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Willful ignorance.

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I've been reading OPAR, and something struck me. Ayn Rand says that how we should use our mind is based on late epistemology, yet she establishes early on that one particular manner of using our mind is evil in her early epistemology. That is, evasion, or willful ignorance, is evil.

I am not going to argue that it is never evil, since in many instances it IS evil. My question is, how primary is this assumption? Without even starting on the contextual nature of knowledge of the hierarchy of importance of issues, she puts this in her philosophy. Why then? Why not some other time, such as after context and hierarchical placement and other such things dealing with concepts?

Most important to our lives is that some things can and should be ignored. Her concept of willful ignorance, IE evasion, being evil, is presupposed rather than argued logically. Taking control of our focus is far more important than simply having a lot of it. I'm not saying she implies otherwise, but if she said it, then it's not exactly clear. True, to develop a philosophy such as hers REQUIRES her to believe that any willful ignorance on her part, in any instance, is incontrovertibly evil, especially for the way she treats her philosophy, but why can't we filter out things that we know are not important and let our subconscious deal with them? She seems to think that our subconscious is evil, or unnecessary, or something else negative and I'm not quite sure what, why, or how. I beg to differ.

Besides, how can we sleep at night if we can't be willfully ignorant of all those distractions that tend to keep us awake? :P

Edited by TuringAI

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Ayn Rand says that how we should use our mind is based on late epistemology, yet she establishes early on that one particular manner of using our mind is evil in her early epistemology.
What??
I am not going to argue that it is never evil, since in many instances it IS evil. My question is, how primary is this assumption?
Do you mean, stating the relationship between the axioms and the conclusion, how many steps is it? I don't know how you would quantify degree of primariness.
Why then? Why not some other time, such as after context and hierarchical placement and other such things dealing with concepts?
Which pages are you referring to? You're asking about her presentation style, right? We'd need to know what page you're talking about.
Most important to our lives is that some things can and should be ignored.
But that's just not true.

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What??

In OPAR, sense perception and volition is part of chapter 2. This is when Leonard Peikoff, and most likely Ayn Rand, establishes that evasion is evil. Most of the things in this chapter are not facts about how best to use our consciousness and volition, but matter-of-fact statements regarding the tools that the human mind possesses from which one can derive how one ought to think. Yet in "The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not" she, or he, states that working not to see something is evil.

Do you mean, stating the relationship between the axioms and the conclusion, how many steps is it? I don't know how you would quantify degree of primariness.

I mean where in the progression of her philosophy does Ayn Rand hold that evasion is evil. Or rather, where should she have held?

Which pages are you referring to? You're asking about her presentation style, right? We'd need to know what page you're talking about.

I may not have the same book as you so page numbers are useless. However, in the sub-chapter noted above I ask why she states that evasion is evil.

But that's just not true.

Is it? Sometimes things do not belong in your mind. I happen to be obsessed with another person online. This person has repeatedly told me to completely ignore their entire existence, and I agree, I should. Tell me, when one has unrequited 'love' for another, how healthy is it for one to focus on them?

Perhaps my issue is not so much with her contention that focus is primarily good, so much as it is how she uses focus in a certain manner of speaking, which is the same manner for which most of us use concentration. One can go out to the mountainside and look at every mountain, one can scan the hills for trees, and if one finds a tree, one can take care to examine its shape in an attempt to determine its leaf pattern and structure, perhaps going into so much effort to make out the details that one can determine how fully grown and in what manner of growth each part of the leaves are. However the entire point will be missed... you Randroid. :P

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Evasion is not the same thing as ignoring something.

The first choice is whether to focus or not; the second is what to focus on. Focus means paying attention to one thing at the expense of all others. It is possible to focus on something broad, or to focus some particular detail. It is possible to focus mentally on objects that are not physically present (which means ignoring objects that are physically present). Focusing on one thing necessarily involves ignoring other things. But one still knows that the ignored things exist, and one retains the ability to focus on them in case of need.

