Stephen Speicher

Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?"

374 posts in this topic

The equivocation is on the other side, I mean. There is no basis for accusing Tracinski of denying the importance of philosophy, if he is merely denying the all-importance of philosophers. The two are entirely diffrent things.

The way I undestand Tracinski's point is: of course ideas are important, but philosophers don't have a monopoly on them. Good people can derive them themelves, inductively and from reality. Furthermore, of course philosophers are important, as explicit identifiers and integrators, but they are not always necessarily some initial cause.

All of this still completely makes sense regarding what Ayn Rand said about Kant -- if we are looking for one man who is most to blame, it is undeniably him.

I agree with your view. Much of this debate hinges on equivocation between implicit and explicit philosophy, and between philosophers and philosophy. I see nothing that denies the huge impact an explicit philosophy had, or could have. One does need someone bright, like Ayn Rand, to distill the reasons for successful relationships between man and the rest of reality. The explicit is much more effective in spreading good ideas, because it organizes them in a clear way.

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Specifically philosophic questions only came about after many years, and several organized societies and civilizations had risen and passed away. It is a mistake to ignore everything that went before Thales, because those years contain the gathering of knowledge in several successful civilizations. During those years, there were answers given by mystics, but there also had to be those who sought rational answers to practical questions. Even the cave man had to use his reason if he was to survive. Mystical answers to questions about the source of bad weather, floods, drought, and disease, for instance, are one thing, but they don't change the fact that man learned how to deal with his environment, or attempted to find solutions that required more than sprinkling the blood of a sacrificial animal about. If he had not, he would never have come to create agriculture or learn how to domesticate and exploit animals. Just because there wasn't enough knowledge to do anything but anthropomorphize nature when looking for the explanation for why this or that happened, it doesn't mean that everybody sat around praying for wheat to sprout where they hadn't planted. If everyone waited for the knowledge required for actual philosophic thought, we'd still be in the trees.

So why aren't we still in the trees? And how does taking note of this fact mean that one is arguing against the proposition that philosophy moves history. The statement that philosophy determines history doesn't necessarily mean that complete philosophical sysems are required. It is the extent that facts of reality are addressed by reason that determines the content of a culture, and hence the level of success or failure of a particular culture.

At least, that's where my thinking has taken me so far.

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Wait a sec -- 'fate' is an ex post facto concept, a summing up of a man's life and the decisions and actions that led to it. When used as an essentially religious term, it presupposes an inevitable disposition of that man, saved or damned. As adapted to a rational philosophy, it is merely 'what ever happened to...?' So Rearden's fate would have been simply a statement of where and how he died and how he lived his life while he did. You can't talk about "a man's fate" before a Final Judgement, to use the mystical term, whether that is death or a death sentence. After the fact, you can use it till the end of time, which would mean that your fate would have been to spend a great deal of time obsessing about Fate.

As for Galt, I believe he had already studied philosophy with Hugh Akston at Patrick Henry University before he invented his motor. So his philosophy was explicit, not implicit, throughout his adult life. But he had understood these things implicitly before, as implied by the observation that his was "a face that shows no sign of pain or fear or guilt." As the ideal man, he understood and accepted Existence as a given, implicitly; Akston just gave him the context and words for that knowledge.

I understand what you mean by "fate". I was asking what Ayn Rand was referring to by "fate" as she used it in "Those who formulate men's thinking determine their fate" (see my post 166).

Generally, I think you are right about Galt, though having "studied philosophy with Hugh Akston" doesn't necessarily mean that Galt had at that time provided himself with full philosophical answers to everything.

If he had, why did he then work in the factory?

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I understand what you mean by "fate". I was asking what Ayn Rand was referring to by "fate" as she used it in "Those who formulate men's thinking determine their fate" (see my post 166).

Stephen's response was helpful. I see what you're getting at. Per Stephen's larger context for the quote (which I didn't have handy), I think she was making the point that the prevailing philosophy of a culture determines what kinds of lives those subjected to a politics and morality that derive from that prevailing philosophy will live. Thanks to Kant's systematic undermining of the confidence in the ability to know existence and to conquer it, and his declaration that the very attempt to do so was a categorical evil, the succeeding century became a mess of pragmatism, nihilism, and mysticism, the very opposites of the Englightenment and the Industrial Revolution it gave rise to. Rand was using 'fate' in the causal sense, in the consequences of acting on those horrendous ideas and how the mens' lives played out in consequence. From the Weimar Republic to the present, she's been proven accurate. Certainly, our fates in this country, though we are still able to do much to make our own futures (thanks to the residue of an earlier culture of Enlightenment), have been negatively impacted by Kant's ideas, through taxes, attacks on individual rights (property, free speech, free trade), and the mind-numbing drumbeat of moronic yammering on drive-time radio from both the Right (AM) and the Left (FM).

