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DavidOdden

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  1. If You Could Have Any Superpower, What Would It Be?

    I would opt for omnipotence, since all more specific cool stuff is implied by that concept. It wouldn't matter if I decided to keep my identity secret, because if I didn't like the universe one way, I can always wish it were different, and it would be. That is, if I could have any power I wished for,
  2. Making Freedom: A Proposal

    (I partially don't understand your question, so I'll answer the broader question that you raise). I am basically restating Rand, in the Objective Law lecture. Copyright is an excellent example of why those details are a requirement. Rand lays out the basic philosophical justification for patents and copyrights, but does not say, for example, how long copyright should be held, nor what the penalties for infringement should be, nor whether works require registration in order to enjoy protection. The answers to these questions cannot be trivially derived from application of Objectivist principles, and some details must be fleshed out via a political process. The law has to be objectively stated, so that any man can know the consequences of his actions. Assume that we rewrite copyright law in a fashion that seems to suit Objectivism, stating – somehow (that would itself be a fascinating project) – that when a man writes some work, it is his property, and no man can use it without his permission until he has been dead for 70 years. The penalty for violating this law is the lost revenue, plus $1,000. Now suppose a politician gives a speech, which we find to be egregious, and we criticize his speech, quoting an actual sentence of his. Of course, under the law, we need his permission to quote him, so we get sued. There is clearly a flaw in the law that we crafted: we should have included sort quotes for the purpose of discussion. At the point of the trial, we can do one of two things. First, we can enforce the law; second, we can disregard the law, and let each judge, or juror, decide what the proper outcome is. The principles of Objectivism do not clearly say whether a law that is in error should be ignored, or must it be enforced. At the highest level of political persuasion, we (as Objectivists) need answers to these questions, so that we can discuss the issues at all levels with others who will eventually determine the political shape of our nation. You probably will not ever engage your neighbor in a fine-pointed discussion of law and protection of rights. We have to be able to utterly persuade others that a system of government that objectively states and applies the law, where the law is created exclusively to control the use of force, is actually possible. Anytime the answer to a "How do you..." question is "We'll figure it out", that calls our program into question. If it isn't actually possible to say what the law will be in Objectivist utopia, it is unlikely that a large body of voters will embrace a pig in a poke. Even if we can get a majority of voters to irrationally vote for our pig in a poke (without fully understanding and believing the arguments for doing so), this does not solve the problem since the othre side can just as easily persuade voters to embrace their pig. We may be able to persuade others to adopt some vague philosophy embracing libertarianism and Objectivism, because many people see the two as being very similar at least in politics, but our goal (or at least mine) is not to change our government to some kind of Guy Fawkes libertarian regime. We don't all have to engage everybody else at the highest intellectual levels, and it might suffice to persuade a majority of the masses to vote for candidates claiming to move us in the direction of secular Regan conservatism, if your concern is to undo some of the political erosion of our freedom. Just remember that there are 9 people who make massively important decisions about our rights, people who do think about very subtle principles. We don't just need to convince a generation of voters, we need to convince generations of intellectuals. To do that, we need to be able to both articulate the abstract principles, and identify the concretes (or, more concrete principles). In other words, I "call BS" on the claim that we've done everything we can do, apart from gulching. I'm identifying a major gap, and I'm calling for serious shovel work.
  3. The topic is treated in Peikoff’s “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”, published in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. The man point is that Objectivism rejects the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. This extract well summarizes the point: Whether one states that "A man is a rational animal," or that "A man has only two eyes"—in both cases, the predicated characteristics are true of man and are, therefore, included in the concept "man." The meaning of the first statement is: "A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics (among which are rationality and animality) is: a rational animal." The meaning of the second is: "A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics (among which is the possession of only two eyes) has: only two eyes." Each of these statements is an instance of the Law of Identity; each is a "tautology"; to deny either is to contradict the meaning of the concept "man," and thus to endorse a self-contradiction. Along similar lines, “If one wishes to use the term "tautology" in this context, then all truths are "tautological." (And, by the same reasoning, all falsehoods are self-contradictions.)”
