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  1. Definition of value

    She then identifies life as the standard that determines what is "proper" in this context.
  2. Rand vs. the new modern philosophy

    There is also The Ayn Rand Lexicon,, for a quick survey of a wide variety of topics that may be of most interest immediately and/or later on. It can also be used as a kind of index into the complete original works from which each excerpt is taken. "Philosophy" is one of the topics, as is "Objectivism" and "Definitions".
  3. Definition of value

    I come to this thread a little late, since I haven't been watching this website very closely for some weeks. Evidently the main point of dispute concerns two possible definitions of value: 1. That which one acts to gain and/or keep. 2. That which one acts to gain and/or keep in order to preserve and strengthen one's life. If I understand Leonid's claims correctly, there may also be a third possible definition at issue: 3. That which, if utilized appropriately by a living organism, can preserve and strengthen the organism's life. Proposal #3 differs from proposal #2 only in that #3 is intended to include objects which can "benefit" an organism's life (i.e., preserve and/or strengthen it) but which do not necessarily require action on the organism's part to obtain (though action of some kind, either automatic or volitional or both, is still needed by the organism to utilize the object appropriately). (Also, "organism" here and in Objectivism is not limited only to man until the issue of volitional choices is considered, as in "a code of values accepted by choice." Note, further, in the case of a phenomenon like sunlight, that plants typically turn their leaves so as to absorb it most efficiently, which counts as an "action", albeit automatic, in the Objectivist view) As I understand Ayn Rand's viewpoint, the original purpose of proposal #1 was to encompass the whole range of theories of value and morality that have been offered to man historically as serious guides to live by (or die by), including the notion of alleged "values" that are in fact -- in reason, logic and reality -- anti-life. Ayn Rand sought to show that even for anti-life theories and codes, the concept "value" which they depend on implicitly relies on the phenomenon of life -- of living action, goal-directed action, in the face of the alternative of life or death. Ayn Rand wanted to established that any theory of value, including anti-life theories, are misusing the concept "value" when they fail to recognize its objective dependence on the phenomenon of life. She accomplished it by pointing out that (a) values presuppose a valuer, who (b ) faces an alternative -- the most fundamental alternative being existence or non-existence, which all living entities face in the form of life or death. Leonid seems to understand the dependence of "value" on "life" very well (unlike traditional moral theorists). But if one starts out with proposal #2 or #3, one is left with no term referring to what anti-life moralists mean by "value." One is just offering a different definition of value, a definition that rules out the traditional anti-life theories at the outset, in advance of an argument to refute them. If one tries to show that the alternative definition (#2) is objective, i.e., based on reality and reason, one's argument doesn't quite point out that even the view of "value" put forth by traditional theories implicitly depends on life, too, as does the Objectivist view. In effect, one refutes the opposition by definition rather than by argument. That, in turn, is exactly what a great many opposing viewpoints in philosophy already do all the time, and Ayn Rand was strongly opposed to such an approach, if I remember correctly from various comments by Leonard Peikoff over the years regarding Ayn Rand's use of definitions. In fact, I vaguely recall one discussion in which Leonard Peikoff was explicitly asked why Objectivism seems to have two definitions for many key terms, and he explained why, as in the case of "value."
  4. The Logical Leap and criticism

