Monday, January 31, 2011

Roarkian Soul

Roarkian soul: do you have it?

On the automatized and surface level, this is a matter of sense-of-life. Either you have a concept of and reverence for the greatness of soul possible to human beings, or you're tragically stunted, perhaps a victim of overwhelming cynicism. "Love for man at his highest potential" seems to be a rare phenomenon. How many people ever have a sense of that feeling in their lives? How many have a sense of radiant benevolence and a real commitment to making the most of their potentials? How many can connect, at that basic sense-of-life level, with the saying that "A noble soul has reverence for itself"? How many, on the other hand, see examples of human achievement and are struck immediately, in sense-of-life terms, with envy, resentment, bitterness, etc.?

How many are committed to a life of learning and growth and integrity, as opposed to a satisfying ignorance, or stagnation, or compromise? How many have the courage to stand up for a vision of their own which exalts actual or potential human greatness? How many can think in terms of principles, or an integrated view of existence? How many exalt an intellectually-disciplined commitment to reason as one's basic guide to belief and action?

How is it that a reader of The Fountainhead would come away with either a "getting it" and therefore positive attitude, a (necessarily ill-defined) negative attitude, or a not-getting-it attitude? Does one have any sort of vision of the human ideal - one that doesn't require some well-worn supernatural mythology? Does one understand that perfection - in the realistic, Aristotelian sense of the term - is possible to human beings?

Does one believe that strength resides in courage, integrity and rationality, or that it resides in numbers?

Apply this question to the behavior of the present-day "philosophical community," which - most unphilosophically - plays a version of the "strength in numbers" game. Now, here's a good question for anyone of any intellectual worth to entertain: shouldn't a big-time philosopher these days be able to take a careful look at the ideas of Ayn Rand and then assess its merits vis a vis leading ideas in the analytic-philosophy field? If Aristotle were around today, what would he do? Would he neglect having a disciplined look at a controversial and influential figure, especially one who espouses ideas remarkably congenial to his? No, he would not: Aristotle's policy wasn't to ignore, but to integrate.

Take Aristotle's approach with respect to the materialists and idealists of his day, for instance: he had to account for either side's appeal while showing both to be mistaken. Yes, to properly credit Sciabarra here, he engaged in a "dialectic" with the prevailing opposed ideas to show how the illicit dualism or lack of integration involved with the prevailing opposition will generate views which present only a partial perspective on the truth, whereas Aristotle's hylomorphism provides a completed (perfected!) perspective.

Clearly there are no "big-name professional philosophers" these days presently up to the task of engaging the intellectual playing field the way Aristotle was. Not while they ignore rather than integrate what it is that accounts for the appeal of allegedly "outsider," "fringe" figures like Ayn Rand. (Comparing Rand to, say, Scientology simply wouldn't cut it. Scientology is a supernaturalistic religion which is accorded the appropriate epistemic status of such by "the philosophical community.") That certainly rules out the possibility of any of them being the "ultimate philosopher" if there is one. Meanwhile, here's what I think must be the case: anyone who could be called the "ultimate philosopher" in our time would have to have Roarkian soul.

My job as philosopher is to emulate the likes of Aristotle and Roark as best I can, see.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ayn Rand: The Unknown Ideal

With appropriate modifications:

"No [thinker] in history has ever proved [her] value so eloquently . . . as [Ayn Rand] - and none has ever been attacked so savagely, viciously and blindly. The flood of misinformation, misrepresentation, distortion and outright falsehood about [Ayn Rand and Objectivism] is such that the young people of today have no idea (and virtually no way of discovering any idea) of [their] actual nature. . . . [They are being attacked] in a manner of a nightmare lynching - as if a blind, despair-crazed mob were burning a straw man, not knowing that the grotesquely deformed bundle of straw is hiding the living body of the ideal."
-- Introduction to Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Sunday Worship, 1/30/2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The "Rand Took Welfare" Meme

These smear-memes (this one was floating around in the intellectual cesspool known as a few days before being picked up by a leading Rand-hating professional philosopher/Comprachico) are just so fucking dishonest and viciously-motivated, I don't even know how one responds to them without dignifying them in some way. This latest one, right on the heels of the screamingly dishonest "William Edward Hickman" meme, comes from excruciatingly selective excerpting from interviews in 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand.

Here's one reason I don't think these memes ought to be even dignified with a response: the people who spread them are not interested in an honest discussion of the facts. They have it in for Ayn Rand, justice and truth be damned. That's all there is to this. You correct them on this, they'll just come back with more of the same shit later like the first incident never happened.

On the other hand, if there is such a thing as an honorable and informed opponent of Ayn Rand, such a person would treat this fact - that Rand received Social Security benefits - in the full context of all the available information. But to do so would, in the end, lead to an embrace of Rand, her thinking methods, her achievements, etc. That's just a fact of the matter, whether these scummy haters realize it or not. But the haters don't want to consider being proven wrong about or embracing Rand. It's just an automatized thing for them: Ayn Rand is a hack, vicious, inhumane, fascistic, a bitch, etc.

Now, an honest, intellectually curious individual reading 100 Voices would also have noticed the hundreds of pages of other things in addition to this tidbit about Rand accepting Social Security benefits - including the very interesting things said by the likes of Columbia-trained philosophers Harry Binswanger and Allan Gotthelf. Gotthelf remarks, about the ca. 1970 epistemology workshops - see the 2nd ed. of ITOE - that it was "like having Aristotle in the room." (Gotthelf, it turns out, is also a highly-respected Aristotle scholar.) Harry Binswanger uses such intriguing phrases as "priming her subconscious," in reference to her years-long preparation for writing ITOE. Hey, that has something to do with psycho-epistemology, and Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism gets a lot into psycho-epistemology! Hey, what is psycho-epistemology all about, anyway? But I rather doubt the haters are interested in any of that stuff. Better to hone in on some one paragraph in the whole book, purporting to show some hypocrisy on Rand's part....

