Friday, May 25, 2012

Cultural Death Watch

This week a number of high-budget, special-effects-intensive, probably-yet-another-Hollywood-remake shit sandwiches will be released. Or a great number of such have been released recently. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a large enough metropolitan area, however, you will not be seeing a movie named Moonrise Kingdom, just like you never saw a movie named The Tree of Life in theaters last year (since it was a direct-to-DVD release, even though it has Brad Pitt in the leading role FFS).

If you've paid a reasonable amount of attention to the American film scene in, oh, the past decade or so - in other words, if you are culturally literate enough to name more than a few movies made by, say, David Lynch - you'd recognize the name Wes Anderson, he of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Along with such names as Lynch, Scorsese, Coen, Malick, and Paul Thomas Anderson, he is one of the most important cinema auteurs in the English-speaking world today. His latest effort, however, is not slated to be seen by more than some fraction of Americans. This new movie has received pretty much zilch by way of domestic publicity; being too busy on a number of matters to pay close attention to the movie releases around this time of year, I only happened to hear about it on a classical music / NPR radio station that devoted a segment to the music used in this and other Wes Anderson films. A song by Nico was used in The Royal Tenenbaums, for example. Who besides the minimally culturally literate have so much as heard of Nico? And who the fuck listens to these kinds of stations, anyway? Certainly not the ones shelling out good money for yet another predictable/formulaic Will Smith vehicle, or yet another Spiderman remake, or yet another rendition of 28 Days Later under a new title.

A people cannot survive on shit sandwiches.

On a completely unrelated matter, how's that 2012 presidential circus freakshow campaign working out for you so far?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Marriage and Equality

(I've not yet proof-read/edited the entry below, so be prepared for any grammatical errors. Tags will be added later, when I have the time/inclination to whittle tags down to the essentials.)

This is something of a follow-up to my last entry on the subject, in light of President Obama's (phony) evolution to support for what the cultural left now frames in terms of "marriage equality" (and the cultural right frames in terms of "redefining marriage"). In my last entry, I observed that the cultural Right, which has essentially staked its intellectual reputation on this issue, is out of arguments. The last, pathetic resort of these right-wingers is demagoguery about the "definition of marriage," which may well play in vast swaths of the Bible Belt which would - if they had their way - go back to criminalizing "sodomy." But the anti-"marriage equality"/"redefining marriage" side is losing - badly - in the courts, where reasoned arguments matter and irrelevant BS is disregarded. When Ted Olson, the lawyer representing the couples marginalized by California's Proposition 8, put the (conservative!) case for equal-protection in Newsweek more than two years ago, the debate - rationally speaking - was pretty much ended. On the rational merits, the opponents have been left to flail about helplessly.

So where does it go from here? I have in mind what the majority opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court might look like. Now, I admit that I am coming at this as an amateur at jurisprudence and substantive law. I am a layperson on these matters who can at least name some key Supreme Court cases. A (if not the) key precedent on the same-sex (")marriage(") issue is Lawrence v. Texas of 2003, and a key feature of our nation's Constitution coming to bear on the issue is a judicially-acceptable interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Now, the majority opinion I have in mind (again, I note I am an amateur layperson so my formulation may be inexact in legal terms) would go something like this: The Court will want to come to the "best compromise" on the issue, hedging so as not to piss off either side too much, and to do so without running too obviously into accusations of "cultural engineering" or "legislating from the bench" or "judicial activism" or other such euphemisms that either side of the political spectrum tends to engage in when it disapproves of a Supreme Court ruling, depending on the issue. In this case, the Court will not want to be seen as "redefining marriage," but at the same time needs to affirm what common decency affirms on the issue: a substantive equal protection of rights under the laws of the states. Noted same-sex (")marriage(") advocate Andrew Sullivan would object to a "separate-but-equal" solution, though we do have judicial precedent for such a thing (which, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), didn't last all that long). [EDIT: I have since been corrected that this case was one overturning a previous decision upholding the "separate but equal" solution.] The "separate-but-equal" solution in this case is the requirement, on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, that same-sex couples have all the same rights and protections under the law as man-woman couples, but that these equal substantive rights do not require that same-sex couples be able to get married under state law. The commonsensical "middle ground" solution that has occurred on a state-by-state basis is civil unions (though apparently, on a state-by-state basis, there still are substantive differences between marriages and civil unions, which render them unacceptable even under the "separate but equal" solution). If the Supreme Court were to go for the "best compromise," it would simply be this: states must have equal rights whether in the form of marriages or civil unions, and that form is left up to the individual states.

