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Dante last won the day on August 24 2015

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About Dante

  • Birthday 07/18/1988


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    Nashville, TN
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    I have read a great deal of literature on Objectivism, and have been discussing Objectivism with others for several years now.
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    Chris Cotter
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    Vanderbilt University
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  1. I think this discussion has missed what I see to be the money quote from that Swift interview, and it's not the one where he says that parents should think about how they're disadvantaging others by reading to their kids. He's describing the fundamental task of the philosophical work under discussion, and he describes it like this: He assumes that the moral default is perfect equality, and that any deviation from this outcome has to be justified on some independent moral grounds. He does indeed think that many parenting activities (such as bedtime reading) can be justified on independent grounds such as 'familial relationship goods,' but it's not the specifics of what he wants to allow or forbid that I find most troublesome. It's his overall approach, in which the default choice is to forbid any activities that produce inequality of outcomes, unless we have some independent reason for keeping them. In effect, he accepts Plato's framework of total state power over the family, but argues that it should refrain in some cases from using it (it always decides what to 'allow' or not, but it should allow certain independently justifiable activities). It reminds me a lot of Rawl's approach to distributional justice, where the default seems to be perfect equality of resources, and deviations from that standard have to be justified on the basis of making the poorest better off. If I recall correctly, Rawls was trying to defend some elements of liberalism from the assault by egalitarianism (much like Swift seems to want to defend certain familial goods against total equality of opportunity), but his basic approach was to assume egalitarianism as the moral default and carve out exceptions to it. Needless to say, I find this approach to be immensely flawed. Whether or not Swift would personally advocate for banning private school or not seems to me to be beside the point. Under his framework, all family activity is guilty until proven innocent. That is what is wrong with his approach, far more than the specifics of what activities he thinks are innocent or guilty.
  2. Well I'm late to this thread, and it appears to have become somewhat contentious, but I just wanted to post a resource that might be interesting for the original question. George Walsh, a philosopher who largely agreed with Rand's theses, maintained that she had misunderstood Kant on some fundamental issues. He puts forth his own interpretation of Kant (limited to the area of metaphysics) in contrast to hers, and catalogs the areas where he thinks they are in agreement, and where their significant differences lie. It is available online here: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/objectivity/walsh1/ The section "A Point of Misrepresentation" might be most relevant to this thread. It begins: It concludes with a summary of Rand and Kant's areas of agreement and disagreement. Overall, a very illuminating and interesting read, one that (I think) does a good job at contextualizing what Kant's goals were and why he took the path that he did.
  3. They are not striking simply because they face a few taxes and regulations. They are striking because they live under a truly totalitarian, evil government. Although it's common for fans of Ayn Rand to say that this or that new regulation sounds like it could have been ripped from the pages of Atlas Shrugged, the fictional government in the novel is actually far, far worse than the government that we have today. Recall that Ayn Rand was born in Russia and lived through the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik rule before escaping to the U.S. In the 40s and 50s, when she was writing Atlas Shrugged, the Soviet Union was growing more and more powerful and was openly praised by leftist intellectuals in America. Today, the idea of truly totalitarian government is pretty universally discredited in the Western world in favor of a mixed economy approach, but at the time she was writing this was not the case. Consider the more extreme regulations passed by the fictional government in the novel. At one point they pass a regulation that prohibits anyone from quitting his or her job, in an effort to stop the striking that is occurring. Consider that for a moment; making it illegal to quit one's job. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to call that a form of slavery; certainly it qualifies as forced labor. Another provision in that same bill seizes all intellectual property in the country and simply gives it to the government. It should be noted that this point is when the strike really takes off; this is when people start leaving their jobs and 'striking' in large numbers without ever meeting John Galt or hearing of his strike. It's such an outright violation of personal freedom that people simply refuse to comply. Later in the book, we discover that 'Project X' is actually a military weapon that is being developed for possible use on American citizens (to 'preserve peace and squash rebellion'). During the book's climax, Galt is actually tortured in order to try to press him into forced service to the government. This is a truly evil, unlimited government, bearing more resemblance to the Soviet Union than to America's government today. The book is purposefully written such that the audience only slowly discovers the true nature of the government. Although Galt has seen it right away and begins the strike before the book even starts, people only join the strike when they come to understand how truly evil the government and the altruistic ideology behind it are. These people aren't striking because the corporate tax rate went up from 35% to 40%. They're refusing to give aid to an evil government, one that does not acknowledge the right of its citizens to exist independent of their service to the state. We actually do see this kind of resistance to totalitarianism under every single government of this kind. We saw it in Nazi Germany, and in the Soviet Union. This is the reason that North Korea today has such a massive and active surveillance program for its own citizens, with microphones everywhere and huge numbers of informants. When the government is truly evil, trying to escape or resist is a common choice made by its citizens. Rand's contribution here is to note that, for a government run explicitly on the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," the men of ability are the most heavily punished, and should be the first to resist.