(Bad day at the office ;) )

Generally, I think you are right about Galt, though having "studied philosophy with Hugh Akston" doesn't necessarily mean that Galt had at that time provided himself with full philosophical answers to everything.

If he had, why did he then work in the factory?

Good point; that informs the Trascinski argument that was the genus for this discussion in the first place: Even John Galt had to observe reality and induce more general principles. The backstory I drew, from my reading of the book, was that he was enormously happy and benevolent as he went out into the world to make his fortune. It was by observation of the people around him, like the contrast of Akston and Stadler, his realization of the uses to which his motor would be put, that led him -- more quickly than anyone around him, because of his clarity of vision -- to the realization that the slow strangulation of the Good, the men of ability, would continue to progress until the life had been choked out of them all. He realized the trend and that something had to be done. And, because he was absolutely clear and confident in his ability, he took action. As Rand said, "Those who fight for the future live in it today." He created the future he wanted, in the valley, and recruited the men of ability to join him and live it with him. As soon as he recognized the nature of the evil facing him, he took action against it and so was shielded from the pain that great producers like Rearden and Dagney suffered trying to live inside of a contradiction.

The fate of those who lived within the strictures of that corrupted society was misery: Fate in the sense that the antecedent philosophy predicted -- to someone with the vision of John Galt -- the misery that Rearden was destined to suffer. Fate, in that sense, involves a prediction of a man's future and demise. Had Galt not intervened, Rearden's fate would have been misery, bitterness, disappointment, and and unhappy death, as you suggested (Cf. Cameron in The Fountainhead). By Galt's changing the philosophical context under which Rearden lived, he changed Rearden's life and, in that sense, his fate.

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Good post, Alan; I agree. I had just gotten around to thinking that Ayn Rand, by "fate" had meant the general direction---up or down---which a man's or culture's dominant ideas would lead to, not necessarily a static, finished state, especially since most men's and culture's ideas are so mixed. On the other hand, pure altruism WILL lead to a static state---death.

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I recently ran across a couple of interesting paragraphs in The Bronze and Archaic Ages (1970), written by M.I. Finley, Reader in Ancient Social and Economic History at Cambridge.

"When we turn to a quite different intellectual development, the rise of philosophy about 600B.C., Old Greece appears to have played no role at all in the first phase. The beginning was in Ionia, and particularly in Melitus, Sicily and southern Italy, apparently inspired by political refugees. Xenophanes fled from Colophon to Sicily about the middle of the century, Pythagoras a bit later from Samos to Croton, where he seems to have founded a genuine school, which was at the same time a secret mystical sect.

"One cannot avoid the word "seems" in discussing these early "physicists", as the Greeks called them from physis (nature), because the traditions that have come down to us about them are fragmentary, confused and in large part untrustworthy. However, whatever the truth may be about the details, there can be no disputing the revolution in thought they initiated, summed up in the familiar phrase, from myth to logos, or reason. For a considerabletime the revolution lay in the mode of thinking rather than in the answers given, which were speculative and often naive in the extreme.

"The revolution of the Ionian physicists, with their assumption of the existence of regularities in nature, and hence of the possibility of generalized explanations, subject to rational discovery and to rational argument and debate, in which they engaged freely, was therefore a necessary prerequisite for both philosophy and science (as distinct from merely empirical knowledge, for example, in metallurgy and navigation). That is their importance, rather than the particular theories attributed to them. And behind them, as an immediate stimulant to their new approach, lay the practise of rational debate, free from supernatural interference and against the hithereto unarguable claims of aristocratic tradition, that was developing within the emergent polis in the social and political spheres."

_________________________________________________________________________________________

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When Ayn Rand says, "Those who formulate men's thinking determine their fate" is she referring to an ultimate fate? Or is she referring to the fate of each generation? or each culture? or each country?

[...]

But I am stuck, at least for the moment, on the referrent for "their" in the above quote from Miss Rand.

I think she is referring to each and every individual man who accepts particular ideas -- all of them.

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I think she is referring to each and every individual man who accepts particular ideas -- all of them.

Okay, Betsy; yes, that makes good sense. Thank you.

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That's a very interesting, and provocative statement. I have only glanced at, not read through Mayhew's piece. Could you just highlight the essential way in which you think that Mayhew's rebuttal reinforces Tracinski's thesis?

In my view, Dr. Mayhew’s “rebuttal” of Rob Tracinski’s article consists of a fleshing-out in greater detail the activities of some of the major historical figures and the "tweaking" of a virtually identical chronological sequence noted by Rob Tracinski in his very brief discussion of the development of philosophy during the Golden Age of Ancient Greece and the consequent emergence of Aristotle toward the close of that Golden Age in the mid- to late-fourth century BCE. I will not restate for comparison purposes those details precisely because there is no substantive difference between the two in my view. I will only point out the fact that Rob Tracinski’s article covers far more intellectual territory than Dr. Mayhew’s account would indicate.

