Stephen Speicher

Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?"

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Rob Tracinski has now made Part 5 of his "What Went Right" series available here on his website. As has already been noted by other members, this is a very interesting and provocative installment of his essay, well worth reading. The concluding section, Part 6, is forthcoming.

Yes, Mr. Tracinski is always interesting to read. I really wish he'd start publishing regular series of Captain Obvious! On this series, however, I have a number of disagreements.

First, this statement does not give proper acknowledgement of genius:

In effect, what I am pointing out is that the full moral and philosophical basis of capitalism was not and probably could not have been identified before the fact. It could only be identified after the fact, by any intellectual who was willing to look at the facts honestly and draw the conclusions they suggested.

It is not true that anyone who is honest could invent Objectivism after the Industrial Revolution. I personally don’t even think an ordinary genius could do so: it took an extraordinary genius. On that last, however, I defer to future science which should ask how to differentiate levels of genius.

Second, I rearranged the facts in the article to suit my crow and I found the following approximate order of events.

600BC philosophy: Thales, who was 14years old when Solon, the politician, was born.

450BC drama, science, politics

430BC philosophy; Socrates

411BC war history

400BC medicine

330BC philosophy; Aristotle

This shows philosophy preceding developments in Greece.

On a side note, I was curious about Thales, having never taking Dr. Peikoff’s taped class, so I checked http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thales . As I understand it, in those times a fourteen year old man would have already started plying his trade. When Thales was 25, Solon was just 11 if our dates are correct. Then the question is whether there was contact and influence. It appears likely there was: Diogenes quoted Thales as offering to accompany Solon on a trip, which certainly sounds like a friendly thing to do.

My two points do not cover the best arguments against the article, imho, but I have run out of time. Here are my cryptic notes for possible future talk;

The sequence of spiraling is a fascinating question, but I disagree that great Greek art failed to demonstrate Aristotle; instead it demonstrated Thales and others.

The spiral theory of knowledge was omitted.

The ultimate first cause is man’s mind, ie thoughts, ie philosophy.

Good philosophy is the ultimate green light to induction.

Non-collapse is impossible; the choice is grow or die; thus non-collapse is not a “modest” goal.

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330BC philosophy; Aristotle

This shows philosophy preceding developments in Greece.

And, let's not forget who the teacher of Alexander the Great was - and the influence that Alexander had on future civilization (e.g. Alexandria, Egypt, with its massive library, port commerce, etc.)

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600BC philosophy: Thales, who was 14years old when Solon, the politician, was born.

450BC drama, science, politics

430BC philosophy; Socrates

411BC war history

400BC medicine

330BC philosophy; Aristotle

This shows philosophy preceding developments in Greece.

Not really. This doesn't show that Thales' ideas led to anything at all, let alone the flourishing of Greece. My first question is: What preceded Thales? Did he philosophize in a vacuum? Thales is notable for creating a non-mystical, this-worldly explanation for phenomena. Yet Miletus, where he lived, was the "commercial center of all Greece, the most populous and powerful city of Ionia ... a region renowned for luxury, sophistication, and frivolity." (Matson, A New History of Philosophy, vol.1, 1987, pg. 9)

So there was substantial cultural development -- trade, seafaring vessels, engineering, etc. -- before philosophy got started. Yet, if man's need for philosophy really is objective, what guided them before Thales (let alone before Aristotle)? My answer is that they acted on implicit philosophical views, some of which had to be pro-reality, pro-reason, and pro-egoism -- or else there would be no civilization.

I see this list and see that the pinnacle of philosphic thought in ancient Greece, Aristotle, came 180 years after the "450BC drama, science, politics".

And, as an instance to counter your example of Solon and Thales: would Aristotle have written Poetics without having the work of Sophocles coming first? Before he could have developed a theory of drama, there must first be many instances of it.

In answer to this chicken-and-egg issue, I think it's possible for either to come first in a particular case. For instance, there would be no USSR without Marx, but there would be no Marx without Kant. In the end, though, for an explicit philosophical idea to develop there must be prior observations; that's the inductive requirement.

