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Everything posted by Boydstun

  1. Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape (2010) has received a substantial review from a Randian perspective by Ari Armstrong in the Winter 2012 issue of The Objective Standard.* (Cf.)* “Sam Harris’s Failure to Formulate a Scientific Morality” —Harris’s Hedonism —Harris’s Utilitarianism —Harris’s Dearth of Reasons —Utilitarianism’s Totalitarian Implications —The Individualist Alternative
  2. Niapri, Congratulations and welcome to this online circle. I gather there is an Objectivist group at your school, where you might find people nice to find. But you have big finds indeed in the written word. Best wishes. Stephen
  3. Another idea on Marc’s list (#6), though he is unsure it was original with Rand, is the idea “The primary choice is the choice to focus.” So far as I know, the only prior expression of this idea, or very nearly this idea, was from William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890).* He writes “To sustain a representation, to think, is, in short, the only moral act” (II 566). “Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will. Every reader must know by his own experience that this is so, for every reader must have felt some fiery passion’s grasp” (562). James goes on to illustrate his points persuasively, in detail. Here are some more of his conclusions: It seems likely that Rand was familiar with James’ thought on will, as windowed above. The Dover edition of James’ book (to which my page citations refer) came out in 1950. The treatise was widely known and available, indeed it was and is a modern classic. It is implausible that Rand’s associate, Nathaniel Branden, a college student of psychology, did not become familiar with James’ The Principles of Psychology. The greatest difference between James and Rand on what she called the choice to focus lies in her join of this psychology to the thoroughgoing circumstance that reason is man’s basic means of survival. The choice to think, in the intended sense, becomes the choice to live, thence to live as a human animal. The volitional character of a human consciousness, required for his survival, is then justifiably called out in a fresh basic conception and definition of human nature: rational animal or suicidal animal. This nexus is so far as I know original. It is important, true, and a lovely integration.
  4. On the normativity of logic in real-world cognition, Bob (#26), some serious thinking is here. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ More on with Marc’s list (#6): That reason is man’s basic means of survival was a big point with Schopenhauer (1819). Rand remarked in some interview clip that she read some of him when she was sixteen, if I recall correctly. I don’t know if she would have retained this point from him or whether she just came to it in the way he did. His picture was that only by reason (in roughly the Randian sense) is man able to survive and to attain science and its benefits; instinct and faith are out. However, unlike Rand, he did not go on to set the proposition as major timber of moral context. Peter, thank you very much for the information and insight in #12 (and #14). Hilary Putnam in The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy examines the history of the dichotomy from Hume to present day. He argues against the dichotomy and argues that from its beginning it was dependent on another false dichotomy, that between the analytic and the synthetic.
  5. Ruveyn, Edward Zalta takes the discipline of logic to be “the study of the forms and consequences of predication” (2004, ch. 23). That conception of logic fits well with Rand’s conception of logic as “the art of non-contradictory identification.” Valid inference is a subsidiary division of what is modern logic, as expressed by Zalta. Rand's definition is an instance of her general proposition "Consciousness is identification." Her definition of logic locates its place within that general conception of consciousness and dovetails fine with logic from Aristotle to Quine (through first-order predicate calculus with quantification and identity* and through some of modal logic [s5 is fine in Rand's metaphysics], though possibly with some embrace of relevance logic displacing standard material implication). I count Rand's definition of logic as true, original, and important. * As in "the morning star is the evening star" or "ruveyn is Bob Kolker."
