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Would Objectivists ever come together and settle in one place?

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A wise man once told me, "life is practice." You continually discover new truths throughout your life. I'm 25. If I haven't learned a lot more about life by the time I'm 50, I'm clearly doing something wrong. None of us are "the man." We all have something we can learn, somewhere in life that we're making a mistake that we could improve on. Apart from axioms (that we could always "question" but will never change) we should question anything that we are uncertain on. We should even question things that we are certain on, from time to time, to see if new evidence is available to contradict our position.

One of Ayn Rand's biggest mistakes, in my opinion, was branding Objectivism as a "closed system." That basically implies that she was right on 100% of things. We aren't a cult of personality, though. Few objectivists today glorify tobacco or think a woman president out-of-bounds. Ayn Rand left many political topics, like immigration, entirely unaddressed in her written work. Now it's one of the biggest sticking points among Objectivists. Which is a shame, because we all agree on a lot more than we disagree on.

There's an old analogy about porcupines. They try to huddle together for warmth, but their barbs stick out so they can't get too close. A lot of O'ists that I've interacted with are "barb-y." If I argue with them for too long, some of them will question whether or not I'm actually an Objectivist, in some sort of no-true-scotsman fallacy. The truth is, that the mind is so complex, and you have thousands of subconscious and conscious premises and conclusions, that we will NEVER agree on everything.

The main tenets, though, of objective reality in metaphysics, rationality in epistemology, selfishness in ethics, capitalism in politics, and heroism in art, I think we all agree on those in principle. Some of the sticking points, like quantum mechanics and its implications, or  immigration, we might disagree on. That doesn't make your opponents "non-Objectivists," though. Remember Peikoff on concept formation. Some tables have three legs. Some have four legs. They're all still tables. We're not some religion that kills each other over what sect we're part of. We're supposed to be rational individuals.

You can either be wedded to every utterance of Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff like they are ayatollahs, or you can be an individual and think for yourself.

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On 9/29/2017 at 10:13 AM, DonAthos said:

Many Objectivists approach the philosophy quite dogmatically. It sometimes seems like the smallest deviation from what is perceived to be orthodox opinion (or behavior) is met with strong rejection.

There are three ideas here. First, the "smallest deviation..." of ideas and opinions should not be met with "strong objection" (by which I think you mean things like shunning someone or impugning their character).

Dogmatism may be correlated to shunning -- particularly in then eyes of the shunned -- but it is not a necessary precondition. Some people are not being dogmatic, and still think their opposition is "being dishonest" etc. Also, dogmatism is rarely self-recognized. So, it's better to have a rule that says "I won't shun/curse ... this type of opposition" rather than "I won't shun/curse ... this type of opposition when I'm being dogmatic".

As for "orthodox opinion", I doubt that's too closely correlated. I've seen "heretics" can cuss people, turn debates into personal attacks, and display a constant premise that their "orthodox" opponent is dishonest or dumb or whatever. These comes from both sides: orthodox and heretic.

 

On 9/29/2017 at 11:01 AM, Easy Truth said:

If you believe, to the best of your ability that the other person is incorrect, when do you give yourself the right to stop communicating? When can one call another person dishonest, or deluded, or not worth talking to?

There are a lot of reasons to stop communicating on a particular subject. In contexts like this forum, I think it should be done earlier rather than later. Often, it is clear that the two sides have stated their respective positions, and disagree after a couple of posts to and fro. After that, the marginal productivity of further immediate discussion drops to zero. At the very least, one should give a few days or weeks for both sides to chew on contra opinions.  Sometimes, even returning after a while is of no value because the other person does not the same context/premises: productive discussion would require an exploration of the underlying context/premises. 

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37 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

There are a lot of reasons to stop communicating on a particular subject. In contexts like this forum, I think it should be done earlier rather than later. Often, it is clear that the two sides have stated their respective positions, and disagree after a couple of posts to and fro. After that, the marginal productivity of further immediate discussion drops to zero.

1

Maybe. I am not sure about that. There seems to be more tolerance for "drilling into" a subject matter for some than others.

I personally don't have confidence in my ability to determine what should be abandoned. Clearly, there are times when a person seems completely in another world and I won't benefit from the interaction. And of course, there are those who just want to create discord and the drama that goes with it.

But I feel like I am in a class that has "first graders" and PhDs in the same classroom. The first graders will frustrate me especially when they think they know more than they do. But in trying to teach them, in the process of clarifying for them, in many cases, things get more clear for me. Sometimes it turns out that they are first graders only in some areas and not others.