  4. Wow, I hadn't even read this when I posted my last post but it proves my point exactly. I completely agree; owning the house inevitably gives you ownership of the dirt that it is on. Now you're attempting to separate the dirt from the land... but the dirt is the land. That's what land is. Defending property rights in buildings, agricultural fields, roadways etc is defending property rights in the corresponding land; you cannot defend one without the other, as is clearly illustrated here (even if you don't admit it).
  5. Air is almost perfectly non-excludable and non-rivalrous, and nearly impossible to assign private property rights over. Land is not. The examples you give for using the land without interfering do not use the land at all. Laying cables far below my land is not using my land; nor is flying an airplane over it. Owning a plot of land doesn't give you rights in an column of infinite height above and below your land. It gives you ownership over a limited region above and below the surface and no further; the limitations are defined by whether use of those areas interferes with your use of the land on the surface (i.e. with your building). Anything beyond that is simply not part of your property right in the land. The truth is that there is no concrete way in which other people can be said to 'have a say' in how the land is used without interfering with your property right in the building. Take two scenarios: 1) I own the building and the land beneath it. 2) I own the building but not the land. However, no one is allowed to use the land for anything that impacts my building without my consent. Name one thing that other people would be able to do with the land in 2) that they would not be able to do in 1). If you defend an absolute property right over someone's use of a particular piece of land (a building or a farm), this is indistinguishable from defending their property right in the land itself. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, they are not separable.
  6. You can separate them conceptually, for analytic purposes, but you cannot separate them in practice. To own a building is to own the land beneath it; you get to decide to what use that land is put and exclude others from using it for their own purposes. If you decide to transfer your property rights in the building, whoever you sell them to or will them to will also need the ability to decide how to use the land beneath and to exclude others from using it. Without this right, the building can be knocked down or removed from the land by anyone who wishes, as they have just as much right to the land underneath as you. The two are literally inseparable.
  7. And after you've built a building on the land, what if someone else wishes to use that same land for a farm? Are they entitled to knock down your building? If yes, then I hope you can see that the unraveling of all property rights proceeds in quick order. If no, then you've used the land for your own purposes, and have excluded the land from being used by others for their own various purposes. What is this if not a property right?
  8. One of the major themes of Atlas Shrugged is that active evasion, the refusal to know or see what one should (by all rights) realize is at the root of the evil that plagues the book. In the very first passage of Part II of the book, Stadler is talking to Dr. Ferris about Project X. After Dr. Stadler inquires about it, Ferris replies, "The work has to do with sound. But I am sure it would not interest you. It is a purely technological undertaking." Dr. Stadler: "Yes, do spare me the story. I have no time for your technological undertakings." Dr. Ferris: "May I suggest that it would be advisable to refrain from mentioning the words Project X to anyone, Dr. Stadler?" Dr. Stadler: "Oh, all right, all right. I must say, I do not enjoy conversations of this kind." Dr. Ferris: "But of course! And I wouldn't forgive myself if I allowed your time to be taken up by such concerns. Please feel certain that you may safely leave it to me." Stadler is in charge of the State Science Institute. His name has literally allowed its creation. And yet, he actively avoids involvement in Project X, because he doesn't want to allow himself to know what it's for. Later in the same conversation, he is discussing a book published by the Institute which declares that reason is a superstition. He assumes that it must be in error, because the only other motive for many passages in the book would be an attempt to convince people not to trust their own judgment, as a primer to get them to accept any government edict without question. He disregards considering this motive with the following statement: "I cannot permit myself to consider certain things as possible in a civilized society." Dr. Ferris' response is very important: "That is admirably exact," said Dr. Ferris cheerfully. "You cannot permit yourself." At heart, Stadler knows the use to which his scientific reputation is being put. He simply refuses to allow himself to realize it. Atlas Shrugged makes the point again and again that it is only by the sanction of the victim that evil is allowed to succeed. Evil is impotent in and of itself; it requires the cooperation of those men of ability in order for it to function. Dr. Stadler is the quintessential example of the man of ability who puts his ability in service of evil. It's not hard to damn people like Dr. Ferris, who actively seek to control and destroy the lives of others. It's much more important to make the point that none of it would be possible without the tacit cooperation of people like Dr. Stadler.
