human goals. The subjectivist view would be that something may be a value because one thinks it is or wants it to be. The view in your post seemed to verge on the position that values are determined by our philosophies ABOUT values, rather than by facts about the objective requirements of human life, and that therefore people who have different value philosophies cannot possibly share values. That would be a subjectivist view and contrary to Objectivism.

I understand it is sometimes difficult and inconvenient to address competent criticism from intellectual peers, and that the thought of doing so may be wearying and without "sufficient interest" to motivate a well-reasoned reply. If you are not feeling up to it, then I'm sure we'll all understand.



Comment #26

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 15:18:29 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Don, The idea of "reduction" you mention is Peikoff's, not Rand's. I was not attempting to represent Peikoff's innovative but quite implausible theory of concepts.



Comment #27

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 15:27:21 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

"Don, The idea of 'reduction' you mention is Peikoff's, not Rand's. I was not attempting to represent Peikoff's innovative but quite implausible theory of concepts."

First of all, that's utter nonsense. Secondly, it doesn't address the broader point that to since higher-level concepts are formed from lower-level concepts and not directly from the concept's referents, one's conceptual context conditions the meaning of any particular concept one holds.

I was intending to address your other points, but if this is the sort of response I can expect, I won't bother.



Comment #28

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 15:43:12 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Will, you wrote: "I understand it is sometimes difficult and inconvenient to address competent criticism from intellectual peers, and that the thought of doing so may be wearying and without 'sufficient interest' to motivate a well-reasoned reply. If you are not feeling up to it, then I'm sure we'll all understand."

Since you have now stooped this patronizing accusation of dishonesty, if you wish to futher comment on these matters, you must do so elsewhere. I do not require my commenters to agree with me, but I do require them to show a modicum of respect for me. Alternatively, you could choose to apologize, but that seems unlikely.

I hate for such an ending to 13 years of friendly, if occasional, conversation. However, the alternative of consenting to abuse and distain would be far worse.



Comment #29

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 16:04:32 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Don, I don't have references in hand just now, but I think I can show you that I am correct that Peikoff's view in OPAR is not Rand's view in ITOE. In any case, Peikoff's view, together with just about everything cognitive scientists have shown about first-person semantic access, leads quickly to skeptical conclusions. Because people cannot in fact perform these reductions, Peikoff's view implies that almost all of everyone's higher-level concepts are void of content, and that most of our non-perceptual level beliefs are meaningless or arbitrary. But this is false. So you can either reject Peikoff's view, or the science.

Again, I'd like to have references at hand, but if I remember from the quite intensive work I did on this subject a number of years ago, it is clear from ITOE that higher-level concept formation is dependent on lower-level concepts, but not that higher-level concepts are "built" out of, or composed of, lower-level concepts. That is, Rand's view of meaning is not "compositional." If it was, Rand's view of concepts would consistent with the analytic/synthetic distinction.

My interpretation of ITOE was that lower-level concepts are necessary to guide attention in a way that allows higher-order phenomena to be picked out or isolated in attention. One cannot just "see" friendship or justice without conceptual guidance. But once attention has been guided by lower level concepts, allowing the discrimination of the higher-level concept's referent, concept formation proceeds according to the regular measurement omission process. So higher-level concepts ARE formed directly from the concept's referents, but concept formation depends on lower-level concepts.

Anyway, the mix of views you're espousing is probaly incoherent. It cannot be both that a concept's meaning is its referents, AND that "one's conceptual context conditions the meaning of any particular concept one holds," unless reference shifts with conceptual context. In that case, no two people with different conceptual contexts can share a concept with the same meaning/referent. And this implies, among other things, that people with different conceptual contexts cannot really disagree, because they cannot talk about the same thing.



Comment #30

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 16:12:39 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Diana, I was asking you to show a little bit of respect to me. Can't you see how your flip and superior dismissal of my serious criticism of your view was disrespectful?

There's just no reason whatsoever for us to stop talking to each other. We have, I'm sure, a lot to offer each other intellectually. If you don't agree about that, then I really am hurt that you have so little respect for me.

Anyway, I will gladly apologize for my sarcasm if you'll apologize for you disrespectful dismissiveness.



Comment #31

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 16:18:36 mdt
Name: L.S.

Will Wilkinson:

Leonard Peikoff does not have his own theory of concept-formation that is separate, disctinct, or in any way different from Ayn Rand's. What ever gave you that idea?

From reading what we have here from you overall, I was quite amused that you actually used the words: "competent criticism from intellectual peers".

No, the criticism is not competent--it's terribly confused. And no, you are not Diana's intellectual peer by a longshot.



Comment #32

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 16:25:43 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

L.S., What gave me that idea is that the theory in OPAR is not the same as the theory in ITOE.



Comment #33

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 16:47:52 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Will: The only point of my original comment was to explain why I was not going to bother replying to your criticisms. It wasn't that I was unwilling to think about them -- as your parting criticism about my unfairness and sloppiness would have implied. Rather, I regarded them as far too confused about the actual Objectivist view to make a response worthwhile, particularly in a forum like blog comments.

I regard it as a great tragedy that you misunderstand Objectivism in the multitude of ways that you do. I think TOC is substantially to blame for that, as with so many other smart and motivated students. It would not be possible for me to fix that problem for you here in my blog comments. You're certainly way more than smart enough to correct your own errors, but doing so would probably require far more work than you're interested in doing.

So I certainly apologize if my original comment came across as disrespectful of you, as it was not intended as such. But "sarcasm" is hardly an appropriate description of your attack upon my intellectual honesty. That's what requires an apology. However, I worry that you cannot really apologize for that, as your earlier comments (about my "carelessness," "unfairly distorting" Kelley's views, being "more than a little philosophically sloppy") indicate that you really do not regard me as concerned with the truth. If that's the case, you may as well just say so.



Comment #34

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 17:38:48 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Diana, I certainly apologize if my comments came off as an attack on your intellectual honesty, as they were definitely not intended as such.

Naturally, I do not believe that I misunderstand Objectivism in any significant way. I believe that I understand it well, and that a number of Objectivist positions are not well supported by reason and evidence.

Just as you think I am making errors in reasoning, I think you are making errors in reasoning. And just as you think I could overcome the deficiencies in my thinking if I was to better apply myself to them, I think you could overcome the deficiencies in your thinking if you were to better apply yourself. My claim that you are being careless, sloppy, and unfair, comes from this belief, not from the belief that you are not concerned with truth. If I thought that you weren't I wouldn't try to reason with you.

But surely you can see how the idea that you could "fix the problem" of my misunderstanding might seem condescending. And for you to say that correcting my own errors "would probably require more work than I am willing to do" is for you say that you think that *I* am not concerned with truth. If my charge of carelessless is an attack on your intellectual honesty, which it was not, then surely this is, too. Do you see that?

Now, if your position is that someone who disagrees with parts of Objectivism is, ipso facto, intellectually dishonest, then please just say so, and we can be done with it.

Otherwise, we COULD have a constructive, mutually enlightening exchange. If not now, then maybe later.



Comment #35

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 18:02:36 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Will, I'm sorry that you posted this comment while I was in the middle of replying to your private e-mail. I'm going to keep this to a minimum, as I need to clear up some misconceptions for the crowd, unfortunately enough.

First: I never ever said that I could "fix the problem" of your misunderstandings of Objectivism. (I said just the opposite, that it would be impossible.) It's your brain, so you have to do the requisite studying and thinking. In any case, I speak from experience when I speak of misunderstandings of Objectivism. You learned many of them from TOC, just like I did.

Second: All that I meant by the comment that you might not be willing to do the work is (1) You probably don't regard your own understanding of Objectivism as deficient, (2) You've already explicitly rejected a broad range of (sometimes not really) Objectivist views, and (3) You have tons of other intellectual interests that are clearly of much greater importance to you these days than Objectivism.

In other words, my point was that I don't think that you have a motive to seriously study Objectivism just because your old friend Diana says so -- nor should you! Really, I'm just trying to be sensitive to your post-Objectivist context here.

And again: "Now, if your position is that someone who disagrees with parts of Objectivism is, ipso facto, intellectually dishonest, then please just say so, and we can be done with it."

I've never said anything like that, nor even gave the slightest hint of a whisper of it.



Comment #36

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 18:15:21 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Yup, our emails, blog comments just crossed.

Ah, when you said "It would not be possible for me to fix that problem for you here in my blog comments," I thought you were implying that it WOULD be possible to fix that problem for me through some other mode of communication.

And I appreciate your sensitivity to my post-Objectivist context. And your clarification not only makes sense, but is right on (other than the "sometimes not really," perhaps).

And I'm glad to never have heard the slightest hint of a whisper.

Thanks for the clarifications. I think we understand each other.



Comment #37

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 20:24:52 mdt
Name: GS

I’m not going to keep posting on this issue. But I’d like to respond briefly to Mr. Bissell’s response to my last post. If Sciabarra occasionally mentions proof or reduction, he radically underemphasizes them, and this can’t be accounted for by the fact that his interest because the similarity he sees between Rand and the dialectical tradition is based on a view of integration and context-keeping that is incompatible with reduction. I don’t have time to argue this here or the interest, but people who read his work carefully will find that there is in fact no real argument that Rand’s method is “dialectical” at all, or at least no argument that one could not as easily make about almost any philosopher taken at random.