One particularly appealing feature of such a compromise is that the last, pathetic resort of the equality-opponents loses even its demagogic force, except perhaps in the very culturally backward states. This compromise does not "redefine marriage" at the federal level, leaving the definition of marriage up to the states. So on what basis, in the political atmosphere of 2010s America, would the equality-opponents have to object? They get to keep their semantic preferences, but they don't get to continue marginalizing same-sex couples under the guise of "protecting the definition of marriage."

I don't, however, think that it's really a matter of semantics in the more bigoted regions of our country. If it were, then those regions would have already allowed, at the minimum, civil unions for same-sex couples, but they don't. That leaves bad faith, malice, ignorance, stupidity, obfuscation of the relevant issues, misrepresentation of the real agenda, or other such ugly things as the explanation for this. (And President Obama should still be held to account for his past political pandering to such ugliness; I don't buy his "evolving on the issue" bullshit for a second, and Andrew Sullivan is out in la-la land if he thinks Obama is praiseworthy for (what is in fact) shifting with the political winds. He's a f'ing politician with no identifiable core save for strategic-tactical Alinskyism/Machiavellianism. This Sullivan admiringly characterizes as his "meep-meep" quality. Stick with Greenwald if you want bullshit- and la-la-land-free analysis of this president's actions. (Sullivan protests, but he's way too easy on the president regardless - definitely so if he doesn't call him out for being a core-less political calculator.))

Understanding Objectivism: Preliminary Thoughts

(I've not yet proof-read/edited the entry below, so be prepared for any grammatical errors. Tags will be added later, when I have the time/inclination to whittle tags down to the essentials.)

I've finished chapter 1 of the book version of Leonard Peikoff's lecture course. It has been many years since I heard the lectures in audio, but the first lecture does accord pretty well with my somewhat vague recollection of the audio lectures. (Arguably there are benefits as well as drawbacks to "absorbing" these lectures via the audio format; in any event, Peikoff, Michael Berliner and others evidently saw the benefits of putting these lectures in book form in addition to the audio.)

First off, I want to point out that these lectures are for "serious students of Objectivism." It is expected that one has familiarized oneself decently with the written Objectivist "canon," including Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991), or "OPAR," the "book adaptation" of the 1976 Philosophy of Objectivism course endorsed by Rand and given in her presence. The Objectivism being discussed in the Understanding Objectivism (hereafter shortened to "UO") is far, far removed from the superficial, caricature-ish version you see being discussed in the mass media. It is also fairly removed from the Objectivism one is exposed to in the written canon, with the main exception of chapters 4 and 5 of OPAR. The primary focus of UO is on "chewing" Objectivist ideas in an active fashion - of making the Objectivist way of thinking part of one's internalized, first-hand mental practice, as distinct from the more "passive" approach involved in reading the literature. The purpose is to get the "serious student of Objectivism" to move on to becoming an "advanced" student of Objectivism, i.e., someone who could, independently of the canonical texts, arrive at the Objectivist ideas themselves the way Rand herself did. (As Peikoff points out in the first lecture, Rand did not learn Objectivism from reading Atlas Shrugged or from attending courses by Peikoff. It all had to come first-hand.) In any case, UO presupposes a considerable degree of familiarity with Objectivist ideas, so it is targeted not to newbies but those who've spent some time reading and thinking about the ideas. That is one chief barrier to just any ol' outsider profitably plunging right in and "getting" what it's all about. Absorption of ideas takes time - often on the order of years. This presents a further difficulty: those who don't take Objectivism all that seriously to begin with aren't going to be willing to invest that amount of time "chewing" Objectivist ideas and finding out just what there is of so much value to its practitioners. (Common sense would tell you that long-time Scientologists telling you that if only you would invest so much time (and money!) learning about their ideas will you come to see its profound value, is not going to be all that plausible on its face if you don't buy into it at the outset.)

