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An Open Letter To Craig Biddle

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MisterSwig
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Craig,

I have subscribed to your publication, The Objective Standard, for the last four years. However, I will not renew my subscription on account of your recent denigration of Leonard Peikoff. Below I describe what I consider to be the more relevant facts which led me to this action. However, out of respect for this forum’s policies, I have edited out most of my analysis and all of my evaluations of those facts, which I suspect would get me punished or banned if I included them. If you, or anyone else, wants to see my full argument, you can contact me through my personal website.

1. Does Peikoff provide evidence to support his conclusion?

In your article, Justice for John P. McCaskey, you claim that:

Rather than provide good reasons in support of his condemnation of McCaskey, Peikoff has provided only [an] unsupported conclusion.

I believe this is your main objection: that Peikoff fails to provide any evidence for his moral condemnation of McCaskey. However, in the email to Arline Mann, Peikoff emphasizes the point that while serving as a member of the ARI board of directors, McCaskey was simultaneously denouncing an ARI-sponsored book that is not only based on ideas formulated by the founder of ARI, but also approved of by him. This is a piece of evidence that Peikoff provides before his moral condemnation in the next paragraph, and immediately before his conclusion that either he goes or McCaskey goes. Yet it is the only substantive part of the email which you do not quote or mention in your article.

2. Should we assume that Peikoff has no evidence?

After claiming that Peikoff provides no evidence, you then write this:

Even if Peikoff personally has good reason to condemn McCaskey, his failure to make known what that reason is, his failure to present evidence or argument in support of his assertion, means that those of us who need to make a judgment on this matter must do so on the assumption that he has no good reason.

If I understand correctly, here you assume to be true that which you admit cannot be known--because it only exists in Peikoff’s mind. Put another way, Peikoff has not revealed his evidence publicly, and he ignores your private emails, so therefore you are correct in concluding that no such evidence exists. And since, on this view, Peikoff is morally condemning McCaskey without possessing a shred of evidence, he must therefore be acting nonobjectively and unjustly. This is the assumption-based evaluation you make of the man who “fueled [your] intellectual development more than anyone except Ayn Rand.”

3. What does “good reason” mean?

You repeatedly use the phrase "good reason" as perhaps a synonym for evidence. I note that you only use this phrase when referring specifically to Peikoff's alleged non-evidence regarding his moral judgment of McCaskey. At other times in the article, mostly while making general statements, you prefer the word evidence.

For example, you make this general statement about arbitrary claims:

To accept an idea in support of which there is no evidence is to indulge in the arbitrary.

And then in the very next sentence, you make a similarly formulated statement, only it is applied specifically to Peikoff:

To morally condemn a man, authorize that condemnation to be made public, and then fail to provide a good reason for that condemnation is nonobjective and unjust.

It appears that the word evidence suddenly becomes “good reason” when you denigrate Peikoff. Perhaps this is done only for stylistic purposes. But if that is the case, then it seems very strange that “good reason” is reserved solely for Peikoff and appears in none of the general statements.

Good bye,

Sean Green (aka William Swig)

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Swig,

If you write a thorough and respectful analysis, I doubt you would get banned for speaking your mind. I encourage you to do so because what you've presented here is not at all convincing. Too much reaching, too little engaging the facts of the case.

--Dan Edge

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A small semantic point...

Craig,

I have subscribed to your publication, The Objective Standard, for the last four years. However, I will not renew my subscription on account of your recent denigration of Leonard Peikoff.

...

It appears that the word evidence suddenly becomes “good reason” when you denigrate Peikoff.

underline mine

Definition of DENIGRATE

1: to attack the reputation of : defame <denigrate one's opponents>

2: to deny the importance or validity of : belittle <denigrate their achievements>

Biddle made it clear that he is judging Peikoff's specific act as unjust. He is not attacking Peikoff's reputation, nor denying the importance or validity of Peikoff's work. In fact, as you quoted, he acknowledges Peikoff as his second-greatest intellectual/professional inspiration.

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2. Should we assume that Peikoff has no evidence?

That is the thing... if your aim is objectivity - we should not have to (and ought not to) assume anything either way!

We ought to judge people based on the demonstrable facts of what they have actually said and done and not based on assumptions that some other facts may exist.

Dr. Peikoff does not have to provide his reasons but at the same time he accepts the consequences of Objectivism supporters having to judge based on what they do know.

Assumptions of whether he does or does not have valid reasons are absolutely arbitrary and can not be a part of my and other's objective evaluation.

