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Comment #1

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 7:01:46 mst
Name: Tom Rowland

Thank you Dr. Mayhew and Diana. My own conclusions on this particular point parallel Dr. Mayhew's, but this essay adds detail that my layman's knowledge and a little research hardly match.




Comment #2

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 10:06:33 mst
Name: Galileo Blogs
URL: http://galileoblogs.blogspot.com/

Thank you. A very enlightening essay.



Comment #3

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 13:44:17 mst
Name: Adam

Thank you, Rob, for the very enlightening analysis. I haven't read yet Rob Tracinski's latest essay, but my general conclusion from the first couple installments of Tracinski's essays was that he was conflating the Objectivist distinction between explicit and implicit knowledge. I think your analysis provides another confirmation of this earlier observation of mine, as it provides a wealth of data on how Tracinski is in fact failing to distinguish between the three senses of "philosophy," as used in Objectivism.



Comment #4

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 15:39:00 mst
Name: John Lewis
URL: http://www.classicalideals.com

Thank you, Robert, for this essay, and Diana for putting it up. The central point is clear, and correct: Tracinski is trying to diminish the causal power of philosophy in history, by inaccurately re-constructing Greek history in a way to fit with his own prior conclusion. Why does he do this? Because he wishes to see a brilliant future for us today, despite the profound philosophical corruption that has undercut every area of progress, and weakened our self-esteem and our will to defend ourselves..

I see one of Tracinski's major points of error, both for the Greeks and for us today, as his unwillingness to accept the power of an implicit fundamental idea (as Adam Mossoff touched upon). For the Greeks, this was the conviction that this world, including our moral characters, could be understood rationally, without recourse to divine will--as Solon said of Athens. This is the fundamental idea that connects all of these thinkers, including those who made honest errors. Without a commitment to this idea, nothing can follow--and bothing ever has. This is the real Greek philosophical revolution.

It is not the case that science "descends" from such a fundamental idea deductively. But the idea sets a context for how a person will try to understand his world. It is also a great motivator, allowing him to realize that an answer is possible. And it prevents the short-circuit of faith in God's will--or the conviction that no answers are possible--from ending his investigations before he has even started them.



Comment #5

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 19:44:44 mst
Name: Jim May

Dr. Lewis writes:

"Why does he do this? Because he wishes to see a brilliant future for us today, despite the profound philosophical corruption that has undercut every area of progress, and weakened our self-esteem and our will to defend ourselves."

Well then, how far away from "brilliant" is our future, I wonder?



Comment #6

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 21:02:23 mst
Name: Nick Robinson

Dr. Lewis writes:

"Why does he do this? Because he wishes to see a brilliant future for us today, despite the profound philosophical corruption..."

I think this is unfair. Tracinski does not merely wish to see a brilliant future. His theory, as I understand it, is an attempt to explain actual facts in the world today, namely that half of the world's population seemingly does have a brilliant future despite philosophical corruption.



Comment #7

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 22:46:20 mst
Name: NS
URL: http://www.noumenalself.com

Nick:

"His theory, as I understand it, is an attempt to explain actual facts in the world today, namely that half of the world's population seemingly does have a brilliant future despite philosophical corruption."

I disagree that the facts in the world today are as rosy as Tracinski would have us believe:

<http://www.noumenalself.com/archives/2007/01/tracinski_on_th.html>

I'll add more to this essay soon. One point I plan on expanding on is: what use is it if free markets expand abroad, if (helped by both liberals and conservatives) they are contracting at home? If America is the model for the world (as Tracinski rightly suggests), then India and China are only catching up with the America of the past.

NS



Comment #8

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 23:07:39 mst
Name: John Dailey

~ I don't know what to make of Tracinski's arguments, both his analyses of culture and philosophy's relations to each other, and, as well, his accusation of incorrect 'Doom & Gloom' orientations at ARI based on one view of the relationship...yet.

~ But I am finding fascinating the chronic need for so many to ascript negative motivations to him because of his analyses (or, is it because of 'disagreements'?). He's not just 'wrong' (ie, merely 'incorrect'): he KNOWS he's wrong? --- Too many say "I don't know 'why' he says this stuff." Well, I think he gave what *he* saw as valid reasons which he spelled out, whether one agrees with his reasons or disagrees.

