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Posts posted by West

  1. Do you practice writing and editing? Often, we can recognize and fix such issues, but ... "practice makes perfect". Strunk and White is very short, and a "must-read".

    I'd exercise a bit of caution when recommending S&W (though it's the most common recommendation to give on the subject of writing). Pullum has some interesting points to make in this respect here: http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/ETfinalProof.pdf

    I'd actually recommend Huddleston and Pullum's 'A Student's Introduction to English Grammar' (since the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language makes for quite a wallop on your wallet): http://www.amazon.com/Students-Introduction-English-Grammar/dp/0521612888

  2. I agree with the main point of the post, though I disagree with aspects of the proposed alternative approach (or maybe it's just the specific application?). While I agree that people don't ask enough questions, the alternative of asking too many can be just as bad. In other words, asking question after question of a person won't necessarily lead them in any kind of meaningful direction. Questions are a tool, like any other pedagogical instrument in your tool box. They don't necessarily fit every situation, just as one can't use a hammer on just any old task. Often, as I think is demonstrated in that post, a student* gets into the habit of just thinking of ways to shoot down the question without really thinking about it.

    Of course some judgment is necessary to know what questions to ask, but often there are premises that need to be nipped in the bud or exposed. For example, at one point in that post you asked T-1000 if deceiving someone makes it impossible for them to act in their self-interest. He replied that "It makes it more difficult for him to act in his self interest but does not make it metaphysically impossible." The proper response here could be in the form of a question, but it shouldn't be one that keeps things on this highly abstract level (because of course he can just reply with an equally abstract response that shoots it right down, viz. one about Kant's categorical imperative). The problem is, who knows what anyone is talking about there?

    There needs to be some kind of examination of the concepts used, and concretes that the concepts are scoping in on. What is 'self-interest'? Why should one care about the interests of others? These questions require a lot of thought in order to properly answer, and it's likely one can get stuck on them for quite a while. That's not a problem though; that's where things should be, especially if someone is new to these kinds of topics. But further, if the discussion seems like it's veering off into uncharted territories or if the answers to the questions appear to be too vague or unnecessarily polemical, then the blueprints need to be brought out to guide the discussion better. Sometimes questions won't work, and the person generally in the 'question-asking' role will have to state why they think a different direction should be taken, then ask if that makes sense to the person.

    Just to tie things back together, the Socratic method is situationally useful. It can be used to make discussions more concrete, but like any other tool, it can be used in such a way as to cause further unclarity.

    *Though the relationship doesn't necessarily have to be the student-teacher kind. It's a matter of communicating well in general.

  3. ...I'm not sure why you are asking.

    You included it in a previous post, and it wasn't clear to me what your background was, so I thought it was relevant to ask.

    I'm not interested in debate or discussion on most of the issues raised here, but given that you make claims here and elsewhere against McCaskey's academic work (some of which weighed in on what one should or should not include in academic work as an Objectivist, how one should say it, etc.), I was curious to what extent you have experience with that sort of thing, what kind of issues you may or may not be aware of given that background, that sort of thing.

  4. Just wanted to clarify something:

    Objectivism has nothing to say about the profession in the sense that it has no official position on trading, just as it has no official position on metal, computers, or any other such concrete issue. Philosophy deals with the broadest fundamentals; Objectivism can have something to say about the profession in the sense that the broad principles that make up the philosophy can be applied to such a concrete issue, but the philosophy itself can have no "official" position on it.

    With that, the question to be asked is whether or not the profession leads to values, and more, is fulfilling as a career or part-time hobby. I think that's an easy question to answer.

    edit: One can't say that trading is better than any other profession out of context in the sense that your question is asking. This would imply that there is some sort of "intrinsic" value that makes trading or being a businessman inherently better than one or the other. Objectivity requires that one judge the value of a profession based on one's own hierarchy of values. When you are trying to evaluate a potential value, you always have to ask, "of value to whom and for what?"

  5. I just meant that people were afraid of the mysterious world around them before altruism. Can't there be "bad philosophy" without the premise that man is a sacrificial being (altruism)? By "bad philosophy" I mean any concepts that man's imagination creates, that are not in accordance with reality. (like a vindictive God or creature which sent that lightning storm to punish some transgression)

    Yes, you're right. I definitely agree. I didn't mean to imply that altruism was a necessary (vs. sufficient etc.) cause or premise, which is an error in my original post. I just mean that it is generally a go-to evil for Objectivists because of the fact that it is seemingly ubiquitous.

    edit: grammar and clarification.

