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SpiralTheorist

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  1. There's an important disanalogy between spiders and Gods. No one, upon being told there was a spider in the room, would question whether that was metaphysically possible. But the entire notion of a God is a package of contradictions, such that even looking for evidence for one is taking the notion far too seriously. The question relies on a very naive understanding of atheism in which the atheist disbelieves in God merely because he hasn't seen evidence of God. In fact, most thoughtful atheists understand that in logic there *cannot* be evidence for God, because the concept is incoherent.
  2. Just a guess, but I'd suspect that Rand's statement was in part a reference to Archibald Ogden, who literally put his job at Bobbs-Merrill on the line line to get The Fountainhead published. I have no reason to believe she thought he was a full-blown hero, but she certainly seemed to think he was a man of first-handed intelligence and integrity. You can see him referenced more than a few times in Letters of Ayn Rand. It's a bit more complicated than that, isn't it? I mean, what sort of imperfections are we talking about? Did Rand make a bad decision (I think so, more than once), or did she make an immoral decision (have yet to see it)? Would either of those imply that her philosophy is in some respect false? Would either even provide evidence for it? Has anyone who has claimed that Rand's personal life in some way implies her philosophy is unlivable ever provided anything like an argument for it?
  3. Ayn Rand Lexicon Figured I'd get that in here so we have a reference. I agree that public property doesn't seem to be a package deal, but I also don't see how public property is an anti-concept. It doesn't seem to attack the concept of property in the way that, for example, the common concept of selfishness attacks and annihilates the notion of rational selfishness. Here's one way to tell if something is an anti-concept: would your thinking be more difficult if you used it? I see how using selfishness (the package deal) makes for sloppy thinking. I can see how using the concept social justice, or the concept extremism, or the concept duty, would make life more difficult. Where before discovering Objectivism, I used to call something a duty, I now talk about principles and values. Where I might have called something extremist before, I now either find a more accurate epithet or talk about consistency. So those are all good changes. But if I were to give up the term "public property," how would I describe the police station down the street? How am I confusing myself by calling it public property, and what is my alternative? --SpiralTheorist--
  4. In a post on the (highly recommended) Harry Binswanger List tonight, HB said that all anti-concepts are package deals. For some reason, I had always figured package deals were just one kind of anti-concept, though I'd never given it much thought... but I can't think of any instances where the two terms split off. Would it be accurate to say that the concepts "package deal" and "anti-concept" have the same referents, but that "package deal" integrates them from the perspective of their fundamentally unrelated contents whereas "anti-concept" integrates them from the perspective of their cognitively destructive consequences? Or is there something here I'm missing? --SpiralTheorist--
  5. Some people get confused because they assume "not possible" and "impossible" are the same thing. Most people literally don't have a conceptual niche for assertions which should be regarded as cognitively meaningless. Usually the conversation goes something like this: Theist: "Until you prove there is no God, you should regard it as possible." Objectivist: "Not until you give me some reason to think it's possible." Theist: "On what grounds do you say it's impossible?" Objectivist: "I don't. I say it's arbitrary." Theist: "Well, it's either possible or it's not, and you're saying it's not possible, so you have to prove it's impossible." Objectivist: "Let me tell you why there can't be any actual infinities." See the problem? That's two different conversations with a very bad segue. For what it's worth, I've found it useful, as soon as I realize I'm about to have this sort of conversation, to explicitly define the two stages of argument. First, that there is no cognitive merit to the claims made by the theist. This doesn't disprove their claims, it just shows that there's no reason to take them seriously. The second stage is to humor them and point out the logical inconsistencies in their notion of God. I've usually found that, if you point out the difference between those two, you never actually have to get to the second part - by the time you've finished explaining why you can't grant a "maybe" to something without evidence, the second part is pretty obviously superfluous. They may not agree with you, since almost no one changes their mind in the middle of an argument, but they will at least be more likely to understand where you're coming from. The most important part is to cut off their avenue of rationalization. Many theists are very good at modifying their notion of God on the spot. I actually worked one guy down to "maybe God is just an alien with really good technology" once... after many excruciating hours of mutually inept back-and-forth. Now I entirely refuse to make even *one* point against the logic of God until I've entirely established the rules of evidence. Saves time. --SpiralTheorist--