Evasion is not merely an absence of focus, it is a willful refusal to focus, typically directed at some particular piece of reality that the evader wishes to pretend isn't present. Evasion is a form of pretense. That makes it different from merely ignoring something.

It is difficult to evade a piece of reality that is right in front of your face (although it can be done); it is much easier to evade things that are not immediately present, and easier still to evade abstract concepts and the connections between them. I don't think it's possible to do it by accident, though. Evasion requires a deliberate denial of reality.

The judgment of evasion as evil isn't epistemological, it's ethical. Evasion is evil because it's hazardous to human life; it's like driving a car with your eyes closed. In chapter 2 of OPAR, I'm pretty sure the evil of evasion had been mentioned, but not proved; OPAR does have a few forward references.

On the subject of unrequited love, if a man loves a woman and she doesn't love him in return (the other cases are similar), it would be evasion for him to lie to himself and say he doesn't really love her. It would also be evasion for him to pretend that she likes or wants his company when she doesn't. It would not be evasion for him to go to work or school as he usually would, even if doing so requires him to ignore his emotions for a time.

One thing he could do in such a case, without evasion, is to acknowledge (to himself) his love for the woman, figure out what he loves about her, and then look for those qualities in other women, one of whom might love him in return.

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In OPAR, sense perception and volition is part of chapter 2. This is when Leonard Peikoff, and most likely Ayn Rand, establishes that evasion is evil.
On page 62 he notes "The process of evasion, as we will see, is profoundly destructive. Epistemologically, it invalidates a mental process. Morally, it is the essence of evil". That is where he refers to "evil" in chapter 2. You will see that this is a "mention" and not an "establishes". Also note the future tense -- "as we will see". It is the case that in chapter 2 he mentions that evasion is evil. I hope you don't object to that anticipatory style. It is a pedagogical virtue to inform the student in advance of the actual demonstration that the current concept has a bearing on concepts that will be elaborated on later, and a pedagogical evil to make everything be a unconnected, dis-integrated surprise.
I mean where in the progression of her philosophy does Ayn Rand hold that evasion is evil. Or rather, where should she have held?
If you mean "historical progression", meaning, "on what date did Rand reach the conclusion that evasion is evil?", I doubt there is any record of that event. If you mean "at what point had she fully developed the logical relationship between 'evasion' and 'evil'?", again I think that is either a historically unknown data, or even "never". Never, in the sense that Tara Smith has provided an even fuller elaboration of Rand's philosophy (see especially Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics) which fills in more of the explicit details that Rand did not specify. Finally, if you're asking "With respect to the Rand's own explanation of the relationship between 'evil' and 'evasion', on what date did Rand give her fullest account?", again, I would say that I don't know. Galt's speech (p. 974) provides a helpful statement in your quest to understand the history of devlopment of this idea:

But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of knowledge; do not forgive or accept any breach of morality. Give the benefit of the doubt to those who seek to know; but treat as potential killers those specimens of insolent depravity who make demands upon you, announcing that they have and seek no reasons, proclaiming, as a license, that they 'just feel it'—or those who reject an irrefutable argument by saying: 'It's only logic,' which means: 'It's only reality.' The only realm opposed to reality is the realm and premise of death

Is it? Sometimes things do not belong in your mind. I happen to be obsessed with another person online. This person has repeatedly told me to completely ignore their entire existence, and I agree, I should. Tell me, when one has unrequited 'love' for another, how healthy is it for one to focus on them?
You are confusing "evasion" with "getting over it". Don't take your crush to be an immutable fact; squarely face the fact that you have a thing for someone who doesn't have a thing for you, and either stalk the person, decide that you can't have what you want, or change his/her mind.
Perhaps my issue is not so much with her contention that focus is primarily good, so much as it is how she uses focus in a certain manner of speaking, which is the same manner for which most of us use concentration. One can go out to the mountainside and look at every mountain, one can scan the hills for trees, and if one finds a tree, one can take care to examine its shape in an attempt to determine its leaf pattern and structure, perhaps going into so much effort to make out the details that one can determine how fully grown and in what manner of growth each part of the leaves are. However the entire point will be missed... you Randroid. :P
I don't understand your point. There is no point in Rand's writing where she remotely suggests that inane obsession and hairsplitting is a categorical imperative. Tell me what specifically she said that upsets you, in the realm of focus. Recall that knowledge is integrated and purposive, thus detailed knowledge of a single leaf is fine for a leafologist, but if the purpose is to estimate the amount of harvestable timber in the forest doesn't help the lumberjack.