  6. A complete analysis of human drives and needs has not, to my knowledge, been completed. You are absolutely correct that the "hierarchy" does not have an Objective basis. My statement that they are listed in the order they emerge was incorrect.

    However, would you argue that humans do not have these needs? We can observe the damaged manner in which people lacking self-esteem, or food, or friendship behave.

    Absolutely, I do think it loosely lists needs that humans have; the problem is that it isn't exhaustive (which it doesn't necessarily need to be, it just seems like he picked possible 'needs' out of a hat) and further, it has no concept of actual hierarchy because it doesn't establish an objective standard by which one would judge needs to be more fundamental or less fundamental. Further, it would need to establish a range. We don't live day to day without having some concept of the longer-range. By looking at Maslow's hierarchy, it's hard to tell what he defines "needs" as. Does he mean "needs" to flourish qua man, to live until the next day, or what?

    In Peikoff's lecture on 'The Role of Philosophy and Psychology in History', he states that there is a bit of a 'chicken vs. the egg' scenario, as one can go in circles asking, "Why did this man act such and such a way? Because he held the premise of X. Why did he hold that premise? Because when he was X years old, he saw someone do such and such and he thought that it was the right thing to do. Why did he think it was the right thing to do? Because he held premise Y at the time, and it made sense to him. Why did he hold premise Y?" and it goes on and on. At some point, we have to come to volition. Why did someone do something? At root, because he chose to, based on all of his previous thoughts, choices and actions, which include an intermingling of philosophy and psychology.

    The reason why I said that philosophy is more fundamental is because it deals with the fundamental questions that give rise to and inform the more specialized or derivative questions (and thus you have the specialized sciences such as psychology that deal with more specific aspects). You cannot act without some code of values (even if one is merely an eclectic), and by a specific means, and on this basis, philosophy sets the terms and standards.

  7. Humans have specific needs which they are driven to meet. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs enumerates them roughly in the order they emerge. What drives liberals and conservatives properly moves into a discussion of psychology.

    Typically I lose interest in discussion once someone brings up Maslow's "Hierarchy," but okay, I'll bite. By what objective standard are you judging the order in which the hierarchy should occur? Further, by what process?

    At best, Maslow's "Hierarchy" (scare quotes intended) is a gross oversimplification. How exactly acceptance from the tribe is more fundamental than self-esteem or acceptance of the facts of reality is beyond me.

  8. What is or is not a primary is decided by the person who accepts something as a primary. That decision may be right or wrong but since nobody can think for anyone else then the choice of primary rests with the chooser. Add to that the fact that Man is a creature of "self-made soul" then that chosen primary IS the primary.

    Did not Rand note that "the fundamental evil is the man without a purpose" and did she not include "whim-worship" as a characteristic of not having a purpose? In "Kant Vs Sullivan" did she not show that the greatest fundamental act was making the essential connection between consciousness and the external world, saying that the consciousness should be focust outward [to the external world]?

    Ethics is not an irreducible primary, therefore, not a fundamental. Before you can determine how to discern the good, you need two things, the world and how it goes, which is Metaphyisics and Man and how he goes, which is... Rand has said "Philosphy is mostly epistemology". Which goes back to the fact that the only choice open to Man is the choice to think or not to think which sets the choice of primaries. The altruist tries to run the show on the basis of guilt, which is a feeling. We should be trying to run the show on the basis of reason. This points back to the first part of this post where the whim-worhipper looks inside to find "the answers" and the properly functioning adult builds on the basis of the objective, Existence exists prinacy of the external world.

    I tried to wade through your post, and the best that I can discern is that you think that "primaries" or "fundamentals" are subjective, or at least that's what your opening statements put forth. Your opening paragraph completely subverts the idea of the role of hierarchy in concepts, much less objectivity. If your statement that "What is or is not a primary is decided by the person who accepts something as a primary" were true, then there'd be no such thing as the fallacy of the stolen concept, to say the least.

    To be honest, I skimmed the rest of your post and I lost interest.

    Philosophy cannot be man's motive force. Babies act without the benefit of philosophy. Animals do the same. Animals, even rational animals, are fundamentally driven to meet certain needs like hunger and sex. In OPAR, Peikoff describes an invulnerable robot that has no physical needs or dangers. The robot has no reason to act as it has no values to lose. In relation to man, we would say it has no drives it must satisfy.