  6. There's a value in considering the choices separately, but they are certainly deeply connected. Speaking off the top of my head - so not speaking with certainty - I'd say they seem a lot like the same thing to me. The choice to focus and the choice to live are essentially the same, only the first emphasizes the role of consciousness and the second the role of existential action. Think of some instances of the choice to focus. You may allow your mind to drift, pursuing an easy girl who isn't a very good match, or you may keep your romantic values firmly centered in your mind and pursue a more elusive girl who is a better match. You may allow chance connections and random opportunities drive you through an unchosen career path, or you may exert the effort to branch off, to explore new options, to make opportunities where none were offered. You might turn on the television, zone out, and let it aimlessly babysit your mind, or you might flip on your mental light switch and watch Dollhouse. (Sorry, preemptive plug. Had to happen.) Now think about those same choices from the perspective of action. Now, rather than focusing on your choice to use your mind or not, you're focusing on your choice to pursue life-sustaining values or not. All the instances are the same, because both choices ultimately refer to the same alternative: the acceptance of reality, or its rejection. Do you focus your mind, learn what your life and happiness demand, and pursue those values, or do you allow your mind to drift and let the values pass you by? The difference is only in emphasis: when you consider your choices from the perspective of focus, you consider them from the perspective of your cognitive responsibilities, whereas when you consider them from the perspective of the choice to live, you consider the choices from the perspective of their existential consequences. The choice to live *is* the choice to pursue values, which *is*, essentially, the choice to focus. That's the best case I can make for that position, anyway, which I think is probably correct. I'd be interested to know if anyone can make a case that there's a bigger difference between the two. --SpiralTheorist--
  7. That's circular. If you haven't demonstrated that something has rights, you can't use the distinction between what is and isn't "rightfully its own".
  8. Oh, and just for the sake of being careful (and given where I'm posting), I feel a bit obligated to add this caveat. I haven't read any of Ayn Rand's articles about rights for at least a few years. My thinking on the subject has certainly developed somewhat during that time. So while I suspect that the above is consistent with the Objectivist theory of rights, I'm not sure of it. --SpiralTheorist--
  9. I think there are a lot of misunderstandings here, and I suspect the root of it, again, is that you're not fully understanding the difference between an intrinsic view of rights and an objective view. That's ok - it's a toughie. I had a lot of trouble with it myself, and I still wouldn't claim to have a complete understanding of the issue. (If I did, I could probably make this post a paragraph instead of a treatise.) One thing that helped me a lot was mentally translating rights claims into a formulation that involves not just the rights-bearer, but all parties involved. (Or at least mentions them, to keep it clear in my head that they're relevant.) Let's briefly unpack a right. Take my stereo - I have a right to it. What does that mean? Well, a right to property is really a right to various forms of action with respect to it. I can play CDs on my stereo, I can sell it, I can destroy it, etc, and under normal circumstances it would be wrong for others to stop me. But to say I have a right to certain forms of action doesn't mean I have a *guarantee* to them - for instance, if no one wants to buy my stereo, my right to sell it doesn't imply that someone should be forced to buy it. It means I have a right not to be impeded by force from taking the sorts of action that I have a right to. Impeded by whom? Other people. So really, to say that I have a right to x means that each other person in the relevant context has a moral obligation not to get in my way with respect to x. This might be a bit silly, but it might help clarify. Picture two stickmen in your head, one on the left and one on the right. The one on the left has a right to something. Now, obviously, rights don't have physical locations, but, speaking non-literally: in your mental diagram, where would you place that right? It's not in the stick figure. It's somewhere between them, maybe like this: O <---> O In other words, rights aren't properties of people; they are principles of relation between people. In sum, when you hear "x has a right to y," try to be able to mentally translate it to something like "because of certain facts about x and the relationship of others to x, others should not impede x's action with respect to y." Complex. And maybe not well-stated. But helpful, I hope. Now, coming back to the example above. Since rights are really just generalizations of moral principles which apply between individuals, there can be situations where one may have a right with respect to one