Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The problem with "maybe"

This posting is to address the fundamentally different paradigms represented by Randianism and "liberaltarianism," respectively. The thing with Ayn Rand is that she represents very basic American, Aristotle-inspired, Jefferson-mirroring respect for common sense, which of necessity includes "Lockean" natural rights of person and property. In academic-philosophical jargon, intuitionism is some kind of theoretical stand-in for "ordinary common sense." (I happen to think "intuition" is a euphemism for Randian "grasp," but that's not a theory of epistemic justification, much less any theory involving bullshit metaphysics a la Plato.) And one thing that hard-headed, uncommon common-sense does not put up with is mushy "maybe"s. Just think how "maybe" commonly infused throughout your everyday life wouldn't result in anything other than an unsustainable anti-conceptual chaos. And yet that's what the "liberaltarian" paradigm gets us. It is borne of a psycho-epistemology of chronic uncertainty and pragmatism. What Aristotelian-Jefferson-Randian American commonsense was hijacked by, was a home-grown Pragmatism.

So here's how Pragmatism clashes with common sense: Pragmatism doesn't give us any fixed, firm absolutes, whereas common sense does. Common sense tells us that it is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against human beings, since the appropriate mode of activity for human beings is that guided by the use of their own minds, and physical force (inasmuch as it is present) negates the possibility of such activity. So in common sense such behavior is wrong, and such anti-force principles are ingrained in common law and well-understood under natural-law doctrine. Pragmatism is different: it takes fallible and imperfect humans as the given, as the standard to which all practice is to be tailored. Out is the concept of reality as the ultimate given and standard-setter (as common sense dictates). It is no surprise that Pragmatism quite commonly devolves into cynicism. The fundamental orientation becomes one of taking conflicts between fallible humans as the primary and finding a means of resolving the conflict, rather than of establishing the truth of the matter. Does this not describe the entire ugly process that is politics, oh my brothers. Everything gets subject to the authority of committee decision rather than of reality. Aren't we better than this?

So here's the problem with Pragmatist-liberlatarianism: all we get is "maybe." The most unacceptable "maybe" of them all is its basic epistemic uncertainty. Humans don't function that way because humans acting with common sense are reality-oriented, and reality is an absolute. And from the radical epistemic "maybe" of Pragmatism we get a moral-social-political "maybe" on the question of whether physical force is acceptable. The Pragmatist has to go through some non-reality-based process or other of determining whether the force in some instance (or class of instances) "works," according to arbitrarily or committee-defined standards of what "works." So apparently it is an open "maybe" in the Pragmatist-liberaltarian mindset whether depriving a human being of the effective use of his own mind and judgment "works" to advance some desired end. The absolutist and common sense response to this is a facepalm in reaction to the whole contradictory notion of it all from the outset. Why the fuck do "liberaltarians" leave such a fundamental moral primary - of not using force against a rational being - up to a big fat "MAYBE"? What kind of goddamn selling point is that?

Here's the problem, then: The Pragmatist-liberaltarian readily admits that if everyone became aware of the prag-lib arguments, maybe we'd all get the nice libertarian capitalist utopia we've all been wet-dreaming about. Maybe we wouldn't even need to address more fundamental metaphysical, epistemological and ethical ideas, including ideas about human virtue and perfection and self-actualization, to get to this nice utopian scenario.

Ayn Rand wouldn't settle for this. The whole idea is to make our lives as perfect as we can, and that doesn't admit of mushy maybes. We need to know that in the good society we will be free of physical force. We need to know that our arguments are right, that anybody presented with them will be convinced that physical force is categorically evil. It is an absolute matter of fact: a people who are exposed to and independently-integratively understand Ayn Rand's ideas will by necessity be a libertarian and capitalist people in virtue of being self-perfecters intellectually and morally.

Much as F.A. Hayek's arguments are as compelling as it gets in the Pragmatist-liberaltarian paradigm, I'm gonna have to go with Ayn Rand on this, thank you very much. The world is going to be a heck of a lot better place a lot sooner as a result.

[ADDENDUM: I swear to God, I didn't see this Sully post until after posting the above. The problem with Sully, of course, is that he quotes Cowen's "maybe" stuff approvingly - as if probability, uncertainty, statistical reasoning, and so forth are the best model. I'd like to ask: did the truly great philosophers think in probabilistic terms? Is that how the reality under consideration by them - absolute, ontological reality - appears to them, in probabilistic terms? Is that how they reasoned on ethical matters? Aristotle was some version of a pragmatic philosopher, but was he vague in any way about the absolute, categorical, and binding character of abstract principles as a constitutive means of the practical? Ayn Rand - soon to be widely recognized as one of the 5 greatest philosophers of all time - certainly wasn't at all vague about the relation between the abstract and the practical. Hell, was Hayek probabilistic, uncertain, and all "maybe"-like about how decentralized and dispersed knowledge is necessary to a working social order, or that socialism fails in virtue of its constructivist-rationalism, or that liberal norms occupy a place between instinct and abstract-reason? I haven't studied Popperian epistemology - a chief influence on Hayek's thinking along with Misesian praxeology - enough to know whether it encourages or thrives on the uncertainty-ethos. My best guess is that it's very British and therefore very commonsensical along with being very, um, pragmatic and non-rationalistic. So in some sense, yeah, I think it does thrive in that context. Anyway, as theory, Hayekianism has much the similar appeal that Misesian praxeology has, but built on some kind of scientific (though avidly anti-scientistic) empiricism rather than aprioristic categories. Let's just not mistake all that for Aristotelian-Randian methodology.]

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