  6. Ruveyn (#10), No. Rand’s thesis that all well-formed concepts have an implicit (or explicit) measurement-omission structure is a substantial, controversial, and new thesis. It is really two theses, and each is new. One is a claim of empirical psychology, a claim about the origin of concepts in childhood. Rand’s claim was that they are formed implicitly by a process of measurement omission. I have written on the findings of empirical psychology on that issue here: a, b, c. The other is a claim presupposed by that empirical claim, and it is interesting in its own right. It too is substantial, controversial, and new. That is the thesis that all concretes can be placed under some concept or other having a measurement-omission structure. Even if one is counting as measurement a scaling having only ordinal structure,* the claim remains substantial, controversial, and new. I have found forerunners of this thesis of Rand’s in James (psychology), Johnson (logic text), Heath (Euclid), Aquinas, Hume, Psuedo-Dionysus, and Scotus. The inklings of Rand’s thesis in these thinkers, or at least the exact citations for the passages in their texts, can be found here: a, b. As true, original, and important, I count Rand’s idea that concepts of any concretes can always be fashioned according to a principle of suspended particular measurement values along certain magnitude dimensions shared by particulars falling under those concepts. If you are correct that people have been implicitly using measurement omission back to Eudoxus to Euler to mathematics today, then making that case adds to Rand’s case for the truth of her thesis. But it is only Rand, so far as I have found, who generalized the principle to concepts in general. This originality stands even without her further integration of her theory of concepts with other parts of philosophy. I appreciate the value of your note about Plato’s dialogues as well as your earlier note about Francisco’s money speech. I had a sister-in-law who was a high school teacher of Speech. She would give the money speech to her students to take to Speech contests in the category of Standard Oratory. In that category of the competitions, you memorize and deliver a speech written by someone else, whereas in Original Oratory, you write your own speech.
  7. Marc, Thanks for the list. Firstly, concerning my expression of Rand’s conception of the relation between life and values, in the phrase “where there is value, there is life,” I meant only that whatever can be pointed to as a value, life will be there with it. That is Rand’s idea that only living things have values, that value is found only in the context of life activities. That is, value enters the inanimate world only with life, a non-living robot has no values (though it has been composed to effect our values), and any talk of value-concepts (e.g. the concepts problem or correct) has its full sensibleness only when it is understood that one is talking about phenomena derivative of and traceable to the phenomenon life. It is only now, after a few minutes, that I am able to make the gestalt shift for the meaning of my phrase coinciding with the meaning you saw there. I see that problem now. Thanks. There has to be elaboration to restrict to my intended meaning. Concerning your idea that Rand’s is the only completely rational and completely integrated philosophical system, I would wonder if that supposes a special meaning of rational. I incline to think a system could be completely rational without being completely true. In looking at the philosophic systems of the past—say Aristotle’s or Spinoza’s or Whitehead’s—I think we would need to sort simple falsehoods from those falsehoods that could not be held for true without slippage in rationality of the person holding them. That is a delicate dissection sometimes. I’m thinking of some errors in Kant. Pretty quickly I would say that his view that absence of an object cannot result in activation of a perception and his use of that as premise in some arguments is just natural simple error. Pretty quickly too, I would say that his view that space is not in the world independently of our minds is not a natural simple mistake, but a fantastical mistake, one for which anyone should know their reasoning must have gone wrong or they have a faulty premise or conception to have arrived at such an outrageous conclusion. But that quick take on the irrationality of Kant’s view of space has to become a long careful take to show that his reasoning to the result has make-shift patches that could have been detected by him were it not for his big plans for his idealism of space. (“Big plans” is an old punch line of Peikoff’s.) I doubt Rand’s is the only completely rational and completely integrated philosophical system. I would not say positively sure either way because there are philosophic systems I don’t know well enough, and others, such as those of Whitehead or Hintikka, of which I know little. Whether Rand’s system is itself completely rational and completely integrated is a question I will carry into my further assessments of her philosophy, and I thank you for bringing this whole consideration to my focus. A milder thesis would be that Rand's is the most rational and most well-integrated philosophic system; I do think hers is high up there in those regards. More on list later. Stephen
