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Posts posted by Boydstun

  1. Mapping Visual Symbols Onto Spoken Language Along the Ventral Visual Stream

    "In summary, our study provides strong empirical support for a hierarchical, posterior-to-anterior gradient in vOT that represents increasingly abstract information about written words. In line with Dehaene et al.’s (8) proposal, we found that representations in posterior visual regions are tied to location and may encode low-level visual information, whereas letter identity was represented in left midanterior vOT with a degree of location invariance. These location-invariant letter representations are then further transformed in left midanterior vOT to encode aspects of a word’s pronunciation and meaning. These results contribute to our understanding of how the brain maps from arbitrary visual symbols to rich linguistic representations, ultimately enabling the experience of language through the visual modality."


  2. Hi William. I have a shelf of books on physics and philosophy of time in my personal library, but so far, the time has not been right for taking a deep plunge into their contents. Three seem most closely related to your interests in this post:

    McTaggart’s Paradox (2016) by R. D. Ingthorsson, a philosopher.

    NOW – The Physics of Time (2016) by R. A. Muller, a physicist. (clip)

    The Order of Time (2018) by Carlo Rovelli, a physicist.

    Rovelli thinks twentieth-century physics show that an objective global present does not exist. Presentism, the view that there is an objective global present, is false. He thinks that simply from special relativity, in which he rightly takes reference frames, relative velocities between them, clocks, and light beams to be objective things in terms of which SR is cast and tested. He moves from objective frame-relativity of simultaneity of distant events with local events to lack of any such thing as an objective global present without explanation for that move. Perhaps that move can be made smooth, perhaps not. His conclusion is that presentism is false and “the world should not be thought of as a succession of presents. / What alternatives do we have?” [Unger and Smolin pose an additional alternative “inclusive time” in their book The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time (2015), which seems unnecessarily extravagant to me, at least in all they try to hitch up to it.]

    “Philosophers call ‘eternalism’ the idea that flow and change are illusory: present, past, and future are all equally real and equally existent. Eternalism is the idea that the whole of spacetime, as outlined in the above [SR] diagrams, exists all together without anything changing. Nothing really flows.* –p. 108

    ((* “In the terminology of a celebrated article by John McTaggart (1908), this is equivalent to denying the reality of the A-series (the organization of time into ‘past-present-future’) The meaning of temporal determinations would then be reduced to only the B-series (the organization of time into ‘before-it, after-it’). For McTaggart, this implies denying the reality of time. To my mind, McTaggart is too inflexible: the fact that my car works differently from how I’d imagined it and how I’d originally defined it in my head does not mean that my car is not real”.)) –pp. 221–22

    “The distinction between past, present, and future is not an illusion. It is the temporal structure of the world. But the temporal structure of the world is not that of presentism. The temporal relations between events are more complex than we previously thought, but they do not cease to exist on account of this. The relations of filiations do not establish a global order [linear sequence of presents self-same across all material frames, i.e., for all bits of non-zero rest mass]), but this does not make them illusory. If we are not all in single file, it does not follow that there are no relations between us. Change, what happens—this is not an illusion. What we have discovered is that it does not follow a global order.” –p. 110

    So Rovelli has it that even though A-series is shown false, as objective structure, by SR, the relation past-present-future remains objective temporal structure, just not the A-series one presumed before SR.

    William, I don't know how many physicists follow along Rovelli's lines in this area of philosophical wider view taking in SR spacetime and kinematics. However, I doubt that any of them who have thought about it so much as the authors I've mentioned in this post have needed or relied on any particular schools of philosophy in their quest for wider understanding. 



