Life Is Precious

People who care about their life try to better themselves.
By me, partially inspired by Ayn Rand in We The Living.

It sounds pretty obvious. Here's why it's important:

People often, for a wide variety of reasons, do not give learning their best effort. I knew these people do not care about truth-seeking and creating knowledge as much as Popper or I do. But I hadn't made the connection before that what they don't care about, at root, is their own life, in the way Rand cares about life. Life is not precious to them; they aren't dead set on making the most of it.

When someone is careless and wasteful during their own free time, they are disrespecting their own life. When people decide some of their problems are too hard and permanently give up on solving them, and try to be content settling for less, what they are really giving up on is life.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (26)

We The Living

We The Living (WTL) by Ayn Rand is a very good book. One always hears about Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I think those are better, but only by a small margin rather than a large one. WTL deserves attention. (By the way, Anthem is nice too, and only takes about 90 minutes to read.) The rest of this post contains spoilers.

In the introduction it says that Kira is better than Leo or Andrei, and asks which of Andrei or Leo is better. It says Ayn Rand prefers Leo, and that she thinks Leo would be like Francisco D'Anconia if he lived in the USA instead of in Russia.

I disagree. I prefer Andrei. Let's start with Leo: Leo has already largely given up when the book starts, and he gets worse as the book continues. I don't see that Leo did anything impressive in the entire book. I'd note that Kira is attracted to him due to his appearance. Admittedly, in Rand's worlds appearance is a direct indicator of character including heroism, so perhaps when she described his appearance she intended to be telling the reader that he was just like Francisco. But I prefer to judge people by their thoughts and actions, and while Leo is a decent guy sometimes, he never does anything heroic. The closest he comes is buying passage on the boat to try to escape from Russia.

Andrei improves as the book progresses. He learns things. I would say he is the only character in the book who learns much of anything good (some characters learn how to talk like a loyal communist, or other mundane skills). Kira was evidently born heroic. As good as she is, she already had all her merit when the book starts; I think Rand sees having to change as a bit of a weakness, rather than seeing learning as a strength.

My favorite part of WTL is when Kira confesses to Andrei that she slept with him to get money for Leo's medical treatment and that she didn't love him. In particular I like Andrei's reaction. He does not get angry. He does not whine about how his lover betrayed him, and his heart is broken, and all the stuff nearly everyone would say. That alone is wonderful. But Andrei does considerably better than that. He reacts by stopping to think. He doesn't say anything except "I didn't know" until he's thought about it. He's calm and collected even as Kira continues her mean rant. That's great too. But then the really amazing thing is that within minutes of finding all this out, and with Kira fully unapologetic, he has not only forgiven her, but praised her for doing it, said he would have done the same thing, and said it vastly raised his opinion of her. When he found out she was living and sleeping with Leo, what bothered him was not the betrayal but that the best explanation he could think of involved her being a bad person.

Sidenote: Why would that indicate to Andrei that Kira is a bad person? Andrei considers Leo a bad person, so why would Kira want to be involved with him? And also, why would Kira want Andrei's money? Why would she want to take advantage of him? Is she just a whore and a sort of thief? That is incompatible with being heroic.

So when Andrei finds out the truth, that Kira had good reasons, he realizes she was in fact a better person than he'd ever known. She did something very hard, but also important. She epitomizes the heroic values he liked about her even more for doing it. And Andrei recognizes all this right away and is glad about it. That is in many ways even harder than what Kira did. Think about it. A lot of people could lead a double life if they were motivated enough. Nothing about it is really too complicated. But what Andrei did, staying calm and reacting to emotional news in a rational way, most people couldn't even begin to do that. They have no idea how to do it, or even how to start learning to do it.

To sum up: Andrei has this very exceptional moment, and he is the character who learns and improves over the course of the book. That's why I prefer him to Leo. By contrast, Leo lets his life get worse and worse until he gives up and no longer wants to try or think.

The worst thing about Andrei was his suicide. He could have remained friends with Kira, and looked for ways to turn his life around, such as going abroad (even without Kira), or helping anti-communist resistance. Note that if he'd been alive longer, he would have been around when Leo left and Kira decided to escape, and she would have accepted his offer to escape together at that point.

Leo has a lot of serious flaws. He despairs, he doesn't want to think, he wastes money, he turns to crime knowing he's putting his life at serious risk, he doesn't value his life, he befriends bad people, and he mistreats Kira. Leo has a different reaction than Andrei when he finds out about Kira's double life. Andrei reacts heroically. Leo reacts despicably. Leo thinks worse of Kira, and then says he's glad for her to be worse. The worse a person Kira is, the better, is Leo's view. He doesn't want there to be any good in the world, so when he turns his back on good he's less guilty. That's just terrible.

On to Kira. She fails to improve things, but she never gives up, so it's alright. Actually Kira does improve her life in one major way. She forms a relationship with Andrei, and then helps him improve. The more he improves, the better a friend she has in her life. Unfortunately she doesn't recognize this. By the way, I think she should accepted Andrei's offer to go abroad. It would have improved her life! She only stayed for Leo. Self-sacrifice is bad. I know she wanted Leo in her life for her own sake, but he wasn't making her life wonderful, and she should have noticed that and taken the superior opportunity. Note that it would have quite possibly saved both her own life and Andrei's life.

One of the great parts about Kira is the stuff she doesn't notice. Near the beginning of the book her family complains about their poor clothes and poor food. Kira comments that she hadn't noticed. Kira does not think of hardships just like when Roark comments that he doesn't think about Toohey. Kira instead focusses on pursuing her goals and living her life, which is great.

I like Kira's escape attempt because it was her pursuing her values. I like her interest in engineering. I like how she insists on living life her own way. For example, she enrolls in engineering classes against her family's wishes, and she goes to live with Leo even though her family will disown her for it (they forgive her when they are hungry and she has more money than them). By the way, I also like Vasili Ivanovitch, the relative who sells all his possessions but refuses to get a Soviet job.

