Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Sign in to follow this  
 thenelli01

Jan Helfeld Interviews

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Has anyone seen these videos? I came across some on youtube yesterday and it is quite fascinating considering how guarded these people are when it comes to interviews.

Basically, he gets congress(wo)men, presidential candidates, and media pundits and tries to catch them contradicting themselves on principles. He asks core objectivist questions in some interviews and they usually aren't expecting it and flip out.

Here are some good ones:

There are a lot more too, like w/ nancy pelosi, barney frank, etc,

Note: he's not an Objectivist, but he does ask some good questions (also some bad ones).

Edited by Matt Giannelli

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Helfeld says his ultimate value (or end) is a "long and happy life." And he tries to show how an ultimate value is identified by examining the series of means and ends which lead to that ultimate end. And in this he sounds like an Objectivist. But I think he makes a critical mistake which a lot of Objectivists make: he doesn't reduce the concept of "value" to objective reality. He manages to reduce it to the process of driving to the supermarket to acquire food, which is decent. Most people can't even do that. But why are driving, supermarket, and food human values? Because they lead to a long and happy life?

This seems like an intrinsic view of value, suggesting that these things are good because they possess the inherent quality of "long and happy lifeness." As long as you gain one such value after another such value, you will indeed achieve a long and happy life, barring unforeseen disasters. But how does he know which values have the quality of "long and happy lifeness"? And: what if a long and happy life is not possible for him? How would he know which things to value and pursue?

I don't believe Helfeld will convince any anarchists to embrace the idea of limited government, because he lacks an objective basis for values and therefore will struggle to defend the value of individual rights and the need for a government to protect them. Anarchists will argue that society benefits more from natural forces like survival of the fittest (and mutual aid) than man-made impositions like limited government. And that is a difficult position to attack when you don't have a firm grasp on the nature of ethics and individual rights. 

Edited by MisterSwig

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

This seems like an intrinsic view of value, suggesting that these things are good because they possess the inherent quality of "long and happy lifeness." As long as you gain one such value after another such value, you will indeed achieve a long and happy life, barring unforeseen disasters. But how does he know which values have the quality of "long and happy lifeness"? And: what if a long and happy life is not possible for him? How would he know which things to value and pursue?

After I saw this I watched Peikoff's course on values as objective. My understanding is the objective means a combination of what's out there and one's subjective evaluation. Why do you see his view as only being intrinsic? After all, doesn't he also include his evaluation (as a human)?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Why do you see his view as only being intrinsic?

The giveaway was his repeated idea of an ultimate value: "a long and happy life." Life is a continual process. It is a biological series of actions to gain values. So what he's saying is that his ultimate value is the entire lifelong process of gaining values that make him happy. In other words, his ultimate value is the collection of all the values he's ever gained during the course of his life. So we have this set of values, and inherent in each particular item is this idea of the Great Collection, the Ultimate Value. But the Ultimate Value doesn't really exist as a physical thing. It's just a collection that he imagines. It's not his specific, objective existence at that particular moment in time and in that particular context of knowledge. It's instead his total existence throughout time. And that's some kind of idealism.

Edited by MisterSwig

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you saying that you dismiss the very principle of ultimate value as such?

Edited by gio

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, gio said:

Are you saying that you dismiss the very principle of ultimate value as such?

No. I'm saying Helfeld has collectivized the ultimate value, whereas Rand individualized it. For Rand it was man's specific, concrete life, his particular objective existence. For Helfeld it appears to be man's general, abstract life, his universal intrinsic existence.

Maybe I'm not explaining this very well. But I also noticed some of this in his interview style, especially the one with Chris Matthews. Notice how Helfeld is completely obsessed with one question about the redistribution of wealth. It's like he can't move on until he gets the answer he wants from Matthews. He is willing to spoil the entire interview on account of his one purpose: to get the answer he wants. Matthews is a bright enough guy and realizes that he's dealing with something odd, right? So he tries to pump Helfeld for more context, but Helfeld resists and can barely engage in a real back and forth. It's like he has this ideal question and answer session in his head, and when reality doesn't comply, he hits a mental roadblock and can't move on. I believe his standard of value failed him. He didn't value the interview or Matthews. He valued some abstract purpose, which was to get a particular answer to his particular question.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 13/11/2017 at 7:06 PM, MisterSwig said:

But how does he know which values have the quality of "long and happy lifeness"?

Reason?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

No. I'm saying Helfeld has collectivized the ultimate value, whereas Rand individualized it. For Rand it was man's specific, concrete life, his particular objective existence. For Helfeld it appears to be man's general, abstract life, his universal intrinsic existence.

Maybe I'm not explaining this very well. But I also noticed some of this in his interview style, especially the one with Chris Matthews. Notice how Helfeld is completely obsessed with one question about the redistribution of wealth. It's like he can't move on until he gets the answer he wants from Matthews. He is willing to spoil the entire interview on account of his one purpose: to get the answer he wants. Matthews is a bright enough guy and realizes that he's dealing with something odd, right? So he tries to pump Helfeld for more context, but Helfeld resists and can barely engage in a real back and forth. It's like he has this ideal question and answer session in his head, and when reality doesn't comply, he hits a mental roadblock and can't move on. I believe his standard of value failed him. He didn't value the interview or Matthews. He valued some abstract purpose, which was to get a particular answer to his particular question.