  3. Addendum of mine to my article on Descartes/Rand

    Kant argued against Descartes’ view that the existence of one’s mind is more immediately and more certainly known than the existence of one’s body.[1] Kant cast out Descartes’ view that the mind is a thinking substance.[2] Because Kant rejected also Descartes’ ontological proof for the existence of God,[3] Descartes’ first philosophy collapses. Metaphysical arguments to rational necessity of the existence of God or immortality of the soul are all cases of reason flapping its wings in a vacuum, by the lights of Kant. The THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (KrV) contains Kant’s case for a more limited scope for effective theoretical reason: stay within the bounds of possible sensory experience.

    Kant accepted, as had Descartes and Aquinas before him, some notion that ‘I think’ entails ‘I am’. Then again, with Rand’s mature philosophy, acknowledgment that ‘Existence exists’ entails existence of one who acknowledges. For Kant, contra Descartes, ‘I think’ does not mean I think with a mental substance,[4] radically distinct from body; and thinking of my body and of bodies outside me is as certain as the circumstance that I think and that I exist as a thinking thing.[5] Kant had a role for ‘I think’ basic to his transcendental idealism, and such is not the role it had in the first philosophy of Descartes. Let me call Kant’s the “company-role” of ‘I think’.

    “The ‘I think’ must be capable of accompanying all my presentations; for otherwise something would be presented to me that could not be thought at all—which is equivalent to saying that the presentation either would be impossible, or at least would be nothing to me.”[6] (B131–32)

    Kant’s ‘I think’ is utterly dependent on there being rational judgments it attends. ‘I think’ is not premier of knowing, contra Descartes. Neither it nor the ‘cogito sum’ containing it nor join of the ‘cogito sum’ to the premise of divine, absolute perfection amount to an adequate foundation of all human cognition.[7] 

    We might object, however, to Kant’s reasoning in the quoted passage. In early development we each had been perceiving and investigating and coordinating without any ability to reflect and realize of those episodes ‘I am having’ or ‘I am doing’, let alone ‘I am thinking’. It might be countered for Kant, in our current context of cognitive developmental psychology, that to each such episode adults around the infant or toddler can attach ‘He is having’ or ‘She is doing’ and that grown older the former little one could say of filmed early episodes ‘I was seeing’, ‘I was searching’, and so forth. The objection remains, for those remarks would be merely as from outside and pronounced on the little person, not by that person as he or she perceived, investigated, and coordinated. That such episodes occur without first-person capability to reflect and realize ‘I am having’ or ‘I am doing’ means that, notwithstanding the important fact of the company-role of ‘I think’ for all mature, discursive human cognition, it is not a necessary condition for the possibility of all human cognition in the apriori way Kant argued at B131–32. Kant’s argument there ignores the existential fact that discursive thought has a genesis from and an alliance with prelinguistic thought in early development. When Kant does discuss the pertinent infant development, in his anthropology lectures,[8] he foists the necessity argued in B131–32 off on all that development.

    The company-role of ‘I think’ (as well as ‘I am having’ and ‘I am doing’) is a necessity for adult human cognition, though not for the ultimate reason and not with the type of ultimate necessity given it by Kant. And self-reflection is not a necessity for one’s earliest stage of cognition. The necessity of the company-role of ‘I think’ and its precursors ‘I am having’ and ‘I am doing’ is most basically biological, not transcendental. Without adult capability for some self-reflection, and its precursors in development, there will have been no capability for language, thence not yet human cognition in such a species. 

    Conceptual necessities are from the life of mind situated in larger life situated in the world. Conceptual necessities do not require Kant’s conceit of generative mind as ultimate origin of temporal and spatial organization in sensory experience and objective world nor Kant’s conceit of generative mind as base origin of its own fundamental concepts as forms with which the world as known shall be. Necessary conditions on the possibility of experience and cognition are in my view rightly seen as situated within biological necessities, not within Kant’s supposed, wider transcendental necessities.[9] Organicism in human consciousness—with its unities, roles, interdependencies, and self-generations—is offspring of and sign of the biological nature of consciousness. Kant saw it rather the other way around.[10] As with any other body, the body of a physical organism is in his view an object standing in spatial, temporal, and causal connections whose source of necessity is the transcendental synthetic unity of apperception.[11] Organic unities of organisms, according to Kant, are to be seen as if they were designed by a cosmic intelligence, keeping in mind that those unities are projections of the unities of our own reason, which is to say organic unities of organisms are to be understood as if sourced (and as in fact divinely sourced) in organic unities of intelligence.[12]