LLAP
J:D



Comment #9

Friday, January 19, 2007 at 23:28:46 mst
Name: kishnevi

In a way, you are repeating Tracinski's mistake. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are extremely important for OUR intellectual history--but that does not mean they were as important from the perspective of the Greeks. They are the branch of the tree from which Western philosophy has sprung, but they were only one of several branches which were putting forth fruit at that time. To his contemporaries, Socrates was only one of a crowd of Sophists. The Academy and the Lyceum were not the only philosophical schools in Greece: they were simply the ones that posterity and the accidents of history preserved for us. And in terms of immediate influence of the Grand Three (as we might call them), the records is decidely mixed. Socrates was obviously important enough to be judicially murdered, but not important enough to escape the judicial murder. Plato had political influence in Magna Graeca, but at home his political legacy was inextricably linked to the ultimately failed oligarchic revolution at the end of the war. Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander, but left Athens because he felt threatened with the same fate as Socrates. To judge the influence of Greek philosophy overall by their influence on their contemporaries would be to seriously underrate it.



Comment #10

Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 15:08:07 mst
Name: Sascha Settegast
URL: http://heroicdreams.blogg.de

Thank you for this inspiring essay. Ancient Greece is a very exciting topic, and I'd love to learn more about it.



Comment #11

Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 19:23:44 mst
Name: DavidR
URL: http://davidrehm.com/

Can someone explain the "structure of our language" reference in Rand's quotation? A group of us stumbled across that a year or two ago and couldn't quite figure out the answer. What did Aristotle contribute to the structure of language?



Comment #12

Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 23:26:17 mst
Name: anon

I don't know exactly what she had in mind. Presumably it has something to do with the Categories, where secondary substances are predicated of primary substances and not granted independent "subject" status (i.e. independent existence). Aristotle didn't invent this aspect of language of course, but he clarified it and thus cut off the possibility for confusion and abuse (as against e.g. Plato). So now you don't ask, "How can the big become the small?" etc. I've read this in various places so it seems plausible that AR would have heard this as well.



Comment #13

Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 15:04:30 mst
Name: Michelle F. Cohen

I thank Dr. Mayhew for his analysis and Diana for posting it.

Tracinski is wrong to assume that Ancient Greece was a manifestation of Aristotle's philosophy. I am not an expert on the subject, but I think it's obvious that Ancient Greece had flawed ideas as well, and Aristotle's greatness consisted of distinguishing the right ideas from the wrong ones (such as Plato's ideas) and developing the former far beyond.

By anology, Tracinski can claim that America in the 19th Century was a manifestation of Ayn Rand's philosophy, which goes to prove that it emerged without a philosophy because Rand's ideas were not yet available. The conclusion would be that Rand was only "the observer, defender, promoter, and intellectual amplifier of that progress." But such a claim would be impossible, because Rand explicitly stated that America in the 19th Century was *not* a manifestation of her philosophy.



Comment #14

Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 16:42:30 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
URL: http://www.aristotleadventure.com

What Went Wrong with Robert Tracinski's Account of the Ancient Greeks?
Friday, January 19, 2007 at 18:02:23 mst

Nick Robinson: "I think this is unfair."

Nick, why do you say "unfair" -- rather than "false" or "not objective"?



Comment #15

Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 17:13:41 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
URL: http://www.aristotleadventure.com

For Dr. Mayhew, Dr. Lewis, or others who know Roman history: Is there an analogy between the following situations?

1. THE USA TODAY, after the collapse of overseas fascism and communism, as a prosperous and politially expanding "empire" of *internationally* free trade -- while the overall philosphical culture has become a vacuum drawing in the more aggressive, consistent, and mystical religionists.

2. THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN ITS EARLIEST YEARS, after vanquishng its enemies, as an empire enjoying prosperity resulting from the protective "umbrella effect" of the Roman Peace established over a wide area of previously warring nations who had disintegrated trade -- while the actual earthy philosophy of the culture was in long-term decline toward a yearning for salvation and other-worldliness.

The analogy I am referring to is two-fold:

(1) a long-term, general decline in the guiding philosophy of the culture.

(2) a short-term improvement in the quality of life for many people over a wide and initially expanding area.

The first is a cause of *future* economic and political events. The second is an effect of *past* philosophical events.