    I've been re-reading The Logical Leap to understand more clearly what the proposed theory of induction actually is, and where its essentials are stated in the book. For those who may be interested, here is a summary of what I have found. The book contains a wealth of insights on induction, all very relevant, but some less central than others to the essential elements of the theory itself. See, for example, the section on "Discovery Is Proof," pp. 143-150, and "The Method of Proof," especially pp. 177-178 and 184-188. By far the best statement of the essence of the theory seems to occur much earlier in the book, in the section of Chapter 1 titled, "The Structure of Inductive Reasoning," pp. 29-35. The first few pages, pp. 29-33, discuss reasoning in general as "the process of inferring a conclusion from earlier knowledge," the nature and impossiblity of contradictions, and the application to both deductive and inductive inference. The discussion of how the law of non-contradiction applies to induction includes a description of Ben Franklin's experiments on lightning and the fact that his generalization, that lightning is electrical, cannot be denied without contradicting either his experimental results or his conceptual framework, or both. An inductive generalization of that kind thus has the same force of certainty as any valid deductive conclusion. An earlier paragraph on p. 28 strongly implies that the essence of the validation is man's cognitive capacity for measurement-omission in forming concepts: "measurement-omission applied to causal connections." From a casual reading, the claim seems to be that when man perceives a particular push on a particular ball, resulting in a particular instance of rolling, the measurement-omission that he used in forming his concepts of "push," "ball" and "roll" go beyond merely condensing perceptual data and creating a file folder for future instances. His concepts also mean that any instance of "push" applied to any instance of "ball" is certain to produce in the ball some instance of the action of "rolling." What is the justification for extrapolating one's conceptual "file folders" in that manner? Measurement-omission certainly gives man the ability to project a very likely outcome of pushing on a ball, but very likely is not the same as certain. On the other hand, we actually do hold such a generalization in a form that is a certainty, i.e., "pushing a ball causes it to roll, if it is free to roll and the push is hard enough." How does measurement-omission justify that certainty? Isn't it possible that the rolling action depends on many other properties of balls and pushes not shared by all instances, such that the causal connection might not necessarily hold true for all instances of pushes on balls? There is also the issue of context. The book readily acknowledges that all inductive generalizations are contextual, meaning that they are valid only if the context from which they were induced is preserved. Put a ball into the weightless environment of traveling in a space ship, and it probably will not roll when pushed. In fact, it won't even have anything to roll on. Part of the context of ball pushing (as a first-level generalization) is that the ball is resting on a surface of some kind, from which it does not move unless it is pushed (or pulled somehow). Another aspect of the context is that the ball must be free to move, i.e., not nailed or glued in place, or held by a magnet, etc. Still more context includes the direction of the push, i.e., we are not talking about pushing the ball directly downward into the surface on which it is resting, in which case it would simply deform (perhaps irreversibly) instead of rolling. Yet even when the context is preserved, there remains the issue of why measurement-omission justifies the certainty of first-level generalizations. I have not entirely resolved this issue myself, but there is a strong lead to a possible explanation at the very beginning of the same section of Chapter 1, on p. 21. Causality means that an entity acts in accord with its nature. We use measurement-omission to form the concept of a "ball." Hence, if we observe a particular ball acting in a particular way in response to a particular push, and if we can also see that what we are observing depends only on the essential defining characteristics of our concepts, then the generalization has to be true for all instances of those concepts. Indeed, that is precisely how a young child conceptualizes the generalization that "pushing a ball makes it roll." The child can readily comprehend that it doesn't matter who pushes the ball, or which ball he or another person pushes. The result is going to be of the same type, namely, an instance of rolling, differing only in degree (measurement) according to the specific measurements of the push, the ball, the rolling action, and the surface supporting the ball. This perspective makes sense to me, but it's not clear that this is what the book is actually agruing or offering as validation for the claim of certainty in first-level generalizations. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this issue and likewise wondered about it.
  5. A limit for Reason?

    Try defining more precisely what is meant by "understand" and "conceptualize." Man's conceptual faculty is basically a classification system -- a means of classifying concretes into various categories according to their attributes and their similarities and differences with other concretes. The "categories" themselves are defined according to the observed similarities and differences among all the concretes that one observes or learns about from other observers. Why would man ever be unable to observe what he observes, including any similarities and differences with other existents, and then either recognize a new concrete as an instance of a previously formed category, or create a new category, or simply treat the new concrete as a novel "special case" waiting to be classified further as the need and additional observations arise? Over time, it certainly could turn out that a mysterious new concrete actually has strong similarities to other previously known phenomena. Conceptualization doesn't imply or require omniscience. We know what we know, and we don't yet know what we don't yet know.
  6. Fat and glucose vs. fructose