    The ‘I’ of Kant’s company-role ‘I think’ is a unified conceptual maker of coherence from variety in the ‘I’s world of perception.[13] As Béatrice Longuenesse observes: Because the causal relation is among the organizing principles constituting the coherence-making self that must be able to accompany any sensory experience it has, we have in Kant’s company-role ‘I think’ a post in Kant’s fence against Hume’s skepticism concerning necessary connection between distinct perceived events.[14] 



    [1] Kant 1781(A) and 1787(B): A366–80, B274–79.

    [2] A343–47 B401–6, A348–51, B407–8, B416–22. Rand, and I with her, replace substance of Aristotle or of Descartes with entity, and we would count the mind and the self as an entity, notwithstanding the special ways in which one knows one’s own mind and self.

    [3] A592–603, B620–31.

    [4] But see Heidegger 1953, 318–21/304–7.

    [5] Kant, KrV B270–79.

    [6] Also B137–39, B157–-58n, A341–43, B399–401, A347 B405, A354–55, A397- 402, B422–23n, B428–32, A848 B876; 1798, 7:127–28.

    [7] Kitcher 2011, 57–62, 116–17, 193–97.

    [8] Kant 1798, 7:128-29.

    [9] Cf. Criticism of Kant, on possible origins of necessity in synthetic apriori judgments, by Gottlob Ernst Schulze 1792, 142–45.

    [10] Mensch 2013, 99–109, 113–24, 130–45, 153–54.

    [11] Kant, KrV A22–36 B37–53, B131–69, B232–34, A189–211 B235–56.

    [12] A317–18 B374, B425, A686–704 B714–32.

    [13] A67 B92, A107–8, A113–14, A119, A124–25, B129–39, A199–202 B244–47, A214–18 B261–65, A228–30 B281–82, A234–35 B286–87, A255-56 B311, A401–2; see also Kitcher 2011, 138–41, 144–50, 193–97.

    [14] Longuenesse 2008, 15–16; see also Kitcher 2011, 152–57, 170–73; Allison 2008, 107–12, 204–5.



    Allison, H. E. 2008. Custom and Reason in Hume – A Kantian Reading of the First Book of the Treatise. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Heidegger, M. 1953 [1927]. Being and Time. 7th ed. J. Stambaugh and D. J. Schmidt, translators, 2010. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

    ——. 1798. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. In Immanuel Kant – Anthropology, History, and Education. G. Zöller and R. B. Louden, editors, 2007. G. Zöller, translator. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Kitcher, P. 2011. Kant’s Thinker. New York. Oxford University Press.

    Longuenesse, B. 2008. Kant’s “I Think” versus Descartes’ “I Am a Thing that Thinks.” In Kant and the Early Moderns. D. Garber and B. Longuenesse, editors. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Mensch, J. 2013. Kant’s Organicism – Epigenesis and the Development of Critical Philosophy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Schulze, G. E. 1792. Aenesidemus. In Between Kant and Hegel – Texts in the Development of Post-Kantian Idealism. G. di Giovanni and H. S. Harris, translators, 2000. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.

  4. I'd suggest, Human, after you finish Atlas Shrugged, you read either Objectivism in One Lesson by Andrew Bernstein or Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff. Both of those use citations to the other writings of Rand and her associates, and you can then follow up with those references as your further interest may go this way or that.

  5. 14 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

    Which is kind of a circular answer in that the person is asking "what is worth sustaining". Isn't this basically determined by emotional response? Not sure when rationality comes in without knowing what you like.