Comment #16

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 1:00:29 mst
Name: kishnevi

The analogy would be superficial at best. The Roman Empire was established and maintained by military means, and depended on heavy taxation of the subject nations for the prosperity and sustenance of the center. That some of the provinces prospered was an accidental side effect of the Roman's wish to maximize tax revenue for their own benefit. A major portion of the Empire's decline was based on its inability to transform into a polity that was structured on a different basis and that more systematically encouraged the prosperity of the provinces for their own sake: it was unable to move away from using force as the only basis for holding political power. It is not for nothing that the Talmud specifically equated tax collectors with robbers. Therefore, a provincial who was faced with the prospect of handing over a considerable portion of his yearly income to the Roman publicans was not necessarily horrified by the prospect of handing over that considerable portion of his yearly income to a barbarian. Cultural ties did exist that motivated citizens of the Empire to defend it, but economic factors operated in the opposite direction.

The modern American imperium was established, and is maintained, by other means, and the coherence of the "provinces" with the "center" is far weaker.



Comment #17

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 1:48:19 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
URL: http://www.aristotleadventure.com

On Monday, January 22, 2007 at 22:00:29 mst, kishnevi said: "A major portion of the Empire's decline was based on its inability to transform into a polity that was structured on a different basis and that more systematically encouraged the prosperity of the provinces for their own sake: it was unable to move away from using force as the only basis for holding political power."

Burgess: What was the cause of these purported inabilities?



Comment #18

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 1:51:26 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
URL: http://www.aristotleadventure.com

On Monday, January 22, 2007 at 22:00:29 mst, kishnevi said: "The analogy would be superficial at best."

What comparison of the two cultures -- at a philosophical level -- would you offer instead?



Comment #19

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 8:18:49 mst
Name: Greg M.
URL: http://logicnotfaith.blogspot.com/


on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 12:39:00 mst
John Lewis stated:

.... to accept the power of an implicit fundamental idea ....this was the conviction that this world, including our moral characters, could be understood rationally, without recourse to divine will--as Solon said of Athens. This is the fundamental idea that connects all of these thinkers,.... Without a commitment to this idea, nothing can follow--and (n)othing ever has. This is the real Greek philosophical revolution.

Greg M:
I wonder if this is an essential i.e. a mandatory point of recognition for a culture that aims to have a 2nd Renaissance? I figure that it is so.

This point leads me to something else....

on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 16:44:44 mst
Jim May asked as a follow-up:

Dr. Lewis writes:

"Why does he do this? Because he wishes to see a brilliant future for us today, despite the profound philosophical corruption that has undercut every area of progress, and weakened our self-esteem and our will to defend ourselves."

Well then, how far away from "brilliant" is our future, I wonder?

....and on Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 14:13:41 mst
Burgess Laughlin asked:

For Dr. Mayhew, Dr. Lewis, or others who know Roman history: Is there an analogy between the following situations?

1. THE USA TODAY, after the collapse of overseas fascism and communism, as a prosperous and politially expanding "empire" of *internationally* free trade -- while the overall philosphical culture has become a vacuum drawing in the more aggressive, consistent, and mystical religionists.

2. THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN ITS EARLIEST YEARS, after vanquishng its enemies, as an empire enjoying prosperity resulting from the protective "umbrella effect" of the Roman Peace established over a wide area of previously warring nations who had disintegrated trade -- while the actual earthy philosophy of the culture was in long-term decline toward a yearning for salvation and other-worldliness.

(GM snipped further relevant explanation by BL for brevity.)

Greg M. (who makes no claim as a Roman culture expert):
Maybe it's simplistic for me to say that both of the aformentioned cultures are comprised by many people who fail to think in essentials, but I think that is a good starting point. Naturally, I think it's fair to say that Americans have somewhat less excuse for this failure given the difference in when AR's epistemic ideas were available.

Doesn't this beg the question(s) of "(how long) can an irrational culture survive?" I can't help but see how the content of this thread dovetails with the recent controversy over Dr. Peikoff's recent election comments.... Further (in response to Jim May), the "brilliance" is certainly too far for the politicians of today!!!



Comment #20

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 23:25:06 mst
Name: kishnevi

Burgess: to answer your questions in order.
1. Why the Romans were unable to change from a militaristic polity that exploited the provinces for the benefit of the core is a question of historical facts, not philosophical ideas. If you wish to explore the question, there are far better sources (begin with Gibbon and the Roman historians) than my quick comments in fora like this.

