jacassidy2

Manifesto on Essays for the Masses in General Forums

6 posts in this topic

Tell me why it's a waste of my time. Tell me I am not the one to do it because others have Objectivist ideas more internalized than myself. Tell me to go get a real job. All true. After a toe in the water, I may agree. But, I have to try.

I'm using public philosophy forums to introduce Objectivist ideas. Oh No! A fan of Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead espousing ethical ideas without an understanding of their metaphysical or epistemological basis. Yea I know, keep reading.

My plan is to answer posts in general philosophy forums - choosing threads that are ripe for Objectivist Theory. I've been doing just that for about 6 months. My experience has been mostly terrible and tedious, but over this time I have also attracted a following of about eight individuals that are beginning to wonder, to re-examine their pragmatic or positivist ideas. People with knowledge of philosophy, who initially posted contrary views but who, over time, began to ask the right questions. I began to think, what would happen over a longer period? Is the web an important conduit?

The purpose of this first essay is to invite ideas contrary to the proposed attempt.

This is contact #1. I've got a couple of essays ready to copy as posts to this website when the original post lends itself to a basic Objectivist idea. Why post this on Betsy's website? Because I don't figure I know it all when it comes to Miss Rand's ideas. As you will discover, I have studied. But, I know, some of you have too. So, tear me up, so I can edit the ideas I plan to post in general forums. Give me your ideas and edit if you think the time you spend is worth it. Here is an example: The post below appeared as is in a philosophy forum.-----------------------------

This opening post came from another thread. A poster asked me a question and I thought it would be best to answer it in a new thread. Thanks to Andrew and thanks to the several others in the old thread, those who spent time to think before they wrote - we had several. The question is as follows:

Andrewk wrote, . . . let me identify another example of assertion without substantiation, and ask if you know of any way to substantiate it. Ayn Rand attempts to dismiss Hume's is/ought problem as follows:

Ayn Rand wrote:
“In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”

This paragraph is a couple of disconnected assertions and observations, followed by an unsupported assertion, which I have highlighted. Are you able to discern anything in the speech that a logician would recognize as a valid argument, that supports that assertion?

Hume's work on ethics is one of the most comprehensive of any historical period. Remember, you asked only about the is/ought distinction and a representative analysis within the framework of Objectivism. First, my disclosure that I am not a spokesman or representative of any person or group.

To attempt the argument you ask for (Hume's is/ought distinction), I have to establish some ground rules – these are the logical presuppositions that so many of the people who comment in these threads say that Miss Rand never makes (she does, but many don't take the time to STUDY them). (I think you make the same distinction that I do between reading and studying). You also have to look at the philosophical history that motivated Hume's conclusions in order to distinguish from the several interpretations that philosophical commentators have offered because Hume's is/ought distinction is controversial and has lots of interpretations.

A student of Objectivism is not going to give you the “logician . . .valid argument” you asked for because, I expect, you are asking for a formulation that Objectivism rejects. The Objectivist Theory of Concepts rejects all the forms of logical argument based on the historic dichotomy between analytic and synthetic truth, necessary and contingent truth, factual and empirical truth, or a priori and a posteriori truth. All of these distinctions in the history of western philosophy are based on the original Platonic idea of primary and secondary aspects of identity and the Aristotelian idea of potentiality and actuality, which brings the issue of “Cause and Effect” into this false distinction. It's all about the age old Problem of Universals.

This Objectivist rejection is based on the recognition that all facts about entities, defining and not, are logically subsumed under any concept that integrates those entities (and under its auditory/visual symbol, a word) – WHY? Because in originating a concept you use all the characteristics of the entities (within the context of your present knowledge) to first differentiate, and then to integrate (abstract). This fact is true of a young child first learning or of an adult recognizing a new fact that requires either an adjective or adverb to be added to the word that represents the concept, a change to the meaning of the concept, or the creation of a new concept. The fact that you choose a subset of at least two facts (the genus and species) to arrive at a definition does not change the fact that each concept is induced from all facts true of the existent (known and unknown) and applies by deduction to all concrete entities that mean the concept (past, present, and future). If the propositions in this paragraph were not true, man would not be able to abstract beyond concepts that had only ostensive definitions. That is, concepts that are directly reducible to entities in existence. I wouldn't call this an axiom, but, maybe we need an idea in epistemology, similar to an axiom in metaphysics, to stand for this kind of process that is verifiable by the evidence of your senses (in this epistemological case, the evidence of consciousness' introspection). If you wonder about the explanation of the idea on context of knowledge, or the idea of identity, known and unknown, it takes its own essay to explain. And the posters in the prior Rand thread said her stuff is too simplistic.

