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dark_unicorn

A Neo-kantian Attack On Objectivism.

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aleph_0, on your definition of dogma you said:

As for my definition, I believe it does take into account perception versus actuality. These dogmatists that I have described obtain their conclusions not from observing reality but from reading Rand alone--taking her conclusions as, per se, the right ones. That is how they have the answers to questions before ever formulating the questions.

At what point does someone, after reading Rand and agreeing with her works, achieve the status of non-dogmatist? I think you would be hard-pressed to find an Objectivist who didn't agree with the notion that one can only properly achieve a proper understanding of Objectivism by first hand knowledge. By what means can you distinguish between someone who has obtained their conclusions from observing reality vs. just reading Rand alone? If I read "The Objectivist Ethics" and find that Rand's ethical formulations fit within my context of knowledge, attained over 25 years of life, and instantly agree with it, does that make me a dogmatist? Or, does it require more observing reality?

Basically, your labelling of dogmatism is based on specious grounds. Dogmatism, as you've defined it, can be attributed to anyone across the intellectual spectrum. I'm not just directing this at you aleph_0, but why is it so pervasive that Objectivists get labelled as dogmatists for having an integrated set of ideas, yet that charge is not directed as equally across board to other belief systems (that truly are dogmatic) such as environmentalists, multiculturalists, or even Kantians for Gods sake! Categorical Imperative? 'I had to deny reason in order to make room for faith' -- that truly sounds like dogma.

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I'm not just directing this at you aleph_0, but why is it so pervasive that Objectivists get labelled as dogmatists for having an integrated set of ideas, yet that charge is not directed as equally across board to other belief systems (that truly are dogmatic) such as environmentalists, multiculturalists, or even Kantians for Gods sake!
I've thought about this question for some years, especially as I've gotten more familiar with Objectivism and have interacted with other Objectivists, and I think that it has a lot to do with people's discomfort with the concept of knowledge. It is very common especially in modern culture to make skeptic disclaimers disavowing certainty, e.g. saying "That's just my opinion", "Of course I might be wrong", or "Others may see things differently". Any claim to have actual knowledge, and not just a "suspicion", is greeted with derisive nose down-looking as dogmatism -- how dare you claim to be certain?! Isn't it all just a matter of opinion? That is what really distinguishes Objectivism from modern philosophy, that Objectivists don't automatically commit intellectual suicide when they make a statement.

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I've thought about this question for some years, especially as I've gotten more familiar with Objectivism and have interacted with other Objectivists, and I think that it has a lot to do with people's discomfort with the concept of knowledge. It is very common especially in modern culture to make skeptic disclaimers disavowing certainty, e.g. saying "That's just my opinion", "Of course I might be wrong", or "Others may see things differently". Any claim to have actual knowledge, and not just a "suspicion", is greeted with derisive nose down-looking as dogmatism -- how dare you claim to be certain?! Isn't it all just a matter of opinion? That is what really distinguishes Objectivism from modern philosophy, that Objectivists don't automatically commit intellectual suicide when they make a statement.

I disagree with this. I think there are some dogmatic Objectivists, and this isnt really related to what they believe, or how much certainty they have or claim to have. There are people I would describe as being 'dogmatic' about views which I share, and am sure are correct.

Dogmatism is more of a general attitutde towards intellectual thought. For example, I'm under the impression that you are pretty much in agreement with all/most of Objectivism and have a lot of certainty about it, but none of your postings on this forum are remotely dogmatic. The same applies to many others here. And yet there are some people who obviously know far less about Objectivism, yet who say things which could easily have been written by some bizzaro Objectivist pope.