But what about philosophies that aren't reached inductively, that hold many mistaken views -- say, Plato's Forms, or Kant's philosophy, or Cartesian dualism? Or plain-old religion and mysticism? Can they be developed prior to observations? I'd say to keep these from being dismissed out of hand, there has to be some semi-plausible connection to reality, even if it is done through very poor reasoning. A mystic true believer, for instance, has to rationalize at some level to be convinced to accept his faith, even if it is a form of Keating's secondhandedness: if everyone believes, it must be true.

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As far as the chicken and egg goes, it seems obvious that the most primitive hunter/gatherer had to accept that A is A to some degree just to survive one day to the next. It is the nature of survival, of life, that requires some implicit objective philosophy.

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As far as the chicken and egg goes, it seems obvious that the most primitive hunter/gatherer had to accept that A is A to some degree just to survive one day to the next. It is the nature of survival, of life, that requires some implicit objective philosophy.

And THAT is the tremendous advantage we Objectivists have.

True ideas are useful and productive and lead to success and happiness. False ideas don't.

Reality is the ally of rational people and the enemy of the irrational.

The good is powerful and evil is impotent.

That's why what went right, went right. :)

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QUOTE

In effect, what I am pointing out is that the full moral and philosophical basis of capitalism was not and probably could not have been identified before the fact. It could only be identified after the fact, by any intellectual who was willing to look at the facts honestly and draw the conclusions they suggested.

It is not true that anyone who is honest could invent Objectivism after the Industrial Revolution. I personally don’t even think an ordinary genius could do so: it took an extraordinary genius. On that last, however, I defer to future science which should ask how to differentiate levels of genius.

Since Ed did an outstanding job of addressing the issue of Greek chronology which forms a good basis for inducing induction as a requirement for good philosophy, I just wanted to answer what I think is a solid and reasonable objection to Rob's statement quoted above.

I agree that it is absolutely -- demonstrably -- not true that "any intellectual who was willing to look at the facts honestly and draw the conclusions they suggested" could identify "the full moral and philosophical basis of [C]apitalism." [italics mine]. Anyone "look[ing] at the facts honestly" would simply have to note the number of great minds prior to Rand and co-existent with Rand who did not come up with Objectivism... or anything remotely like it. I honestly do not believe that Rob meant what is suggested, either, though I have no proof of that. If he's listening, I'd invite him to address this point, because the issue is a difference of one letter: "an" vs. "any." I'm only saying this because I've subscribed to The Intellectual Activist for several years and, although I have my occasional disagreements with Trascinski, I have always seen evidence from him of the greatest respect for the brilliance and insight of Ayn Rand and never trivialized her accomplishments. That appears totally out of character. And since he's lately come in for a lot of criticism (for example, for his support of the "Forward Strategy of Freedom", one of those things on which I happen to disagree), I think he should be given an opportunity to make sure that the written record reflects his intent. He publishes a great deal and small typos can change meaning substantially.

That's all. For those people for whose character I have seen enough evidence to respect, I give the benefit of the doubt and want to hear further before I toss them on the DOG pile (Discredited Objectivist "Gods"*). For the record, I've met Rob at conferences, but I don't know him personally.

* Open to a better G-word for this acronym :)

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This doesn't show that Thales' ideas led to anything at all, let alone the flourishing of Greece. My first question is: What preceded Thales?

With all due respect, Ed, I'm most interested in having Mr. Tracinski change his ideas, and to do that it is appropriate to debate the facts he presents. His articles should be and could be self-contained. My point was simply that according to the facts he himself presented, he erred.

Did he philosophize in a vacuum?

imho, I believe this is the Kantian "because one has eyes, one can't see" argument.

In answer to this chicken-and-egg issue, I think it's possible for either to come first in a particular case. For instance, there would be no USSR without Marx, but there would be no Marx without Kant.

You hit the nail on the head here. This is precisely what I am arguing against - the mixup that I see. There is no such chicken-egg issue. In both the items you cite, there was a case of time lapse. It is physically impossible for events later in time to cause events earlier.