    Your examples are in fact what the young person wants to know. The hypothetical young person is asking for advice on how to give meaning in his life and the examples you give should be helpful.

    Now, the idea of "his moral ideal" can be interpreted as subjective or objective.

    On the other hand "image of man" seems to be objective. What does "image of man" mean in this context"? In theory that could help my hypothetical young person. 

    But ... there is the person that has done ALL that he set out to do. Now, he is in a sense, restarting his life, the question of meaning comes up again. He has done the career and the children thing. Now what? What objective image of man is there to follow in this case?

    Rand thought the human animal to have no automatic, instinctual knowledge of what was good or evil for him. She held that man had a nature of rationality, and that this rationality is held as a value in the individual man only by choice (1957, 1013). Part of his rational nature would be the deliverances of the senses automatically giving information in general and pleasure/pain valence in particular. Those primitive elements for rationality, in Rand’s understanding, are not susceptible to human choice however much humans may try to rub out their validity and replace them with feelings (1037).

    She maintained, as mentioned earlier, that humans have a life-or-death need of self-esteem (also at 1057), that in truth this self-esteem is (and is at some level generally known to be) “reliance on one’s power to think,” that self-esteem is rightly attached to being morally right, and that a false morality—one valorizing not thinking, not thinking for oneself—can render one’s self-esteem incoherent, a mess (1030–31). Calling the name John Galt in that novel can be calling one’s own “betrayed self-esteem” (1060).

    In the 1961 essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand wrote:

    “By what means does [man] first become aware of the issue of ‘good or evil’ in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation.

    “The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man’s body; it is part of his nature, part of the kind of the kind of entity he is.”

    She described animals below man having automatic ways of living action enlisting only sensation or sensation together with the automatic integration of sensations into percepts, giving perceptual consciousness of entities in the world, though no freedom over the animal’s governing consciousness or over its range. She regarded man as having that much automatic correct, reality-given inputs to cognition and to evaluation. So his higher-order, volitional cognitive and evaluative powers do not take off from a blank or get no feedback from those lower-level processes.

    There are two levels to one’s “moral ideal, the image of Man.” There is what Rand would put into it for all men (not brain-damaged and so forth), and this is what she puts into the moral ideals of ethical theory. That is, that much she writes (explicitly) into basic values and virtues of her ethical theory. She personifies them in her fictional character John Galt. That much of John Galt is to be an ideal for everyone. But his love of particular areas of physics or of a particular woman are parts of him that are the realization of the general ethical ideal, but can vary from person to person still holding the same general ideal “image of Man.”

    Sorry so much of this is old hat, but I needed to recount it to reach the point that whether one is crafting a general frame in the “moral ideal, the image of Man” or whether one is persuaded that Rand’s general specification is right and one is only figuring out what to do with one’s own particular likes, aversions, and abilities in bringing about the ideal in one’s own case, one doesn’t need to ignore one’s feelings nor accept them without critically examining them as they are used as inputs for one’s craft of “values of character that make [one’s] life worth sustaining.”  

    Before I read Rand’s 1943 and 1957, I was a devout altruist. The way in which she changed me was by subjecting different systems to rational criticism and by appeal to other values (feelings, a key manifestation of them) that we both already shared. And those two factors could also persuade one to some new virtues of character, significantly modifying the old ones.

    “The image of Man” is image of fundamental nature of man but also a norm in Rand’s presentation (for man must be Man by choice). It’s somewhat like “image of God” in man taking after God by possessing reason, although God can’t be a full normative model for man because of radical differences of nature between the two.


    ET, an elderly woman dear to me would say to me, Why is God still keeping me here? I can’t do anything or be of any use to anyone anymore.

    I think I told her of how good it was for her younger loved ones to be able to enjoy her company. She was still able to talk, as she and I were doing on the phone, and we could stir up each other’s recollections of people and experiences we had shared decades ago.

