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Posts posted by khaight

  1. Rand makes the point that her ethics can be compatible with any religious view that upholds a naturalistic view of man and free will.

    I don't think this is true, at least of her fully-developed ethics -- or if it is, it reduces the significance of religious belief to triviality. The virtue of rationality is central to the Objectivist ethics, and it requires that all of one's beliefs and actions be based on sensory observation and rational inference therefrom. A religion, almost by definition, entails accepting and acting on beliefs based on some non-rational foundation. To whatever extent a religion, even one that upholds a 'naturalistic view of man and free will', incorporates faith-based belief and action, it has a fundamental conflict with the virtue of rationality. The only 'religion' that is fully compatible with rationality is one whose doctrines and prescriptions are entirely validated on the basis of reason -- and in what sense can such a belief system be considered religious?

    It doesn't surprise me that this letter was written in 1943. Rand's philosophical thought developed significantly in depth, richness and scope as she wrote Atlas Shrugged. In particular, she moved from a political/ethical focus on to a deeper metaphysical/epistemological focus -- precisely the parts of philosophy that reveal the conflict between religion and Rand's views. While an egoistic ethics simpliciter may be compatible with religion, an egoistic ethics tightly integrated to a thoroughly naturalistic metaphysics and observation-based rationalist epistemology cannot be.

  2. So obviously two years ago this post went nowhere. Are there any more chicago objectivists here now though?

    Given that there is an ARI Chicago speaker series and a Chicago regional conference going on next month, I have to assume there are at least a few Objectivists active in the Chicago area.

  3. This is probably the ARI sponsored documentary. It's the same trailer that shows up on ARI's Atlas Shrugged website: http://atlasshrugged.com/

    Yes, this is the same documentary. It was aired at OCON under the title "Dystopia Now?" -- apparently they decided to change the title. I thought it was pretty good, all things considered. It's the sort of thing you'd want to screen at Tea Party events.

  4. I won't vote for either of them. I'll leave that slot on my ballot blank, just like I did in 2008. (Not that it will matter on a practical level -- I live in California, and if the Republican candidate is doing well enough here that my vote could impact things then he/she's going to win nationally in a landslide with or without me.)

  5. I'm really not the person to comment or appraise race relations in London or Europe, being an American, so correct me if I'm wrong. I'm not sure what the racial make-up of the rioters is. But I'm seeing this as a mix of feelings of entitlement by the lower classes, feelings that London Police (the Met?) have historically mistreated ethnic minorities (it sounds/looks like these areas of rioting are largely black or middle-eastern?), a general feeling of fervor and thuggery, and a complete lack of police presence.

    I've read a report describing some Turkish and Kurdish neighborhoods defending their lives and property against the rioters in what looks to me like an eminently rational response. I think the underlying problem here isn't racial, it's widespread irrationalism and entitlement-thinking in the dependent classes. Some of those are immigrants, some are native-born to the UK.

  6. Why would prominent (and probably busy) Objectivists find it in their self-interest to come to these forums?

    That is the key point. I would much prefer that, say, John Lewis spend his time working on his upcoming book on the morality of war instead of debating Iraq on some web forum. He'd be happier and so would I.

    (I do know one Objectivist who used to be an active Usenet participant back in the day. Now he's working at ARI and co-authoring a book with Yaron Brook. I think that's a better use of his time, all things considered.)

  7. Is it moral to violate a voluntarily signed contract if the individual immidiately submits himself to the punishment layed out in the contract for not following through on the obligations? Is it moral for an individual to violate a contract he voluntarily signed if he believes part of the contract is immoral?

    I think it depends on the reason for the violation. When one enters into a contract there is a presumption of good faith, i.e. that both parties will make an honest effort to carry through on their obligations. Entering a contract where one has no such intention strikes me as dishonest. If John enters into a contract with Mary to mow her lawn, with a $25 penalty for non-performance, Mary's reason for signing the contract is to get her lawn mowed, not to get $25. If John never intended to mow the lawn, he has deliberately wasted Mary's time if nothing else. If Mary had been fully appraised of John's intentions she would never have entered the contract with him.

  8. I can't find a good moral justification for this anywhere. I understand why, at a government level, force should be banned. A society where we can't use force is good for everyone, even the would be criminals. But I can't see why force with little chance of counter-force is against my self-interest.

