Saturday, June 5, 2021
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
It isn't difficult to throw down the gauntlet against Ayn Rand's detractors (which includes a sub-group of intellectual swamp-dwellers I refer to as Rand-bashers -- very low-hanging fruit).
The gauntlet-throwing goes something like this: Make your case that Rand shouldn't be taken seriously to the faces of Ayn Rand Society scholars who can competently vet for accuracy the (almost uniformly ignorant but hubris-driven) negative critical characterizations of Rand's ideas. (That Rand detractors uniformly demonstrate by their behavior that they are less concerned with accuracy about Rand than with having an opinion about her, is compelling evidence of dishonesty on their part, all on its own, IMNSHO.)
So I'd issue this triple dog dare to any and all of Rand's detractors: follow J.S. Mill's advice and present your case to the most formidable representatives of the 'Randian' position you can find - those who (using Mill's terminology) present the case for Randian ideas in the most plausible and persuasive form (since Rand isn't around to defend herself ffs). Ayn Rand Society scholars fit that characterization as well as anyone. They have dual expertise - in academic philosophy and in Objectivism. The (blatantly dishonest) claim that Rand isn't taken seriously by "experts in philosophy" actually means the following if it is to be rendered in any way persuasive or plausible: Rand is not taken seriously by expert practitioners in philosophy who are not also experts in Rand's Objectivism. (Should this even come as a surprise, given Mill's very sage advice about having and testing opinions?)
And yet these "expert" critics would fall apart all too easily when thinkers with feet in both camps can all too readily "translate" this or that point in Rand into academia-speak. "Dougs" Den Uyl and Rasmussen do this all the time, like they did in their rebuttal to Nozick's "On the Randian Argument" (which Rand's usually-dishonest detractors cite as the final word on the subject). That's not to mention their "Aristotelianizing" of Rand in their essays in The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand, and in the academy Aristotle is not exactly considered a lightweight. (The Dougs can manage very expertly to draw the parallels between these two thinkers; why can't everyone else?)
So just as soon as any Rand detractor is ready to engage in actual good-faith dialectic with the likes of Ayn Rand Society scholars (and not, like the lowlifes on /r/badphilosophy, picking on arguments made by Objectivists not so academically established, or arguments by the author of this here blog, say [bring it on, I triple dog dare you; all I ask for is intellectual honesty, is that too hard?]) -- only then would I be ready to take these entities seriously.
In Galt's Speech, Galt/Rand state: "Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality—not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute."
I've never encountered a Rand detractor who honestly considered the meaning and import of such statements in Rand's writings. Typically a Rand detractor will focus instead on mocking the statement "Existence exists." And a typical Rand detractor will simply concoct out of thin air the notion that for Rand, it's Rand who gets to define what "unbreached rationality" means (i.e., agreement with the philosophy of Ayn Rand -- so Prof. Hospers was failing to use his mind to the fullest when it came to disagreements with Rand? [Rand-detractor blanks out, as always]). But these folks don't, in any remotely credible way, get to ignore the totality of Rand's statements once they start pointing to this or that Rand quote to be a detractor about. Once they're committed to opining about Rand, they have to play by certain rules of intellectual integrity or GTFO. One of those rules is one extremely central and key to Rand's philosophy: context-keeping (a point in Rand's philosophy her detractors know absolutely zilch about, else they wouldn't be detractors - at least on this point - since of course there's no coherent case to be made against context-keeping). These context-keeping rules ethically compel one to consider the full context of Rand's statements, i.e., the full body of her work, and to do so in the utmost good faith and intellectual curiosity.
(And there's even free will here. Even such low-character individuals as Rand-bashers have it within themselves to be great, but it's up to them.)
And so, part of the body of Rand's public writings include an endorsement of Leonard Peikoff's 1976 course on her philosophy. In an open 1981 'Letter of Recommendation' she described Peikoff as eminently qualified to teach her philosophy - and anyone who knows all the surrounding history know that Rand couldn't remotely possibly give such an endorsement lightly. Anyway, if anyone is most curious and good-faithy about what Rand meant by the virtue of rationality, over and above the Galt passage, or whatever else one finds in the Ayn Rand Lexicon, one would - if diligent enough, and it shouldn't be hard - to find it spelled out in much detail in Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism (1983) and elsewhere. In that course, you get not only the Lexicon passages and the generalized statements about key & central concepts of epistemic/cognitive method like context, integration, and hierarchy in the 1976 course (adapted as Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991), a standard/reference text that any Rand scholar/commentator worth taking seriously would take seriously, which automatically excludes the likes of Heller and Duggan), but Peikoff goes indepth with many examples of how to respect context and hierarchy.
From the standpoint of "Rand Studies" it doesn't really matter in the slightest that Rand herself didn't provide this detailed content in such courses to fill in what she doesn't say in her writings; her endorsement of Peikoff as teacher of her ideas suffices to make him an indispensable source of Rand scholarship. (With the 1976 course there is no ambiguity about this whatsoever. While Understanding Objectivism did in fact come a year or so after her death, the 1976 course was authorized by Rand herself, and so it is kinda dishonest on its face for Rand's critics not to even acknowledge such material, yes? What else than some form of dishonesty or other - and intellectual laziness, complacency and hubris are forms of dishonesty - would explain this level of ignorance? How is it not willful, culpable ignorance given the 45 year stretch between that course and today no less? But the pattern holds up in the case of the absence of anything remotely resembling a serious critique of the Galt Speech, some 64 years after its publication no less. Surely a relevant error in Galt's speech - a real error, not a strawman that Rand's detractors typically if not always employ - would have pointed out by now? I can't even imagine what that would supposedly be. And when it comes to the quality of Understanding Objectivism even without Rand's being alive to vet it all the way, there are countless longtime students of Objectivism (the folks whose intellectual context the detractors have chosen - have bent over backwards in fact - to be ignorant of) who would nonetheless attest to its value for understanding "how to think like an Objectivist.")