  4. Making Freedom: A Proposal

    Let’s go back to your initial premise, that persuasion has no reasonable chance of changing enough minds to make a difference. You say this because you find that “the quantity and quality of libertarian and Objectivist propaganda… make it impossible to believe that merely improving either quantity or quality would make a difference”. I particularly disagree with that assumption that the quality of “propaganda” is sufficient. I claim that it is not deep enough, and not sufficiently disseminated. So, rather than trying to develop a gulch that we can retreat to, we should focus on fleshing out the argument for Objectivism. I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. In particular, how do we “settle down and deal with these issues, not just talk around them”. Which issues do we need to first deal with, and how do you deal with an issue without talking about it? If you are stating that nobody has yet written the proper foundational document for a rights-respecting government, I agree, and that is my very point. If you’re saying that it can’t be done ever, I entirely disagree, and if you’re saying that it requires writing some other pre-governmental document, I don’t see a reason to believe that, but feel free to persuade me, or explain the nature of that document. I do not know of any specific discussion of this issue in Objectivism: this is an example of the lacuna in discussion. There are two main issues regarding such a clause. The first is the much broader premise that there should even exist “states”. Since man’s right do not vary as a function of geographical location. State government (even worse, “state’s rights”) is redundant at best, and dangerously arbitrary in actual fact. The exact nature of that thing like the Commerce Clause depends on whether “among the several States” even means anything. I argue that there should be no states, so the clause would not be limited to relations between states. A proper Commerce Clause empowers the government to establish a system for resolving legal disputes in a regular (law-like) fashion: when I do business with you and we fundamentally disagree – you violate your obligation to me, and won’t make me whole – I have to take you to court. I can’t do that, in a system of limited government, unless the government has the power to hear and decide such cases (and to enforce its decisions). A clause empowering the government to do this is mandatory, when a government is only allowed to do that which is allowed to it. The existing Commerce Clause is what it is because of the premise that each state should set up rules for its citizens, and nationally-uniform rule exist only for relations between states. That notion of “making conform to rules” is, or was, the primary meaning of “regulating” commerce – having a single system of law. Unfortunately, the secondary meaning “restrict” has overshadowed the meaning “regularize”. The contemporary problem is that Narragansett’s Clause was not later made part of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade”. Without that clause, the Commerce Clause can be interpreted as allowing the government to restrict business; with it (and, with some better wording of the Commerce Clause) it can be limited to stating that the government has the authority to decide civil disputes, and to say how it will do so. And there is very little by way of Objectivist discussion of how the Constitution should be written so as to guide future interpretation. This is where we need to deepen the "propaganda". I’m also slightly puzzled at the claim that SCOTUS has abdicated all principled analysis, since virtually all SCOTUS decisions have been principled, though many times the wrong principles have been given priority. Gibbons v. Ogden, which you identified as the point to which you trace back the view of “government as a means of serving private ends”, is one example of a reasonably good and principled decision, so perhaps you are referring generally to other decisions since then. Gibbons v. Ogden was decided correctly in terms of which side won (state government as a means of serving private ends is not proper, and is prohibited in certain instances). The most important principle upheld by the court is that the function of the court is to interpret the law in its full context: it is the duty of Congress to state what those laws are. When it comes to the matter of restricting commerce between states, such as interstate navigation, “The power to regulate commerce, so far as it extends, is exclusively vested in Congress, and no part of it can be exercised by a State”. Therefore, the statutory (coercive) monopoly granted to Ogden was improper, and the permissive free-trade license to engage in a competitive shipping business granted by the federal government was proper (though whould not have required an act of Congress). I do not understand why you think that with an Objectivist government, a person accused of a crime cannot admit to his guilt. Are you saying that even when a person is guilty and know it, the government should still have to mount a full-blown proof of guilt? Would that mean that a person’s admission of guilt is inadmissible? I don’t understand why we should care about the intent of the Framers, or of anyone else. Indeed, and following Scalia’s (and Smith’s) essential points, intent is irrelevant: objective statement is what matters. If you actually are sacrificing value by existing in society and your only salvation is to develop a gulch or an outer-space gulch inhabited by like-minded people, then that is what you should do, if you’ve really thought that out. I would like to see what legal system you propose for your gulch. I am not willing to buy a pig in a poke, so I need to know how copyright law would work in your regime (IP is important to me). I’d also like to be sure that those people are like-minded.
