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Oakes

Ex-marxist With A Q

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You know, after I posted that, I realized that might be the case. For the sake of continuity (and not making your post refer to nothing), I'll say here that a better example might be The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. (In other words, other books not specifically endorsed by Rand but written by Objectivists.)

But can't we infer from the works which Rand did endorse, which other works she would have endorsed had they been published while she was alive? It seems like a perfectly valid use of induction :)

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But can't we infer from the works which Rand did endorse, which other works she would have endorsed had they been published while she was alive? It seems like a perfectly valid use of induction :)

No.

Since Objectivism means the philosophy of Ayn Rand, only the things she actually said or approved of can be considered Objectivism.

Since Ayn Rand is no longer, Objectivism does not grow. Why? Because calling something Ayn Rand never saw or approved of Objectivism will be putting words in her mouth, and thoughts in her head.

It will be like someone writing a sequel to Atlas Shrugged. Even if it was good.

Now, there are many papers and books that Ayn Rand never saw which are CONSISTENT with Objectivism. But they are NOT Objectivism, just as a sequel to Atlas Shrugged written today is NOT Atlas Shrugged, even if it CONSISTENT with the original.

I really hope this point is clear now.

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Where did I make a mistake? ... Where is there evidence I do not have a proper understanding of Objectivist premises?

I'm not claiming you made one; only that it is possible that you made one, simply because knowledge is not implicit. Why do you need proof of this?

Perhaps if Ayn Rand had said, "I intend/give permission for this term to refer to future work by Objectivists who consistently apply my principles," then we might call, for example, The Ominous Parallels "part" of Objectivism.

Why do you need her permission? Does this all boil down to legalities?

the disagreement on the "minor issue" is actually based on a principle in conflict with a fundamental premise of Objectivism.

So true. But how do we know who is upholding the fundamentals, and thus, who is the real Objectivist?

People have said that people disagreeing on "minor issues" can still both be Objectivists, so long as these "minor issues" don't include Objectivist principles.

Every minor issue is derived from fundamental principles. Refer to what Carla said.

How is Objectivism, as a particular philosophy, comparable to science in general? Or even to philosophy in general? Or even to a certain broad approach to philosophy? Don't you think that that is making the term much broader than it actually is?

The word "science" generally means a third-wordly approach to explaining reality. But it certainly doesn't represent all existing methods purporting to gain the facts of reality. It's just the one that currently dominates.

I really hope this point is clear now.

Loud and clear. Objectivism doesn't grow, disagreeing with Rand inherently disagrees with Objectivism. Why would you support something like that?

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Oakes, what do the terms Aristotelianism and Kantianism mean nowadays? Why, anything at all. Aristotle has been so badly misinterpreted in so many ways, it's hard to know what he actually did say and what actually is consistent with it. Kant has never been open to interpretation or understanding of any kind, so the result obtains even more so.

But, in a thousand years, Objectivism will mean exactly what it means today.

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I think the big mistake here is in trying to address it as an issue of fundamentals vs. derivatives, rather than as principles vs. applications. Objectivism is a system of philosophical principles; whether fundamental or derivative, they're part of Objectivism. Objectivism does not exhaust all valid philosophical principles. Objectivists can, and often do, disagree about applications of those principles, and they may disagree about principles which do not fall within Objectivism (though they may be consistent with it, or follow from it).

If you hold that the issue is fundamentals vs. derivatives, you will never be able to give a satisfactory answer to what is and what is not Objectivism, because fundamentality is relative to context. For example, rights are a political fundamental, but relative to the entire system they are far from fundamental. There's simply no way to draw the line, and so you'll end up pretty much picking some things you think are vaguely more important than others and claiming that those are fundamental. (This is pretty much what Kelley does.)

I disagree with Eran that the right to abortion is, per se, part of Objectivism. Rather, I think it's such an obvious and basic application of Objectivist principles that a person who rejects it must either be rejecting or misunderstanding Objectivism -- in which case, the person is not an Objectivist. Again, this isn't an insult, but just an observation. There's a big learning curve for an entire philosophical system, and you can't even really grasp the basics overnight.

