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Objectivism and Psychology

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[Mod's note: Split from an earlier topic. -sN]
 

As for the so-called critics - they seem to come and go.
In 5years of foruming I have yet to see a convincing assault on Objectivism. The intellectuals who do try, either misunderstand it, or deliberately misinterpret it. Others with honesty and knowledge have questioned or fine-tuned deep abstractions I can barely grasp, but it all only serves to strengthen conviction in the "immutable core" of the philosophy.
(Now I actively seek out criticism : Bring it on! But at least come with an original or challenging argument this time...)

An argument which is original or challenging to you? How is anyone to know what you know? A forum which seeks new members should expect them to ask old questions and should be prepared to offer brief and respectful replies, otherwise it becomes a hangout for a gang of good old boys and girls who know the jargon, the pat answers, and are prepared to slap down anyone who dares to ask a naive question.
 
After many decades of Objectivism and objectivism, I have drawn the conclusion that philosophy is a short subject, suitable to a small pamphlet (economics is a brochure, politics is a poster) and the art of philosophy includes the virtue of brevity. Ayn reduced her philosophy to a paragraph.
 
My main objection to most of Objectivism's adherents is their habit of shaming and humiliating anyone who questions them. This is hardly a vice exclusive to them, of course, but as a group, they seem to relish this approach to debate far more than, say, Christians (present day) or Libertarians. I blame Ayn and Nathaniel for setting this tone, along with many of their early followers. It was their standard practice to make psychological / epistemological diagnosis of anyone who opposed them (although on TV, I once watched Nathaniel say “In a debate between gentlemen, one does not question the motives of one's opponents”).
 
Psychobabble is bad philosophy. Psychology is not a science, it is a guessing game. We can blab all day about what we think is going on in the minds of others, but we will never actually know. That is a fact. Psychology is almost always used as a means to insult others. Accusing others of “psycho-epistemological” sins such as “evasion” is guaranteed to offend, not convince, and it is an utterly unprovable accusation.  Telling others who they should be sexually attracted to is utterly offensive and invalid.
 
I wonder if this bad habit is more easily developed by writers of fiction. They tell us, in their stories, all about what is going on in the minds of their characters. Perhaps they mistakenly assume that they can see into the minds of real people. They cannot.
 
I am here because I just got an email inviting me to check out this newly formatted forum. But already I see signs of what I call the Objectivist Tone: Beware! We do Not Sanction those who Disagree. However, anyone who cares about your sanction or lack thereof, is a fool, which makes it foolish to post such warnings.
 
After more than 50 years of pondering Ayn, I have come to these conclusions:
Psychology is an intellectual fraud.
Insults are anti-debate - meaning that they function to end debate.
Coercive monopoly is evil.
 
And since Ayn included these errors in her philosophy, I now call myself an objectivist. I still love and respect her memory. She was a great thinker and artist and I am convinced that her heart was in the right place. But she was mistaken about some important philosophical questions.
 
John Howard

Edited by softwareNerd
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I am here because I just got an email inviting me to check out this newly formatted forum.

Those rare emails always have the effect of also bringing back a few people who are then reminded about why they left. Nevertheless, thanks for checking back in and for posting.
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Putting aside the Objectivist Tone for a second, it seems like you're also against arguing and judging itself. Maybe not... So, how about just psychology, which you are definitely against? Should we just throw up our hands and try not to sort out the information that comes our way, even when we don't seek it out?

Edited by JASKN
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Putting aside the Objectivist Tone for a second, it seems like you're also against arguing and judging itself. Maybe not... So, how about just psychology, which you are definitely against? Should we just throw up our hands and try not sort out the information that comes our, way even when we don't seek it out?

If I were against arguing, why would I be criticizing those who wreck debates with psychobabble?  If I were against judging, why would I post my judgements, as I just did?  Psychology does not "sort out the information that comes our way".  No information about the minds of others comes our way.  All we have is their behavior, which includes their speech.  We can know they have minds, since they communicate.  We can only guess about the contents and workings of those minds.  And such guesses are both unprovable and useless.  Seeing patterns in behavior is not seeing into a mind. Psychological statements are utterly unnecessary to the art of philosophy.

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Psychology does not "sort out the information that comes our way".  No information about the minds of others comes our way.  All we have is their behavior, which includes their speech.  We can know they have minds, since they communicate.  We can only guess about the contents and workings of those minds.  And such guesses are both unprovable and useless.  Seeing patterns in behavior is not seeing into a mind. Psychological statements are utterly unnecessary to the art of philosophy.

Behavior and speech isn't information? Those things are directly linked to the content of a mind, whether that mind is trying to present the information truthfully or not. Psychology, the study of the mind, is "utterly unnecessary" to philosophy, all of it...?