  9. He delivered the power of science into the hands of those people that wielded political power. His name single-handedly led to the creation of the State Science Institute (an institution whose evil nature is gradually revealed over the course of the book). Recall the passage when he is introduced as a character: "At the age of forty, Dr. Robert Stadler addressed the nation, endorsing the establishment of a State Science Institute. "Set science free of the rule of the dollar," he pleaded. The issue had hung in the balance... The name of Dr. Robert Stadler acted upon the country like the cosmic rays he studied; it pierced any barrier. The nation built the white marble edifice as a personal present to one of its greatest men." As the novel progresses, we (along with Dr. Stadler himself) gradually begin to discover the true nature of the State Science Institute that Stadler has created. The ultimate dramatization of this is Project X, a weapon that the Institute builds for the (totalitarian) government in the novel. Although the scientists that build it claim that it will be used to preserve peace and quash rebellion, by this point in the novel we know the true totalitarian nature of the government for whom this weapon was built. This situation is basically analogous to the scientists who worked on building the atomic bomb for the Germans during WWII. Those scientists knew, better than anyone else, the requirements that the human mind be free to think and pursue its own vision, and yet they use the products of science and reason to empower those who would destroy that freedom. This is one of the themes of the novel, that there is no division between the scientists here and the politicians. You can't just hide behind the excuse that, "I'm a scientist; I never actually hurt anyone." It is the responsibility of each individual to know to what purpose his labor is being put. Dr. Stadler defaults on this responsibility, and ends up enabling an evil government to create a weapon of mass destruction.
  10. You do know that second post is filled with references, right? BGE stands for Beyond Good and Evil, followed by specific page numbers...
  11. The Atlas Society recently published a blog post about Objectivism and the family, in response to a Salon article that referred to Objectivism as anti-family. The salon article can be found here, and the TAS response here. This prompted me to read the original TAS article that the Salon guy linked to, found here. I found the account of Objectivism and family relations highly unsatisfactory, particularly as applied to sibling relationships, and I decided that I wanted to write up the response below. In her article on family relations and Objectivism, Malini Kochhar attempts to lay out a view of familial relationships based on Ayn Rand's trader principle: "This principle holds that we should interact with people on the basis of the values we can trade with them - values of all sorts, including common interests in art, sports or music, similar philosophical outlooks, political beliefs, sense of life, and more. Trade, in this broad sense, is the only proper basis of any relationship—including relationships with members of our families." However, in her application of the principle, she fails to consider several highly significant sources of value in family relationships. I will focus mainly on critiquing her comments from the perspective of sibling relationships, although many of my comments also apply to the parent-child case. In her article, she states the following: Thus, in her view, it would be extremely unlikely for one to have the same kind of deep relationship with a sibling that one would have with a very close friend. This is because we cannot choose our siblings the way that we can choose our friends, and therefore it would be mere coincidence if we happened to be close. However, this is emphatically not the only possibly application of the trader principle to sibling relationships, and in fact it is highly rationalistic and ignores the most common factors that create strong bonds between siblings. The core of many sibling relationships, including my own, is shared experiences. Growing up in the same household strongly lends itself to a high level of mutual understanding among siblings. I have two sisters, and we all grew up under the same roof. They've seen some of my worst moments, and some of my best. They've seen my growth, all the way from elementary school to the person that I am today. They understand me like almost no one else does. In Objectivist terms, they provide me with a kind of psychological visibility that only they can. Certainly, as we've moved out of the house and away from each other, we are no longer intimately involved in each others' day to day lives, and there are others who know aspects of me and my life much better than they do. However, their particular understanding of me is extremely important to me. And of course, this understanding runs both ways, with me providing this particular kind of understanding to them as well. Thus, the value provided by this sort of understanding is mutual, as per the trader principle. Despite this understanding of one another and our shared experiences of childhood, we have grown up to be very different people. If you were to list our core values explicitly, you would probably conclude that we don't have many in common. Our adult interests are extremely varied, and even as kids we clashed like only siblings can. We each care about very different things, and even have quite different explicit philosophies (leading to some strong political disagreements). In fact, if I were to walk into an Objectivist convention, I could probably randomly pick someone out of the crowd whose explicit list of 'core values' would be closer to mine than those of my sisters. That kind of similarity is simply not what our sibling relationships are based on. Nevertheless, they completely exemplify Rand's trader principle, in every aspect. Unchosen family obligations play no part whatsoever. This is the problem with clinging to 'shared core values' as the one and only indicator of a true and deep relationship between people. It overemphasizes explicit philosophical convictions and interests over other important aspects of relationships, such as mutual understanding and shared experiences. It allows Kochhar to set up a false dichotomy between a relationship based on shared core values (which he describes as a 'rare coincidence' when it happens to occur among siblings) and a relationship based on familial obligation. It is indeed unlikely that two people who didn't choose to be siblings would share the same explicit philosophical convictions or the same list of core values. If this is the sum of one's measure of an appropriate relationship, then one is forced to describe strong sibling relationships as 'coincidence.' If the relationship does not fit this description, it must then be based on a reification of blood relation and familial obligation. But the value that I get from my relationship with my sisters is not simply a coincidence, and neither is it an expression of duty that we feel. It is precisely because we are siblings who grew up together that we have this sort of bond. It was their role in my childhood, and in my life since then, that is the source of the value that I gain from them, and them from me. Now certainly, none of this is a necessary consequence of being siblings. There are numerous situations where siblings will not have this kind of relationship (most notably, when they don't grow up together). However, the factors that lead to such strong sibling relationships are much more common than Kochhar's 'rare coincidence' type of relationship will allow. The trader principle's application in this case is much broader than he paints it to be. It is sad to me to see Rand's trader approach to human relationships, which I believe to be the correct one, artificially limited by the kind of values that can be traded. Doing so excludes some of the most important relationships in life, and gives credence to the viewpoint that Rand's philosophy as a whole doesn't have room to accommodate these relationships. In my view, it does; when these relationships are healthy, they are indeed based on the trader model, where both people get true value from the relationship. The limitation comes simply from an excessively narrow conception of what kinds of values are in play.