As for the connection between the quality of Sciabarra’s own work and JARS, anyone capable of the level of non-scholarship that we find in *Russian Radical* is thereby unqualified to edit a journal. This is confirmed by even the quickest look at the journal which is a collection of seemingly near-random refuse and an embarrassment to everyone seriously interested in Rand’s work.



Comment #38

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 21:22:21 mdt
Name: ttn

As a follow-up to GS's comments on Sciabarra, here is a relevant comment from Ayn Rand. It is from her "Review of Randall's Aristotle" essay: "To claim, as [Randall] does, that: 'In modern terms, Aristotle can be viewed as a behaviorist, an operationalist, and a contextualist' (and, later, as a 'functionalist' and a 'relativist'), is either inexcusable or so loosely generalized as to rob those terms of any meaning."

Surely the same applies to Sciabarra's characterization of Rand's method as "dialectical".



Comment #39

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 23:29:42 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

GS,

Re: your August 8 comments well up in the comments thread by now, I don't have any problem at all with your criticisms of what you say amounts to M2 in the DIM theory, but I don't see how this applies to Sciabarra's actual position. Perhaps the issue you have is the idea of "lupming" Rand in historically with bad thinkers given the way the likes of Plato, Hegel and Marx abused and distorted a valid approach to integration, context, etc. (A perfectly good example of that would be Hegel needlessly and falsely breaking down the idea/object distinction.) Maybe I'm reading more into Sciabarra than I should (and I should note that insofar as he is providing valid insights, he's not doing much new that isn't already well-explained in Rand and Peikoff's work), but as best as I can tell, he's emphasizing that "dialectics" stresses the importance of keeping the full context which does involve nothing other than tying concepts back to reality. Overcoming dualism is just another way of saying that dualism involves bad thinking methods, dropping context, misintegration, etc. Is the problem you have with "dialectics" more its historical associations than anything, even if Sciabarra provides explanations for how the concept is misapplied by such figures as Plato, Marx, and Hegel?

I could readily acknowledge that I'm "reading" Sciabarra through my understanding of Rand and Peikoff on the methodology of integration and context-keeping. At the least, something in Sciabarra's thesis prompted me towards a further examination of the idea underlying the "Understanding Objectivism" lecture course given Peikoff's emphasis on overcoming the false opposition between the "in here" and the "out there." Also to a further re-reading of Peikoff's "Analytic-Synthetic Dichotmy" essay, with the thesis that distinctions recognized by consciousness don't represent a metaphysical split, e.g., between an entity and its properties. Knowledge is a whole and constitutes identification of a whole. Is this particular point of similarity between Hegel's "The Truth is the Whole" and Rand's epistemology a trivial or irrelevent one to the question of whether her theory is legitimately called "dialectical"?



Comment #40

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 0:09:23 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Chris,

I can't speak for GS, but I think his essential point was:

"Objectivism does not hold that there is any value in transcending dualities or dichotomies as such. In particular it does not hold that any set of competing viewpoints need to be synthesized. Often one side is just wrong. When one encounters a contradiction in one's own thinking, Objectivism advises him to 'check his premises,' by which it means: to reduce the contradicting ideas back to perceptual evidence that gave rise to them. In doing this, you will see that at least one of the contradictory ideas is the result of an error."

"Transcending dualism" was not a goal of Rand's nor her method: it was incidental. It resulted not from her method of thinking as such, but her need to resolve past philosophical errors. (Indirectly, of course, it WAS her method of thinking that lead her to "transcending dualism" since it's the means by which she resolved those past errors.)

Think of it this way: imagine if Rand had been the first philosopher and defined the whole of Objectivism without reference to other philosophical ideas -- there would have been no "trascending dualism." The false alternatives wouldn't have arisen in the first place. To elevate Rand's treatment of dualism to the defining characteristic of her method or philosophy is, therefore, the worst sort of definition by non-essentials I can think of.



Comment #41

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 0:41:38 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

Don, you wrote:
"To elevate Rand's treatment of dualism to the defining characteristic of her method or philosophy is, therefore, the worst sort of definition by non-essentials I can think of."

Indeed it would be, though I hadn't understood Sciabarra to be doing such a thing.



Comment #42

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 2:18:16 mdt
Name: Greg

Something interesting that was dropped in the back-and-forth...

Will wrote: "I assume would agree that values JUST ARE those things required for a properly human life."

And he later added: "Diana, ... the view of value I was setting forth is the Objectivist view. Something is a value in virtue of the relation it bears to human life. These relations are facts about the world that exist independently of human cognition. Do you reject this view? ... The view in your post seemed to verge on the position that values are determined by our philosophies ABOUT values, rather than by facts about the objective requirements of human life, and that therefore people who have different value philosophies cannot possibly share values. That would be a subjectivist view and contrary to Objectivism."

Hi, Will. It looks like you are confusing benefits with values in talking about how "values JUST ARE those things required for a proper human life".

Recall, Rand defined a value as that that which we ACT to gain and or keep. In _Viable Values_, Tara Smith talks about benefits having the "JUST ARE" characteristic you talk about, while values are those benefits we identify and seek to further our lives. To draw an analogy: Confusing benefits with values is like confusing facts with truths. Facts are out there while truth is the grasp of them; benefits to human life are out there while values are those we identify and pursue. Glancing at OPAR (269), Peikoff seems to be in line with this view: "Value is objective. It is an evaluation made by reference to a standard (man's life) that is itself derived from reality. Value is thus _a form of truth_; it is a type of identification, which, to be warranted, must correspond to reality."

Given the above, it is understandable that Diana would take your comments as relying on "an intrinsicist, acontextual view of value" rather than the Objectivist account.



Comment #43

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 7:05:04 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

Chris wonders whether Sciabarra is just, "...emphasizing that "dialectics" stresses the importance of keeping the full context which does involve nothing other than tying concepts back to reality."

Ayn Rand already had a name for that. She called it "keeping context."

I was watching Kathy Griffin's very funny "Kathy Griffin: I am ...not Nicole Kidman" on Bravo the other night. In satirizing Madonna's new found interest in Jewish mystical Kabbala, she says, "Now, Madonna claims this is all just about 'cause and effect'- you know, how you do something good for someone and maybe something good will be done to you down the road." Griffin then pauses and you wait for her zinger, "Err..hello...I don't need no friggin' religion to tell me how not to be an a**hole. I learned the Golden Rule in kindergarten."

Or, in other words, to understand AR maybe we don't need "dialectics" - or some other thoroughly artificial attempt to pigeon-hole AR into some philosophical tradition she thoroughly rejects.

It should also be added that originality is not something which an avowed "historicist" like Sciabarra can ever be fully comfortable with. And here maybe it is his own background which is more relevant than Rand's, since his acknowledged MYU mentor, under whom he wrote his dissertation, was the Marxist, Bertell Ollman.

In this regard it should be noted that the purpose of this "project" - which is the same whether it is Kelley's or Ed Hudgins or the Branden's - is the attempt to "put over" AR by pandering to the lowest possible intellectual common denominator (whether it is contemporary academia or libertarianism or whatever) but which has the sole effect of diminishing Rand's achievement. Diana has already insightfully written about this many times before on her blog, so it doesn't need further comment from me.



Comment #44

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 10:28:40 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Bingo, Greg!



Comment #45

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 10:39:42 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

FYI...my response to Will's last comment to me can be found here:

http://angermanagement.mu.nu/archives/111104.html



Comment #46

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 12:45:53 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

Fred Weiss wrote: Chris wonders whether Sciabarra is just, "...emphasizing that "dialectics" stresses the importance of keeping the full context which does involve nothing other than tying concepts back to reality." Ayn Rand already had a name for that. She called it "keeping context.

Chris Sciabarra has indeed referred to dialectics as "the art of context-keeping." But maybe Don has a point. Maybe we can content ourselves with referring to "the art of non-contradictory identification" and (more simply) "identifying non-contradictorily," and dispense with the name "logic." After all, logic took a very irrational turn in the 20th century, with all its Russellian and Goedelian manifestations, not to mention multi-valued logics, fuzzy logic, etc.

Fred again: I was watching Kathy Griffin's very funny "Kathy Griffin: I am ...not Nicole Kidman" on Bravo the other night. In satirizing Madonna's new found interest in Jewish mystical Kabbala, she says, "Now, Madonna claims this is all just about 'cause and effect'- you know, how you do something good for someone and maybe something good will be done to you down the road." Griffin then pauses and you wait for her zinger, "Err..hello...I don't need no friggin' religion to tell me how not to be an a**hole. I learned the Golden Rule in kindergarten." Or, in other words, to understand AR maybe we don't need "dialectics" - or some other thoroughly artificial attempt to pigeon-hole AR into some philosophical tradition she thoroughly rejects.

Yes, and by the same token, we don't really need "selfishness" or "egoism," do we, because they have ~such~ a tarnished past. I mean, didn't AR thoroughly reject the tradition based on the Stirnirite and Nietzschean views of egoism? And what about "capitalism," which has come to include state run enterprises ("state capitalism", no laissez-faire there)?

Fred again: It should also be added that originality is not something which an avowed "historicist" like Sciabarra can ever be fully comfortable with. And here maybe it is his own background which is more relevant than Rand's, since his acknowledged MYU mentor, under whom he wrote his dissertation, was the Marxist, Bertell Ollman.