    In other words, it is an error to equate all carbohydrates together as necessarily harmful, per se, especially if the claim attempts to rely on the evidence of human evolution. On the other hand, this particular excerpt doesn't deal with very recent (in evolutionary time) increases in consumption of refined carbohydrates, and whether or not any distinction between highly refined versus minimally refined carbs matters much in human nutrition and health. From the perspective of a neolithic but pre-modern diet, I would be very interested in any further references in the real scientific literature on whether or not it is important for a diet to be pre-modern, i.e., low in highly refined carbs. The excerpt provided by Carlos debunks those who propose to indict all carbs, but does not specifically discuss high consumption of highly refined carbs and their relation, if any, to "diseases of civilization." If I start to sound like a low-carb paleo advocate, I'm not; the illusion proceeds from lack of differentiation as to the type of carbs in question. I have voiced similar objections to Gary Taubes' GCBC for the same reason, although he provides a wealth of references regarding highly refined carbs. If it is not true that all carbs are necessarily bad, neither does it automatically follow that all carbs are necessarly good. I have often thought that Taubes' GCBC ought to be accompanied by a companion volume titled, "Good Carbs, Bad Carbs."
  7. Fat and glucose vs. fructose

    I would like to thank Rose Lake for providing detailed references and articles from the website of Dr. Kurt Harris. It has helped me understand in more detail where the "paleo" advocates are "coming from." I had already read Gary Taubes' book, Good Calories, Bad Calories (GCBC for short), and found it well worth thinking about, but I had never quite understood the link between Taubes and the "paleo" advocates. It's far clearer now. My own nutritional preference during the past nine years has been strongly neolithic (but decidedly pre-modern) -- i.e., a starch-based diet with the addition of fruits and vegetables. In analyzing a diet, I look first at where the main energy calories are coming from (protein vs. fat vs. carbohydrate), then at the sources of micronutrients (now more often referred to as "phytonutrients"), and finally at the total bulk (physically filling the digestive system to capacity). For my own needs, I rely almost entirely on unrefined or minimally refined starches for energy calories, and on vegetables and fruits (preferably whole and raw, such as whole fruit in moderation and a very large fresh salad daily, without salad dressing, relying on a small or medium whole tomato to serve the purpose of salad dressing). Lately I've also started testing a food supplement known as "Chlorella" (a single-celled plant) for additional phytonutrients. I strongly avoid animal products of all kinds, and I also strongly avoid the more refined carbohydrates such as white flour and table sugar. From that perspective, I readily noticed that Taubes is actually ambivalent about minimally refined starches. In the Epilogue (p. 454, conclusion #4, in the Anchor Books Edition, September 2008), Taubes writes: "Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer's diesease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization." Does the reference to "starches" here include minimally refined starches, or not? Taubes clearly says "refined carbohydrates." Is the qualifer, "refined," intended to apply to starches and sugars? I think probably so. Indeed, throughout most of the book, Taubes almost always uses expressions like "easily digestable, refined carbohydrates" when discussing harmful carbs. In Chapter 6, he explains that the "diseases of civilization" seem to have arisen historically at about the same time, and as a result of, greatly increased refinining of sugar and flour. The main chapter of the book that I could find where Taubes is less clear about whether he is indicting minimally refined starches as well as more highly refined ones, is Chapter 19. Just about everywhere else, he makes it more clear that he is specifically indicting the highly refined starches and sugars (leaving minimally refined starches out of the discussion and unevaluated). From the perspective of a neolithic (post-agriculture) diet, the distinction between minimally refined starches and more highly refined starches and sugars is extremely significant. Agriculture began to develop about 10,000 years ago, as Taubes explains, and made carbohydrates far more abundant. Not explained by Taubes is that the effect on human populations was enormous, enabling far larger population concentrations to develop, and allowing populations to remain more closely tied to particular land areas instead of having to migrate to wherever concentrations of wild animals could be found. Yet the "diseases of civilization" did not develop during those 10,000 years, until about the last 200 years, when increased refining of flour and sugars became more prevalent. Taubes explains the connection between diseases of civilization and carbohydrate refining in Chapter 6. Some 10,000 years of human experience with neolithic (but pre-modern) diets confirms that such diets, relying heavily on minimally refined starches for daily energy calories, have been of great value to human life. But if all carbs are bad, as the paleo advocates apparently maintain, then it follows that the rise of agriculture itself was bad for man. I see this as a huge, fundamental disconnect in the paleo approach. I also do not see how it can ever be practical for large human populations worldwide today ever to return to a diet that seeks to avoid or minimize carbohydrates in favor of animal proteins and fats (reducing carb consumption to such a low level that the body remains in fat-burning ketosis even after eating). Carbs of the right kind -- the minimally refined kind -- do not seem to deserve the criticisms they have received from paleo advocates. And even Gary Taubes doesn't actually go quite that far himself in GCBC, athough he does not seem to appreciate minimally refined starches as a potential value for man. (I must also add that Atkins and paleo advocates do not seem to deserive the harsh criticisms they have received from adherents of the "fat hypothesis" of coronary heart disease, as Taubes discusses in great detail in GCBC.) Still, if there is a scientific case to be made for claims that whole wheat flour (and gluten) cause identifiable harm to human health, even in the absence of conditions such as celiac disease, I want to know about it and examine the evidence more closely. The website puts forth some rather strong claims about wheat, which I intend to study in more detail as time allows. I rely quite heavily on wheat for my own energy calories, although I avoid store-bought bread of any kind, including whole wheat. (I make my own bread using 100% stone-ground whole wheat flour, and I use only about one tablespoon of 100% pure Maple syrup as a sweetener for 7 cups of flour). Both paleo advocates and neolithic advocates agree that man is an omnivore. But this simply means that man is able to digest animal prodcuts as well as plants, and survive thereby. It does not necessarily mean that man is best adapted to eat one or the other, or that man has in any way lost the ability to survive well by eating plants. Man evolved from herbivore apes. If being an omnivore means that man can survive equally well by eating mostly animals (and perhaps vegetables for micronutrients), I would not fault anyone for doing so, even though the starch-based meat-free diet that I have been following has worked very well for me and many others.
  8. The Deadliest Ideas