Incidentally, Oakes, your response to DPW amounts to skepticism: you say arbitrarily that he might be wrong, and demand that he disprove your accusation. But possibility doesn't simply mean "not disproven", it means "some evidence." By your standard, you could never reach certainty about anything in particular, no matter how much evidence you accumulate, simply because mistakes are possible. But just as man's capacity to murder does not mean that each person must wonder constantly if he might be a murderer, man's capacity to err does not mean that one must constantly suspect that he is in error. So the burden is on you: show where you think DPW is making an error, or retract your claim.

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I think the big mistake here is in trying to address it as an issue of fundamentals vs. derivatives, rather than as principles vs. applications.

Nice distinction. Thanks. :)

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I think the big mistake here is in trying to address it as an issue of fundamentals vs. derivatives, rather than as principles vs. applications

As far as I'm concerned, you're just using different terms. Can you explain principles/applications further? How do you avoid the "relative to context" problem?

Incidentally, Oakes, your response to DPW amounts to skepticism: you say arbitrarily that he might be wrong, and demand that he disprove your accusation. [...] By your standard, you could never reach certainty about anything in particular, no matter how much evidence you accumulate, simply because mistakes are possible. But just as man's capacity to murder does not mean that each person must wonder constantly if he might be a murderer, man's capacity to err does not mean that one must constantly suspect that he is in error. So the burden is on you: show where you think DPW is making an error, or retract your claim.

I think its generally understood that as you move further from the self-evident axioms, things become less certain, there is more chance of error in logic. At the same time, I don't know at what point Objectivism should stop claiming that a certain position is included in its definition (and I admitted to the problem of relativity before you pointed it out). What I do know is, it should stop somewhere. I figured abortion was one of those areas.

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Oakes, what do the terms Aristotelianism and Kantianism mean nowadays?  Why, anything at all.

According to the Encylopedia Britannica:

Kantianism

either the system of thought contained in the writings of the epoch-making 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant or those later philosophies that arose from the study of Kant's writings and drew their inspiration from his principles. Only the latter is the concern of this article.

It's perfectly acceptable for the same word to mean different things in different contexts.

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I think its generally understood that as you move further from the self-evident axioms, things become less certain, there is more chance of error in logic.

I deny this; prove it: the burden of proof is on you (not that X is generally understood, but prove X itself). But before you do that, specify what you mean by "further", "certain", "error", "logic".

At the same time, I don't know at what point Objectivism should stop claiming that a certain position is included in its definition

There are no practical positions on issues included in Objectivism, as Matt observed. There are philosophical positions, but those are very different. Objectivism will not tell you who to vote for, whether to vote at all, whether you should or should not have children, whether you should or should not have abortion, et. There is only one answer to each such question consistent with the principles of Objectivism.

Objectivism is a set of principles, whether fundamental or derivative. That existence exists and that men have rights are equally true, equally logical, equally certain, and equally part of Objectivism.

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Spearmint, the Encyploedia Britannica implicitly lists hundreds of different philosophies of "Kantianism". The term as a proper noun has no referent, no meaning.

This is an example of violating a corollary of Occam's razor: referents to proper nouns are not to be multiplied beyond reason, lest the term in question lose all meaning whatsoever.

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I deny this; prove it: the burden of proof is on you (not that X is generally understood, but prove X itself). But before you do that, specify what you mean by "further", "certain", "error", "logic".

Axioms are self-evident, so there is no way and no need to prove them. Their immediate corollaries are not self-evident, but are evident after accepting the basic axioms.

To "move further" is to continue this process, deriving more and more truths, each one being the premise for the next one. To "be certain" is to be beyond the chance of being a contradiction. An "error" is a contradiction. "Logic" is a series of reasonings, moving from premise to conclusion each time.

Moving further necessitates less certainty (a greater chance of contradiction) because there are more opportunities for a contradiction to occur.

There are no practical positions on issues included in Objectivism, as Matt observed. ... who to vote for ... whether you should or should not have children ...

I wasn't talking about these. I mean real issues with philosophical significance that pose considerable opportunities for errors in logic.

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As far as I'm concerned, you're just using different terms. Can you explain principles/applications further? How do you avoid the "relative to context" problem?
Sure. I'd actually rather not spit out definitions for these, because I can't formulate anything off the top of my head that is .. well, definitive. And I don't want the discussion to get sidetracked with poking holes in definitions. So I'll give examples instead.