I think Don means NYU. And if Dr. Sciabarra's dissertation mentor disqualifies him from identifying the philosophical tradition within which Rand wrote and thought, then shouldn't we be taking more than a casual glance at the fact that Leonard Peikoff did his dissertation under the guidance of the noted Pragmatist and Marxist, Sidney Hooke? (I read this dissertation in 1970, and I thought it was brilliant -- but I could be wrong. Perhaps someone here wants to correct me? :-)

After all, Dr. Peikoff has spoken eloquently in his lectures on induction of the fact that various aspects of Rand's philosophy are firmly, though innovatively, esconced within the Aristotelian tradition. What occurs to me is that this is uncomfortably similar to the fact that the would-be-discredited Sciabarra has said virtually the same thing about the dialectical aspect of Rand's methodology. And what's sauce for the goose...

Roger Bissell



Comment #47

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 12:46:53 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

A little correction...

I wrote: "I think Don means NYU." I meant Fred (Weiss), of course. Sorry.

REB



Comment #48

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 13:27:25 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

Another correction:

I wrote: "But maybe Don has a point." Again, I meant Fred. Arrrgh.

REB



Comment #49

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 15:56:21 mdt
Name: GCS

The problem w/ Sciabarra's theory isn't that there's something wrong with comparing Ayn Rand to other philosophers or placing her w/in historical traditions when she in fact belongs in them. It's that there is no important similarity between Rand and "dialectitions" (or between Aristotle and dialectitions for that matter). There are certain very superficial similarities, but they are totally undercut by the differences. That is, even in the points where they are seemingly similar, they are not actually similar. When AR keeps context, she's doing something utterly different from what Sciabarra refers to as "keeping context," just as when AR defends rights, she's doing something utterly different than what a leftist does when he defends the "right to health care." To lump AR with the leftist on the grounds that both defend "rights", even if one acknowledges that there are "other" differences between them, would be a gross error. What they mean by "rights" is opposite.



Comment #50

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 16:39:25 mdt
Name: Will Wilkinson
URL: http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle

Greg, I do recall the benefits/values distinction in Viable Values. In fact, I wrote about it in a book review several years ago:

http://www.objectivistcenter.com/articles/wwilkinson_reviews-viable-values.asp

Relevant passage:

---
Like Rand, Smith argues that value can be understood only by reference to the fundamental alternative of life or death. The conditional and uncertain nature of life establishes certain needs, and those life-needs provide a standard of value. "In essence, the good is that which protects, furthers, or enhances one's life" (93). "Value denotes a thing's standing in a life-promoting relation to a given individual" (98).

But it is unclear whether, on Smith's account, something that meets a life-need is ipso facto a value. In light of Rand's statement that values are "that which one acts to gain and/or keep," Smith is driven to distinguish between values and "benefits" (84). A benefit is whatever makes one better off; a value is a benefit that one acts to gain or keep. This implies that not everything that satisfies a need is a value, and this seems inconsistent with a number of statements, like those above, that do apparently identify life-needs and values. The distinction also has counter-intuitive consequences. For instance, it implies that political liberty is not a value for someone, such as a child, who does not act to secure it. Liberty, like sunlight, will be beneficial to such a person but not valuable.

Smith's distinction between values and benefits is similar to distinctions other Objectivists have made in their attempts to clarify Rand's theory of value. For example, Robert Hartford argued at the 1996 Advanced Seminar that there is a distinction between "the valued" (what one is disposed to act to gain or keep) and "the valuable" (life-needs). Others have distinguished between two kinds of values: psychological and existential. (Psychological values are the things one desires and prefers. Existential values are, once again, life-needs.) Some such distinction is necessary to make perfectly clear the difference between what we need in order to survive and find happiness, and what we think we need. Liberty may be valuable (or a benefit) to me, whether or not it is actively valued (pursued) by me. However, Smith does not seem to carry through the benefits/values distinction. A few pages after she raises the distinction, she characterizes value as "a thing's standing in a life-promoting relation to a given individual," as though she had never made the claim that values, as opposed to benefits, must be actively sought.

----



Comment #51

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 at 21:11:09 mdt
Name: L.S.

Mr. Wilkinson:

Why, oh why do you always seem to let yourself get so hung up on "implications" of the wordings of things that you seem to be rendered unaware of some basic observations one doesn't even need to be a philosopher to understand?

You say above:

"But it is unclear whether, on Smith's account, something that meets a life-need is ipso facto a value. In light of Rand's statement that values are "that which one acts to gain and/or keep," Smith is driven to distinguish between values and "benefits" (84). A benefit is whatever makes one better off; a value is a benefit that one acts to gain or keep. This implies that not everything that satisfies a need is a value, and this seems inconsistent with a number of statements, like those above, that do apparently identify life-needs and values. The distinction also has counter-intuitive consequences. For instance, it implies that political liberty is not a value for someone, such as a child, who does not act to secure it. Liberty, like sunlight, will be beneficial to such a person but not valuable."

The distinction Tara Smith makes--and as you formulate it above--makes perfect sense and only introduces "problems" for the person who's overly-focused on abstractions and words on paper and blind to easily-observed reality.

Children *do* "act to secure their liberty" when it comes up in their context and on their level. Let's take some children and lock them in a cellar and then see whether or not they "act to secure their liberty" or not. Of course they would--to the extent they can they would try to get out. Or, let's look at a less extreme example at a teenager with a restrictive parent. Isn't the teenagers entire concern with securing his own liberty from restrictions on how late he can be out, what he can watch on TV, his freedom of association with whatever friends he chooses, etc. etc.

Once again you are in the land of complete rationalism. Thinking of "securing liberty" as narrowly entailing only activity on the political level adults face (voting, fighting in wars, protesting government policy, etc.) you let yourself get hung up on a complete non-issue that evaporates as soon as you take one in-focus glance at reality.

Try giving a couple of examples that hold up to scrutiny and then let's see how well your objection holds up to reason.



Comment #52

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 0:00:13 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

GCS wrote: "The problem w/ Sciabarra's theory isn't that there's something wrong with comparing Ayn Rand to other philosophers or placing her w/in historical traditions when she in fact belongs in them. It's that there is no important similarity between Rand and "dialectitions" (or between Aristotle and dialectitions for that matter)."

These other "dialectiCiAns" (yes, that's a C not a T, and an A not an O, as in "logicians," not "logitions") virtually ~all~ looked back to Aristotle as the "father" of dialectics. Hegel himself called Aristotle the "Fountainhead" of dialectics -- which is where Sciabarra got the heading for Chapter 1 of TOTAL FREEDOM. That Hegel, Marx, etc. don't fully live up to the Aristotelian dialectical model doesn't mean, however, that they learned ~nothing~ from Aristotle or that there is nothing of importance from Aristotle's dialectics that they use.

GCS: "There are certain very superficial similarities, but they are totally undercut by the differences."

And where does Sciabarra ~not~ show just how different Rand is? The whole point of RUSSIAN RADICAL lies in Sciabarra's argument that so-called "dialectics" is worthless when it is not anchored in the facts of reality. Sciabarra argues that Rand gets those facts ~right~ where Marx and company get them wrong. That's why Sciabarra spends so much time showing how much better Rand is than theorists such as Nietzsche (230-36) or Marx (283-94) or the anarchists (278-83). That's why Sciabarra spends so much time showing how Rand is a superior social theorist in almost every way (Part III of ~Russian Radical~).

GCS: "That is, even in the points where they are seemingly similar, they are not actually similar. When AR keeps context, she's doing something utterly different from what Sciabarra refers to as "keeping context,""

Show me how. Provide even a ~single~ example that supports this claim -- or as many as you like. Better yet, read Sciabarra's whole discussion in TOTAL FREEDOM of what "keeping context" entails and show me how Sciabarra's view is "utterly different" from Rand's. See especially pages 178-87 in TOTAL FREEDOM, for example, which is fully informed by Rand's objective epistemology.

GCS: "...just as when AR defends rights, she's doing something utterly different than what a leftist does when he defends the "right to health care." To lump AR with the leftist on the grounds that both defend "rights", even if one acknowledges that there are "other" differences between them, would be a gross error. What they mean by "rights" is opposite."

Indeed that would be a gross error. But where does Sciabarra ever suggest such a thing? What Sciabarra does instead, by tracing dialectics to Aristotle (who granted legitimacy to dialects by disconnecting it from the illegitimate aspects of Platonic ontology), is to show that while Hegel, Marx, et al ~draw upon~ the legitimate, original, rational idea of dialectics, they fell short even of the level of development that Aristotle had achieved and instead turned it largely toward the service of irrationalism -- which is precisely parallel to what Rand and her supporters do in showing that advocates of "welfare rights" etc. ~draw upon~ the legitimate, original, individualist idea of rights, while turning it toward the service of statism and collectivism.

Sciabarra shows the full historical context of the development of the concept of "dialectics," including a critique of those who built illegitimately upon it and used the term "dialectics," while paying lip service to its historical source, the Father of Dialectics, just as Rand and her supporters show the full historical context of the development of the concept of "rights," including a critique of those who built illegitimately upon it and used the term "rights," while paying lip service to its historical source, the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.

Roger Bissell



Comment #53

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 0:20:45 mdt
Name: L.S.

Can I also add that I find it even more bizarre that Mr. Wilkinson also uses "sunlight" as an example of a "benefit" that he thinks would not be a "value" under his general confusion about the issue of values?