Trust, objectively, should never go that far as to accept someone's moral denunciation of a person without a shred of evidence - when that judgment is in a direct contradiction to everything known about this man.

From Leonard Peikoff, “The Philosophy of Objectivism” :

First, the agnostic allows the arbitrary into the realm of human cognition. He treats arbitrary claims as ideas proper to consider, discuss, evaluate—and then he regretfully says, “I don’t know,” instead of dismissing the arbitrary out of hand.

I am not going to ignore what Dr. Peikoff taught me.

Judgment ought to always be based on facts.

This is NOT equivalent to a situation in which two of your friends accuse each other of immorality and the evidence of each side contradicts the other so there is no way to know by the facts which side is right or wrong. In such case, you have no other choice but to go by who you judge as the better person (his past reputation with you, in your estimate the clearest epistemology of ect)

In THIS situation the evidence of immorality was not provided. It is not equivalent. Facts do not cancel each other out - there is NO FACTS presented by the accusatory side.

For those who clam that there is not enough information to judge.

We can always make a judgment. Judgment is always contextual. What can be lacking is evidence to change that judgment. Objectively, that judgment is innocent until proven guilty or not qualified until proven qualified.

Edited by softwareNerd
Typos fixed, and see poster's next post
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Sean,

(1) Have you read the emails McCaskey wrote to Harriman, and the Amazon review McCaskey wrote about LL? McCaskey never denounced anything or anyone. He respectfully raised several objections to the historical accuracy of Harrimans examples. Since Dave Harriman is not an expert in the history of science (and McCaskey is), Harriman should have at least seriously considered McCaskey's constructive criticisms. It's clear from Harriman's email to Paul Hsieh that he did not. Secondly, McCaskey was ASKED by the ARI board to review some of the LL material. If McCaskey found problems with the text he was asked to review, what would you have him do? Remember, Peikoff/Harriman denounced McCaskey for making PRIVATE criticisms of LL. McCaskey only made those criticisms public AFTER Peikoff pushed him off the board.

(2) David Harriman maintains (in his letter to Paul Hsieh) that the emails between Harriman and McCaskey make up the substance of the dispute. Peikoff himself says this in the letter to Arline Mann. Harriman is in a position to know, and I think we should believe his testimony. Peikoff denounced McCaskey because of what McCaskey wrote in his emails to Harriman, and (most of) those emails are now public for us all to read. To claiming that there is some other unknown evidence that makes Peikoff's position reasonable is baseless speculation, given that one of the parties of this dispute (Harriman) testifies that we have all of the evidence needed to reach a judgment.

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Ayn Rand on the issue of trust:

Taken from Letters of Ayn Rand edited by Micheal S. Berliner, introduction by Leonard Peikoff.

(This letter was written by Ayn Rand in 1949 (so after publication of The Fountainhead) to Archibald Ogden. She writes about what she expects from others in relation to her work and her judgment (even though they are familiar with her previous work - and her history of judgment about it))

on p454:

Now, if you want to continue that fight about the author-publisher relationship, okay, I'll continue. Our whole disagreement, I think, lies in the concept of "trust". You seem to believe that it is moral to trust someone, and you feel that a lack of trust is improper, immoral, and somehow insulting. I, as a rationalist, consider any form of blind faith or trust immoral.

I would not want anyone to trust me blindly, in the sense of accepting my good intentions as a guarantee of a good performance from me in the future. Intentions are not a guarantee of anything, because human judgment is not automatic and infallible. The complete honesty of my intention and desire to write a good book is not an automatic guarantee that the book will be good. The quality of the book will depend on the kind of judgment I exercise in writing it. And any act of human judgment is a new, fresh act each time. A man's past performance is only an indication of the likelihood that his future performance will have the same quality; an indication, but not a guarantee.

(then she goes on to say that the same applies to publishers and their honest intentions to do their best with a book for the purpose of mutual profit. Her point is: there is no place here for "trust")

then later on page 455.

Personally, I would not want a publisher to accept a book of mine without reading it, even if he were willing to do so. This, really, is the basic quarrel between us: I would consider blind trust insulting: I do not want trust, I want rational judgment.

This is what Ayn Rand wrote about herself.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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in the email to Arline Mann, Peikoff emphasizes the point that while serving as a member of the ARI board of directors, McCaskey was simultaneously denouncing an ARI-sponsored book that is not only based on ideas formulated by the founder of ARI, but also approved of by him.

By privately alerting Harriman to what McCaskey believes are historical inaccuracies, McCaskey protects the legacy of ARI, Harriman and Peikoff. Acting otherwise would run afoul of his position as a member of ARI board of directors. You've conflated constructive criticism with denunciation and denigration - I suggest you untangle the concepts and try again.