In this classroom, I also have to be careful that I don't alienate the PhDs because I will lose my opportunity to learn if I frustrate them too much. Then the problem I have to overcome is not knowing that I don't know what I don't know. You probably have a better sense because you have more experience with the conversations than I do.

Since I am here to extend my own knowledge, I am here to learn, I expect to learn, that is the only guide I have. 

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1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

There are three ideas here. First, the "smallest deviation..." of ideas and opinions should not be met with "strong objection" (by which I think you mean things like shunning someone or impugning their character).

Agreed. (And yes, those are the sorts of things I had in mind.)

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Dogmatism may be correlated to shunning -- particularly in then eyes of the shunned -- but it is not a necessary precondition. Some people are not being dogmatic, and still think their opposition is "being dishonest" etc.

Absolutely. And sometimes people are dishonest.

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Also, dogmatism is rarely self-recognized. So, it's better to have a rule that says "I won't shun/curse ... this type of opposition" rather than "I won't shun/curse ... this type of opposition when I'm being dogmatic".

I agree.

Someday I plan on digging fully into evasion, which is one of those topics I find fascinating, but for now: if we allow that an evasive person does not necessarily know when he's being evasive (at least with full, conscious awareness), then I would argue that it yet falls on those who do not consider themselves to be evading to develop strategies for rooting out their own evasiveness... even when and where they don't think it applies to them!

Primarily this comes down to behaviors, or habits, or, as you say, "rules." I've noticed that a lot of times in threads and running conversations, people will just let a question sit there and go unanswered. And the question can come up again and again, and still the second party will not answer the question (oftentimes without outright refusal, but just through ignoring it).

There may be a variety of reasons why this is so, yet I also associate this potentially with evasion; and so, I've made it my policy to try to answer questions asked of me throughout a debate, even (or especially) when my first "instinct" is to leave the question unanswered. It may not be a magic bullet, and I might not always succeed in my efforts, but that's one of the ways I seek to guard against my own evasiveness, even when I am utterly convinced of the correctness of my position.

I have come to believe that there are several behaviors that can be associated with evasion, and I'm working to identify and address them in my personal habits.

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As for "orthodox opinion", I doubt that's too closely correlated. I've seen "heretics" can cuss people, turn debates into personal attacks, and display a constant premise that their "orthodox" opponent is dishonest or dumb or whatever. These comes from both sides: orthodox and heretic.

I agree with you that this sort of thing is not exclusive to the "orthodoxy," and may be true of many "heretics" as well, but I do believe that it is characteristic of the current Objectivist "orthodoxy" (and sometimes, in itself, constitutes a point of departure with perceived "heretics"). I believe it's one of the things (though not the only thing) holding Objectivism back. It's also what would, in part, sink any potential Objectivist society, as raised in this thread. Splintering, schisms, denunciations... no thanks to all that.

The spirit which would characterize a truly rational community -- the kind of place good human beings would actually want to live in, and associate themselves with -- has been underserved in Objectivist literature, imo.

Edited by DonAthos

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1 hour ago, DonAthos said:

Someday I plan on digging fully into evasion, which is one of those topics I find fascinating, but for now: if we allow that an evasive person does not necessarily know when he's being evasive (at least with full, conscious awareness), then I would argue that it yet falls on those who do not consider themselves to be evading to develop strategies for rooting out their own evasiveness... even when and where they don't think it applies to them!

This is a good point but then when do you ever have the right to be certain?

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2 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

This is a good point but then when do you ever have the right to be certain?

Now see, your question leads me to the problem I have with how people typically conceive of "certainty" (or at least how that conception presents itself in discussion). I think I'd mentioned elsewhere that "certainty" (like evasion) needs further exploration, and I don't know if I'm equipped for it at present.

But as a shorthand, if we look at the skills necessary for what I believe to be "good thinking," which includes strategies for rooting out one's own potential for evasiveness, and etc., and say -- "well, yes -- but when can we be certain?" -- then we are looking for the wrong thing. The process of being willing to examine (and re-examine) one's own beliefs, in the face of new evidence or new arguments (or even a fresh perspective) doesn't have a stopping point, a point at which you can rest and not perform any of that work anymore. It is an ongoing process. Certainty, whatever it is, cannot be threatened or compromised by the idea that we must be on guard against the possibility of our own evasion.