In the end, though, for an explicit philosophical idea to develop there must be prior observations; that's the inductive requirement.

So what? A scientific theory requires observation, yes. Nobody is debating that principles require evidence. The issue is what is fundamentally causal, what moves history, what moves the world via man? Is it facts or ideas? Is it the world or man's mind?

Even inklings are informed by conscious thought. Proper ones are easily squelched by erroneous thinking. Why else would repression be such a problem?

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First, this statement does not give proper acknowledgement of genius:
In effect, what I am pointing out is that the full moral and philosophical basis of capitalism was not and probably could not have been identified before the fact. It could only be identified after the fact, by any intellectual who was willing to look at the facts honestly and draw the conclusions they suggested.

It is not true that anyone who is honest could invent Objectivism after the Industrial Revolution.

This statement is a straw man inso far as you argue against it, and a nonsequitor insofar as it is irrelevant to the point. It is you, ElizabethLeee, who has insinuated "invent[ing] Objectivism," not Mr. Tracinski.

There are, in fact, many interesting sources who developed, in varying degree, a moral and philosophical basis of capitalism prior to Miss Rand's most inciteful work. For instance, as one of many, here are a few quotes from Jean-Baptise Say from his 1880 A Treatise on Political Economy.

In like manner, the general facts constituting the sciences of politics and morals, exist independently of all controversy. Hence the advantage enjoyed by every one who, from distinct and accurate observation, can establish the existence of these general facts, demonstrate their connexion, and deduce their consequences. They as certainly proceed from the nature of things as the laws of the material world. We do not imagine them; they are results disclosed to us by judicious observation and analysis. Sovereigns, as well as their subjects, must bow to their authority, and never can violate them with impunity. General facts, or, if you please, the general laws which facts follow, are styled principles, whenever it relates to their application; that is to say, the moment we avail ourselves of them in order to ascertain the rule of action of any combination of circumstances presented to us. A knowledge of principles furnishes the only certain means of uni-formly conducting any inquiry with success.

[...]

The progressive advance of industry has taught us to view the loan of capital in a different light. In ordinary cases, it is no longer a resource in the hour of emergency, but an agent, an instrument, which may be turned to the great benefit, as well of society, as of the individual. Henceforward, it will be reckoned no more avaricious or immoral to take interest, than to receive rent for land, or wages for labour; it is an equitable compensation adjusted by mutual convenience; and the contract, fixing the terms between borrower and lender, is of precisely the same nature, as any other contract whatsoever.

[...]

To limit capitalists to the tending at a certain fixed rate only, is to set an arbitrary value on their commodity, to impose a maximum of price upon it, and to exclude, from the mass of floating or circulating capital, all that portion, whose propri-etors cannot, or will not, accept of the limited rate of interest. Laws of this description are so mischievous, that it is well they are so little regarded as they almost always are, the wants of borrowers combining with those of lenders, for the pur-pose of evading them; which is easily managed, by stipulating for benefits to the lender, not indeed bearing the name of interest, although really the same thing in the end. The only consequence of such enactments is, to raise the rate of interest, by adding to the risks, to which the lender is exposed, and against which he must be indemnified. It is somewhat amusing to find that those governments, which have fixed the rate of interest, have almost invariably themselves set the example of breaking their own laws, by borrowing at higher than legal interest in their own case.

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With all due respect, Ed, I'm most interested in having Mr. Tracinski change his ideas, and to do that it is appropriate to debate the facts he presents. His articles should be and could be self-contained. My point was simply that according to the facts he himself presented, he erred.

That is what you have asserted, but yet to demonstrate by any logical means.

The issue is what is fundamentally causal, what moves history, what moves the world via man? Is it facts or ideas?