No. I'm not going to dignify this shit. You either have a genuine and honest interest in learning about Ayn Rand, or you don't. Comprachico Leiter (what a scumbag!), et al, obviously do not. Those who do, can readily figure out what's what without my spending the time explaining it all every fucking time something like this comes up. What these smear-memes do accomplish, though, is an insight into the motives and methods of Rand's haters - people who are ready, willing and suspiciously eager to drop whatever context they feel they have to, to continue their grotesque pretense to intellectuality vis-a-vis Rand. Zons of Beetches!

[ADDENDUM: Notice one thing about the methods of these zons of beetches: they transform this issue not into one of the principle Rand espoused - regarding the propriety of a coercive welfare state - but into whether Rand was a hypocrite or not. The propriety of the coercive welfare state automatically vanishes from their cognitive field of view (what is it that psycho-epistemology has to say about automatization, I wonder?), such that "the issue" and the focus is now on the person who espouses principles opposing it. This is not a respectable cognitive process. These are not worthy fucking adversaries. These men are cowards; nothing to be afraid of. Amazingly cynical cowards at that.]

[ADDENDUM #2: Rand's views on receiving government money or benefits were spelled out in print back in the 1960s. Her article was reprinted in an anthology, The Voice of Reason, in 1989. It's not like Rand and her Estate didn't do an adequate job covering their bases on this. How, then, can it be their fucking problem that they didn't anticipate the level of evasion so many people, including professional "philosophers," are capable of? Goddamit, this stuff was in print for over 40 years, and these "philosophers" are smear-artists are just now becoming aware of this stuff? What ass were their heads jammed way up in all this time? It's not Ayn Rand's fucking problem that they've got their heads up their asses. The problem has always essentially been with her haters, whatever her errors or flaws. That's just a fact. Here's another thing: you either get Ayn Rand, or you don't. Either you have the Roarkian soul for it, or you're just a tragically-fucked-up product of the Comprachicos, or one of the Comprachicos themselves. That's just a fact right there; the haters can suck it.]

[ADDENDUM #3: An example highlighting the difference between a philosopher and an intellectual thug: a philosopher is interested in such questions as how Rand's essay "The Comprachicos" fits with the plot of Atlas; an intellectual thug, meanwhile, has nothing better to do than gleefully pounce on the (actually most uninteresting) fact that Rand accepted government benefits. A philosopher is also armed with the ability to connect "The Comprachicos" to the phenomenon of all these little thugs running around, gleefully and cynically attacking greatness.]

Challenges Re: Atlas Shrugged

Main question: How does Atlas Shrugged "fit" with the philosophical ideas underlying it?

A couple derivative questions:

(1) The idea of the men of the mind going on strike is a good premise; however, would such a strike realistically play out like the strike in Atlas? (Could there be a more realistic depiction than the one we got there, and would such a depiction give Atlas more appeal than it has?)

(2) In the novel, the main hero delivers his message in such a way that a large segment of society became convinced of Galt/Rand's ideas rather quickly. In the case of Atlas Shrugged as a delivered message, meanwhile, it's been more than 50 years and not more than a minority segment of society has even become sympathetic toward that message. Don't these disparate examples (one fiction, and one reality) indicate namely one thing - that the depiction of events as they unfold in Atlas defy correct philosophical hierarchy? Rand's expectation in Atlas is that mass-intellectually-stunted minds would be able to listen to and integrate a three hour radio address in which things like fundamental principles of metaphysics are invoked. But this is a comprachico-ized audience Galt was addressing! How do you get anything other than mass incomprehension and probably a descent into barbarianism once society collapses like it does at the climax of Atlas?

How do Galt and the strikers at the very end of the book expect that they'd be coming back to a society ready to implement laissez-faire capitalism? They're not going to be coming back to a society that's been enlightened by the events they have just suffered through; societal change just doesn't happen that way - not when the society has been comprachico-ized.

There's a reason Ayn Rand ended up writing "The Comprachicos." It was a result of a long process of her coming to terms with how her rationally-compelling novel fell on so many deaf and dumb and evasive ears. For the first two years after her novel came out, it was mostly psychological torture for her, trying to come to grips with how there could be so amazing a national cognitive meltdown, such that she and her ideas hardly seem to stand a chance. How could there be so much fucking ridiculous irrationality out there? Why do prominent university professors even today ignorantly and incompetently bash her so? What the fuck has gone wrong with the world, that reason and values are spit upon so, with little to no effective recourse? How do you muster the will to fight on, and do so while not letting anger and bitterness get the best of you at times? There is most definitely an anger and bitterness coming out in "The Comprachicos," perhaps the most withering anger and bitterness in any of her writings, because of the tragic nature of the cognitive damage done to so many people as she describes there. If it weren't for fucks like Comprachico Leiter and derivative Comprachicos, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Anyway, I think there's a choice to be made between "The Comprachicos" and the plot of Atlas Shrugged. And I really fucking love "The Comprachicos" as a piece of philosophical analysis, in how well it gets to the essence and the root of a pervasive problem. It may well be her most significant non-fiction work after Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Let's put it this way: it's the most significant essay of her most intellectually-mature stage post-ITOE. There were certain things she had figured out by 1970 that she hadn't by 1957. (It helped that she was a full-time philosopher after 1957.) Among those things was an identification of the intellectual problem of rationalism, or the construction and treatment of ideas in detachment from their proper roots in sensory experience. One big conceit of rationalism - to wax Hayekian - is the idea that you could swiftly and beneficially make a new order in defiance of how institutions evolve over time. Rand's genuine expectation - one shared even more extremely and naively by a young Leonard Peikoff - was that Atlas would change the world fairly swiftly. She simply did not anticipate the kind of massive and widespread irrationality, incomprehension, injustice, pathological cynicism, etc. she actually found in response. The basic cause of that response, of course, was a cultural and institutional backdrop that simply requires time and a process of education in order to change significantly. And you really don't have such a process at the end of Atlas.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Academic Analytic Philosophy and The Meaning of Life

The Distinguished Professor, Comprachico Leiter, addresses the subject of the relation between professional philosophy and the public's view of meaning-of-life questions. Leiter is being his usual elitist self, while commenters further address the seeming divide between their profession and the public at large.