person that one doesn't have with respect to another. This happens all the time. Say I sign an agreement with you that you can borrow my stereo every Saturday. That doesn't mean my right to my stereo "disappeared"; if it meant that, my stereo would be completely up for grabs by *everyone* on Saturdays. Rather, it means that our relationship has changed, such that my right against your use of my stereo on Saturdays no longer applies. And to translate that, again, it means that whereas certain facts about our relationship in the past meant that it wouldn't have been ok for you to take my stereo on Saturdays, those facts have changed, such that it's now ok. It's a new context, a new situation. That's much like what is happening in the situation above. A's relationship with C has changed, because while he certainly would *usually* have a moral claim against C shooting him, he no longer does. It's not that C's right to self-defense is somehow more important than A's right against being shot, and it's not that A has no right not to be shot, since he certainly has some claims against B shooting him. It's that, because of B's threat on C's life, it simply *can't* support C's life to avoid shooting A, if that's what living requires. And, in the end, the *only* claim we have on others acting in accordance with particular principles is that such principled action is *good for them*. So A has no right not to be shot by C. Here's something interesting... let me quote your last paragraph. Absolutely. If C is a threat to A's life, as he apparently is - however innocently - A has the right to defend himself. Even if it means killing C. At that moment, when bullets are flying, neither owes the other anything. *With respect to each other* (and only in that respect), neither has a right not to get shot. Both still have a right against B. So in sum, again: no rights disappear. A right isn't something you carry around with you; it arises out of a recognition that dealing rationally with others requires certain restraints on people's actions because our lives depend on it. In an emergency, sometimes our lives don't depend on it. In such situations, it's not that rights disappear, it's that they didn't arise in the first place. --SpiralTheorist--
  10. Sorry, I didn't explain that well. Too much caffeine maybe. It's not exactly an issue of needs determining rights - at least, not in the sense in which I think you mean it. According to Objectivism, rights are principles which apply rationality to social interactions by defining the sphere within which a person's autonomy of decision-making should be respected by others. Rights aren't appendages, and they aren't commandments - they're principles. To say that "x has a right to y" is to say, roughly, that "in reason, we should sanction x's freedom of action with respect to y." I can't detail the entire Objectivist theory of rights here, so I'll refer you to Rand's writings if you need more clarification on that point. This is what Objectivists mean when they say that rights are contextual. It's not that rights are fuzzy, or that they're non-absolute: it's that one recognizes another's rights because it is rational to do so. The whole need for rights comes up because, in dealing with others, we need to define what sorts of actions we can take with regard to others. Essentially, in order to live a proper life, we need to be able to pursue values, i.e. we need to be able to be virtuous. So in creating a political system, we should seek to create one which does not impede virtue. One pursues values fundamentally through the use of one's mind. Force is the antithesis of the mind - force stops thinking. So we need to prohibit the use of force. Now, you might notice that one assumption here is that we're capable of taking long-term action. When we are, we survive and prosper by trading with others, rather than by taking from them by force. But imagine we were trying to come up with philosophical principles for dealing with others when we are *not* capable of long-term action. What might we possibly come up with? It certainly wouldn't be anything like the last paragraph. In fact - and I'll have to think this through a bit more to be sure - I suspect that the whole notion of principles pretty much breaks down when you're looking at imminent doom, since the whole argument for principles per se rests largely on long-term action. So I think it's because the justification of rights presupposes long-term action that they do not apply in cases where no long-term action is possible due to a threat like the one I posted about before. If someone has a gun to your head, you do not try to argue with him if you can stop him through retaliatory force. If someone is shooting at you while holding an innocent in front of him, you are perfectly justified in shooting back, even knowing that you might hit the wrong person. That person, in this case (perhaps as in the case of Farmer Bob), *even* through no fault of his own, has no right against your right to self-defense. Rights are easy to get confused about. It's fairly natural in our culture to slide into viewing them either as intrinsic (the "appendage" view of rights, where they're a feature of a person rather than a principle applied to a person) or as subjective (the view that rights are whatever society says they are). They're neither. As an application of rationality to social interactions, they apply where and only where rationality in fact prescribes respecting another person's freedom of action in a particular respect. Rationality never demands self-immolation; there can be no right against another person's self-defense in an emergency situation. --SpiralTheorist--