Facts disassociated from ideas are random occurrences, and ideas disassociated from facts are rationalistic disvalues. If you want to understand what moves history you have to understand the epistemological (and psychological) relation between the facts of reality and the nature of man's mind. Have you identified some crucial manner in which you think Mr. Tracinski does not properly grasp the epistemological relationship between man's mind and the facts of reality? If so, please be clear and specific. There have been more than enough unjustified and unwarranted smears and misrepresentations of his view presented on other forums, but here on THE FORUM I would expect any critic to rise to a higher level of critical standard.

Is it the world or man's mind?

What a strange way to put it. After all, the knowledge that is held within man's mind is knowledge of what exists in the real world, so I see no conflict or dichotomy between the two.

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There are, in fact, many interesting sources who developed, in varying degree, a moral and philosophical basis of capitalism prior to Miss Rand's most inciteful work.

This should read, of course, "most insightful work," not "most inciteful work." (Though, one might argue also for the latter. :))

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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.

Thank-you.

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This quote from his article seems to nicely sum up Rob's point:

This creates something of a paradox for the prevailing Objectivist view of the role of ideas in history. The Objectivist theory of history is that ideas move history, particularly fundamental philosophical ideas. Here is how Ayn Rand put it:
There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty—the power of ideas.

But this has been widely interpreted by Objectivists to mean that only fundamental philosophical ideas have efficacy, that they directly and necessarily render irrelevant all other knowledge in a man's mind, so that the wrong explicit convictions in epistemology, for example, render irrelevant good ideas in the special science of economics.

I do think he's making some excellent points in this article (though I don't think they are all points that are original to him). The human mind, operating with abstractions, already has a basic level of ability to deal with the implicitly logical and to operate with implicit rationality. Every man doing productive work is dealing logically with reality, whether a plumber or a mathematician. Part of what a rational philosophy does, I think, is to give to men the understanding that *everything* in their lives should be dealt with logically, not just compartmentalized areas.

Implicit logic and reason is why pre-Columbian men in Mexico and points south, could exist and at times build structures that certainly required a great deal of forethought and a degree of engineering knowledge - while performing, at times, contemptible human sacrifices. There are many other examples - Sumer had the first known cities and writing and predated Greek philosophers by thousands of years.

Although I can't find the reference (does anybody know where? Maybe OTI?), I'm fairly sure that I heard Leonard Peikoff remark in a lecture that Ayn Rand herself noted that Objectivism would have been impossible before the Industrial Revolution; she needed to integrate a vast amount of history that demonstrated the overarching efficacy of man's mind. She *first* studied history (and said as much) in order to understand what men *have done*.

So, after reading Rob's articles (and admittedly I should have known better than to take some other people's interpretations of them as accurate before I commented earlier), I do not think that his points are actually very controversial (or, without intending this critically, as original as he may think.) They may openly contradict those who think that the only worthy men on earth are philosophers, but so much the better.

Ayn Rand wrote this in 1946, from pp. 478-9 of The Journals of Ayn Rand, subtitled Philosophical Notes on the Creative Process:

One may stop at the purpose of acquiring knowledge; theoretical scientists and philosophers do. But it seems to me (I have no clear definitions here as yet) that the complete cycle of a man's life includes the application of his knowledge to his particular goal. Knowledge per se is the base of all activities; it seems to be only a part of a completed cycle. Yes, the function of the theoretical scientist and the abstract philosopher are more crucially, basically important than that of the applied scientist (inventor) or the practical moralist; these latter men rest their achievements on those of the former (and if one man combines both functions, the one of discovering new knowledge precedes that of applying it). But one cannot quite say that the discovery of new knowledge is more important than the application of existing knowledge; "important" here would imply the question: "Important to whom?" and involves a question of values.

Nor can one say that a theoretical scientist is necessarily a man of greater ability than the applied scientist; both functions require a process of new, original thought. One can say only that for any given step in the discovery of new knowledge and its use, the discovery precedes the use; the correct theory precedes the practical application. And also, one can say that the theoretical scientist or the philosopher perform the most obviously firsthand act of thinking, of rational deduction—drawing, from concrete experience, a new abstraction, the statement of new knowledge, never drawn by any other person before.