My ultimate philosophical standard-setter is Aristotle, who (despite errors he committed) perfected the art of dialectic and I essentially rank philosophers in merit/importance based on how well they approximate this perfection. And when the editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (also willfully ignored by Rand's detractors) makes a big deal about "dialectic(s) as the art of context-keeping" I get most curious. Don't you, dear reader, get most curious to learn more? I mean, a dialectical sensibility would pretty much require one to get curious. (Prove me wrong.) As a historically contingent matter, as to my own intellectual context, I got into the study of philosophy via Rand - encountering her Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal in my teens while still mainly a student of economics put me on the path to ethics and political philosophy (how have I done so far?) - but I certainly don't consider the be-all and end-all of philosophy (refer back to the first sentence in this paragraph). But I do consider Ayn Rand to be a very helpful litmus test for who really has a clue and about what. The very most intelligent philosophical people that I know of are those who know what to take seriously in Rand and how. (Note, it's not her polemics against the likes of Kant. For that, I'd throw down exactly the same gauntlet to Kant-detractors among Randians (and there are a lot of them...), to support their case that Kant is "the most evil man in mankind's history" (Rand's own words) to the faces of some selected group of Kant scholars who can vet the characterizations for accuracy and context, and best of luck with that. For more effective - and by necessity more detailed and lengthy - polemics, I like how Mises takes down socialism and the Marxoid variant in particular.
(BTW, I have now gone through the whole of the Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx as I said earlier I would do as a condition of making further commentary on Marx/Marxism (as per Mill's advice, etc.). The only essay that is somewhat impressive in there is Ollmann's outline of Marx's dialectical method. And yet one of Ollmann's students - the aforementioned editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies - holds that such method has its roots in Aristotle and that Rand exemplifies it in the development of her philosophy [though not necessarily of her polemics against other thinkers; Hospers had similar opinions which he told Rand directly about and he kind of knew his stuff]. How does a Rand detractor honestly account for this? [I'm not holding my breath.] Now, the Oxford Handbooks series is a first-rate scholarship and research resource, and if the Marx one is as unimpressive overall as I found it to be, I don't see much if any future for Marx studies among honest first-rate scholars and thinkers. The scholars in the Marx Handbook are hardly dialectical over and above their preaching. About the only thing I can see Marxism and not some other system of thought (dialectical or otherwise) having gotten correct which might explain its appeal to socialists is that laborers in capitalist society have historically had it tough - especially those with the least specialized skill sets and hence bargaining position - and that maybe there are ways of making things less miserable for such people. The utter pile of BS comes when it's capitalism specifically that these socialists blame for such conditions, and their avoidance of dialectic with capitalism's leading thinkers (especially Rand and Mises, but there are plenty of others who can identify what's bunk in Marx/Marxism) speaks volumes IMNSHO. That's all I have to say about that for now.)
As for Rand as the litmus test for intellectual honesty: maybe some other thinker(s) could be used as an example (I mean, how often is Aristotle lazily/dishonestly caricatured ffs?), but Rand is a good one: she's controversial, her political ideas are certainly opposed to that of the Academic Mainstream. (Supposedly it's the same with her ethics, but lo and behold, the Dougs were right on this decades ago and those in the academy with a clue are coming to the realization: Rand's egoism is a version of neo-Aristotelian eudaimonist virtue ethics (with of course rationality as spelled out in Rand/Peikoff's body of work being the primary virtue which explains the others - independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride). (Question: how does Rand's ethics - dialectically steelmanned of course - play off dialectically with and/or against Gewirth's Self-Fulfillment, itself the product of a comprehensive lifelong exercise in dialectic? And why the heck isn't Gewirth's book itself all the rage?)
And what I find, countless times without exception, is mostly politically-left Rand detractors (although the ones on the Right are hardly better), not just on internet forums but in the academy, being utterly, disgustingly un-dialectical in their treatment of Rand. And I use Rand as a litmus test because I figure if these academic creatures are willing to play as fast and loose with their characterizations of Rand as they do, and given that such ideas correctly grasped are as full of merit as Ayn Rand Society scholars maintain, I know with a certainty that these folks will go the extra mile to crap all over the best thinkers if those thinkers don't conform to their "progressive" ideas an MO.
And what has that "progressive" academic MO become in recent years? Well, the Amy Wax episode serves as an illustrative case. Prof. Wax dared to say that the racial achievement gap might not be completely chalked up to systemic racism but rather that (objectively troubling) phenomena like the rate of single-parent families in the Black community arguably help to explain the achievement gap (and that a rigorous adoption of "bourgeois values" would go a long way to fix that problem). For speaking her mind thus, fellow Ivy League (University of Pennsylvania) students and faculty went apeshit, construing her arguments as 'white supremacist' and other such silliness, not bothering to give her a chance to defend herself against these charges in an honest dialectical fashion (and so they treated their determination of what her views were as the final determination - how is this not blatantly f'ing dishonest?), and signed letters calling in effect for her cancellation (her only protection being tenure, but we can forget about academic freedom without that protection, right?). Nothing remotely resembling an honest inquiry and exchange of ideas occurred at this Ivy League venue. (And when a Black professor, Brown's Glenn Loury, makes similar points that Wax did, guess what the "progressive" response to Loury is. Silence. A dishonest silence resulting from refusal to engage dialectically, and/or a refusal to know the most plausible and persuasive arguments from a given side. But at least Loury doesn't get smeared like Wax did. Guess why. His skin color. And that, too, is blatantly dishonest. Still, somehow these creatures don't consider it racist to ignore a Black scholar's research; I thought that was the essence of a racist behavior according to these creatures?) (Hot take: I think the Left is such an intellectual basket-case now, so dialectically inept and so useless for tracking truth, that its "Woke" narratives about systemic racism are the product of a failure of "progressive" social policy to close the achievement gap. They are doubling down on the dogma and refusal to have dialogue even with the likes of Prof. Loury. It's pathetic.)