I would tentatively identify the following things as being characteristic of dogmatism (none of them are related to any particular belief system - theres no such thing as an intinsically 'dogmatic set of beliefs', its all in the attitude that some believers have towards them):

1) A dislike/mistrust of philosophical problems. Dogmatists generally try to explain away potential problems as quickly as possible, even if this means missing the subtelty that they have. The normal outcome of this is a complete misunderstanding of the issue in question, and a very simplistic 'solution' which can be picked apart in seconds. Nietzsche once spoke about "philosophizing with a hammer" and while he didnt mean this in the obvious way, the literal interpretation does describe the general dogmatic attitude (and they use a sledgehammer)

2) A refusal to submit your beliefs to serious scrutiny. This is the major one. Its not about certainty - its possible to give your beliefs a serious examination and come to the conclusion that they are correct, and this is not dogmatic. However the key word here is _serious_. It means actually reading and engaging with other views, and giving them proper consideration rather than just constructing absurd strawmen every time you hear something you dont like. It means approaching new ideas with a willingness to examine them fairly and learn about them, rather than just trying to 'prove to yourself' that they are wrong/evil (compare to someone who has heard Rand was an evil woman who hated poor people and thought it was fine to kill others if it made you happy, and then picks up a copy of one of her books with the intent of hating her, skims through it in an extremely uncharitably manner, and comes away with the impression that all the bad things people say about her were right. Ditto with someone who does the same to Kant). If you pick up a book already convinced that its going to be bad, you'll normally manage to interpret it in a way that supports your expectations. And this is not an honest reading.

3) A general persecution complex. This one is really bizarre, yet it's very common among certain ideologies almost to the point of being built into them. Marxists are probably the best well known example ("if you disagree then youre part of problem!"), as are radical feminists and (in my limited experience) followers of Lyndon Larouche. Any belief system which has devices built into it to 'explain' why people disagree is likely to produce people with this complex - examples are Freudians who believe those who disagree are repressing, Marxists who believe that anti-Marxists are just suffering from false consicousness, and Objectivists who automatically assume everyone who disagrees is 'evading'. Some people may well be evading (just like some may be repressing or suffering from false consciousness), but assuming this straight away and using it as an excuse to avoid seriously analysing their ideas is a cop-out.

4) The desire to treat all debate as being a battle which must be won at all costs, rather than as something to learn from. This is often connected to an inability to seperate an honest challenge of your beliefs from a personal attack. Some radical left-wing ideologies are really bad for this at the moment, feminism being the most obvious example, as well as anything else where disagreement is liable to get you immediately branded as a reactionary conservative regardless of the form it takes.

5) Claiming to have the ultimate truth about a subject when you dont really know much (/anything) about it. This is the big one after 2), and is probably a direct result of 1) and 2). This is best illustrated by examples, so some paradigm cases would be Objectivists who are adament that modern physics is fundamentally wrong despite having never taken a math class beyond high school level, Christians who believe evolution is wrong despite never studying biology, LaRouchians who believe in a bizarre revision of intellectual history wihtout ever actually learning the 'standard' one, anyone that is convinced global warming must be lies/a conspiracy without bothering to study the evidence of both sides, Marxists who claim that <some_academic_disclipline_X> is really just a bourgeois conspiracy, someone who's sole exposure to academic philosophy has been a 1xx level class yet claims the whole thing is bankrupt, and so on. Again, the dogmatism isnt due to people challenging widely accepted ideas (Michael Behe isnt dogmatic despite being a Creationist and steven_speicher isnt dogmatic despite writing a lot of threads on this forum that challenge various aspects of modern physics), its when people who know pretty much nothing about a subject act like they are experts. If you want to criticise something, learn about it first (and just 'reading a book about it once' doesnt really count, if youre serious about the issue).

Edited by Hal

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Dave, I think you are quite accurate in your analysis. In fact, I still find myself frequently doing exactly what you describe: I preface many of my statements with "I may be wrong, but.." or "From my perspective" or "Some may disagree, but..." It's a tough habit to shake. I'm sure there's a context for those statements, but when it dominates your discourse I think it becomes a problem.

That was a great summary Hal. Shortly after learning about Objectivism, I went to the bookstore and bought books by Bertrand Russell, Kant's CPR, Locke's "Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding", even a book on Foucault, among others such as a books on the History of Philosophy. I found this rewarding and have enhanced my understanding of philosophy to a great extent. However, this requires a lot of time and effort. Is it realistic to expect many people out there to actually do this? How can a cultural/philosophical revolution happen without expecting everyone out there to become philosophy scholars yet also prevent Objectivism from becoming the next Feminist or Environmentalist movement with regard to becoming mired in irrational dogma?