Meanwhile, the other day, Leiter took a typical pot-shot regarding a certain "hack philosopher."

Now, what might the connection between these two phenomena be? I ask because there absolutely is a connection here. The "hack philosopher," after all, provided very thoughtful and compelling answers on meaning-of-life questions; she has considerable popular appeal and an uber-practical approach to philosophical questions, while professional philosophers have by and large neglected to look at these answers. Surely there's an integrating connection between all these facts.

One of Leiter's blog commenters, David Velleman (a professor of philosophy at the top-rated philosophy program in the world, NYU) recommends a few books from Serious Philosophers that deal with meaning-of-life issues. The Serious Philosophers include the usual suspects: Rawls, Nagel, Nussbaum, Williams, etc. - all academics. The books by these figures he recommends are from academic presses, addressing questions in an academic fashion, appropriate first and foremost for fellow academic philosophers. Rawls's Theory of Justice aside, these works are and will continue to be virtually unknown by the public-at-large, precisely because they are so academic in nature. Doesn't recommending these books kind of miss the whole point about the disconnect between the academy and the public at large? Doesn't it illustrate the whole point?

The only two books I've read on Prof. Velleman's recommendations list are the Rawls and Nagel ones. Now, there is an essay by Nagel, "Equality," in Mortal Questions, that made me remark at the time how far removed in sense-of-life terms it is from the "hack philosopher's" essay on the Apollo 11 launch. I mean, if sense-of-life has something to do with the meaning of life (I just now raised the potential connection between these two concepts), then isn't there something more inspiring in meaning-of-life terms in "Apollo 11," than in an academic essay on the importance of equality?

Okay, let's take the more familiar case, that of Rawls. What does one get out of A Theory of Justice in meaning-of-life (and sense-of-life!) terms? How, for instance, does maximin or the Difference Principle come to bear on the virtues of character required to achieve eudaemonia? Let's just put this in very plain terms a member of the general public as well as professional philosophers can understand: what has a closer connection to our understanding of the whole issue of the Meaning of Life: the ancient-Greek-inspired concept of eudaemonia or real happiness, or Rawls's Difference Principle?

Prof. Velleman caps off his book recommendations with this: "These authors have been associated with some of the foremost philosophy departments, and no philosophy student can get far without reading their work."

I think this kind of sums the whole problem up. We also have here a case of good answers being right under everyone's noses.

Now, let's say we take another look at the "hack philosopher" from an objective and impartial perspective as regards the big meaning-of-life issues in philosophy. Well, the standard objection raised right off is that the "hack philosopher" advocates selfishness as a virtue, and that's a no-no. However, the no-no response is not really an intellectually responsible one at all; it all crucially hinges on what the philosopher in question means by "selfishness." Far as I can tell, an excruciatingly small number of philosophers have given serious and respectable thought to what that philosopher actually meant (it has something to do with that ancient-Greek-inspired concept of eudaemonia, I think), and they come out in basic agreement with the philosopher. This is a very interesting data point, don't you think?

Part and parcel of eudaemonia, and of understanding the meaning of life, is adopting a (properly) capitalistic ethos. Already this puts much of the academy - well, the humanities parts of the academy - at odds with the interests of the general public. Rejecting a capitalistic ethos necessarily entails a form of intellectual disintegration between theory and life. The economics portion of the academy has done a better job figuring this out, but the humanities portions are more insulated from economic reality which demonstrates the superiority of capitalism.

Back at the time that he was a lone voice in the wilderness, Ludwig von Mises explained in apodictic-praxeological terms why socialism would fail. On the biggest economic question of the 20th century, Mises turned out to be right. The Nobel Prize arguably should be replaced with the Mises Prize. Anyway, it seems only Robert Heilbroner had the good graces to admit defeat in his own time, and to acknowledge the greatness of Mises.

Now, if Mises was right about that, what else might he have been right about? If he was right, not just about the failure of socialism, but that the best and most feasible economic system is the laissez-faire capitalism of classical liberalism, then that really puts the academy - and especially the humanities portion - in disconnect with and at odds with the general public and regular folks' interests, aspirations, etc., now does it not.

So, what we have here is an institutional bias against capitalism in academia, combined with compelling but pro-capitalist answers to big meaning-of-life questions being right under everyone's noses. So there you have it.

[ADDENDUM: Isn't it a case against the prevailing academic model all on its own, that so many of its practitioners have failed to integrate all the facts available here? The best philosophers are those best at making integrations qua philosopher. Could it really be that hard to integrate, say, Objectivist ethics with the eudaemonist tradition, or eudaemonism with meaning-of-life questions, or meaning-of-life questions with the unqualified goodness of capitalism, or with sense of life, or with Kubrick, or with House, M.D., or with Ralph Vaughan Williams, or with the history of philosophy? I mean, seriously, how fucking hard could it be? Sheesh! No wonder Understanding Objectivism is going to be such a big seller in the future.]

[ADDENDUM #2: Placeholder for future blog entry under the title "Economy." Integration is all about achieving maximum mental economy by thinking in essentials. But to think in an economistic fashion is to think suspiciously like a . . . capitalist! No fucking wonder . . . (That was an act of integration right there, BTW.)]

If Kubrick directed House

One noticeable stylistic difference would be the lack of shaky camera movements. How did such amateurish shit become part of the mainstream television aesthetic today? Why do viewers put up with it? (Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?)

(I've also noticed, production-values wise, that Fox News's "static" camera is much preferable to the "floating" camera used on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Hell, Fox News is simply better, production-values wise. For the life of me I don't know why MSNBC doesn't take some hints.)

Question about Jesus

I confess to being ignorant of the many, many ways of doing Christian apologetics, so I don't know how this might be answered using the methods of apologetics:

Why didn't the incarnated God, presumably all-wise, impart the same intellectual wisdom imparted by Aristotle? Why did the world have to wait another ~1,230 years for Aquinas to do the synthesis? Part of God's plan, per usual?