    I am 70. I’m still doing my same creating most important to me. I still have an important work or two in progress. Even if their completion would complete my reach (really, no grasp could match my reach), I think I could still find continued, closing life meaningful. With enough health and memory, I hope to just keep looking back to my accomplishments, including loves attained, here where is the place and future of any value and meaning.

  6. Rand said that life is an end in itself, and I incline to think having a meaningful life includes in its center knowing and being true to human life as an end in itself.

    I incline to think also that having a meaningful human life has in its structure what Rand said about Pride as virtue in human life:

    “As man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining . . . to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has no automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational being he is born able to create, but must create by choice.” (1957, 1021)

    What should be in that “image of Man” I kind of think are elements I’ve noticed people derive meaning from. Indeed, continuous rationality, but more particularly productions such as earning a living or bringing one’s creative tugs to a reality or productions such as good relationships or accomplishing care of one’s loved ones or indeed of humans more generally or accomplishing making children. We seem rigged up to find meaning in accomplishment in those various channels. I mean that all under the wing of rationality. People find semblance of meaning in irrational, destructive projects, of course, but those are not rightly housed in the “image of Man.”


  7. Thank you, GM, for the stab at it. I appreciate this thread's info, as I mentioned earlier. I'll try to add to this thread in weeks ahead. It is pertinent for getting arms around the relation of Hilbert ideas to Godel and to Carnap---for my book in progress and for my treatment at this site of Peikoff's dissertation and S/A essay for Rand's phi (1960's)---concerning analyticity and the nature of knowledge of pure mathematics.

  8. On 7/21/2019 at 11:51 AM, GrandMinnow said:


    Merlin, we should stick to A for your example, not go back up to his a. We do not succeed in showing that for all A, where A is any given number, that (A + 1) = (1 + A) by showing that it works for any A we try. That is not enough, and we have methods for going absolutely all the way. How might we show it works for all given A? Hopefully, GrandMinnow can explain what further Hilbert means here, and hopefully respond to my questions to him in the final paragraph of my previous post. 

  9. I appreciate the information in this thread.

    There are a couple of terms “ideal number” and “ideal proposition” in the text below that can be googled or are provided in the SEP article Merlin and GM have mentioned. Otherwise I think the following from Hilbert’s paper “The Foundations of Mathematics” (1927) is pretty self-contained:

    “If we now begin to construct mathematics, we shall first set our sights upon elementary number theory; we recognize that we can obtain and prove its truths through contentual intuitive considerations. The formulas that we encounter when we take this approach are used only to impart information. Letters stand for numerals, and an equation informs us of the fact that two signs stand for the same thing.

    “The situation is different in algebra; in algebra we consider the expressionsformed with letters to be independent objects in themselves, and the propositions of number theory, which are included in algebra, are formalized by means of them. Where we had numerals, we now have formulas, which themselves are concrete objects that in their turn are considered by our perceptual intuition, and the derivation of one formula from another in accordance with certain rules takes the place of the number-theoretic proof based on content.

    “Thus algebra already goes considerably beyond contentual number theory. Even the formula (1 + a) = (a+ 1), for example, in which is a genuine number-theoretic variable, in algebra no longer merely imparts information about something contentual but is a certain formal object, a provable formula, which in itself means nothing and whose proof cannot be based on content but requires appeal to the induction axiom. 

    . . .

    “We have an urgent reason for . . . extending the formal point of view of algebra to all of mathematics. For it is the means of relieving us of a fundamental difficulty that already makes itself felt in elementary number theory. Again I take as an example the equation (+ 1) = (1 + a); if we wanted to regard it as imparting the information that (A + 1) = (1 + A), where A stands for any given number, then this communication could not be negated, since the proposition that there exists a number A for which (A + 1) not= (1 + A) holds has no finitary meaning; one cannot, after all, try out all numbers. Thus, if we adopted the finitist attitude, we could not make use of the alternative according to which an equation like the one above, in which an unspecified numeral occurs either is satisfied for every numeral or can be refuted by a counterexample. For, as an application of the ‘principle of excluded middle’, this alternative depends essentially on the assumption that it is possible to negate the assertion that the equation in question always holds.