So people don't act to gain and/or keep sunlight? Why do we act to gain and or keep . . . oh, I don't know . . . windows? Why do people go to the beach? Also, don't people also sometimes want to avoid sunlight? Say, by using sunscreen or sunglasses or window tinting? If the person who is already sunburned but obsessed with tanning irrationally chooses to act to gain and/or keep sunlight--is sunlight a "benefit" to that person in that context?

Somehow, I don't think Mr. Wilkinson has once considered these simple observations while thinking about this issue--because holding them in mind renders his earlier comments completely meaningless.

On a more philosophical note: Having re-read the cited passages of Tara Smith's book just now, I think I understand what Wilkingson is missing here.

He doesn't seem to understand that the definition of "value" that doesn't include a moral evaluation: "that which one acts to gain and/or keep" does not indicate whether or not what is being pursued is a benefit or not. A hard-drug addict acts to gain and/or keep hard drugs. Are they a benefit to him? No.

Once one brings in moral evaluation by Objectivist standards, the definition of "value" becomes "that which one acts to gain and/or keep that supports his life". Here, we now see that only things of actual, objective benefit are *really* values once the facts identified by Objectivist ethics are brought into the definition of "value".

I'm fairly certain that this is what Tara is trying to communicate to the non-Objectivist academic audience in these passages of the book--which Mr. Wilkinson has gotten somewhat backwards.

Perhaps someone can correct me if I'm getting that wrong.



Comment #54

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 3:20:46 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

L. S. wrote: "On a more philosophical note: Having re-read the cited passages of Tara Smith's book just now, I think I understand what Wilkingson is missing here. He doesn't seem to understand that the definition of "value" that doesn't include a moral evaluation: "that which one acts to gain and/or keep" does not indicate whether or not what is being pursued is a benefit or not. A hard-drug addict acts to gain and/or keep hard drugs. Are they a benefit to him? No.
Once one brings in moral evaluation by Objectivist standards, the definition of "value" becomes "that which one acts to gain and/or keep that supports his life". Here, we now see that only things of actual, objective benefit are *really* values once the facts identified by Objectivist ethics are brought into the definition of "value". I'm fairly certain that this is what Tara is trying to communicate to the non-Objectivist academic audience in these passages of the book--which Mr. Wilkinson has gotten somewhat backwards. Perhaps someone can correct me if I'm getting that wrong."

This makes quite a bit of sense to me. It seems
consistent with what Leonard Peikoff was saying
in his lecture "Two Definitions." The only
misgiving I have about this is whether to
consider them, as Peikoff suggests, as being
definitions of the ~same~ concept. There truly
~are~ two distinct referents of the word "value"
in common usage -- one being things in general
that one acts to gain and/or keep, and the other
being things that one acts to gain and/or keep
that support one's life. But this dual usage
amounts to a confusion between two ~different~
concepts, rather than two versions of ~the same~
concept, doesn't it? Isn't the latter a distinct
~subcategory~ of the former? If so, isn't it
asking for trouble to continue to use the term
"value" in both ways?

I realize that Dr. Peikoff and Dr. Smith have
used "value" in their writings (OPAR and
Viable Values) to refer to the latter (i.e.,
to rational, objective values), but it seems
to me that a better label for it would be
"the good" (as in: rational, objective value,
as Ayn Rand defined it in "What is Capitalism?").
Wouldn't it be less confusing to refer to the
latter, which is a distinct ~subcategory~ of
value, as "good" (or perhaps "objective value")
rather than "value" per se? We already follow
a similar approach in ethics, where we refer
to the Objectivist ethics as "rational egoism,"
to distinguish it from the broader category of
"egoism" in general (some forms of which are
not rational and objective in their validation
and content).

By using "good" in parallel to "truth," we could
then can use "value" in parallel to "belief."
Belief is something that is ~considered~ to be
true, and value is something that is ~considered~
to be good (and thus acting to gain and/or keep it).
Is there some pitfall I'm not aware of in using
the concepts in this way? It would sure be a
cleaner way of sorting out the terminology than
to continue the dual usage of "value," which
invites arguing at cross purposes. I offer this
in the spirit of constructive criticism, and I'd
appreciate hearing from anyone who can further
clarify this issue.

Best regards to all,
Roger Bissell



Comment #55

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 4:23:30 mdt
Name: GCS

Mr. Bissell,

I've commented briefly already on the differences between Rand's context keeping and what Sciabarra describes. She has no interest whatsoever in transcending dualities, and her method of addressing impasses is to go backtrack to the evidence that gave rise to the various positions.

If you’re so enthusiastic about Sciabarra’s position, I’ll readdress your challenge to you. Give a single example of a significant and specific commonality between Rand and another thinker (other than Aristotle) on which light is shed by classifying the two as “dialectical.”

Sciabarra’s whole discussion of the subject in Russian Radical is gibberish. I haven’t read all of *Total Freedom*, what I have read of it is marginally better.

-GCS



Comment #56

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 16:31:52 mdt
Name: L.S.

Roger Bissell:

I haven't the time today to answer as fully as I would want to--but briefly on your comments about "two definitions":

I think that the reason for continuing to use the same word for both the broad definition of these terms and the one that includes the correct moral evaluation is transitional and polemical.

I say "transitional" because I think the idea is that as it stands, the culture does not accept rational egoism, but rather it's opposite. So to speak of "values" polemically to a non-Objectivist while including Objectivist ethics in the definition would appear to the listener in today's context to be question-begging all over the place and come across as pure dogmatism.

Also, there is the issue that all living things pursue values--but the issue of whether something is objectively a value or not only comes up for man. So you have to make the wider observation of "actions towards values" for all living organisms, then for man the only "real" values are objective values.

Ok, this is already a little disorganized due to my rushing here, but I'm thinking that perhaps if all of the intellectuals who matter in the future were to accept the Objectivist ethics--then no longer would anyone speak of "values" for man that weren't objective values. Similar for the other philosophic concepts that have "two definitions".

I'm not entirely confident about that--perhaps there will always be a need for two definitions. I think I'm going to re-examine the issue to clarify for myself here soon in light of your comments.



Comment #57

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 16:58:29 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

L.S., you gave a very nice, though brief, answer (with a promise of more to come?) to my comments about "two definitions."

You wrote: "I think that the reason for continuing to use the same word for both the broad definition of these terms and the one that includes the correct moral evaluation is transitional and polemical. I say "transitional" because I think the idea is that as it stands, the culture does not accept rational egoism, but rather it's opposite. So to speak of "values" polemically to a non-Objectivist while including Objectivist ethics in the definition would appear to the listener in today's context to be question-begging all over the place and come across as pure dogmatism."

Yes, I agree. Ayn Rand had a very catchy term for this error. About 40 years ago, in her essay "Collectivized Ethics," she wrote about the Fallacy of the Frozen Abstraction. The example she gave was of the altruist who assumes that his and only his ethical philosophy is ethics, and that egoism is simply beyond the pale, amoral, non-ethics. Of course, the very same error can be made in reverse. It would be wrong for an egoist to equate his position with ethics and to regard altruism as a non-ethics. I think the same is true with regard to value. A religionist could say that the things ~he~ seeks to gain and/or keep are values and the things a rational individualist atheist seeks to gain and/or keep are not values -- while a rational individualist atheist could say the corresponding opposite, of course. And they would both be wrong. They would both be equating ~their~ set of values, their moral code, with values in general. They would be committing the Fallacy of the Frozen Abstraction.

By the way -- what ~is~ the current thinking among the cutting-edge intellectuals in the Objectivist movement in regard to this fallacy? Is it a valid identification of a real thinking error? I have seen very little of its use in the movement at large. Has it been discarded or simply overlooked (for the most part)?

You also wrote: "Also, there is the issue that all living things pursue values--but the issue of whether something is objectively a value or not only comes up for man. So you have to make the wider observation of "actions towards values" for all living organisms, then for man the only "real" values are objective values."

It appears here that you are saying that, for man, values other than objective values are not "real values." It seems that there is a confusion because of the two senses of "value." Of course, non-objective values are not objective values. But they are still things that one acts to gain and/or keep, aren't they?

This raises another question: In "The Objectivist Ethics," when Ayn Rand defined "value" the way she did, was she then ~not~ succeeding in presenting a definition that applied to man? Or, was her discussion simply incomplete, a result of the state-of-the-art understanding of the concept in the early 1960s?

You also wrote: "Ok, this is already a little disorganized due to my rushing here, but I'm thinking that perhaps if all of the intellectuals who matter in the future were to accept the Objectivist ethics--then no longer would anyone speak of "values" for man that weren't objective values. Similar for the other philosophic concepts that have "two definitions"."

It would be nice if you were correct, and that all the irrational intellectuals in the area of ethics were marginalized by the success of the Objectivist movement. But given man's freedom to think or not to think, I fear that we will always have a competing array of moral philosophies in the intellectual marketplace. If that is so, I think that our current situation is roughly the way it's always going to be, and thus not "transitional." Our realistic hope is to push the center of the debate further and further away from the current preponderance of irrational morality by continuing to uphold reason and man's life as the standard of value.

You also wrote: "I'm not entirely confident about that--perhaps there will always be a need for two definitions. I think I'm going to re-examine the issue to clarify for myself here soon in light of your comments."