Tidbit on Copleston's History of Philosophy

The amount of text in Copleston's entire 9-volume History of Philosophy series is around 4,000 pages. Here are the philosophers to whom he devotes the greatest number of pages:

Kant - 213
Plato - 139
Aristotle - 133
Aquinas - 121
Hume - 96
Descartes - 90
Hegel - 89
Ockham - 79
Scotus - 76
Locke - 76
Russell - 70
Leibniz - 69
Fichte - 62
Spinoza - 59
Berkeley - 56
Schelling - 55
Suarez - 53
St. Bonaventure - 53
St. Augustine - 51
Hobbes - 51
Sartre - 50

I'm sure one could run these numbers in all kinds of interesting ways....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

America: A Dumbed-Down Plutocracy?

The Left and the Right are all about constructing narratives targeted toward certain segments of the population. The Left tend to be more self-aware about this; after all, that's where I get the phrase "constructing narratives." The Right usually aren't that bright. Their constructed narrative, after all, is that American Decline is attributable to increasing secularism - "turning away from God." Now, that's a really stupid narrative-construction right there. I'm not sure it's more stupid, though, than the Left's constructed narrative - in effect, that American Decline is attributable to a dumbing-down to serve the interests of a corporatist oligarchy-plutocracy.

The Left's narratives are a holdover from another religious viewpoint - Marxism. It's about as anti-reality an ideological narrative as whatever spews forth from the Right. Anyone with anything resembling a sound understanding of economics is quite familiar with the ideas of Mises and Hayek on the benefits of the private property, i.e., capitalistic order, while the Marxian-inspired ideas are against the Mises-Hayek understanding of things. So if you apply the neo-Marxian analyses to the current state of America - with its demonstrably-ill-informed public and corporate ownership of politics - you end up with the theory that this is an outcome of the capitalistic order. More wealth accumulates in fewer hands, which in turn fuels more pro-wealthy policies at the expense of the populace, who are further dumbed-down in the process, etc. This stuff is very cliche' and could fit right on a napkin just like the Laffer Curve (which is a truism, actually, while Marxism in its various guises is pure shit).

The basic reason we have what we have in America today is that people are often very pragmatic: they go with what they think is the best available to them, all things considered. The current set-up we have now, is what we have because that's what the American people have chosen. They do realize in a pretty clear-cut way that the current state of things is pretty lousy; they have a commonsense "instinct" that the politicians are totally cynical and aren't squaring with them; they have a commonsense understanding that their government has done things in their name that are not too admirable; they have a commonsense perception that they are indeed ill-informed but what can they really do about it? What better alternatives are there, anyway? In a country with a mixed culture - a product, fundamentally, of mixed premises - the best results you can expect will be mixed.

If, however, Americans were shown a viable alternative that's clearly better than the status quo, then there's hope for this country after all. They just haven't been shown the better alternative yet. That better alternative does not, however, come enmeshed in left-wing narratives about a dumbed-down plutocracy that needs to "go Euro" to save itself. Rather, it comes enmeshed in a neo-Aristotelian respect for reason at perfectionistic levels. That means not fucking up a commonsense understanding of what capitalism, i.e., the private property order, is all about. It means abandoning the various retarded (usually Marx-inspired) notions that capitalism is, in effect, zero-sum and exploitative. It means actually embracing the capitalist ethos, while recognizing what it takes, intellectually, on the whole, to do so - again, a neo-Aristotelian respect for reason at perfectionistic levels, which entails enhanced cognitive (and therefore economic) efficiency. Americans do want to think critically; they have the intimation that doing so would greatly enhance their flourishing; they just need a guidebook of some sorts that they haven't yet gotten....

(Next on my radar: the Right's obvious narrative failures - fundamentally, a disrespect for the intellect and reason, purportedly in the name of spiritual enrichment.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thinking in Essentials: Huck Finn

So some PC twats have determined that an original work of art by Mark Twain is suitable material for "sanitization." Now, how much of the national discussion has centered around the very premise of this sanitization vis a vis respect for the integrity of an artwork?

All I've seen is debate over a less essential, less fundamental issue: how we should treat the term "nigger" in today's culture. Surely we don't solve that problem by going around and censoring "offending" works of art, do we? (It's not hard to imagine how, if anything, this censorship would only add to the country's racial problems. That's if you take a long-term view of these things, rather than a pragmatistic "quick fix" approach which is all these PC fucks ever know.) And where is the uproar about censoring works of art, which should be the immediate sense-of-life issue involved? WTF? What have we as a country come to, that this is even a subject of reasoned debate and discussion?

The essential here: reject "sanitizing"-censorship outright, as a corruption through and through. If the PC shits can't even get that right, how can we expect them to get the daunting matter of race relations in this country right? Failing to respect an artwork reflects so deep and fundamental a cognitive failing that we have to address that failing before we ever get to the issue of race relations. The nature of the cognitive hierarchy and cognitive integration demands it.

Jeezus Effing C, people.

(Thanks a lot again, modern philosophy.)

[ADDENDUM: Yes, I'm aware of how Rand used the term "censorship," as "pertaining only to government action." Her definition has hardly ever sat well with me, as we still need a term to cover any act of stifling freedom of expression. The term "self-censorship" does make sense. Rand was, however, making the obviously useful distinction between acts of government and acts of private parties - one that the leftist PC-fuck types run roughshod over on the premise that private capitalistic activities can be oppressive. A relevant factor from the standpoint of force and legality, in this instance, is that we're dealing with a public-domain work, so the issue has to do with respecting artistic expression in a more general sense.]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Being an Ultimate Blogger

Without people like Glenn Greenwald around, I would not have found inspiration to become The Ultimate Philosopher. Greenwald is someone with an (almost) unparalleled ability to condense issues down to their very essence. Consequently, he sees pretty much of all that counts as "mainstream narrative and debate" in this country as corrupted through and through, in some fashion or other. His approach to the whole Wikileaks/Assange farce is one such instance of this.