    Actually, isn't the question at root equivalent to asking what is the greatest human evil? Objectivism's answer to that is: evasion -- which may be described as acting on the implicit premise that wishing something can make it so, or that refusal to see it can make it go away.
  9. The right to a far trial must involve facing your accuser

    I don't quite understand this. What "accuser" do you want to face? Do you mean the officer who issued the citation? (He works for the state, too.) Is this judge proposing to replace the citing officer as well as replacing the prosecuting attorney? Where I live I've seen cases where there was no prosecuting attorney, but I've never heard of the judge trying to replace the citing officer as well. Where I live, the principle is, no officer, no conviction. Case dismissed, due to the officer not showing up. Lately, I also learned of a case, probably not uncommon at all, where the trial was simply postponed rather than dismissed, so that the officer could show up later. In that case, the officer still didn't show up, so the judge dismissed it. In my area, a defendant can also decline to "waive time" and insist on a speedy trial (within 45 days), in which case the judge may be constrained by law (and by a judicial policy of fairness) from postponing the trial more than once. Also, how can a judge offer any evidence in the trial if he didn't see the alleged crime and issue the citation? Are you talking about a case where the officer submits some kind of written evidence but doesn't show up at the trial in person? I would think you would have a very strong ground for moving to dismiss the case if there is no evidence against you, or no live officer to testify as to the evidence and submit to cross examination by you or your attorney (if you have one). In fact, in my area the defendant doesn't have to do anything if the officer doesn't show up. The judge will either postpone or dismiss on the spot.
  10. Understanding Causality of Emotions and Thoughts

