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Bush, Kerry, Binswanger And Peikoff

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I wasn't criticising Peikoff, I was disagreeing with him.

He actually wrote "not nearly so common as some people wish to think"....in my view this makes the occurence of such errors an order of magnitude less frequent than a plain "not as common".

Perhaps before you correct me you sholud get the quote right yourself?

Except I didn't use quote marks, unlike you who put "rare" in quotes when Peikoff never used the word. Moreover, "not nearly so common as people wish to think" does not mean rare, and for you to put words in Peikoff's mouth in an attempt to disagree with a position he doesn't hold is despicable. As for me, I will not argue with someone who engages in such tactics.

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Except I didn't use quote marks, unlike you who put "rare" in quotes when Peikoff never used the word.  Moreover, "not nearly so common as people wish to think" does not mean rare, and for you to put words in Peikoff's mouth in an attempt to disagree with a position he doesn't hold is despicable.  As for me, I will not argue with someone who engages in such tactics.

I wasn't putting words in Peikoff's mouth. I have caused confusion by using quotation marks around rare when in fact I was not attributing that word to Peikoff, and for this I apologise. On the other hand, I don't see very much difference between "rare" and "not nearly so common".

You are right, you didn't use quote marks, but since you were criticising my loose "quoting" I think you might have had the decency to be accurate yourself!

I won't argue with you either, you apparently like to give it, but can't take it.

Goodbye

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On the other hand, I don't see very much difference between "rare" and "not nearly so common".

Rare is very low occurence 1% or less (can vary depending on data in question). Much less common can be any percentage in-between. You can have "97% of people favor free medical care". Then someone can come along and go "No, it is only 49% of the people, not nearly so common (among the people) as the other poll."

Get the difference?

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Brent: “During the course of the thread I have been hypothesising privately on what might have happened if LP and HB had concluded for, say Bush and Kelley had been the one endorsing Kerry?

One wonders if it still would have been an example of honest error?”

Brent, you do ask some very awkward questions! You may well speculate privately on this issue, but it’s probably unwise to air such speculations in a forum such as this one. In any case, you won’t get a straight answer, for obvious reasons.

Regarding the meaning of “not nearly so common”, it can mean anything from “rare” to, er, “not nearly so common”. But it’s a polemical device, so it’s meant to be ambiguous.

Eddie

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On the one hand this puts the lie to those who would say that Objectivism is a dogmatic philosophy. But on the other hand it also shows that Objectivists are just as confused as any other "group" on important moral issues.

No they're not. They agree about the proper moral principles.

The difficulty comes in when you try to apply those principles to concrete situations when you don't have enough knowledge about the situation such as when trying to predict the future actions of other people.

If existence exists, and if we are perfectly rational in our decision making etc., etc., i.e. if we hold the axoims of Objectivism to be true, shouldn't we arrive at the same, or at least similar, solutions to the vast majority of problems.......even political, moral and ethical problems?

No, because making a correct decision requires more than just the right philosophy. It requires KNOWLEDGE, facts, information, etc.

Objectivism will help you make the best decisions possible with the knowledge you have, but it won't provide information that is unavailable or inaccessible and it won't make you omniscient.

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I believe that if Ms Rand were alive today and able to articulate her position on a candidate, there would be few if any Objectivists who would disagree with her. Would this mean that those who would support a different candidate are taking a non-objectivist position?    No.    As long as their method for arriving at their conclusions were based on Objectivist principles.

Correct.

In fact, I disagreed with Ayn Rand's decision not to vote for Reagan in the 1980 election. I agreed with her moral principles but, as a Californian, I had information and experience with Reagan that Miss Rand may not have had and, as a result, my first-hand assessment of Reagan's character and my judgement of what he was likely to do as President was different than hers.

If she had lived long enough to see Reagan emasculate the FCC (her #1 domestic issue) and bring down the "Evil Empire" of communism, she might have changed her mind.

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I agree that axioms are not the starting point for most discussions. But they are the basis for the "virtues" and the virtues, the morality of Objectivism.

No, they are not.