As to the specific question you raised, it is my position that Dr. Mayhew’s view actually reinforces Rob Tracinski’s central point at least with respect to the culture of Ancient Greece and the development of Greek philosophy. Two comparisons will, I think, suffice to illustrate my point . . . at least I hope so.

Here is Rob Tracinski:

Nor does the fact that the philosopher is, in a sense, following the achievements of those in specialized fields imply that philosophy is irrelevant.

First, we should recognize that the scientists, historians, and statesmen were themselves steeped in the philosophical discussions that were pervasive in Greece's Golden Age, during the era of the "Sophists." (The Sophists have a bad reputation—and many were advocates of philosophical subjectivism—but "Sophist" was something of a catch-all term for the itinerant teachers and burgeoning professional intellectuals of the era.) This was particularly true of the scientist-philosophers, from Thales through Pythagoras, through Anaxagoras. But philosophy as a separate discipline, considered apart from particular scientific questions—and particularly systematic philosophy, a connected system of ideas applying to all aspects of human life, rather than a mere set of particular musings—does not arise except as the product of a long chain of intellectual development.

Second, philosophy did have an impact, particularly on the practice of science. (The two volumes of an overview of Greek science sitting on my bookshelf are titled "Greek Science Before Aristotle" and "Greek Science After Aristotle," in recognition of his profound impact both as a scientist and as a philosopher.) And Greek philosophy was central to the profound influence that Greek ideas had in subsequent centuries throughout the Mediterranean and within the Roman Empire. Greek philosophy helped to shape and sustain Classical Civilization.

Later, toward to the end of the first part of his article (that dealing with Ancient Greece), Tracinski writes:

Instead of the top-down view of history that I have been criticizing, in which philosophical ideas "trickle down" to spur developments in specialized fields, I am suggesting a reciprocal relationship in which achievements in specialized fields provide the inductive basis for wider conclusions in philosophy—which then serves a crucial role in solidifying that knowledge, making explicit its deepest assumptions and widest implications.

If a philosopher fulfills this role (as Aristotle did for the Greeks), the whole sum of these achievements—the achievements of specialized fields, as integrated and interpreted by philosophy—can then serve as an even more powerful base for further achievements in those specialized fields, from physics to politics, which will then provide an inductive base for new philosophical conclusions, and so on, in a virtuous cycle of intellectual and material progress.

The emphasis in both quotes is mine.

And now, for Dr. Mayhew:

From Thales and the Ionian materialists through the Atomists, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras to Diagoras of Apollonia, and including the unknown authors of the bulk of the works of the Hippocratic corpus, we are dealing with the progression of one cultural movement--the history of ancient Greek philosophy. One might claim that Socrates and the sophists temporarily changed its primary focus, but his student Plato put all the parts together and became the first systematic philosopher. He may have placed less of an emphasis on the issues that we now properly consider science and not philosophy--e.g., the movement of the planets, the nature of matter--but he certainly did deal with them, as did his student Aristotle (to say the least).

Again, what I have described (as briefly as possible) is basically one ongoing development--one series of accomplishments (and confusions and errors)--from Thales in the early sixth century to Aristotle in the fourth. In light of this development, it simply makes no sense to say: first there were major developments in medicine and history and the arts, and then there were the major developments in philosophy. (I'll have something to say on the arts shortly.) They all developed at the same time and no doubt influenced each other--in complex, fascinating ways that specialists try to detail--and there was no doubt a spiraling effect. But there is no reason to think that anything other than philosophy--especially the basic philosophical outlook that I sketched at the outset --was the most fundamental force driving the culture. That is to say--in general terms (though an historian of ideas would try to show the details of the steps)--without the first moves made by philosophers like Thales and Xenophanes, beginning in the 6th century, and those who carried the torch after them, there could not have appeared the Hippocratic On the Sacred Disease or Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War in the last quarter of the fifth century--or for that matter, Aristotle in the fourth.

And later, toward the end of his article, Mayhew writes:

And in my view, good philosophy is the fundamental (not sole) motor of all progress, and it is so, in part by being "the observer, defender, promoter, and intellectual amplifier of that progress," but most of all, and at its best, through the identification, demonstration and dissemination of fundamental truths--truths that make possible a culture open to all that the other disciplines and activities contribute to human progress.

Again, the emphasis is mine. And I would pose one question to Dr. Mayhew: if medicine, history, the arts and philosophy, etc., “all developed at the same time and no doubt influenced each other”, then upon what does he base his assertion that “there is no reason to think that anything other than philosophy . . . was the most fundamental force driving the culture”? I view this as an unfortunate verbal sleight-of-hand: conceding Rob Tracinski’s point on the one hand, and attempting to neutralize the concession with the other.