(From what I can tell, the very charismatic some-sort-of-genius-figure Glenn Beck is invoking America, Ah, America (tears) against the "threat" posed by Assange, nevermind what Judge Napolitano was saying on your very network not hours before. You know, America's News Network. You know, GOP figurehead Roger Ailes's brilliant Network-ized media experiment. You know, America and Democracy. And we all have a good laugh at that one.)

Greenwald recognizes what the whole farce the "left-right" "mainstream" discourse is in this country. The politicians are . . . politicians, you idiots!. You just can't expect to have serious, honest, principled, heartfelt debates from weasels, can you? Everything in politics these days is going to the highest bidders, and those very high bidders are the same ones running the media, so what better can you expect than the kind of media we're getting? There's a reason an Ultimate Commentator like Glenn Greenwald would not get any interviews on Fox News - because Greenwald is in the business of exposing in the nakedest terms the hypocrisy of our present-day political system, and Fox News is right in the middle of all that hypocrisy. Hence, The Media get the "Julian Assange - Terrorist!" discussions going. It's so obvious what's going on here to anyone who's paying attention. Greenwald, despite his credentials for intellectual integrity, just doesn't serve "the content needs" of Fox News, Inc. Network-ized, remember. Always remember that. "But how did things get to be the Network-ized way?" asks The Ultimate Philosopher, who knows about Rand and Hegel in addition to various and sundry other items of considerable interest and how they all interconnect.

Greenwald has come to the naked essence of matters concerning him as a constitutional attorney and a Jeffersonian at heart: the political system we have today is a farce of what the Framers envisioned for us. What we have here are two distinctive phenomena: (1) America, and (2) the political system currently situated within America. No one worth taking seriously is against America or at least the idea of America. But the politicians already know that and pander to that America-love to continue their farcical political games. We as a nation have forgotten the original lesson of America: keep your affairs from the hands of politicians as much as you possibly can. Rely on your selves and your communities, governed by some basic virtues like common sense. It's the whole notion of politicians as we know them that's against the ideals of America. But Greenwald also points out how the media establishment is in on the whole cynical farce, in which case the media as we know it - a vehicle of infotainment rather than enlightenment first and foremost - is also against the ideals of America, where the media is supposed to exercise an intellectual independence from the political system.

There's a way out of all this, says The Ultimate Philosopher. Does Greenwald see things at that great a level of generality and essence? Greenwald is describing the many symptoms of severe dysfunction in regard to his areas of expertise, in a better way than anyone else in his profession has described, but has he diagnosed the core problem with the country?

Is he aware of things beyond constitutional law and politics, such as philosophy or maybe Ayn Rand? Does he diagnose things at a level a philosopher would aim to diagnose it? I don't recall any time he has mentioned a specifically philosophical issue or demonstrated a familiarity with the great philosophers in his blog. He is just really good at what he specializes in, though.

What I'm saying is that my aim is to philosophize at the level that Dr. House diagnoses illness. Perfectionism and whatnot, at least on my part. (Dr. House is lost for the time being as a person, though; I don't admire his cynical-amoral methods.) Even if that doesn't make either of us popular or well-liked by the many.

[ADDENDUM: The mainstream media coverage and discourse in regard to the shootings in Arizona has been about as low as one would reasonably have come to expect with this country lately. The fact that Dingbat, a.k.a. Sarah Palin, is at the center of it all is confirmation of that point.]

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Randian Heroes as Perfectionists

I am coming to grips with what all I am prepared to say and what I am not yet prepared to say in my book. Tying my central perfectionist thesis to the issues that the leading academic philosophers - particularly those in epistemology - are concerned with, it just not going to be possible in this first book. I do not have the requisite training (from self or others) and context for it. I am quite rusty at my academic-style philosophizing after a decade away from graduate school. Further, my book is conceived as aiming squarely at the intelligent layperson; and the intelligent layperson is far removed from what Quine's "Two Dogmas" is all about. The perfectionist in me says this tying-in would make a good candidate for a second book, though.

My academic area of specialty was ethics and political philosophy. My grasp of these issues is a lot more sound than the issues that the likes of Quine, Kripke, Davidson and David Lewis specialize in. However, I think my perfectionist thesis is plenty good enough to blow away the competitors in the field of ethics, and that includes the leading "contemporary" moral philosopher, Rawls.

Ethical perfectionism is a synonym for eudaemonism, which is best defended in the "canon" literature by Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics. Up until about 30 years ago, the main alternatives in ethical theory (aside from forms of rejection of moral theories) were "utilitarianism" (or, more broadly, consequentialism) and "Kantianism" (or, more broadly, deontology). This alternative is what was being presented to students in college philosophy courses as the best that philosophers had to offer in the field of ethics. Pretty sad, huh? So, since that time, Aristotle and "virtue ethics" have surged into prominence, and as recent or contemporary literature is scoured for "virtue-ethical" positions within this Aristotelian tradition, Ayn Rand's name naturally comes up. Her ethical egoism is hardly dissimilar to ancient Greek and especially Aristotelian ethics on the matter of being self-centered in ethics, with virtue defined in terms of promoting self-actualization or eudaemonia or real happiness. Whether the academic literature has fully made the identification yet, eudaemonism and perfectionism and self-actualization and virtue ethics (with some kind of stress on the needs of the self foremost hierarchically) are synonymous because they all are descriptions of the same basic concept. As academic literature goes, David L. Norton's Personal Destinies is the best contemporary statement of eudaemonist or virtue ethics.

What really reveals someone's ignorance of Ayn Rand and of the history of philosophy, is comparing her ethics and her idealized heroes to Nietzsche's Ubermensch, usually package-dealt with some strawman claim that Rand, "like Nietzsche," is an elitist, and more likely than not looking for a moral justification (through hijacking Nietzsche, more or less) for capitalist exploitation. Yes, it's one of those eye-rollers students of Objectivism have been confronted with thousands of times. Why don't these idiots appreciate Rand for what she actually said, the students of Objectivism keep asking. (Good question, actually.) Further, it really reveals a lack of intellectual sophistication to hone in on similarities to Nietzsche rather than similarities to Aristotle.

