Stephen Speicher

Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?"

374 posts in this topic

Emphasis added.

Indeed.

Can anyone(using Rob Tracinski's theory on history) explain the "fact" that the Republican's have just been voted out of power?

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I understand the basic argument as this:

1. Ideas move history.

2. The ideas dominating western civilization are horrible.

3. The west should therefore be a disaster.

Rob goes on to argue that this hasn't happened. That in fact western values and prosperity have been spreading throughout the world at an unprecedented rate. Cultures around the world are demonstrating a new recognition of the importance of man's mind and the need for economic freedom. All of this has been happening while Objectivists have been predicting gloom and doom.

Rob seems to believe that the trouble is in point #1. That either there is a flaw in the principle itself or there is a flaw in the "gloom and doom" crowd's understanding of it.

I'd focus more on point #2. What ARE the ideas dominating western civilization? This is where I think the "gloom and doom" crowd gets it wrong.

I agree with you 100%, George.

But reason and religion cannot coexist! So gloom and doom! Baloney. Reason and religion have been battling it out since the renaissance.

And reason has been winning because it has a tremendous advantage: it has a powerful ally -- reality -- on its side. Wherever reason has challenged faith, reason has won.

Reason would have won a total victory centuries ago except for the fact that it was totally absent in the most important arena of all: ethics.

Until Ayn Rand, there was no rational morality and people had to rely on faith, emotion, tradition, and the inconsistent and unsanctioned use of reason to choose their most important goals and guide their actions.

With Objectivism, reason is now poised to challenge faith and I expect it will be an easy victory -- if Objectivists actively engage in the battle.

We'd all like for Reason to have a final victory. But so long as it has a fighting chance, to the extent that it holds sway even in competition with faith, humanity will reap the benefits. And we are.

We are. Those who are not rational are not. That is our advantage and their disadvantage.

This is why, despite Leonard Peikoff's advice, I continue to vote Republican. Within the Republican party there is a battle between reason and religion. Within the Democratic party there is none. They are the party of the universities and they are as befuddled and useless as the non-entities found there.

That has been my observation as well. Since the battle is going on in the Republican party, that is where I am registered. That way I can vote for the pro-reason Republicans in the primaries and also occasionally influence the direction of the party by intellectual advocacy.

What Rob's articles illustrate is that there are many honest, rational people out there - and to the extent that they are rational they are doing the world and themselves enormous good. Even if they go to church on Sunday and send their kids to Sunday school. Even if they’ve never even heard of Ayn Rand.

Many of them have. Many of them are ObSymps though not Objectivists. Many of them turn their friends and children on to Ayn Rand and they become Objectivists. I've seen it happen -- a lot.

Furthermore the number and influence of rational people in the world seems to be increasing. It's ironic that Objectivists, in predicting gloom and doom, have underestimated the power of reason.

Maybe they are not convinced of the power of reason themselves. Maybe they do not really understand how rational other people can be without being totally rational. Maybe they have not seen, as I have, how open and how hungry the best of people are for rational ideas and values.

In conclusion I'd argue that philosophy does drive history, and that it has been the respect for reason, however flawed, that is latent in American and European conservatism, that has been driving the sucess of the past 25 years.

If Objectivists get out there, hustle, and aggressively sell our philosophy, we will drive the success of the next 25 years.

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If my memory is correct, I believe you were encouraged to start a separate thread concerning this issue. If and when that separate thread gets started, I believe you might get some answers.

I clearly recall being invited to do this before by you and perhaps others. I guess I don't get to complain that no one will answer my question until after I start a thread on this, so I withdraw the complaint with appologies.

I've been starting to read a few classice volumes on the topic of guerrillia and counter-insurgency warfare and even though I'm already tardy at following up on this I promise I will get to it with you guys.

My comment along the lines that people should be careful to no to confuse Rob Tracinski's war policy positions with those of President Bush's was not aimed at you or anyone in particular. It is possible to misconstrue Rob's (and my) frequent comments in support of President Bush over the past five years with a general endorsement of his policies.

Although Rob and I agree with Mr. Bush's "Forward Strategy of Freedom" and "the Bush Doctrine" (of pursuing those who harbor terrorists as if they are the terrorists themselves), we do not agree with Mr. Bush's numerous lapses and contradictions in pursuing these policies--especially when it comes to the Palestinians, Iran, and al Sadr.

Nevertheless, Rob and I have been supporting the president because he's pushed America about as far as a non-philosohpical leader can push this country into making war on the Islamo-fasists.

I now have a caviot in my support of Mr. Bush. He and his administration have failed to function since sectarian violence flared after the Samara Golden Mosque bombing in February. They have failed to function since the decision to open a path to "negotiations" with Iran over its nuclear weapons program in June. They have acquessed to Gen. Musharraf's "peace" treaty with the pro-Talian, pro-al-Qeada tribes of Wiziristan in September (if I recall it correctly the peace agreement was signed in September). This is a change in my evaluation of Mr. Bush and it is brought on by a major change in Mr. Bush's behavior. For the first time since he began leading the fight, the president has repeatedly demonstrated an inability or reluctance to continue the fight.

This has been going on for no more than about ten months. Because I have not had the time to write much about the war in the past six months, I've commented very little on this change--but that is the ONLY reason why I have commented very little.

I am not withholding judgement. The Bush Administration has quit the battlefield. This makes Mr. Bush (and his people) guilty of taking half measures that--for the first time--actually are worse than none.