The basis for the Objectivist Ethics are certain FACTS about what a human being with a volitional consciousness needs and must do in order to live a happy and successful life. It is based on these facts of human nature acquired by introspection, by observation of other people, and by the study of history.

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Brent, you have highlighted the crux of the matter, that is, reality and reason. For Rand, both reality and reason are absolutes. Therefore, in theory, the right application of reason should lead people to identical or similar conclusions.

KNOWLEDGE of reality is NOT an absolute. Just because something is a fact, doesn't mean that everyone knows it. Sometimes there are important facts you don't know and you make the best judgment possible with the limited facts you have. As a result you make a mistake -- an honest error of knowledge.

But as we know, nothing is that simple, so Rand introduced the notion of context. All knowledge is contextual, and events can be viewed from different contexts, hence it is possible to arrive at different conclusions on the same issue.
That is not what Ayn Rand meant.

"Context," in the epistemological sense, simply means the sum total of the knowledge available. People are not omniscient and always have a limited context. Often they don't know enough to make a correct decision which is neither a moral flaw nor a surprising occurrence.

So how is it possible to square this contextual, relative notion of truth with the absolute claims for reality and reason? Not very easily, I’m afraid, and this is the problem you have identified.

What problem? Just because something is a fact, doesn't mean that a given person knows it is a fact nor that it is even possible to find out what the facts are.

On minor matters, differences in context don’t matter a great deal -- one can enjoy Beethoven without qualms of conscience. But on matters of greater importance, differences in context can become intractable. In that situation there is a very strong temptation to treat context as an absolute, which makes it possible to integrate ones knowledge with the absolute demands of reality and reason.
:) Are you saying that on important issues, one should be omniscient?

The downside is that there is also a strong temptation to regard ones opponent as not just mistaken, but evasive.

Lacking evidence that a person is deliberately ignoring relevant knowledge he actually has, there is no reason to conclude that is anything other than an honest error.

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Another source of disagreement between Objectivists is the process of essentialization.

Objectivists can see the same movie and draw opposite conclusions, because we disagree about the essence of a movie. Or we could know the same facts about a person and disagree about the essence of his character.

The fact is that principles don't apply themselves. Someone must decide how to apply them. When it comes to complex or mixed cases, it isn't self-evident what trait is the most fundamental -- or even if there is just one fundamental. It's possible to have a mixed case that has two conflicting fundamental premises, and it may be very difficult to determine which (or whether) one is more fundamental.

Case in point: this election. Who is the bigger threat: Bush or Kerry? Bush's religion poses a deep, long-term threat, as his actions may pave the way for an even more religious candidate. Kerry poses a threat through his way-far-left socialist agenda, but even more of a threat is his very likely retreat from the war on terrorism. So which is worse for the country: a deep, long-term potential threat -- or an immediate one?

I think we're better off dealing with the immediate threat, then going after the deeper one. Other Objectivists thought differently.

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In the context of the possibility of error in endorsing a Presidential candidate, it may be beneficial to look at Peikoff endorsement of Clinton in the 1992 election. I am quoting from the transcript of his Ford Hall Forum speech, which was published in the September 1992 of "The Intellectual Activist:"

"I want to stress at this point that the above is Peikoff's recommendation for November, not Ayn Rand's or Objectivism's. A philosophy is a view of the universe; it does not back candidates. There can be legitimate differences among people of the same philosophy in regard to political tactics and strategy. So please think the issues over and judge for yourself."

It is encouraging to see that many Objectivists thought for themselves in this year's election and voted for Bush.

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The purpose of the thread was to ask how, on questions of "moral" or "ethical" judgement in general (not specifically the U.S. election), Objectivists in general (not specifically LP or HB) could differ so widely in their opinions. I gave examples of the threads about the war in Iraq, homosexuality and abortion.

There are a lot of students of Objectivism and nonObjectivists in this forum, so I think that largely explains the different opinions you see. I don't think there is any major disagreement about Iraq and abortion among leading Objectivists such as LP and HB. None of them seem to want to say much at all about homosexuality.