(Let's say that Nietzschean-style "nihilism" is the main alternative modernity has to clinging on to religion-and-morality. I mean, that's what has plunged the political left into a deep-structural moral vacuum (see the '60s and its effects), and the right into fear that the world will collapse without a return to religion-and-morality (see the right from Buckley to today). Aristotelian-Thomistic-Lockean-Jeffersonian-Randian "natural-law" perfectionism is the third way that would give us the fix we need, but unfortunately there is massive ignorance of this tradition. So the typical little left-wing college know-it-all has a context where Nietzsche is taken to be a, or the, leading voice of the secular world, and where leftists succeeded in rewriting America's history into a class-war context rather than an individualist one, and compares Rand to other thinkers in that context. Really lame and so cliched, right?)

Randian heroes are perfectionists. Rand is clear about this in some of her Letters ca. 1946, so it gives some idea of where Rand was in her intellectual development at that time, and how she viewed the relation between moral perfection and traditional religion. (This was around the time she was most embroiled in discussions with Isabel Paterson about all the Big Issues - God, religion, morality - and "Pat" informed her that her ethics had a character all its own, simply distinct from the egoists Nietzsche and Stirner.) This is around the time she was also studying the history of philosophy, with emphasis on the Aristotelian and Thomist traditions; this was around the time that the significance of the "problem of universals" became known to Rand, and the time she made her earliest identifications leading to her theory of concepts. In her maturest stage of intellectual development, her ideas were far more Aristotelian or Thomistic than Nietzschean. This goes for her eudaemonist-perfectionist ethics.

The heroes represent what a eudaemonist-perfectionist ethics lived-out might look like. Her heroes were always reflections of her husband Frank or herself, and there's nothing of an "Ubermensch" character about them (either the heroes, Frank, or herself); they're just normal human beings reaching their full potentials through virtue (rationality), and doing so with an individualistic pride - like what America's supposed to be about, right?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quine and Peikoff

It is now "conventional wisdom" over there in the hallowed halls of Analytic Philosophy (like there's something in Analytic Philosophy that isn't "conventional wisdom"?) that Harvard's Willard van Orman Quine was probably the most significant philosopher of the last half of the 20th century. This is due more to "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (1951) than any other Quine article, and it is that very article where the traditional analytic-synthetic distinction comes under attack. It also happens that Leonard Peikoff wrote an article attacking the distinction, "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy," (1967) in The Objectivist, which was under the editorship and squarely under the philosophical guidance of Ayn Rand. The basic Objectivist package-deal here - a good package deal, as it happens - is Ayn Rand's theory of concepts and Peikoff's essay on the analytic-synthetic distinction. If Rand and Peikoff basically do the same substantive work that Quine did, then they deserve every bit a spot up there among the most significant philosophers of the century.

I've read Peikoff and Rand and understand their arguments quite clearly. I've tried to read Quine and gave up trying to understand after a few pages. Here lies the fundamental difference between Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy. The practitioners' brains are simply wired/habituated to think, argue, and write differently. Academic philosophy journal articles excel in being highly technical and obscurantist. I think the model promotes a certain kind of elitism that essentially cuts off a lot of professional philosophers from rabble out there the Ayn Rand-types would appeal to. So the academic "conventional wisdom" is that it's hard to take Objectivism seriously unless or until its proponents put their ideas in academic peer-refereed journals - an effective device for separating the worth-taking-seriously from the "cranks."

Now that Objectivism is beginning to make notable inroads in the academic publishing realm, the infrastructure of the academic "conventional wisdom" on Rand is beginning to crumble. Further, Objectivism isn't the only philosophical movement that has leveled significant and notable criticisms against the analytic style of philosophy; Continental and Existentialist philosophy have also noted the detachment of analytic-style philosophy from the concerns of everyday people and life. The compounding factor here with Rand is that whispering she's an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism (/whisper), and the CW says that's a no-go. But then again, Rand's theory of concepts is of greater philosophical significance than her advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism, based on her own insistence on the primacy of epistemology over politics and on the nature of the rule of fundamentality applied to philosophical hierarchy.

Rand was fundamentally an advocate of a neo-Aristotelian, non-Platonized form of reason. This puts her right there in the philosophical mainstream, as Aristotle-without-Plato is just what the mainstream has been yearning for, for who-knows-how-long now. (Aristotle is the Philosopher of Common Sense, see, and the conscientious philosophers try to emulate Aristotle by taking a humpty-dumpty they were handed from their forerunners and doing their best to merge it with common sense, somehow.) So the task ahead is to translate that message into terms the philosophically inclined can appreciate and understand.

There is a criticism of ITOE by Gary Merrill posted on Usenet in the early 1990s. ("Usenet? What's that? Is that like Twitter or somethin'?") Merrill's review hones in on Rand's polemical style, which does leave something to be desired, but he does not discuss the content of Rand's theory of concepts. If one focuses on Rand's polemical style, it does become a convenient way to dismiss her as a thinker. ("If she doesn't take much care with respect to other thinkers' ideas, how much care could she take in presenting her own?" Actually, that would be a pretty lame basis for dismissing a philosopher's views. They do tend to spend a lot more time on their own views than those of others, after all. Or is that not true in the very conventional-wisdom-like world of academic philosophy?) Anyway, he then hones in on Peikoff's "Analytic-Synthetic" essay as an example of the same bad tendencies he sees in Rand, because it is evidently ignorant of the fact that Quine's essay had attacked the distinction some 15 years before. "Peikoff is dishonest or incompetent, take your pick." Now, come on. Please.