Still, it seems to me—no matter what great, original first-hand effort of thought is required in these functions—that theoretical science or abstract philosophy are "unfinished" spheres of human endeavor. (I said "it seems to me": I may be wrong; this requires more thought and the most careful definitions.) The complete sphere must lead to man. It's another completed cycle: from man to abstract knowledge to the satisfaction of man's purposes and desires. Man's essential nature is that of creator—within the reality of an objective universe; before he can act or create, he must study this universe (this is the process of acquiring knowledge); then, he uses his knowledge to set his purpose and to achieve it (this is the process of creation).

In my own case, I seem to be both a theoretical philosopher and a fiction writer. But it is the last that interests me most; the first is only the means to the last; the absolutely necessary means, but only the means; the fiction story is the end. Without an understanding and statement of the right philosophical principle, I cannot create the right story; but the discovery of the principle interests me only as the discovery of the proper knowledge to be used for my life purpose, and my life purpose is the creation of the kind of world (people and events) that I like, i.e., that represents human perfection. Philosophical knowledge is necessary in order to define human perfection, but I do not care to stop at the definition; I want to use it, to apply it in my work (in my personal life, too—but the core, center and purpose of my personal life, of my whole life, is my work).

This is why, I think, the idea of writing a philosophical non-fiction book bored me; in such a book, the purpose would actually be to teach others, to present my ideas to them. In a book of fiction the purpose is to create, for myself, the kind of world I want and to live in it while I am creating it; then, as a secondary consequence, to let others enjoy this world, and to the extent that, they can.

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hi Alan!

I agree that it is absolutely -- demonstrably -- not true that "any intellectual who was willing to look at the facts honestly and draw the conclusions they suggested" could identify "the full moral and philosophical basis of [C]apitalism." [italics mine].

...

the issue is a difference of one letter: "an" vs. "any."

...

although I have my occasional disagreements with Trascinski, I have always seen evidence from him of the greatest respect for the brilliance and insight of Ayn Rand and never trivialized her accomplishments.

The change of one letter would change the passage from horrifically false to non-false. Nuance matters. I wouldn't give it the benefit of being gloriously true, which is the proper standard to which to hold great Objectivist authors. It still would not come close to giving the type of genius that occurs once every thousand years or so enough reverence. I am really adamant about respecting genius, and I refuse to give an inch on that, even to a genius such as Mr. Tracinski, lol. Especially after the first four parts and the open questions about his respect, if he's the man I thought he was, I would expect him to be showing his active cherishing of Ayn Rand. Even with the one letter omitted, this passage certainly wasn't it. These "details" do make a difference.

DOG

Well, as they say, it's not over til it's over. It's not really over until Mr. Tracinski is dead, and I certainly hope that event won't occur for many years [maybe after some little Tracinskis make the scene?!]. Please note that ARI did not remove his articles. They could easily have done that. I don't know any of the back story, but my personal opinion is that some ideas that may somewhere have some interesting parts to them have been raced to the print market too speedily. Unfortunately I now have a large number of strong disagreements with his articles, in contrast to my feelings of, say, 7 years ago. But to tell the truth, disagreement per se isn't the biggest issue here, not yet... with the big caveat, again: imho. I'm just a far away onlooker. But I think it's still in a slightly fuzzy stage, because I have heard other people speak in ways I thought were similarly grossly mixed up, and eventually things seemed to sort out. Most of those cases were not in print however.

I believe at this point respect, deference, and dialogue would matter.

To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Tracinski has not participated in a public discussion of his ideas. We know he did edit his original post before putting it on his website. It would be great if he himself posted here on the forum, but he also has supporters such as Jack Wakeland who could surely voice thoughts if he desired. And, even if the dialogue is only between us, my guess is that eventually he will hear or read of our ideas. So I firmly stick to my stand that it's not over yet :).

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The primary questions I have after reading Mayhew's response to Tracinski's essay are:

What exactly are the differences between *implicit* philosophy and *explicit* philosophy? (My take is that an explicit philosophy is presumably one which has individually identifiable creators with written philosophic statements; an implicit one presumably has neither.)