    Try shifting your perspective on the question a bit. Instead of focusing on the one specific, concrete action, look at it from a character-centric perspective. What kind of person would use force if they thought they could get away with it, and is it in your overall self-interest to be that kind of person? There are two basic alternatives. You could be someone who acts on principle, long-range, and accepts a principle advocating the initiation of force against others. In that case, though, you will find that you cannot rationally validate such a principle consistently. It leads to double-standards -- others produce, you take. It turns the rationality and insight of other men into your enemy, because they might catch you. It undercuts your self-esteem because you know you can't create the values you need to survive on your own. It makes you second-handed, because you need to focus on deceiving other men to survive. And so on. A principle that validates the initiation of force against others comes into conflict with most if not all of the principles defining the other Objectivist virtues. If you accept such a principle in spite of all this, you are effectively rejecting the sovereignty of reason over your beliefs and actions, because you are allowing your actions to be guided by a principle that you know you haven't rationally validated. And since reason is your basic means of survival, it should be obvious that rejecting it is not and cannot be in your self-interest.

    The other possibility is that you are someone who does not act on principle, long-range. You allow your actions to be controlled by short-range desires, out of context, even when the principles you otherwise claim to accept counsel otherwise. This is a much more direct route to rejecting reason. Is it in your self-interest to be a short-range pragmatist? Again, no.

    One might ask "Why can't I act on rational principle, drop the principle just this one time because the payoff is huge, and then go back to acting on rational principle afterwards? Why does, say, stealing a million dollars now prevent me from being totally honest afterwards?" Simple. If you have really gone back to being totally honest, then you are an honest person in possession of a million dollars that belongs to someone else. What would an honest person do in such a situation? Give the money back to its rightful owner. Obviously, if you do this, you won't benefit in any way from the theft. (Quite the opposite.) And if you don't, then you aren't being honest any more -- you have rejected the principle of honesty on an ongoing basis.

  9. I'm just jumping in here. I found this site while looking for Objectivism literature for Children online. I am raising 3 boys trying to balance Objectivist philosophy with good old fashioned values. Bu old fashioned, I mean the ones my Grandparents were raised with, work hard at something you love and you will succeed to the extent you work at it.

    You might be interested in the OGrownups mailing list, if you're looking for other Objectivist parents discussing parenting issues and resources.

  10. Interesting. Are these also targeted at people who have read (say) just one non-fiction book?

    They're intended to be 'chewing' of the works under discussion. Before we went into the essays we were working our way through entire books. We did Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, Peikoff's Objectivism and The Ominous Parallels and Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. I expect that when Peikoff's The DIM Hypothesis comes out we'll do that as well.

  11. I think that one market not yet addressed by a book is the person who has read most Rand fiction, some of her non-fiction, but still has a lot of questions and (unknown to him) misconceptions about Objectivism.

    I wonder if the (long in development) Ayn Rand: A Companion To Her Works And Thought essay collection that Allan Gotthelf is working on might help fill this gap.

    I think there is another way to address the same market: by annotating Rand's non-fiction. Quite some time has passed since those essays were first published, and over the years people have raised all sorts of questions, and asked for all sorts of clarifications about those essays. These questions have been asked at conferences, in forums, and so on. There are now enough Objectivists qualified to take up the task of annotating Rand's non-fiction essays with a series of notes that make some points clearer, provide cross-references to other material, and address common misconceptions.

    I will take this opportunity to note that the current focus of Greg Perkins' "Objectivism Seminar", in which I am a regular participant, is going through and discussing various essays by Rand. All the seminars we've done are available as podcasts. You might check them out and see if you find them a useful resource. (And if you don't feel free to drop in and help us improve things -- we welcome new participants.)

  12. Rand boiled it down to three words: "Check your premises." Go back and look at the things you are presupposing and ask yourself whether and why they are true.

    When talking to other people, it's often useful to simply and politely ask them "Why do you think that?" Intellectually honest people will usually give you some kind of reason, which provides a basis for discussion and understanding. Intellectually dishonest people will quickly grow hostile, at which point you can treat them appropriately.

  13. Maybe I do not want to. There are plenty of people who don't.

    Like it or not, there is a rising generation of people for whom Facebook effectively *is* the internet. Everything they do on-line flows through Facebook one way or another. They view e-mail as a bizarre old-fogey holdover from a bygone era. (You can imagine how this makes me feel... I still read *Usenet* on occasion. Get off my lawn!)

  14. I've theorized that collectivists generally repress their individual doubts and anxiety to avoid being perceived as "outsiders" and that repression mutates into hostility towards "rival tribes". But I know that sort of speculation is really psychologizing so I'd appreciate any substantial insight particularly from those who may have gone through a collectivistic phase themselves.