  5. Vedic Sanskrit

    The fingerprints that Sanskrit has placed on other languages come in three main varieties. First, there are direct descendant fingerprints on Hindi, Panjabi, Sindhi, Bengali (etc: the list extends to hundreds of languages), which are the modern descendants of Sanskrit. Then there are the massive traditional cultural influence fingerprints, as in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, which are unrelated languages of India which nevertheless have adopted many Sanskrit words (and even parts of grammar, in the formation of compounds). This cultural influence decreases and becomes harder to recognize in the case of languages which adopted Sanskrit terminology due to the expansion of Buddhism (and Hinduism, to a lesser extent). So there are many words in Thai, Lao, Khmer which come from Sanskrit, and even some words in Chinese and Japanese. The name of the national language of Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia, comes from Sanskrit bhāṣa “language”. There are also a few quasi-universal words which derive from Sankrit, such as “sugar” (śarkarā) and “rice” (vrīhi). These are influences on the order of a thousand years old. Finally there are contemporary ubiquious words like “dharma, karma, yoga, avatar, nirvana, Buddha, guru”, and even more words probably not taken from Sanskrit itself but instead taken from a modern Indic language, for example “rupee” (used in East African language) is from Hindi, where the word ultimately comes from Sanskrit rūpyakam, likewise “gunny (sack)”, “guar”, “jungle”, “thug”, or “juggernaut” which is said to some from a less-known modern language Odia. There are Indic words in languages of East Africa – “bhang, gunny”. It is hard to tell if those words went directly from Indic into Swahili, or indirectly via local English; but these words come from modern Indic languages, not Sanskrit (except, of course, anybody with an internet connection in Nairobi can select their own avatar and blog about how yoga classes are good karma, or something like that). There is an arcane industry of figuring our word-origins, whereby we determine how a particular word got spread. “Butter” has been in English for millenia: it got there from Latin butyrum, which comes from Greek boutyron (βούτῡρον) which itself could be a compound of Greek for “cow” and Scythian for “cheese”. On those grounds, I would suspect that Hindi “guru” (गुरु) is a cultural re-borrowing from Sanskrit. It seems to have gained traction in English in the early 1800 when Western interest in India rose, but there is no question that William Jones, a British official, became fluent in Sanskrit and very well knew the word guru, and myriad other words of Sanskrit. Because of the ubiquitous words plus the fact that it’s easy to adopt a word for a new thing, especially if you didn’t already have the thing (I don’t know what else to call a tanbour other than a “tanbour”, and I can’t think of a more convenient Germanic word for kebab other than “kebab”), there will be very few languages that are devoid of ultimate Sanskrit influence. I’m reasonably confident that speakers of Saami, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian (Uralic) use “kebab” when talking about kebab. I know, TMI.