I think your hesitance is warranted, though I would be more comfortable with two distinct concepts -- one a subcategory of the other -- than with two definitions of the same concept. I welcome your further thoughts and comments on this issue, whenever you are able to formulate and share them.

Best regards,
Roger Bissell



Comment #58

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 17:42:16 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

Addendum to previous post:

In Leonard Peikoff's OMINOUS PARALLELS, there is a chapter on Nazi ethics. Now, certainly we don't regard Nazis as being ethical from the perspective of Objectivism -- or of most any humane, decent ethical system. But from the more general standpoint of ethics or morality as a code to guide one's actions, the Nazi code of values certainly qualifies as (an evil) morality or ethics. I hope L.S. is not suggesting that some day we will no longer regard the Nazi code of values as an ethics, and that Leonard Peikoff's referring to it as "Nazi ethics" was merely a "transitional" or "polemical" use of the term "ethics." I think that this would be another instance of the Fallacy of the Frozen Abstraction, similar to the zealous Objectivist who regards altruism as being a "non-morality."

But, as always, I'm interested in further discussion about this.

Best regards,
Roger Bissell



Comment #59

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 17:43:07 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

GCS wrote: "I've commented briefly already on the differences between Rand's context keeping and what Sciabarra describes. She has no interest whatsoever in transcending dualities, and her method of addressing impasses is to go backtrack to the evidence that gave rise to the various positions."

GCS, two comments here in regard to your first point... First, you seem to be hung up on terminology. Rand is deeply, crucially interested in transcending dualities, specifically ~false~ dualities or, to put it in non-dialectical lingo, overcoming ~false dichotomies.~ (Not all dualities should be transcended, just the false ones!) For goodness sake, look at "For the New Intellectual." Rand held the enormous context of Western intellectual development in her field of awareness and identified the false alternative infecting that long history as "mind vs. body" and symbolized it as the Witch Doctor vs. Atilla. She "transcended" that false dichotomy by offering the ~true~ alternative of mysticism (mystics of the mind and mystics of muscle) vs. reason (intellectual and businessman). I could go on at great length listing the enormous number of dualities (viz., false alternatives) that Rand has treated in this same manner: rationalism vs. empiricism, realism vs. nominalism, materialism vs. idealism, intrinsicism vs. subjectivism, and on and on, always with the same wonderful dialectical methodology of thorough context-keeping. (Leonard Peikoff has examplified the same approach in OPAR and in his essay "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy.)

More fundamentally to your critique of Sciabarra, however: what you're not grasping is that dialectics is not defined as "transcending dualities." That's ~one~ of the forms in which a dialectical orientation is exhibited, but the primary here is not "transcending dualities" but context-keeping. (Just to clarify: I don't mean primary in epistemology, but primary in dialectics. Dialectics, like all other methodologies and epistemological techniques, to be successful must be subordinate to logic/non-contradictory identification.) That's why Sciabarra defines dialectics as "the art of context-keeping." (He actually provides a more technical genus-differentia definition in TOTAL FREEDOM, but this short-hand expression suffices here.) And he fleshes out very thoroughly what he means by "context-keeping," so that it is not just a toss-away injunction with no specific guidance.

In regard to your second point: in an objective epistemology, all inquiry depends on evidence, and all logical and dialectical investigation is based on facts. Sciabarra outlines (and meticulously, voluminously applies) the various techniques that are required in order to "keep context." Among these are: (1) the need to investigate a problem from many "points of view," many different angles, or perspectives, in order to get a richer picture of it. (2) the need to investigate a problem on many different "levels of generality," which in Rand's case means, as Sciabarra shows, viewing the problem of racism, for example, through the various lenses of ethics, psycho-epistemology, culture, language, politics, and economics. (3) the need to trace the relationships among these levels, understanding their hierarchy, but also the ways in which each of the levels and each of the perspectives reciprocally presuppose one another. (4) the need to trace these relationships over time, that is, to understand a social problem in terms of its history (its past), its present, and its potential future implications. (Some day, perhaps someone will do a HANDBOOK OF DIALECTICS FOR RATIONAL INDIVIDUALS and lay all these techniques out in textook/workbook form for the benefit of those who like a more structured, pedagogical approach to learning about Sciabarran dialectics.)

On these grounds, for example, Sciabarra shows in Part 3 of RUSSIAN RADICAL how Rand provides a radical interpretation of US political economy, which is thorough and multi-levelled. And, yes, he does show, too, how there are certain ~formal~ parallels between what Marx did and what Rand did, in this regard. This is a significant and specific commonality between Rand and Marx in terms of the ~form~ of their critiques of political economy. But showing a formal commonality is not the point of Sciabarra's thesis in RUSSIAN RADICAL. It's showing how Rand gets it ~right~, because her context-keeping is grounded in ~facts~, and how Marx gets it ~wrong~, because his basic premises are illogical. (Remember, also, that RUSSIAN RADICAL is part of a trilogy; Sciabarra's critique of Marx is an epistemological critique and can be found in the first part of his trilogy, MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA, and also in TOTAL FREEDOM. Sciabarra's trilogy is thoroughly integrated; I don't think you can appreciate any one part of it, including RUSSIAN RADICAL, without reading the others. So, keep reading!)

GCS again: "If you’re so enthusiastic about Sciabarra’s position, I’ll readdress your challenge to you. Give a single example of a significant and specific commonality between Rand and another thinker (other than Aristotle) on which light is shed by classifying the two as “dialectical.” "

[Enthusiastically, standing on one foot here:] Rand herself ~invites~ a comparison with Marx by suggesting that she could understand why so many intelligent students gravitate toward left-wing politics: because it provides a comprehensive, integrated critique of the system. But that critique is ~wrong~. Sciabarra shows that Rand provides the same comprehensiveness and integrated and ~radical~ character, with the added advantage of being ~right~. Marx was a dialectical materialist. Rand was a dialectical rational individualist.

GCS again: "Sciabarra’s whole discussion of the subject in Russian Radical is gibberish."

Interesting. Right from the start, ten years ago, I viewed Sciabarra's RUSSIAN RADICAL discussion as a lucid, fresh methodological perspective from which to view Rand's philosophy -- indeed, all of the history of Western philosophy. In contrast, some of the reviews of his book came across to me as little more than venom-ridden gibberish (to use your word). I'm not sure exactly ~what~ their problem is, but it's apparent that they just didn't "get it" and that, unlike you, they didn't bother to engage in a civil inquiry and dialogue to even ~try~ to understand!

GCS again: "I haven’t read all of *Total Freedom*, what I have read of it is marginally better."

Keep reading! And bear in mind the points I have made above.

Roger Bissell



Comment #60

Thursday, August 11, 2005 at 17:57:58 mdt
Name: Steve D'Ippolito

Roger said:

"GCS, two comments here in regard to your first point... First, you seem to be hung up on terminology. Rand is deeply, crucially interested in transcending dualities, specifically ~false~ dualities or, to put it in non-dialectical lingo, overcoming ~false dichotomies.~ (Not all dualities should be transcended, just the false ones!) For goodness sake, look at "For the New Intellectual." Rand held the enormous context of Western intellectual development in her field of awareness and identified the false alternative infecting that long history as "mind vs. body" and symbolized it as the Witch Doctor vs. Atilla. She "transcended" that false dichotomy by offering the ~true~ alternative of mysticism (mystics of the mind and mystics of muscle) vs. reason (intellectual and businessman). I could go on at great length listing the enormous number of dualities (viz., false alternatives) that Rand has treated in this same manner: rationalism vs. empiricism, realism vs. nominalism, materialism vs. idealism, intrinsicism vs. subjectivism, and on and on, always with the same wonderful dialectical methodology of thorough context-keeping. (Leonard Peikoff has examplified the same approach in OPAR and in his essay "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy.)"
[end Roger's words]

I've also noticed that Rand repeatedly resolves false alternatives as being two different ways of proceeding from the same fundamental mistake, over and over again. (One begins to wonder why humanity was never creative enough to think of three ways to f*** up!). It's almost a recurring theme, actually. One might wonder if the number two has mystical properties. (Okay, just kidding about that one.) Still a remarkable pattern. Whether the right term for it is "dialectic" or not is another matter. Since I came out of Sciabarra's "Total Freedom" *still* not having a grasp of what "dialectical" means, I have to watch the argument from the sidelines.



Comment #61

Friday, August 12, 2005 at 13:10:37 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

GCS writes: "when AR defends rights, she's doing something utterly different than what a leftist does when he defends the "right to health care." To lump AR with the leftist on the grounds that both defend "rights", even if one acknowledges that there are "other" differences between them, would be a gross error. What they mean by "rights" is opposite."

Well, that shows that it would be a gross error to group her in with leftists, not that she isn't a defender of rights just because leftists also say that they're defenders of rights.

I thought Sciabarra's point was to rescue the concept of dialectics from those who historically had distorted and abused it in the promotion of totalitarian ideals -- just as Rand's defense of rights rescues rights from the leftists and others who would distort and abuse the concept of rights.



Comment #62

Friday, August 12, 2005 at 15:01:41 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

The question though, Chris, is whether "the concept of dialectics" needs "rescuing", i.e. the question is what purpose it serves - except to lump AR into a philosophical category (esp. with Hegelians and Marxists) where she does not belong.