My lack of comment on this development may objectively be taken by readers as an implicit endorsement of the current policy (or lack thereof) or at least as a wait-and-see attitude in which I'm withholding judgement until Mr. Bush has done something that is overtly destructive to our national defense. But it is not. I've simply not been able to devote the time to writing good, in-depth analysis pieces on the subject. As a consequence, I only know a little bit about what went wrong inside the Bush Adminstration last spring.

What went wrong was Condie Rice's appointment to Secretary of State and her extraordinary intellectual influence over the president. It is peculiar that Mr. Bush was able (with the clear analysis of Miss Rice to aid him) to ward off the self-doubts and hessitation in war policy that Colin Powell recommended...but he has not been able to resist policy recommendations of indecision and temporization comming from his new Secretary of State. It is peculiar, yet Mr. Bush has failed to ward off Condie Rice's condemnations of Israeli boming raids on Lebanon and her lack of interst in American bombing raids on Iran.

I stand by Mr. Bush, the war leader of 2001 - 2005, but I do not stand by the Mr. Bush of 2006. In the heat of the election contest I argued fiercely for the Congressional Republicans because their Democratic opponents are so much worse on the war. Likewise, if Mr. Bush were running for re-election against one of the leading Democrats, I'd favor Mr. Bush because the alternative would be so much worse.

But, thanks to Mr. Bush's indecisive leadership of the past year, the contest is now between those who don't want to lose the war in Iraq and those who do. No one at this point--not Mr. Bush and not the Congressional Republicans--is arguing for victory.

Will Mr. Bush come up with a strategy to undermine and destroy the Shiite militias of Iraq? (Right now, they're working on a Kurdish-Sunni-SCIRI coalition to do just this, but I don't yet have a feel for what prospects such a coalition would have for dismantling the Shiite militias. Will Sunnis really join such a coalition? IF SCIRI crushes the death squads of the "Mahdi Army," will it replace it with death squads of their own?) Will Mr. Bush demand that Musharraf resume war with the pro-terrorist tribes of Wiziristan...or invade Wiziristan? Will Mr. Bush order the invasion of Lebanon if Hezbollah takes over the government? Will Mr. Bush order Iran bombed, its ports blockaded?

I'm not counting him out yet. As our president, he's the only man in our system of government who can make such a decision and he's one of only a few national politicians who has any inclination to do so. But the prospects for good decisions aren't good.

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I understand the basic argument as this:

1. Ideas move history.

2. The ideas dominating western civilization are horrible.

3. The west should therefore be a disaster.

Rob goes on to argue that this hasn't happened. That in fact western values and prosperity have been spreading throughout the world at an unprecedented rate. Cultures around the world are demonstrating a new recognition of the importance of man's mind and the need for economic freedom. All of this has been happening while Objectivists have been predicting gloom and doom.

Rob seems to believe that the trouble is in point #1. That either there is a flaw in the principle itself or there is a flaw in the "gloom and doom" crowd's understanding of it.

I'd focus more on point #2....

Rob's "What Went Right" series is all about point #2.

Ideas--philosophical and non-philosophical ideas--move history. If the world is not headed straight for hell--if, in fact, it has become a better place in many ways over the past 25 years and it has survived the extraordinary onslaughts of evil over the past 90 years--then the ideas that actually move history may not be as bad as the ideas in the humanities that are being explicitly and implicitly promoted by our intellectuals.

Rob's argument does not deny that ideas move history. His argument is that intellectuals working in the humanities aren't the only ones who use ideas. They aren't the only ones who are at the root of starting historical change.

Those who are intellectually active in the physical sciences, technology, business and in other intellectual pursuits outside of the university play a fundamental role in the transmission of ideas in the culture. Their role is every bit as important--often more so--than that of the specialists within the university. They are the ones who prove how ideas play out and they play an active role in implicitly and explicitly evaluating and changing the dominant ideas.

Another way of thinking about how ideas move a culture is that change does not happen only among the young. It does not happen only because the young, who are in the process of piecing together their philosophies of life, are the only ones capable of changing at a level that changes history. It isn't all about how many young people are moving towards or away from a rational philosophy of life. It isn't all about the impact of the intellectuals who teach ideas to their very impressionable college-student minds.

Grown-ups at work-a-day jobs that depend on the use of abstract ideas develop and change their thoughts about life throughout the decades of their lives. Grown-ups who struggle to make their ideals real out there in the real world are the great testers of ideas. They show the world what, exactly, the ideas are made of.

The university is a crucial institution in the transmission of ideas and the intellectual is a prime mover who is uniquely placed to transmit ideas and to produce new ones.

But much of what happens in the culture--and much of what moves history--takes place outside the ivy covered walls. This is true more and more in a highly developed division of labor economy that places a premium on "big-picture" thinkers in business, technology, and science. This is true more and more in a high-productivity economy that provides more and more leisure time for the development, exploration, and contemplation of new ideas.

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Within the Republican party there is a battle between reason and religion. Within the Democratic party there is none.(emphasis mine)

George, that is a fantastic point. I would also add that this battle is a mute and timid one, which is why there is no risk of theocracy in America. The right is very willing to compromise and compartmentalize faith where necessary, only to be able to return to Enlightenment or Renaissance values where possible. Thus where we see new appeals to religion, these hearken back to Renaissance religion, and pose no large-scale cultural threat. As you said, the right is trying very hard to return to its two old cherished values, religion and reason. And I would add, "enlightened" religion, which is how Renaissance and Enlightenment men explicitly called their religion. They made a most important conceptual distinction, that goes completely unappreciated today.

Given all this, as far as I'm concerned we are good to go, and the road is sunlit ahead. The "doom and gloomers" that I have seen, love to take every possible idea to its logical conclusion, even idea that is not in their mind, and which will not be taken to its logical conclusion in the mind of those who possess it. So this "thinking for others" syndrome inevitably produces depressing prognoses. Whereas reality, looking at the facts of the situation, provides ample, demonstrable, grounds for a very opposite conclusion.