    I've never been a collectivist myself so I can't speak to the issue personally. That said, I do have two books to recommend that I thought were insightful. One is Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed. The other is former leftist David Horowitz's The Politics of Bad Faith. The latter is particularly fascinating because Horowitz spent many years as a left-wing intellectual and activist; he can speak knowledgeably about what it's like on the 'other side'.

  15. Lowering taxes on anybody or group which one wants to make the case for group is justifiable.

    It really depends on the reason given. Imagine, for example, a law exempting Muslims from paying tax. Would that be a step towards respecting the individual's right to their own property, or would it be establishing a religious double-standard? Should Objectivists support or oppose such a hypothetical law? I think it's obvious that such a law would be a disaster and should be opposed tooth-and-nail. The principle behind it would not be respect for rights, but rejection of the separation of church and state.

    Similarly, someone who wants to adjust tax law to benefit some other favored group is not supporting individual rights in so doing. They're engaged in special interest pandering. If you want to argue for cutting taxes as a step towards respecting people's right to their own property, you should be arguing in those terms -- not in terms of the purported social benefits of enhancing one group's tax position relative to another.

    Anyway, which is the Objectivist presidential hopeful at this point? It is probably about time to star getting their name out.

    I don't think there is one at this point. It's a pretty weak field, so far consisting largely of RINOs, religionists and long-shot WTF candidates.

  16. Even among those academic philosophers who are not overtly hostile to Rand, there is great difficulty in grasping her arguments and positions. I don't think this is a matter of dishonesty; it's a consequence of approaching Objectivism from a very different background conceptual context. There are distinctions that contemporary philosophy accepts as largely uncontroversial which Objectivism simply rejects, and distinctions which Objectivism considers significant which contemporary philosophy doesn't see as relevant. The result is that contemporary philosophers try to classify Objectivist positions using the ill-fitting concepts they have on hand, and they don't quite fit.

    I noticed this in Christine Swanton's essay "Nietzsche and Rand as Virtuous Egoists" (published in ]i]Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand's Normative Theory). Swanton spends a lot of effort trying to figure out the relationship between moral principles and interests. Do principles act as a constraint on our interests, or are they incorporated into our interests? Those are the only two possibilities she sees, which prevents her from properly seeing the actual Objectivist position: that our interests are identified through our principles. (I suspect, but can't prove, that this is connected to a deeper separation between ethics and epistemology in contemporary philosophy. The Objectivist position here ties the two fields together -- the ethical role of moral principles is closely tied to their cognitive role. If you view ethics as essentially separable from epistemology you will have trouble seeing this point.)

    Irfan Khawaja has a fascinating essay in the same book on "The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy" that tries to bridge some of these kinds of gaps. Worth reading.

    Another example of this kind of 'talking past each other' I've seen happens when analytic philosophers try to apply the 'necessary vs. contingent' dichotomy while Objectivists try to explain the 'metaphysical vs. man-made' dichotomy. The two overlap in some ways, but not others. The resulting conversations usually yield more heat than light. I think similar examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely. The conceptual frameworks of Objectivism and contemporary philosophy are different enough that learning to bridge the gap effectively could almost be a career in itself, even ignoring the issues of emotional hostility and outright intellectual dishonesty.

  17. I noticed on Facebook that he was friends with Diana Hsieh - maybe she has more information about his history.

    If memory serves me correctly Jimmy Wales and Diana Hsieh were dating at one point. Wales was definitely and vocally on the Kelley side of the Peikoff/Kelley debate, which IMHO indicates at minimum a serious weakness in his understanding and/or application of Objectivism. Would he be a better Senator than Bill Nelson? Probably. But I'm not sure I'd pick him as a desirable standard-bearer for Objectivism in the arena of electoral politics. Paradoxically I'd be more inclined to support him if he runs as a generic "pro-freedom, pro-defense, pro-secularism" candidate than as an explicit Objectivist.

  18. Ah, social engineering. That always works out so well.

    Yep. And this sort of thing illustrates why, at root, the Republicans are worse than the Democrats. Like the Democrats, they want to use the government to control your life. Unlike the Democrats, they call doing so 'freedom'. (It's worth noting that Bachmann is a darling of the Tea Parties; in fact, she founded the "Tea Party Caucus" in the House of Representatives in the wake of the 2010 election.)

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