2. The only philosophical analogy I can think at the moment is the role of egoism in both cultures. Both Rome and the USA had as their core belief different forms of egoism: but the Romans viewed their world as a place where might made right, and the ability to wield power over others was the moral right of those who wielded it because they wielded it. [Having written this, it strikes me that this undoubtedly was a factor in their failure to transform out of militaristic exploitation. But it is still something on which you are better to consult real sources inside of my quick explanations.] There are forms of thinking in the USA which carry on this sort of egoism, but the foundational idea of the USA is what I would call egalitarian. [You are welcome to suggest a better term.] That is, it accepts that each individual should exert power over themself, but refuses to allow them to exert it over others, unless those others consent. The equality involved is not that of talent or other physical circumstances. It is simply the idea that every person should be politically equal, and disparate abilities and qualifications do not give anyone the right to exert power over others--whether the differences are in intelligence, financial resources, ancestry, beliefs, or anything else.



Comment #21

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 1:13:17 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
URL: http://www.aristotleadventure.com

On Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 20:25:06 mst, kishnevi said: "1. Why the Romans were unable to change from a militaristic polity that exploited the provinces for the benefit of the core is a question of historical facts, not philosophical ideas."

Me: Particular philosophical ideas -- held by particular people at particular times and particular places -- ARE historical facts. They are fundamental -- that is, causal -- ones.

kishnevi, your comments raise questiosns about your approach to understanding history: What are the basic principles of your philosophy of history? Do they differ from the Objectivist philosophy of history (as far as it goes)?

kishnevi also said: "2. The only philosophical analogy I can think at the moment is the role of egoism in both cultures. Both Rome and the USA had as their core belief different forms of egoism: but the Romans viewed their world as a place where might made right, and the ability to wield power over others was the moral right of those who wielded it because they wielded it."

Me: In performing philosophical detection on a culture, why stop with ethics? Why not go deeper down the hierarchy -- into their theory of man, epistemology, and especially their metaphysics (ontology)?



Comment #22

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 8:57:14 mst
Name: Michelle F. Cohen

The recent discussion of Robert Tracinski's series of articles "What Went Right" brought up the issue of Aristotle's role in the ascent of Ancient Greece. That is, whether Aristotle's ideas shaped the progress of Ancient Greece or only promoted an existing culture.

I have a question to the Aristotelian scholars on NoodleFood: Are there sources in Aristotle's writings where Aristotle evaluates the culture of Ancient Greece in which he lived? Was he satisfied with his contemporary culture or critical of it?

The answer to this question can help determine how Aristotle himself regarded his role in the progress of Ancient Greece. Given Aristotle's intellectual stature, his own view counts, to say the least.



Comment #23

Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 1:39:57 mst
Name: Bill Visconti

"Both Rome and the USA had as their core belief different forms of egoism: but the Romans viewed their world as a place where might made right, and the ability to wield power over others was the moral right of those who wielded it because they wielded it."

This doesn't sound like Objectivism to me. Going by this statement (as well as others), kishnevi does not understand egoism. Also this "There are forms of thinking [might makes right] in the USA which carry on this sort of egoism..." This sounds to me like a political liberal (or libertarian - the two are almost identical in foreign policy) not an Objectivist.

Bill Visconti



Comment #24

Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 1:58:31 mst
Name: kishnevi

To Mr. Laughlin and Mr. Visconti: I am a libertarian, and I am not an Objectivist--although I have enough experience to libertarians who adhere to Objectivism to believe there is no reason why Objectivism should be seen as incompatible with libertarianism (especially since Ms. Rand wrote at least one essay which reads like a libertarian tract, in the Virtue of Selfishness [don't have my copy handy, so I can't cite the title of the essay to you]), which some Objectivists apparently feel they are. But then, I've also encountered a man who thinks he has successfully combined neo-Thomism and Objectivism, to come out with what I call Christian Objectivism (to the best of my knowledge, he doesn't it call it anything other than his own personal philosophy). (He inserts some fairly questionable "proofs" of G-d's existence into the metaphysical equation, and scolds Ms. Rand for missing them.) Needless to say, since I am even less of neo-Thomist than I am an Objectivist, I was not impressed by the result.

So for my remarks to sound libertarian and not sound Objectivist is only to be expected. But I was trying (in the sentence you quoted back to me) to indicate one of the fundamental ways in which Roman egoism was different from Objectivism. I am not about to expiate on the philosophy of history, except to say that the only permissable philosophy of history should be "just the facts".