Peikoff says of "certainty": "Idea X is 'certain' if, in a given context of knowledge, the evidence for X is conclusive. In such a context, all the evidence supports X and there is no evidence to support any alternative..."

And this is fine; I use "certainty" in, I'm sure, this way (or very nearly so). But all of these assessments that we make (for instance, when we decide that "all the evidence supports X" or "there is no evidence to support any alternative") -- there is yet the potential that we may make a mistake in such an assessment. When we consider ourselves certain about X, that is not some guarantee for the correctness of X (or the correctness of our evaluation of our own certainty) such that we are permitted to stop thinking.

I'm not saying that we cannot consider ourselves "certain" on some given point. We can. (And in fact, I think we must.) But this does not relieve us from the duties of thinking, of rooting out the potential error -- even in those cases where we consider ourselves certain.

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2 hours ago, DonAthos said:

And this is fine; I use "certainty" in, I'm sure, this way (or very nearly so). But all of these assessments that we make (for instance, when we decide that "all the evidence supports X" or "there is no evidence to support any alternative") -- there is yet the potential that we may make a mistake in such an assessment. When we consider ourselves certain about X, that is not some guarantee for the correctness of X (or the correctness of our evaluation of our own certainty) such that we are permitted to stop thinking.

"Certainty is a contextual assessment, and in countless situations the context permits no other". OPAR (p. 181). So, within a context, you have no better choice but to be certain. As in it would be unethical to be uncertain if all the facts available to you indicate a certain truth. At this point, it comes down to the validity of your emotions, if they are in step with your thoughts. When I doubt, I feel fear. When I feel fear, I doubt. 

"Doubt, rationally exercised, is a temporary, transitional state, which is applicable only to (some) higher-level questions—and which itself expresses a cognitive judgment: that the evidence one has is still inconclusive. As such, doubt is made possible only by a vast context of knowledge in the doubter’s mind. The doubter must know both facts and logic; he must know the facts known so far—and also the means by which in principle his doubt is eventually to be removed, i.e., what else is required to reach full proof." OPAR (p. 181).

So doubt is only justified when you have knowledge that (justifies?) or necessitates it. What I read into this is that: if you know how to prove something if you know the elements needed for something to be true, but know that a few things are missing, you can doubt. Otherwise, with no knowledge about something, you have no right to doubt. He calls it "pathological or arbitrary" doubt.

(I have some doubt that I got it wrong, but I think it is correct)

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I had intended to respond to the actual topic, but I see that it has strayed.  Since I have a quick thought on certainty, I'll post that first, and later post on the topic.

Why do we need the concept of certainty in the first place? 

To borrow a method from Rand: Imagine a being whose mental processes were so rapid that it could timely re-evaluate any conclusion it has reached when there was even a suggestion that the conclusion was wrong.  Such a being would have no need of certainty; all of his conclusions could remain provisional, subject to re-evaluation at any time.  What gives rise to the need for certainty is that human beings are not like this hypothetical robot; an attempt at constant re-evaluation would necessarily fail.  Human beings need criteria by which they can decide when it is not necessary to re-evaluate their conclusions.  Certainty is one such criterion.

There is more to certainty than this, of course, but a consideration of the concept without reference to its function in human life isn't likely to be productive.

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5 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

"Certainty is a contextual assessment, and in countless situations the context permits no other". OPAR (p. 181). So, within a context, you have no better choice but to be certain. As in it would be unethical to be uncertain if all the facts available to you indicate a certain truth.

I agree with this. I would only note, to try to further press the point that I have been attempting to make, that Peikoff uses the term "assessment," and so do I. The decision that I am "certain" of something is only so good as the assessment I have made, the conclusion that I've reached (in my particular context). Considering myself "certain" of some conclusion, in itself, doesn't speak to whether I've made proper assessments along the way -- and many people consider themselves "certain" of things, and are wrong.

And so, I think it a poor policy, in general, to refuse to examine or reconsider those matters of which we are certain. This is, again, easy to understand when we're talking about other people who hold beliefs we consider to be obviously false (the people who are "certain" that Jesus rose from the dead, say) -- "stop," we would say to such people, "forget that you're 'certain' of your belief and check your premises!" -- and yet I do not exempt myself from the requirement, because even an Objectivist may consider himself certain of a thing and be wrong.