If you ever get a chance to do a search of "dialectics" on the Objectivist CD-ROM, you'll see what AR thought of the concept - as compared to what Sciabarra's pseudo-scholarship is attempting to foist on her.

The following from Galt's Speech is typical:

"The secret of all their esoteric philosophies, of all their dialectics and super-senses, of their evasive eyes and snarling words, the secret for which they destroy civilization, language, industries and lives, the secret for which they pierce their own eyes and eardrums, grind out their senses, blank out their minds, the purpose for which they dissolve the absolutes of reason, logic, matter, existence, reality"is to erect upon that plastic fog a single holy absolute: their *Wish*."

Furthermore, to appeal to Aristotle's use of the concept doesn't help Sciabarra's argument, since for Aristotle, dialectics was apparently merely a form of polemics, i.e. a method of arguing from your opponent's accepted premises.

Keep in mind that, "Dialectical refutation cannot of itself establish any proposition (except perhaps the proposition that some set of propositions is inconsistent). More to the point, though deducing a contradiction from my beliefs may show that they do not constitute knowledge, failure to deduce a contradiction from them is no proof that they are true. Not surprisingly, then, Aristotle often insists that "dialectic does not prove anything" and that the dialectical art is not some sort of universal knowledge."

<http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-logic/#dialectic>



Comment #63

Friday, August 12, 2005 at 15:05:59 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

I should have added that Aristotle's view of dialectic is discussed in Section 8 of this page.

<http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-logic/#dialectic>



Comment #64

Friday, August 12, 2005 at 17:27:27 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

Fred Weiss quoted The Philosopher:

"Keep in mind that, "Dialectical refutation cannot of itself establish any proposition (except perhaps the proposition that some set of propositions is inconsistent). More to the point, though deducing a contradiction from my beliefs may show that they do not constitute knowledge, failure to deduce a contradiction from them is no proof that they are true. Not surprisingly, then, Aristotle often insists that "dialectic does not prove anything" and that the dialectical art is not some sort of universal knowledge.""

Of course dialectics doesn't prove anything. It is not logic! It is not the art of non-contradictory identification. It is the art of context-keeping. And of course, dialectics is not knowledge, but neither is logic. Both are methods that must be employed if knowledge is to be obtained. Both are necessary conditions of knowledge, but neither is sufficient.

Roger Bissell



Comment #65

Friday, August 12, 2005 at 19:48:42 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

Fred Weiss wrote: "If you ever get a chance to do a search of "dialectics" on the Objectivist CD-ROM, you'll see what AR thought of the concept - as compared to what Sciabarra's pseudo-scholarship is attempting to foist on her."

Fred's argument is another example of the Fallacy of the Frozen Abstraction -- identifying (and confusing) one subcategory of a concept with the broader concept.

Yes, Ayn Rand was adamantly opposed to dialectics, but she understood it as simply another word for the Hegelian-Marxist methodology. Perhaps she did not know about or think much of Aristotle's version of dialectics. Certainly she did not know about Sciabarra's version of dialectics, nor his explication of how her methodology exhibits all the essential characteristics of dialectics. But we know better. And as with rejecting egoism because one is opposed to the Stirnite version of it, it is a mistake to reject dialectics because one is opposed to the Hegelian-Marxist variant of it.

Suppose Rand ~had~ rejected egoism for the very same reason she rejected dialectics? (That she rejected one of the species of egoism and failed to consider that there might be a valid species of it.) Would we be wrong in later pointing out that she did indeed embrace egoism? Would we be trying to "foist" egoism off on her, when she rejected it? Of course not!

Roger Bissell

Roger Bissell



Comment #66

Friday, August 12, 2005 at 20:31:20 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

Roger reminds us, "Yes, Ayn Rand was adamantly opposed to dialectics." Oh, but he assures us, "...she understood it as simply another word for the Hegelian-Marxist methodology." What's more, he speculates, "Perhaps she did not know about or think much of Aristotle's version of dialectics."

So, let's see if we've got this straight. Either she rejected dialectics outright (the Hegelian-Marxist version) or did not know about or think much of Aristotle's. But nonetheless, according to Sciabarra, she is in the historical tradition of dialectics - which it was the entire point of "The Russian Radical" to demonstrate, starting with the purported influence of the Russian dialecticians (especially Lossky) to whom she was exposed as a young woman - except that at the same time she either rejected it or didn't know much about it.

Ah, but our abstractions are frozen. It was the Sciabarra version that she embraced - if only she had ever read Sciabarra. Maybe she picked up Sciabarra's future thoughts by some version of Nathaniel Branden ESP.



Comment #67

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 1:40:42 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

In reply to Fred Weiss, I repeat my final paragraph:

Suppose Rand ~had~ rejected egoism for the very same reason she rejected dialectics? (That she rejected one of the species of egoism and failed to consider that there might be a valid species of it.) Would we be wrong in later pointing out that she did indeed embrace egoism? Would we be trying to "foist" egoism off on her, when she rejected it? Of course not!

More to the point, in labeling Rand's ethical philosophy "egoism," we are not thereby foisting off Stirnite egoism on her -- so why complain that, in labeling Rand's philosophical methodology "dialectical," Sciabarra is thus somehow foisting off Hegelian-Marxist dialectics on her?

Another point: I never said that Rand embraced Sciabarra's formulation of dialectics. But his formulation is basically just a distillation of all the valid context-keeping elements in various thinkers' methodologies, including Rand's. In her studies, Rand no doubt had the opportunity to do much the same kind of review and keep/discard process in regard to her professors and past thinkers. The fact that she rejected the label "dialectics" for her own integrated context-keeping methodology because of its association with Hegel and Marx is of no more significance than if she had rejected the label "egoism" for her ethical philosophy because of its association with Stirner.

"Nathaniel Branden ESP?" Ridicule can be a very potent adjunct to criticism, when it's properly aimed. When it's not, it's just...ridiculous.

Roger Bissell



Comment #68

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 7:16:10 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

Roger, if Ayn Rand had rejected egoism, then what would be the point of characterizing her as an egoist? But in fact, in rejecting past versions of egoism and in creating a new one, she remains an explicit egoist. There isn't any dispute about it because it is clearly there in her own texts.

All of this has nothing whatever to do with "dialectics", which AR explicitly rejected. For Sciabarra to declare that dialectics is nothing but "context keeping" is entirely arbitrary and doesn't jibe with the thrust of "The Russian Radical" which clearly attempts to root AR's methodology in her Russian teachers who were influenced by Hegel and Marx.

Furthermore, what does either Aristotle's or Hegel/Marx's dialectics have to do with context keeping? For Aristotle, dialectics appears to be polemics. For Hegel/Marx it is the (totally arbitrary) "resolving" of purported "contradictions" which they concocted out of thin air. What does any of that have to do with AR's methodology?

What it's really all about is that Sciabarra doesn't believe that AR can be accepted on her own terms, that she has to be "put over" on academia by shrouding it in contemporary academic jargon or pigeon-holing it into some more acceptable contemporary view of one sort or another. The same sort of pandering pervades JARS and it's almost part of its explicit mission.

(It is similar to the long-standing "libertarian" attempt - especially the anarchists - to pander to the hippie and Marxist left by trying to put over capitalism as merely the true means by which one can satisfy one's urges without interference by the state. Or the David Kelley/Ed Hudgins' attempt to promote a watered-down version of Objectivism in the hopes that it will be more acceptable to people who otherwise would reject it if they knew what it really was.)

It is intellectual cowardice of the highest order. Not able to reject it because he knows she's got a great many important things to say - and yet at the same time afraid to fully defend it because he knows the kind of reaction that would provoke among his academic colleaques, he feels obliged to drag her through the detritus of their thinking in the hopes that he can mask her scent and throw them off the trail. He however accomplishes nothing by it accept to diminish her. Afterall, the other side of context-keeping is not faking reality - and as AR said many times, you cannot achieve anything worthwhile in the long term by attempting it.



Comment #69

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 14:17:05 mdt
Name: gs

Mr. Bissell,

You list 4 techniques that are partly constitutive of Sciabarrian Dialectics. I don’t think that any of these techniques is particularly characteristic of Ayn Rand’s thought. There are to be sure cases in which she engages in each of the four, but that would be true of almost any systematic think. They are not central, or even significant features of her methodology, and none of the central arguments in her ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, or politics turn on them. Where any of these features figure in, it is always as effects of some other, deeper methodology.

So I don’t think that there is any evidence in your post (or in part 3 of Russian Radical) that there are any significant parallels between Rand and Marx here"any parallels of a sort that could not be found between practically any two thinkers. Who is supposed to be the foil here? Who are supposed to be the systematic thinkers who are not dialectical from which Rand and Marx are being distinguished? I assume for example that Hobbes, Hume and Mill are not supposed to be dialectical. But in what way do these thinkers, but not Rand or Marx, fail to incorporate a range of points of view? If incorporating a range of points of view, simply means considering a lot of conflicting opinions, then these thinkers certainly do that: they answer objections to their views and discuss the competing views. If it means taking into account the fact that different people have different sets of values, they do that too. The idea of investigating a problem at different levels of generality is a bit vague, but all these thinkers have something to say about individual interaction and about interaction of social groups of various sizes. It’s not clear to me that there’s any distinction between them and Rand on this count. Alternatively, “levels of generality” means to have induced conclusions of different breadth, then virtually every thinker who countenances some form of induction investigates problems at multiple levels of generality. All of these thinkers have something to say about how interactions between different sizes of social groups are related to one another, and Mill they think that to understand society we need to consider the development of society across time to explain certain facts about it"for example (in Hume’s case) how it is man’s “moral sentiments” come to commend just actions. I’ve given just as much reason to think that these three are “dialectical” as you have to think that Rand is (and Sciabarra hasn’t really given more reason than you do, at least not in Russian Radical.) The same could be done for virtually anyone.