After studying these last two paragraphs, can you see how a serious thinker who believes Miss Rand has hit on the truth of how humans reason, correct or not, might - sigh - every time a person says Miss Rand's ideas are not real philosophy, or that there is no logic to her premises – especially when the comment is made by one who then goes on to explain that the truth of epistemology is contained in language convention or that ethics is based on what worked in the last similar concrete encounter you had?

David Hume was, in some sense, a desperate culmination of concern that had been stewing since the Dark Ages (that ca. 500 year period from about 600 to 1100 AD), the period during which the Neo-Platonic ideas of Plotinus and Augustine had led the Church to a central role that erased the human gains (faults too, I'm speaking generally) that took place in ancient Greece and then Rome. I read in one of Hume's private letters that, when he got to the pub to play cards and have a drink in the real world, after working hard writing all day, he couldn't understand the sense of his own theoretical writing as it applied to human life. Under his formulations, even he, a great thinker, questioned the link between his ideas and the real world.

While Hume rejected the metaphysical mysticism of Descartes and the Rationalist school, and the same premise expressed in the Empirical School (Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Berkeley), he was not able to establish an alternative metaphysics and epistemology that could be a rational basis for ethics. And so philosophy had broken into two school, those who concentrate on reason and those that concentrate on sense perception, the Rationalists and the Empiricists.

After Kant tried to tell us that, while there are no innate ideas, no innate conscious content; there is innate consciousness process – an epistemological substitute for his lack of biologic/neurological knowledge; the primacy of consciousness over existence, so prevalent in Hume, became entrenched in western philosophy and metaphysics was mostly abandoned.

Without a consistent metaphysics, there can be no connection between the facts of existence (independent of consciousness) and any ethical system man might devise. So like many before and after Hume, consciousness must become a creator of facts. That is the “ought” in his system, while the “is” is reality, which is not knowable, because he rejects reason. He rejects it because he cannot find a link between his empiricism (knowledge based on sense perception) and Descartes rationalism (knowledge based on the unknown identity of reason). You still think Objectivism is founded on illogical and simplistic principles?

Objectivism says man's consciousness is a faculty for coordinating the data from the senses (perception), and the unique ability to take that information, differentiate and integrate, abstract, and create and use concepts. The primaries are the evidence of the senses (the facts of reality) and the functions of perception and reason.

Hume treated man's will like a new independent aspect of consciousness. He argued that man's will had a direct cause and effect relationship with his “motivating passions.” Today we say “emotions.” He went on to say, therefore, that reason alone “can never oppose passion in the control of the will.” In Hume's ethics, man's will has an existence of its own, separate from reason.

He substituted his erroneous understanding of emotions for the aspect of man's awareness that he thought he had to defeat because he knew Descartes was wrong – reason. Using today's language Hume says this; you can't know what “is” (external reality) and you can't control your emotions (which control your actions), so morality requires that you concentrate on the “ought.” Not what you want to do based on your uncontrolled biological imperative, but what you “ought” to do because you know it's right.

What does this distinction imply? How can a man determine the “ought” without using his reason? What is the relationship between sense perception and reason? So Hume digs a trench and then puts reality on one side and man's system of values on the other. He rejected the dichotomy between reality and man's needs offered by Christian mysticism, only to tell us that the divide is empirically true but based on secular truth, with the familiar aroma of science that came from Galileo, Tycho Brae, Kepler, etc.

David Hume was an incredibly smart guy for his time – a great contributor to philosophy and historical literature. But, he was wrong, and like so many before and after him, in the realm of ethics, he failed because his metaphysics and epistemology had no basis in fact.

In closing, Andrewk asked about the quote by Miss Rand that is repeated in the beginning of this OP. I hope I have given the facts required for you to answer it on your own. The world exists - it exists, each individual entity – my body, my life, my mind, all the other stuff out there. Each entity in unison with itself, as a unique whole, with its characteristics, its identity. All that stuff, you and the world around you, is there. Don't you think you should increase your knowledge of what's there and what you are? Shouldn't you use that knowledge to decide, “what is right and wrong, what should I do and not do, if I want to stay here for the most amount of time that the facts of my existence gives me?”