  11. Rand was entirely right to dismiss the question. To communicate why the absolutism of ethical principles is compatible with their irrelevance in an emergency situation requires a heck of a lot of background, and there's no way one would be given the time to express it during an interview. And Rand is right on both points anyway. 1. It took us many years and countless dollars to figure out how to make use of uranium. This required: (1) enough uranium to use for R&D, and (2) enough known to be available for future use to make the R&D worthwhile. Why develop an entire industry and science around something like Unobtanium, if you know there's hardly any of it? We've been assuming the use is for a weapon of some sort, but this point, I think, would apply to *any* use of *anything*. If we knew there was exactly one barrel of sorbitol in the world, and we could never make any more of it, no one would even bother figuring out how to use it to make food yummy. Not worth the effort. Point being: rarity can produce value, but over-rarity just tends to make something useless. You might say "well, what if we had a lot of it when we developed the Unobtanium industry, but then we used all of it, except for what was left under some guy's farm?" Fair enough. What happens when a good becomes scarce? We find *substitutes*. By the time that we're down to a few oil wells in the world, for instance, we won't need oil anymore, because we will have switched our entire infrastructure to a more easy-to-come-by alternative. I doubt I need to detail the economics - it's pretty clear why that happens, and happens *every time*. 2. I think the answer to #1 goes a long way toward explaining this one. Scarcity + value = high prices, which leads to the relative attractiveness of developing alternatives. I doubt, actually, that we'd ever end up in a situation where our national security depends on *one thing*; rather, it might depend on achieving *one goal*. But it's extraordinarily rare for there only to be one way to achieve a goal. ... Ok, all that aside, what if it's a genuine (and genuinely weird) emergency? We, in the tiny nation of Objectivsylvania, somehow irked the world to the point of having a gazillion nukes aimed at our heads. We have exactly one doomsday machine, and it runs only on a battery made of Unobtanium. Farmer Bob is hiding the Unobtanium because... who the hell knows. What do we do? I can't capitalize this enough. WE TAKE THE FRICKIN' UNOBTANIUM. Moral principles are for living life, long-range. Rights are for dealing with others, long-range. Y'know what makes things not so long-range? An imminent apocalypse tends to do that, for one. If we have a gazillion frothy-mouthed statists with a gazillion nukes ready to blow tomorrow, there is no long-term. It's an emergency. In an emergency, you *end* the emergency, then you clean up the mess once things are back to normal. (In this case, maybe some sort of restitution for Farmer Bob.) You are not violating his right to the Unobtanium because he doesn't *have* a right to Unobtanium. Not in that context. --SpiralTheorist--
  12. Doubt it. I haven't read Dr. Zhivago, but from the info I can find on Wikipedia, Pasternak began writing it around 1910-20. It wasn't published until the late '50s, but I doubt he would have come in contact with Rand's writing during that time period. Excerpt from Essays on Ayn Rand's We The Living There were 3000 copies in the first printing, in 1936, and it didn't get reprinted until 1956, the same year Dr. Zhivago was completed. The odds that there was any influence seem diminishingly small. In general, I'm skeptical of "x influenced y" arguments based on literary parallels. A lot of people have jumped on Heinlein's recently published early novel "For Us, The Living" as being obviously a Rand derivative. I doubt it, for the same reasons - it's highly unlikely an author in 1938 would have heard of Rand, much less have read her. (That said, there's no doubt he read her later.) That book, by the way - as a fan of Heinlein I feel obligated to mention this - sucked. --SpiralTheorist-- EDIT: Yeah, that's what I get for hasty research. If you look on the next page down at the link above, you'll see (as I just did) that the European publishers of We The Living were much more successful than those in the US, and it was readily available for quite a while in various European countries. I still doubt the book would have made its way to Pasternak, but who knows. In any case, I think you'd need a bit more than a few similar characters to even say it's worth seriously considering.
  13. She had the same snarky sense of humor in naming her less-likeable characters in her early writings. I haven't read it for a while, but I recall getting a chuckle out of some of the names in The Early Ayn Rand... I think there was a story called The Little Street, or something like that, which had some especially good ones. --SpiralTheorist--
  14. For what it's worth, I think Rand said she picked her characters' names solely based on the way they sounded. --SpiralTheorist--
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