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If I were against arguing, why would I be criticizing those who wreck debates with psychobabble?  If I were against judging, why would I post my judgements, as I just did?  Psychology does not "sort out the information that comes our way".  No information about the minds of others comes our way.  All we have is their behavior, which includes their speech.  We can know they have minds, since they communicate.  We can only guess about the contents and workings of those minds.  And such guesses are both unprovable and useless.  Seeing patterns in behavior is not seeing into a mind. Psychological statements are utterly unnecessary to the art of philosophy.

I agree with Nathaniel Branden's statement (that discussing the opponent's psychology in a debate about another topic is irrational), but our psychology is our driving force. Dismissing it would make any philosophy you come up with about as useful as studying an ant colony to model society by.

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Seeing patterns in behavior is not seeing into a mind.

Do you agree that there is no way to tell if humiliating responses you mention are actually welcomed by the people they target? By your own claim, surely this is an assumption that is just as probably true as the assumption that they feel humiliated or angry or frustrated, etc. Edited by softwareNerd
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Behavior and speech isn't information?

I defend debate by criticizing psychologizing. You suggest that I am against arguing.

I write several paragraphs presenting my judgments. You suggest I am against judging.

I say we have information only about behavior and speech, not mind. You ask if behavior and speech are not information.

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Do you agree that there is no way to tell if humiliating responses you mention are actually welcomed by the people they target? By your own claim, surely this is an assumption that is just as probably true as the assumption that they feel humiliated or angry or frustrated, etc.

I do not address how people feel, I was using those terms to describe the speech, not its effect on the listener. However, most people do not react well debate-wise to such rhetorical tactics. Often, at that point, the debate is derailed. Technically, psychobabble is a change of subject, an irrelevancy.

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I agree with Nathaniel Branden's statement (that discussing the opponent's psychology in a debate about another topic is irrational), but our psychology is our driving force. Dismissing it would make any philosophy you come up with about as useful as studying an ant colony to model society by.

There is no such thing as "our psychology". There is your psychology which you would do well to study if you aspire to living well. But if you speak of my psychology, you are pretending to know what you cannot know. Hardly objective.

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I defend debate by criticizing psychologizing. You suggest that I am against arguing.
I write several paragraphs presenting my judgments. You suggest I am against judging.
I say we have information only about behavior and speech, not mind. You ask if behavior and speech are not information.

This is an internet forum where words and meaning are easily misunderstood, and neither of us can read the other's mind. So, I reply to your smattering of commentary with some points that don't make sense to me, trying to pull out what you're getting at. It goes something like:

 

[...]I have drawn the conclusion that philosophy is a short subject, suitable to a small pamphlet (economics is a brochure, politics is a poster) and the art of philosophy includes the virtue of brevity. Ayn reduced her philosophy to a paragraph.

[...]

This is hardly a vice exclusive to them, of course, but as a group, they seem to relish this approach to debate far more than, say, Christians (present day) or Libertarians.

[...]

Psychobabble is bad philosophy. Psychology is not a science, it is a guessing game.

[...]

I wonder if this bad habit is more easily developed by writers of fiction. They tell us, in their stories, all about what is going on in the minds of their characters. Perhaps they mistakenly assume that they can see into the minds of real people. They cannot.

[...]But already I see signs of what I call the Objectivist Tone: Beware! We do Not Sanction those who Disagree.

[...]

Psychology is an intellectual fraud.

You write that philosophy is a short subject -- with no point in arguing about it? We don't know.

You rank Objectivists below Christians (even if only in a narrow way) -- does this mean you're against parts of Objectivism? We don't know.

You are against "pscyhobabble" and even all of psychology -- since psychology, the study of the mind, is obviously a valid endeavor, what does he really mean? We don't yet know.

You write some "psychobabble" of your own about Ayn Rand as a fiction writer -- yet still, let's maintain some benefit of the doubt.

You pop up with a smattering of commentary, including criticizing all participants of the forum -- conversation prospects with you starting to not look too good. But, it's only been a couple of comments, there's probably more to be said.

 

See? Maybe try giving some benefit of the doubt. I still can't tell why you're here -- lucky us, we've got this forum with which to pull apart the ideas.

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This is an internet forum where words and meaning are easily misunderstood, and neither of us can read the other's mind. So, I reply to your smattering of commentary with some points that don't make sense to me, trying to pull out what you're getting at. It goes something like:

 

You write that philosophy is a short subject -- with no point in arguing about it? We don't know.

You rank Objectivists below Christians (even if only in a narrow way) -- does this mean you're against parts of Objectivism? We don't know.