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"where we see new appeals to religion, these hearken back to Renaissance religion, and pose no large-scale cultural threat." FreeCapitalist

Anyone who has read the relevant threads on SOLO will see that I have argued long and hard against the "doom and gloomers" (and to a much smaller extent on NoodleFood).

But, I believe you overstate the case. People like Rick Santorum (now out of Congress, of course), the preacher depicted in Jesus Camp, and a great many others are harking back to a much older, more anti-life form of Christianity. The type they advocate is much more like the Puritan version seen in Masssachussetts in 1692, or 10th century Europe.

They are not the sole voices out there, of course, but they are a prominent proportion of the 60 million Evangelicals who heavily favor the Republican Party at voting time and they are growing in number and influence. I believe those who agree with Dr. Peikoff are presently putting too much weight on that influence, but neither should we minimize the threat to zero.

I, too, am optimistic about the future, but I still advocate vigilence in the face of something that is, in fact, quite real, and potentially dangerous.

Jeff

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neither should we minimize the threat to zero

Jeff, I don't minimize to zero the threat from Christians towards our values. For instance, Renaissance Christians could do plenty of things that I would not like, so there's nothing that I minimize in that sense. I merely said that there's no risk of theocracy, and that statement was based on the nature of religion that is preached and practiced in America.

I would also like to ask you a question about the following:

People like Rick Santorum (now out of Congress, of course), the preacher depicted in Jesus Camp, and a great many others are harking back to a much older, more anti-life form of Christianity. The type they advocate is much more like the Puritan version seen in Masssachussetts in 1692, or 10th century Europe.

Could you give a few examples of someone like Rick Santorum going back to "a much older" form of Christianity than was practiced in the Renaissance?

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Mr. Tracinski’s “What Went Right?” argument is right in one important respect: the world has gotten better since the end of the World War II, and the breadth and rate of that improvement has sped up since the 1980s.

What accounts for this?

Mr. Tracinski says that whatever the cause is, it cannot be due to philosophy, because while the standard of living of the world’s population is improving, philosophical ideas in the universities are bad, if not getting worse. So, the world’s advance must result from non-philosophical ideas, specifically the ideas held by specialists, such as engineers and businessmen, who are creating values.

Mr. Tracinski’s argument is a strawman. The fact that the standard of living of a majority of the world’s population has been getting better does not invalidate the primary role of philosophy in moving history. To see this, we must answer why the world is getting better.

The world is getting better for two reasons: (1) the spread of high technology; and (2) the fall of Communism. Advances in technology have driven a rapid growth in standards of living across the earth. The rate of that improvement has accelerated, especially since the 1980s, when the personal computer was first sold on a wide-spread scale. Related improvements in telecommunications have led to the explosion of the Internet and its lightning-fast dissemination of knowledge throughout the world.

At the same time, Communism has collapsed, freeing up the productive capability of nearly half the world’s population. Productive minds have been liberated – even if only partially – across Eastern Europe, Russia and China, and the ending of the Cold War has reduced the rate of warfare in places such as Africa and Latin America.

These two forces – technology and the fall of Communism – have unleashed man’s productivity. It has enhanced man’s productivity, and spread it across a greater proportion of the earth’s surface.

Contrary to Mr. Tracinski’s argument, philosophy plays an essential role in this development. Technological capitalism depends on the entire body of rational philosophical principles that enabled our country’s founding. It requires the validity of reason, individualism/egoism and capitalism. When an engineer applies a principle of physics to invent a new silicon chip or a new telecommunications technology, he is using reason. When a businessman pioneers a new Internet-based business, he is acting selfishly and relies on his individual rights being protected in a capitalist system.

To say that philosophical ideas do not move history is to say that the principles of reason, individualism and capitalism are no longer moving forces in the world.

The fall of Communism also validates the role of philosophy in history. Just as technological progress depends on the reality-centered and life-affirming principles of reason, individualism and capitalism, Communism is based on the irrational, unworldly principle of collectivism. Just as capitalism is highly practical and leads to the creation of wealth, collectivism is impractical and leads to destruction. Because the philosophical principle at its base was invalid, Communism collapsed of its own weight.

These two important developments – the spread of high technology and the fall of Communism – are happening at the same time that irrational philosophical ideas are spreading. Multiculturalism, environmentalism, and religious fundamentalism are growing in their reach and power.

So, Mr. Tracinski claims, if the world is getting better while bad philosophical ideas are spreading, it must be concluded that philosophical ideas are not fundamental in moving history.

Mr. Tracinski’s mistake is in not recognizing the long time-lag between the introduction of philosophical ideas and their effect on the culture. Philosophical ideas manifest themselves over centuries, and they continue to have an impact across centuries even when they are being challenged in the universities. The spread of technology and the fall of Communism are the direct and logical consequence of the rational philosophical ideas that made possible the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the founding of the United States, and the rise of industrial capitalism. Because reason is still widely practiced, certainly by businessmen and scientists of all types across the world, technological capitalism is raising our standard of living. Because Communism failed, new semi-capitalist societies – a huge improvement over Communism – have led to the accumulation of capital across a much broader geographical span.

While philosophy has made possible both of these favorable events – the spread of high technology and the fall of Communism – the precise timing or specific nature of these events is not predictable from philosophical principles. Solely from philosophical principles, one could not specifically identify the fact or timing of the invention of the personal computer. Solely from philosophical principles, one cannot readily predict that the rate of technological progress in a particular era will be faster or slower. One cannot predict when an inventive or business genius, such as Bill Gates, will come along, or how great and far-reaching the impact of his actions will be. The number, type and impact of scientific or business geniuses are not predictable solely from philosophy.