  6. Making Freedom: A Proposal

    The most important idea underlying the original post is this: The government would be designed from the ground up, grounded in Objectivist principles. I’ll name this The Central Political Goal, because it is important enough to have a name. There is an obvious connection between that desideratum, and the position that the Supreme Court decided that the courts were not to take into account the intentions of the Founders when interpreting the Constitution to determine the extent of government powers. With no principles to limit the federal government's power, it was only a matter of time before those powers became effectively unlimited. The floating-community proposal appears to be aimed at another goal: “to live as free a life as possible”. From the Objectivist perspective, the Ultimate Goal is to exist qua man. The goal of living as free a life as possible is necessary to reach the Ultimate Goal, and the aforementioned Central Political Goal is the method by which we might be able to live as free a life as possible. The reason why we don’t live as free a life as possible is not that we don’t have a floating city, gulch or asteroid somewhere safe from external interference: it is that we cannot objectively and convincingly articulate the nature of the Central Political Goal. Although we can say “we want to live as freely as possible, where government respects the rights of individuals”, we are not so good at saying what exactly that means. Very specifically, we cannot flesh out the notion of “objective law”. If we cannot do that amongst ourselves, we cannot reasonably hope to persuade others to embrace our general world view. The premise (if anyone actually holds it) that the US Constitution is exactly the foundational document that would be written by a set of Objectivist Framers is untenable. There are myriad flaws which could easily be repaired. If we cannot now identify the flaws and say exactly what that foundational document should say, and what the specific laws and government institutions should be, I don’t see how we can expect the general public to move in our direction. The notion (which is not the sole intellectual property of Objectivism) that a nation should be governed by law and not men requires that we say exactly what is forbidden, and what the consequences are of doing a forbidden act. Objective law is founded on exact statements of the forbidden, not subjective conjectures about the mental states of a group of earlier minds – the “intentions” of the Framers. Referring to Gibbons v. Ogden (I assume that is the relevant 1824 ruling), the court was absolutely correct that the Constitution does not contain any clause resembling a rule requiring strict construction. This is a mistake which should be remedied: how exactly should it be remedied? In what way is the Commerce Clause, as worded, not a license for the federal government to completely run interstate and international business? What was the intent of the Commerce Clause? How do we objectively establish that intent? How do we objectively codify that intent so that rights are protected? If we can’t answer these questions, we cannot expect to persuade others to adopt our viewpoint. It is not sufficient to adamantly insist on the end goal, we also have reveal the actual path. By way of sales pitch, Tara Smith has moved the enterprise in the right general direction, but as she herself recognizes in her objective law book, her work is only the very start of fleshing out the notion of an Objectivist theory of law. Politics is about the very short term, and an objective philosophy of law is about the very long term. Attention needs to be shifted from the politics of the week, to a philosophy of law befitting the nature of man as rational animal. Probably not everybody need to engage in this shift, but many more people do. I only address the political aspects of the problem and proposal. If you want causal explanations for political problems, you have to start with epistemology. How did we get to the current political situation? It’s because people decided to do things (voting, primarily) that had this consequence. Why did people decide to do those things? Because they have sub-optimal reasoning processes – a broken epistemology. How do we fix the problem? Fix the epistemology.
  7. There is no specific Objectivist objection to “social sciences”, but there are objections to practices of particular disciplines. These objections aren’t peculiar to Objectivism, rather they are straightforward scientific objections. It’s just that Objectivists make superior scientists, so we are well attuned to checking our premises (we do it all the time), and we understand the importance of a good philosophical foundation for any activity, with terms being defined. Any claim (social science or otherwise) must be justified by reference to facts of the universe which can be observed. Part of the evaluation of a claim is consideration of alternatives for which there is also evidence. Once there is no remaining evidence, even conceptual evidence, that supports an alternative claim, the conclusion is certain: it is proven, and justified (basically, OPAR ch. 5). Social sciences fall quite short in the enterprise of considering reasonable alternatives. The main problem of social sciences, as I see it, is even articulating a valid conceptual claim. It is not at all difficult to come up with (valid) empirical law in physical science, but it is nigh onto impossible to do this in social science (economics has the greatest potential that I can see). What is a “law of sociology”? What indeed is a meaningful theoretical question in sociology? Here are some examples of what seem to be theory questions in sociology (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociological_theory) What is action? What is social order? How is intersubjectivity achieved? Do social structures determine an individual's behaviour or does human agency? What is the social world made of? You need a certain amount of background knowledge to grasp the meaning of these questions, but it should not be an infinite regress of arbitrary stipulations and conditionals (“if we define X as Y, then Q follows”). Social sciences are very abstract, in the sense of being significantly removed from experience. Unlike concepts in physical sciences, concepts in social science do not reduce to undeniable observations (iron bars and what happens to them if you stick them in a fire), they reduce to other concepts which reduce to conditionals of the form “We can define X as Y”. There are two broad kinds of scientific activity: observing, and theorizing. Framed in Objectivist terms, there are perceptual questions, and conceptual questions. Physicists don’t just ask “what happens what you bash two Rolexes against each other at a million miles an hour?”, they ask “why does this happen?”, and “how do we increase the energy output?”. Social science is for the most part stuck in the descriptive, perceptual phase: “this is what these subjects did”. Even answering the most elementary descriptive questions can be extremely difficult, since for the most part, social sciences are observational (not experimental), and the observational data is in disarray (who collects it? how cooperative are those being observed, or those collecting the data? how accurately do the collectors employ the academician’s protocol?). In the realm of conceptual-level theorizing, the prospects for saying anything meaningful in the social sciences are dim, for two reasons: people are free to chose, and people are free to chose irrationally. Most people can’t predict my future actions, because they don’t understand my hierarchy of values. It’s even harder to make a prediction when the object of investigation (an individual) does not always act rationally. Contrary to the Wikipedia characterization of “social science”, I would say it has to do with the interaction between choices of an individual and the value one expects to obtain from interacting with other persons. Correspondingly, much of linguistics and cognitive psychology are not social science.