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1) A dislike/mistrust of philosophical problems.
Hmmm. Well, first off, maybe I'm just cranky in my old age, but the Dogmatists were philosophers, so methinks we've got a "how I define" problem going on here. It's important to distinguish proper rejection of rationalism / a priorism and rejection of rationalist pseudo-problems, from actual rejection of reason. Sometimes, schools of philosophy create filth that they alone bear the responsibility for wallowing in, so for example the whole question of types and tokens is such empty silliness, IMOO, caused by a bad epistemology-metaphysics interface. So just because you reject some specific problems as twaddle (let's see, I seem to have read more than one paper by Hillary Putnam that does that) doesn't make you a dogmatist.

Now here is a substantive Objectivists v. rationalists point: No questions are valid (indeed, possible) which are entirely a priori. I certainly grant and indeed insist that some philosophizing is needed to get straight on the nature of concepts (as an example), but none of this philosophizing can be pure. All philosophizing is logically dependent on non-self evident specialised knowledge of reality.

The most important to dogmatists to explain away potential problems as quickly as possible, even if this means missing the subtelty that they have.
Perhaps. But let's name names. I explain this tendency by reference to the fact that dogmatists are infallibilist-rationalists, which means that they can't be wrong about their a prioristic conclusions, so no amount of counterargumentation could move them. I see what you've identified as a symptom, not a defining or causal characteristic.
2) A refusal to submit your beliefs to serious scrutiny.
A predictable consequence of infallibilist-rationalism.
Its not about certainty - its possible to give your beliefs a serious examination and come to the conclusion that they are correct, and this is not dogmatic.
I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Hal. (Sound of air hissing...). If there is a rational basis for disbelief, then you cannot be certain (you know the reference, right?) The relevant distinction is that the dogmatist claims certainty when it is not rationally justified. That does mean consideration of serious challenges. However, that does not meant that every silly assertion is a valid claim on your attention. So just as me seriously reading and engaging with certain other views is relevant to me claiming certainty on a position, them establishing a legitimate claim on my attention in the first place is really essential. They have to construct something other than a strawman attack force, in order for me to seriously defend my position. This means never approaching a new idea with a willingness to waste time on evaluation, unless there exists a rational reason to expend effort on the idea. BTW this is a central claim, so bookmark this one.
3) A general persecution complex.
Yeah, but from what I have been able to determine, only non-Objectivists have an actual persecution complex. Like, as you say, Marxists. It's part and parcel of rationalism.
Marxists who believe that anti-Marxists are just suffering from false consicousness, and Objectivists who automatically assume everyone who disagrees is 'evading'.
One important difference, though, is that there really is a fact about human psychology about evasion. Diane Hsieh had a good piece about this a couple of years ago which I probably could find tomorrow: the point is that evasion refers to a real phycological problem.
4) The desire to treat all debate as being a battle which must be won at all costs, rather than as something to learn from.
Look, I'd love to continue this discussion, but I gonna walk the dogs, or else they will foul the floor, and prolonging this debate is amusing up to but not beyond the point where the mutts mess up the varnish. I've got my priorities. If that means you win, fine.

The main point that I want to sledge-hammer home is that dogmatism is rationlist-infallibalism, and those two tenets are the antithesis of Objectisism.

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1. I have no respect for this method of conversation and am not going to sanction it with a response to its content. If you want names, ask for names--I gave them after you asked rudely.

2. If you want specific examples, don't just lampoon me that I haven't given any--you haven't asked for any.

3. If you ever have a mind to discuss like reasonable human beings, don't just insult me or attempt to intimidate me with these childish assertions such as,"I suggest learning how to debate ideas before posting again on this forum, you are clearly in over your head."

1. My original question was very specific because I wanted a specific answer, if you consider this rude, that is not my problem. Furthermore, I think this fit of sanctimony is highly disingenuous, especially considering your choice of words in describing certain members of this forum.