Philosophically, all one can say is that without capitalism, and without reason, no Bill Gates would be possible.

The same argument applies to the fall of Communism. Philosophically, one can say that a society based on collectivism cannot sustain itself. However, strictly from philosophical principles, one cannot say when a particular Communist society will collapse.

The world today is benefiting from a fortunate congruence of two great historical events: the rise of computer-driven high-technology and the fall of Communism. Those are the reasons for the “good news” we are seeing around the world. The fact of these events is entirely driven by philosophical ideas; the timing of these events is due to a host of causes.

As for irrational philosophical ideas, they also have a long time-lag. Left unchecked, they will eventually and inevitably stop the motor of the world. At the same time that we are enjoying the benefits of the spread of technology and the fall of Communism, bad philosophical ideas are having a significant and growing deleterious effect on the world.

For example, environmentalism is leading to the implementation of controls on carbon emissions. If universally and stringently applied, these controls would dramatically raise the cost of energy and materially hurt our standard of living.

Multiculturalism has hamstrung our will to defend ourselves, such that North Korea now has the nuclear bomb, Iran is likely to get it, and it is realistic to fear that one or more Western cities will get nuked.

Resurgent religious fundamentalism is motivating the Muslim terrorists. In America, religious fundamentalism motivates those who would restrict medical research, ban abortion, and impose censorship.

One can come up with many more examples. In fact, as Mr. Tracinski points out, Objectivists typically come up with many examples like this of what is going wrong. If unchecked, these irrational philosophical ideas will continue to counteract and will eventually overcome the positive gains made by the spread of technology and the fall of Communism.

If we are to keep the gains we are now seeing, gains that were made possible by the hard-won philosophical battles that extend back to before Aristotle – whose standard-bearer today is Ayn Rand – we must fight the philosophical battles.

To deny the fundamental role of philosophy in moving history is to step away from the battlefield of ideas. If we do that, all of the great technological wonders that enrich our lives today – the product of centuries of philosophical struggle and the scientific and technological revolutions it spawned – will fade away.

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"Mr. Tracinski says that whatever the cause is, it cannot be due to philosophy, because while the standard of living of the world’s population is improving, philosophical ideas in the universities are bad, if not getting worse. So, the world’s advance must result from non-philosophical ideas, specifically the ideas held by specialists, such as engineers and businessmen, who are creating values." Galileo

I don't quote your post in it's entirety, but select this as representative. I'm not at all sure that Trancinski would disagree with the statement "philosophical ideas are a major influence in human affairs" nor would he, I suspect, assert that those causes responsible for the present good in the world are the result of "non-philosophical ideas.", though I can envision how you might interpret his essay that way.

But rather than speculate, can you provide quotes as evidence of your interpretation?

Respectfully,

Jeff Perren

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Rob Tracinski in "What Went Right?" says the following:

We can say that at least part of what went right was the valid, honest, first-hand integrations made by men like Julian Simon and Manmohan Singh—men who did good intellectual work, not on the philosophical level, but within the specialized sciences.

In the above quote, he is stressing the non-philosophical quality of the ideas that move history.

Mr. Tracinski repeatedly states that philosophical ideas are important, but the substance of his argument is to deny their importance. For example, when he characterizes the Objectivist argument of the role of philosophical ideas, he describes them in a rationalistic manner. He says:

This is a kind of trickle-down theory of intellectual influence, in which the philosopher is the originator and only source of the ideas that drive the course of history...

The image implied from this quote is of a philosopher-king, like a Moses standing on a mountain top, who bequeaths knowledge to the lesser fields. This is the view of philosophy held by medieval monks who attempted to deduce principles of biology and physics from the pronouncements of Greek philosophers.

Objectivism doesn't square with this view of philosophy. Rather, Objectivism simply holds that all human knowledge comes from the application of reason. The primacy of reason and the independence of objective reality are philosophical principles. In any field, whatever the principles of knowledge of that field, it must be consonant with these philosophical principles. The philosophical base of all knowledge is objective reality understood through reason.

So, if a culture is denying the validity of reason or the knowability of objective truth, it undercuts the epistemology of all sciences. That is why philosophy matters.

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Rob Tracinski in "What Went Right?" says the following:

In the above quote, he is stressing the non-philosophical quality of the ideas that move history.

Mr. Tracinski repeatedly states that philosophical ideas are important, but the substance of his argument is to deny their importance. For example, when he characterizes the Objectivist argument of the role of philosophical ideas, he describes them in a rationalistic manner. He says:

The image implied from this quote is of a philosopher-king, like a Moses standing on a mountain top, who bequeaths knowledge to the lesser fields. This is the view of philosophy held by medieval monks who attempted to deduce principles of biology and physics from the pronouncements of Greek philosophers.

Objectivism doesn't square with this view of philosophy. Rather, Objectivism simply holds that all human knowledge comes from the application of reason. The primacy of reason and the independence of objective reality are philosophical principles. In any field, whatever the principles of knowledge of that field, it must be consonant with these philosophical principles. The philosophical base of all knowledge is objective reality understood through reason.

So, if a culture is denying the validity of reason or the knowability of objective truth, it undercuts the epistemology of all sciences. That is why philosophy matters.

My reading (not speaking for him) of this is not that Mr Tracinski denies the role of philosophy, but that progress occurs even under poor philosophy, because progress is required for life. That the fellow who invented the light bulb did not have to be Aristotle to do so. Nowhere do I see him question the validity of reason. Perhaps he suggests that it is not an explicit use of reason, but it's implicit use that has advanced science. Anyway, this is my interpretation.