In general, principles pertain to universals, whereas applications are particulars viewed in light of principles. One principle in Objectivism, for example, is that initiation of force is evil. An application of this is that Hitler is evil. This is another instance of an application which I consider to be so obvious that I would be certain that someone who rejected it either rejected Objectivist principles or didn't even begin to understand them; nonetheless, Hitler being evil is not part of Objectivism.

Here's another example: the superiority (all other things being equal) of romantic literature to naturalistic literature is a principle in the Objectivist esthetics. In The Art of Fiction, Rand applied this to argue that Mickey Spillane is a better writer than Thomas Wolfe. The superiority of Spillane to Wolfe is not a principle of Objectivism, and I doubt that it falls into the category of "really, really obvious applications". I haven't read Wolfe, but it's quite possible that this is an application that Objectivists could disagree about. And it's not just because it's an esthetic point; as others have pointed out, there are plenty of instances from other fields of philosophy -- tricky situations in ethics, who to vote for, etc.

So that's the difference between a principle and an application. The difference between a fundamental and a derivative is roughly this: a fundamental underlies and explains a number of other truths. In Peikoff's definition, it is "that upon which everything in a given context depends." Now, there's a clear connection between this and the preceding: a principle is always more fundamental than an application.

But notice that there are some applications which are themselves principles, and some which are not. Those which are principles are derivative principles -- though I hasten to add, I don't mean derivative in a deductive sense. So you're right to note that there's a context issue here too, but it's not the same one. For example: the superiority of Spillane to Wolfe (if true) is an application of the principle that romanticism is superior to naturalism, which is itself an application of man's need for value-affirming and thematically essentialized art, which is an application of philosophical observations about man's nature. Now notice that in different contexts, you might identify any of those except the application to particulars as a fundamental. Why? Because it depends on what context you're dealing with -- if you're dealing with a more limited context, you have the option of identifying a more limited fundamental. (And that's why there can be multiple fundamentals.) To repeat my example from before: for the context of Objectivist political philosophy, rights are fundamental. But bring to mind the broader context of the entire philosophical system, and you find that they are derivative -- they depend on prior observations in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.

I've gone on so long now (and I've stopped to look for a reference, and failed) that I'm not sure if I answered your question. But I hope so.

Moving on to your last statement:

I think its generally understood that as you move further from the self-evident axioms, things become less certain, there is more chance of error in logic. At the same time, I don't know at what point Objectivism should stop claiming that a certain position is included in its definition (and I admitted to the problem of relativity before you pointed it out). What I do know is, it should stop somewhere. I figured abortion was one of those areas.

There's a lot to say about this. First, it's not that things become less certain when you move away from self-evident axioms. There's more chance of error, but the degree of certainty depends on the extent and quality of thought that you've given to the issue. There's nothing inherently less certain about the virtue of productiveness than causality. In fact, to be precise, certainty doesn't apply to self-evident axioms, because there's no progression through degrees of evidence. You evaluate something as certain when you have acquired and integrated enough evidence that you're in a position to say "Ok, that's the end of the line, I don't need any more -- I'm sure it's true." And there's nothing about more distant abstractions that makes this impossible, it's just harder. It's meaningless to call an axiom certain -- certain against what? When was it open to doubt?

Back to the topic at hand: whether something is part of Objectivism or not is a separate issue from whether you're certain of it. Notice that, since certainty is an epistemological evaluation which each person makes for themselves about each item of knowledge they are evaluating, this would make the definition of Objectivism utterly subjective: since people are certain of different things, everybody would have to have their own concept of Objectivism, and we'd never be able to have a conversation about it. (And by the way, I've seen that happen.) ;)

I think part of the issue here might still be attaching the term "Objectivist", which is descriptive, to all sorts of normative issues: for instance, thinking that all and only Objectivists are honest. But there are plenty of honest non-Objectivists, and there are people who have thought about Objectivism and rejected it whom I would consider honest. It seems like what you want to do is subsume everything you think is certain within Objectivism, and kick out everything you think is uncertain, and thereby leave yourself room to reject things and still call yourself an Objectivist. I don't want to psychologize here, and I could well be wrong, but it seems like what you're driving at. But again, there's nothing inherently bad about disagreeing with Objectivism. Maybe you make an honest mistake and reject a true principle because you just don't understand it. That's no crime. I think most of us have done that at some point.