    “But we cannot relinquish the use either of the principle of excluded middle or of any other law of Aristotelian logic expressed in our axioms, since the construction of analysis is impossible without them.

    “Now the fundamental difficulty that we face here can be avoided by the use of ideal propositions. For, if to the real propositions we adjoin the ideal ones, we obtain a system of propositions in which all the simple rules of Aristotelian logic hold and all the usual methods of mathematical inference are valid. Just as, for example, the negative numbers are indispensable in elementary number theory and just as modern number theory and algebra become possible only through the Kummer-Dedekind ideals, so scientific mathematics becomes possible only through the introduction of ideal propositions.

    “To be sure, one condition, a single but indispensible one, is always attached to the use of the method of ideal elements, and that is the proof of consistency; for, extension by the addition of the ideal elements is legitimate only if no contradiction is thereby brought about in the old, narrower domain, that is, if the relations that result for the old objects whenever the ideal objects are eliminated are valid in the old domain.

    “In the present situation, however, this problem of consistency is perfectly amenable to treatment. . . . “

    The translators are Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg and Dagfinn Follesdal, as reprinted in From Frege to Godel (1967).

    GM, I think I see some of Hilbert’s motivation for a view of algebraic symbols as free of content here, although one puzzle I have about Hilbert’s remarks here is: An algebraic equation such as = (Mx+ B) can be, via coordinate geometry, plotted into a particular line when merely the M and B are given definite values, leaving the algebraic variables as algebraic variables. I mean why isn’t analytic geometry yielding facts about synthetic geometry enough to give some meaning to algebraic symbols? Wouldn’t it be sensible to say that algebraic variables mean just any and all magnitude relations (spatial or otherwise) that might be captured in such analytic relations as we have in this case? Do you think Hilbert would object to that sort of picture of algebraic symbols?

  10. SL, the case of contradiction statements, I'd say, needs to be worked into an account in this vicinity. We think of the statement "A is not-A" as referring to nothing (there are no A's that are also not-A's), but always false, and if false, I'd say it must be meaningful. That is, a statement assessable for truth or falsehood could be taken as a sufficient condition for the statement being a meaningful one. Contradiction statements would seem false and meaningful.

    In fact they are useful, and again that would suggest they have some kind of meaning. By useful, I'm thinking of their use in indirect proof in which we show a premise to be false given that when joined with premises we take for true we deduce a contradiction.

    Another aspect of contradiction possibly pertinent is that the conjunction between A and Not-A need not be supplied explicitly by the mind holding A true and holding Not-A true. The conjunction can be supplied merely by the fact that a mind holds both those things (and does not realize it, does not bring them together in mind). 

  11. Yes, SL, thanks, and thanks to all. SL, did you put this under the sector Physics and Mathematics because of some parallels or intersections with mathematical conjectures proven to be not provable and problems proven to be not computable?

    I incline to think Q is stating something about a particular sentence, and is therefore meaningful, but is false because its form, by convention, insinuates that it is stating some fact beyond itself, which it is not doing. It is claiming implicitly to be able to deliver something that it is not able to deliver.  By contrast, the statement Existence exists, unparticular as it might be, makes a statement about some things not itself.

    By that analysis, the second conjunct of K is also false, therefore K is false.

  12. Here is part of some remarks Barbara Branden wrote, around 2006 I think, concerning her writing of the biography back in the 80's, after Rand's death.