In order to conceptualize someone’s method (or key components of it), one needs to figure out what is essential to that method-"what traits are fundamental to the way in which that method differs from alternative methods. But none of your four points about dialectic do this.



Comment #70

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 15:05:42 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

Fred, Sciabarra never denies that Ayn Rand explicitly rejects dialectical (or historical) materialism. But Sciabarra says, right in his introduction to RUSSIAN RADICAL, that Aristotle was the father of dialectical inquiry. (p. 15-16) He writes: "If Aristotle was the father of dialectical inquiry ... then Rand was profoundly correct to view her own system as the heir to Aristotelianism. Ultimately, it might be said that her debt to Aristotle concerns ~both~ the form and the content of her thought." (p. 19)

What Sciabarra could ~not~ do in RUSSIAN RADICAL was to present his own very different reading of the history of philosophy and social theory (which is saved for TOTAL FREEDOM). But the specific aspects that he does highlight as having had a potential impact on Rand had nothing to do with the "dialectical" or "historical materialism" of Rand's "Russian teachers who were influenced by Hegel and Marx." He clearly focuses on Rand's teachers' methodological penchant for analyzing problems as part of a larger context of relationships within a system (synchronic analysis) and across time (diachronic analysis). ~That~ is dialectics at work. (Note also the similarity to Aristotle's formal and material cause to synchronic elements of analysis and his efficient and final cause to diachronic elements of analysis. He insisted that looking at both structural and functional aspects were required for a full understanding of how something came to be what it is. To overlook the deeply dialectical nature of Aristotle's "four cause" analysis, while concentrating on his RHETORIC, is to miss the forest for the trees in his philosophy.)

If you really have no clue what dialectical method has to do with context-keeping, then I can only suggest you read TOTAL FREEDOM. Context-keeping is the ~essence~ of dialectical method, as Sciabarra conceives it, and he draws this from the whole history of dialectical thinking, seeing Aristotle as "The Fountainhead" of this methodology (that's the title of Chapter One of TF). I can't possibly summarize those first four chapters of Sciabarra's TOTAL FREEDOM here. Grasping it is work that you need to do, if you want your public opinion of Sciabarra's work and perspective to be properly informed.

To say that "Sciabarra doesn't believe that AR can be accepted on her own terms" or that he sought to "put over" Ayn Rand "on academia by shrouding it in contemporary academic jargon or pigeon-holing" is hogwash, and you know it. Sciabarra is not an Objectivist. His purpose in RUSSIAN RADICAL Radical was not to "put over" Ayn Rand, but to present his own view of Rand's unique place in a larger dialectical tradition. You're free to reject Sciabarra's case, but you're wrong to impugn his integrity. RUSSIAN RADICAL is part of a trilogy of works that has a much larger purpose. Sciabarra seeks to strike at the heart of Marxism and to reclaim a genuine dialectical method in defense of freedom, and I applaud him for doing so, and I celebrate his success on this, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first two parts of his trilogy.

Roger Bissell



Comment #71

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 16:00:18 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

Roger, your replies to me in regard to Sciabarra and AR's alleged "dialectics" are largely an exercise in non-sequitur. For example, that Aristotle used dialectics and that AR was an admirer of Aristotle doesn't mean she was particularly impressed with that particular aspect of his thought - or regarded it as especially important. There is certainly nothing to suggest it in anything she ever said on the subject.

Incidentally, if anyone can be regarded as "the father of dialectics", it is not Aristotle. It was Socrates.

As regards AR's "analyzing problems as part of a larger context of relationships within a system ...and across time", every major historical philosopher has done that (GS also made this point). Ayn Rand was a philosophical system builder. We all know that. Nothing is achieved - and no useful additional information is conveyed - by characterizing this as "dialectics", which merely confuses the issue and categorizes AR with philosophers of whom she profoundly disapproved.



Comment #72

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 16:45:04 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell

Fred wrote: "Roger, your replies to me in regard to Sciabarra and AR's alleged "dialectics" are largely an exercise in non-sequitur...Ayn Rand was a philosophical system builder. We all know that. Nothing is achieved - and no useful additional information is conveyed - by characterizing this as "dialectics", which merely confuses the issue and categorizes AR with philosophers of whom she profoundly disapproved."

Very interesting. Ayn Rand profoundly disapproved of Plato and Kant. Plato was a philosophical system builder, and Kant was a philosophical system builder. So, doesn't characterizing Rand as a philosophical system builder categorize her with philosophers of whom she profoundly disapproved?

I have more to say about this, but I am at work, and my response time is severely limited.

Roger Bissell



Comment #73

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 18:31:14 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

Roger, I don't know what more to say because even after I point out your non-sequiturs, you sally forth with yet another one. System building was something AR explicitly acknowledged and supported - assuming it was coherent and integrated. I mentioned that as an appropriate way to categorize her. That she disagreed with Plato's and Kant's systems doesn't mean she disapproved, per se, of their system building.

Once again, this has nothing whatever to do with "dialectics", which you keep insisting it does, despite the fact that AR had explicit contempt for it. And then you and Sciabarra continually bring up Aristotle, as if the mere mention of his name should end all further discussion, despite the fact that dialectics seemed to mean nothing more to him than roughly the equivalent of polemics.



Comment #74

Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 20:39:30 mdt
Name: Roger Bissell
URL: http://members.aol.com/REBissell/index.html

Fred, you are probably right -- there is nothing further for you to say, and nothing further for me to say either, so I won't be responding to you any more on the topic of dialectics.

GS (I assume you are the same as GCS -- and Greg?), I don't know whether you are at the same point in this discussion as Fred, but I will just pre-emptively say that this will be my final response to you, and again thank you for the civil level of interaction you helped to maintain. You may have the last word, if you like. My response...

Sciabarra develops a typology in TOTAL FREEDOM with regard to the various orientations that compete with dialectics. He lists and defines (in genus-differentia fashion) such orientations as monism, dualism, atomism, and organicism. And he characterizes various thinkers throughout the history of philosophy according to this typology. While it is true that "good thinking" incorporates the methods that Sciabarra characterizes as dialectical, it is not the case that every thinker actually practices those methods or practices them consistently enough to be considered "dialectical." That would trivialize dialectics and equate it simply with "good thinking." (And though it is obviously a non-essential, it is interesting to note that partisans of both ARI and TOC have fallen prey to this misunderstanding.) See Sciabarra's diagram here:

<http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/images/trilevel.jpg>

As for what Sciabarra means by looking at a problem from different "points of view": It's not about taking into account "a lot of conflicting opinions." What he's talking about is the ability to look at a problem on different levels of generality (which he defines as "personal," "cultural," and "structural") and from different perspectives or points of view or "angles" of analysis ~within~ each level (e.g., psycho-epistemological and ethical; aesthetic, pedagogical, linguistic; economic and political). Considering a problem on all these levels and from all these perspectives enables one to grasp the full context of relationships that such a problem entails. (And ~failing~ to make recourse to these levels and perspectives is why many thinkers fail to be systematic. And failing to make ~consistent~ recourse to these levels and perspectives is why many thinkers fall into error, despite their good thinking on occasion.) See Sciabarra's tri-level diagram here.

Yes, it would be wonderful if all thinkers actually practiced these techniques. But they don't. Sciabarra argues, for example, that libertarians typically focus on the "political" and the "economic" in such a one-sided fashion that they drop the larger context of psycho-epistemological, ethical, and cultural concerns. In Sciabarra's view, Rand's analysis of social problems is always many-sided, rich, and comprehensive. It's part of what makes her a "radical," in Sciabarra's view, because she refuses to disconnect these fundamentally important, interrelated components.

Roger Bissell



Comment #75

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 6:55:36 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Roger Bissell sums up his account of Chris Sciabarra's argument. I can't say whether it's accurate, and that precisely the point of this comment. If that *was* Sciabarra's argument, it is inexcusible that he hasn't presented it that way: clearly and concisely. Even if he wasn't going to do that in his books for some "higher" academic purpose, he hasn't done so on any other forum to my knowledge. I have always said that any thinker who does not strive to make himself understood does not deserve any effort on the part of a rational reader to understand him. I continue to stand by that principle.

This is quite apart from whether or not Sciabarra's argument has any merit. I'm still waiting for someone to make the case that it has.



Comment #76

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 14:48:26 mdt
Name: GCS

Mr. Bissell,

You may have the last word on the topic, if you like. I have nothing more to say than I have already. I don't know if I'm at the same point in the discussion as Fred. I've agreed with some but not all of what he's said. (I don't, for example, think that the fact that AR would have opposed a certain classification of her views has as much weight as he seems to think it should in determining whether that classification is correct.) And just to clear up any possible confusion, I have posted as GCS and as GS, but not as “Greg.” I don’t know who the relevant Greg is.