Kira demonstrates her strength and perseverance by her escape attempt, by maintaining her double life, by never giving up, and by making a great effort to get and keep a job, to wait in all the lines, and so on. Those are the things she has to do to continue her life, so she does them, and she doesn't complain incessantly or turn her mind off or let it destroy her spirit, she just does it and keeps living like a full person, almost like a free person. She also demonstrates it strikingly when Leo leaves. She chooses not to tell him why she slept with Andrei, or where the money for his medicine really came from. A lot of people would be angry with Leo and tell him out of spite. A lot of people would tell him and say it was the truth as an excuse. A lot of people would tell him without even thinking about it first. But Kira is better than that. She judges that Leo is lost to her, so there is no point in telling him. She further judges that Leo does not want to know. Not telling people things they don't want to be told is a good policy. It's respectful of their life; it's living by consent.

Kira stands up to the communists at times. Not in a sacrificial or suicidal way like Sasha (Irina's boyfriend; they are sent to separate camps in Siberia), but only by way of expressing her values and living in the way she wants to. That is nice. Sasha gives up his life for a cause. Kira values her life more than he does. She doesn't want to be a martyr. In one scene Kira considers sacrificing herself to do a good deed. She's in a communist march/parade, and some foreigners are visiting to see Soviet propaganda, and she could run up to them and tell them the truth about Russia. But she thinks of her life with Leo, and doesn't want to give that up, and she puts that ahead of communicating this important truth which has the potential to save every oppressed Russian. Good for her.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

The Comprachicos

These are my comments on The Comprachicos, an essay by Ayn Rand found in

This will make a lot more sense if you read it first. It is not a summary, and it leaves out a lot of good ieas from the essay.

I agree with Rand's pro-children attitude, as opposed to the usual more hateful one. Rand says young children should start learning abstract ideas, and I agree with her.

I agree with her criticisms of "the pack" and conformity and collectivism, and her view that the "problem children" often have the best chance to get through school with their reason in tact.

I agree with many of her specific examples about how some methods of teaching are nonsense, or contradict the educational philosophy the teachers claim to follow. I disagree with her apparent assumption that most of the effects and meaning of teaching methods can be discerned by looking at them and reasoning about them. I think that the bulk of what's done to kids is more subtle than that. And I think kids are resilient and such blatant methods, alone, are not enough to have the affects schools do have.

Rand only mentions parents briefly. She says mistakes of this size aren't made innocently. I don't agree with that logic. I do agree with her assessment that many parents want to get their kids out of their hair, and don't think carefully about what sort of place they are sending their kids, and also don't have thoughtful, rational discussions with their kids.

Rand takes a fairly nature oriented position on some aspects of the nature/nurture debate. She does talk a lot about how education matters, but she also seems to think being more or less intelligent is innate.

Rand sometimes appeals to "the evidence" or "scientific research" but fails to cite it or explain what research was done and how it is capable of reaching the conclusion it reaches. This is scientism, but it's mild and she provides arguments for all her conclusions.

Rand overestimates how much teachers hurt children *intentionally*. She thinks they somewhat plan for it. Alright, some do, but they don't actually know how to plan for things and then make them happen, so their planning hardly matters. Rand makes a comment that if they cared about the children they'd notice certain policies are harming children and stop or revise them, and concludes they don't care about children's well being. I disagree with that. I don't think they know how to evaluate what works and what doesn't. Doing that takes skill which they don't have. They have no idea if they are doing harm or not. I don't want to absolve them of all guilt, or even any guilt -- they do see crying children, and they definitely know that many children dislike much of what they do -- but let's not assume they know, plan, or intend more than they do. They are clueless and helpless, and have a mix of callous disregard; superficial, tender love and caring; some meanness; and for many teachers, especially the younger ones, only occasional hatred of the children. Many teachers have given up and don't think about what they are doing.

Rand says schools and culture used to be better and more rational, and the comprachicos only gained control quite recently, and the current educators had a better education themselves. I disagree. Rand doesn't go into detail here. It's true that schools have changed in some ways, and their explicit rhetoric has changed, but I see no reason to think their basic effect has changed. Perhaps Rand is going too much on the schools' explicit messages. If anything, school has gotten better. People are smarter now, and more capable; we can tell because they deal with more complex lives, have more possessions which are more complicated (like computers), there are more knowledge workers, and GDP per capita is much higher. And schools have had reforms, e.g. with corporal punishment. And we now have more and better sources of information (TV, internet, more books, etc).

Rand does a good job of emphasizing how much of a child's learning is inexplicit, and how much of what is taught is inexplicit (for example, she discusses the emotional vibe of the pack). And I agree with her comments on whim.

I agree with Rand's mentions of the *boredom* of school.

I agree with Rand that the primary way to do well in the pack is to learn to manipulate human beings, and this is disgusting, and not something an individualist would want to do. I agree that "socializing" and "fitting in" are wicked.

I liked Rand's comment that non-conformist children have *no one* on their side. Not even themselves, because they don't have much understanding of the nature of their battle. However, she's slightly mistaken: they have Rand on their side! She does indeed sympathize with them. Good for her. And I do too.

I don't agree with Rand's assumption about the developmental status of children being very strongly tied to age. She even mentions that is false at one point by saying children of the same age and intelligence can be at significantly different levels of development if one is educated well and the other isn't. Yet she still refers to what three year olds need, what five year olds need, and so on. (And it's not even clear if these age numbers refer to normal children or properly educated children.)

I generally agree with Rand's comments about how people automate large parts of their thinking. For example, Rand says you have to learn to focus your eyes, or to coordinate your muscles to walk. And this isn't obvious or trivial. Rand says we learn a huge amount in our first two years, and if any adult could learn as much, as quickly, or as well he'd be a genius. But adults have automated the process so much it seems easy.

I agree with Rand that fakers -- for example people who pretend to agree with the pack when they don't -- often become fakers by habit, and then live that way without thinking, and it becomes a major part of them, and the "real" self gets lost and forgotten.

Perhaps my favorite part is on page 197:
At the age of three, when his mind is almost as plastic as his bones, when his need and desire to know are more intense than they will ever be again, a child is delivered -- by a Progressive nursery school -- into the midst of a pack of children as helplessly ignorant as himself. He is not merely left without cognitive guidance -- he is actively discouraged and prevented from pursuing cognitive tasks. He wants to learn; he is told to play. Why? No answer is given. He is made to understand -- by the emotional vibrations permeating the atmosphere of the place, by every crude or subtle means available to the adults whom he cannot understand -- that the most important thing in this peculiar world is not to know, but to get along with the pack. Why? No answer is given.