(Also: the pattern of blatant dishonesty with Wax/Penn is repeated in how James Damore was canceled/fired by Google. Strawman, refuse dialogue, and cancel forthwith. And somehow even this ridiculous behavior has its defenders/rationalizers! In any case, this behavior within corporations and the ideology motivating has its origins in the Academy. If you challenge the ideology strongly enough, don't expect an honest response; expect being called a racist/sexist, denied lucrative opportunities, or - if you're Black - being ignored outright.)
And outside of exceptions (which prove the rule) like University of Chicago which make explicit a commitment to academic freedom, this kind of anti-Millian, dishonest-smear approach has become the "norm" in academia. And had these folks not been so thoroughly, blatantly dishonest in their approach to Rand, the litmust test case, I might have given these creatures the benefit of the doubt. I've since abandoned such hopes, short of a revolutionary overhaul of what the Academy has become (when it comes to politically-charged matters, at any rate).
So, to sum up, and once again: Rand's detractors don't deserve to be taken seriously in the slightest until they rise to the challenge of taking on Ayn Rand Society scholars, the editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and other such people that Mill would advise going to in order to actually understand that with which one supposedly disagrees. (I mean, who in their right mind believes that rationality-as-context-keeping as the primary virtue is something to disagree with? But what else is one to make of what Rand's detractors stubbornly-ignorantly say?) And given that for 60-some years now the Academy has failed to do the minimal Mill-recommended thing, speaks volumes about a politically-charged corruption of the Academy. A disgusting, despicable corruption that shows true colors when the chips are down.
I won't hold my breath. Dishonest people might well prefer going to the grave dishonest rather than admit a bad behavior they indulged in for years or decades on end. If honest dialogue is not what they're after, then it's a state of intellectual war; they are enemies of truth and inquiry. That the academy would subsidize and protect this blatant dishonesty (in Rand-detractors' case, for six decades and counting) calls for an accounting that won't piss off the American people in its avoidance of addressing the core problems and means by which the Academic Humanities and Social Sciences parasitize upon them (the American people). If they treat an Aristotelian thinker such as Rand like garbage, what garbage behaviors won't they engage in (and at taxpayer expense, etc.)? When it comes to Rand (and capitalist thought generally), the "leading academic philosophy blogger," a tenured Law Professor at a top school no less, is dishonest garbage and I see no problem with calling him out for that. California taxpayer funds are used to financially support Duggan's blatantly dishonest trash under the guise of scholarship (and the scholars blurbing that book are similarly trash who bend over backward to ignore.
Perhaps I should come up with some sizable monetary bet, which I'd be guaranteed to win, to the effect that Rand's detractors will never rise to this challenge?
Being a Rand detractor (and I don't mean someone who disagrees with her polemical approach, else that would make Hospers a "detractor") is not an honest-and-informed option. No honest informed person thinks that context-keeping wasn't of fundamental focus for Rand (whatever errors she committed), as inextricable from her entire way of thinking. Should I make that sizable monetary bet on whether a Rand detractor could identify and explain what Rand was onto with this context-keeping stuff (before even getting to any commentary or critique of Rand on this topic). How does one reliably and integrally understand Rand's concept of self-interest without considering the entire context of her philosophy ffs? I mean, after all, Rand says the utmost achievement of one's values (a proxy for selfishness; agent-relative value) requires a mastery of the right sort of cognitive process (those much like Aristotle's, say), and hence why she bothered to venture into epistemology and method much more than she did in (e.g.) Galt's speech.
And it so happens that proper familiarity with ('correct grasp of') Rand's ideas usually results in a deep admiration for Rand whatever one's disagreements. You could just go and ask the aforementioned Society and Journal people yourself, or see Rand entries in this here blog.
So, how did the Academy become so populated with people so hubristically sure that Rand is a hack, lightweight, evil, etc. while never engaging in an honest dialectic with her defenders? (This must surely be asked about any academic "philosophers" who unprofessionally bash or dismiss Rand. The existence of the Ayn Rand Society all on its own should put these "philosophers" dead to rights in their professional malpractice. J.S. Mill, following his own advice, wouldn't debase himself so.) Along the same lines, how did it become so populated with people who refuse to engage in honest dialectic with the likes of Prof. Loury? It's not just pathetic, it's ridiculous. But it's not like the meltdown of the (non-STEM) Academy is any secret these days; the only issue is arriving at a proper diagnosis. And we can arrive at such a diagnosis if we refer to such litmus-test cases as Rand and Loury (and many, many others...). And the solution to this cause of the Meltdown is pretty simple: just be intellectually honest ffs, how hard can it be? Are you so wedded in your opinions to leftist/"progressive" ideology (now mutated into "wokism" and other such ideological framings foreign to the American mainstream and formulated by the "woke" one-sidedly without anything resembling an honest dialectic with that mainstream) that you refuse to have them challenged on a level field of play?
ADDENDUM: The Ayn Rand Society's Philosophical Studies series (3 volumes and counting, the fourth to be on the relation between Rand and Aristotle) contains back-and-forth between Objectivists and professional philosophers who don't identify as Objectivists but somehow found a way to take Rand seriously. Why can't everyone else (or at least those who hold an opinion on Rand) follow their lead? Ask enough questions like this and insistently enough, and Rand-detractors get cornered like the intellectual/ethical rats they are. (But to repeat, it's within them to do and be much better.)