Andrewk highlighted Miss Rand's quote, The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do

It is not easy to think through the symbiotic relationship between metaphysics and epistemology for human beings. It's much easier to argue about language conventions than to study the process of concept-formation – introspection is difficult when you're looking for primary ideas. I gave an answer in this post. Did you catch the answer?

Thanks, Jack

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I think it is worthwhile to attempt to apply Objectivist ideas to discussions and debates on internet forums. I've been doing it myself since the beginning of the internet. Along the way I've learned a lot about how to explain and persuade.

This opening post came from another thread. A poster asked me a question and I thought it would be best to answer it in a new thread. Thanks to Andrew and thanks to the several others in the old thread, those who spent time to think before they wrote - we had several. The question is as follows:

Andrewk wrote, . . . let me identify another example of assertion without substantiation, and ask if you know of any way to substantiate it. Ayn Rand attempts to dismiss Hume's is/ought problem as follows:

Ayn Rand wrote:

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between is and ought.

This paragraph is a couple of disconnected assertions and observations, followed by an unsupported assertion, which I have highlighted. Are you able to discern anything in the speech that a logician would recognize as a valid argument, that supports that assertion?

I think Andrew asked a legitimate question and here's how I would have responded to him.

You're right, Andrew, that the passage you quoted from Ayn Rand does not contain a logical proof of her assertions. It wasn't meant to. It is merely a statement of her view that the fact of reality (is) that gives rise to morality (ought) is the existence of living things and that "It is only the concept of life that makes the concept of value possible." That needs to be proven.

Fortunately, she did. You'll find her full logical proof of how the existence of living things connects "is" to "ought" in her essay, "The Objectivist Ethics." Read it at http://www.aynrand.org/ari_ayn_rand_the_objectivist_ethics and let's discuss it. .

What I did was directly address Andrew's issue -- that Ayn Rand never gave a logical proof of her assertion -- instead of discussing related issues and controversies. In this case, he was factually wrong and my response was to provide the facts to correct his error.

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Thanks for the time you spent considering and answering my post. I didn't address his concern directly and then refer him to what I know is the best explanation out there. That course of action would have been better. I made another error too. I equated the analytic-synthetic dichotomy with the process of logical argument generally. I mixed up process with content. I think I allowed my desire to test my understanding of Mr. Peikoff's essay to interfere with my desire to answer Andrewk's question. I have a lot more work to do and you and several others from your site are providing effective comments. Thanks Again, Jack

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This opening post came from another thread. A poster asked me a question and I thought it would be best to answer it in a new thread. Thanks to Andrew and thanks to the several others in the old thread, those who spent time to think before they wrote - we had several. The question is as follows:

Andrewk wrote, . . . let me identify another example of assertion without substantiation, and ask if you know of any way to substantiate it. Ayn Rand attempts to dismiss Hume's is/ought problem as follows:

Ayn Rand wrote:

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between is and ought.

This paragraph is a couple of disconnected assertions and observations, followed by an unsupported assertion, which I have highlighted. Are you able to discern anything in the speech that a logician would recognize as a valid argument, that supports that assertion?

I think Andrew asked a legitimate question and here's how I would have responded to him.

You're right, Andrew, that the passage you quoted from Ayn Rand does not contain a logical proof of her assertions. It wasn't meant to. It is merely a statement of her view that the fact of reality (is) that gives rise to morality (ought) is the existence of living things and that "It is only the concept of life that makes the concept of value possible." That needs to be proven.

Fortunately, she did. You'll find her full logical proof of how the existence of living things connects "is" to "ought" in her essay, "The Objectivist Ethics." Read it at http://www.aynrand.org/ari_ayn_rand_the_objectivist_ethics and let's discuss it. .

What I did was directly address Andrew's issue -- that Ayn Rand never gave a logical proof of her assertion -- instead of discussing related issues and controversies. In this case, he was factually wrong and my response was to provide the facts to correct his error.