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I haven't yet read the article under discussion, so I won't fully comment on it. However, it should be kept in mind that for most people, it is not their explicit philosophy that matters as much as their implicit one, as it is that that guides their actions. Thus, if the world seems better today than 25 years ago, one possible explanation is that the implicit ideas of people are getting better.

Are they getting better? In China, the communists gave up their explicit propoganda in the late 70s and turned the country's focus to making money, and today it is hard to not buy things made in China. India has boomed recently with offshoring, particularly in software and tech support. (I recall a story mentioned on The Forum recently about the admiration for Bill Gates in India.)

Whatever the explicit ideas, the implicit ideas in China and India have changed. People see the pursuit of business success as good and desirable (or at least, more so than in the past).

How else should the implicit ideas of people be judged? Look at what they do with their time. Most people I know spend a good deal of time working to improve their lives. Financial investments, from the stock market to real estate, is a common topic of conversation. We more often discuss the words of Ben Bernanke or Alan Greenspan than we do of the Pope or Castro or Chavez.

Things have slowed since the late 90s, but young software engineers often discuss starting their own businesses.

I could go on, but my point is that to the extent the culture as a whole is better, it is because the implicit ideas around the world are better. Some things are worse (environmentalism, multiculturalism, Putin's control of Russia, Islamic terrorism, etc.) but other things are better.

Another possible explanation is that much of the technological benefits of the last 50 years are running on the momentum of the better 19th century ideas, whose impact is still felt but waning. If this is the case, there is no guarantee that a decline would be a straight line, but rather it could have fits and pauses along the way, as the better ideas fight back and for a while regain ground.

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Implicit philosophies are the result of philosophies made explicit in the past. Thus, it is still true that philosophy is the fundamental determinant of history.

Taking the United States as an example, it took the validation of reason, individualism and capitalism to make our country possible. Based upon those ideas -- established by Aristotle down to Locke and our Founding Fathers -- our country was formed. Based upon those ideas, which were explicitly and implicitly held by their practitioners, scientists such as Galileo and Newton, technologists such as Edison, and capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates, transformed our world.

Not just the success of the United States, but the success of the newly semi-capitalist countries of the Far East, is the result of rational philosophical ideas spread through society. The emergent semi-capitalist societies of today explicitly follow the example of the United States. The United States, with its mixed values, still offers enough of a practical guide that successful semi-free societies have emerged by following its example. Starting with Japan, which emerged after World War II, to Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and, today, China, these countries followed the example of the United States or, to a lesser extent, Great Britain, to transform themselves into prosperous and (to varying degrees) free societies.

I can say from first-hand experience that the Asian cultures admire the West and have borrowed many of the best principles existent in the West, while adding some noteworthy principles of their own. In particular, the Eastern emphasis on education and hard work, when grafted to American-style semi-capitalism, has helped propel the growth in their standard of living.

The American capitalist culture has found a receptive new audience in the East, and it retains enough of its virtues, that it has flowered anew.

The rise of the East is an exemplar of the central role of philosophy in animating history. In a less rational era, the East wallowed in mysticism. Under the influence even of an attenuated and semi-rational West, the East has blossomed.

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Rob Tracinski in "What Went Right?" says the following:
We can say that at least part of what went right was the valid, honest, first-hand integrations made by men like Julian Simon and Manmohan Singh—men who did good intellectual work, not on the philosophical level, but within the specialized sciences.

In the above quote, he is stressing the non-philosophical quality of the ideas that move history.

You criticize Tracinski for saying "at least part of," and that becomes "stressing?" How else is he to communicate his view if not differentiate in some manner from that held by some?

Mr. Tracinski repeatedly states that philosophical ideas are important, but the substance of his argument is to deny their importance. For example, when he characterizes the Objectivist argument of the role of philosophical ideas, he describes them in a rationalistic manner. He says:
This is a kind of trickle-down theory of intellectual influence, in which the philosopher is the originator and only source of the ideas that drive the course of history...

I see no basis in fact for the accusations you have made, and especially so when Tracinski's quoted words are read in context. Here is the wider context of the words you quoted.

Philosophy does have an indispensable role to play. It provides a crucial context for valid work in specialized fields, a context that provides the specialist with guidance on his basic method and with basic principles about the nature of the world and the nature of man. But philosophy does not and cannot dictate the content of a specialized field. A specialist cannot produce knowledge within his own field simply by "reading off" results from the assumptions taught to him by philosophers.

Unfortunately, that has been an implication of the common Objectivist interpretation of the role of ideas in history. In this view, all important intellectual trends begin in books written by philosophers and are then propagated downward into a culture's political ideas, its art, its sense of life.

This is a kind of trickle-down theory of intellectual influence, in which the philosopher is the originator and only source of the ideas that drive the course of history, while the public intellectuals and the men in the specialized sciences are mere transmitters and translators of those ideas.

But a productive thinker must ultimately get his assumptions—both about method and about content—from reality, not just from the philosophers. The philosopher can give him a head start, by providing him with a broad integration of previously acquired knowledge. But this knowledge, to be useful, must be grounded in, validated by, and built upon by the specialist's own first-hand, inductive understanding of his field.

In contrast to your claim, Tracinski here does not here deny the importance of philosophic ideas; rather he underscores their indispensable role as the context one brings to the specialized sciences, as the epistemological methods and philosophical principles that apply to all of existence. He does properly criticize the notion that the content of the specialized sciences can be deduced from philosophical ideas, a notion not stated explicitly but in fact acted on by some Objectivists.

