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Melchior

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  1. It's just a metaphorical use of language. No conscious thing actually "expects" anything in the environment anymore than a ball on a slope "wants" to roll downwards. It just makes it easier to get the point across. Evolutionary biologists themselves do this (at least Dawkins does, and I think it's very effective). You could also say, a jeep or something designed with four-wheel-drive "anticipates" rough terrain where a normal car does not, if you catch my meaning. By the way, David Reimer was completely oblivious to his birth sex as far as I know, yet he said he always "knew" there was something amiss there even if he couldn't put it in words. But I see you don't deny innate sex differences an innate (rational) human nature. I think our disagreement is about degrees here.
  2. And I'm much more comfortable reading a self-help book where the author is closer to my worldview. It might not seem important but it makes a difference, however hard to explain. Some of the materials I've come across are even religious in nature, which makes me uncomfortable.
  3. I'll follow your suggestion, thanks. I intend to read as much as I can of Ayn Rand's works anyway. She's too important not to explore in depth.
  4. It seems to me from reading the article that, aside from praising emotions, he didn't really reject anything so much as criticized a lack of means for people to improve themselves (according to Objectivists standards). Which is a normal critique coming from a psychologist. He believes Ayn Rand properly defined virtue but did not provide or allow for a guide for people to get there.
  5. Thanks for the replies, this stuff is starting to make sense. I have to be honest when you probe me about issues of property and rights I don't have an answer. This just always struck me as the most sensible way to delimit liberty; "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose." Call it pragmatism if you will, any other system ends in unpleasant results for everyone (that is unless you like having your rights trampled on, which I guess can't be helped). Negative rights are the only rights that exist (or should I say, should be recognized) because anything else requires usurping other people's rights. Anything that requires undue suffering or effort on nonconsenting parties is as a rule past the line. You only have a right to what you have produced or peacefully acquired (and what you are born with, of course). This makes perfect sense to people in everyday matters but when issues become large scale they suddenly become collectivists. I prefer to be consistent. That's just my take on it. I have another question. To my understanding Aristotle inspired Rand's philosophy, would I be gaining anything relevant by reading the Nicomachean Ethics (which I'm going to read anyway) with respect to understanding Objectivist ethics, or is that too far off the mark? I guess it depends on how you define naturally. I think people are equipped to handle the most basic situations at an individual level. I'm hungry, so I will eat. I'm tired so I will sleep (simplifying for cases where there aren't predators or rivals, etc. We can think strategically to deal with these things, far better than other animals, which is why we've reached the level we are at). I think it's when we come into "unnatural" environments (i.e. dealing with large groups of people in cities, organized religion, etc) that things start to go haywire, and people do things that are not in their best interest, because they were not anticipated by the environment we were originally designed for. I don't buy the naturalistic imperative, which is why I started this thread in the first place. A lot of things come naturally that aren't necessarily good things to exacerbate. Human beings aren't perfect. I'm just explaining my view of things here, btw, not trying to make an argument.
  6. Thanks for the non-sarcastic reply. I'll check out those threads.
  7. I'm just curious about what posters here thought about Nathaniel Branden's arguments about the pros and cons of Ayn Rand's philosophy from the perspective of psychology, if you haven't already read it: http://www.nathanielbranden.com/catalog/ar...nd_hazards.html This isn't a challenge or anything, I'm genuinely interested. I was also thinking of ordering his books on the psychology of self esteem and wondered if they were any good (I'm going to read his memoirs anyway regardless). His writing style is a lot easier to read now than it was in the 60's.