He does not know what to do; he is told to do anything he feels like. He picks up a toy; it is snatched away from him by another child; he is told that he must learn to share. Why? No answer is given. He sits alone in a corner; he is told that he must join the others. Why? No answer is given. He approaches a group, reaches for their toys and is punched in the nose. He cries, in angry bewilderment; the teacher throws her arms around him and gushes that she loves him.
I like the "Why? No answer is given." theme.

I think Rand's comment that loneliness is only for people who have something of value to share, but can't find any equals to share it with, is insightful. She says the emotion that drives conformists to "belong" is fear. I'm not so sure about that. I think fear plays a role, but there are many other issues, such as not knowing what else to do, and thinking non-conformity is morally wrong.

Rand hates: Kant, John Dewey, Marcuse, Hegel, Logical Positivism, and Language Analysis.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (7)

Rand on Nurture

men are born tabula rasa, both cognitively and morally
Ayn Rand, _The Virtue of Selfishness_, p54

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Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature – Introduction Comments

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature (ARCHN), by Greg Nyquist. All quotes are from this book unless otherwise indicated.
Rand had a unique talent for inspiring cult-like devotion in her admirers.
The book would be more credible without throwing in cliche insults like this. And this one sounds too much like criticizing Rand for being persuasive and inspirational, and for creating a philosophy that actually makes a difference in people's lives. Those are merits.

Now consider what Ayn Rand and the World She Made (ARWSM), by Anne C. Heller, says:
Ironically, Rand made her decision to close NBI on September 2, exactly twenty-two years to the day after she had written, “Who is John Galt?” at the head of a blank sheet of paper. No doubt, she was relieved to be rid of a set of duties she did not enjoy. “I never wanted and do not now want to be the leader of a ‘movement,’” she wrote in The Objectivist. A philosophical and cultural movement had been Branden’s idea and his accomplishment. Now that her brilliant star, as she once called him, had faded in the light of day, his business ventures and the organized following he had built held little interest for her.
Ayn Rand didn't even want a movement, but was a talented cult leader? I'm not convinced.
And since Objectivists have made no secret of their determination to infiltrate the academic establishment, it is not unreasonable to expect these developments to continue well into the future, until finally the Randites manage to carve up a respectable niche of their own within the academic pie.
If you want to be taken seriously by people who aren't hostile to Rand, how about not using the term "Randites"?
What is most astonishing about Rand is not that she made errors (all philosophers make errors), but that she made stupid errors—the kind of errors philosophers make when they are too precipitous in their judgments and haven’t stopped to really think things through.
Strong words. There better be follow up for this. Calling Rand mistaken is one thing, "stupid" is quite another!

Rand is not perfect, but the accusation that she didn't stop to think things through seems initially pretty implausible. How Implausible? ARWSM:
“Thinking is all I do,” she [Rand] said.
Back to ARCHN:
I do not believe that philosophical systems can in fact be refuted. Every philosophical system, no matter how false or mendacious, contains at least some truth.
If something isn't 100% false and worthless, it shouldn't be called "refuted"? This is a strange use of the term "refuted" which means we basically never get to use it on anything. I don't think this is a good idea and ARCHN doesn't clarify what word it prefers.

If the issue was to reject collective refutation, rather than piecemeal refutation of individual ideas, that was not clear. (Just a wild guess at some good idea that could have been intended.)
Despite my low opinion of Rand’s philosophical expertise, I nevertheless regard Rand as an important and perhaps even a great thinker. For even though her philosophy is riddled with non sequiturs, over-generalizations, incompetent formulations, pseudo-empirical inferences, and other palpable bunglings, this does not mean that she cannot in fact be regarded as a great philosopher. Many a philosopher considered great by the denizens of academia is every bit, if not more, culpable of the sort of violations of logic and evidence which characterize Rand and her disciples. Think of all the fallacies and other blatant absurdities to be found in the philosophical systems of Plato, Plotinus, Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Russell, Whitehead, Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre! Schopenhauer believed in phrenology; William James believed in spiritual mediums and ghosts. Nearly every great philosopher has embraced at least one appalling absurdity, and several have embraced scores of them. Regrettably, the greatness of a philosopher rarely has anything to do with whether his philosophy is faithful to the elemental facts of reality. On the contrary, in many instances, the more a philosopher departs from reality, the greater will be his reputation as a thinker of genius. The reason for this paradox is not hard to fathom. The greatness of a philosopher is usually determined by intellectuals—in other words, by that very class of individuals who are most afraid of reality. This being the case, is it at all surprising that Plato and Hegel, two of the most implacable enemies of common sense that the world has ever seen, should be regarded as great philosophers? What your typical intellectual seeks in a philosophy is not insight into reality, but a way out of reality.
This seems to be confusing which philosophers are objectively great, and which have a reputation as being great. It discusses philosophical greatness in terms of the judgment of some dumb "intellectuals", and doesn't challenge that or suggest more objective criteria.

It also claims to be somewhat nice to Rand by saying she is "perhaps even a great thinker". But then it goes on to talk about "great" in terms of reputation, not actual objective greatness. So it wasn't really granting Rand anything except that if you sell millions of books you "perhaps" have a reputation.

Put another way: you might assume calling Rand "great" would be a compliment, but ARCHN is using words in a bad way so that it isn't actually a compliment. At the same time it grants undo and unchallenged legitimacy and authority to some people who don't deserve it (and whom Rand, to her credit, challenged and contradicted).
Of course, what she said [about any philosophical problem] was never as logical and apposite as it may have sounded, but only someone with a great deal of philosophical acumen would be capable of realizing this.
If you want a reasonable discussion, do not say that "of course" your opponent "never" has a fully logical answer to a single important philosophical issue. Either you're unreasonably holding Rand to the standard of omniscient infallibility, or you're saying she was wrong about everything. If she is substantively wrong about everything, that is not a matter "of course", it's a substantive non-obvious claim. To have a discussion you'd kind of need to acknowledge that much.
But the truth of a philosophy is not gauged by how well it can be used in a debate. The ability to articulate a point of view and defend it against those who raise objections to it says little, if anything, as to its truth. Truth, especially in its deeper manifestations, can often be so inordinately complex that it defies articulation. This is the trouble with all these philosophies which, like Objectivism, seek to reduce the entire universe to a handful of rhetorical constructions. They assume that all truth, regardless of how complicated it may be, can ultimately be expressed by a few pithy phrases.
That all truth can be expressed in a few pithy phrases is not the Objectivist position. This is a straw man attack.