So *who created an implicit philosophy*? If an implicit philosophy is traceable to a particular individual, would that not make it *explicit*?

Is the act of any man being logical - at any time in history - indicative of an "implicitly rational philosophy"? If that is not sufficient, then what are the essential characteristics of a man holding an implicitly rational philosophy?

Ultimately, to get back to the original focus of this thread, after some further contemplation of it, I do think that Tracinski is giving very inadequate credit to the importance of Objectivism. It is simply not enough for disintegrated pieces of human action to be logically related to reality while others are irrationally founded, particularly regarding rational morality. Note that he virtually completely ignores that critically important point; ethics and morality are barely mentioned in passing. Yet it is the morality of altruism that continues to undercut civilization from top to bottom.

While I have personally become more optimistic, that does not change the fact that threats to civilization are continuous and mounting. It is certainly not as blue sky as he claims. It is certainly true that men act logically in compartmentalized ways - they even did so without direct philosophic influence (the pre-Columbians and Sumerians that I mentioned could not possibly have been influenced by the Greeks for instance - I chose those examples because such influence was utterly impossible - yet they did demonstrably have engineering works that show logical thinking at work to a degree.) But as with those men - and through the millenia up to the present day - it is not enough to have compartmentalized, implicit rationality. Every culture in history has ultimately perished. Each one perished because fundamentally its irrationalities caught up with it and consumed it. And that process continues to the present day.

The feeling of frustration that I, and many Objectivists feel when they see some outright irrationality in the culture, comes from a real source: the knowledge that Ayn Rand's writings contain countless wonderful explicit philosophic answers to age-old problems that keep recurring century after century. Religion? Arbitrary. Self-sacrifice? An unjustiable, mystical ethics. Love thy enemy and turn the other cheek to the murderous fanatical Muslim intent on acquiring nuclear weapons? A mystical position based on a flawed Christian philosophy. Nature is more important than Man? The rich should be taxed more? Anybody should be taxed at all? Creation vs. Evolution? Embryonic stem cells are immoral? Black holes are literal singularities? The universe popped out of nothing? The rich need to "give back"? The Federal Reserve should exist? etc. almost ad infinitum.

Without rational philosophic guidance, men will continue to thrash and spend entire lifetimes that are badly undercut, or even entirely wasted. Without it, this country will not adequately deal with threats that will lead to its total destruction. Technology is wonderful in the right hands, but it also provides the evil and irrational with the means to accomplish its ends - because compartmentalized logic is just not good enough.

I am inclined to say, as I have thought for a long time, that nearly everyone, especially including Objectivists, has underestimated Ayn Rand's positive influence on cultural developments in the past few decades. In the unpublished privacy of men's own minds, her ideas, her identification of fundamental truths, has already helped to push civilization in a better direction, whatever the nature of their work. The vast majority of those who have read her, do not spend time writing about the ideas; but the random comments made in interviews, blogs, etc. by those who do remark on her influence in their lives indicate that they have certainly made an impact. So, things probably *are*, in some ways better than the 1960s, but it would be foolish to discount Objectivism's role in that.

But there's a long way to go before it's enough, and it would be a huge mistake to believe that philosophy is the dispensible handmaiden of lesser, disintegrated thinking, just at the time when civilization most needs a rational one.

All productive men deserve respect for their achievements, but there should be special reverence for the mind that could see so clearly and so all-encompassing, and the philosophy that she developed.

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This analysis of Tracinski's Part V piece bears reading. It is by professor of philosophy and Objectivist Robert Mayhew, available here.

I found this to be an excellent, cogent article -- clear and well-written -- which is par for the course for Robert Mayhew, so I must thank him.

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I, too, found Dr. Mayhew's "rebuttal" of Dr. Tracinski's position both interesting and enjoyable. This is particularly so because in my view, rather than rebutting that position, in an odd and I suspect unintended way, it actually reinforces it.