  8. DavidOdden, I'm not sure what you're talking about. Nothing I've read (or can even find after reading your post) suggests Chomsky abandoned his theory. I know about the minimalist model, and I understand this is the paradigm that's used now even though many resources feel the need to stick to the old ones. I'm aware I have an outdated understanding of the syntax model, which I'm not happy about, but I assumed the principle was still the same. You'll have to forgive me I'm not taking linguistics just yet (god knows I want to though) so I can only go on the books and lectures I can get my hands on. To be honest I don't understand some of what you said, and to be even more honest your condescending tone doesn't serve as a good motivation for me to try, but it seems you're ahead of the game on this front and I don't think I'm going to win this argument now anyway so I concede. I just need to study more I guess. And people, I never said there can be such a thing as multiple contradictory truths, I don't even know how you could read that into my statement unless you were on the lookout for blatantly anti-Oist statements like that. My point was if you have a moral system based on X and X is subject to scientific falsifiability, it doesn't matter how much you like your moral system, X may very well still be proven false. It doesn't matter to me though because I don't believe the core of Rand's ethical philosophy need be harmed by psychological nativism (I'm surprised to find she thought we are tabula rasa, although I probably just don't remember the statement from VOS, and further that she found it important). If anything it seems like it should be congruent with the idea that people live and make decisions best when it's at an individual level. Maybe Misean praxeology is just obscuring my view here, who knows, but my impression was that Ayn Rand set out to define human nature and derive an ethical system from it (hence creating the issue of the whole is-ought thing I addressed in my other thread, if there is no human nature than what is is there to derive an ought from? what's the controversy?). To the accusation that I don't understand anything about philosophy; well I can't say I'm an expert, especially if we're talking about Objectivism, but if you think tabula rasa is a prerequisite for philosophy in general then I'm confident enough to say you're mistaken. Philosophy isn't founded on it and not all philosophers are in agreement it, I know that much. There is room for debate here, even if I'm not the one equipped to make the arguments. You guys also seem to have a difference conception of the blank slate issue from what I've learned. No one as far as I know has suggested conscious knowledge of specific concepts like "chair" and "television," except extreme nativists like Jerry Fodor of whom I've never encountered, but rather an intuitive and instinctive mind that is designed to work in the specific kind of environment that it evolved in; dealing with other human beings, objects that follow the laws of physics, etc. Just as fish have evolved fins and gills that "expect" them to be born in water, even though fish themselves aren't aware fo it. I'm talking about free floating rationales here. Math itself doesn't require seeing or interacting with the environment, you can work out basic arithmetic in your head in the abstract, as well as conceiving of concepts such as intentionality between entities and minds, etc. It's how we have an imagination in the first place. You can think of it like the difference between a computer that comes out of the box with all it's files (which is not what I am arguing) and a computer that is designed to be compatible with certain kinds of files, and needs a harddrive with instructions to begin with before it can do anything with those files anyway. It's worth the read. It's not a science book, being entirely anecdotal (and written with the prose of a journalist trying to sell his story) but the events it recounts involving this guy's life is astonishing, and telling.
  9. Okay, a couple things here. First, no disrespect to Rand but I can't agree that human beings have "no automatic form of survival," that's just counter intuitive. I suppose you could argue that reason what humans need to use in order to survive, but that just one of many mechanisms that were evolved for the purpose. Second, concerning human universals, they are not a matter common sense or tautologies. There are quite a few universals that go beyond what would be necessary or expected, arbitrary customs and taboos and such. Religion is one of them, there is no human culture on earth that doesn't have religion, the difference is whether it's a folk religion or organized religion (which depends on how developed society is). It is a trait human beings have evolved that kind of ran away. Just skim this list: http://condor.depaul.edu/~mfiddler/hyphen/humunivers.htm I'll concede that there are other possible explanations for these universals (arriving at the same solution, etc) which are true in some cases, but I think the role genes and inherited brain structure play are being severely underappreciated here. The case of David Reimer has for more implications than just the fact that we are not completely malleable, it makes a strong case that our birthright has a significant and unchangeable influence on our personality, behavior, attitude and desires. If you would just read the book you would feel the impact. By the way, of course I know that there are languages that don't require a subject, such as Japanese (I could just say, "don't understand English" and the "I" is understood) but that doesn't mean it isn't there. Don't you know about Chomsky's theory of underlying structures? Or do you not accept it? Pinker demonstrates it very well in the Language Instinct (the "discuss sex with Dick Cavett" line... look it up). I don't buy the idea that all languages use the same underlying system because it's obvious that something must have a subject, and an object, etc. There are many other ways the system could have been arranged and much of it is rather arbitrary (but universal just the same, just read the Stuff of Thought). For example, if you read about parameters, there are language universals in the sense that any language that "does x will also do y, etc." Japanese is a head-last language and is almost a flipped, mirror version of English (which is useful if you are struggling with Japanese grammar). Language would actually be easier and more logical if it didn't have auxiliaries and other arbitrary rules, but it has them and they are present in every language, albeit different on the surface. I also don't agree that innatism is detrimental to philosophy in general or even Objectivism. Philosophy is concerned with knowledge, existence, ethics, etc. I don't see how advancements in science should harm philosophy, Daniel Dennett is a philosopher and Pinker in his book gives philosophy a spotlight that he acknowledges it (wrongly) so rarely receives anymore. Ayn Rand's philosophy is dependent on the idea that there is such a thing as human nature, if the mind is a blank slate then that all falls apart. None of that should matter anyway though, whether or not a possible truth hurts your philosophy doesn't change whether or not it's true. I'm not going to argue about specific ideas, as far as I know the concept of "innate ideas" is a metaphor, obviously no one is born with ideas like "spoon" or "monkey" or "car." No one is arguing that. But we are born with an elementary and intuitive understanding of math and physics, color, shape, etc. As well as the idea of parents and human socializing, and even sex and superstition (I "knew" what sex was during pubertal awakening even if know one would tell me the details, just like adults who are now gay "knew" they were gay before they understood what homosexuality even was. And I know what Dennett means when he is talking about "intentionality," I certainly did imputed animism to objects in my childhood, and eventually grew out of it). We are equipped with instincts and expectations that would have benefited us during hunter gatherer days, "ideas" at least in a vague intuitive sense can be imprinted with natural selection.