You are against "pscyhobabble" and even all of psychology -- since psychology, the study of the mind, is obviously a valid endeavor, what does he really mean? We don't yet know.

You write some "psychobabble" of your own about Ayn Rand as a fiction writer -- yet still, let's maintain some benefit of the doubt.

You pop up with a smattering of commentary, including criticizing all participants of the forum -- conversation prospects with you starting to not look too good. But, it's only been a couple of comments, there's probably more to be said.

 

See? Maybe try giving some benefit of the doubt. I still can't tell why you're here -- lucky us, we've got this forum with which to pull apart the ideas.

I think philosophy is a short subject. I said nothing about the value of debating it, did I?

I have found that Objectivists are more prone to psychobabble insults than Christians or Libertarians.

I made very clear that there were parts of Objectivism I disagree with.

There is no such thing as a study of "the" mind. You can study yours, no one else's.

I wrote no psychobabble about Ayn. I said "I wonder...", consistent with my view that psychology is guessing.

I did not criticize all participants in this forum.

I did not pop up. My comments are not a smattering.

Why I'm here is not your concern and not something you can ever know.

Edited by howardofski
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howardofski in #28

There is no such thing as a study of "the" mind. You can study yours, no one else's.

 

The field of psychology is, I think, a field or subject capable of study but I do agree that given the subjective nature of experience and volition a huge monkey wrench is thrown in when trying to determine behaviour of individuals when ' applying the science' of psychology.

Edited by tadmjones
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howardofski in #28

There is no such thing as a study of "the" mind. You can study yours, no one else's.

 

The field of psychology is, I think, a field or subject capable of study but I do agree that given the subjective nature of experience and volition a huge monkey wrench is thrown in when trying to determine behaviour of individuals when ' applying the science' of psychology.

I agree. I think there are general statements we can safely make about "the" mind, such as that it has free will, can perceive reality, etc. These are more philosophical than psychological. And though Nathaniel Branden takes the title of Psychologist, most of what he writes of in his books is simply good philosophy. My objection is to the debate tactic which Ayn herself termed "psychologizing" - contemptuous references to one's opponent's mind. I am impressed with how popular a tactic it is, even among Objectivists, who ought to know better.

My real interest in bringing this up is the quality of debate itself. I find that the two most popular techniques of debate cheating are psychobabble and misrepresentation (sometimes called Straw Man argument). You can spot the debate cheat by his pattern of making you - his opponent - the subject of his statements. He will discuss your motives, and misstate your positions.

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My real interest in bringing this up is the quality of debate itself. I find that the two most popular techniques of debate cheating are psychobabble and misrepresentation (sometimes called Straw Man argument).

True. Though I think psychology is a valid pursuit of knowledge, it is true that people will accuse others of evasion etc. without sufficient evidence. (Rand criticized what she termed "psychologizing" -- and it works both ways: i.e. including making excuses for a wrong argument from an opponent you like.)

And, "straw man" arguments crop up too. Also, a few other polemic techniques. What they all have in common are a failure to understand the opponent.

All internet forums have "noise", and this noise can be filtered out at various rates. The problem is that such filtering often causes a signal-loss as well. Different forums make different choices about hat combination works best for its members.

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There is no such thing as a study of "the" mind. 

If this is the essence of your argument, don't expect it to be taken seriously on an Objectivist (or an objectivist) forum. It cannot be taken seriously. We're a single species. There is such a thing as the study of the human mind, just like there is such a thing as the study of the human body.

 

Obviously, such a blatantly anti-science attitude is met with varying levels of hostility, in different circles. Objectivists are one of the groups who will contradict it in an assertive, decisive manner, while some other, less rational groups might be more accepting. 

 

But this is the reason for it. Your speculation of why we disagree IS the psychobabble. You have pshychologized more in these posts than I've seen from anyone, in a while.

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On a quick scan of this, am I correct in surmizing that Howardofski is berating Objectivists at large for not being Objectivist 'enough'? That's a fresh approach. But I'm in danger of psycho-babbling, so should stop here.

(Nice new look, O.O Admin!)

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On a quick scan of this, am I correct in surmizing that Howardofski is berating Objectivists at large for not being Objectivist 'enough'? That's a fresh approach. But I'm in danger of psycho-babbling, so should stop here.

(Nice new look, O.O Admin!)

Yes, I am. It's good you stopped before psycho-babbling.

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Obviously, such a blatantly anti-science attitude is met with varying levels of hostility...

I say psychology is not science and you say I am anti-science. That does not follow at all. It would be more reasonable to guess that I am anti-psychology because I am pro-science. And that would be correct.

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