That important question aside – and I do not think Dr. Mayhew successfully supports his assertion --in my wide-angle view, there is almost no material difference between these passages. Each paints a portrait of the Golden Age of Ancient Greece that was fairly bursting at the seams with the reciprocal interplay of ideas and philosophical/intellectual activity and achievement in virtually every field of human endeavor, and each defines a great philosopher as the ultimate integrator, explicator and amplifier or transmitter of those achievements. Those differences that I do discern appear to revolve primarily around language and the precision with which it is used.

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Speaking of precision of language . . . I just realized I left out a very important qualifier when I wrote that "and I do not think Dr. Mayhew successfully supports his assertion". This should read "and I do not think Dr. Mayhew successfully supports his assertion in the first quoted passage." His second quoted passage is a decided imiprovement.

As I see it, and contrary to Dr. Mayhew's view, Rob Tracinski is not denying that philosophy CAN be the fundamental driving force in a culture. In the fifth part of his series, he is exploring the question of HOW that comes to be. In my view, Dr. Mayhew has failed to make that connection.

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Previously when I glanced at Robert Mayhew's article criticizing Robert Tracinski's essay, I just focused in on Mayhew's claims about Thales which I detailed in several posts, starting here. Later I commented on Mayhew's opening remarks as committing the fallacy of poisoning the well. However, a friend encouraged me to read through the entire article. A few comments.

Mayhew wrote:

He [Tracinski] then presents a survey of some of the (purportedly pre-philosophical) achievements of the ancient Greeks.

Tracinski does not "purport", nor do I think he implies, that those achievements are "pre-philosophical," so Mayhew's parenthetical remark is unwarranted.

... though it is certainly questionable (not to say absurd) to claim that ancient Greek science reached its peak in the fifth century. (How much of fifth century science is better than Aristotle's?) But even assuming that Tracinski has his facts straight ...

Mayhew here failed to recognize the distinction Tracinski makes, in context, between "peak" and "pinnacle." When Tracinski wants to indicate the absolute highest, he uses "pinnacle," as in his reference to the philosophy of Aristotle and the plays of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. But the science of Anaxagoras is not taken as the pinnacle over Aristotle. Rather, Tracinski indicates that Anaxagoras formed "an important peak," not THE peak. So Tracinski is definitely not saying that "fifth century science is better than Aristotle's."

... notice that it does not follow that if art, literature, medicine etc. "reached a crescendo of achievement" before philosophy reached its crescendo, then therefore art, literature, medicine, etc. must have come to be and/or developed independently of philosophy. Yet in some sense this is what he wants to claim. Recall his statement: "The development of Greek culture at its height did not go . . . from abstract philosophy down to art and the sciences," rather it "went the other direction"--i.e., from art and the sciences up to abstract philosophy.

But Tracinski does not say that the "art, literature, medicine, etc. must have come to be and/or developed independently of philosophy." In the following, Tracinski makes an analogy to the role of philosophy that captures the implicit nature of the process he also saw in the development of early Greek art, etc.

At this point, a whole series of previous observations and lower-level abstractions are integrated into a wider sum, and connections and implications that had been merely implicit before are now captured explicitly. This is the analogy to the role of philosophy.

And further, in words, ironically, quoted by Mayhew , Tracinski says :

Then at the end of this process, a great philosopher was able to explain what made all of those previous achievements possible, to identify their implicit method, and to draw, in explicit terms, the widest implications for our conception of human life and potential.

I do not read Tracinski as saying that the "art, literature. medicine, etc." reached its "crescendo" independently of philosophy, but rather the accomplishments involved an implicit philosophy, that later philosophers made explicit.

I'll skip Mayhew's criticism of Tracinski on equivocal uses of "philosophy" -- since rebutting it would require a very long essay -- and address what he wrote about Anaxagoras.

Incidentally, there is no reason to single out Anaxagoras' achievements in the field of science, nor to count what he did as science in contrast to philosophy. (Presenting him as a scientist was extremely tendentious on Tracinski's part.)

Tracinski did NOT present Anaxagoras "as a scientist" "in contrast to philosophy." All he did, in fact, was simply to highlight Anaxagoras' scientific work, without implying any contrast to philosophy.

Independent of any claim about what Tracinski said, and contrary to Mayhew, there is a reason to single out Anaxagoras' achievements in the field of science -- at least according to Wilhelm Windelband.[*]

His [Anaxagoras] scientific employments were essentially astronomical in their nature. Neglecting earthly interests, he is said to have declared the heavens to be his fatherland, and the observation of the stars to be his life work.

And this is reflected in what Tracinski actually states:

Science reached an important peak with the theories of Anaxagoras (500-428 BC), who was accused of being an atheist because he attempted to give natural explanations for such phenomena as eclipses, meteors, and rainbows, and because he taught that the sun and planets were not gods but were made of natural materials such as stone and metal.