ADDENDUM #2: Whereas the Understanding Objectivism course was only in expensive audio format for nearly 30 years (around $270 back in the day, and easily worth it), and as such was that much less accessible/available for scholarly research, the transcribed book version has been in print for 9 years and counting now. The existence of this material in book form has been made well-known by online Objectivists these past 9 years to anyone who will listen. This here gauntlet has been on the ground for 9 goddamn years and still the Rand-detractors won't lift a finger to be honest. Those Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies volumes are also now accumulating years of availability (although they're not quite as cheap as Understanding). The detractors pretend like none of this material exists. (Or maybe they just don't have a clue at all. Which is worse?) I've encountered countless Rand-detractors who, without a single exception, refuse to be honest and usually get nasty when challenged. That's a green light to induction about their character. I can't fathom what other conclusion one can rationally reach at this point. I've done the homework; I've provided abundant documentation/links in this blog post and others; I've contributed a journal article debunking a common lazy and undialectical caricature of Randian egoism; I know the lay of the land. And Rand-detractors are losers, end of story. They'd never accept the gauntlet-challenge; they are cowards such as they are. (But to repeat, it's within them to do and be much better.)
ADDENDUM #3: Readers familiar with this blog will already have some ideas about what I offer on the positive-proposal front. I envision an end of history (or some equivalent using other terminology) a defining or formal characteristic of which is dialectical method which means (among other things) universal steelmanning of ideas. (Mill and I believe Aristotle would approve!) What is dialectic (as to sorting through competing plausible opinions as distinct from context-keeping generally) than universal steelmanning? (And I speak here specifically of the intellectual aspect of an end of history; I'm making an educated guess that that this intellectual aspect will have ethical and aesthetic analogues.) And how distinct (in terms of referential extension) would universal steelmanning be, from more or less universal exposure of the citizenry to a formal Philosophical education (e.g., Philosophy for Children)? (The one rule I would institute for Philosophy for Children (P4C) is: Steelmanning Only. The rest is gravy.) I really don't think it's too demanding (once the principles are made readily digestible by the citizenry) to do steelmanning-only or at least aspire to that standard. But I've also said that the (or merely "an"?) end of history would have an Aristotelian character, primarily because of the dialectical methodological example Aristotle set (whatever his errors). But such appellations and terminology don't matter nearly as much as the methdological practice itself. (Did I mention that such practice is perfectionistic?) (Any dialectic constituting the 'end of history' must of necessity compare and contrast dialectic in the Aristotelian and Hegelian senses. It's not clear to me that Hegel claims to "supersede" Aristotelian dialectic so much as to incorporate it, with some 'dynamical' analysis of history as a process of ideas (small 'I' in Hegel's format?) coming to better and better fruition, through dialectic. So wouldn't Hegel say that no one can accord to ignore, dismiss, or - per the usual lowlife practice - strawman Rand's ideas about human perfection, i.e., intellectual perfectionism? Strawmanning gets in the way of progress toward the end of history -- so let's aggressively marginalize strawmanning behavior accordingly....)
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
(The only rule I would impose on this is: steelman (the opposite of strawman) or penalty. Synonyms for steelmanning include: Ideological Turing Test; Rapoport-Dennett Rules; Mill's learning the other side - all necessary for doing dialectic well. About damn time that Ayn Rand got fair treatment from the next generation of philosophers, amiright?) Perhaps a fun and compelling mantra might be developed, such as: All Steelmanning All the Time.
I'm an imperfect researcher. I've posted numerous links to many resources on this before - but not perhaps the best resource of all, direct video evidence of children involved in philosophy discussions. So here is the search link: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=philosophy+for+children%2Clong . Here are the top results:
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
- Addressing matters of philosophical method, preferably including an explicit treatment of the subject of dialectic. Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel are canonical instances. Rand, mostly via her student Peikoff in lecture courses, addresses method as centrally important subject matter. Marx addresses dialectic, although I would need to investigate further on his treatment of methodological issues generally.
- Addressing matters of what Aristotle and Kant call categories, conceptually fundamental means of organizing our thoughts about the world. Hegel is very big on this as well.
- Addressing matters in aesthetics. Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Rand are examples.
- (Relates to first bullet-point) Addressing matters of metaphilosophy, i.e., defining philosophy and its place or role in the theoretical sciences and human life generally. Authors who have "philosophy" in their book titles would be candidates. Examples of this last qualification include Boethius, Hegel, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Rand, Rorty, Nozick, and Deleuze & Guattari.
- (This would apply to more recent philosophers) Explicitly addressing the "meaning of life" subject at length. Examples include Nozick and Metz (and figures listed in Metz's bibliography).
- Addressing criteria for how to rank philosophers (heh heh) or teleological measurement generally
- Addressing and rigorously adhering to principles of interpretive charity or steelmanning opposing positions. Examples include Mill and Dennett.
- Leading an exemplary life (opinions about instances/examples vary)
- Expertise in non-philosophy fields is a plus - e.g., figures identifiable as polymaths (Aristotle, Leibniz), or contributors to the canon of economic theory (Smith and Mill; Marx's contribution to economic literacy is a matter of great controversy)
- [Addendum: Signs of a supposedly controversial because substantive philosophical thesis, position, or even tendency or temperament - the more explicit and self-conscious the better - of perfectionism, and (preferably) more specifically intellectual perfectionism. The leading figures here are Aristotle, Aquinas, and Rand, followed by Hegel and Nietzsche, then Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Marx, Bradley, T. H. Green, Norton, Den Uyl and Rasmussen, Hurka. Might a mapping of the intellectual landscape here aid most usefully in what I might term 'end of history'-ology (which would entail among other things a dialectical weighing and selecting partially or wholly from Kant's Kingdom of Ends, Nietzsche's Ubermensch, Hegel's Absolute Spirit (and/or end of history), Plato's Republic, etc.; the more (and more perfected) the intellectual and moral, and aesthetic attributes these notions point to that exist in a human being, the better, amiright?).]
|A standard hierarchy of needs. Where does philosophy fit in?|
It seems like this may involve belaboring what is obvious (to some), but I can't say I've seen the case presented quite like this before.