I see Tracinski as criticizing an all-too-common INTERPRETATION of the Objectivist view, an interpretation that ALL intellectual trends BEGIN in philosophic books and that they are the SOLE source of the ideas affecting history. He points out that beyond the books that philosophers write, firsthanded inductions from reality are also a source for ideas in the special sciences. I do not see Tracinski criticizing the Objectivist view, but rather a view held (mostly implicitly) by a number of Objectivists, intellectuals or otherwise. For years I have seen the harm that that interpretation has done when applied to physics and its history, so I would not be too surprised if Tracinski has seen evidence of it among some Objectivists in other of the specialized sciences.

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Implicit philosophies are the result of philosophies made explicit in the past.

Taken literally, that is not the case. Consider inventions that predate Greek philosophy, and what philosophical premises their creators had to have had in some implicit form. Could they invent primitive metallurgy or monetary systems or boats without recognizing certain facts of reality, and treating them as objective? Take the boat, for instance. It must have taken many different observations and a keen, independent mind to recognize what materials float and which don't, and what shapes stay afloat, and how to turn those shapes into ships, and how to power them (sails, oars). On an implicit level, it takes respect for reason (vs. guidance from the gods) to create.

This is a fact that philosophy identifies, not creates. The fact that it is an identification of the nature of man's consciousness makes it objective.

Likewise, as another example, people could use deductive logic long before Aristotle. What he did was make explicit what before was implicit.

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Implicit philosophies are the result of philosophies made explicit in the past. Thus, it is still true that philosophy is the fundamental determinant of history.

Earlier in this thread, while attempting to clarify Tracinski's view in his original essay, I wrote:

If these thoughts are meant as support for the notion that "specialized knowledge is independent of philosophy," then I think at least one major point is being overlooked. The philosophy by which one operates can be implicit, and an implicit philosophy is not the same thing as operating "independent of philosophy." To the extent that early knowledge was formed it was formed by the use of reason, whether the knowledge of and adherence to reason was implicit or explicit. It is true that the field of epistemology, the study of knowledge, certainly did not appear spontaneously as an abstraction in some philosophically-minded person. But, epistemological issues, like all knowledge, are first and foremost tied to reality, and even when epistemological issues are not yet formed explicitly in terms of fully-formed and broad-ranging concepts, they are implicit in the myriad of choices made in the achievements of science that RT refers to above. This can be true today, just as it was true then. To wit, the many reality-oriented reason-guided physicists who are in direct touch with reality in their work, achieving fantastic successes advancing scientific knowledge as never before, yet who, apart from their work, may hold the most silly philosophical notions explicitly.

In the updated version of Tracinski's series, he makes the following remarks:

I've had a few people object to the ideas in this article by saying that, while the examples I have cited don't involve the influence of explicitly stated philosophical ideas, they do involve men's implicit philosophy. But that is precisely my point, and spelling out exactly how good ideas are grasped implicitly, in what form and by what process, is part of what I want to address in looking at the global influence of scientific and technological education, global capitalism, and representative government.

This answered my concern about Tracinski's view. Have you, Galileo Blogs, read these words by Tracinski? If so, why do you not seem to take these words into account when you represent Tracinski's view?

Taking the United States as an example, it took the validation of reason, individualism and capitalism to make our country possible. Based upon those ideas -- established by Aristotle down to Locke and our Founding Fathers -- our country was formed. Based upon those ideas, which were explicitly and implicitly held by their practitioners, scientists such as Galileo and Newton ...

I do not mean this to be demeaning in any way, but have you read Galileo's and Newton's writings extensively? Have you read scholarly works on the history of their times, and studied in detail how their science was accomplished? I ask because I wonder about the source of your understanding of these men, and why you might think that their accomplishments are not in tune with Tracinski's view?

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Regarding the Tracinski quote in Mr. Speicher’s penultimate post, I just can’t agree that this is a fair description of Objectivist views. That is why I see it as a strawman. To the extent any Objectivist holds such a view of philosophy’s role in history, he would be incorrect.

As for philosophy being implicit, of course it often is. Individuals can apply rational methods without being aware that they are using reason. Without a doubt, it was through a trial and error process that fire was harnessed, and it was through a progressively more thoughtful process, that boats and spears and all of man’s early technology was invented.

However, with the explicit identification of reason, man was able to progress at a much faster rate. When it was understood that the sole guide to knowledge was the evidence of the senses, when it was understood that contradictions could not exist, when the rules of logic were discovered, progress could happen faster.

That is why the Industrial Revolution happened so quickly after the re-introduction of Greek thought in the Middle Ages. By explicitly adopting Aristotle, the authority of the Church was undercut, the role of faith was diminished, and science gained the chance to blossom. The explicit re-introduction of Greek philosophy made possible the scientific, industrial and political revolutions that we benefit from today.

For most people today, to the extent they are successful at whatever they do – doctor, policeman, scientist, scholar, housewife -- they are employing reason, albeit they are usually doing so implicitly. However, the use of reason, even if at an implicit level, is immeasurably more widespread today because of the explicit identification of reason by yesterday’s philosophers. (Just one example: Why don’t most people simply pray to recover from a serious infection instead of taking an antibiotic? In the Middle Ages, prayer was the answer, not taking an antibiotic.)

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Regarding the Tracinski quote in Mr. Speicher’s penultimate post, I just can’t agree that this is a fair description of Objectivist views. That is why I see it as a strawman. To the extent any Objectivist holds such a view of philosophy’s role in history, he would be incorrect.