  8. Ruveyn, One element in Rand’s metaphysics that is along your lines of affirming a conformance to external reality and having been maintained by others before her would be: “A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something” (AS 1015). That thought has some predecessors in Plato, Brentano, Husserl, and Sartre, as I recall. In Theatetus Plato has Socrates say “I must necessarily become percipient of something when I become percipient; it is impossible to become percipient, yet percipient of nothing” (160b). Plato was there speaking only of the percipient in sensory perception. Rand’s proposition is a generalization of that view to all consciousness (further, AS 1047 and ITOE 30–31). (Rand’s proposition holds true it seems to me not only in our waking conceptual consciousness, but even the consciousness we have in dreams. Consciousness there is of something other than itself, I would say, because I have found Freud’s find of always a day residue in dreams to be correct.) I have some remarks on the similarity and difference between Rand and Sartre on this conception of consciousness here. I expect her difference with Brentano and Husserl is as considerable as her difference with Sartre concerning this character of consciousness. Perhaps only Rand stated this conception with the exact full meaning that was hers. I think the idea true and important, however original with her. There is a conception of Rand’s concerning relation of world and mind, and the conformance of the latter to the former, that so far as I have been able to discover is unprecedented in the history of philosophy. That is her duo: “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification” (AS 1016, also). Something like the first wing of that was realized by Avicenna, as recently noted.* With this insight, Avicenna and Rand (independently of him) were extending Aristotle, but it was a significant extension, and I think, a point true and important. Joined with the second wing, they seems to me a very important innovation in the history of philosophy, and a true one. Stephen
  9. One thing in or preliminary to Rand’s ethical theory I think true, original, and important is her idea that value occurs only on account of the existence of life. The concept value presupposes the concept life. And not only is it that where there is value, there is life; it is also that where there is life, there are values. That, all of that, is one conception I would say is true, original, and important in Rand’s philosophy.
  10. . What in Rand's philosophy is all three: true, original, and important?
  11. Congratulations, Dennis! Sixty-five years today! Wishing you many days and years more. To err is human. To loaf is Parisian. – VH
  12. Concerning mass of Higgs boson (if it is the Higgs) and cyclical universe: here.
  13. This is a follow-on to #18, something Rand wrote in her 1963 essay “The Goal of My Writing” concerning The Fountainhead.
  14. I should add a note to that paragraph. In her 1963, Rand characterized misery, disease, disaster, and evil as negatives in human existence and “not proper subjects of contemplation for contemplation’s sake. In art, and in literature, these negatives are worth re-creating only in relation to some positive, as a foil, as a contrast, as a means of stressing the positive—but not as an end in themselves” (38). Within Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, one sees people who have already died, people in despair, and people with hope, waving to get the attention of a very distant ship. This painting fits squarely within what Rand described as having a subject containing negatives of human existence, yet also a positive in contrast, and worthy of contemplation for contemplation’s sake. When it comes to the great negatives in life, I have some reservations concerning Rand’s idea that negatives are unworthy as whole subjects of a work of art. Sometimes there is widespread common background of the beholders, who know the subject is from a larger story with its road to a positive; such would be a painting showing only that the dead Jesus is being taken down from the cross. War scenes as subjects of artworks, containing no positive aspects in the subject, may have viewers who know some history from which the scene is taken and some evaluation of that history, possibly positive. On the other hand, a war scene—say, a massacre—as subject of a painting, might be effective in inducing the horribleness of such an event to a viewer and nothing more than that horror. I would not want to contemplate that painting so much that I put it on the living room wall opposite me just now, in place of the triptych of Monet’s water lilies spanning that wall. However, the well-executed massacre painting might be worth my contemplation in a memorial museum of the event or in an art museum, where one passes from one feeling of life to another.