    As Executive Vice-President of Nathaniel Branden Institute, I had had an important role in its success during the ten years we taught Objectivism in New York and ultimately in eighty cities across the United States and Canada. I had had an important role in forming the Objectivist movement that had sprung up. And I had helped to create the "cult of personality" that had formed around Rand in particular but also around Nathaniel and to some extent around myself. The three of us, and Frank O’Connor, were seen as ideal exemplars of the Objectivist morality and sense of life; admirers of Rand’s ideas were expected to understand that to criticize us was equivalent to criticizing the ideas that, for so many of them, had changed their lives for the better and had given them exalted ideals and goals to reach for. 

    When Rand broke with Nathaniel and me, it appeared to her admirers that a near-impossibility had occurred: in the persons of Ayn and Nathaniel, two totally rational people had encountered differences that reason could not resolve. It was a deeply shocking and hurtful event, made much worse by the fact that the real reason for the break was not presented, leaving our students deeply confused and deeply hurt. I felt strongly at the time that the truth—that Nathaniel was in love with another woman and was unwilling to continue his affair with Rand—should have been stated if anything at all was to be stated. But Rand was unwilling even to consider this, and I had given her the most solemn oath of secrecy of my life.

    In 1981, I decided to break my vow of secrecy, and I shall forever be glad that I did so. I believed—and believe—that my debt to my students and their right to know the truth overrode that vow. I had to break the presumed link between the validity of Objectivism and the perfection of Ayn Rand.

    Where Barbara wrote "secrecy of my life," I imagine she meant "secrecy on my life."

    I think Barbara had an exaggerated view of how important was the Nathaniel Branden Institute in creating strong personal admiration and affection for Ayn Rand personally among her readers. Rand's writing did that to some of us. Period. No existence of any associates of Rand's required. Moreover, when some hostile query would come to Rand asking if she and her chief spokesperson Nathaniel Branden were exemplars of the ideals in her philosophy, and she would answer Yes, her answer, her estimation and her say-so, carried no weight with the more intelligent and serious-minded sympathizers among her audience. We had the novels and the essays of Rand and of her associates before us. That was our focus, our debates with our fellows, and our estimation of what was important.

    Imagined responsibilities for follies of the supposedly weak-headed students of NBI is a bit odd. Weight of respect for the foursome all around and for truth-telling of history from Barbara's particular vantage would seem enough to consider in deciding to produce the biography.


    Late in 1980 Nathaniel Branden and his wife Devers were in New York, and Devers finagled a long conversation with Ayn Rand in the latter’s apartment. This is reported in some detail from Branden in his My Years with Ayn Rand (1999). Rand mentioned in that conversation that Leonard Peikoff was her friend. I noticed there was no mention of other still-friendly long-time philosophy associates such as Allan Gotthelf or Harry Binswanger. It is a plausible picture that Peikoff was more personally close to Rand in the 70’s and early 80’s. (Gotthelf was around the country speaking for her philosophy at her behest in the late 70’s.) But I notice, beyond the episode with Devers and Rand, that Branden does not mention the existence of either Gotthelf or Binswanger in his entire book. Those associates of Rand and of Branden were getting their doctorates in philosophy in New York during the ‘60’s. And by 1999, Gotthelf had gone on to become one of the towering figures in the world of Aristotle scholars. There was a tendency of Nathaniel and of Barbara (at least in her internet postings) to paint Rand’s life and the vitality of her intellectual circle after their own exist from it as next to zero, which is ridiculous by public records.

    There was a later phone conversation between Devers and Rand, which conversation included:

    Devers: “And again I told her I wanted some communication between you two [Rand and Branden]. Then, for the first time, I referred to your affair explicitly, ‘Ayn you two were once lovers’. / ‘We were never lovers!’ . . . ‘We were never really friends! He was a student of mine! Did he tell you we were lovers?’ / ‘Of course’, I answered gently. / ‘Why would he do that? Why?’ / I was incredulous and said, ‘Ayn, I’m his wife’. . . . ‘Are you now saying that you dedicated Atlas Shrugged to a man who was not even important to you?’ / There was a long moment of silence. Then Ayn answered, her voice low and muffled, ‘A gentleman would have taken it to his grave’.”