First off, the criticism may well be self-defeating, for if Peikoff did launch a pretty definitive attack on the distinction without knowledge of Quine's essay or its significance, then that indicates a great deal of originality on Peikoff's part. Second, Peikoff was in a very unique position, that of being a Ph.D. from a respectable graduate program in philosophy and of having had Ayn Rand as a long-time mentor. He has described the mental turmoil the back-and-forth between Rand's methodology and theirs put him through. Now, in the time that Peikoff was in the academy, studying the history of philosophy with focus on "the status of the law of contradiction in classical logical ontology," there's no compelling reason to think Quine's essay or its significance had become well-known in philosophy. This is the time, remember, that academic philosophy was so dominated by positivism that Yale's Brand Blanshard wrote a whole book, Reason and Analysis (1962), covering this dominant tendency. This book Peikoff most definitely would have been familiar with (having been reviewed by Branden in The Objectivist), but I don't see a reason that he should have known about Quine's essay. Best as I can tell, Quine didn't begin to attain his status until about a generation (surprise, surprise?) after "Two Dogmas" appeared, and the field had been cleared.

I just find it noteworthy that the CW-pick for "most significant philosopher since Wittgenstein" and Ayn Rand's best student both attacked the analytic-synthetic distinction. Just like I find it noteworthy that - as the academics are now beginning to discover - Ayn Rand's ethics is the best legitimate heir to Aristotle's on the contemporary field. Just like her politics is the best legitimate heir to that of "lightweights" Locke, Jefferson and Spencer.

Anyway, we know what happens if the analytic-synthetic distinction goes. That means all the pretense surrounding Immanuel Kant crumbles. (I already know it crumbles when it comes to ethics - my "area of specialization" - given the clear and immense superiority of a eudaemonistic ethics over Kant's formalism.) But if that pretense deflates, . . . then what happens to the pretense surrounding the analytic-philosophy model, of which Kant was a supreme practitioner? Maybe if Quine had written in terms non-specialists could understand, we wouldn't even be so much as wondering whether Peikoff was or should have been familiar with "Two Dogmas"?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Apollo 11 and Ted Williams vs. The Intellectual Misfits

The story of newly-employed radio man Ted Williams is stuff of the benevolent universe at the heart of the American sense of life. Contrast that story, however, with the blog entries following it at the Huffington Post link above, and you might get a sense of the very disgust Ayn Rand was feeling toward Apollo 11 naysayers when she wrote that most Randian of articles. (It might be outdone only by "The Comprachicos.")

One blogger turns the subject into a surreal joke. Another - citing "objective economic measures" - assures us that this glimmer of hope called the American Dream is illusory after all. (This particular specimen informs us that the media's treatment of the Ted Williams story is one of many "false, establishment-serving narratives.") A third points out God's role in all this.

This is what passes for commentary at the intellectually-superior-liberal Huffington Post.

Thanks a lot, modern philosophy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where Did the Singularity Begin?

While this blog is your headquarters for the Singularity, where did the Singularity actually begin? I'm referring, of course, to the real Singularity, the one signifying the maturation of the human race as such, and not just a technological maturity discussed by Kurzweil and the like. So . . .

Did it begin here?

Or was it here, perhaps?

Or here?

Or was it here?

Applying the Rule of Fundamentality, I'm leaning toward #2 right now. That is to say, the Singularity may have been gathering for quite a while now, just at a non-accelerated pace. Then again, did it begin some millions of years ago with the first rudiments of humanoid reason, and only show signs of acceleration with #2?

Also, why have Kurzweil and the like not delved into this at the greatest level of fundamentality available? Does technology just expand on its own, materialist-like, as an extrapolation of biology? Wherever might they have gotten that idea?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why I Am the Ultimate Philosopher

[Some very-rough draft material for the book.]

A philosopher, more than anyone, sees things in the most fundamental, broadest-reaching, furthest-reaching form. A philosopher should be able to look throughout history and identify fundamental causal sequences that shape the course of history. "Fundamental" here is crucial: it does not identify the only causal sequence, but the causal sequence that best explains all the greatest number of other causal sequences. This is looking at things in fundamental-causal, not mono-causal, terms. Ideas most fundamentally shape the course of history, but they are not the only shape-r of history.

On this point, the message Rand and Peikoff give off is quite misleading to readers not well-versed in themes discussed in, say, Peikoff's The Art of Thinking course, say, lecture 3 where he talks about thinking in terms of fundamentals. Yes, if something thinks with a healthy psycho-epistemology to guide them, then they get the message that ideas are the fundamental and not only factor shaping history. But it is simply assuming too much cognitive efficacy on the part of the average reader to tell them, "Ideas are the fundamental shaping force in history." They'll just mistake fundamentality for monocausality, then look at the state of philosophy today and its irrelevance for most people's lives, and dismiss any such notion. What causes someone to mistake fundamentality for monocausality? An improper theory of concepts, of course!

People simply have not been given - until Ayn Rand developed her theory of concepts, or until someone presents an improved theory that would still be fundamentally similar to heres - a proper means of tying down the best of everyday commonsense cognition to the fundamental theoretical roots. As far as the "big philosophers in history" go, the closest anyone had come was Aristotle. But his moderate realism was not a fully satisfactory answer. Lacking such an answer, people will give up on philosophy as a guide to life. Ayn Rand has come closer than anyone else before to providing an accounting for that. What was the key to Rand's success in this department? Basically, dismissing basically the entirety of the modern philosophical tradition! What she did, instead, as she educated herself in the philosophical tradition, is compare the performance of the ancients as against the moderns, think in terms of the relevant essentials (for instance, Aristotle's views in astronomy, biology, physics, and politics are not the most relevant essentials in his way of thinking), and identify Aristotle as the man whose lead we need to follow in order to use philosophy as a means of improving our lives! So follow Aristotle's lead as best as you can, that's all.

Now, a crash course in fundamental-level causation in history:

The Greeks were going to be fine as long as Aristotle's works were preserved and disseminated. But those works got misplaced, and so for most of the next, oh, 1,500 years the dominant forces in intellectual life were Platonism and Christianity. Now, consider this: without Aristotle, and without Aquinas, where would the West be today? Think of how the Church ruled: all the greatest intellects were part of the church hierarchy, and Plato-Plotinus-Augustine were the most dominant intellectual forces until Aristotle's work was rediscovered (this was more fundamental than whether it would have been Aquinas or someone else making the reconciliation - it should not be called a synthesis, which is a goddamn modern term indicating the fusion of contradictory attributes [again, indicating a failure to find a proper theory of concepts]). Aristotle inserted a wedge fundamentally deadly to Church dominance: the independent use of secular reason as against received theocratic authoritarian dogma. The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution would follow in historically short order.