  8. It is known that different standardized tests can yield different scores (for example Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale or Stanford-Binet), and taking the same test at different times can yield different scores. Looking only at standard and “official” tests, these are pretty accurate. The online tests are probably home-brewed and don’t measure anything other than gullibility. The official tests are standardized using a few thousand subjects, and it costs a lot of money to use them (unless you get it institutionally underwritten, you’d need to schedule the test-taking with a psychologist and be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars, perhaps thousands), so it’s pretty certain that you’re getting something much less accurate than the official tests, possibly as accurate as the representations in the Nigerian prince scam. One way to test the accuracy of ‘free’ online tests is to take some a number of times, giving answers in different ways. I suggest three ways. First, try to answer the question correctly; then try to answer it incorrectly; then answer it randomly (use a table of random numbers). If the score that it computes for you does not overwhelmingly correlate with method of answering that you used (I’d suggest using each method 5 times, done in random order), you have pretty good evidence that the tests are not accurate. To get a seat of the pants estimate, I took one of those tests and answered all of the questions incorrectly as best I could. They offered to sell me the full report for €19.94, but did say that I got a score of 160. (*cough*) Just because something suggests that it is the Stanford-Binet test does not mean that it actually is. Another aspect of test accuracy is calibration: does a given online test consistently score 10% higher, or lower, than the standardized tests (is there ‘grade inflation’?). Finally, you’d want to know the relationship between administering the test online vs. with pencil-and-paper.
  9. How near are we to socialized medicine?

    There are many aspects to "socialized medicine", and while we might be a few years from certain of them, we are not that close to the worst of it. The worst being, that the practice of medicine is completely under the control of the government so that there is no such thing as "private practice", the government determines what level of medical care will be provided, and it is paid for by the government. The resistance to complete socialization of medicine would be enormous if presented as a political goal, so instead, things will change bit by bit. A first step has already been taken, which is that few people now pay for their own medical expenses, instead we pay for insurance and the insurance company pays the expenses. The cost of medical care becomes an abstraction, having no evident effect on one's own life. Facts that reduce medical costs are not rewarded, and those that increase expenses are not penalized. Instead, your personal costs are the net medical costs of Society As A Whole, divided by the size of society. There have been ways to relate individual facts to cost, whereby one could select less vs. more coverage and opt out of coverage for sex-reassignment etc. Or, pay your own expenses as long as it's below some figure like $8,000 (this is for people who know how to save money). Much of that is now illegal. Another first step that has been taken is the changing extent to which medical practitioners have any free choice in what they do. For example, for the past 40+ years, it has been illegal to deny emergency medical treatment to a person who cannot pay. Compare that to the situation that does not yet exist in other economic spheres: it is presently legal to deny a person a house if they can't afford it, it is presently legal to deny a person food if they can't afford it, and so on. Additionally, the cost of all medical care goes up because every cotton-pickin' device or substance is subject to onerous and expensive regulatory scrutiny, and somebody has to pay that cost. I am not at all sanguine about the chances for a roll-back of Obamacare. I doubt very much that it will become legal to charge more for more-expensive patients (analogous to home and car insurance). So the question is, what is likely to be the next step towards medical oblivion? That's hard to predict, but from a political perspective, the most obvious issue is the roughly 10% of uninsured adults. This number can be made near-zero in three ways. First, increase government subsidies to those who can't afford it. Second, stiffen the penalties for the uninsured who can afford it. Third, increase the burden on employers, so that all employers have to provide full medical coverage for any employee. A third possibility, of course, would be to slowly dial back the level of care (thus the cost). This would not be easy to do at present. The government could not just say "you have to