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The Epistemology of Psychoanalysis in "Fact and Value"

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I'm referring to the essay "Fact and Value" by Peikoff:

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...=objectivism_fv

This paragraph makes perfect sense:

"Just as every “is” implies an “ought,” so every identification of an idea’s truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates. The evaluation, to repeat, comes from the answer to two related questions: what kind of volitional cause led people to this idea? and, to what kind of consequences will this idea lead in practice?"

But I'm unclear as to the epistemology which allows Peikoff (or anyone) to reliably draw conclusions like the following:

I) "Now we must note that falsehood does not necessarily imply vice; honest errors of knowledge are possible. But such errors are not nearly so common as some people wish to think, especially in the field of philosophy. In our century, there have been countless mass movements dedicated to inherently dishonest ideas—e.g., Nazism, Communism, non-objective art, non-Aristotelian logic, egalitarianism... The originators, leaders and intellectual spokesmen of all such movements are necessarily evaders on a major scale; they are not merely mistaken, but are crusading irrationalists."

II) But now I understand the basic cause; I see the attacks’ philosophic meaning. In the minds of the “tolerance”-people, there are only two possibilities in regard to moral judgment: moralizing or emotionalism, dogma or whim, i.e., intrinsicism or subjectivism. Such people literally have no concept of “objectivity” in regard to values. Their accusations, therefore, are expressions of their own actual philosophy and inner state. The typical (though not invariable) pattern in this kind of case is that the accuser started out in Objectivism as a dogmatist, cursing or praising people blindly, in obedience, as he thought, to his new-found “authorities.” Then at last his pent-up resentment at this self-made serfdom erupts—and he becomes an angry subjectivist, denouncing the “excessive anger” of those who make moral judgments. The swing from intrinsicism to subjectivism, however, is not a significant change; these philosophies are merely two forms in which the notion of “non-objective value” rules a man’s brain.

As much respect as I'd like to have for Peikoff, this all strikes me as unsupported psychobabble. It seems to me that assertions from psychology always fail for two major reasons. First, the (nontrivial) psychological motivations of an debater necessarily have no relationship with the logical validity or invalidity of his/her argument. Second, assertions from psychology cannot ever be supported by meaningful evidence, so they cannot be accepted or refuted on the basis of available evidence. It makes sense only to dismiss them entirely.

Can anyone defend Peikoff's epistemology here? Seems hopeless to me.

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As much respect as I'd like to have for Peikoff, this all strikes me as unsupported psychobabble. It seems to me that assertions from psychology always fail for two major reasons. First, the (nontrivial) psychological motivations of an debater necessarily have no relationship with the logical validity or invalidity of his/her argument. Second, assertions from psychology cannot ever be supported by meaningful evidence, so they cannot be accepted or refuted on the basis of available evidence. It makes sense only to dismiss them entirely.

We already have a long thread on David Kelley and his anti-Objectivist stance. And some of the issues you bring up have been talked about there. However, I think you are confusing philosophy with psychology, as if everything going on in a man's mind is psychological. Psychology has to do with subconsciously held premises that the person may not even be aware of explicitly, or conflicts in the subconscious that may or may not reflect his philosophy. Objectivism considers it to not be good to psycho-analyze someone, or try to guess what is going on with their subconscious, unless one is a professional psychologist or if you know them well enough to do that. Otherwise, his subconscious is not really observable directly in what he writes or speaks.

When a person writes something, and one assumes he's not putting on an act and is conveying what is on his conscious mind, then one can use philosophic detection on what he has written or spoken. And one can tell if he is rational, irrational, or mistaken. This has nothing to do with his subconscious, but rather it is evidence of how his conscious mind is working. Is he avoiding facts and deliberately guiding you away from facts (especially about himself), then he is being evasive -- that is what the term means. It's like a suspected criminal avoiding talking about where he was last night around the time of a murder -- he's being evasive. And Objectivism considers evasion to be the root of irrationality and of all evil.

And while a person can and ought to consider another person to be innocent until proven guilty, one has to judge the rationality of their mind by what they write and say.

Like it or not, to a good philosophical detective, the way your mind works is evident in everything your say and write.

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Philosophical principles are a requirement and inevitability in human life, as Ayn Rand argued in Philosophy: Who Needs It?. Since people do have and act according to the ideas they hold, it is not invalid to try to identify with which ideas a man's words and deeds are consistent. Dr. Peikoff identifies possible philosophic positions at work, not psychoses or complexes. It is not psychobabble.

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What you've each said makes sense and squares perfectly with something Rand said in a 1971 issue of "The Objectivist"

: "Moral judgment must be objective, i.e., based on perceivable, demonstrable facts. A man's moral character must be judged on the basis of his actions, his statements and his conscious convictions—not on the basis of inferences (usually, spurious) about his subconscious."