So, that being said, what does UO offer listeners and/or readers? Above, I've alluded to the notion of actively "chewing" ideas and to the closely related notion of the Objectivist way of thinking. "Chewing" refers to the process of working over ideas extensively in one's mind before one is really ready to digest them. The audio version of UO is rougly 27 hours of doing just that. Fundamentally, the course deals with the proper method of thinking through or chewing ideas, as distinct from the content, which in the case of Objectivism is laid out in the canonical texts primarily by Rand and the Brandens pre-1968, and in Peikoff's 1976 course. The method consists in what I'll call a rigorous and systematic approach to "premise-checking," that is, of tying one's ideas to the concrete facts of reality as well as to the systematic whole of ideas that is the Objectivist system. Viewed as a method of thinking, Objectivism, therefore, serves as its own best protector: it demands that one be able, first-hand-, to validate one's ideas by the highest standards of fact and logic. Whether this makes the content of the "official Objectivist canon" just as impervious is a different question. Aside from some basics - namely, the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness, the fundamental reliability of sensory information and some minimal notion of volition as a presupposition of rational discourse - there is very little if anything that is obvious or indisputable. For instance, plenty of other thinkers besides Rand would look out on the same sensible reality that she does and arrive at different conclusions about ethics and politics than she did, and these matters are (or at least so Rand and Peikoff would argue) hierarchically dependent upon metaphysical and epistemological fundamentals. Which brings me to some important methodological observations for philosophers as such to take careful note of.

Central concepts within Objectivist methodology are: integration, context, and hierarchy. These concepts are so central to Objectivism, in fact, that you basically cannot separate method from content at this point. (Perhaps by now you are beginning to see how woefully inadequate the superficial mass-media treatments of Objectivism are; an article or book covering Objectivist ideas that make essentially no reference to these central concepts, or display not a clue about them, are probably not worth your time except as a cultural exercise.) These concepts are treated at considerable length in chapter 4 of OPAR. And, I would argue, these concepts are so closely related to one another that you can't separate them from one another. To properly integrate one's ideas is to respect both context and the hierarchy of ideas, and vice versa.

Now, I assume the reader is at least minimally familiar with these concepts as discussed in the above links, if not the more indepth discussion in OPAR. So here's an important question that should arise at some point in a thoughtful person's mind: just who or what serious thinkers would disagree with the importance of properly integrating one's ideas, of maintaining (i.e., not dropping) context, of respecting the hierarchy of ideas? Aren't these of fundamental importance to the practice of philosophy as such? What makes Objectivism special in this regard? Why has this blogger in particular been on record for touting the historical importance of Rand as a thinker, particularly in regard to the need to properly integrate one's ideas? I think the answer is this: since these concepts are so fundamental to the practice of philosophy, what major figures in the history of philosophy have identified their fundamental importance? Remember, this is a matter of methodology, of the very practice of doing philosophy itself, of meta-philosophy perhaps. An historically-informed treatment of Rand's ideas points to deep methodological similarities in the so-called dialectical tradition, dialectics being understood as "the art of context-keeping." So it isn't like Rand is the first thinker to come along and realize that all ideas (all phenomena?) are embedded in a context and cannot be adequately understood apart from that context. Indeed, I'd say any great thinker in history paid scrupulous attention, at least implicitly, to the context of statements and attempt to reconcile conflicting ideas by properly taking into account the widest possible context. Whether this has been explicitly formulated and acknowledged as a matter of philosophical method by others besides Rand, I do not know. What is significant here is that Rand, a widely read and "popular" philosopher, made these identifications - apparently independently of other historically significant thinkers - for the benefit of the layperson. Wouldn't it be nice if other "popular" thinkers and philosophers out there would make the same explicit identifications and thereby perhaps stem the tide of cultural decay?