Exactly. To the extent that any Objectivist holds such an interpretation of Objectivism, even IMPLICITLY, to that extent he would be incorrect. I do not know how long you have been around Objectivists, but as someone who has been involved with Objectivism for more than forty-five years, I can say unequivocally I have met a fair number of Objectivists who, in varying degrees, think just that way. Not explictly, but implicitly in how they sometimes judge and evaluate a variety of circumstances, not the least being the hard sciences. These are not straw men but real living human beings whom I have encountered in one form or another, for a long time.

As to the rest of your post, which I would characterize as a small hymn to reason, I see no evidence in Tracinski's essays that he rejects the proper role of reason. If you or anyone were to argue that case, then I think THAT would in fact be a straw man.

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"That is why the Industrial Revolution happened so quickly after the re-introduction of Greek thought in the Middle Ages."

Huh?

Thomas Aquinas died in 1274. The Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century and didn't get rolling untili the early 19th century. At best, that's a gap of 500 years. Not so quickly, even on an historical time scale.

Of course, if all you are trying to show here is that reason is essential for creating the values that we currently enjoy, you're unlikely to get much disagreement on this forum. Further, if you're stating that having a philosophy that explicitly identifies this widely adopted accelerates that creative process, again you're unlikely to get any disagreement here.

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Of course, if all you are trying to show here is that reason is essential for creating the values that we currently enjoy, you're unlikely to get much disagreement on this forum. Further, if you're stating that having a philosophy that explicitly identifies this widely adopted accelerates that creative process, again you're unlikely to get any disagreement here.

That is part of what I am saying.

As for those 500 years, civilization advanced at a faster rate during those 500 years than any other 500 year period in human history. I'll call that fast! It wasn't just the Industrial Revolution, either, that I am referring to, but all the in-between steps that marked the ascent of man, including the Renaissance, the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment, and the political revolutions that brought freedom to the world. It also continues past the Industrial Revolution and includes the technological capitalism we enjoy in the present age.

All of those advances were accelerated by the dissemination of rational philosophical ideas which stoked the revolutions in science, technology, economics and politics.

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If an improvement of the implicit philosophy of people in general is responsible for the past 25 years, then the interesting questions to ask are: in what ways has this philosophy spread? what does this philosophy consist of? what can we do to accelerate this spread?

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As for those 500 years, civilization advanced at a faster rate during those 500 years than any other 500 year period in human history. I'll call that fast! It wasn't just the Industrial Revolution, either, that I am referring to, but all the in-between steps that marked the ascent of man, including the Renaissance, the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment, and the political revolutions that brought freedom to the world. It also continues past the Industrial Revolution and includes the technological capitalism we enjoy in the present age.

All of those advances were accelerated by the dissemination of rational philosophical ideas which stoked the revolutions in science, technology, economics and politics.

I don't see where what you say above clashes at all with what Mr. Tracinski is saying. While it is true that greater respect for reason was the impetus for everything that we enjoy today, it isn't true that the predominant philosophical ideas were necessarily conducive to that progress. Much of modern philosophy was an attempt to divorce philosophy from the Scholasticism of the Church--which was founded on the Aristotelianism of Aquinas. Most were attempts to define reason in some way other than Aristotle, from Descartes to Kant.

Newton was brilliant, but he was also a mystic of the first order. There were a very rare few men who denied the underlying mysticism of the time, and when they did they risked their lives. Like most capitalists today, scientists compartmentalized the reason required to do their work, and their explicit philosophy. Locke, whose political philosophy fathered the United States, held horrible philosophic ideas outside of his politics--in fact there is nothing in his philosophy that really explains how he was able to construct the brilliant political philosophy that he did. As far as I've been able to discern, it was only the way he interpreted the individualistic implications of Christianity, which were at variance with the society he lived in, that led to the Individualism he espoused in politics.

It is a rare thing in history to find anyone who held consistent philosophical ideas--when they knew anything of the subject. For all of human history, with the unique exception of a few in the brief moment of the modern age, religion of some sort explained the world. Religion gave support in an uncertain world. It still does to a large extent. Objectivism is very young in the history of man. We are only into a second generation of people exposed to the philosophy, and they are fighting thousands of years of philosophies which are overwhelmingly primacy of consciousness in one form or another. Just because we now see what is wrong with this, and understand the dangers involved, doesn't mean that we ought to see disaster at every mention of the word God or Marx.

The problem I have with the doom and gloom crowd is their lack of confidence in power of their own ideas. It is one thing to identify wrongs, evils, and dangers, it is another to think that we are bereft of weapons with which to fight these things. It also denies the individual minds at work, and treats individuals as nothing more than cognitive robots within the great collective of whatever explicit philosophy they may hold, ignoring how they actually act as individuals capable of reason. It ignores the fact that people are capable of changing their minds after being introduced to new ideas. In other words, it ignores everything that Miss Rand taught us about the nature of man's mind, and the power of ideas. "Doom and gloom" doesn't define the power of philosophical ideas; by divorcing ideas from the individuals who hold them, it denies that power.

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Ed from OC says: "If an improvement of the implicit philosophy of people in general is responsible for the past 25 years, then the interesting questions to ask are: in what ways has this philosophy spread? what does this philosophy consist of? what can we do to accelerate this spread?"

I can't agree with this, nor do I completely disagree with it.

Rather, I would pin the rise of standard of living of the last 25 years on the two things I mentioned in my previous post: (1) the rise of computer-driven high technology; and (2) the fall of Communism. A third phenomenon, the Rise of the East, is related to the second one.