    I found "Introvert by Choice" to be mostly a good discussion of introspection and its value (and Objectivism does, indeed, endorse the value of introspection). However, the term "introvert" may not be the right term for what Robin Gupta is describing. For example, the psychologist David Keirsey makes a sharp distinction in his book, Please Understand Me II, between "introverted" and "introspective." He uses "introverted" to mean simply being withdrawn, reserved, cautious, quiet, not particularly expressive in communicating with others -- but not necessarily introspective. Keirsey describes personality types that are highly introverted but not introspective. Someone who simply likes being alone with his hobbies, "puttering around" in a makeshift "lab," or tending to a garden, or fixing cars, etc., may prefer working alone while dealing predominantly with the "here and now," the directly sensory-perceptual, physical skills and activities, without much "deep thought" about abstract issues or his own mental inner workings. In Keirsey's classification system, there are "introspective" people (N-type) and "sensing" people (S-type), as well as introverted people (I-type) and extraverted people (E-type). All four combinations -- NI, NE, SI and SE -- are quite possible and actually observable in a sufficiently large sample of actual individuals, according to Keirsey. Keirsey also describes two additional "dimensions" of personality, which he labels the T-F dimension (thinking or feeling, also describable as "tough-minded" or "friendly"), and the P-J dimension ("possibility" oriented or "judging", also describable as "probing" or "structured"). For more information, refer to Keirsey's book and/or his website, (Keirsey has shown some familiarity with Ayn Rand's writings and even includes at least one brief quote from Atlas Shrugged in his book, but it is not clear if he understands and endorses Objectivism beyond a very shallow level. His views on moral judgment seem at odds with the Objectivist view of morality. But his system of observing and classifying basic personality types seems to have considerable merit, in my estimation.) Robin also mentions, quoting or paraphrasing a Cricket player: I hope that Robin's interpretation of the soccer player's actual process is accurate. The expression, "dissociates such feelings through continuous acts of will power," on its face, suggests a simpler process merely of identifying feelings that get in the way of one's goals, and then working to suppress those feelings without much further thought about them. In other words, there is passive acceptance of one's feelings, and there is serious introspection aimed at identifying underlying ideas and evaluating the ideas (revising them if needed). But there is a further possibility, as well, which is even more harmful than passive acceptance of one's feelings: actively workiing to suppress feelings that one deems harmful in some way without fully understanding them. This last approach is a prescription for repression, an automatized splitting of mind and body, rather than harmonious integration.
  11. Common Errors in Understanding Objectivism

    In thinking further about Objectivist methodology and contemporary trends, I realized that there is yet another conventional view of morality that is very widespread today in high school and college classrooms and in the writings of many public commentators. Gold himself barely touches on that view at all, mainly just in one offhand reference in the same excerpt that I quoted in my previous posting. It's where Gold says we should "be proud of our efforts to give something back." To address the "give something back" view, here is an additional paragraph that I would add to my previous posting, immediately after the parapgraph that begins, "If a religious proponent tells man...."
  12. Common Errors in Understanding Objectivism