Quote

"Doubt, rationally exercised, is a temporary, transitional state, which is applicable only to (some) higher-level questions—and which itself expresses a cognitive judgment: that the evidence one has is still inconclusive. As such, doubt is made possible only by a vast context of knowledge in the doubter’s mind. The doubter must know both facts and logic; he must know the facts known so far—and also the means by which in principle his doubt is eventually to be removed, i.e., what else is required to reach full proof." OPAR (p. 181).

So doubt is only justified when you have knowledge that (justifies?) or necessitates it. What I read into this is that: if you know how to prove something if you know the elements needed for something to be true, but know that a few things are missing, you can doubt. Otherwise, with no knowledge about something, you have no right to doubt. He calls it "pathological or arbitrary" doubt.

I agree with Peikoff here, too. If we try to translate all of this into concrete terms, or a situation (even a hypothetical), we might have a better appreciation for this sort of "certainty." Which is to say "certainty in context."

Let's suppose (as is true) that I believe that Bigfoot does not exist. Let us suppose that I consider myself certain of this knowledge. I hold myself to be certain in this way because, "in a given context of knowledge [that is: my knowledge of the world], the evidence for X [here: the non-existence of Bigfoot] is conclusive." With due respect to the supposed difficulty of "proving a negative," let us say (in the manner of Sagan's "Dragon in My Garage," if that means anything to you) that I'm satisfied that all of the extant "evidence" (that we have not found fossils, skeletons, living Bigfeet, etc., etc., despite having explored so much of the planet's surface) supports the hypothesis that "Bigfoot does not exist" and that there is no evidence to support any alternative.

Okay, I think this is fair enough, if I understand Peikoff right (and I invite correction if you think I do not). Bigfoot does not exist and I am justifiably certain of it.

Yet now let's suppose that a close friend approaches me and asserts that he has found Bigfoot while roaming in the woods. My context has now changed. I now have information I did not have before -- or as you put it, "the facts available to me" have increased. And my assessment of evidence (whether all of the evidence now points to the non-existence of Bigfoot, or whether there is evidence to support an alternate) must accordingly change (depending on a host of factors, including my assessment of my friend's reliability, and etc.). Suppose I go with my friend to trace his steps (perhaps expressing substantial doubt in his narrative, yet wanting to humor him out of affection)... and... I find large footprints in the woods. That's yet more information. And then suppose we track the footprints and discover a cave, and in that cave I find an eight foot tall, hairy ape-like man (or man-like ape, or whatever).

At some point (perhaps not yet this point; perhaps some point in the future, following DNA testing and consulting a psychiatrist and what not), it may well be that I now consider myself certain that Bigfoot exists. (We can expect stages in between, from the first "certainty" to the second, where I consider myself unsatisfied, or doubtful, of all sorts of things.)

What this means to me here and now is not that I "doubt" the claim that Bigfoot does not exist. Bigfoot does not exist. I am certain of it. Yet I also recognize that there are things which could theoretically happen which would necessitate me to revise my beliefs. And as to why that recognition matters, it may influence me if/when I'm in a situation (or an analogous one) where a friend of mine insists that he has seen Bigfoot. If I am certain that Bigfoot does not exist, and if that "certainty" means to me that I will never discover evidence to the contrary (because no such "evidence" could possibly exist), then maybe I am less inclined even to humor my friend. Maybe I would miss out on the discovery of the century (and also the opportunity to exchange a false belief for a true one).

4 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Why do we need the concept of certainty in the first place? 

To borrow a method from Rand: Imagine a being whose mental processes were so rapid that it could timely re-evaluate any conclusion it has reached when there was even a suggestion that the conclusion was wrong.  Such a being would have no need of certainty; all of his conclusions could remain provisional, subject to re-evaluation at any time.  What gives rise to the need for certainty is that human beings are not like this hypothetical robot; an attempt at constant re-evaluation would necessarily fail.  Human beings need criteria by which they can decide when it is not necessary to re-evaluate their conclusions.  Certainty is one such criterion.

There is more to certainty than this, of course, but a consideration of the concept without reference to its function in human life isn't likely to be productive.

I think this is on the right track.

The danger is when we sunder some conclusion from the possibility of re-evaluation, even in the face of important or relevant new information (there's more to be said on this point); if human beings need criteria by which they can decide when it is not necessary to re-evaluate their conclusions, then we also need criteria by which we can decide when it is necessary -- and then we need the willingness and ability to do so.

Edited by DonAthos

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17 hours ago, DonAthos said:

The danger is when we sunder some conclusion from the possibility of re-evaluation, even in the face of important or relevant new information (there's more to be said on this point); if human beings need criteria by which they can decide when it is not necessary to re-evaluate their conclusions, then we also need criteria by which we can decide when it is necessary -- and then we need the willingness and ability to do so.