    SP is right in the sense that we aren't talking about non-human animals or babies. We're talking about full-grown, conceptual-level adults.

    Philosophy (epistemology) shows us how to understand the world around us. Philosophy (ethics) shows us how to rank and align our desires to achieve a happy, purposeful life. Philosophy does not tell us the source of our desires; as I understand it, that is properly the function of science (biology and psychology).

    It is specifically the field of motivation within psychology that gets at the source of our desires, but philosophy guides that process, in addition to establishing the proper hierarchy of concepts within it.

  9. Fear does indeed come before altruism. However, conquering the fear is accomplished through man's rational faculty. Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. (Rand)

    If something causes people to fear existence, that something is either the lack of philosophy or bad philosophy. We have plenty of philosophy, so it's definitely not the former. If you want to change the World, you need to replace bad philosophy with good philosophy. And you've come to the right place, since we are here to discuss philosophy.

    I think your second paragraph contradicts your first. Fear has to stem from some conceptual content, as it cannot be a causeless primary. I agree with your second paragraph that the fear of existence stems from either the lack of philosophy or bad philosophy, and I would hold that altruistic premises (the conceptual content) gives rise to that seemingly ubiquitous fear. In what seems like the "chicken and egg" scenario, I think that the premises or content, such as altruism, is more fundamental.

    MichaelH says a similar thing about "desires" or "emotions" being the primary when he states:

    The driving force is the desire to see the world become a better place. (More or less cynical motives can be incorporated - profit, livelihood, the desire to reduce suffering, the desire to see the "evil" suffer, etc.) These desires are the driving force.

    In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand demonstrated how morality (more broadly, philosophy) was man's motive force; these desires or emotions are in no way primaries. Hence why "Altruism [tends to be] the go-to evil for most Objectivist discussions."

  10. Mozart existed. Darth Vader was made up.

    Cyrano De Bergerac, arguably the best play to ever have been written, is based on a real historical figure. I wouldn't even think of calling the play an unscientific piece of crap because it treats a character from history as far more of a hero than he was in reality. One has to treat the piece as its own universe, despite being inspired and even perhaps derived from real historical events.

    Put it this way, if you watched some movie where George Washington or Ayn Rand was depicted as a dipsomaniac lightweight, you'd probably find the movie pretty hard to take.

    Even looking at it as the "Impotence of Mediocrity...." as West put it (which is *certainly* a worthwhile message)-- did they have to insult the great man as much as they did while doing it?

    I think they presented the essence of the character (what we know to be factually true) well--that his music was so phenomenal and his talent so great that he earned the characterization of being the voice and sound of God. One could say that the drunken debauchery and childish behavior is a denigration of his character, but the context is not a documentary; it's purpose is not to convey exact historical duplication. It's a piece of art, a universe contained within itself.

    When you look at the film qua art, it's not a piece about Mozart (I think the title is a bit of a misnomer). The "protagonist" is really Salmieri. To put it into perspective, the film is like The Fountainhead through Keating's eyes. We see the collapse of Salmieri's spirit through his failure to capture the product of Mozart's essence--his music--and "triumph" through a fraud on a viciously evil level. The film demonstrates that Salmieri, and every second-hander for that matter, is impotent and cannot triumph by these means. The last few lines of the film affirms this metaphysical value-judgment: Salmieri, in a tone that suggests a recognition of his defeat, accepts that he is "mediocrity's patron saint" and we are again reminded that Mozart's "God-like" qualities will live on in perpetuity.

  11. In his essay "Objectivism and Libertarianism", Branden says:

    I don't think Branden is helping anyone become more objective by endorsing the idea contained in the line from the Talmud that impresses him so much.

    On the contrary, it's his own credibility as an intellectual that every rational person questions when they see him endorsing such ideas.

    Ayn Rand once said: "Don't bother to examine a folly - ask yourselves only what it accomplishes."

    So imagine what would happen if an objective President of the United States of America starts practicing the idea from the Talmud that impresses Branden so much, and tries to make a friend out of America's enemies in the Middle East such as Iran who are hell-bent on destroying it.

    As a result, we in America, will have another 9/11 or something even worse than that since Iran is now doing everything in its power to go nuclear!