Pictured above is a rendition of Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs (hereafter "the hierarchy"). I've indicated in a number of places that "Better Living" can be understood in these terms. I've indicated in my book (see 'About Me') that a (hopefully careful and thorough) inductive grounding of the concept "good" - along with "right" the most important concept in the field of metaethics - points toward good being synonymous with (the fulfillment of) a need. An overly reductionist and biologistic rendering of "need" or "good" based on some concept of a telos understood in terms of natural functions seems to wind up explaining many of the needs at or toward the bottom or middle of the Maslow-hierarchy but not so much those at and towards the top; while the explanation of our origins is usually rendered in terms of the concept of 'inclusive fitness' - we're genetic preservation and replication machines (crudely, "the four Fs") - it turns out that the distinctively human cognitive makeup comes with ends/goals/purposes like morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, aesthetic appreciation, etc. Questions that arise: How does human appreciation of music arise within an evolutionary context? How do we treat of (genuine) needs toward the top of the hierarchy that don't seem to have played nearly the role for prehistoric humans that they do for us moderns?
Additionally, thinkers like David L. Norton have noted the deep if not exact similarity between the hierarchy and the ancient concept of eudaimonia (rough synonyms are flourishing, well-being, happiness, living well, a complete life). The terms "eudaimonia" and "self-actualization" appear to be synonymous here. (Noted ethicist Alan Gewirth takes the idea a step further with his concept of self-fulfillment.) (One really should do some mental integration and follow these links where they lead; the wikipedia entry for "self-fulfillment" prominently references Gewirth, for instance.) Now, it may turn out that one partly fulfills needs at different levels of the hierarchy, but the ideal of perfection is a complete (teleios) fulfillment of needs.
I plan to have more to say in a future posting or book or more about the concept of ethical perfectionism as a complete fulfillment of the aspirations of common sense morality (inasmuch as we would say that there are inchoate or implicit aspirations in common sense morality). Moral theories that involve revisions to common sense morality are dubbed revisionary (aha, Huemer now appears!); "revisionary" seems to be a charge leveled more toward utilitarianism than to competing theories since it involves such a revision or departure from how humans historically have thought about the good and the right-and-wrong. (See, e.g.: trolley problems.) That usually has been a charge against utilitarianism because of the apparently or genuinely counter-intuitive (roughly, counter-common-sense-morality) prescriptions, motivations, etc., that people would have to adopt to fit the demands of the theory. I don't think ethical perfectionism - the most perfect version we can formulate, that is; I nominate an Aristotelian or intellectual perfectionism (as do Hurka, the Dougs, and others) - succumbs to this problem.
(Hopefully an intellectual perfectionism avoids problems of circularity, viz.: when we fill in the concept of intellectual perfection, does it lead to adoption of, say, utilitarianism (and then when we fill in the best version of utilitarianism or consequentialism more broadly speaking, in order to (e.g.) account for Mill's highly plausible distinction between higher and lower pleasures or goods, do we end up with intellectual perfectionism)? Well, in line with what intellectual perfection involves, in a sense yes, at least in part, via the procedures of dialectic. (Blog tag for dialectic.) Utilitarianism's appeal comes from having grains of truth, even if it ends up being a one-sided theory that excludes the grains of truth in other theories, e.g., Kantian-style deontology associated with (e.g.) rights-talk that is ethically foundational enough not to be reducible to utilitarian guidelines. Or so I and numerous ethical theorists claim.)
Somehow all of the preceding is deeply relevant to the promised proof to which I now come, about the need for philosophy. (I'm trying not to leave loose ends, you see.)
Two of the needs listed at the top of the hierarchy - morality and problem-solving - are centrally specific concerns to philosophy, and uniquely to the discipline of philosophy. Problem-solving comes under the head of "epistemology" or theory of knowledge, and it's that issue which I seek to address here.
What is the main problem that epistemology is trying to solve? Well, it's a rather obvious problem: while there isn't really any serious dispute about the general reliability of the deliverance of sense-perception, which humans all share in common (and with the other animals), humans come to many varied systems of belief. (The Greek term for belief is endoxa. Consider the relation to terms you already know such as "orthodox" or "paradox.") Sometimes these systems of belief are wildly at variance with one another. It's hard to see how (e.g.) socialism and capitalism are in any serious way reconcilable with one another. And yet different humans, with access to the same sensory evidence, end up thinking very different things about these isms.
Since advocates of capitalism and of socialism can't both be right, we run into the very serious (indeed, life-and-death, if you look at the the 20th century) possibility of doxastic error. And if one is in serious doxastic error, it's hard to reconcile this condition with being (completely) eudaimonic. To put the issue into greater relief: what about the irreconcilability of theism and naturalism? How does that affect how one ought to fashion one's life? To live a good life do we need to prepare for an afterlife? Do we need to attend church on Sundays? Do we need to adhere strictly to what's in Scriptures? Which set of Scriptures - the Koran, the Bible, the Upanishads?
What's the proper ethical treatment of animals? Are current industrial farming practices abominable? (There is something approaching a philosophical consensus, if ever there was any, that indeed it is. I can think of a lot of arguments in the literature that it is, but I can't think of a single argument in the literature that it isn't. This has hardly affected social or government policy in the main, however. This in itself is a philosophical problem.) Are meat-eating practices of any kind wrong? (The jury appears to be out on that one.)
Is healthcare a basic and universal human right? (Note that quality healthcare is pricey, beyond the reach of many of the world's inhabitants.) If so, how does that square with the right to liberty? Doesn't the latter preclude being forced into service to provide for others' healthcare? Isn't taxation of earnings on par with forced labor? Isn't sending one's earnings to third-world relief funds akin to getting one's work clothing wet to save a baby from drowning in a shallow pond on one's way to work? (You've never encountered that situation? Is that relevant to the comparison? What about trolley problems?) If you should donate some of your earnings to third-world relief, just how much of your earnings? What are proper procedures, if any, for quarantining individuals who are infected with a highly contagious virus? These are life and death questions, and there's no broad agreement on them.