    Put this together with Gold's earlier discussion of altruism as possibly "hard-wired into our brains," but interpreted as a genetic tendency or inbuilt preference toward altruism rather than a deterministic, compelling drive -- and with Gold's preference for a diluted view of what altruism means (as against Comte's view and Kantian duty). What does it all add up to? Gold seems opposed to initiation of physical force in the name of morality. This leads Gold, in turn, to look for some reason why man should be altruistic (in the diluted sense) voluntarily. Gold finds a reason, in part, in the view that altruism (in diluted form) may be genetically inbuilt to some extent. Why does Gold need such a reason, a reason why people should voluntarily choose to be altruistic (in the diluted sense)? Here we come to what I regard as the deepest essence of the Objectivist approach to morality. Remember that Objectivism, too, seeks some reason, some basis in reality, to ground a code of morality. Why? It took Objectivism to identify the revolutionary answer to this question: man possesses a rational faculty that operates volitionally, which gives man the capacity to ask, of any moral code or principle whatever, altruistic or not, why -- what for? Man is always free to ask this of any moral theory that man is exhorted or commanded to embrace, including Gold's, including Kant's, including any dictator's, including any religious proponent's, and of course including Ayn Rand's. When urged to do or believe anything, man is psychologically free (if not always politically free) to ask: why should I? The only possible answer in reality is: to live. Man's life is his ultimate value. If altruism in some form is somehow "hard-wired" into man's brain, then man is serving the needs of his own life by following his inner altruistic "voice." If, as Objectivism identifies, reason is not only an intellectual capacity of man, but a crucial requirement for his very survival, then man ought to value reason, in order to live. Observe that even a dictator has to give his victims a reason to obey him: follow the dictator's prescribed moral code, or be executed. What does that answer depend on? It depends on the choice to live. It depends on the victims being unwilling to die if they are given a way to live. It depends on life as man's ultimate value. If Kant tells man that self-sacrifice is an unconditional imperative having no other basis, man can recognize that "no basis" includes no tie to reality or reason. If man wishes to live, he needs to use reason and to follow the connections that reason makes. If a moral code has no connection to reality or life, then there is no reason for man to choose to accept it. If a religious proponent tells man that he will "burn in hell for eternity" in the "next life" if he fails to follow his Maker's commandments in this life, the form of the argument is still based on life as the ultimate value, though with a twist: "life" in another "dimension" of existence. Man again remains free to reply: but I want to live in this world and this life. How do the commandments of the alleged Maker accomplish this? And what evidence is there that a Maker and a "life everlasting" even exist at all -- a question that reason inevitably asks, reason being essential for man's life. It took Objectivism to follow through on the implications of life as the ultimate value with full consistency, starting with recognition of the facts that life is conditional and that man's life depends on reason. Howard Gold and his ilk utterly miss this basic Objectivist methodology in regard to morality, understandable before Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, but far less excusable after. To neutralize the influence of commentators like Howard Gold, it is specifically the methodology of Objectivism that must be understood and applied, in the name of man's life as man's ultimate value. One further point: that same Objectivist methodology leads to a far clearer understanding of the relation between morality and politics, and of the demonstrable fact that one cannot keep them separated over time, despite however hard commentators like Howard Gold may try. If Howard Gold truly wants to keep government force out of people's moral lives, it is only the Objectivist methodology that can do it, leaving everyone fundamentally free to decide for himself what moral code to embrace, demanding only that everyone show the same respect for the freedom of everyone else.
  13. Thank you for finding this reference and posting it. It looks remarkably complete, succinct and compelling, as far as I can determine. Have you checked the Ayn Rand Institute for additional reference links? (I haven't followed the technical discussions very closely myself since some time ago, when it became apparent that the CAGW issue (catastrophic anthropomorphic global warming) has more to do with philosophy than with science.)
  14. Patents

    For those who may not know, the main philosophical discussion of patents and copyrights by Ayn Rand can be found in her book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Chapter 11. It's a relatively brief chapter -- about four pages -- but it is crammed with very well integrated philosophical principles and insights relating to intellectual property. Specifically in regard to the time limit on intellectual property rights, Ayn Rand's discussion very clearly distinguishes between the time limit for copyrights and the process of establishing a time limit for patents. The two limits are not the same at all in Ayn Rand's analysis. Ayn Rand's article includes several paragraphs explaining why it is not rational to let intellectual property rights extend into perpetuity, and the basic philosophical principles that should guide the establishing of a time limit. It is also important to remember that Ayn Rand's discussion is primarily philosophical, i.e., she focuses on basic principles to guide man's thinking, not on somehow deducing specific, detailed answers to every possible question of practical application from some small set of starting premises that are to be treated as axioms. When reading Ayn Rand, one must always remain clear about the difference between philosophical perspective and practical application -- not that there is any conflict between them, but that the latter needs the broad guidance of the former to remain coherent and workable, and that the former can never be a substitute for the latter.
  15. Contradiction in Terms?

    I vaguely recall a comment by Leonard Peikoff once on his own smoking. As best I can recall, he said somewhere that broad statistical correlations are not conclusive in an individual case. If the "evidence" is only in the form of broad statistical correlations, one can properly question whether or not one's own case might be an exception to the statistical trend. However, Dr. Peikoff also said that if a doctor can show an individual patient how a habit like smoking is causing demonstrable harm to that patient, then the patient should quit. Dr. Peikoff's closing line (as I recall) was something like: "Mine did, so I quit." As for Ayn Rand's death, my understanding is that it was due to heart failure. But I'm not aware of anyone having established that the heart condition was caused by smoking. Statistical correlations, yes; clear causation in an individual case, not so clear. My own policy is the same for smoking as for medications, health supplements, etc. I don't utilize them unless I'm convinced that the value outweighs the risks.