Science since the Renaissance has basically - at a practical level - provided all the solution we need to the "problem of induction." (We now just need to recognize the alignment of the theoretical and the practical in a proper theory of concepts.) The Church, meanwhile, in canonizing Aristotle, turned his ideas into a dogma. Along the way, no proper solution to the "problem of universals" had been presented. Philosophers, not seeing the relevant fundamentals about Aristotle, then set on a course of trying to "ground" natural science all over again.

Kant is Rand's chief whipping-boy among the moderns. I do not think Kant had malicious intentions in setting out to create his philosophy. Kant was merely the most impressive cashing-in - a dead end if you will - of the modern approach to philosophy. In Kant perhaps than anyone, you find the basic cleavage between ideas and the concerns of everyday common sense, i.e., between philosophy and life. Kant was an arch-rationalist in the more fundamentally relevant, i.e., psycho-epistemological sense. But Kant didn't do this all alone. This was an entrenched practice that Hume had perfected quite well himself - and admitted openly in his writings that he could not reconcile his philosophical ideas with his daily routine. But was this just Kant and Hume, or were they following other leads?

When first-time students of philosophy today are introduced to certain thinkers, who do they get? Descartes and Hume. But Descartes and Hume are terrible examples to follow psycho-epistemologically. Absolutely terrible. When students are introduced to this as how philosophy is done in this day and age, it is no wonder at all they'll lose interest. All "philosophers" do is raise idle questions and irrelevant problems. With Descartes and Hume are the models - yes. With Kant's style of exposition - yes.

Kant was a culmination of that cognitive model. Hegel is a mixed bag; he tries to be a synthetic middle-way between Aristotle and Kant, but the product looks even more rationalistic psycho-epistemologically than Kant. They're both about equally removed from common sense, each in their own way. One thing Hegel did recognize, though - and, again, this is before a proper theory of concepts was developed - was that his philosophy was the culmination of everything that came before. He was, up to that time, the "ultimate philosopher." When Rand formed her theory of concepts, she then became the "ultimate philosopher," and, too, recognized in some sense that her philosophy is the "culmination" of what came before - i.e., once all the alternatives have been eliminated. As already pointed out, Rand recognized the essential - that Aristotle had come closest - and proceeded to follow his essential lead: to the full integration of philosophy and life.

Rand singled out Kant as the chief modern villain because of his substantive conclusions, but those conclusions and his method were the culmination of a method of (psycho-epistemological) rationalism practiced by (arguably) all the major moderns. Rationalism is characterized, in Peikoff's terms, by the widespread detachment of philosophy from life. It's clear-cut in Hume. In his own way, Hume represents the culmination of that method. He hit his limit and could go no further. Hume and Kant - they're both terrible (i.e., anti-Aristotelian) models of doing philosophy. They both set the tone for the impressive-looking splitting-up ("distinction-making") of what is, in reality, self-identical. Oh, and Descartes was a master of that, too. Just all the splitting-up as such: what for? What is accomplished? The practical effect, in the end, is a split of philosophy from daily life.

Then there's Pragmatism, which Rand and Peikoff attribute to Kant. But do we get Pragmatism in its mature form without both Hume and Kant, much less all the other moderns helping to set the tone? With Descartes, Hume, Kant, and the Pragmatists, we get in all cases a non-Aristotelian interpretation of the world. This is thew fundamental-level problem with all of them. So bombard the American intellectual scene with Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Pragmatism (and some Marx and, up until only recently, Aristotle and Rand), and what do you get?

Whatever it is, a figure like Rawls is emblematic of it. One thing Rawls does not do, is provide an integrated view of existence all the way to the fundamentals, metaphysics and epistemology. His project is, in his words, "political not metaphysical." If this is the philosopher most influential on the liberal intellengtsia in the last few decades, it's little wonder those on the left now feel helpless to implement the changes they want. Too few people listen to the intellectuals these days to be swayed by them, because the intellectuals have the reputation for being wankers and often elitist. Those of an intellectual bent on the Right are not impressed, because their opponents are reduced to arguing less-fundamental political matters and focusing on political change rather than a change to the soul. (This is not want Rawls intended, but it's the outcome of the intellectual process.) But focusing on political-level change without identifying the fundamental causes of the necessary intellectual change, represents a P/pragmatic influence. I take this to be the essence of Peikoff's distinction between "disintegration" or D (recall also how David Kelley ends up working with libertarian organizations to "help spread the word"), and varieties of integration that tie all ideas together systematically.

Meanwhile, if they would just recognize and understand the importance of a proper theory of concepts...

(To be continued?)

[ADDENDUM: Shooting right to the fundamental: So did the real Singularity begin here, or with Rand? Or with Kubrick, perhaps? Would that make for a catchy book title perhaps: The Singularity Began With Stanley Kubrick? But this title is more perfect than that one. Hmmmm....]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The $6 Billion Plan to Fix America, Updated and Expanded

Here's the deal: $6 billion is hardly enough investment. The number needs to be expanded to more like $100 for every person in America, or $30 billion. The primary difference is the inclusion of Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism course, since methodology and first-hand thinking is at least as important as the content. If there's anything students of Objectivism might have learned by now, is that throwing the content out there, absent a means of integrating it, is darn near hopeless (aside from a frighteningly small number of exceptional cases). The contexts are just too far apart. The people out there need to be able to think. That, of course, requires a whole restructuring of our educational system, but first thing's first.

The essential books are 10 of the titles:

The Fountainhead
Atlas Shrugged
For the New Intellectual
The Virtue of Selfishness
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
The Romantic Manifesto
Philosophy: Who Needs It
(we might need double or triple orders of this one)
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
The Ayn Rand Lexicon
Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
(by Leonard Peikoff)

Assume an average of $10 per book copy, plus $150-200 for the course, multiplied by 100 million sets distributed. That runs to $25-30 billion total.

Let's get it done.