This segues into another basic focus of the UO course: the role of philosophy in human existence, or the role of philosophy in daily living. From the very beginning of the first lecture, Peikoff addresses the matter of how one lives by a philosophy, particularly in a society from which one's philosophy is largely alien (as current society is with respect to Objectivism). He naturally moves on to the issue of how philosophy as such, not just Objectivist philosophy, can play a role in human life. Another chief idea in Objectivism is that philosophy - whether directly or indirectly, whether by adoption or by rejection or neglect - is the fundamental moving force in human life. (Rejecting or neglecting philosophy in one's life generates existential impoverishment in a number of ways.) The problem here is: how does one connect abstract ideas to the practice of concrete daily living? And here Peikoff sets up his number one target of destruction: rationalism. Now, it must be noted that "rationalism" has become a buzzword among longtime Objectivists and on online Objectivist forums, even though in the written canon it is hardly at all touched upon. This generates a problem in terms of how one properly defines, in fundamental terms, what the problem of rationalism is as Peikoff (and, presumably, Rand) understood it. How would one identify an idea, thought process, or person as "rationalistic"? Further, just how pervasive is the phenomenon of rationalism so identified? As to the latter question, Peikoff says that the problem is pervasive in a very large segment of individuals, including among students of Objectivism, and that it is a problem that can undercut and paralyze their thought processes, and in fact destroy their commitment to integration, context, and hierarchy, quite unbeknownst to them. Being that it is a serious and pervasive problem, and largely unidentified, we're in deep doo-doo if we don't unroot it and fix it. Peikoff emphasizes that this problem is so ingrained in so many people's thought processes that it presents a, if not the, chief obstacle to living - and living well - by a philosophy. Since thought and action are integrated phenomena in human beings, the problem of applying philosophical principles to daily living is primarily an intellectual problem.

So what is rationalism? It has some important similarities to rationalism in early modern philosophy (associated with Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz), but the sense in which it is used by Peikoff is more all-embracing than the term applied there, I think. It concerns one's habitual method of dealing with ideas, or one's "psycho-epistemology," and key to understanding Rand and Peikoff's criticism of most of the philosophical tradition is understanding their criticism from a methodological standpoint: they would insist that rationalism as method of thought is quite literally pervasive among intellectuals, i.e., among those who deal with the most abstract ideas. And, so, at last, what does this rationalism consist in? I would formulate the problem as follows: rationalism consists, in effect, of treating the map (our abstract system of ideas) in the same manner as one would treat the territory (concrete reality). Take a common lay-criticism of the practice of philosophy: that philosophers have their "head in the clouds," that all they do is play around with ideas in their heads, with little practical importance or application. Just what do philosophers do, anyway? How do they make their ideas relevant to practical daily living? What if, in effect, whether they realize it or not, their map is their territory, and so what makes sense in their territory has little if any connection to the real territory? After all, if we all have the same real territory to work with, why do philosophers, via their conceptual system-building, still disagree with one another (in some deep fashion that doesn't similar afflict the community of scientists)? Further, if rationalism is a fundamental methodological phenomenon, then might not David Hume be just as much a rationalist in this sense as Descartes? Does Hume start with some "floating" premises (premises not properly anchored in concrete reality, as much as he would insist on some doctrine of empiricism) and deduce from those premises conclusions that fly in the face of practical, real-world concerns? In the tomes of Immanuel Kant, what do we have besides an elaborately worked-out system of interrelated ideas represented by words, words, words, without a clear tie to our concrete and everyday concerns? (Put the question the following way: what benefit would the layperson have in reading, or trying to read, the Critique of Pure Reason?) Or, to take an example from more "practical" (ethical and/or political) philosophy, what territory does Rawls's A Theory of Justice map out?

But remember something I noted above: Peikoff says that the problem of rationalism, or of deducing to or from "floating ideas" not properly grounded in concrete reality, is a pervasive problem among many students of Objectivism as well as among the historical philosophers he and Rand love to heap their invective upon. Peikoff mentions having struggled with rationalism himself for over a decade. It is an affliction present in many intellectual types as such, due to hazards inherent in dealing with abstract ideas. They would identify the phenomenon in so simple a circumstance as a student of Objectivism reciting some tenet or argument in Objectivism and then failing to establish the truth of the claim first-hand apart from relating words to other words that they gleaned from a book.