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Epistemologically, it invalidates a mental process.

Isn't it possible for certain mental processes to be poisonous? Even if they would seem to result in the acquisition of knowledge? For example, what if instead of teaching a math student how to use logic, the teacher dumps a bunch of formulas and tables on them for them to memorize. Or how about in the teaching of the English language, a teacher uses whole-word focus rather than focus on the foundations of English speech in spelling and pronunciation rules? Getting the right answer does not always justify the mental process. Shouldn't we willfully ignore these processes, even though they "lead us to where we want to go" anyway?

Edited by TuringAI

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Isn't it possible for certain mental processes to be poisonous? Even if they would seem to result in the acquisition of knowledge? For example, what if instead of teaching a math student how to use logic, the teacher dumps a bunch of formulas and tables on them for them to memorize. Or how about in the teaching of the English language, a teacher uses whole-word focus rather than focus on the foundations of English speech in spelling and pronunciation rules? Getting the right answer does not always justify the mental process. Shouldn't we willfully ignore these processes, even though they "lead us to where we want to go" anyway?

That is not evasion, that is rejection.

Evasion would be, for example, deliberately changing the subject when the girl of your dreams starts to hint that you're not the guy of hers, so she can never actually tell you.

It's deliberately choosing not to know something you don't want to know, not deliberately evaluating material and rejecting it because its false data.

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As was stated in a post above, there is nothing immoral about ignoring things. Would it be immoral to hold one's nose while walking by a stinky pile of garbage? No, it would not. On the surface, in some sense, one might see it as a refusal to acknowledge reality. Think again, though: is it? Rather it recognizes reality and deals with it.

I think that before you go into whether some type of evasion is moral or not, you need to clarify what is meant by evasion. Deciding to ignore reality -- for instance, by popping a pill for a headache -- is not evasion in the sense meant by Rand.

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Isn't it possible for certain mental processes to be poisonous?
The first example that comes to my mind is evasion.
Even if they would seem to result in the acquisition of knowledge?
Generally, I don't think it is really necessary. For example, I don't think you ever need to learn two falsehoods in order to learn 5 truths, so in the "net learning" sense, I cannot see a real context where it's needed. However, you may need to simply leave some question open.
For example, what if instead of teaching a math student how to use logic, the teacher dumps a bunch of formulas and tables on them for them to memorize.
Well, I can't deny that it happens, but I don't see that it's epistemologically justified. Now I will admit that there are practical constraints on teaching -- when you have 40 students of varying abilities and 10 weeks in which to convey a particular amount of knowledge, you may have to say "Just learn that table". It's not necessary for learning the concepts in an ideal context, but it is sometimes necessary for learning a particular set of concepts in a specific amount of time.

The evil in this context would not be memorization, but rather an implication that there is no process of validating these facts that you're memorizing, and/or that it's inimportant to know how you know that these are facts. The teacher ought to spend time showing how the concepts are validated in the first place, even if it is not possible to do a full reduction-to-the-axiomatic for every formula and conclusion. There is no denying, though, that when you build a solid foundation, you don't cover as much territory. OTOH, you'll be training students to do actual real and believable work, so I'd rather theach them how to fish, rather than just throw a pile of fish at them. Well, some of them I'd throw a pile of fish at.

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On 5/13/2008 at 9:46 AM, Greebo said:

Evasion would be, for example, deliberately changing the subject when the girl of your dreams starts to hint that you're not the guy of hers, so she can never actually tell you.

What exactly is evil about that?

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