Now, personally, I would not choose Anaxagoras as the one to single out for making Tracinski's point regarding science, but, regardless, I don't see any merit in Mayhew's criticism of Tracinski's presentation of Anaxagoras.

This was about half-way through Mayhew's essay, and I stopped reading at this point. There are only so many straw man arguments, dubious historical references, and words like "purports," "questionable," "absurd," "assuming [he] has his facts straight," "extremely tendentious," etc. that I can take.

I also want to point out for the record that I do not unqualifiedly support Tracinski's entire thesis. However, considering the type of criticism that his opposition has voiced against him, I do not want to add my own reservations.

[*] Author of A History of Philosophy, reviewed by Leonard Peikoff in the September 1964 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. Peikoff wrote "If it is possible to acquire a truly profound understanding of the inner logic of the history of philosophy by reading just one book, then, to my knowledge, that one book would be Windelband's History".

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Stephen,

I am in agreement with your assessment, and am glad to read your observation that "Tracinski does not 'purport', nor do I think he implies, that those achievements are 'pre-philosophical,' so Mayhew's parenthetical remark is unwarranted." In my view this is true for the bulk of Mayhew's criticism of Tracinski at least in his rebuttal of Part V or the What Went Right series -- I had the distinct impression while reading it that, all too frequently Rob Tracinski didn't mean or even write what Dr. Mayhew asserts he wrote or meant, thereby making an almost complete muddle of the piece in my mind.

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I have a question for anyone who thinks he can answer it. Is Robert Tracinski stating a philosophical fundamental? Because, if he is, and this philosophical fundamental is not an Objectivist fundamental, it is not, and cannot be compatible with Objectivism. Why? Because Objectivism, as a philosophy, is a closed system. No new philosophical fundamental (nor an old one for that matter) can be simply attached in an ad hoc manner, as a "rider" to the integrated philosophic system of Objectivism.

I think that the assumption of anyone who objects to what Robert Tracinski has written, objects because they believe that he 1) is or 2) believes he is presenting a philosophical fundamental. But if his main idea is a philosophical fundamental, yet it's not an Objectivist fundamental, the idea must necessarily be in conflict with Objectivism. And if that is the case, there is no doubt in my mind that Objectivism wins in any conflict between Objectivism and any other philosophy or partial philosophy.

So, that said, if Robert Tracinski is not stating a philosophical fundamental, then what is the nature of his main idea(s)? Is he trying to present some fundamental principle(s) for some other discipline, e.g. history? Does he think that he has discovered a need for some new and as-yet-unidentified discipline, and is trying to articulate that? I think the fundamental identity, the essential nature of his main idea is very unclear. And I would be glad to hear from anyone who believes that he is clear about the essential identity of Robert Tracinski's main idea(s).

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I have a question for anyone who thinks he can answer it. Is Robert Tracinski stating a philosophical fundamental? Because, if he is, and this philosophical fundamental is not an Objectivist fundamental, it is not, and cannot be compatible with Objectivism. Why? Because Objectivism, as a philosophy, is a closed system. No new philosophical fundamental (nor an old one for that matter) can be simply attached in an ad hoc manner, as a "rider" to the integrated philosophic system of Objectivism.

To the contrary, I think a philosophical fundamental that is not an Objectivist fundamental can still be compatible with Objectivism.

If a thinker could solve the Problem of Induction, for instance, that would be a very significant philosophical fundamental. But his solution would be HIS solution, not Ayn Rand's. Thus, it would not be an Objectivist fundamental. I would think, however, that if it were true, it would have to be compatible with Objectivism. Is there any reason why it couldn't be?

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I have a question for anyone who thinks he can answer it. Is Robert Tracinski stating a philosophical fundamental?

Not that I can tell.

I think that the assumption of anyone who objects to what Robert Tracinski has written, objects because they believe that he 1) is or 2) believes he is presenting a philosophical fundamental.

Why would anyone think that?

So, that said, if Robert Tracinski is not stating a philosophical fundamental, then what is the nature of his main idea(s)? Is he trying to present some fundamental principle(s) for some other discipline, e.g. history?

I understand Tracinski to primarily be an analyzer and commentator of current events, and I understand his recent foray into history as a means for him to better grasp the world of today and better predict where the world is going. But, that is just a view that I have gleaned, or perhaps inferred, by looking at some of what he has written during the last decade. For an authoritative answer, why not ask him? mail@intellectualactivist.com

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I have a question for anyone who thinks he can answer it. Is Robert Tracinski stating a philosophical fundamental? Because, if he is, and this philosophical fundamental is not an Objectivist fundamental, it is not, and cannot be compatible with Objectivism. Why? Because Objectivism, as a philosophy, is a closed system. No new philosophical fundamental (nor an old one for that matter) can be simply attached in an ad hoc manner, as a "rider" to the integrated philosophic system of Objectivism.