He was factually wrong, but he didn't ask a question about the content of Ayn Rand's statements, "legitimate" or not, and was not right about the paragraph he quoted. He categorically accused her of "a couple of disconnected assertions and observations, followed by an unsupported assertion", then with that as his premise only 'asked' rhetorically, "Are you able to discern anything in the speech that a logician would recognize as a valid argument, that supports that assertion?". He claimed to have "identif[ied] another example of assertion without substantiation", and challenged her advocates for "any way to substantiate it", as if the article he quoted from did not already do so and as if she had written nothing else in what he called her "attempt to dismiss Hume's is/ought problem". (That "dismissal" was a side issue and a consequence of her own approach to the development and validation of ethics, which he ignored.)

The "speech" he referred to was the very article Betsy would recommend to him: The paragraph he quoted was taken, out of context, from "The Objectivist Ethics", the first chapter of VOS and which she had first delivered in a talk at the 1961 University of Wisconsin Symposium on “Ethics in Our Time” which he had presumably already read because he knew it was a "speech".

Referring to the full context of the article from which he quoted, perhaps giving him the benefit of the doubt, would be a good start, but it's not enough for someone who categorically denies that what Ayn Rand wrote is "logical". You always have to argue on two levels, the content and the methods of thinking and argumentation employed, especially when an antagonist is employing fallacious means.

This case is an illustration of how the goal is not just to accurately represent what Ayn Rand thought and defended, but how it requires a radically different way of thinking than the prevailing academic style of rationalism.

Notice how he demands the sentences in the paragraph he quoted to stand on their own without regard to context -- the context of the rest of the article and what she was talking about -- and follow one after another as if "logical" thought could only be rationalistic deduction from one out of context utterance to the next. Ayn Rand was arguing on principle from the bottom up: what are the facts of reality that give rise to the concepts of ethics and why is it needed, as explained in the article (and also the Introduction of VOS).

Logic as the art or science of non-contradictory identification is not what a rationalist means by insisting on what a "logician" would "recognize as a valid argument", typically meaning deductive and rationalistic. (Robert Nozick's "On the Randian Argument" trying to represent Ayn Rand's derivation of her ethics in the form of a bizarre sequence of syllogisms then denounced as nonsequiturs is another jaw dropping example of an analytic philosopher's inability to comprehend what she was doing.) The problem is not just a misunderstanding of Ayn Rands derivation of ethics, but a more fundamental confusion over the nature of logical thought and the role of the meaning of concepts and context.

In this sense, the example is very much related to the fallacies in the analytic synthetic dichotomy, but attempting to explain that, as a principle, to him, especially in a short post in a forum, would be hopelessly over his head.

The philosophers' "problem" of getting "ought" from "is" is based on a subjective, impossible demand for magically "deducing" the results rationalistically, without conceptual identification of relevant facts, identify, and causality. To us, the conceptual argument for ethics based on the latter is clear; to rationalists seeking magical 'deductions' in their perpetual quandary in the name of "logic" without reality-based concepts, it is hopelessly empty and disconnected, which the Andrew creature illustrates in spades. They are in deep and literally cannot grasp a different way of approaching the problem, dismissed by them as not "logical" while not comprehending it because their ingrained method of 'academic' thinking is so corrupt.

Perhaps the best way to answer the Andrew argument in a short post is to simply briefly describe Ayn Rand's approach as looking at the facts of reality that give rise to ethics to determine what it should be, as opposed to rationalistically deducing it in a string of floating abstractions. That would probably not persuade a creature whose thought processes are hopelessly and inherently rationalistic, but it would at least show others reading it who may have more common sense that there is a sensible answer, and point the way to reading the required explanation of the ethics in the article by Ayn Rand that was left unacknowledged.

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Wow, I wondered whether I had made an error answering Andrew and then reprinting my response here. I've realized I'm only an Objectivist student even though I've spent so much time studying over the years. I knew I was not the best to answer Andrew's objections, but I was there. I like Betsy's idea of refer to the master and that WI speech is one of the best. If a guy reads that and doesn't get it, what else can you do? But, these people are so invested in the pragmatism, logical positivism, and linguistic analysis that they learned in school, that, I think they are loath to cash it in for a new way of thikning. They don't see the argument because their prior emotional investment is in the way.

What I'm getting in the general philosophy site is what "EWV" is describing - a request for a "logical analysis" which I think means only the linguistic format for many of them. EWV, are you saying that that request is a fallacy based in Rationalism? That a person promoting Objectivism can keep to the conversational style and hope the listeners understand the individual concepts used - enough to get the point?