Objectivism does not seek to reduce the entire universe to a "handful" of things either. If it did, why bother writing Atlas Shrugged, which is a long book with many things? Atlas Shrugged would be unnecessary. If Objectivists really thought only a handful of things were needed, they would write them down in a 3 page essay/list and state "the philosophy rests".

I also disagree with the idea that debating requires pithy phrases. Rational, serious debate, with complex ideas, is possible, and can be productive.
it should be obvious from everyday life that articulation is not necessary for knowledge.
This kind of appeal to obviousness is a fallacy, as well as deeply contradictory to Popperian epistemology (and also incompatible with Objectivism). I am not impressed.
Knowledge comes, not from words, but from experience. The knowledge of any complex skill, whether it is cooking, judging the motives of other people, or writing a novel, can only be learned from immersing oneself in the activity from which the knowledge springs. To learn how to cook, you go into the kitchen;
Now, instead of analyzing Objectivism, the book is putting forward its own false epistemology which is incompatible with both Popper and Rand. Why?

That knowledge either comes from "words" or "experience" is a false dichotomy.

That knowledge of cooking can "only" be learned in the kitchen, by cooking, is false. Some people learn all about an activity from books and then do it well there first time. Maybe that's rare, but it happens. It only takes one counter example to refute a claim about what "only" works.

To take another example, my record the league for Hero Academy (a strategy game) is currently 33-0. How did start out good at the game? How come I didn't have to play 100 games and lose 50 of them to get enough experience to be a skilled player? The answer involves being good at chess and other games, and a lot of the skill carrying over. So again we see that you don't necessarily need experience with something to be skillful at it.
Of course, learning in this way [from experience] is difficult and time-consuming. Hence the appeal of philosophers who, like Rand, declare that knowledge comes from words.
Citation needed on Rand declaring that.
Rand’s entire theory of knowledge is tantamount to a denial of the old adage that wisdom comes from experience.
Even if ARCHN was basically correct so far, this still wouldn't be true of Rand's "entire" theory of knowledge. Again ARCHN makes a false exaggeration.
All philosophers like to believe that their doctrines are in accord with empirical reality.
Now I'm wondering how much experience the ARCHN author has with philosophers :)

No they don't "all" like that. They are actually a very diverse bunch and some do not value empirical reality.
The question, however, is whether this belief is justified.
So ARCHN is a justificationist, not Popperian, book. (Or a confused mix is also possible.) I was hoping for better after some decent Popper related comments on the ARCHN blog.
Before commencing with a critique of Rand’s views, I think it is only fair that I briefly indicate my own philosophical positions. There are few things more annoying in philosophical criticism than to have to guess the viewpoint of some particular critic who, in order to make himself appear impartial and objective, pretends that he has no point of view of his own.
I agree. Good attitude!
Every philosophy starts with a vision of the limits and possibilities of human nature. At one extreme is the naturalistic view, which holds that human beings will continue to behave as they have in the past, and that consequently the possibilities of human nature, at least in terms of moral or spiritual progress, are extremely limited. At the other extreme is the utopian view of human nature which holds that the possibilities for man’s moral and spiritual progress are much greater than the historical record would lead us to believe, and that human nature can be regenerated either by changing social conditions or converting men to a more enlightened point of view. In addition to these two extremes, there exists a whole host of intermediate positions; and it is somewhere between the two extremes that you will find most social theorists.

On this issue, I consider myself to be pretty much of an extreme naturalist. If you cannot find any historical evidence for a certain theory of human nature, I will tend to believe that your theory is not in accord with the facts of reality.
I applaud this statement for openly taking a position, and being clear about what the position is.

However, I disagree with the position. I think this dichotomy is flawed. But if I had to go on it, I'd be a strong "utopian" (a word I don't want!).

It'd be a large digression, so I won't go into my reasoning right now. But I'll give you a quick lead. You could learn about my position by reading the (Popperian) book The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch.
The longer a given conjecture can remain unrefuted, the more our faith in it will be justified.
ARCHN claims to agree with Popper about induction and states this in the elaboration of Popperian epistemology. The problem is that faith and justification are not part of Popperian epistemology. And even if there were, I would reject them anyways.

(Once upon a time, Popper made an unfortunate, mistaken comment about faith in reason. He did not actually like or want faith. And epistemology doesn't actually require faith, so there is no reason to take that view. Regarding justification, Popper is even clearer in rejecting it.)

If ARCHN is claiming to agree with Popper and still getting Popper wrong, then I'm concerned about how well it will have understood Rand whom it doesn't like.
My ethical philosophy is grounded in a firm and unrepentant naturalism. I believe in the validity of the is-ought gap, which asserts that no moral value can be proven on the basis of fact alone.
But what was that about being a Popperian earlier? We can't prove anything on any basis. We're fallible!

We have conjectures, refutations, arguments, criticisms, guesses, imagination, and so on, but not proofs. (Mathematicians and logicians like to call their arguments "proofs", but they are just particularly rigorous and logical arguments.)

We don't have to prove our moral values for them to be valuable conjectural knowledge. Nor do we need proofs to improve and refine them.
the all too obvious fact
The truth is not obvious. There are a lot of comments like this in ARCHN.
Although I support the free enterprise system, I am not all that sympathetic with the form of “corporate capitalism” dominant today. I am for this reason not entirely sympathetic with Rand’s unconditional support of laissez-faire capitalism; but I am not entirely antagonistic either.
Does this passage say that today's corporate capitalism is (or is compatible with) the laissez-faire capitalism Rand wanted? That'd be very wrong (Atlas Shrugged is full of criticisms of what could be called "corporate capitalism"). I'm not sure how to read it.
Now obviously I have no direct access to Rand’s mind. I have to judge her entirely by her writings—which is not always easy.
This is way too careless. It's a false statement, and there's no excuse. A book author ought to do better.