I am quite sure that the problem of rationalism needs to be fleshed out much, much more than the summary treatment I've provided here, for the problem to become more apparent. The whole point of philosophy, the counter-objection would go, is to ensure that one's ideas are true, i.e., properly grounded in reality, and there's no clear reason to believe that Rand and Peikoff have done better at this than others, their identifications and protestations concerning methodology notwithstanding. My very strong impression is that, over the course of a few decades (namely the '50s through the '70s), Rand and Peikoff encountered countless instances among the students and thinkers, Objectivist and non-Objectivist alike, instances of what they came to identify as the problem of rationalism. UO is the only course/book that I know of where the problem is fleshed out indepth, but I'll need a refresher from reading the rest of it to really pinpoint what they have in mind.

I would like to make an observation concerning methodology and the idea of Objectivism-as-its-own-protector. The way that Peikoff structured OPAR, for both epistemology and ethics, is to define the basic concepts - "concept" (chapter 3) and "value" (chapter 7), respectively - and devote a chapter to explaining these concepts before proceeding to matters of what I might call "application," particularly in the chapters on "objectivity" and "virtue," respectively. In each of the chapters of the latter sort, we are presented with general advice (along with some concrete examples) of how to conduct ourselves epistemically and ethically, respectively. In the later epistemology chapters (4 and 5) we are given "commonsense" advice concerning such things as arbitrary claims, or when a claim is assigned such values as "possible," "probable," "likely," and "certain," or when a claim is considered to have been properly proved as true. In the chapter on virtue (chapter 8) we are given an extensive discussion that is expanded to book-length in Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics. At least in the case of the ethics chapters, you have a division into meta-ethics or the discussion of the meaning of ethical terms (chapter 7 on "the good") on the one hand, and normative ethics or discussion of the content of ethical obligation (chapter 8 on virtue) on the other. Perhaps a similar sort of division needs to be made in the area of epistemology; perhaps what many professional specialists in epistemology are focused on are matters correctly classified as "meta-epistemological," while how to conduct oneself epistemically is a matter of "normative epistemology." I raise this possible division as food for thought. If the division is a valid one, then I think chapters 4 and 5 of OPAR are concerned with normative epistemology. This raises a further possibility: if Randian normative ethics can be plausibly described as a version of ethical perfect(ionism/ivism), then her doctrine concerning epistemic method might be considered a version of epistemic perfect(ionism/ivism). For some time I have viewed Objectivist methodology (mentioned above as a rigorous and systematic approach to premise-checking) in this light, and doing so has inspired me to approach philosophical subject-matter in general (and not just Objectivism) accordingly, as best as I can. Any such philosophizing can trump Objectivist content. Hence the term I've adopted: Perfectivism. :-)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Items for the Day

1. Why so aloof?

So, what have I been up to lately to occupy my time? In short: consulting various online information bases, e.g., wikipedia, reddit, rateyourmusic, acclaimedmusic, Scaruffi, Amazon, Oxford philosophy podcasts, Arts & Letters Daily, Greenwald, Sullivan, etc., really studying up on the world of Western classical music (next: rock, jazz and popular music), following lots of links, and vigorously applying the motto just below this blog's headline. (C'mon, whatever else you think of Rand, she's really right-on with this one.) How many of your "leading philosophers" out there today can lay claim to be doing all that? :-) (Next up: publishing the results of all this research ASARP.)

2. Mahler = the first supermusic?

That's the question that arose in my mind recently, since I absorbed his music more deeply and observed how it really seems to take music to the next level. That only prompted further curiosity about the rest of the world of classical music I had yet to "get," including especially Bach, Wagner, Bruckner, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich, or music I had been downgrading for not being robustly Romantic enough, e.g., Mozart. This also leads me further to question what I may have missed about the world of rock, jazz, and popular music. At the present time I have yet to find music that exceeds Mahler's in power and beauty, and there hardly seems any music since that matches it. From my experience the closest that comes to it in rock music, I believe, is work like Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer (emerging over time, as younger generations age, as the most acclaimed album of the rock era). I don't think it meets or exceeds Mahler, however, and my hope is that one day the younger music fans out there will see this, too (along with having a general education in philosophy / critical thinking).