  12. A couple of points on this. First of all, I would strongly disagree that Shylock represents true justice in The Merchant of Venice. His whole motivation is a personal grudge against Antonio, and he attempts to use the laws of his time to carry out this vendetta. The proper counter-point to this sort of behavior is not blanket mercy or compassion, regardless of whether the individual deserves it. These are just two sides to the same false choice. The real alternative is true justice, which can include extending mercy and compassion, but only when the individual is deserving. Rand's own statements concerning compassion express this aspect: Mercy can also be appropriate in certain cases, but this must be determined by the circumstances of the case itself. For instance, we might be inclined to show mercy in a courtroom for someone's first offense, or if there were mitigating factors, whereas we should not show mercy to an unrepentant violent criminal. The idea that must be shed is that indiscriminate mercy or compassion, a blanket policy of always turning the other cheek, is the moral ideal. It is not.
  13. Objectivism requires, in a nutshell, that you do not attempt to gain values through dishonesty. This means more than simply ensuring that what you say isn't technically a lie; it requires that you endeavor to appeal to others' reason and intelligence rather than their stupidity and gullibility. In both of your examples cited above, the person is clearly behaving dishonestly, and in both cases it comes in the same form. The person is failing to disclose a fact that they know will be material to the decision of the person that they are tricking. In your original example, the guy clearly knows that he's going to leave this girl as soon as he sleeps with her, and he also knows that she wouldn't sleep with him if she knows this. He's deceiving her by withholding this fact and pretending that he has the intention of dating her. Similarly, the fact that some part will soon go out at great cost is a fact that is material to the buyer's decision to buy. Withholding it is fraud, and clearly dishonest. Objectivism holds that this method for gaining values will not serve your life and happiness in the long term. Relying on dishonesty to gain values requires that you seek out the dumbest and most gullible people to deal with, rather than the most intelligent and perceptive. It institutionalizes a fear of certain facts, namely the facts that will expose your lies, rather than encouraging an attitude of unreservedly confronting all facts of reality, which is the policy that one needs in order to be successful over the long term. Furthermore, relationships founded on dishonesty cannot become the kind of deep relationships that are integral to one's happiness, where another person truly sees and understands you. No short-term gains of one-night stands or car sales are worth this kind of life.
  14. From where I'm standing, it means that your posts typically make no sense whatsoever.
  15. McCaskey elaborates more on these claims in a draft of a book chapter on induction and concepts; the draft can be found online here: http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/images/for-download/PittVolume.pdf In it, he provides an overview of the history of two competing ways of viewing induction: induction as justifying propositional inference vs. induction as forming correct concepts and definitions. Although the 'problem of induction' refers to the first view of induction, the second view was the prevalent one during Hume's lifetime. Thus, on page 15, McCaskey writes: "Eventually there was a turn away from Baconian induction [induction as forming proper concepts and definitions], but it did not start with David Hume. Hume wrote virtually nothing, or at least nothing critical, on what in his day was called induction. He said he intends to base the Treatise of Human Nature on the philosophy Bacon introduced. He uses the term induction there only twice, in both cases to defend some argument he is making. In none of the instances does Hume suggest he sees any problem with induction or has anything new to say about it. A century later, Whewell and his contemporary, John Stuart Mill, managed to write, between them, at least seven volumes on the history, theory, and practice of induction without finding it necessary to give Hume significant attention. As we will see, the association between Hume and induction is a result of developments in the late nineteenth century." These 'developments' mainly refer to a shift in an understanding of what induction is, from Baconian induction to induction as justifying propositional inference. I strongly encourage reading the entire paper. I think it greatly clarifies the nature of the scientific process by which we gain new knowledge, and explains how this process can be successful even when the 'problem of induction' as associated with David Hume remains unsolved.
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