It never occurred to me to evaluate Tracincki's opinion against an Objectivist benchmark, or to somehow fit it in with Objectivism. My only standard has been whether an idea fits in with reality. If it does, then it is unlikely to conflict with Objectivism. I think it is very dangerous to use previous conclusions as a standard of truth for a new idea. (A tool yes, but not a standard, because it is always best to go back to fundamental facts in this case).

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The equivocation is on the other side, I mean. There is no basis for accusing Tracinski of denying the importance of philosophy, if he is merely denying the all-importance of philosophers. The two are entirely diffrent things.

The way I undestand Tracinski's point is: of course ideas are important, but philosophers don't have a monopoly on them. Good people can derive them themelves, inductively and from reality. Furthermore, of course philosophers are important, as explicit identifiers and integrators, but they are not always necessarily some initial cause.

All of this still completely makes sense regarding what Ayn Rand said about Kant -- if we are looking for one man who is most to blame, it is undeniably him.

I agree with what you say, but from what I understand, the problem is the number of bad ideas out there. And not just bad ideas, but systems of bad ideas, meaning bad philosophies. It makes perfect sense to me why Ayn Rand regarded Kant as the archvillian in history. Good honest people, who are not philosophers can form principles and abstractions inductively, if they are left free of the constant barrage of bad 'fundamental' ideas floating out there. But if your profession is not the humanities, or even if it is, it is virtually impossible for a layman to go about the job of earning his living, and try and wade through all the nonsense he's being fed, particularly when he has had no exposure to a formal rational philosophy. At best, one's response on encountering such poison in the form of fiction, movies, editorials, would be a disgusting 'who cares for this tripe', which in a number of cases is. Feed enough of this poison, for a long enough time, with no access to an antidote, and you create a culture of despair, hatred, cynicism, crime, pornography..sliding all the way to a man in a bearskin huddled in a cave surrounded by pristine nature, which is today, not just an implied, but an explicit goal of those Attilas-in-waiting - the environmentalists. It is the job of intellectuals, and philosophers, in particular, to sift through the poison or the land mine, and invent an antidote or diffuse the mine. Didn't Ayn Rand say somewhere that the intellectuals are the guardians or the soul of a culture? Just as we need an ever vigilant military, even in peace time, so do we an ever vigilant army of intellectuals, even within an ascendant culture, where there's every reason to expect unlimited progress.

When I hear that the intellectual/philosopher is the prime mover in history, or when Ayn Rand said that the original pilot on the voyage to the moon was Aristotle, I understand that I am infinitely better off with my knowledge of Objectivism. Because, it helps me identify and diffuse the land mines, and point my guns to where they should be...always. I am better off psychologically because I am not struggling to understand, I know, I have certainty and confidence, I am happy, and at peace with myself. Most importantly, an integrated true philosophy acts as a frame of reference, it helps me make correct decisions, daily, as I go about the task of living, with a lightening like speed. In this sense it 'is' my motor, that keeps me going. Every irrationality I encounter does not break my resolve, it makes me more determined, more true to the rightness of my stand, and shows me not the absolutism of evil, but its contemptible smallness. It leads me to an ever increasing level of achievement, and since life on earth was my goal, I achieve it.

A lot has been discussed on this forum about an implicit versus explicit philosophy. I understand an implicitly held idea to be one upon which the actor acts, but has not yet identified it in verbalized form. Given this, any man who makes a rational connection, or takes a rational stand, or acts rationally, is implicitly acting on a rational philosophy, even though he hasn't identified it, or is aware of it. And that is precisely what he would need to do sooner or later. Once he has acquired enough concretes, he would be struggling to identify the underlying principle or abstraction, given an active state of mind. This is where the philosopher plays a role. A rational philosopher would already have done what every man needs to do for himself in order to keep going. Further, a philosopher need not confine himself only to the concretes that a man may encounter in his profession. While a rational scientist may have identified the rational method of enquiry, he may not and probably is not expected to know the ideal political philosophy or system that his country should be based on qua scientist. For that he would need to actively think about issues unrelated to his field of study and would have to take on the role of a philosopher. A philosopher is the integrator of a division of labor society, no matter what its level of advancement. A philosopher collects concretes across the sum of man's endeavors, and identifies or induces principles based upon his observations. His greatest contribution is that he gives mankind the axioms of existence, thus giving men an integrated view of existence. Without this integrating power of philosophy, mankind, no matter what its level of progress, would be rudderless, at the mercy of any iceberg or storm. An axiom is one's ultimate frame of reference. In this sense, a philosopher for good or bad is the commander-in-chief. His ideas, for good or bad, influence the actions of all men and determine the fate of society to the extent it accepts them.