As it stands, your letter fails to offer meaningful support to Peikoff. I'd like to see the history experts weigh in on this; I don't know enough about it to judge for myself.

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We ought to judge people based on the demonstrable facts of what they have actually said and done and not based on assumptions that some other facts may exist.

Dr. Peikoff does not have to provide his reasons but at the same time he accepts the consequences of Objectivism supporters having to judge based on what they do know.

Assumptions of whether he does or does not have valid reasons are absolutely arbitrary and can not be a part of my and other's objective evaluation.

Trust, objectively, should never go that far as to accept someone's moral denunciation of a person without a shred of evidence - when that judgment is in a direct contradiction to everything known about this man.

Agree. Right now I have no reason to think poorly of Leonard Peikoff, McCaskey, or Craig Biddle in light of recent events. However, I will at some point be required to take a position, as is the nature of such things. It is up to these individuals to, if they wish to do so, provide more information to better improve the context available for decision-making. If negative views are required to be made of some of the people I just mentioned due to their refusal, for whatever reason, to not provide that extra contextual information to better clarify what we know at the current time, then that is their own undoing, and was their own choice.

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Furthermore, if this is indeed a dispute about philosophy (and not history), what business does ARI have in weighing in one way or the other? Objectivism is a closed system. It seems to me that even Peikoff cannot add to it at this point, let alone Harriman. Any new work, even if both true and consistent with Objectivism, will not be a part of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

I can only speculate that the primary reason ARI sided with Peikoff so difinitively is that he flexed his muscles over the estate copyrights. Otherwise, I can't see how this private dispute becomes such a public spectacle. Maybe something will come to light later to make me change my mind. As it stands, my formerly glowing opinion of Peikoff and ARI is now a mixed opinion.

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I can only speculate that the primary reason ARI sided with Peikoff so difinitively is that he flexed his muscles over the estate copyrights.

Based on the information I am currently aware of, I would have to agree with this statement. I will say however, that, despite all of Peikoff's excellent work and contributions towards to Objectivist cause and movement in general, and his scholarly manner in other respects, I get very nervous about situations like this in general. A person that is not active within the organization anymore, who is not a part of the board, and is officially retired should not hold this kind of power over the Ayn Rand Institute, or whatever organization they were once apart of.

Maybe I haven't thought this through, but my first thoughts are that what might have been the more appropriate thing to do was to give those rights over to the Ayn Rand Institute upon his retirement, or Yaron Brook even. I mean, he is the damn director of the Institute, I am sure he can be trusted with it. Maybe I am wrong, I don't know, thats just what seems to make sense to me. This just makes me worry that, if there was potentially some inappropriate actions that took place or some incorrect claims made, and if they were in fact by Dr. Peikoff, that this weird wielding of power that he has is a bit troublesome, as it would for anyone. It is unfortunate that not enough information and context has been provided so that I could be assured whether it was one way or the other. This is why I hate these types of things.

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... what might have been the more appropriate thing to do was to give those rights over to the Ayn Rand Institute upon his retirement, ...
True. I think one can semi-retire, but there is some minimal level of involvement needed, without which one becomes the absentee boss, out of touch with the organization. LP's level of involvement does not even rise to being concerned about what ARI donors think about the professionalism and integrity of the institute. Nobody who was concerned would release the letter he did for public consumption. It would have been easy enough tor him to ask someone from ARI to take the essential points from that letter and frame an official letter for public-release; it would have taken less than an hour of LP's time to review and finalize any such release. Even if that was done in the heat of emotion, having seen the way it has divided Objectivists, it would not take more than a few hours to release a slightly more explanatory note.

Now and then LP has mentioned that others around him were more motivated than he about setting up an institute to spread Objectivism. That's fair enough. I can fully understand someone thinking that it is a waste of his personal life to be excessively focussed on changing the world. One does not have to be an activist Objectivist to be a good Objectivist. It is even more understandable to continue to lose interest as one sees less chance of change within one's own lifetime. From LP's approach, it does seem that he really does not care about ARI anymore. He does not value it enough to act for the value. I am not talking about his act of asking for McCaskey's firing. Let's assume that firing McCaskey was the right thing to do for the ARI. Still, someone who cared enough would have spent a little time thinking about how it should be explained to the many ARI donors who would be concerned, to the many young Objectivist students who would wonder if they're associating themselves with the right movement, and so on. If one intends to lead people to battle, the least one has to do is show that one cares about winning. Obviously, LP no longer does.