Still, how can statements like

"In our century, there have been countless mass movements dedicated to inherently dishonest ideas—e.g., Nazism, Communism, non-objective art, non-Aristotelian logic, egalitarianism... The originators, leaders and intellectual spokesmen of all such movements are necessarily evaders on a major scale; they are not merely mistaken, but are crusading irrationalists"

be reconciled with Rand's position? Why are they "necessarily evaders" and not just mistaken? Evaders deserve far harsher moral judgment than simply mistaken persons, so the contention that they are "necessarily evaders" needs a whole lot of support. To be fair, I don't think "Fact and Value" would have been an appropriate setting for Peikoff to expand on those points, but they need to be supported somehow. Does he address them in other writings? Does Rand?

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Why are they "necessarily evaders" and not just mistaken? Evaders deserve far harsher moral judgment than simply mistaken persons, so the contention that they are "necessarily evaders" needs a whole lot of support.

Because they deliberately overlook many, many facts in order to come up with their mental meanderings. They were skirting issues and facts. This is most evident in Kant where he does not make any references to the facts of reality or evidence to support his neumena world. Communism evades the fact that all men are not equal in their achievements, and therefore should not be equal in their rewards. Etc. for the rest. Miss Rand does speak a lot about how Americans can't really conceive of evil because they are free, which means they are free not to deal with evil people.

Besides, mistaken means that once someone points out the errors they will change their minds about their previous convictions. Very few if any Marxist professors will do that; similarly, very few if any ardent religionists will backtrack on their god talk if errors are pointed out to them. To hold onto "a mistake" is to hold onto an irrationality, because mistaken means that your ideas do not match reality. If someone points that out to you, then you need to check your premises and not evade the fact that you are wrong.

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Well, I see you've got it all figured out now but I'll post what I had started anyway.

I agree with Mr. Miovas that this is a case of philosophic detection and not psychologizing.

Can anyone defend Peikoff's epistemology here? Seems hopeless to me.

I'm surprised you would have any problem with citation I. How would you evaluate the originators, leaders and intellectual spokesmen of Nazism and Communism?

As for citation II, it might help a little to add these few more sentences to the beginning of the quote:

FOR DECADES, onetime advocates of Objectivism who have turned into champions of “tolerance” (or “kindness” or “compassion”) have leveled a specific accusation against Ayn Rand and against anyone else who pronounces moral judgment. (Kelley a few years ago accused Ayn Rand and me of it to my face, and I broke off all relations with him.) The accusation is that we are “dogmatic moralizers” or “angry emotionalists.” Up to now, I could explain these attacks only psychologically, in terms of the attackers’ cowardice or psychopathology.

In this instance Dr. Peikoff is talking about a specific group of people: one time advocates of Objectivism. These are people he knows personally and so, in my estimation, would be perfectly justified in engaging in some minor amount of psychologizing. But (and this should please you) notice how he refrained from doing so. He held off on passing judgment until he had actually identified the philosophical meaning of their attacks on Objectivism.

These are people who at one time advocated Objectivism and now they rail against it. They dislike what they see as intolerance. Intolerance to what? To evil ideas.

Since they never understood or actually agreed with Objectivism and yet they advocated it, it is clear that they never had a desire to properly judge ideas and believe that you can only accept ideas via whim or dogma. They don't believe that it is possible to judge ideas objectively and so they advocate tolerance.

They want to separate is from ought and default on the necessity to judge ideas so as to make the world more tolerant to evil ideas and their advocates, themselves most especially.

They want to default on doing what you said you had agreed with:

"Just as every “is” implies an “ought,” so every identification of an idea’s truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates. The evaluation, to repeat, comes from the answer to two related questions: what kind of volitional cause led people to this idea? and, to what kind of consequences will this idea lead in practice?"

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Because they deliberately overlook many, many facts in order to come up with their mental meanderings. They were skirting issues and facts. This is most evident in Kant where he does not make any references to the facts of reality or evidence to support his neumena world. Communism evades the fact that all men are not equal in their achievements, and therefore should not be equal in their rewards. Etc. for the rest. Miss Rand does speak a lot about how Americans can't really conceive of evil because they are free, which means they are free not to deal with evil people.

Besides, mistaken means that once someone points out the errors they will change their minds about their previous convictions. Very few if any Marxist professors will do that; similarly, very few if any ardent religionists will backtrack on their god talk if errors are pointed out to them. To hold onto "a mistake" is to hold onto an irrationality, because mistaken means that your ideas do not match reality. If someone points that out to you, then you need to check your premises and not evade the fact that you are wrong.

I partially disagree with this statement. Communism does not evade the fact that men are not equal in their achievements, it simply states that men can receive equal reward for unequal contributions. From each according to ability to each based upon need. Ultimately, the utopian idea is that men can live without any form of trade while producing at their maximum and taking (without any controls in place) solely what they need.