2. Whenever you accuse someone of not being a philosopher guided by knowledge, it pretty much goes without saying that you provide evidence of those whom you accuse. You have thrown out some rather sizable charges, well worthy of a good lampooning.

3. Considering that this was in response to you trying to bait me into joining your name calling spree, probably because you deduced that I am a non-Objectivist, I'm not of a mind to feel any guilt for my words. So in response to this, if you ever have a mind to discuss like resonable human beings, knock off throwing out terms like "Randroid" and trying to inspire fun from them.

P.S. - Don't bother responding to my post, stick to David's as he clearly is more knowledgable than I am. But do give some thought as to your choice of words when making a claim before expecting blanket courtesy from your opponent.

@David - I wish to apologize if I got out of line with Aleph earlier, in the past few days I've read several polemics against Objectivism, and all of them using the word "Randroid" like it's the writer's last name. This talking point is comparable to the buzz of a mosquito and it has been getting extremely annoying.

Edited by dark_unicorn

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Responding to David:

You're right, I read, "your dogma" to mean not my definition of dogma but the particular dogma that I hold, thus directing the whole thrust of my response.

As for Bernstein, I made a mistake. I meant Binswanger. Bernstein I saw give a lecture, and I was impressed neither with his speaking ability nor with his knowledge of philosophy, but I did not find him particularly dogmatic. I have no videotape, nor have I read much (if any) of his work, but I did attend an ARI conference in Boston where he and other ARI figureheads presented a few discussions and opened to Q&A. During the Q&A I, being at the time relatively new to Objectivism, asked a simple question out of curiosity and perplexity. I asked about a brain-in-a-vat and what the Objectivist solution was to it. It was years ago, so I don't remember verbatim, but I believe my question went something like, "How do you know to trust your senses?" He fires back, "You are misleading about what reason is. What is reason?" I didn't have an answer ready, so with a wave of his hand he goes into how my claim is nonsense, and attack on reason, humanity, and life--ignoring that I made no claim but merely asked a question. At one point, he even made an off-handed remark about how the convention they were holding was not to espouse non-Objectivist ideas (!). And even his rant on why the brain-in-a-vat problem was not a problem was entirely unsatisfactory, which ought to be surprising if it is such a simple matter that I can be guilty of not knowing the answer.

So still not knowing why the brain-in-a-vat problem was not a problem, after Q&A had ended I went up to speak to Brook. After a lot of prodding and progressively getting answers that were less unsatisfying, at the conclusion I find that their answer was exactly my answer, simply worded differently. Up to that point I had some disagreements with Objectivists, whom I took to be simple blemishes on the Objectivist society as a whole rather than the rule. After this encounter, I wasn't convinced. The ad hominem and emotional attacks that they made to argue their points did not impress me. While those in the audience who didn't question and seemed to swallow and parrot Randian answers were treated like cronies, people asking questions were treated skeptically, like Soviet spies who had blown their cover. I can't say that I approved of that atmosphere to say the least.

And I don't claim that Binswanger evades reality, but that he has a poor method of investigating it. Even dogmatic people can be right, they just have the wrong method of obtaining a bottom-line.

Add on top of that other Objectivists whom I've met who also get hostile at merely asking questions and being unsatisfied with less-than-exacting argument, I conclude that some are dogmatic. You say I attacked Objectivism, but that is wholly false. I said some ObjectivISTS are irrational. I never once in this discussion contradicted a word Ayn Rand has said. If you want to argue that, because they behave this way, they are not truly Objectivists, fine. But granted that these figureheads of the ARI and some people on this board who are a little more than just passionate (I'm trying to be polite enough not to point fingers, and I do think it is rather evident [though not self-evident] who they are) are indeed Objectivists, they are of the dogmatic variety. If not granting that, then certainly there may be no class of dogmatic Objectivists.

I, like all of you, have also found it strange that a person can, as soon as he is identified as an Objectivist, be labeled a dogmatist. I agree that that is a dogma itself. If you want to see the very topic I started months ago on that subject in a MySpace forum, I can post the link.

"That's a pretty dogmatic conclusion on your part, to claim that you are infallible on this point."