Very true.

As I see it, there are four factors to consider when deciding whether to re-evaluate.  1) the importance of the conclusion to one's life, 2) the degree of confidence one has in the conclusion, 3) the nature of the evidence suggesting that re-evaluation is in order, and 4) the effort needed to do the re-evaluation.

Suppose, for example, that I unknowingly misremember the location of a tree that was planted forty years ago, a tree that has long since been removed.  A reliable person tells me that I have erred -- do I re-evaluate?  There is some value in correcting even minor memory errors.  Furthermore, I'm well aware that my memory of such details is fallible.  The person is reliable, but his memory is also fallible .  It would take some serious effort to discover who is right.  So, I don't re-evaluate.  If, however, I am presented with a picture, I immediately correct my error.

There is a  conclusion that has withstood testing by the scientific method.  I have a high degree of confidence in the conclusion.  On the other hand, as I'm not a scientist, I am not immediately concerned with the conclusion's truth.  Along comes some scientific newbie who is "certain" that he has a refutation of this conclusion.  Since it would cost me quite a bit of effort to evaluate the conclusion, I do not.

I'm arguing with someone who insists that there is no such thing as existence.  My conclusion is of supreme importance.  But I know there is no possible counterargument -- were there, it would exist, thereby refuting itself.  I do not re-evaluate.

I'm arguing with someone who insists that the law of identity does (or does not) entail a wholly deterministic universe.  Again, it's important.  Moreover, I think the topic is worthy of consideration, not because I agree (or disagree) but because it's a tricky area where it's easy to go astray.  But my opponent is an idiot, who rehashes arguments I've considered from many angles.  There's no point in re-evaluating in this circumstance, as I am unlikely to escape any errors I previously made and my opponent isn't likely to provide any useful insight.

OTOH, if I were a third my age and so hadn't much experience with the topic, even an idiot might accidentally stir up useful thought.  I might well invest the effort in reconsidering my conclusions.

"Certainty" is a measure of confidence, with "certain" being one extreme.  There are very few conclusions where one can be so confident that no circumstances would justify re-evaluation.  The axiomatic concepts are the only such conclusions that immediately come to mind.  Everywhere else, the possibility of error lurks, so one should not be absolutely confident of one's conclusions.  (And even with the axiomatic concepts, it is sometimes worth re-evaluating, not the concepts themselves, but what they mean.)  But even a lack of absolute certainty is not sufficient cause to justify re-evaluating; there must be sufficient reason to do so and the benefit of doing so must outweigh the cost.

 

Edited by Invictus2017
minor copyediting

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7 minutes ago, Invictus2017 said:

Very true.

Oh man, I dunno who you are or where you've been, but you need to stick around! I have nothing to add to your post except my agreement and thanks.

(The "like" option isn't showing up for me on your post, so consider this my "like.")

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On Monday September 25, 2017 at 6:32 PM, happiness said:

Obviously, this isn't in the near term future, but if the Objectivist movement was to grow to, say, a few hundred thousand, would there be any incentive for them to band together and settle in a common area? Would this even be desirable?

It would be hard to be an Objectivist -- or even a near-Objectivist -- and not see the costs, material and psychological, of living in the irrational societies that are the only existing ones.  All other things being equal, only individual considerations would keep an Objectivist from moving to a place where the typical person was a fundamentally rational person.

 

There are, aside from those individual considerations, three reasons why Objectivists don't pick up and leave.  The most obvious one is that there is seemingly no place to go.  The second is that proposed societies have generally been rather frontier-like, and Objectivists are reluctant to give up the benefits of Western society even in the face of their costs.  The third is that the proposed societies have all been libertarian, not Objectivist, and poorly thought out as well.

 

This is a topic that is near and dear to me, and one that I intend to write about.  However, I think I'll start a separate topic for that.

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On 9/27/2017 at 9:56 AM, splitprimary said:

sounds like the free state project. it's a very cool idea! it definitely is a big value to live around people with very similar philosophy, the problem is that there are so many competing considerations when it comes to where to settle down, too: jobs, climate, family...

The free state project is pretty nutty IMO. These people are talking about making drastic life changes in the name of a completely hopeless cause. Even if a fraction of the people who gave them a signature actually followed through on their alleged commitment to move there, what would 20,000 people accomplish on a state scale? 

Edited by happiness

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