  10. Tenure, I think you hit the nail on the head and I like where you are going with this. Honestly I do find virtue ethics very attractive (I bought Artistotle's Nicomachean Ethics and am planning to read it, maybe after suffering through Plato). The problem is I see virtue and ethics as two different things. It's leading a good life versus avoiding a bad life, the former is about a show of good character but the latter is an imperative. I'm not convinced living a virtuous life (setting your goals and achieving them, bettering yourself, etc) is a must, it's just a good thing to do, but I don't wish a pox on the lazy, ignorant and unmotivated, just as long as they stay out of other people's way. If that makes any sense.
  11. I am a voluntarist. For me it's about consent and coercion. But there is a lot of gray area here, life isn't so simple. In general one should not be forced to do anything against their will, you can't murder another person because you don't own their life. You can't do what you want with another person's property without their permission. However your life and property are your own, so short of "good ideas" I can't see compelling moral (key word moral) imperatives for why I shouldn't kill myself. I can see rational and functional objections for why I shouldn't though. Suicide is a sign of poor mental health, and perhaps even poor character, but it's not immoral (unless you have a wife and kids or something). This video (which you've probably seen) sums up my outlook pretty well: http://www.isil.org/resources/philosophy-o...rty-english.swf By whatever their goals and values are, measured against their capacity and knowledge. People are generally going to do what comes naturally to them anyway. No one purposefully starves themselves unless they've been infected with religion or other irrational ideas. The problem is when groupthink or superstition trumps individual interests, that's when everything goes haywire. Every serious ethical issue deals with people interacting with each other (or non-existent supernatural entities). I don't see any ethical dilemmas where only individuals are involved though, just psychological ones like self-worth, which I think people like Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden have good things to say about, don't get me wrong, but to me it's just not ethics.
  12. Okay, I'm going to try and summarize these responses in a specific counter point, it looks like the main objection you guys have here is that I'm arguing about innate abilities rather than innate knowledge. Well, I'm not exactly making that case, if you look at some of the examples I used they deal with concepts and systems, not just mental capacities. Granted they are concepts and systems mostly designed to absorb knowledge, but they set rules and limits for what kind of knowledge and how it's used (for example, whatever language a human learns it has to have subjects, objects, verbs, etc. There have to be things that fill in slots. We would have trouble acquiring an alien language with different underlying structures). I suppose it's true that none of the arguments Pinker makes is that people are born with specific knowledge, but to be honest I wasn't aware that that was the objection in the first place. My understanding of Tabula Rasa is that it asserts that people's personalities and beliefs are entirely shaped by their environment (if you're raised by wolves you'll think you're a wolf, if you are raised in a culture where murder is considered a virtue you'll think the same, etc) when this is clearly not the case. There are human universals, for example all cultures consider murder and incest to be taboo. You can't "train" someone to be gay, etc. I suppose it depends on what you mean by knowledge, I'm not talking about conscious knowledge obviously but you can argue that we are born with a sort of intuitive knowledge (which can translate into conscious knowledge when it's rounded out), and yes it can be imprinted by the effects that natural selection had on our ancestors. We are born expecting this world to be filled with other human beings, we have evolved to be social. If you took a child and put him/her in a completely isolated environment (being provided for in every other possible way) that child would be extremely lonely but perhaps not know why. This is because we have evolved to live in social groups. Some of my examples were kind of brushed aside. FrolicsomeQuipster, babies aren't shocked by certain events because it contradicts their memory of it. I suppose you can make that case but I'm dubious, it would have to be that babies consciously pay attention to these things from birth and keep track of patterns, then show surprise when something contradicts those patterns. I think this is more a case of something contradicting intuition. Babies come into this world expecting to see faces (there is a part of the brain that registers faces specifically), large moving objects that they are programmed to follow and depend on (i.e. mom), and that 2 + 2 will never equal five. These aren't abilities to me, this is programmed behavior and intuition. Also, in the case of the twins I don't think you can chalk it up to coincidence, those details were very specific. It wasn't that the outfit fit them, they had the same taste in color and decoration, etc. I suppose one example isn't important, but still... Here is a very powerful case of nature over nurture IMO: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer It's all described in the book As Nature Made Him, worth the read for anyone who is convinced that environmental factors are the prime determiners of personality. Why is Tabula Rasa so important to Objectivism anyway?