3. Politics and the 2012 election

Unless either of the two major presidential candidates has the balls to address $46 trillion dollar fiscal elephant in the room that are the Medicare and Social Security trust funds, I may find it hard to get at all excited about this year's race. (We already know they won't touch things like long-term climate change and potential resource-depletion, issues a science-literate polity would be concerned about, with a ten-foot pole.) I've seen estimates go as high as $70 trillion.

[EDIT: Okay, so for those of you reading this in 3012, what does $46 trillion mean? Well, in 2012, the national debt is somewhere around $15 trillion, nearly the size of the U.S. economy (GDP). This figure is actually the "gross federal debt" figure which includes some $5 trillion or so which is owed by one part of government to another, namely, the money in the Social Security and Medicare "trust funds." The $15 trillion figure is what gets cited a lot in the media. It is widely considered a staggering sum perhaps never to be paid back, though we have a number of commentators telling to take into account the load of debt relative to GDP and put this in historical context. Alright then: At the end of World War II, the USA had a national debt of around 125% of GDP. What that dollar figure was in 1946 I have an admittedly vague idea, but it is somewhere around $100 billion. $100 billion in today's dollars would be less than one percent of GDP. That was money all owed to "the public," being that Social Security was in its infancy and Medicare had yet to be formed. Further, the USA at the end of World War II was in such a position relative to the rest of the world that the 25-year postwar boom was pretty much inevitable, and since that time real median living standards have only crept up slowly and are now almost stagnating, with an increasingly uneducated and undercapitalized populace, particularly relative to world standards. On top of that, now consider this: the $46 trillion dollar figure is a present value figure, that is, the estimated obligations to come due to these "trust funds" in the future comes to around 3 times our present GDP. Present value means the time-discounted value of a sum divided into equal payments over a period of time. We actually have to discount by two factors: the time discount (the rate of interest) and the inflation discount. In the case of the United States government, the assumed time period involved approaches "the infinite horizon," and over that same period the present value of expected accumulated future GDP comes out to somewhere around $1 quadrillion dollars. In other words, as things are on there present course, we are basically on the hook for about 4.6% of our nation's entire productive future to cover coming Social Security and Medicare obligations. This is in comparison to the approximately 1.5% of our nation's entire productive future committed to paying off the national debt. In non-discounted terms, this comes out to the hundreds of trillions, or perhaps more, some decades down the line - an amount that seems staggering to us now the way that $100 billion doesn't seem like so much to us now, the way it did in 1946. Anyway, bottom line: if we're going to be crippled by debt nearly equaling our current GDP, then what about the looming obligations presently valued at around 3 times our current GDP? Think what might happen if 1946 USA were on the hook for obligations coming due totaling around $400 billion in then-present value with an annual GDP of $80 billion? And without the ignorant and decadent citizenry that is the norm today?]

Anyway, in a well-educated educated citizenry, this $46 trillion would not go almost entirely ignored while nearly everyone can tell you who Ryan Seacrest is (but few could tell you who Immanuel Kant is, much less who Rawls, Nozick, or Chomsky are). And were it to be addressed more than nominally, you'd have one side, driven along by the Occupy Wall Streeters, blaming capitalism (not enough taxes) and another side blaming government (too many promises in face of domestic and global economic reality). I can see where the capitalism-blamers are coming from, and still think they've got some head in sand about some economic fundamentals, stuff that the likes of Krugman, Mankiw, Cowan or Caplan wouldn't buy into. As for who is to blame, it really all comes down to how ignorant and decadent the American public have gotten over the years; the consequent vices comes out in both private and public sectors. As to whether the GOP has dodged its political bullet by nominating Romney (the only GOP candidate besides John Huntsman minimally qualified to mount a serious challenge to President Obama), that certainly remains to be seen. The crazy is strong in the party (the birfer stuff still won't go away, for one thing, and its approach to science is now certifiably pathological), and never forget 2008: a "reasonable" candidate was nominated, and we still got a flaky, fundamentalist ignoramus proposed - with an actual straight face, mind you - as ready to have control of the red button. Now that's crazy. In fact, seeing what the party base might still have up its sleeve in the train-wreck department may be the only motivation for watching the whole electoral charade.