Or can I take the proper axioms (existence/identity and consciousness) and then construct an argument in the linguistic equivalent of the symbolic logic these people expect? I ask this because, if you read my response to Andrew, you will note I started from the basics, and still, no one accepted the argument based on format.

Thanks, this is great. Jack

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... that WI speech is one of the best. If a guy reads that and doesn't get it, what else can you do?

It was also the article he quoted from without acknowledging it. Simply citing the article he probably already read and chose to ignore isn't enough.

What else can you do? Beyond a certain point, nothing. It's possible for someone to be pulled into academic rationalism so badly that you can't do anything. It's also possible that with a clear explanation he could see his mistake and correct it, at least enough to reconsider and ask more sensible questions than rhetorical pseudo questions as a means of denunciation.

Getting roped into arguing for the sake of arguing with a rationalist who relishes that won't help anyone. It depends on why someone has fallen into rationalism. If he has a game-playing mentality or is rationalizing something else he is defensive about and won't acknowledge that even to himself, then forget it. If on the other hand he wants to be logical but has been misled into what that means but still has some some common sense then you have a chance. If he doesn't begin to catch on, move on to more fruitful grounds. You can't force someone to think.

But, these people are so invested in the pragmatism, logical positivism, and linguistic analysis that they learned in school, that, I think they are loath to cash it in for a new way of thikning. They don't see the argument because their prior emotional investment is in the way.

Thinking is an act of choice. If they won't focus on something new that isn't what they have emotionally ingrained then you can't do anything about it. But others reading it may see more -- at least up to a point beyond which, as Rush Limbaugh puts it, that you argue with a fool so much that after a while people watching can no longer distinguish between you.

What I'm getting in the general philosophy site is what "EWV" is describing - a request for a "logical analysis" which I think means only the linguistic format for many of them. EWV, are you saying that that request is a fallacy based in Rationalism?

It is rationalism in the form you are encountering it. If someone is trying to understand something more precisely who already gets the main point, he may be engaging in what looks like linguistic analysis -- especially if he has had bad influences towards rationalism -- and can possibly be steered back to reality as the standard of his quest. But you have to use the necessary precision, too.

That a person promoting Objectivism can keep to the conversational style and hope the listeners understand the individual concepts used - enough to get the point?

If someone wants to understand -- where understanding means integration in terms of fact and reality, not emotionally satisfying rationalism -- and he has some common sense, then he can learn. But you have to do more than hope, you have to make it clear what you are talking about. You can't ignore that someone else may not understand the concepts and 'hope for the best' just because you know what they mean. If there are too many bad premises to get through to someone in a brief post then there is nothing you can do about it. Explanation is integration with what someone already knows. It doesn't come from hope.

Or can I take the proper axioms (existence/identity and consciousness) and then construct an argument in the linguistic equivalent of the symbolic logic these people expect? I ask this because, if you read my response to Andrew, you will note I started from the basics, and still, no one accepted the argument based on format.

Ayn Rand's philosophy and method of logical thinking are antithetical to rationalism in any form. You can't convert her philosophy into an academically rationalistic form and still be talking about the same thing. When Leonard Peikoff presented her philosophy in his own systematic and comprehensive form in OPAR, building it up from the metaphysics in a hierarchy, he was not trying to convert it into a rationalistic series of deductions, which would have been hopeless.

You cannot deduce the ethics from Ayn Rand's axioms. The axioms identify and systematize certain basic general principles about reality and how you have to conform to it in your thinking: See the chapter on axiomatic concepts in IOE. To develop the ethics requires conceptually identifying the necessary facts in an inductive process -- "inductive" meaning generalization both in the concept formation and in the formulation and validation of the general principles.

The axioms do not contain the content waiting to be drawn out of them in the way that one makes deductions in mathematics after you already understand what you are trying to formally prove. An attempt to do so to try to put it into a form familiar to academic rationalists would necessarily be fallacious and have nothing to do with Objectivism in either content or method. You would end up with something as bizarre as Nozick's infamous "On the Randian Argument". It would make no more sense than trying to convince a religious person by couching your arguments in terms of faith and mysticism rather than appeal to whatever common sense he may have.

Even an attempt to refer to the axioms as "axioms" in a typical brief forum post aimed at academic rationalists would be hopeless because they have a completely different understanding of what "axiom" means and would not understand what you are talking about. You would, in their context of knowledge, be dealing in floating abstractions and they would immediately see that you aren't "deducing" anything from "axioms".

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