  13. Thanks for the responses. To be honest I'm not entirely convinced, but I think I understand. I'll check out those books Tenure recommended. I think the problem is these arguments work best as a question of what the best course of action is rather than what one's course of action should be. I would have to ask in the context of "ought" or "should" what standard a person is going by, and to say "oneself" is kind of an alien concept to me. At best you can choose your own life as a standard but the only imperatives that can impel you are whatever you don't have a right to (i.e. you should repay a debt because you don't have the right not to). However because I do have the right to something, and the fact that it is probably the best action to do all things considered, doesn't seem like an ethical imperative, just a rational or admirable one. I know I'm probably not making much sense here, I'm used to thinking in terms of negative rights and limits (what one ought not to do as opposed to what one ought to do) in the context of ethics. I suppose there's a semantical problem I'm creating here. My understanding of why we have moral and political philosophy in the first place is so that we don't have complete chaos where people can just do whatever they want to each other, or at least that's why these things came about in the first place, I think. In light of growing societies and new scientific knowledge we need to improve on our understanding of ethics and systems of government.
  14. Well for example there are tests they ran on babies gauging their reactions to certain events to see whether it was something they were surprised by or something they expected. Babies would stare a little longer at seemingly impossible events produced by sleight of hand, but showed no interest in things that made sense. For example, if you put one toy behind a screen and the same toy came out the other side, the child would not show interest. Same case if you did two for two or three for three. If however you put one toy behind the screen and two or three came out, or a completely different toy showed up, the baby would be shocked. There are lots of other examples, babies had a ho-hum reaction when they saw something that made sense, but were dumbounded when something broke the laws of physics, even though they don't know anything about physics and haven't been alive long enough to learn all the rules (like that things always fall down rather than up, etc). we are born into this world expecting our environment to follow certain laws, we are born with concepts, so to speak, we have to be otherwise there would be nothing to add to and work with. Newborn babies can actually do basic arithmetic if you test them, little children have solid rules in their minds about how words should be applied to objects (for example, if they hear a second word used to describe an object, they immediately consider it to be an adjective, they stop doing this eventually though). If you read the Trial and Death of Socrates he makes seemingly convincing arguments for why the soul must exist and enter the body at birth from a prior life, based on how people have certain kinds of intuitive knowledge, but you could also apply his arguments to a modern evolutionary perspective. So the common sense arguments still apply I think, except instead of the sole what we have is an evolved brain. There is also the case where people have had brain damage or brain surgery and they lose certain cognitive abilities (like specific parts of language such as vocabulary, grammar, even cursing, all these things are separate) as well as knowledge and personalities were radically changed, in ways you would never intuit (in one case I read this guy who had a rail spike through his head suddenly became quite rude and at times violent, in another it turns out splitting a part of the brain can literally "split" your personality, where reasoning in the left half is separate from the right, it's hard to explain but it's very freaky). Your genes have a lot to do with how you turn out too. There was one case where identical twins were separated at birth, one born as a Catholic in Nazi Germany and the other as a Jew somewhere in India or something. They had never met, but once brought together they were wearing the exact same outfit, liked the same kinds of food, had the same quirky habits, played the same pranks, etc, down to the eeriest details (they both liked to dip buttered toast in coffee, both flushed the toilet before and after using it, both wore rubber bands on their wrists, both liked to sneeze in crowded elevators to watch people jump, etc.) Obviously there is no single "buttered toast in coffee" gene, but rather it is a combination of sorts (a stronger taste for butter or sweetness than other people, a... propensity to dip things, I guess). You can use your imagination. He explains it much better than I can though. Personally I'm not done with the book but many of his arguments were already spelled out in the Language Instinct and other books. He's a great science writer, you should check him out. True, but modern discoveries in different fields such as genetics and cognitive science is piling quite a bit of evidence against the blank slate. Much of it is just common sense though IMO. This is more wishful thinking on people's part, I think. I would like to know why Objectivism supposedly relies on the doctrine of the Blank Slate though. It doesn't seem like it should to me.
  15. At best our nature can inform, I argue. Everything we do is a result of our nature anyway, directly or indirectly, regardless, so I can't help fall into a kind of trap here, but to say that should do x because we have evolved that way to me seems presumptuous and creates problems (it's like saying a rock should be hard and lumpy because that is the nature of a rock. That's it's unethical for the rock to be carved into anything else, which is absurd). Humans are selfish by nature, no doubt (although we can be just as instinctually altruistic, there are two sides to this coin), and Ayn Rand says that we should have a selfish ethics because of that, but it doesn't take into account the possibility that selfishness might be a flaw in a modern era where it would have been beneficial in early Darwinian situations to survival, just like rape might have been (I say might, I don't really know) an effective strategy for spreading one's genes. Surely that doesn't mean we should vindicate rape, even if it's an undeniable if ugly part of our nature. EDIT: As an aside I argue we should develop our ethics based on individual rights and non-coercion, and the prevention of human suffering (but not to the detriment of individual rights) since this is the most effective way to ensure a happy and peaceful society... in my view. Kind of truncated, I know. You can call it a libertarian method motivated by a utilitarian goal.
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