Comment #25

Sunday, January 28, 2007 at 1:18:53 mst
Name: Jeff Perren

Bill,

Objectivism has the most consistent, best grounded view and explication of egoism -- rational egoism. But the term is wider. Spinoza advocated a form of egoism, as did many Greeks. Yes, it's true that any form of egoism which is not *rational* egoism is ultimately self-defeating, since man's mind is his fundamental tool of survival. But the phrase rational egoism is not redundant.



Comment #26

Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 16:09:37 mst
Name: Mike Hardy

Dunno if I'll ever finish reading this long posting.
But I'll comment on one thing that it says:

:: Greek philosophy and culture did not continue to
:: progress after Aristotle

Euclid and Archimedes both came after Artistotle.

Euclid's book on geometry and number theory was
one of the four elements of the medieval quadrivium,
and until some time in the 20th century if someone
claimed to be educated, that meant they'd read at
least some of it. As an account of geometry it is
still worth studying (although important other things
have been done since then, of course).

Few humans have been as brilliant as Archimedes.
Read the proofs of the first couple of propositions
from the celebrate palimpsest now at the Walter
Museum in Baltimore (I think you can find it on the
web?) and you will not doubt that. (Or some of his
other works too.)

On my list of books I "intend" to read at some point
is the one at http://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Revolution-Science-Born-Reborn/dp/3540203966 ,
_The_Forgotten_Revolution:_How_Science_Was_Born_in_
_300_BC_and_Why_it_Had_to_Be_Reborn_. I've read the
article at http://www.ams.org/notices/199805/review-graffi.pdf
and consequently I'm going to be surprised if the
book is not pretty good.



Comment #27

Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 23:40:00 mst
Name: Burgess Laughlin
URL: http://www.aristotleadventure.com

On Thusday, February 1, 2007 at 13:09:37 mst, Mike Hardy said: "Dunno if I'll ever finish reading this long posting [by Dr. Mayhew]. But I'll comment on one thing that it says:
:: Greek philosophy and culture did not continue to
:: progress after Aristotle [...]"

Burgess: Is not Dr. Mayew here speaking of Greek philosophy and culture as a whole, in terms of essential characteristics? I see no reason in his text to assume otherwise.

Mike Hardy continues: "Euclid and Archimedes both came after Artistotle."

Burgess: They certainly did. So what? What do these two individuals have to do with Greek philosophy as a whole and Greek culture as a whole, in terms of essentials?

Mike Hardy says: "Euclid's book on geometry and number theory was one of the four elements of the medieval quadrivium, and [...]"

Burgess: Again, so what? What does the use that later cultures made of Euclid's school book prove about Hellenistic Greek philosophy as a whole and Hellenistic Greek culture as a whole?

On Euclid, I have one more question: What fundamental advances did Euclid make -- relative to his mathematical predecessors such as Eudoxus (c. 390-340)? In other words, was Euclid mainly a creator of mathematical advances or only a highly intelligent and perhaps very effective teacher of the concepts created mainly by others -- or both? Not having studied the history of math in detail, I do not know the answers to these questions on Euclid.

Mike Hardy: "Few humans have been as brilliant as Archimedes."

Burgess: I won't disagree with you there, based on the little I have read of and about Archimedes. But, once again, what does he as an individual prove about the state of Hellenistic Greek philosophy and culture as a whole?

The issue here, long-term, is this, as I see it: In terms of essentials, was Hellenistic Greek culture (including philosophy) as objective and innovative as the culture of the strictly Classical period that ended with Aristotle? Not being a Greek historical specialist, I don't know the answer. I welcome information from others more informed.



Comment #28

Friday, February 2, 2007 at 17:58:38 mst
Name: Mike Hardy

:: was Euclid mainly a creator of mathematical advances
:: or only a highly intelligent and perhaps very effective
:: teacher of the concepts created mainly by others -- or both?

Probably both, but I think there are gaps in the history that
make this necessarily uncertain until and unless new ancient
documents or the like are discovered. I don't think his proof
of the infinitude of primes appears in earlier works now extant.
Similarly, his algorithm for GCDs is usually attributed to him.

What he and Archimedes have to do with Greek culture as a whole
is that their works were important parts of it. But of course
they were _parts_; they were not the whole thing.

Possibly Lucio Russo's book that I mentioned will shed further
light (?).