The mass production of personal computers, which began in the 1980s, and the rise of related telecommunications technologies have spawned a huge increase in productivity. This has only accelerated with the rise of the Internet. In my view, it would hardly be an exaggeration to call the era we live in The Age of the Internet. Like Gutenberg's moveable type, the Internet has caused an order of magnitude increase in the speed and breadth of the dissemination of knowledge throughout the world. Manifold, surprising and far-reaching increases in productivity have been the result.

The second cause of our new-found prosperity has been the fall of Communism and the unleashing of productive minds across a formerly Communist realm that held nearly half the world's population captive. Even if most of these societies are only semi-capitalist and even if some large ones, such as Russia, are back-sliding into dictatorship, the improvement of these societies over their predecessors is stunning. In these new societies, capital is accumulating and standards of living are improving.

Related to the fall of Communism, but not entirely due to it, is a third phenomenon, which I would call The Rise of the East. We saw this before Communism fell with the stunning rise of Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Now, with the fall of Communism in China, more than a billion people are accumulating capital, building enterprises, and enhancing the standard of living of nearly everyone on the planet. (For example, every American or African or European or Latin American who buys cheap Chinese goods benefits from China.)

These three factors have accelerated the accumulation of capital. Despite all of the interventionist restrictions in economies across the globe, capital has been able to accumulate at a faster rate, inventions have been able to proliferate, and the result is standards of living rising faster than before. In economics, a standard of living is a function of the accumulation of capital, the division of labor, and inventions. All three of these economic factors are growing at a faster rate than before.

As for the role of philosophy in all this, it made it all possible. It is not so much recent philosophical trends -- for good or bad -- that are driving these forces. Rather, it is the philosophical achievements of the past that enabled a semi-capitalist United States to come into existence, and it is the philosophical contradictions inherent in Communism that caused it to fail. Philosophy is responsible by creating an example of semi-capitalism in America for the formerly Communist Asian and Eastern European societies to imitate.

Philosophy acts very long term. The benefits we are seeing today are because of philosophical events that happened decades, if not hundreds of years ago.

So, when we consider more recent philosophical trends, for good or bad, the impact of these trends is only beginning to be felt now. Those trends, for good or bad, are not responsible for the actual material state of society today. Implicit and explicit philosophy may be improving now, in certain respects; I certainly hope so. If it is, it will benefit us in the decades to come. At the same time, there are disturbing new and not-so-new philosophical trends, specifically multiculturalism, environmentalism and religious fundamentalism, that are also beginning to detract from our progress.

If implicit philosophy is improving, I would like to pin credit for that on Ayn Rand and Objectivism. After all, her ideas have been able to filter into society for at least the nearly 50 years since the publication of Atlas Shrugged. I would also give credit to the capitalist economists who bolstered the argument for capitalism.

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Now, with the fall of Communism in China, more than a billion people are accumulating capital, building enterprises, and enhancing the standard of living of nearly everyone on the planet.

I am cautiously optimistic about the future of China, but nobody should be unconcerned about the fact that China is *not* a rights respecting capitalist country. It is far from it. The government is still officially communist and is very busy pumping billions of dollars into the most advanced military technology that it can find or develop or steal, including our W88 compact thermonuclear warhead, probably thanks to Bill Clinton. Nazi Germany had some of the most advanced industrial technology on the planet in 1940 - that did not make it rights respecting. They used railroads and their chemical technology to murder millions of people, and the first modern liquid fueled ballistic rockets (the V2) were developed and used by them to attack Britain. Without a solid philosophic base, China is extremely unstable. I am personally dismayed that almost no effort has been given to spreading Objectivism there, because the country is in a prime position to be influenced now.

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Point taken on China (and the excellent example of Nazi Germany). To the extent China is capitalistic, the country is a force for good, both for itself and the foreigners they trade and invest with. At the same time, there is no doubt the country is highly authoritarian, and in important respects an enemy of the United States. Just one example: witness China's obstructionism in the United Nations on issues such as preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

As for the argument of why the world's standard of living has improved so dramatically in the last 25 years, the rise of China must be part of the explanation. Despite severe problems, capital is being accumulated there, enterprises are flourishing, and their standard of living, and the standard of living of countries they engage with economically, are improving.

If I had more first-hand knowledge of China, I would want to answer such questions as: How are the institutions that support capitalism -- such as property rights and the rule of law -- progressing? My impression is that China is making some progress in this area. I would not under-estimate the role of the United States in fostering this progress, nor of "bottoms-up" pressure for reform within China. The United States, as a semi-capitalist country, is an example that China is trying to emulate. The Chinese want to be wealthy and powerful and if they see property rights and contract law as a reason for America's success, they will emulate them.

At the same time, bottoms-up pressures for reform are occurring. For example, I have read about how Chinese farmers have protested against land grabs. The newly emerging middle class also does not want to be pushed around by local officials. I have read some articles about push-back by members of the middle class against capricious actions by local governments.

The bottoms-up push for reform in China has a historical parallel: the rise of capitalism in Europe. As elements of a more prosperous economy began to emerge in the Middle Ages, tradesmen, peasants and others began to demand more freedom. Institutions that became so valuable to capitalism in later centuries had their origin in the Middle Ages. An example is the legal form of the corporation.

As for Objectivism, I would like to see it become influential in China. However, probably the best hope for China is that America rights its ship, and turns away from statism and toward capitalism. America is a beacon to many in China just as it is to so many other people, especially in formerly Communist countries. In my opinion, Objectivism has the best chance here because of our well-established Enlightenment heritage. Also, our institutions, as tattered as they may be, have durably survived for over 200 years. Even if politicians became quite evil, much freedom would remain in America for quite some time. The existence of that freedom gives Objectivist principles a chance to take hold here.

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