Well yes, I don't think Helfield is valuing the interview as such, but that's not his purpose. Helfield is a master at employing the Socratic method. He doesn't want to allow his debate partner to obfuscate or dance around the topic using rhetoric or sophisms, he has to pin down an answer to the question. Once a thesis is agreed upon, then you can show how assent to that thesis leads to condradictions with other held beliefs. But the questioner has to stick to questions about that thesis, otherwise the interlocutor will spin rhetoric and avoid the question. Of course Matthews is too politically savvy to answer directly, but in the end, he does get Matthews to agree in some vague "will of the people" and then quits the interview. I'd score that one clearly for Helfield. You can't penalize Helfield for staying on one topic and wanting to drive the discussion, it's a necessary part of the method.

Edited by 2046

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ah sorry, my autocorrect wreaked havok with that one...

Also: it's an appropriate political cultural point that questioning politicians with the Socratic method is somehow combative, disrespectful, or "trolling." Of course I'd expect no less, I mean these people have invested their whole lives and careers in this and when you expose a contradiction, like when he asked the evil Newt Gengrich why does he support farm subsidies, you're just going to get cognitive dissonance. 

But as a critique of H, when he talks about anarchism, his calm and cool questioning and defining of premises seems to go out the window. In his debate with Walter Block he starts ranting and raving at some point, granted Block is also a dumb dumb, but still. Ah you can't always be perfect.

Edited by 2046

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
40 minutes ago, gio said:
On 11/13/2017 at 10:06 AM, MisterSwig said:

But how does he know which values have the quality of "long and happy lifeness"?

Reason?

More like rationalism, I think.

4 minutes ago, 2046 said:

Hetfield is a master at employing the Socratic method.

Socrates was also an insufferable idealist. Makes sense that Helfeld would use the same annoying conversational style.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

More like rationalism, I think.

I thought your question was "What ought to be?" to solve an aporia.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, gio said:

I thought your question was "What ought to be?" to solve an aporia.

Not really. The question was more rhetorical, meaning he can't know that which doesn't exist. Values are not intrinsic, you see. When he goes to the supermarket, he can't know through reason alone which items will lead to a long and happy life. This requires experience and recall of the experience in addition to reason.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

When he goes to the supermarket, he can't know through reason alone which items will lead to a long and happy life. This requires experience and recall of the experience in addition to reason.

You assume that reason doesn't imply experience, divorcing experience and reason.

Edited by gio

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, gio said:

You assume that reason doesn't imply experience, divorcing experience and reason.

I'm pretty sure that I married them. Why do you think I divorced them?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well regardless, I don't think H was really arguing for any particular detailed version of life as the ultimate value, he specifically says this is not his point. I think his point was more in that when defending a view of rights, you're defending a view of the content of human ethics, and he has doubts that you can settle the content of ethical statements without settling the content of justice and what is the good life generally for man. This is an Aristotelian point that I think is totally valid and one that anarchists should embrace. His view of limited government doesn't necessarily follow, but nonetheless, it's a good point about approach.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, 2046 said:

I think his point was more in that when defending a view of rights, you're defending a view of the content of human ethics, and he has doubts that you can settle the content of ethical statements without settling the content of justice and what is the good life generally for man.

Yes, that was his main point, which I don't think he supported very well. In my initial response I wrote:

On 11/13/2017 at 10:06 AM, MisterSwig said:

Anarchists will argue that society benefits more from natural forces like survival of the fittest (and mutual aid) than man-made impositions like limited government.

Do you have a solid rebuttal for such a position in today's political context? I'm not sure I do, except to make a similar argument as Rand. Basically that anarchy exposes everyone to the constant threat of force, an environment in which reason cannot thrive. Reason being man's means of survival must be protected.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Yes, that was his main point, which I don't think he supported very well. In my initial response I wrote:

Do you have a solid rebuttal for such a position in today's political context? I'm not sure I do, except to make a similar argument as Rand. Basically that anarchy exposes everyone to the constant threat of force, an environment in which reason cannot thrive. Reason being man's means of survival must be protected.

I think the anarchist, armed with the same understanding of rationality can and should wholeheartedly agree that everyone should not be exposed to the constant threat of force. Historically anarchist have argued along those lines you mention more often than Randian lines, but it need not be so.

The anarchist nor the objectivist should accept this distinction between "natural forces" and government as a "man-made imposition." What does that mean to be an imposition versus natural? It's not as if the government exists in some Archimedean point outside of society and the individuals in it. Likewise, "natural forces" are "man-made impositions" in the sense that it's just individual doing things. Neither government nor spontaneous order has any existence outside of the interactions of actual human beings.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×