4. Is it just me... or was the internet just a lot smarter back in the days of Usenet? Try as one might, I don't think one could find the true equivalent to alt.philosophy in today's internet. (Anyone who remembers those days and uses reddit much for discussion knows that reddit's format simply doesn't cut it compared the Usenet's newsgroups.) Which begs the question: What happened?!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Be Reviewed...

The Leonard Peikoff lecture course, Understanding Objectivism, now in (much-less-expensive) book form. To the question, What do Ayn Rand and Objectivism have to offer to the world of philosophy?, this is perhaps the most invaluable resource out there. It needs to be critically examined as part of any serious scholarly treatment of (rather culturally influential) Randian/Objectivist ideas. Then we'll see in much clearer and more well-developed terms whether reading and studying Ayn Rand's work is really worth our precious philosophical time.

On a related note, perusing the Ayn Rand Lexicon, I see how her handling of Kant is not a good sign when it comes to assessing Rand's strength or maturity as a thinker. It is very amateurish, and not the least bit scholarly. Wouldn't a thinker such as Aristotle have done much better at interpreting a thinker like Kant? Why couldn't she be more like Aristotle, of whom she spoke so reverently (but probably understood just as amateurishly)? Or like Korsgaard, who has studied Kant indepeth and comes to much different conclusions about him?

On a further related note, why is the "scholarship" about Ayn Rand on so many left-progressive news-and-opinion sites so damn lousy? Who the F cares about a serial killer aspects of whom a very un-mature Rand spoke of in positive terms in her un-published journals - as it relates to her considered, mature, published thought? Or that she accepted social security and medicare benefits in light of her published (a) objections to such programs and (b) explanation for accepting government benefits? Selective out-of-context cherrypicking while ignoring or failing to seek out contrary evidence is not serious scholarship. These hit-pieces are by so-called journalists and not philosophy professors, yes, but does it really have to be that bad, that intellectually lazy, that anti-serious about ideas? (This means Rand is still on the hook for how she approached Kant.)

On a yet further related note, why would a "leading academic philosophy blog" give such crap any airtime whatsoever, even so much as airing the view that Ayn Rand's philosophy is inspired by a psychopath (with the implication that characters like Howard Roark are inspired by psychopaths)? (Sure enough, her reasoning about who should and who shouldn't accept government benefits is bizarre on the face of it and it's quite doubtful it could be supported by sound argument, but this was brought up on the "leading academic philosophy blog" in the first place because of her having accepted government support, and not because of her (published) reasoning behind it, of which the Leading Academic Philosophy Blogger, when calling her a "welfare queen," was nevertheless totally unaware. Hopefully these sorts of cheap, unfair hyper-partisan tactics aren't widespread in academic philosophy or the academy generally. We won't really know if Rand/Objectivism is worth studying until we apply fair, rigorous, disciplined, and scholarly standards (be they from inside or outside the academy) to her writings in the first place [see, e.g., here - a work which, by the way, is about Rand's eudaemonistic egoism - not about her comments on Immanuel Kant, or on a serial killer she never came anywhere near to writing about publicly, or about why only people who agree with her politics should accept government benefits - and which, by the way, comes out as very positive in favor of her ethical system; it looks like the ball is now in her critics' court should they choose to take up the task, unless they're content to leave it all up to Dr. Cullyer]. As to the Rand-admired-psychopaths stuff, it doesn't even merit comment, that's how ridiculous, malicious, context-flouting and manifestly unjust it is.)

On an even further related note, I'll also want to review Greg Swann's Man Alive!.