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To the contrary, I think a philosophical fundamental that is not an Objectivist fundamental can still be compatible with Objectivism.

If a thinker could solve the Problem of Induction, for instance, that would be a very significant philosophical fundamental. But his solution would be HIS solution, not Ayn Rand's. Thus, it would not be an Objectivist fundamental. I would think, however, that if it were true, it would have to be compatible with Objectivism. Is there any reason why it couldn't be?

May I ask what the problem of induction is? If Betsy would be so kind to elaborate.

Thanks.

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if his main idea is a philosophical fundamental, yet it's not an Objectivist fundamental, the idea must necessarily be in conflict with Objectivism.

I don't think that must necessarily be the case. Objectivism is extensive and integrated, but it doesn't say everything about everything. The problem of induction, as Betsy said, is one example. Furthermore, I don't think what Tracinski states has to deal with philosophy or Objectivism in particular. The onl thing Objectivism says about history is that ideas move men, and are the sole determinant of cultures. There's nothing controversial about that. The present argument deals with the nature of how ideas influence cultures; it has more to do with history of philosophy than with philosophy itself. I can discern no Objectivist principles under dispute in the Tracinski debate, just as there were no Objectivist principles under dispute in the 2006 election debacle.

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Just a note here on the use of "motor" as analogous to the role of philosophy. A motor is a means of imparting energy to movable parts. It is not the energy itself, nor does it guide or lead. So, I could speak of my heart as the motor of my body and my mind as the rudder which guides my body. I note many instances on this Forum and elsewhere where a person will in one sentence call philosophy a motor, and in another call it a rudder which guides his life. Can a motor be a steering wheel? Can you use a rudder as a motor? If you hadn't discovered Objectivism would you have simply collapsed and given up in pursuing what you wanted out of life?

We are all born as a little mass of physical energy; we then develope desires and a sense of wanting to do something or be something when we grow up. This last (desires for things in the future) I would call our motor. Then we discover (through independent thinking or osmosis) ideas by which to guide ourselves through life toward (or away from) those things. This body of ideas is the steering mechanism or guide. It may consist entirely of a right-hand rational joy-stick, or of a left-hand irrational one, or varying strengths of both, fighting for control---control of individuals and control of societies, steering left or steering right, or jerking wildly about and out of control.

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May I ask what the problem of induction is? If Betsy would be so kind to elaborate.

The problem is: When making inductive generalizations (statements about all units of a concept), can you ever know, with certainty, that your generalization is true? If you can, how?

An example: Is it true that all men are mortal? How do you know? Can you prove it?

You will find much more by searching for "induction" on the Epistemology forum.

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A rational philosophy can be one's frame of reference and thus a rudder.

In today's culture, when irrationality is all pervasive and rampant, practicing good philosophy makes me successful, and gives me on a daily basis, proof of reason's efficacy. That kind of evidence is a powerful emotional motivator, and is reason enough for me to hold on and move on when things are grim. In that sense, it is my motor.

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A rational philosophy can be one's frame of reference and thus a rudder.

In today's culture, when irrationality is all pervasive and rampant, practicing good philosophy makes me successful, and gives me on a daily basis, proof of reason's efficacy. That kind of evidence is a powerful emotional motivator, and is reason enough for me to hold on and move on when things are grim. In that sense, it is my motor.

Generally, I understand what you are saying, but, if I may nit-pick here, how can a "frame of reference" be "thus a rudder"? If it could be, why not call it a "rudder of reference" which is "thus a frame"?

Actually, now that I look at it again, I don't see how "practicing good philosophy" is "a powerful emotional motivator". Rather, I would say that your achieved state of success (as a result of your practice) is your emotional motivator, and thus your motor.

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Generally, I understand what you are saying, but, if I may nit-pick here, how can a "frame of reference" be "thus a rudder"? If it could be, why not call it a "rudder of reference" which is "thus a frame"?

Actually, now that I look at it again, I don't see how "practicing good philosophy" is "a powerful emotional motivator". Rather, I would say that your achieved state of success (as a result of your practice) is your emotional motivator, and thus your motor.

I meant that a rational philosophy helps me to see and thus avoid pitfalls, which I would not have known of, without this knowledge. In that sense, it helps me steer, or acts as a rudder. Maybe this is not the best analogy, and I concede may not be accurate.

"In today's culture, when irrationality is all pervasive and rampant, practicing good philosophy makes me successful, and gives me on a daily basis, proof of reason's efficacy. That kind of evidence is a powerful emotional motivator, and is reason enough for me to hold on and move on when things are grim. In that sense, it is my motor."