Rand left more than writings. There are also audio recordings of her talking. He could listen to some of those.
Another defect of Rand’s critics (and, incidentally, her defenders as well) has been the unfortunate tendency to get involved in merely verbal controversies over the meanings of words. In this book, I shall do everything in my power to avoid such futile disputes. I am content to allow Rand and her disciples to define their terms in any way they see fit, provided that I am granted the same liberty in my criticism of Objectivism. Philosophical criticism should not be about disputes over the definitions of words.
I agree.

That covers the introduction. Here is my post about the rest of the book.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Critical Review of Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

I read the book Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature (ARCHN) by Greg Nyquist (GN). ARCHN is also a blog.

Previously I commented on the book's introduction. You can read that here.

Overall, it is a bad book. Some parts are mixed. Some are even pretty decent. But the book has to be evaluated negatively. It has too much hostility, too many insults. It doesn't just have innocent errors. It has errors due to malice and evasion. It is not objective.

GN and his ARCHN blog friends pretend to be fairly objective, and interested in discussion. They claim they respect Rand and consider her worth studying and criticizing. They say they criticize because she's good enough to pay attention to.

They are lying. They attack Rand because they find her ideas offensive. They don't like her or Objectivism.

Let me relate briefly my experience talking with them on their blog. They say they are interested in discussing with Objectivists. But when you advocate an Objectivist position they act surprised, confused and offended. They start saying that "of course" Objectivism is false, and you can't actually or reasonably believe what you're saying. What they want is to talk to non-Objectivists pretending to be Objectivists (like Kelleyites). Those false friends of Objectivism would agree with them that Objectivism is wrong and validate them.

Rather than being interested in learning what Objectivist positions actually are (e.g. that David Kelley is not an Objectivist), their interest is in denying that the real Objectivism exists at all.

I am making strong claims. I know it. I'm serious; I mean it. Details follow.

ARCHN's Reasoning

ARCHN's reasoning for its non-insult criticisms of Objectivism is repetitive. There are several repeated approaches:

  • Objectivism contradicts ARCHN's premises
  • "Evidence" or "facts" contradict Objectivism
  • Specious scientific authority contradicts Objectivism on non-scientific issues (scientism)
  • Objectivism fails to provide "evidence" or "facts" for its positions (often historical evidence)
  • ARCHN quotes a supposed authority who contradicts Objectivism (this is usually ARCHN's idea of providing evidence for its side)
  • ARCHN asserts that only Objectivists are dumb enough to think something, no one else
  • ARCHN asserts that an Objectivist position is obviously false
  • GN does not understand some Objectivist position and treats the gap in his knowledge as a flaw in Objectivism
  • ARCHN is opposed to philosophy itself, which causes frequent disagreements

ARCHN rarely even attempts to point out internal contradictions within Objectivism or make any arguments that would persuade any Objectivist. Rather, ARCHN starts with premises that Objectivism has refuted and then uses them to reach the conclusion that Objectivism is mistaken.

ARCHN makes a big deal out of "evidence" which usually really means "authority". ARCHN is better at appealing to authority than providing arguments. Sometimes it does try to make arguments, but not often enough. Instead it's always demanding "evidence" rather than thinking through arguments. GN seems unaware of the Popperian (and Objectivist too) point that all evidence has to be interpreted by thought and our philosophy matters to how we do that (there's no escaping philosophy and ideas and thinking).

One thing ARCHN doesn't do is improve on any Objectivist idea. It doesn't even try to. An honest critic would sometimes find what he regarded as a small problem and try to fix it. Sometimes he would come up with some solution he considered successful. Then he could explain the issue and how he thinks it can be resolved without any harm to Objectivism. But GN never does that.

Why doesn't ARCHN do better? Maybe because it's dishonest and hostile. We'll take a look at that first and then return to some of the other issues.


ARCHN has way too much hostility and insults. The only positive thing I can say about it is that at least GN doesn't try too hard to hide that he's a rotten bastard. Here is the last paragraph of the book, condensed:

... I would give Objectivism very low marks ... based on years of hard work and study. Those who believe I am being unfair to Rand can go out and do the hard work for themselves. Let them read the philosophers Rand so cavalierly denounces ... familiarize themselves with the best that has been said and thought in the disciplines of political science, sociology, and psychology. If they are intelligent enough to profit from their labors, they will see that, whatever errors I might have committed in regards to this detail or that, in the main, I am justified in my low assessment of Rand’s philosophical achievement. No one who is well educated in these matters and is endowed with the ability to think critically can ever regard Objectivism as anything other than a mistake.

This is closed minded and infallibilist. It's an appeal to authority, the authority of being educated. No one who is educated could disagree with GN or like Objectivism.

[Atlas Shrugged] is, in fact, neither great nor important. It is, to be entirely frank, a rather ridiculous and overblown philosophical fantasy populated by stock figures whose resemblance to anything human is merely coincidental. The book ... essentially juvenile—an exercise in unintelligent, excessively romanticized hero-worship. Such, in any case, would likely be the estimate of any great mind.

No, GN does not value Objectivism. No he does not really think it's good enough to be worth studying and paying attention to. He just hates it and wants to harm it.

Note, again, the appeal to authority and attempt at intimidation. Supposedly any "great mind" would likely agree with GN. Or put another way, if you don't agree with GN, he's saying you must not be a great mind.

It would have been best for Rand if she had simply owned up to the fact that her ideal man was a mere phantom of her overly romantic sensibility and to seek to base her philosophy on something for less impalpable. But she was too proud, too self-willed, too implacable to do any such thing. She stuck to her guns to the bitter end, insisting with increasing vehemence that only she was right and that all the great geniuses of intellectual history who had arrived at very different conclusions regarding the nature of man were either complete ignoramuses or vicious, evil man-haters. Rand’s idolatry of her “ideal” man set her against nearly every important thinker and scholar, past and present, of Western Civilization.

This is not a critic who hopes to be helpful with his criticism. It is attack and denunciation. And appeal to authority. Rand contradicted many "geniuses", therefore she must be wrong. If that's what you think, you do not respect Rand or Objectivism.

ARCHN also has simple insults.