  15. Chris, To say that one cares about some persons in one’s life along with caring about oneself and to say that their happiness helps to constitute one’s own and that their pain one’s own is sensible, I would say. However, as a theory of pure ethical egoism, and given that Rand’s was a theory of rational egoism which she held could be justified by rational considerations alone, she needed to be able to say in what ways one’s self-interest was served or not by having one’s empathy with others’ success or suffering. The writings of Nathaniel Branden on benevolence and on the visibility principle, under Rand’s auspice in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist, supplemented what Rand had said on the subject here and there in Fountainhead and Atlas. The independent supplement David Kelley attempted in his monograph on benevolence in the Objectivist ethics attempts to say more on how others are of instrumental value to oneself, recapping but extending what Rand had said on their instrumental value. The problem for a theory of pure ethical egoism is how one can take the self-orienting principle of which you speak, in sharing joys or pains of others and in decisions about rendering assistance, how one can take that principle and one’s valuations of others to be more than an instrumental value to one’s self-interest and yet remain an ethics of pure self-interest. Insofar as our psychological nature makes us concerned with and for others regardless of our own rational conclusions about the matter, that concern is neither ethical egoism or mutalism or altruism. I think an ethical egoism (which goes beyond any natural concern for ourselves and for others not amenable to reform) that restricts its justifications of chosen concern for others to the instrumental value of those orthers, including their value to our enjoyment, rather than chosen valuation of them for their sake, is defective as an ethical theory. I expect many people sense that, even if they are not professional philosophers and even if they go through all sorts of irrelevant twisting of ethical egoism to fortify their conviction that valuing others for their own sake is good. I hope to look further into the ways persons and other valuable things can be valued for their own sake in my own thinking about this in the future. I enjoyed your very good thinking post #2. Stephen
  16. Sup, Very good thoughts here from Dennis and others. As part of knowing yourself and what to do with your time, you might want to consider whether you just plain like learning philosophy ever more and more. You mentioned you like Objectivism, and it just might be that you enjoy philosophy beyond the ways it has or might help you in life. Similarly, it can go for mathematics, science, history, and so forth. You have talked of the Attila psychological idea, but what you seem to find attractive about it has much overlap with what readers of the Tarzan books find attractive about him. He is being chased by a lion, falls into a pit for trapping animals, night falls, he finds he can’t get out of the pit, decides he’ll wait for daylight before trying further, then lays down and goes to sleep. It’s a fun fantasy psychology, but not a true human one. Modern man did not invent anxiety, for example. Modern man did attain much more possibility of leisure time. I think you are right to wonder whether you spend too much time studying (and talking about) philosophy. There are other things to learn or otherwise do—projects of romance, travel, beautifying your dwelling, preparing for a more meaningful career—that might be more personally satisfying. Then too, there is the alternative of more time working to make more money. On the other hand, I am not one to think you have it wrong if you should realize you love philosophy and decide to allow much time of life learning more of it. Stephen
  17. Why, haven't you been fixated of late on violence and thoughts of violence in Rand's fiction? And isn't ammo part of your pen name? And isn't your identity kept secret? And isn't the garb in your icon a lot of black, like our recent little mass murderers in America? That is how vaporous your recent derogatory spins on Rand and her fiction. . .
  18. . Thank you, and congratulations to you and your associates at 10 on producing this fine site.
  19. Mr. Ammo, An alias assumed by the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. had the surname Galt. I hope the fantastical stretch of Rand and her fiction you have been making in this thread and your subsequent similar litany of threads in Ayn Rand Book Club is not a workup for some violence. What do you think of Peter’s response in #12 to your root post of this thread?
  20. Why don’t you do a little research yourself and share your results with us? In a few minutes on the web, I learned that the New York Times coverage of Kreuger, upon his death and aftermath, was pretty sympathetic to him. There is some other record of the press back then in a 2007 piece. You can find the date of the suicide. Go to your library and look at the microfilm of newspapers and magazines from that time to a few weeks later. Let us know what you learn. Believe me, people at these Objectivist-type posting sites appreciate receiving new, researched information.