So isn't it really important, if we want to get things right about such questions, and we find that - based on the fact of disagreement alone - that not everyone is getting it right despite their sincerely-held beliefs (endoxa), that we would want to be really rigorous about our belief-formation processes? Shouldn't we want to learn, rigorously, about the rules of formal logic? (Should(n't) I present this whole proof of the need for philosophy in numbered-premise-and-conclusion format? But what is the fun in that? Have you ever seen me do such a thing in this blog?) Shouldn't we all want to learn about bending over backwards to avoid committing informal fallacies, which are widespread if not rampant in at least some areas of discourse? Shouldn't we all heed to the best of our abilities Mill's advice (there's Mill again...) about knowing the opinions of adversaries in their most plausible and persuasive form? Wouldn't you prefer that your adversaries know your opinions as you actually hold them before they criticize them?
(Apparently tons of haters of Ayn Rand "know" from afar that Rand admirers such as myself are empathy-lacking assholes, and that all we have to talk about is politics and not things like aesthetics or philosophic method. I was not aware that all that time pondering the implications of the issue of (e.g.) Rand as a dialectical thinker, or (which comes roughly to the same thing) the thinking that went into my Journal of Ayn Rand Studies article, was the equivalent of staring into blank space, my life is so empty and lacking in experiential-background context! The things the haters know about me that I don't, it's just effing great, I tell ya. So, is Ayn Rand a philosopher, much less a good or serious one? As long as we're going to issue forth with endoxa or opinions about that, we should want to be pretty careful and thorough about getting it right, because who or what counts as a (good or serious) philosopher is really quite important to all this. And isn't issuing forth opinions lazily and recklessly about others' opinions almost the very definition of being an empathy-lacking asshole as opposed to a noble soul? Not to name names, but is the opinion of a Rand-bashing Nietzsche scholar who runs the most popular philosophy blog worth anything in this context? What does popularity or even "credentials" count for when it comes to truth and honesty, BTW? Who runs a philosophy blog as good, overall, as this one? Are any of the others talking explicitly, specifically, and with aspirations to systematicity about the topic of better living through philosophy? About philosophy for children? Like, sometimes? Ever? Is that 'Aristotle' on twitter running a sprawling enough research program like the original Aristotle to have the lay of the philosophy-blog land? I know about that 'Aristotle' figure, does he know about me? Why is 'Aristotle' on a known intellectual cesspool like twitter rather than running a philosophy blog, publishing books, etc.? How did I find out about that 'Aristotle' if I spend little time on twitter, anyway? What does a perfectionistic research program involve? Why isn't twitter-'Aristotle' talking incessantly about better living through philosophy for children? What does twitter-'Aristotle' have to say about a culturally-influential-and-polarizing figure like Ayn Rand and/or her associate and leading Aristotle scholar Allan Gotthelf? If somehow hypothetically revived to the present day, would Aristotle specialize in Aristotle studies? Could someone in the present day only specialize given the growth of specialized knowledge required for expertise in any field nowadays? Would specialization explain why next to zero politicians today, who specialize in the art of persuasion, are anything close to experts in philosophy? Etc. As far as I know, only one philosopher is asking questions at this overall level of perceptiveness nowadays. And only I can anticipate what my next blog post will be, and it should be pretty darn good. [Edit: and here you go.] BTW, I need to perfect my research program more, by homing in on state-of-the-art journals/articles in my own 'areas of specialization' [ethics, political philosophy]. I have good reasons for doing so, given the nature of the integration and transmission of knowledge/research....)
Have I made my point yet?
But just to state the conclusion succinctly: You need philosophy because at least some of your opinions are probably wrong, and better living for a human involves advanced cognition about morality and problem-solving.
To tie up any loose ends: Aristotle is known as the fountainhead of dialectic. Dialectic has been described in the Oxford Handbook of Aristotle as his philosophical method. The fruits of that method are well known for their explanatory power. (He had wrong things to say about women and slavery. His theories in physics have been superseded - after only about 1800 years or so of other thinkers doing natural philosophy, that is. He has to be assessed on his overall merits. His ethics are as canonical as ever, even in the demanding confines of analytic philosophy.) T.H. Irwin has a whole book - the largest single-author book on Aristotle's philosophy that I know of - titled Aristotle's First Principles (1988) in which he investigates Aristotle's application of the method of dialectic (what Irwin terms 'strong dialectic'). Aristotle recognized the major issue raised above, the problem of opposing opinion or endoxa despite uniformity in human sensory experience. Surely everyone has hit upon some grain(s) of truth or other in their opinion-formation processes, but clearly (given the fact of disagreement) they need to perfect those processes to the best of their abilities. One way of doing so is engaging in dialectic, the art of context-keeping in the most fundamental explanatory sense, but the art, more popularly understood, of seeking reconciliation among opposing ideas. (That is the art of context-keeping applied, in the sense that we seek to establish the cognitive contexts within opposing belief-formation processes occur, so as to better understand how opposing opinions were arrived at, and therefore how to apply needed fixes.) So dialectic and intellectual perfection(ism), which may well come to the same thing, are fundamental to philosophical activity. Now, Aristotle didn't say that (strong) dialectic was merely about treating the contexts opposing opinions, since he was also a realist in the sense that an independent reality (the one we commonly access through sense-experience) is the ultimate arbiter of truth and falsity. This explains the grain(s) of truth in opposing opinions even though, for all we know, opposing opinions taken on the whole are false. Point being, it's not opinions all the way down.