It should be clear to anyone whose mind is not clouded by a steamy fog of erotic sentiment that Rand’s description of human sexuality contains about as much scientific value as the screeching of a cat in heat.
It is precisely this ethical taint in the Objectivist politics that prevents Rand and her followers from being able to distinguish between political facts and their own wishful thinking.
Pareto’s truculent realism provides a refreshing contrast to the usual political twaddle presented by soft-headed idealists like Rand and her followers.
It is the practical inexperience of intellectuals like Rand and her followers which, when combined with their intransigent hubris, encourages them to believe that their abstruse chatter can exercise a tangible effect on the course of history. A man of experience would never accept such nonsense.
... Rand and her followers have rendered themselves utterly useless to the cause of freedom.
Rand and her followers are egregious abusers of this fallacious mode of describing historical facts.
If this seems like a cheap verbal trick, well, that is precisely what it is.
The trouble is that [Objectivism's] notion of contextual certainty is entirely worthless.
As usual with rationalizations of this sort, the arguments advanced to defend it were inept and confused.
I do believe [Chris Sciabarra's] suggestion that Hegel and Rand shared the same basic method of thought comes pretty close to hitting the nail on the head.
At bottom, [Objectivism's axioms] are merely pretentious reformulations of several irrelevant truisms.
[Ayn Rand] suffered from the delusion that political problems could be solved by manipulating conceptual constructions.
In [Ayn Rand's] eagerness to prescribe how man ought to be, she blinds herself to what he really is.

OK you get the idea.


It takes a lot of study to understand Objectivism very well. GN did not do an adequate job.

World of Warcraft takes the typical person over 10,000 hours to get good at. When people seem to get good faster, it's because they already had pre-existing relevant skill (e.g. from playing other games). Some people never get good at it.

Chess is a harder game than World of Warcraft. It takes more work to get good, and many more people never get good at it, even after decades.

Objectivism is a lot harder than chess. GN never acknowledges or discusses this. He never considers that maybe sometimes the problem is he didn't study Objectivism well enough. He doesn't explain what he did and didn't do to study Objectivism. He doesn't outline all the great lengths and efforts he went to to learn Objectivism. Did he try very hard at all? Did he try using rational methods? We don't know. (But we can perhaps guess in the negative, judging by the book's content.)

Evidence and History

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, religious belief actually intensified, especially in England and America.

This is an interpretation of history presented as a fact. Usually there would be some authority being quoted and a cite to where the authority asserted it. In this case even that is missing. But the important thing is that ARCHN frequently interprets history according to its own philosophy and premises, then treats its conclusions as historical facts and evidence.

History consists of one long and uninterrupted testimony to this fact. Everywhere in history we find individuals governed either by sentiments (e.g. sentiments of religion, nationalism, humanitarianism, etc.) or by desires (e.g., economic interests, political ambition, vanity, sex drives, etc.).

This is assertion that historical facts prove ARCHN right. It does not acknowledge that he has used his philosophical ideas to interpret history. These are interpretations of history, not plain facts.

No investor will give money to some fledgling entrepreneur just starting out.

Venture capitalists do exactly that today. GN's pessimistic view of life was refuted by practical facts before his book was published (2001). It's easier for new entrepreneurs without reputations to raise money today than in 2001, but it was already possible and happened before 2001.

Rather than observe the world and learn from it, as GN claims to do, what he actually does is take his philosophical theories and assert they are historical facts. This is basically what he accuses Rand of doing. What he doesn't understand is there are no neutral facts without interpretation. Instead we need objectivity and philosophy to help us interpret correctly. If we pretend no interpretation, philosophy or objectivity is needed, the result will be interpreting badly using unacknowledged and ill-considered ideas.

Rome likewise flourished on the basis of force for many centuries, and only collapsed when it stopped being good at using force and could no longer defend itself.

This is a good example of how ARCHN approaches historical evidence. First, it doesn't acknowledge it's doing any interpreting or thinking here. It pretends this is just an indisputable historical fact. Second, this "fact" is dead wrong. In The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson writes:

For two thousand years the example of Rome has been cited erroneously, to the confusion of nations, as a military empire. It was not. There has never been a military empire, nor ever can be. It is impossible, in the nature of things. When Augustus became emperor, his first move toward consolidating the Roman dominion was to reduce the size of the army. Subsequently, when Rome included within its boundaries most of Europe, the near East, and North Africa, the task was performed with less than four hundred thousand soldiers, of whom half were auxiliaries, that is, regiments supplied by subject nations and officered by Romans. Comparison with the numbers under arms in Europe during recent world wars is proof enough that the Roman armies would have been pitifully inadequate to hold such a wide territory for six months by pure force. In its strictly military capacity the army defended the borders. Its internal duty was mainly that of quashing factional quarrels, police work. There were few genuine popular uprisings. The ordinary man wished to live under Roman law. The victorious Legions were a result and not a cause.
The Roman Wall in Britain marked high tide. When the Legions were withdrawn from the Wall, they had not been defeated by the barbarians; they were pulled back by the ebb of energy, the impossibility of maintaining supplies and reinforcements. The barbarians were not a rising force; they floated in on the ebb. They had no objective, and no ability to take over or set up any system; they came in as wild animals will graze across once-cultivated fields when the cultivator cannot muster sufficient strength to keep his fences in repair. The tax-eaters had absorbed the energy. A map of the Roman empire in the fourth and fifth centuries traced with the routes of the barbarian migrations is a net- work of wandering lines showing where the East Goths and the West Goths, the Huns and the Vandals, simply followed the main trade routes. There was nothing to stop them. The producers were already beaten by the bureaucracy.

Did GN neglect to read The God of the Machine? (It was written by a friend of Ayn Rand's, anyone studying Objectivism seriously should be aware of it.) Regardless, he's unaware of the Objectivist view on this matter and never provides an argument against it. Instead he treats his ideas about history as facts with authority.

Regardless of whether Paterson is correct (I think she is, but I won't go into details here), GN doesn't even address it. Rather than study why an Objectivist might hold the Objectivist position, GN tries to attack what he hasn't understood.

Appeal to Authority

Are emotions entirely the product of thinking? Although many psychologists in recent decades have emphasized the role of thinking and ideas in the generation of emotions, few if any psychologists would accept Rand’s theory that all emotions are generated by man’s cognitive ideas. Anyone with extensive therapeutical experience understands that emotions are far more complicated than Rand makes them out to be. Even psychologists who believe that ideas play a crucial role in the development of emotions would never accept Rand’s extreme version of the theory. Cognitive therapist Albert Ellis is a case in point. ...