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Betsy: “KNOWLEDGE of reality is NOT an absolute. Just because something is a fact, doesn't mean that everyone knows it. Sometimes there are important facts you don't know and you make the best judgment possible with the limited facts you have.”

Sure. But what I said was that reason and reality are regarded as absolutes, so at least in theory everything could be known. Unless, of course, you believe that reason is forever limited in its scope.

Betsy: “"Context," in the epistemological sense, simply means the sum total of the knowledge available.”

Sure. I’m not disputing that.

Betsy: “What problem? Just because something is a fact, doesn't mean that a given person knows it is a fact nor that it is even possible to find out what the facts are.”

You seem to be saying that reason is limited, and possibly always will be.

Betsy: “Are you saying that on important issues, one should be omniscient?”

That’s rather academic, since nobody is in fact omniscient. What I said was that there is a strong temptation to treat context as an absolute, that is, to make black and white, absolute judgements where the context may not warant it. I’m not saying this is a good thing.

Eddie

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Tommyedison: “I apologize if I am misrepresenting your position. I can't understand what you mean here. You seem to be implying that enjoying Beethoven's music is contextual. Could you please elaborate?”

Some people enjoy Beethoven’s music, some people don’t, other are indifferent. Musical enjoyment is a matter of taste, and taste is formed by experience and various views we have about life and art. So we approach Beethoven or any other art form from within this context. Perhaps that’s a wrong use of the term contextual.

Eddie

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Sure. But what I said was that reason and reality are regarded as absolutes, so at least in theory everything could be known. Unless, of course, you believe that reason is forever limited in its scope.

You can't know even in theory every single thing President Bush is going to do for the next four years (even if you had every single piece of information that currently exists, which of course you don't). Bush has free will, so the best you can do is try to predict his actions based on past behavior and stated beliefs. The same goes of course for Senator Kerry. That means that a preferred Presidential candidate can never be proven to be the absolutely correct choice. (although in some cases it is much easier to defend a preference than in others eg Goldwater vs Johnson)

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Godless Capitalist: “You can't know even in theory every single thing President Bush is going to do for the next four years (even if you had every single piece of information that currently exists, which of course you don't). Bush has free will, so the best you can do is try to predict his actions based on past behavior and stated beliefs.”

Of course. There are many influences on anyone’s courses of action so it’s not possible to predict the future with any certainty. When I said that if reality and reason are absolutes, in theory everything could be known, this cannot for obvious reasons apply to the future.

But elections are not just about predicting the future. As you imply, they’re also about weighing up the importance of the candidates’ stands on various issues, and in the present case, which man is better for America.

You don’t have to be a fortune teller to believe that one will be better than the other. If you also believe that it’s possible to objectively ascertain which one will be better, you will also believe that there is a right and a wrong answer.

The question is: which is which? If two men following the same principles and the same methods can come to radically different conclusions, then the scope for honest error is obviously wider than Leonard Peikoff once claimed.

Eddie

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Betsy: “KNOWLEDGE of reality is NOT an absolute. Just because something is a fact, doesn't mean that everyone knows it. Sometimes there are important facts you don't know and you make the best judgment possible with the limited facts you have.”

Sure. But what I said was that reason and reality are regarded as absolutes, so at least in theory everything could be known. Unless, of course, you believe that reason is forever limited in its scope.

Everything is is knowABLE because all of reality is open to reason, but not everything is KNOWN or ever will be because men are not and never will be omniscient.

Betsy: “What problem? Just because something is a fact, doesn't mean that a given person knows it is a fact nor that it is even possible to find out what the facts are."

You seem to be saying that reason is limited, and possibly always will be.

I am saying that any particular man's KNOWLEDGE is limited and always will be because nobody is omniscient.

Let's keep the context of the original point which was accounting for the fact that Objectivists disagreed over who to vote for. I say it is because nobody knows for sure what motivates the candidates and what free will actions they will take in the future. The limit isn't reason -- it's knowledge.

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But elections are not just about predicting the future. As you imply, they’re also about weighing up the importance of the candidates’ stands on various issues, and in the present case, which man is better for America.