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I, too, found Dr. Mayhew's "rebuttal" of Dr. Tracinski's position both interesting and enjoyable. This is particularly so because in my view, rather than rebutting that position, in an odd and I suspect unintended way, it actually reinforces it.

In referring to Rob Tracinski as "Dr. Tracinski", I misspoke. Apologies for the error.

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I was glancing through Mayhew's article (I simply do not have the time or interest to study it in detail), and I noticed Mayhew's stated purpose:

I am concerned most of all with correcting Tracinski's presentation of the history of ancient Greek philosophy.

I am far from being a scholar of philosophy, whether ancient Greek or modern, but I have read a bit over the years. I was therefore somewhat surprised to stumble over a couple of apparent discrepancies in Mayhew's "correcting [of] Tracinski's presentation."

Mayhew notes that:

He [Thales] was the first person in human history to attempt to explain the universe in rational, naturalistic terms--that is, with arguments and without any reference to anthropomorphic gods.

But in De Anima Aristotle says:

Certain thinkers say that soul is intermingled in the whole universe, and it is perhaps for that reason that Thales came to the opinion that all things are full of gods.

I do not know if Aristotle had Mayhew's "anthropomorphic gods" in mind, but "all things are full of gods" does not appear to be "rational, naturalistic," at least not to my unscholarly mind,

Also, in further support of his characterization of Thales, Mayhew notes that:

Thales predicted an eclipse--something inconceivable on the mythological world view.

Having studied the history of astronomy I remember that modern historians of science, starting from mid-ninteenth century, began to reasonably question whether such a prediction really occurred. After uncovering more and more facts, many (if not most) historians of science do not accept the prediction. The last paper I read on this (Thales' Eclipse, A.A. Mosshammer, Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 111, pp. 145-155, 1981) made a very strong case in demonstrating "how fictional the story of Thales' prediction is."

Several other papers, as well as historical texts, call into question the veracity of many of the claims attributed to Thales. These more scientifically-oriented analyses seem to fit well with the more philosophical comments I read in W. T. Jones' A History of Western Philosophy.

Thales was "first" only in the sense that his name is the earliest that has survived. Obviously, he was not an isolated figure standing like a single tree in a waste of superstition and ignorance. Morever, we know almost nothing about him and his views.

As I noted before, I am not a scholar in these matters, but based on these few circumstances that I haphazardly came across in Mayhew's article, I can't help but wonder what corrections are necessary for correcting Mayhew's "correcting [of] Tracinski's presentation?"

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I do not know if Aristotle had Mayhew's "anthropomorphic gods" in mind, but "all things are full of gods" does not appear to be "rational, naturalistic," at least not to my unscholarly mind,

I think there is an important distinction between believing in the gods on the one hand, and trying to explain things by means of the gods on the other. I took Dr. Mayhew to be speaking to this latter issue, since he stated that Thales was the first to try to "explain the universe in rational, naturalistic terms."

Here is a quote from Jonathan Barnes, which I find illuminating:

[The Presocratics] hit upon that special way of looking at the world which is the rational or scientific way. They saw the world as something ordered and intelligible, its history following an explicable course and its different parts arranged in a comprehensible system. ...

Nor was [the world] a series of events determined by the will or the caprice of the gods. The Presocratics were not atheists: they allowed the gods into their brave new world... But their theology had little to do with religion, and they removed most of the traditional functions from the gods. ... The Presocratic gods -- like the gods of Aristotle and of that arch theist Plato -- do not interfere with the natural world.

With regard to Thales specifically, of crucial importance is Thales' contention that everything is made from water. This certainly sounds naturalistic to me.

Having studied the history of astronomy I remember that modern historians of science, starting from mid-ninteenth century, began to reasonably question whether such a prediction really occurred. After uncovering more and more facts, many (if not most) historians of science do not accept the prediction.

This is much, much more outside my knowledge, but I see that Barnes concurs that "it is generally doubted that [Thales] could have predicted his eclipse" (Barnes, p. 11).