limit the number of heart-bypass surgeries that you do in a year": it does not have that power. But the government could easily give itself that power, by passing a law mandating a restriction in the number of heart-bypass surgeries allowed. Obviously, it would not start with anything so politically charged. It would start by identifying kinds of medical treatment where there wouldn't be a huge outcry at rationing. Most people view political questions in terms of how it will affect them personally in the next year or two: "I'm not gay, I don't care about same-sex marriage", "I don't drive, I don't care about outlawing gas engines". Once the underlying statutory mechanism is installed and made general enough, it is relatively easy to expand the rationing list either by administrative fiat or by minor legislative list-changing (in the same way that Congress periodically adds new drugs to the various schedules of controlled substances). A fourth possibility, much more remote, is direct regulation of costs. For example, government-set rates for doctor's pay, government-set rates for pharmaceuticals, government-set rates for the sale of equipment. Price controls have not been popular in the US. Price controls are widespread for "basic rights" such as water, gas, electricity, internet and garbage, but this is because those goods are widely provided by a regulatory monopoly. The obvious way to bring prices under control, then, is to first create a regulatory monopoly: all doctors now work for the National Health Service. I believe that, coupled with some empty rhetoric about making medical care more "fair" and uniform, this is the last step necessary to bring about the total collapse of health care in the US.
  10. You may be confused about what formal logic is (a.k.a. symbolic logic), in a manner analogous to confusing “string theory” as interchangeable with “science”. Logic is much broader than formal logic. Four textbook exemplars of formal logic are Agler Symbolic Logic: Syntax, Semantics, and Proof; Simpson Essentials of Symbolic Logic; Jeffrey Formal Logic: Its Scope and Limits, and especially Kleene Mathematical Logic. Logic, in the broader sense, is exemplified by H.W.B. Joseph An Introduction to Logic, and more generally, most work in logic from Aristotle up to Frege. There are many other distinctions in logic, such as Boolean logic (which deals only in “true” and “false” but not quantifiers like “some” and “all”), or modal logic (which deals in notions like “possible” and “necessary”). Without getting into technical arcana about particular specializations of logic, logic is the study of correct methods of reasoning (creation of knowledge above the perceptual level), which at its core means correctly identifying the nature of things. Formal logic can be seen as one outgrowth of classical Platonic and Aristotelean logic. Aristotle especially identified many essential principles of reasoning and reduced them to a general form (e.g. his four types of propositions: the square of opposition), so formal logic got its start with Aristotle. Aristotle, in Metaphysics and Organon, articulates the basics, and people have been re-organizing things since. The problem with classical approaches to knowledge has been that the fundamental ideas are set forth as unorganized statements, supposedly comprehensible on their own right. The summary of Objectivism in Galt’s Speech breaks with this practice by starting with the basic axiomatic statements. “A is A”, which has been taken as axiomatic for millenia, but was not actually understood properly. “A is A” encapsulates the undeniables which underly all reasoning, and are the logical foundation of understanding the nature of government. There is no formal deductive chain that gets from the statement “A is A” to the statement “A government is an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area” and “The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence”. Rather, you have to start with the most self-evident fact: that man exists, which implies that he has a nature. What is that nature? Does he automatically respond to his environment, or does he choose. If he chooses, how does he choose?
  11. The most direct yet intuitive connection is that the nature of government is to place the use of retributive force under the objective control of law. Actually, “A is A” has nothing to do with laws of formal logic (in fact “A is A” is not even an expression in formal logic, though an expression like “Ɐ(x) (P(x) ⸧ Q(x))” would be). This is a shorthand expression pointing to the law of identity. The full paragraph where this is introduced in Galt’s Speech sums that up: To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification. Then eventually you can narrow the context and ask about the nature of concepts like “rights”, and get to principles having to do with government. All of them have to do with identifying the nature of a thing.