So in the end, the issue is epistemological. The concept of Objectivism is not Heraclitean: to misparaphrase Peikoff, there is not a different Objectivism every time you step foot in it. Delimiting it on the basis of fundamentals or certainty will only end up making it a fairly random grouping of things, categorized on the basis of shifting or non-objective criteria, and it will make it useless as a term of identification. I'm convinced that Rand had the right idea when she said, roughly, that it is the system of philosophical principles espoused in her writings and those which she specifically endorsed.

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Axioms are self-evident, so there is no way and no need to prove them. Their immediate corollaries are not self-evident, but are evident after accepting the basic axioms.

To "move further" is to continue this process, deriving more and more truths, each one being the premise for the next one. To "be certain" is to be beyond the chance of being a contradiction. An "error" is a contradiction. "Logic" is a series of reasonings, moving from premise to conclusion each time.

Moving further necessitates less certainty (a greater chance of contradiction) because there are more opportunities for a contradiction to occur.

This whole "Let's deduce what reality is from self-evident axioms" approach is the essence of Rationalism and the opposite of the inductive Objectivist approach.

I can see why you are having such a hard time applying Objectivism because you are starting with its abstract conclusions and taking them as your starting points and unquestionable, self-evident, "must believes."

Objectivists do it differently. They always start with sense perception, not axioms. Even when it comes to learning and applying someone else's ideas, like Ayn Rand's, the questions are: Is this true? What perceivable facts of reality give rise to this question or this concept or this conclusion? How does this match with and integrate with my own experiences?

So if you want to approach philosophy like an Objectivist ™:

Start with sense perception.

Reduce everything abstract to sense perception.

Define every concept clearly by genus and differentia.

Gather evidence.

Seek causes.

Concretize.

Evaluate.

Essentialize.

Compare.

Identify. Identify. Identify.

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So if you want to approach philosophy like an Objectivist ™:

Start with sense perception.

Reduce everything abstract to sense perception.

Define every concept clearly by genus and differentia.

Gather evidence.

Seek causes.

Concretize.

Evaluate.

Essentialize.

Compare.

Identify. Identify. Identify.

I really like the way the steps are presented, but experience tells me that it is not a one time process. This is just one iteration with the steps being revisited and refined iteration after iteration.

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I think its generally understood that as you move further from the self-evident axioms, things become less certain, there is more chance of error in logic.

It is generally understood by whom? That is certainly not the Objectivist position.

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I really like the way the steps are presented, but experience tells me that it is not a one time process.  This is just one iteration with the steps being revisited and refined iteration after iteration.

You're right. Objectivists actually have a term for what you're talking about - the "spiral theory of knowledge." It's the idea that your knew knowledge clarifies your old knowledge so that you don't just learn something and move on, but keep returning to it over time.

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Here's a question. Why didn't Rand call her philosophy "Existentialism"? Symantically, it would fit great with her philosophy. But the name was taken, by people who put forth ideas she disagreed with. She might have agreed with some things Neitche said, and other Existentialists, but she diverged on major points [edit: for the integrity of a philosophy, I would argue, any *point* is major]. What would have been the motivation for her to try to call herself an Existentialist anyway and simply try to steer the name towards the direction of her ideas, the way people do with Objectivism? Maybe she would do this if she was uncertain in her convictions, or if she wanted to ride on the coattails of other famous philosophers before her, the way the Branden's or David Kelly's of the world do with her philosophy.

"Objectivism," like "Existentialism," is a great name for a philosophy. Maybe you want to base your ideas on objective reality.. objective existential reality, even, but you disagree with the way Ayn Rand did it. But if you're brilliant enough to top Ayn Rand, you should certainly be brilliant enough to come up with a name for your philosophy. Otherwise you're just a stowaway trying to profit off of Rand's enduring popularity.

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Thank you MinorityOfOnefor clearing that up. Applications seem like derivatives from which nothing else can be derived; they are simply views of something. I've given up the hope that I can stop the "official" definition at some place fair. It would indeed lead to an utterly subjective definition of Objectivism.