    I was not personally acquainted with Rand or either of the Brandens. I’ve noticed that all of them and all her circle were good writers. I take whatever ideas I find good in their writings and incorporate them into my own comprehension of things. I’ve not read Barbara Branden’s book or James Valiant’s book on that book. I’ve had friendly exchanges with those two authors by internet postings. Allan Gotthelf and David Kelley were subscribers to my journal Objectivity (1990–98), and I had some personal acquaintance with them. I’ve some friendly communication with Leonard Peikoff years ago, and readers here know I’ve respect and appreciation for his contributions to Rand’s philosophy and its promulgation. I was in the audience of presentations of Nathaniel Branden a couple of times (early 70’s, late 90’s), also Alan Blumenthal once (early 90’s). What they had to say was important and moving.

    From my perspective, in the long run, it was better for Rand’s philosophy that the separation of Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand occurred. Too much of her public tablets had been filled with psychological construction of archetypes and psychological casting of issues and personages. After association with Branden (who went on to good developments in his own field), philosophy, serious philosophy, got more and more portion of the space she bannered in print and on tape.

  14. This post is not substantive, only a connection of thinkers. In the Acknowledgements prefacing his first book Anarchy, State, and Utopia(1974), Robert Nozick wrote: “Over several years, I have benefited from Michael Waltzer’s comments, questions, and counterarguments as I tried out on him ideas on some topics of this essay.”

    Waltzer remarked  in 2003 here:

    "I spent much of the sixties and early seventies learning to 'do' political philosophy rather than doing it, and Rawls and Nozick were two of my teachers. There was a discussion group that met every month in those years, in Cambridge and New York, that included those two and Ronnie Dworkin, Tom Nagel, Tim Scanlon, Judy Thomson, Charles Fried, Marshall Cohen, and a few others: a peer group for most of them, a school for me. In 1971, Nozick and I taught a course together called 'Capitalism and Socialism,' which was a semester-long argument – out of which came his Anarchy, State, and Utopia and my Spheres. Rawls, Nozick, Nagel, and Dworkin were, I suppose, the leaders of the return of philosophers to 'public affairs.' For me, there was no return; I had never been interested in anything else. But I did make an effort to write about politics in a more philosophical way. I don't think that I ever managed real philosophy. I couldn't breathe easily at the high level of abstraction that philosophy seemed to require, where my friends in the group were entirely comfortable. And I quickly got impatient with the playful extension of hypothetical cases, moving farther and farther away from the world we all lived in. I was writing Just and Unjust Wars in the middle seventies, and my decision to work the argument through historical examples was in part a reaction against the hypothetical cases of my friends. The current state of the philosophical argument about justice, as described and criticised by Anderson, follows from too much abstraction, too many hypotheticals, too great a distance from the real world. The Rawls/Nozick debate was, I think, pretty much over even before their deaths. In the philosophical world, Rawls and the Rawlsians won decisively; in the political world, I am afraid, the Nozickians won, but it isn't philosophers, it is economists, who relish the victory. Right now, the forces aren't engaged: consider how little criticism of the market model is carried in the journal that came out of our discussion group: Philosophy and Public Affairs."


  15. SL maintained that there are plenty of forums for discussing general philosophy. If anyone knows of such that are online forums, I'd appreciate learning of them. I do know of one. It is called Philosophy Now. I participated there on one occasion and was personally attacked in every disrespectful way a fellow (anonymous, likely male) could think up for every thing I might say: because I mentioned and conveyed some Rand without distorting and belittling her. I've heard others (and not Rand-interested so far as I know) say they won't participate at that site because of the nastiness there.The fellow who was so disrespectful towards me there certainly achieved the purpose of shutting me up. I did not go back there. One thing I've liked about this site OO is that there is such a predominately civil exchange of views.

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