Comment #77

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 18:18:55 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

I am seeing a move at least in a positive direction. The indictment of Sciabarra's thesis appears to have been reduced from "He promotes a version of M2, extreme irrationalist misintegration" to one or more of the following:

1. Calling her approach "dialectical" is characterizing her views by inessentials, lumping her in with "dialectical" proponents of M2.

2. Miss Rand spoke ill of "dialectics," so it's false to call her approach "dialectical."

3. Sciabarra's thesis should have been presented in accessible terms, rather than "pander" to an academic audience.

My assessments:

#2 strikes me as a little silly, considering that it's Marxian irrationalism she's targetting, and is reminiscent of "Rand said it, so that settles it." (Along similar lines, it is one thing to make a very qualified and specific reference to her political philosophy as libertarian, and another to suggest anything along the lines that she would have or should have supported a ["]L/libertarian["] political movement, particularly one open to anarchists.)

#1 doesn't look so silly, though I think the charge is mitigated by Sciabarra's specifying that dialectics is the art of context-keeping and that his thesis aims towards a point of emphasis about her methodology, not a complete story about the essence of Objectivist methodology.

#3 is the one I can most readily sympathize with, though I'm inclined to revise or remove the language about "pandering."



Comment #78

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 18:36:16 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

BTW, Don, I think there's something of a request brewing in your comments -- that Chris Sciabarra provide a reasonably concise and accessible explanation of dialectics and its relation to liberty, perhaps nowhere other than on his website, "Dialectics and Liberty"! I think it could be done -- the equivalent of a roughly 10-page, half-hour primer for general audiences. I think any worthy idea could be given such an essential summing up, just to give the basics and entice enough reader interest that one can point to further sources of study. Here's to the hope that CMS gets around to doing something of this sort!

(I did a Google search on "what is dialectics" and it turns up the usual Marxist stuff. Maybe that can change, and hopefully it will if dialectics is worth salvaging.)



Comment #79

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 19:47:13 mdt
Name: Fred Weiss
URL: http://www.papertig.com

Chris, the main problem is that Sciabarra is using a term which has certain historical connotations and thus carries with it a considerable amount of highly charged negative baggage. When you bring this to his attention, he whips out his "Aristotle card", e.g., "Aristotle was 'the father of dialectics' (except that he wasn't), and except for the fact that Aristotle's understanding of dialectics (which seems to be mostly polemics) doesn't seem to bear any relationship to Sciabarra's thesis.

Look, it's true that AR considered all philosophical issues to be interrelated - just as Marx did. This is also an extremely important aspect of Objectivism, just as it is in Marxism. But what is achieved by calling this "dialectics" - except to be on some such inessential premise as: "we're also doing dialectics, but we do it better than you"? Is this supposed to impress Marxists? Like they'll care!

It's also not any great discovery or revelation on Sciabarra's part to note how AR related philosophical issues. It's something she did over and over again and was very explicit about its importance. It's pervasive in Galt's Speech. It's something Peikoff discusses in OPAR at length and which he has covered for years in his lectures.

So what's the point?



Comment #80

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 20:28:24 mdt
Name: Chris Cathcart
URL: http://geocities.com/cathcacr

Fred,
Scrounging around at Chris Sciabarra's website for something resembling a "dialectics in one lesson" page, I encountered in the "essays" portion his response to Roderick Long's review of -Total Freedom-:
<http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/totalfrdm/tfreviews/jarsrep.htm>

He writes about Aristotle:

"I therefore consider him the "fountainhead" of dialectics, the genuine father of the enterprise.

"Cogent objections can be made to this idea. Long argues, for instance, that Aristotle’s sense of the word "dialectic" is irrelevant to the sense that I am using here (Long 2001, 405). Aristotle’s narrower concept of "dialectic" stressed reasoning from endoxa or common beliefs; but to focus on this aspect is to ignore the master’s self-conscious use of "dialectical" techniques in the examination of philosophical problems."

To re-state the point: Aristotle was the father of what CMS now calls dialectics, even though Aristotle's own use of the term was narrower in scope.

Given my take on what CMS is up to with this whole project, I'm quite in agreement that Aristotle is the fountainhead of [context-keeping] inquiry -- with his approach to analyzing the relation between form and matter, universal and particular, the basically one-world perspective vs. Plato's two-worlds.

Now, as to why CMS would call the art of context-keeping "dialectics"? Surely he's not going to do this just haphazardly given the avalanche of criticism that's almost inevitable when one whips out the term and, of all things, defends it. Think about it: if CMS is going to "pander" (or whatever term you care to use), and to a by and large *analytical* philosophy community, and to an intellectual community that almost reflexively associates dialectics with Marxism, wouldn't it be easier to use more "friendly" terminology so as not to scare off the potential converts? But why couldn't Rand just do the same, not be so radical, and not call her ethics a morality of (gasp!) egoism or, of all things, *selfishness*?

Let me venture a hypothesis about CMS's arrival at dialectics: he studies extensively on all aspects of "libertarianism" -- from all angles, philosophical, cultural, economic, historical, political -- and comes to see how the thinker he most respects (Rand) used such a radical methodology in her approach to analysis in all these fields. Also, in the course of his studies, he becomes familiar with Marxist theory and begins to notice the similarities between their *methodological* approach and Rand's. "Hey, doesn't this dialectics look a lot like what Rand is doing?" From there, it's an inquiry into: where did they go wrong, where weren't they rightly radical enough, in the way that Rand was?

So it's Rand whose *truly radical* practicing in context-keeping methodology, and not those dirty Marxists whose program all-too-obviously sought to appropriate dialectics as a way of "understanding" how capitalism is supposed to come to an end historically. But to do so, they've got to ignore the more fundamental lessons of context-keeping methodology, by ignoring the actual nature of capitalism and its conceptual and ethical roots. Rand, meanwhile, kept to the fundamental, the root, the essence of that methodology, and -- lo and behold -- it's a methodology with its historical roots not in the dirty Marxists but in *Arisotle*!

Well, if dialectics is at root essence the art of context-keeping, and Rand is the truly radical practioner of it, why would CMS *not* want to reclaim the term just as Rand reclaimed the term "egoism" in its true and radical meaning?



Comment #81

Sunday, August 14, 2005 at 22:17:35 mdt
Name: Don Watkins
URL: http://angermanagement.mu.nu

Chris Cathcart writes:

>>Now, as to why CMS would call the art of context-keeping "dialectics"? Surely he's not going to do this just haphazardly given the avalanche of criticism that's almost inevitable when one whips out the term and, of all things, defends it. Think about it: if CMS is going to "pander" (or whatever term you care to use), and to a by and large *analytical* philosophy community, and to an intellectual community that almost reflexively associates dialectics with Marxism, wouldn't it be easier to use more "friendly" terminology so as not to scare off the potential converts? But why couldn't Rand just do the same, not be so radical, and not call her ethics a morality of (gasp!) egoism or, of all things, *selfishness*?<<

To begin with, I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to guess Chris’s motives for choosing to use the word “dialectics.” What one determines to be Chris’s motive will largely depend on one’s estimate of Chris’s intellectual honesty. A dishonest man could have any number of motives to use the word “dialectics.” We can’t assume that gaining converts would be his goal (especially not if his target audience is other academics). Such a man could, for instance, enjoy being the center of controversy. (That never hurts book sales, after all.)

The proper question is: is there any *rational* reason to label Rand’s consideration of all aspects of an issue “dialectics”? Before answering that, let’s look at why Rand went to great lengths to rescue the concept “selfishness.” In the Introduction to the Virtue of Selfishness, Rand tells us:

“It is not a mere semantic issue nor a matter of arbitrary choice. The meaning ascribed to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual ‘package-deal,’ which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

“[…]

“If it is true that what I mean by ‘selfishness’ is not what is meant conventionally, this _this_ is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism _permits no concept_ of a self-respecting, self-supporting man " a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites " that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men " that it permits no concept of _justice_.

“If you wonder about the reasons behind the ugly mixture of cynicism and guilt in which most men spend their daily lives, these are the reasons: cynicism, because they neither practice nor accept the altruist morality " guilt, because they dare not reject it.

“To rebel against so devastating an evil, one has to rebel against its basic premise. To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of “_selfishness_” that one has to redeem.”

Rand’s point is that the perversion of the concept “selfishness” made it impossible for men to grasp the possibility of a non-sacrificial code of ethics. That’s why she had to fight for the word, in order to achieve epistemological clarity.

Now can anyone tell me with a straight face that Sciabarra’s goal is epistemological clarity? Can anyone explain to me why clear thinking requires that we group Socrates, Aristotle, Marx, Hegel, Rand, Hayek, and Rothbard (to name a few) under the same methodological concept? Will someone please step up and offer us a goddamned genus/differentia definition of “dialectics”? (Oh, I’m aware Sciabarra offers one…in his THIRD book on the subject…but I submit his definition is literally meaningless: “Dialectics is an orientation toward contextual analysis of the systemic and dynamic relations of components within a totality.” And if you think his full context makes the meaning of that definition clear, the exact opposite is true.)

Let me end by saying that I do think there has been scant attention paid to the many angles from which Rand analyzed certain problems, and that this would be a valuable undertaking. But it would be a valuable undertaking by someone who understood and appreciated Rand " which would exclude anyone such as Sciabarra, who among other things defends the Brandens, embraces libertarianism, and makes common cause with people like David Kelley. It would be a job, in other words, for an Objectivist.