I regard the efforts to preserve the integrity of the definiton of Objectivism as important to a certain extent. Certainly the definition cannot be allowed to stray off until the word loses any value. But I think the issue really is the debate over fact and value, over toleration. I won't start another long discussion about it here, since I'm sure you've all been there and done that. Anyway, I've only begun to read through the essays of ARI and TOC to determine who I agree with.

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Anyway, I've only begun to read through the essays of ARI and TOC to determine who I agree with.

It might be helpful to read Ayn Rand too.

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Sorry for flipping around, but I just realized a solution to the "relative to context" problem after reading David Kelley's essay and I want to know what you guys think of it. First thing's first, here's what I read:

Peikoff also argues that philosophy does not change with the growth of knowledge because "it is the base and precondition of that growth." [6]This is less than a half-truth, since it is true only of the axioms. An axiom is a self-evident principle that is implicit in all knowledge. Once it is grasped, it is not subject to further confirmation, qualification, or revision in light of new evidence, because it defines the standards by which evidence is used. Apart from the axioms, however, philosophical principles are not self-evident; and while they serve to integrate the rest of our knowledge, they do not provide its base in the way the axioms do. On the contrary, such principles rest inductively on the very body of knowledge which they integrate and explain. As a result, these principles are not acontextual; they are not evidentially closed. By the very nature of inductive knowledge, they are subject to further confirmation, qualification, or revision.

What if Objectivism could be defined only by its axioms? Isn't there a firm dividing line between axioms and non-axioms? And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the entire philosophy supposedly drawn in accordance with the axioms? So if there is only one non-contradictory way to do so, those holding such a philosophy should all reach the same conclusions about ethics and politics (or else have constructive debates on them).

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David Kelley's argument is a straw man.

Peikoff also argues that philosophy does not change with the growth of knowledge because "it is the base and precondition of that growth." [6] This is less than a half-truth, since it is true only of the axioms.  Once it is grasped, it is not subject to further confirmation, qualification, or revision in light of new evidence, because it defines the standards by which evidence is used. Apart from the axioms, however, philosophical principles are not self-evident; and while they serve to integrate the rest of our knowledge, they do not provide its base in the way the axioms do.

Peikoff never claimed that they did nor that all philosophical principles are self-evident. All Peikoff said was that the growth of knowledge requires a philosophical base. Peikoff did not say that the philosophical base had to be identified or understood or be explicit or self-evident. All he said was that it had to exist, even if only implicitly, for men to acquire knowledge.

On the contrary, such principles rest inductively on the very body of knowledge which they integrate and explain. As a result, these principles are not acontextual; they are not evidentially closed. By the very nature of inductive knowledge, they are subject to further confirmation, qualification, or revision.

Here Kelley is talking about EXPLICIT philosophical principles, which Peikoff was not.

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What if Objectivism could be defined only by its axioms?

But it can't.

Isn't there a firm dividing line between axioms and non-axioms?
Yes. Axioms are the basic premises underlying all knowledge while other ideas only pertain to knowledge of some parts of reality.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the entire philosophy supposedly drawn in accordance with the axioms?

No, it is derived from observation of reality.

So if there is only one non-contradictory way to do so, those holding such a philosophy should all reach the same conclusions about ethics and politics (or else have constructive debates on them).

Since, in fact, they don't, check your premises and especially your method. Try connecting your thinking to, and basing your conclusions on, observation rather than trying to deduce what reality is from the axioms.

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All Peikoff said was that the growth of knowledge requires a philosophical base. Peikoff did not say that the philosophical base had to be identified or understood or be explicit or self-evident. All he said was that it had to exist, even if only implicitly, for men to acquire knowledge ... Here Kelley is talking about EXPLICIT philosophical principles, which Peikoff was not.

This seems pretty obvious. One of the first arguments Peikoff makes in OPAR is that we all have philosophy, even if our's is non-explicit and contradictory.

But it can't.

You mean it is just impossible, or legally impossible, or what?

No, it is derived from observation of reality.

Okay I was hoping you would correct me on this one because I re-read your post on this subject and couldn't understand what you meant. So, everything is derived from observation, but isn't it still true that no part of objectivism may contradict the axioms? If that is true, we should still reach the same political/ethical conclusions, except for areas when we make different observations, which would require further debate.

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