Rather than say why ARCHN's position is right, or Objectivism's position is wrong, ARCHN says that other people agree with it. This is an appeal to authority. There are a lot of them in ARCHN and I point out some others in other sections.


ARCHN is openly anti-philosophical (including anti-Popperian). It boldly states:

Any assertion about the factual world that is at all debatable requires supporting evidence. In the absence of such evidence, there is no reason why the assertion should be deemed acceptable.

Philosophical explanation, GN believes, is not valuable and shouldn't persuade anyone. No wonder he doesn't like Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was a philosopher and GN objects to philosophy itself. (This is a theme and is his reasoning for rejecting many aspects of Objectivism).

Rand wanted to convince herself that she could be certain, but since there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that certainty is not humanly feasible, she invented the notion of “contextual” certainty.

Note the method. Rather than give an argument for why certainty is impossible – let alone refute Rand's arguments – GN simply asserts that "evidence" suggests he's right.

I do not believe it would in fact be possible to construct a social order based on Rand’s political ideals. They may very well be the finest political ideals ever promulgated in the history of mankind, but they remain unrealistic and impracticable for all that.

In this quote, GN is attacking ideas as such. Even if Objectivism's political ideas are the best political philosophy ever invented, he still wouldn't be impressed.

it is entirely gratuitous to assume that you can persuade more than a handful of people to accept a theory on logical grounds alone. Human beings are motivated, not by logic, but by desire and sentiment. If a given theory of rights conflicts with an individual’s desires and sentiments, no amount of logical argumentation will ever persuade him to accept the theory in question.

This is a typical example of ARCHN arguing. ARCHN has some premises about how ideas and philosophy are impotent. It then repeatedly points out that these contradict Objectivism. So what?

But what makes Rand think that human beings can in fact be “rational” about their sexuality? If they have not been rational in the past, on what grounds can we assume that they will be rational in the future?

This is a rejection of philosophy and abstract or conceptual thinking. It assumes that what hasn't happened in the past is impossible. It does not explain why good ideas cannot spread and change the world; it just pretends Objectivists never thought about it.


ARCHN pretends to cover Objectivism. Actually it focusses on Rand's non-fiction (and Peikoff and Binswanger get a lot of attention – too much for the book title to say "Ayn Rand" rather than "Objectivism").

The Fountainhead is not in the bibliography, even though it's Ayn Rand's second most important book. We The Living and Anthem are also missing. Atlas Shrugged never gets adequate attention.

Largely ignoring Rand's fiction is ironic given that ARCHN also accuses Rand of philosophical verbalism. If you wanted a different style than her non-fiction, she provided it!

Second handers isn't a topic ARCHN covers. It's a major contribution of Objectivism that many Objectivists value. ARCHN ignores it.

The objectivist view on objectivity is not covered.

GN doesn't understand Ayn Rand's sense of life and largely ignores the topic. He only talks about it in relation to aesthetics. But I don't just mean the term "sense of life". ARCHN largely ignores the Objectivist morality and approach to life.

Rather than understand Objectivism as a whole and discuss it, GN evades significant parts of Objectivism. Look at this:

Central to Rand’s defense of laissez-faire capitalism is her insistence that capitalism is the only “moral” system. Since I have already made clear that I will concede to Rand all her moral claims, I will not question Rand’s ethical defense of laissez-faire. Nor will I question the purely economic claims made on behalf of this system.

By refusing to discuss morality, GN is hiding both his ignorance of Objectivism's morality and the evil of his own moral views.

What ARCHN mostly does is discuss individual philosophical topics from Rand's non-fiction which GN has not integrated together.


ARCHN makes frequent mistakes. There are both misunderstandings of Objectivist positions as well as incorrect arguments. Let's look at a couple examples (more examples can be found in other sections).

The characteristic which defines the state of motherhood is that of having given birth. There are no measurements involved in this characteristic. Either a woman has given birth or she hasn’t.

This is strange. GN doesn't understand what measurement is. Giving birth is empirically measurable. You can count (measure) things like how many children come out of a woman. (Also GN is wrong that giving birth is the criterion of motherhood. Stillbirths don't make you a mother.)

ARCHN also claims colors and materials (like wood vs stone) cannot be measured.

The disciplines of economics, politics, sociology, and psychology are all based on the assumption that some forms of human behavior are more likely than others. Economics, for instance, assumes that there exists an innate predisposition in human beings to buy cheap and sell dear. It is from this predisposition that most of the laws of free market economics are founded, including the law of supply and demand. Imagine trying to run a business without being able to rely on the validity of the basic principles of economics!

Economics makes no such assumption. For example, it could be a cultural predisposition rather than an innate one. Economics has nothing to say about that. (The possibility of cultural tendencies never seems to occur to GN who attributes everything to immutable genetic human nature.)

Partial Agreement

There were some parts where I agreed with some point ARCHN made. Examples include induction, contextual certainty and measurement omission. To be clear, I did not agree with everything ARCHN said about these topics, just the main point.

However, in these cases and all others, I already knew it before I read ARCHN. I thought of the issues myself while studying Objectivism. ARCHN never provided any valuable criticism of Objectivism that I didn't already know.

To go over these topics briefly, with regard to induction I think Karl Popper is correct. For contextual certainty, it isn't really certainty since it's fallible. With regard to measurement omission, the inductive premises are mistaken and it's specific details that get omitted, not necessarily measurements (nor quantifiable).


For Objectivists, the term reason is a sort of mystical entity whose purpose is to assure them that they are right. As Nathaniel Branden, formerly Rand’s closest associate, once admitted: “Reason was a word we used a great deal. It was a code word, or shorthand, that stood for ... the entire Objectivist philosophy.”

Quoting an opponent of Objectivism attacking Objectivism isn't much of an argument.

Just because GN and Branden don't understand what reason is does not mean Objectivism has no answer.

The way I understand it (and I'm not claiming this is official Objectivism), people already knew what reason was before Objectivism. Objectivism did not invent the concept. What you should do is take the pre-existing understanding of reason and then modify it when Objectivism adds something, clarifies something, changes something, etc... In that way you will arrive at a better, more Objectivist understanding of reason. Objectivism didn't have to give reason a new meaning from scratch.