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Swig,

If you write a thorough and respectful analysis, I doubt you would get banned for speaking your mind.

My full argument is now 2,500 words long and based upon some inherently disrespectful conclusions. I could not possibly publish the entire article here.

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Sean,

Have you read the emails McCaskey wrote to Harriman, and the Amazon review McCaskey wrote about LL? McCaskey never denounced anything or anyone.

Yes, I have read the sample emails and the review. I have read everything I could find on the matter, including several different articles and threads on various web sites, forums, and blogs. I don't have much interest in discussing McCaskey. But I will let him speak for himself. In his resignation letter he writes:

My feedback, always shared privately, has had a consistent theme: The historical accounts as presented are often inaccurate, and more accurate accounts would be difficult to reconcile with the philosophical point the author is claiming to make...

In the meeting I noted where the proposed theory of induction contradicted the historical record and speculated on ways the theory could be refined, if it had to be, to better match the history. This meeting is the “forum” Dr. Peikoff refers to.

Here McCaskey is denying the validity of the historical accounts presented in the book and also the proposed theory of induction itself. What more is required to identify his position as a denunciation of the book?

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Exactly, Steve.

Swig, could you please clarify something? Do you think that taking a mistaken position regarding history or philosophy warrants moral condemnation? Because that is exactly what you are doing; supporting a moral condemnation of McCaskey based on what you perceive to be a historical or philisophical disagreement.

Conspicuously absent of your last post is a declaration that Harriman's take on the history is even correct. Do you believe it to be correct? If so, could you explain it to a layman such as myself, or even to an expert?

Edit: To be fair to you Swig, I can't stand by this post until I read your 2,500 words. Maybe they will change my mind. If your answers to my questions aren't in your blog, will you please post them here soon?

Edited by FeatherFall
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Even stipulating that.... does denouncing the book constitute a disagreement with Objectivism--the philosophy of Ayn Rand?

I have no personal interest in whether McCaskey disagrees with Objectivism. I only brought up his denunciation of Harriman's book because it is part of Peikoff's evidence against McCaskey--and Biddle claims that Peikoff has provided no evidence.

Whether Peikoff's evidence supports his conclusion is another matter entirely. And I have no public comment about that, except to say that my regard for him has only increased since this controversy. I regard Peikoff to be the most brilliant philosophical thinker in the world today. I will continue to support him, buy his books, listen to his podcasts, and donate money to the Ayn Rand Institute.

I suspect that some people will say that I should not judge Biddle without first knowing whether Peikoff's or McCaskey's claims are true, since this is part of the controversy that prompted Biddle's article. I disagree. My problems with Biddle's article go much deeper than that minor issue.

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Swig, could you please clarify something? Do you think that taking a mistaken position regarding history or philosophy warrants moral condemnation? Because that is exactly what you are doing; supporting a moral condemnation of McCaskey based on what you perceive to be a historical or philisophical disagreement.

FeatherFall,

I hope reading my article helps you understand my position on Biddle, but in it I don't answer such questions about the Peikoff vs. McCaskey controversy.

Also, I'm assuming your question is actually rhetorical, since you answer it yourself. I will say, however, that I don't agree with you and leave it at that. You can read my prior post if you want further elaboration on why I remain silent on some of these issues.

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I only brought up his denunciation of Harriman's book because it is part of Peikoff's evidence against McCaskey--and Biddle claims that Peikoff has provided no evidence.

What aspects of Dr. McCaskey's criticisms of the book do you consider as evidence of a moral breech? Please explain.

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No, Swig, it wasn't rhetorical. After reading your bizarre manifesto Its clear that you don't understand even the basics of this one. I am particlarly annoyed by your repeated use of the word, "abstractionland," but that is a criticism of style.

"Good reason" is neither an anti-concept nor crypto-speak for the word "evidence." It simply is common parlance for "justifying one's actions". Which Peikoff hasn't done and apparently won't do. It appears that he doesn't think he needs to because he controls the copyrights. And it looks like he's right.

I invite everyone to request a copy of Evidence Against Craig Biddle so they can see how NOT to approach this subject.

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Craig Biddle has no business adding more flames to this issue, nor does anyone else. Dr. McCaskey resigned with specific intent: to prevent damage, etc... to ARI; however, people who are not even affected or who are not even actors in the issue keep running their mouths causing what McCaskey sought to prevent. Dr. Peikoff doesn't have to provide anyone a philosophical argument for his letter, and anyone who acts as if--or expects--memos, communiques, letters, to and amongst board members--of any organization--to be philosophically rich, is out of touch.

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