(A note about Irwin: he's a good man, and thurrah. I may have mentioned before that his massive, 3-volume The Development of Ethics (2007) contains the largest bibliography that I know of - approximately 1600 references, even more than the 1300 or so of Sciabarra's Total Freedom (2000). (While I haven't read it, I am aware that Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) also has a massive bibliography, around 1100 references IIRC. Any deep tie-in between the themes covered in these three books? How much and against what odds should one bet that there is?) Irwin is the main source of my awareness of discussions about an ethical theory being revisionary. For point of reference, the 5 thinkers to whom Irwin devotes more than 100 pages of coverage each are Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kant and Sidgwick (the revisionary utilitarian guy). Now, while if you took only these 5 thinkers and 'dialecticized' them, you'd probably come up with an intellectual and ethical framework that, practiced by all humans, would lead to a really decent and enlightened society, despite differences about "the foundations." Aristotle and Aquinas in particular are perfectionists - intellectual perfectionists to be exact - and the clear sense from Irwin's exhaustively comprehensive treatment of the history of ethics is that their 'Aristotelian naturalism' offers the strongest resources overall for ethical theory. In fact, Irwin's coverage of Aquinas is the most extensive of any other figure in his Development, at over 200 pages. I'm close to finishing the final, third volume of the series. The last 300 densely-packed pages cover the 20th century from Moore onward. Up until that point, Irwin's coverage was quite lucid, easy (enough) to follow. But then 20th century ethics comes around, and it becomes almost excruciatingly technical and focused on the difficult subject matter of metaethics. The likes of Ayn Rand had no time for this stuff, as she was focused on the life-and-death importance of ethics whereas the relevance for ethical practice of any number of the proliferating 20th-century isms (expressivism, cognitivism, emotivism, error theory, internalism, subjectivism, realism, quasi-realism, etc. etc.) is not exactly clear. The frustration of non-academics/specialists about this situation is expressed in such articles as this one. Still, you have a (the?) leading Aristotle scholar in W. D. Ross heavily involved in these discussions, so they're still in some way very important. The question is, can their importance be conveyed to a lay-audience? Or is the subject matter inherently too difficult? I remember a claim to the effect that Heidegger's subject matter is inherently too difficult for lay-translation, although Irwin's chapter on Existentialist ethics, which is pretty much all about Heidegger, is easily the clearest of his 20th-century chapters so far, so I doubt such a claim in Heidegger's case. Also, while Irwin's prose when it comes to 20th-century meteathics is difficult, the treatment of the metaethical subject matter in fellow Oxford scholar Derek Parfit's On What Matters (2011), volume 2, is actually quite accessible, breezy almost. What's missing in On What Matters is coverage of the Aristotelian naturalist tradition so favorably treated by Irwin. Is a (dialectical) synthesis of Irwin and Parfit possible, or does specialization preclude that, dammit? [Edit: On the topic of good and thurrah men, Mortimer Adler's compilation, Great Treasury of Western Thought, is some 1770 pages, 1430 of which are the main textual extracts, in double columns, in tiny print. I'm about halfway through it, and based on the pace of reading so far (roughly 12-14 pages an hour) I expect it will take over 100 hours, probably around 120 hours, to get all the way through. Likewise, Irwin's Development is some 2800 large-size pages, with small print, and at my pace of reading of about 22-25 pages an hour, the time to completion would be over 100 hours as well. Both good and thurrah men are Aristotelian researchers - and so is Sciabarra - so is there something more than a coinkydink there? What other works from a single author/editor take over 100 hours to get through? I want to know, dammit. I don't remember Copleston's History, with its relatively short pages, taking nearly as long.])
[Addendum: the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary definition of "self-actualize" is "to reach one's full potential." So now we have another conceptual tie-in, between goods, needs, and potentialities, yes? (Actuality or energeia being synonymous with entelechy.... ain't making connections fun?)]
Monday, March 16, 2020
|Groping for a running mate? (Imagine the Democrat reaction if Trump did this.)|
One nice thing about philosophy is how it exposes bad ideas for what they are, irrespective of their popularity or trendiness.
At last night's Democratic debate, front-runner Joe Biden made explicit that he will only consider a woman for a running mate. His opponent, Bernie Sanders, wouldn't commit outright to that position, but he's leaning heavily in that direction.
Proposition: The person most qualified for the job is the one who should get that job.
Democrats, the people who supposedly represent the progressive and enlightened mindset in America, now deny this Proposition. (Or at least some trendily large majority now denies it. How much stink are they raising about Biden denying the VP opportunity to any men?)
Now, common sense and justice say that to deny the Proposition, one should come up with a really compelling overriding reason, because otherwise the Proposition is eminently plausible, so much so that it should serve as a basis for social policy - the reason being that common sense and justice find (in application to employment policies) discrimination against people on the basis of characteristics other than their qualifications for the job, to be repugnant, the sort of thing that a country such as ours (the United States) is supposed to have gotten away from. Only reactionaries or some such deplorables would favor non-merit-based employment discrimination. Right?
Well, apparently, it is now the reactionary position (if you listen to Joe Biden and his supporters and enablers and fellow-travelers) to oppose the kind of sex discrimination that Biden & co. now explicitly support! Apparently the default view is that opposing sex discrimination is now a sexist position itself, and that perhaps intellectual resources need to be marshaled to use misrepresentation and shaming tactics against such opposition. I wish I weren't exaggerating the nature of the moral absurdity going on here.
You don't have to ask what I think about this. Just ask what an established, high-reputation sage like Socrates or Aristotle would say about this. At the very least they would (I think) say that there had damn well be really good reasons why employment discrimination on the basis of sex should be reintroduced after supposedly having been widely repudiated in the USA and other nations.
So what would those really compelling reasons be?
I can't think of a single one.
I can think of reasons that would weigh in the consideration of candidates for employment - the standard 'diversity'-based reasons pertaining to what can be gained from differences in perspectives and background or life experience. But I can't think of any reason whatsoever that should be categorically overriding. Biden has said that being a woman is, in itself, a categorically overriding reason.
He has categorically ruled out considering a man as a running mate. This is equivalent to an employer saying "men need not apply." (I was going to say, it's the equivalent of an employer tossing the applications from men into the trash bin immediately, but by the principle of interpretive charity we cannot assume that Biden is being that dishonest, deceptive, and dastardly. He's openly advertising his sex discrimination so that no men need waste their time presenting their credentials to him for consideration.) Does that seem reasonable, something possibly endorsed by justice and common sense?