  12. Let me start with a fundamental problem with your position: you claim actual knowledge of the effort that Rand put unto understanding various bad philosophies, and moreover you find it to be insufficient. I have an extremely hard time believing that you even met Rand, much less that you have the kind of personal knowledge that led to the development of her philosophy. I don’t know what facts you are relying on as evidence for your claim – not everything about the development of her intellect is summarized in the journals. In fact, I don’t understand what it would even mean to “make a real effort to engage with” the opposition. Let me amplify on what the problem is. Correct me if you can, but you made no real effort to engage with Rand’s philosophy. Your criticism hinges on the presupposition that to understand an idea, you must “visit” the people promulgating the ideas. That of course means that all prior knowledge is truly incomprehensible, thus you yourself cannot comprehend Rand because you cannot visit her, you do not understand Objectivism because you haven’t visited OCON and ARI, you cannot understand Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Frege because you haven’t visited them (they are dead). Hopefully you see how absurd a position that is. Understanding is about grasping ideas: understanding comes from identifying those ideas, because ideas are not laid out self-evidently in the words of an author. The trivial social act of “visiting” does nothing to clarify those ideas, and does not firm up a person’s grasp of ideas by magically allowing them to see consequences of ideas, and detect contradictions in them. Where you say that “the ‘skeptical’ camp is not making nearly enough of an effort to understand what they are trying to criticize”, I would conclude instead that you have not made nearly enough of an effort to understand that criticism. Now, I do in fact understand “the mystics” sufficiently, so I should by your lights have a privileged position to criticize them. I will claim to have a more nuanced understanding of classical Indian philosophy than Rand did: I don’t have any reason to think that she knows about Cārvāka philosophy, nor do I have any reason to think that she could read Sanskrit. Her “mystic muck” characterization does not mean “every Indian philosopher has been a hopeless mystic”, it is a correct generalization about a particular earlier intellectual export. You might want to investigate exactly what the nature of that export is, because it was influential, in a bad way, in the West for, mercy sake alive, two centuries, and even now we are not free of it. So actually, you don’t have to visit India to understand the muck, you just have to look around you (these days, more in antiquarian bookstores). The fact that she doesn’t burden Galt’s speech with a silly footnote granting some element of rationality to the Cārvāka doesn’t invalidate her characterization of Indian philosophy. Now then. What is necessary is not a visit, what is necessary is a study of the ideas, to see if they bear promise for being correct. Plainly, they do not. They are grounded in false and absurd ideas, such as that being whipped and burned is the same as not being whipped and burned – and that you cannot know if that idea is absurd. If you want to make this be about specific texts in Indian philosophy which you think are in fact compatible with Objectivism (and were not written by Br̩haspati or his followers), then make your case.
  13. Colleagues, I suggest that two radically different issues are raised here. One is the broader question of when would it be proper to exclude an individual for holding bad ideas – as discussed in this thread. The other pertains to what Trump actually ordered (not the speech part, but the law part). It's hard to tell what the order actually means – primarily it is an order to study the question. However, it does contain concrete prohibitions, one of which is a bit strange (it refers people from "such countries", which are not actually identified under the law, and the law refers to humanitarian waiver of the exclusion of aliens using fraudulent documents). The second concrete prohibition is that all Syrian nationals (including lawful permanent residents) are barred from entry into the US, meaning that if you are here, Syrian, and not a citizen, you may nor re-enter. A possible exception would be Kurds, because under Syrian law (and I can't verify if this is still the law in Syria, but it was a dozen years ago), Kurds residing in Syria are not Syrian citizens, thus would not be Syrian nationals. However, the administration probably will not apply Syria's interpretation of "Syrian national". The ban on Syrians is free of religious conditions; IMO Hurd missed the boat in implying that there is anything at all good about the order. The last time I checked, nationality, in Syria, is an unchosen fact of the race of one's parents.