I disagree. When you vote for a candidate your main purpose is not to grade or evaluate their philosophical statements. It is to select a Commander in Chief for the next four years. A candidate's philosophical statements -- and especially his actions -- are only of value to the degree they DO predict the future and, specifically, how good a job he is likely to do as President.

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Betsy: “Everything is is knowABLE because all of reality is open to reason…”

If you’re not omniscient, how do you know that?

Betsy: “When you vote for a candidate your main purpose is not to grade or evaluate their philosophical statements.”

I said nothing about “philosophical statements”. I said elections are also about weighing up the candidates’ stands on various issues. That’s why the parties release details of policy, and why candidates are quizzed on those policies.

Of course, people want to gain an idea of the character of the candidates, and how they might act in the job. I didn’t rule that out. But it’s clear enough, for example, where Bush and Kerry differed on tax policy. No crystal ball needed there.

I think you’re creating a false dichotomy between a candidate’s policy positions and his possible future actions, whereas his future actions as president will be informed in large measure by his policies.

Eddie

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Eddie, its not a false dichotomy. A candidate's stated positions can only be used to predict future actions; they are not absolute guarantees. And a person may like some of each candidate's positions and dislike others, thus not having a clear basis to choose.

Betsy: “Everything is is knowABLE because all of reality is open to reason…”

If you’re not omniscient, how do you know that?

This is an interesting point. There could be facts about reality that are inherently unknowable to us. One example is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (not the loopy interpretation in which reality is statistical, the more sensible interpretation in which it is just not possible to know both the position and momentum of a subatomic particle to more than some degree of precision).

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[...] But what I said was that reason and reality are regarded as absolutes [...]

What I said was that there is a strong temptation to treat context as an absolute, that is, to make black and white, absolute judgements where the context may not warant it. [...]

In reading back through your posts, I see that you use the term "absolute" many times. What idea does that term name for you? In other words, to what does absolute refer?

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Godless Capitalist: “Eddie, its not a false dichotomy. A candidate's stated positions can only be used to predict future actions; they are not absolute guarantees."

I agree that a candidate's stated positions can be used to predict future actions. But Betsy seems to be saying that policies have no bearing on future actions, whereas I am saying they do.

“There could be facts about reality that are inherently unknowable to us. One example is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle …the more sensible interpretation in which it is just not possible to know both the position and momentum of a subatomic particle to more than some degree of precision.”

I have only a layman’s knowledge of quantum physics, but the interesting thing about uncertainty principle is that it seems to be directly derived from observing the real world. Other philosophers have come up with more fanciful and hypothetical queries -- eg “What’s it like to be a bat?” – to highlight some of the limits of our knowledge.

Eddie

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BurgesLau: “In reading back through your posts, I see that you use the term "absolute" many times. What idea does that term name for you? In other words, to what does absolute refer?”

Some philosophers use the term absolute to mean reality as a unity, so they have to find a way of overcoming apparent dichotomies, such as subject/object, mind/body and so on.

Rand doesn’t use the term in quite that ways far as I understand it, she says that reality or the external world exists as an objective absolute, independently of man’s consciousness.

She also seems to believe that the facts of reality can be directly apprehended via the method of reason, and that this method – logic -- is derived from reality. Since reality is absolute, facts are facts, and reason is the identification of those facts, it follows that reason must be also be absolute. Therefore, since the natural world is determined, reason can confidently predict future events such as sunrises etc.

When it comes to human events, however, predictions can be less than reliable, because human beings have free will. So there’s some latitude there for judgement. Even so, in the case of Peikoff for Kerry, it seems to me that he is being cut a lot of slack, more than would be given to someone of lesser standing. But that’s just my judgement. Future events may prove me wrong.

Eddie

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Godless Capitalist: “Eddie, its not a false dichotomy. A candidate's stated positions can only be used to predict future actions; they are not absolute guarantees."

I agree that a candidate's stated positions can be used to predict future actions. But Betsy seems to be saying that policies have no bearing on future actions,

I am saying no such thing. I say there is no necessary connection between stated positions and future actions. People have free will and can be dishonest. In politics, they often are.

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