  21. It is unclear whether that misanthropic angle is just for the character Kira—who is introduced as returning to Petrograd in a railroad box car, who is wearing wooden sandals, who will be seeing all the human suffering and limitation around her as the result of an ideology purporting to favor the masses and, in winning control of the state, doing a lot to turn people into mere masses—or whether it was the more general attitude of Kira’s creator, at least into her first years in America. Did you notice that quote from Emerson in the second of the links of #7? “Yes, we are the cowed,—we the trustless. . . . / Men are become of no account. Men in history, men in the world of to-day are bugs, are spawn, and are called ‘the mass’ and ‘the herd’.” Nevertheless it would be incorrect to conclude that Emerson espoused a misanthropic attitude simply from that aspect being in this one quotation. He favored individualism and saw around him good individuals. As you probably know, in Fountainhead Rand came to define civilization as the process of freeing man from men. That sense of the individual man can mean any man, hence potentially most men. (Notice the variety of men Roark selects for his jury.) In Atlas she used it to mean every man in the following benevolent passage: “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself. He exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.”
  22. Frank, To some considerable degree, the healthy child or adult can will to move their hand a certain way or will to refrain from doing so. As you indicate, we live and have our being at that level, not at the level of knowing and directing the neuronal activations in premotor and motor cortex or in the consequent activation of nervous patterns guiding our muscles. What is going on in premotor cortex and in other cortical activities is very different than what is going on in the serial causation of nervous impulses from spine to arm. I would be wary of a linear notion of physical causality as capturing the neuronal activities in all of the brain in service of the animal’s life, particularly the parts of the brain at work in human thought and planning. The physical determinism we see expressed in equations of mechanics or electrodynamics or thermodynamics or chemical reactions or simple neuronal circuits—I mean, for a given set of inputs, there is a uniquely determined output—seems unlikely to be a fitting informative mathematical characterization of what is going on in brain activities underlying our deliberations and choices. I have written some on this in the following essay: Volitional Synapses Links to the three parts of the essay are contained in the preceding link to its Abstract. Follow-up For links to text in Objectivity, such as this one, expect loading times of up to three or four minutes, depending on how far into an issue of the journal the text appears. Stephen
  23. The line occurs in a fairly early conversation with Andrei. Kira says to him, in the 1936 version, concerning sacrificing millions for the sake of the few: That excerpt, which was greatly altered in the 1959 edition, appears in a contribution of Robert Mayhew’s to Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living on page 211. His sensible remarks on the passage and its alteration are on that page and the following one. My own bet of her meaning in 1936, which later she would deplore, is that at the time she wrote the novel she accepted the idea that its either-or, sacrifice of the few best to the mindless masses or sacrifice of the latter to the former. True, she may have thought that applied really only in the context of what the communists had made of social relations in Russia, but I don’t think so. The sentiment is consonant with salient passages in Nietzsche, with whom she had some sympathy early on and who had not been writing in the context of post-revolutionary Russia. The idea later in the paragraph, an idea Rand would also later come to reject four-square, that equal justice for all is a mistaken ideal is also in accord with Nietzsche. Rand did not yet have her later idea that sacrifice is unnecessary where general independence is possible—and it is possible—nor her later idea that every individual has the same fundamental rights because every individual is an end in himself, I would suggest. By the time she had completed The Fountainhead, Rand had rejected the bogus (and perhaps ambivalent) ideas she struck from the 1959 edition of that paragraph in We the Living. Tidbits The image of workers throwing themselves to work at office or factory as if into a burning furnace is repeated, though now in a purely wholesome and equalitarian way, in two places in Fountainhead: at Roark's firm and Wynand's newpaper plant. Notice that image of chewing words in the 1936 (and 1959) paragraph? Ever heard of chewing on ideas? That too is in Nietzsche, and with the positive meaning Rand would give it in the years of her mature philosophy. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ From my own work under the heading Nietzsche v. Rand: –– Rand 1929–38 A, B, C
 –– Rand 1938–46 A, B, C, D, E
  24. Boydstun

    Atlas Shrugged

    I imagine by now Aleph has finished his second read. I read it a second time a year after the first, then a third time a year later. That was it for my whole reads. Because of the title of this thread, I thought it might be a reasonably good place to note this current milestone and celebration: Ayn Rand Walking Tour
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