  14. Employees obvious have the freedom to do whatever they want. If they don't like a particular WalMart, or any WalMart, they can seek employment at World Market, or Target, or any number of other places. Or they can be unemployed. Or they can start a business selling pink cat-ear hats online, or they can create a new operating system that will revolutionize business, or whatever it is that they can do to survive. Or they can decide that there are no more values left for them on this planet, and they can end their existence. They are free to do whatever they want, according to their values. I can't honestly say that more than two or three of them are actually working for their own sake. I do personally know of two who are working for their own sake. The rest of them may (in the imaginary sense of "may") have some bizarre self-sacrificial ethos whereby they irrationally feel that they should sacrifice their time and labor so that some another person will thrive, but that is just such an unimaginable and arbitrary idea that I really don't see that there is any basis for imputing such beliefs to those people. In the case of all of the people who I personally know and have discussed the matter of working retail, I can tell you that their reasons are entirely selfish: they want money and benefits, and indeed they do get that. I do know that there are a number of people who do live for the sake of others, especially those who are high on volunteering and giving back to The People. So I don't deny that there are such people, but honest employees of retail do not deserve to be castigated for their selfish choice to live for their own sake.
  15. A good starting point would be OPAR ch. 1, which says “Science is systematic knowledge gained by the use of reason based on observation.” Science thus includes “specialized science” and philosophy. It differs from mere observation, which is not systematic. It differs from religion and emotion, which are not based on reason or observation. Philosophy (actual philosophy, not purported philosophy) is a science: again, OPAR ch. 1 “philosophy is a system of ideas. By its nature as an integrating science…”, Peikoff in “The analytic-synthetic dichotomy”: “Epistemology, the theory of knowledge, the science that defines the rules by which man is to acquire knowledge of facts…”. Rand says (“Philosophy: who needs it?”) that “Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible”. In the broader context, “science” refers to systematic knowledge gained by the use of reason based on observation, but in the narrower context where philosophy is distinguished, we would contrast philosophy and special sciences. In the appendix to ITOE, “Philosophic vs. Scientific issues”, Rand begins by noting “Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is available to the knowledge of any man with a normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true”. Philosophy is not “the art of just making crap up”. In this context (which presupposes the distinction between science and philosophy), the simple term “science” is used where elsewhere “special science” might be used. This second sense of “science” as special science, specialized knowledge, is what is ordinarily called “science” especially by people who haven’t read OPAR and ITOE. Philosophy is science, in the broader sense, but not in the narrower sense. “Evidence” is not, as far as I know, defined in Objectivism, but observation of how the word is used shows that it refers to knowledge in relation to a proposition – a fact supports a proposition, or it contradicts a proposition. A bit of knowledge can depend heavily on an immediate observation – “I just saw an eagle!” – or it can depend heavily on applying knowledge to previously gained knowledge (insert your favorite mathematical proof here). When people speak of “empirical evidence”, they mean knowledge that depends heavily on immediate observation. “Empirical evidence” brings us back to the axiomatic, because the distance from the axiomatic to the conclusion is shortened. All knowledge rests on observation, but some knowledge is separated by quite a distance from observation. It is true that some people treat philosophy as non-empirical, which allows patent nonsense to be promulgated as “philosophy”. You have to consider the concept “evidence” from two perspectives as well, depending on whether it has been evaluated. People often look at the observation as being the “evidence”, in which case since you can’t deny the axiomatic, you end up with a very goofy notion of “balancing” evidence, and seeing truth as scalar. Which, b.t.w., is poppycock. This notion that evidence is the raw observation is wrong. An observation has to be logically evaluated and integrated with all of your knowledge, before it becomes “evidence” for or against anything. “Uncontrolled observations” then are not evidence, because there has been no validation of the relation between the observation and the proposition that the observation stands in a supposed evidentiary relation to. How does that observation integrate with other observations (all other observations, not just the ones of interest to the advocate of the position)? The specific form of stupidity that you’ve identified is failing to consider alternative. There are alternative propositions that are consistent with the observation, and those alternatives are arbitrarily rejected. That means that the resulting emotion of “certainty” is achieved at the expense of acquiring knowledge.
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