Why on earth should anyone even have to spend their time asking these questions? Philosopher's question: how much more of a departure from common sense and justice does this stuff have to be, before Democrats & co. raise a stink? (As Dennett would say, better pump those intuitions, turn the intuition knobs up to 11 if you have to. The Democrats/Biden are at a 10, it looks like.)
But again, don't consider what this here blogger has to say, because what the hell do I know. Just imagine instead an Aristotle bringing all his analytical weight to bear on this kind of question, and/or use your conscience (which should come to the same thing). I don't know what language an Aristotle would use, but I think it's fucking ridiculous, what the Demo-rats have become after decades of intellectual atrophy and hubris. 'Philosophers' in the academy should be all over this kind of thing, but I'm not expecting that to happen because they're mostly 'politically correct' Democrats and politics tends to compromise intellectual integrity (hence the boldfaced hypocrisy of the 'academic freedom' rationale for tenure).
[Addendum 3/17/20: Turley appears to be among the few within the commentariat with the integrity/honesty to call out Biden's blatantly discriminatory pledge for what it is. Has the pandemic news been distracting the rest of them, or something? Not likely. Biden's moral offense here is red-flag obvious to anyone who pays attention to politics. If this isn't a no-brainer, then what is? How is this possibly anything other than Biden being caught dead to rights? (Note that the most upvoted anti-Turley comments below his article offer nothing of substance. So much for the credibility of "likes"/upvotes as a gauge of quality or honesty.) I think intellectual dishonesty can take various forms. I don't think it's rampant, but I don't think it's rare, either. In politics especially, lots of people quite lazily (i.e., dishonestly) if not recklessly caricature and smear adversaries' positions (contrary to Mill's advice about knowing the opinions of adversaries in their most plausible and persuasive form), and they give their own side a pass for bad things, quite a lot. (So, well, yeah, in politics, dishonesty is kinda rampant.) And I think those who are readily in a position to call out Biden for his pledge, and yet fail to do so, are being dishonest.]
Sunday, March 8, 2020
Below I reproduce an email I sent to Maverick Philosopher the other day after having seen his recent posting related to the topic.
To what's below I want to now add a summary/clarificatory note: I think that the metaphysical and epistemological issues hadn't been so clearly distinguished not just for the reasons I note below, but also because what both issues or aspects come down to is this: any grounding for moral knowledge must come from reason(s), meaning that any moral command, to be authoritative (not authoritarian), must be grounded in reason. In the theistic tradition, God is (the ontological principle of sufficient) reason or logos, and must rule or command accordingly. This is why the 'naturalism' vs. 'voluntarism' debate among (late) medieval ethical theorists as discussed in the Irwin (The Development of Ethics, vol. 1 [Socrates to the Reformation]) comes down so decisively in the naturalists' favor. Which is to say, that whatever the ultimate source of morality's authority, the only means we have for discovering any such grounds is via our unaided reason (drawing on the evidence of the senses) - which is why moral philosophers have been at work without any substantive resources (that I can see) being provided by Divine Command theory qua such. And isn't this a vindication of what many take to be Plato's original point - that "what's favored by the gods" doesn't give a useful answer, and that it is the task specifically of philosophy/reason to discover what merits the gods' favor?
[To Maverick Philosopher]
Saturday, March 7, 2020
I did not enjoy the protection of tenure (I was, however, tenure-track), but we should not rely upon tenure to uphold free inquiry. Academic health is not served by a message that tenure can only be secured by those prepared to embrace political orthodoxies. After all, if tenure is intended to protect people who challenge dogmas and orthodoxies, why would we support a system that punishes non-conformists and that sieves them out before they are capable of safely challenging prevailing views?
The blatant hypocrisy of the tenure system, from an academic-freedom standpoint at any rate, is now laid bare. Not just a system of tenure under the currently prevailing leftist-scum-infested shitshow, but any system of tenure whatsoever: from a intellectual-freedom-loving standpoint, what legitimate function does it serve? Why in the everloving fuck should anyone, anywhere be made to feel afraid to speak their minds?
Not just in the academy, but corporations, or . . . anywhere. It's an unphilosophical world where there are punishments for intellectual honesty. I don't give a fuuuuuuuuuuuck if intellectual honesty makes someone annoying, unpopular, or "uncomfortable" for others to be around. (Why can't these others fucking deal with it? What the fuck is their problem? [Note: this is not to say that other factors besides intellectual honesty can make someone annoying, unpopular, etc. But that's not the issue here. All too many people don't value intellectual honesty or intellectualism very highly, and they are annoyed or made uncomfortable in its presence, and that's a problem with them.]) Intellectual honesty is the one paramount value I embrace, and intellectual dishonesty (among the kinds of which is intellectual laziness) the one thing that really grinds my gears; it is the #1 cause of the world's avoidable problems.
What the fuck, is the idea of a free and fair marketplace of ideas utopian, or something?
[Addendum: Is social media structurally dishonest? Consider: "likes" are what drive social media, but "likes" entail a popularity contest, not the encouragement of honesty and truth. Of course social media is structurally dishonest, and that's the #1 cause of why social media is such a widely reviled toxic shitshow. The old discussion formats - listservs, Usenet - didn't have this problem. Fuckerberg, Dorsey, Huffman and the other war-profiteers of "likes" can stuff it.]
[Addendum #2 (3/11/2020): Leiter quotes Kathleen Stock on twitter: "The problem with academic feminist philosophy is that it’s run like a fiefdom, not like a normal open philosophical discussion. There are things you are just not allowed to say, and people you are not allowed to offend. Quality suffers, and to [the] rest of [the] world, it shows." (Fucking twitter and its cognition-diminishing character limits, huh?) Now, just replace "academic feminist philosophy" with "academia today," and definitely keep the "to the rest of the world" part, and you might see just what a fucking joke this all is. This is sickness, folks.]