    Just to put things into context, it was Ellsworth Toohey who said, ". . .But there's always a purpose in nonsense. Don't bother to examine a folly--ask yourself only what it accomplishes. Every system of ethics that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and ruled millions of men. . ." [page 666]

    It's Toohey's explanation of the power of Pragmatism, specifically in regards to corrupting the souls of men. It's not the greatest statement to use in proving your point because pointing to the results that may arise from a particular course of action or employment of an idea does not give rise to an understanding of whether the action or idea is moral necessarily. It's only by reference to principles that one can understand whether an idea or action is moral or immoral. Specifically in this case, one would need to point out why justice is a necessity and why Branden's quote/article shirks adherence to justice as a virtue.

  12. Economic value is inherently subjective, as Austrian economists like Von Mises point out. It's quite the irony that those who claim to support Von Mises, and also objective and inalienable rights would ever leave such a matter up the market economy, which is an arena used for goods, commodities, etc. This would make humans no more different than an apple, a car or a cow.

    I don't want to get into another Anarchy debate, as I don't find them fruitful any longer, but I wanted to point out something that many people have trouble with that weakens your position when you are arguing against Anarchy. When you say that economic value is inherently subjective, you essentially are saying that values are subjective, since economic values are merely a sub-classification of values. The more recent proponents of the Austrian school (starting with Mises especially) openly and explicitly begin with this. The epistemological error begins much earlier, but the treating of values as subjective understandably leads to treating the principle of individual rights and the implementations for protection of said principle as disconnected, subjective ideas. My point in short is that the problem has to be addressed on a more fundamental level--not in politics or economics, but in metaphysics and especially epistemology. When you grant your opposition their faulty epistemological standpoint, talking ethics, politics or economics is ultimately pointless, as you will now see when you get picked apart on this point.

  13. No, I am saying that McCain should be judged "in context." Many of us who have been in the military have a better understanding of that context, and we pointed out that, in light of that context, Peikoff was clearly incorrect.

    Don't mis-understand, I am not defending McCain's choice, I am pointing out that Peikoff is unqualified to do a good job of judging his choice.

    Considering the more recent posts regarding McCain's character and motives, I don't think it's such a cut-and-dry case as you make it out to be. At the very least, it's still not clear to me. I think Mrs. Hsieh, Kendall, and others have raised issues that are legitimate and aren't easily answered as they would require more than knowledge of what actions McCain took and what the standard of conduct of the military are. As an example, if one is a police officer, there are a great many "duties" that are part of the code of conduct that I would regard as immoral if a police officer actually undertook to fulfill them.

    As far as arguing that 'McCain leaving the camp would decrease the morale of his compatriots' goes, I'm not sure that this is a legitimate principle with which to build a case. I think there's a disconnect somewhere in there, though I need to think more on it.

    edit: this is the relevant video mentioned earlier in the thread:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that the "principle" that is operating here is the idea that the code of conduct and maintaining appearances is primary.

  14. Whatever the reason McCain chose to remain captive, Peikiff's statement about what a man should do in a situation where he is being tortured for years on end is "foolish and ill-informed." This not a cavalier statement, and I did not mean it as such, I am quite serious.

    Peikoff "deserves" nothing from me other than honesty.

    Are you saying McCain's choice is above being judged due to the circumstances?

  15. He could have laid out a stronger argument, obviously, but I think that it would have been very difficult in that venue to do so. You simply don't know how much time you are going to get.

    He made the point that one man can't think for 300 million people. He has enough trouble making decisions for his own life. Those are strong points, I would say. Granted, it wasn't a philosophical defense of rights, which is very hard to make for anyone on a program like that. I mean, if you want a full philosophical defense of rights then a book is the best source.

    This was Hayek's argument against Socialism; that because we are imperfect, it would be impossible to dictate 20 million prices and have a functioning economy. I think it points out something relevant, but I don't think that's it's particularly effective since it doesn't address the fundamental moral issue. If your basis for argument is the fact that we have trouble on our own or that we as human beings are imperfect to start with, you stress a point that the opposition relishes in since it's the basis for their argument for a nanny state/social safety net. Penn's statements about everyone being behind someone being a bad thing didn't make too much sense in a broader sense either--he could have made the point that due to the specific ideas that Obama advocated, he thought it was strange and dangerous that so many are behind him. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, was it a bad thing that so many were behind the idea of retaliation?

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