When I practice good philosophy, it gives me evidence on a daily basis, of reason's efficacy. And when I encounter irrationality, it helps me get over it or defeat it. I mean the evidence of my mind's efficacy to deal with reality, because of my past success, inspires me and gives me confidence that the irrationality can be defeated, if I would simply do what I have done in the past which is to look at all the facts, analyze carefully, and then act accordingly. Now, when I did not have a knowledge of Objectivism, in my teens, I would struggle to deal with an irrationality, and frequently it would lead to a lot of confusion on how best to deal or overcome it. This also would have the effect of emotionally pulling me down. Now, a knowledge of the correct principles, helps me overcome self doubt and uncertainty, and approach a problem confidently.

So I meant, the correct philosophy acts as a motor, with the effect of helping me avoid or overcome low spirits or depression, lifting me up, and giving me the strength or courage to move on. But as you rightly point out, my past success is my greatest evidence that this particular problem can also be overcome, and I should say that my success or happiness is the motor that keeps me going.

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To the contrary, I think a philosophical fundamental that is not an Objectivist fundamental can still be compatible with Objectivism.

If a thinker could solve the Problem of Induction, for instance, that would be a very significant philosophical fundamental. But his solution would be HIS solution, not Ayn Rand's. Thus, it would not be an Objectivist fundamental. I would think, however, that if it were true, it would have to be compatible with Objectivism. Is there any reason why it couldn't be?

Just as soon as I see evidence for the existence, or possible existence, of a philosophical fundamental that is not an Objectivist fundamental, yet is compatible with Objectivism and with reality, (I cannot think of anything offhand) I'll believe that there is such a thing. Prior to that time, I have no evidence that such a thing exists. And assuming that a non-Objectivist philosophical fundamental can exist without having any evidence for it, would be for me, an arbitrary assumption. You may have evidence that such a thing exists, or can exist, but I do not.

I have a question for anyone who thinks he can answer it. Is Robert Tracinski stating a philosophical fundamental?

Not that I can tell.

I will send you a personal message containing some comments I have about this.

I think that the assumption of anyone who objects to what Robert Tracinski has written, objects because they believe that he 1) is or 2) believes he is presenting a philosophical fundamental.

Why would anyone think that?

Yes, that is the question isn't it? Ayn Rand said, unequivocally, that philosophy is the fundamental cause of history, and I think that anyone who considers himself an Objectivist is obliged to decide whether or not Robert Tracinski's idea(s) contradict(s) that fundamental. Personally, I can’t tell. You clearly do not think so. But I believe that it is not a simple and self-evident fact that his ideas do not contradict this point. And I think that some Objectivist scholars are convinced that his ideas do contradict this point [and/or perhaps some other(s)], which I assume is why he is no longer associated with ARI.

So, that said, if Robert Tracinski is not stating a philosophical fundamental, then what is the nature of his main idea(s)? Is he trying to present some fundamental principle(s) for some other discipline, e.g. history? Does he think that he has discovered a need for some new and as-yet-unidentified discipline, and is trying to articulate that? I think the fundamental identity, the essential nature of his main idea is very unclear. And I would be glad to hear from anyone who believes that he is clear about the essential identity

of Robert Tracinski's main idea(s).

I understand Tracinski to primarily be an analyzer and commentator of current events, and I understand his recent foray into history as a means for him to better grasp the world of today and better predict where the world is going. But, that is just a view that I have gleaned, or perhaps inferred, by looking at some of what he has written during the last decade. For an authoritative answer, why not ask him? mail@intellectualactivist.com

I would love to talk with Robert Tracinski and ask him many questions. And perhaps I'll ask him this one, though I think that, ideally, the answer should be clear from reading the articles. I have seen him speak, and was very favorably impressed with his skill as a speaker.

It never occurred to me to evaluate Tracincki's opinion against an Objectivist benchmark, or to somehow fit it in with Objectivism. My only standard has been whether an idea fits in with reality. If it does, then it is unlikely to conflict with Objectivism. I think it is very dangerous to use previous conclusions as a standard of truth for a new idea. (A tool yes, but not a standard, because it is always best to go back to fundamental facts in this case).

And it would never occur to me to think of, or refer to Objectivism as merely "previous conclusions." I have daily tested Objectivism, both as a window to understanding things in retrospect, and in real time, since I've studied it. And I have found it to be so robust, i.e. correct and useful so many times, that I admit that if I see something that I think may conflict with it, by now I am comfortable using Objectivism as a standard of judgment. I've never seen a conflict between Objectivism and reality. And I don't experience any contradiction between using Objectivism as a standard, and seeing whether or not an idea fits in with reality.

I have known of Objectivism for only about six years or ~ 14% of my life. But the experience of my entire life has been more than enough evidence to convince me of the indispensable nature of philosophy. I agree that if an idea conforms to reality that it is very unlikely to conflict with Objectivism. And conversely, if an idea conflicts with Objectivism, I have always found it to conflict with reality.

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