Now both Marx and Lenin, at least in their writings, believed the proletariat would embrace this idea and never actually evaded the fact that all would receive the same portions while performing different tasks. They may or may not have been "evaders" as to how they wished to achieve Communism but it does not appear they felt the whole thing was a power-grab scheme from the get-go as say Christianity became when Emperor Constantine and his scribes had their go at the bible.

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I partially disagree with this statement. Communism does not evade the fact that men are not equal in their achievements, it simply states that men can receive equal reward for unequal contributions.

What they were evading was the role of the mind in human achievement -- they didn't identify and even evaded the facts that some men are greater achievers because they have better self-made minds. But then again, communism is anti-consciousness, since it is a form of materialism, and blanks out the connection between achievement and man's mind. Christianity, on the other hand, held that consciousness was superior to the body, and that the best man decries his body in favor of his spirit. Of course, both are wrong and both led to abject misery on earth. There is no mind / body dichotomy, and anyone who sets one against the other must necessarily lead to the destruction of those who follow that practice.

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Huh? How is materialism "anti-consciousness"? What does that even mean?

A true materialist doesn't believe that consciousness even exists, that it is a product of material functioning and has no existence. Some people on this board have looked at their medical brain scans and seeing no consciousness conclude that consciousness does not exist -- they are tending towards materialism. They think the brain exists, but not consciousness. The older version of materialism concluded that since a man is made of flesh and blood and there is not material or matter to consciousness, then consciousness was some type of illusion, and not something that was real.

Consciousness, as understood by Objectivism, is one's awareness of existence. This awareness, while made possible by our means of awareness (which are material) is not itself something that is material. Consciousness is not a thing but rather more like an ability -- the ability to be aware. The communists were materialists, claiming that consciousness didn't exist -- that man was merely material stuff and thoughts and feelings were just by-products rather than being axiomatic. In Objectivism, consciousness is axiomatic because there is no getting beneath the fact that you are aware. Any knowledge you have about the brain and neurology comes after you are aware that you are aware and can never get beneath that awareness.

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A true materialist doesn't believe that consciousness even exists (#1), that it is a product of material functioning (#2) and has no existence.

That's two separate claims. Eliminative materialists might agree with #1, but are a distinct minority of materialists. Materialists broadly taken will agree with #2, but I don't understand how believing that consciousness is the product of material processes makes one "anti-consciousness". A sentence like: "This awareness, while made possible by our means of awareness (which are material) is not itself something that is material. Consciousness is not a thing but rather more like an ability -- the ability to be aware," is something a lot of materialists could get behind - note that you haven't actually proposed the existence of a non-material thing as such. Consciousness doesn't have to be a material thing for a materialist to talk about it coherently. An abstraction from the dispositional and relational properties of material things will do just fine.

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Perhaps I should have said that a true materialist believes that consciousness is a self-deceptive illusion, the way some on this board consider free will in man. Ultimately they fall on the body side of the mind / body dichotomy, with the religionists taking the mind side of the mind / body dichotomy. Both the mystics of the spirit (religionists) and the mystics of muscle (the materialists) deny man's actual nature -- that he is an integrated being of both mind and body. But no, a materialist doesn't think the spirit exists in any fashion. There are some borderline materialists that think one's thoughts and emotions are products of neurology, and not one's awareness of one's consciousness; and if you push them, they will say that consciousness does not exist, that it is just neurons firing and such like that. Consciousness is fundamentally your awareness of existence, and we are aware of this and we can direct it -- self-direct our awareness and our thoughts. There is a species of philosophy called epiphenominalism that claims that our thoughts and such are just our awareness of our neurons firing, but I would say that Objectivism rejects this view of consciousness, because the fundamental is awareness of existence. Part of the point is that we do not know yet what makes it possible for us to be aware of our own awareness, so it is a scientific question, not a philosophical question (i.e. it is not a fundamental).

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Perhaps I should have said that a true materialist believes that consciousness is a self-deceptive illusion, the way some on this board consider free will in man.

Well, good. Now that we've divided the field into ersatz materialists and straw man "true materialists" who actually resemble your description, I think we're in agreement.

Edited by cmdownes

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Well, good. Now that we've divided the field into ersatz materialists and straw man "true materialists" who actually resemble your description, I think we're in agreement.

There are philosophies that deny the axioms, and materialism denies the axiom of consciousness. Of course, they have to be aware of this to be materialists, but they deny it anyhow. That's why I said the true communist is an evader -- he is evading the existence of and the nature of consciousness. And there are plenty of people on this board who deny free will in man and think it is a mystical concept. Man has the ability to be evasive on a massive scale, and most philosophies are like this.

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