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I do not know if Aristotle had Mayhew's "anthropomorphic gods" in mind, but "all things are full of gods" does not appear to be "rational, naturalistic," at least not to my unscholarly mind,

I think there is an important distinction between believing in the gods on the one hand, and trying to explain things by means of the gods on the other. I took Dr. Mayhew to be speaking to this latter issue, since he stated that Thales was the first to try to "explain the universe in rational, naturalistic terms."

... With regard to Thales specifically, of crucial importance is Thales' contention that everything is made from water. This certainly sounds naturalistic to me.

There are two points here. First, note Aristotle in Metaphysics, Book 1:

Yet they do not all agree as to the number and the nature of these principles. Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says the principle is water (for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things.

Some think that even the ancients who lived long before the present generation, and first framed accounts of the gods, had a similar view of nature; for they made Ocean and Tethys the parents of creation, and described the oath of the gods as being by water, to which they give the name of Styx; for what is oldest is most honourable, and the most honourable thing is that by which one swears. It may perhaps be uncertain whether this opinion about nature is primitive and ancient, but Thales at any rate is said to have declared himself thus about the first cause.

Aristotle seems to be saying that, perhaps, before Thales the ancients who "first framed accounts of the gods, had a similar view of nature" as Thales. And W. T. Jones has these interesting comments:

We may put this down as Thales third assumption: namely, that the ultimate stuff is active and contains within itself a principle of motion and of change. This is probably what Thales meant when he said all things are "full of gods." The gods were conceived of in Greek theology as active agents. In fact, as we have seen, Homer thought of them primarily as agents rather than as objects of religious awe and veneration in our sense.

Now Jones goes on to say that as paradoxical as it may seem, Thales was denying divine causality in that motion and change was not from outside by the gods, but from within. It is a bit of a stretch to wrap my mind around that notion when I consider Aristotle's statement, Jones' earlier comments, and Thales' use of "gods," but I do admit to seeing elements of it. In any case, it is not clear-cut to me that Thales "was the first person in human history to attempt to explain the universe in rational, naturalistic terms."

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Here is a quote from Jonathan Barnes, which I find illuminating: ...

I like Barnes perspective on these early Greeks, and he explains things in an interesting way. He often speaks of the "Presocratics" as a group, but sometimes splits out Thales as the first. Barnes says:

Thales argument is perhaps unimpressive: certainly we do not believe that magnets are alive, nor should we regard the attractive powers of a piece of stone as evidence of life. But I do not claim that Thales in particular or the Presocratics in general offered good arguments for their theories; rather, I claim that they offered arguments for their theories. And with the thinkers of the second Presocratic phase, this love of argument and justification becomes more obvious and more pronounced. For them, indeed, reasoned argument is the sole pathway to truth ...

I can abide with that.

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Aristotle seems to be saying that, perhaps, before Thales the ancients who "first framed accounts of the gods, had a similar view of nature" as Thales.

Yes, similar in that Thales' predecessors too invoked water, but not similar in that Thales too invoked the gods qua explanatory cause. Or, that's how I've always read it.

And W. T. Jones has these interesting comments:

I don't know what Thales means by "full of gods." It's an interesting question. Similar to what I gather from your quoting of Jones, I would guess that he means that everything -- fundamentally, water -- is infused with some sort of principle of motion. But whatever he means by "gods," I don't take it as being a non-naturalistic explanation. What he says about water just seems to tip it too far in the naturalistic direction.

In any case, it is not clear-cut to me that Thales "was the first person in human history to attempt to explain the universe in rational, naturalistic terms."

If that is all you're saying then we do not disagree, at least in principle. It's hard to have certainty when it comes to the Presocratics (I don't even know if Dr. Mayhew meant his statement to be literally certain). Even many of Aristotle's statements about Thales, from which much of our evidence about him is gathered, have a tentative air.

But as far as I know there is a general consensus, in my view justified, that Thales explained things by material causes (water), not divine wills and the like. Ironically, I would cite the passage you quoted from the Metaphysics (and right above it) as some of the strongest evidence we have of this. But, again, if you only seek to show that this conclusion is not certain then I'm not sure I have much to add.

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