I claim that it could never be false that A = A. That's not dogmatism, that's direct knowledge. I know that there is no belief I hold, which I hold in the face of evidence to the contrary. Show me evidence to the contrary and I will not hold any given belief. That I am not being dogmatic is something I know quite directly, and no such proof to the contrary could be given. As soon as proof is given, I drop unreasoned beliefs. There is my proof to myself that I am not dogmatic, and by it I don't believe it could ever be shown that I am.

[Edit: Rather than going through the whole post to change what I've said, I should qualify that I only find one person on this forum to be overtly dogmatic.]

Edited by aleph_0

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That's too bad about your experience with Binswanger. I wonder if that is out of character for him? I generally consider him one of my favorite Objectivist intellectuals. For my brief experience on HBL, I found him to promote a climate that harbours a wide range of dissenting opinions from the nature of consciousness to drug use to gun control to the Iranian threat -- an experience that confounds your experience of him being dogmatic or stifling. Not that I'm doubting your experience with him, but I'm not convinced that you can take that experience into a wide generalization.

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A0: the core of my point is that being obnoxious, unpersuasive or justifiably dismissive is not the same as being dogmatic. Dogmatism is (definitionally) the condition of accepting a philosophy without the possibility of question. Being justifiably dismissive is different from being unjustifiably dismissive -- I'm justifiably dismissive of monkey-language claims because they have been repeatedly -- dozens and dozens of times -- been proven to be false over the past 30+ years, and repeatedly those guys insist on the same or virtually the same broken methodology. So it is a waste of my time to argue against that claim (though I may well do so, since I am a professional time-waster). In certain contexts, it could be more than an annoyance to have to deal with uneducated questions, so I might dismiss a contextually inappropriate question not because I hold my position dogmatically, but because I expect my audience to be up to speed. (Hence another motto of mine is "Know your audience"). I can't address your points about the atmosphere, so I can't add anything other than platitudes.

There is a connection between Objectivism and Objectivists. Personality is in large part philosophical, and Objectivism (if actually accepted and not just parrot(t)ed) will cause differences in your actions. So if you find that a noticeable number of Objectivists are dogmatists, that strongly suggests that there is a substantial flaw in Objectivism itself which causes this dogma. I don't find it credible that you find the proportion of dogmatic Objectivists to be "the expected", because then you would have had no reason to mention this supposed dogmatism of Objectivists. So I have to believe that you think that there is a peculiarly high rate of dogmatism amongst Objectivists, which has to be caused by something -- and the only rational cause twould be that there is a property of Objectivism itself which causes this dogmatism. While you did not directly attack the philosophy itself, your accusation of Objectivists being dogmatic implies an attack on the philosophy itself. Since dogmatism (in the proper sense -- I don't mean "being obnoxious", I mean a particular kind of hyper-rationalism) is dimetrically opposed to Objectivism, that is a fairly serious accusation.

OTOH if you find Objectivists to be more obnoxious than other people, that says something entirely different about the philosophy of those people, something perhaps best reserved for a different thread.

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A0: the core of my point is that being obnoxious, unpersuasive or justifiably dismissive is not the same as being dogmatic. Dogmatism is (definitionally) the condition of accepting a philosophy without the possibility of question...

There is a connection between Objectivism and Objectivists. Personality is in large part philosophical, and Objectivism (if actually accepted and not just parrot(t)ed) will cause differences in your actions. So if you find that a noticeable number of Objectivists are dogmatists, that strongly suggests that there is a substantial flaw in Objectivism itself which causes this dogma. I don't find it credible that you find the proportion of dogmatic Objectivists to be "the expected", because then you would have had no reason to mention this supposed dogmatism of Objectivists. So I have to believe that you think that there is a peculiarly high rate of dogmatism amongst Objectivists, which has to be caused by something -- and the only rational cause twould be that there is a property of Objectivism itself which causes this dogmatism. While you did not directly attack the philosophy itself, your accusation of Objectivists being dogmatic implies an attack on the philosophy itself. Since dogmatism (in the proper sense -- I don't mean "being obnoxious", I mean a particular kind of hyper-rationalism) is dimetrically opposed to Objectivism, that is a fairly serious accusation.

Yet my story illustrates the very same aversion to questioning--one of Hal's points, which I agree with, is that dogmatism is characterized by defensive posturing over simple questioning. If the context concerns you, remember that the context was an information session on Objectivism. Other questions, not so attacked by Binswanger, were, "What is the nature of human rights?" and some silly question about a guy's papaya tree and how the government won't let it grow on a particular part of his land (While Binswanger addressed it quickly, but by and large dismissed it as a little too simple and out of place in the conference, this illustrates the general purpose of the conference: To answer questions a range of questions about the philosophy of Objectivism.). So I think my question was perfectly appropriate and germane.

That this is treated as a wholly unphilosophical question, or not even a question, I find quite dogmatic. The truth is, we don't directly perceive objective reality in the way that we "perceive" (or perhaps, "intuit") logical truths like A = A and direct acquaintance with sensorial perception. So our knowledge of the outside world is through experience, reason, and induction; not axiomatic truth. So it is, in fact, a quite fundamental and important philosophical question--though one which should be answered on the first day of any introductory philosophy class, and admittedly it is never answered in any class.

I do tend to think there is an unexpected number of dogmatic Objectivists, but on reflection it's not because this number is higher than the numbers of dogmatists in other philosophies. It's certainly lower in number and intensity than in Islam, at least equal to if not lower than in Christianity, and perhaps most modern philosophy (although I have to say that, at Brandeis University and Florida State University, I found nearly no dogmatic opposition to Objectivism). So I think Objectivists are not more dogmatic in quantity but rather in quality. It's a belief system that precludes dogmatism, so for people (especially figureheads) to be dismissive and aggressive against genuine questions like a brain-in-a-vat or the far more complicated subject of communism and politics in general is quite unexpected. In fact, I take nothing in politics to be self-evident, so to treat opponents of capitalism, per se, as lunatics and fools I find very surprising.

But I disagree that this necessarily implies something about Objectivism. It might make one scratch his head, but that does not constitute an attack on the ideology, but only on how others have interpreted it.

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A0: your argument is entirely irrelevant. You aren't even talking about dogmatism anymore. If you want to restart by first coming to grips with what dogmatism refers to, and then pointing to dogmatism by actual Objectivists, then there would be a point to carrying on. But since you don't not appear to correctly grasp the concept, I don't see any benefit in me facilitating your clandestine attack in Objectivism on this point. I've already indicated to you why Objectivists aren't suck-ups -- you seem to equate not being a suck-up with being dogmatic. I don't see any questions in your attack, just representations of presumed personality flaws (namely, not being a suck-up). No personal offense intended, but I don't see any reason why I should give credence to your evaluation of the personality of senior scholars in Objectivism. You still persist in maintaining that these people are dogmatic, and I don't believe your evaluation. I understand how you can feel hurt by having been snubbed: Jeez Louise, my academic mentor "snubbed" me, and I got over it. Why in the world are you even bring up this perceived offense by Binswanger? So this will be my last post on the topic.

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Argument? I'm not sure my posts constitute an argument, but an assertion. I am not trying to prove or disprove anything philosophical or ideological. (And so it is quite silly that you think this is a "clandestine attack".)

I believe I have sufficient grasp of the concept of dogmatism. If you don't, so be it. Perhaps we might need work on the definition of 'being and Objectivist' and whether the very meaning precludes dogmatism--and so I would argue that there is a higher proportion of Objectivists outside than inside the ARI.

I have no idea what you're going on about with this "not being a suck-up is dogmatic" stuff, dogmatism is a personality flaw among other things, I don't care if you give credence--you asked me to explain something I wrote and I did--and I don't feel "hurt" I feel insulted (the difference being, an insult from Binswanger does not bother me) and vindicated in my belief that he is defensive about mere questions.

*dusts off hands*

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It's objectivism. I bet they used too much ideas to go off topic again :thumbsup: and these ideas cannot prove true because it do not generally fit every situation and explain its excepetions. I do not think they know enough to write as detail as that. :)

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