Further, I think I have an even better answer, which is more Popperian than Objectivist, but which I think is compatible with Objectivism. The point is you can take your best understanding of what reason is and read Rand and improve it a bit and everything works fine. There's no big problem here. And you can even innovate on the topic, come up with a new refined understanding of reason, read Rand, and it still works fine. (Though if your new ideas about reason are bad, then it won't work anymore.)

Here's my approach: Reason has to do with error correction. Rational processes (or approaches, or methods, etc) are ones which are capable of correcting errors (the better at it, the more rational). Irrational processes prevent or disallow error correction. Errors are inevitable, so being able to correct them is really important.

Like me, Atlas Shrugged also talks about fallibility and the importance of the means to correct errors:

"Do not say that you're afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automaton, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory.


While ideas, philosophy and morality are impotent, according to ARCHN, immorality is powerful:

Power and morality do not mix well. Those who wish to dominate their fellow human beings cannot afford to have too many moral scruples, because if they do, they will simply find themselves under the thumb of someone less scrupulous than themselves.

So, OK, I get it: ARCHN's worldview is opposite to Objectivism. Objectivism thinks morality is practical. ARCHN thinks immorality is practical, effective and powerful. Objectivism argues its case on this matter extensively. ARCHN asserts a contrary position and appeals to the authority of its own interpretation of historical facts and their implications. But why would any of this change my mind? Where are the criticisms of Objectivism that could persuade someone who doesn't already dislike Objectivism?

A politician who is neither corrupt and dishonest nor bloody and cruel would be at a severe disadvantage against any rival who excelled in these vices.

This stuff just ignores what Objectivism has to say about the issue. Not only does it fail to understand or refute Objectivism's position, it's already been refuted by Objectivist argument before it was written.

It's not so much that GN disagrees that morality is practical, but more that the concept is so foreign to him he didn't realize what Rand was saying. He's not aware that Objectivism thinks immoral behavior has no advantages to offer, nor why.

Now let us suppose that Peter is adept at using force but not so adept at using his wits, while Paul is adept at using his wits but not so adept at using force. Given these parameters, it is impossible that the interests of these individuals should not in some respects conflict. It is in Peter’s interest to live in a society that rewards individuals adept at using force, while it is in Paul’s interest to live in a society that rewards individuals adept at using their wits. Peter would be better off living under a military oligarchy eager to make use of his talents, while Paul would be better off living under a system of democratic capitalism where he would be free to prosper by the use of his wits.

GN is not aware that Rand already addressed this in Atlas Shrugged:

"One of these centuries," said Danneskjold, turning to them for a moment, "the brutes, private or public, who believe that they can rule their betters by force, will learn the lesson of what happens when brute force encounters mind and force."

Skill with wits and skill with force are not independent. GN ignorantly assumes they are in his argument. He could have learned otherwise by studying Objectivism better.

Rather than refute the Objectivist position, GN has only revealed that he doesn't understand it.

There is no evidence to suggest that only men of lesser ability run to the government for help. Historically, almost all the major industrialists and businessmen, regardless of their entrepreneurial expertise, tried to get the government to help them in some way or another. It is simply good business to do so. The astute businessman uses every means possible to make an extra buck. He will try to profit both from his entrepreneurial genius and from his skill at manipulating government officials.

ARCHN takes pleasure in claiming that everyone is bad. One place this leads is, "If your conception of man’s greatness is unrealistic, no man will ever be able to live up to it." ARCHN thinks no one can be great and objects to Objectivism promoting heroism and greatness.

This quote also illustrates the theme of ARCHN considering evidence an authority and typically argues from authority. And it illustrates the theme of not understanding the Objectivist position on a topic and arguing about that topic anyway. GN does not address or refute the Objectivist view on why it is actually bad business to seek government favors; he seems unaware of it.


I agree with Karl Popper on this issue [induction]

GN claims to agree with Popper's epistemology. He has not understood Popper and actually disagrees with Popper. Consider: how well you would expect him to understand his philosophical opponents, if he doesn't even understand his claimed philosophical allies?

Knowledge concerning how to achieve practical ends comes, not from abstruse philosophical principles, but from day-to-day experience.

This position is incompatible with both Objectivism and Popper. What epistemology is it compatible with? Popper says we learn from conjectures and refutations, not experience.

Hardly anyone ever learns how to earn a living or take care of a household or raise a family from reading Plato or Kant. They learn how to do such things through imitation and practice.

This inductivist approach is incompatible with the claim that GN accepts Popper's rejection of induction. It's also incompatible with Objectivism. Why does GN believe this? He doesn't say. He said he was a Popperian but he's not. What is he?

Popper’s theory of knowledge is based on the idea that the only time we can be certain about a theory is when we have discovered evidence refuting it.

No, Popper's epistemology rejects certainty. GN is ignorant and incompetent not only about Objectivism but also about Popper. As Popper explains in LScD and elsewhere, refuting evidence is itself fallible. Further, Popper's theory of knowledge is not "based" on anything: it rejects foundations and bases.

Innate Ideas

ARCHN makes a big deal out of the innate ideas topic. It's chapter one. It is a major point of disagreement.

According to my theory of human nature, the individual’s conduct proceeds, not from some abstract principle that has been imposed, arbitrarily, on his psyche, but from his inner character. This is precisely where Rand’s wrongheaded theory of human nature gets some of her more scrupulously literal followers into trouble. Rand’s conviction that man creates his character from the basic premises of his mind encourages her followers to believe that what is important is not who they are but what they can become. However, any attempt to assume a type of character that is not in accordance with the individual’s real, congenital character can only lead to emotional repression, neurosis, and misery. If the individual wants to achieve his highest potential, he must, as Nietzsche once put it, become what he is. But in order to do this, he must first determine the true character of his inner nature and then discover the best way of realizing this true character in a world that demands compromise at every turn.

By denying the existence of this fixed, rooted, congenital inner nature, Objectivism discourages individuals from coming to any kind of understanding of their fundamental character. It is in this sense that Objectivism winds up opposing, unwittingly perhaps, the Socratic dictum, nosce te ipsum, know thyself, which forms the very kernel of philosophical wisdom.
philosophical beliefs rarely play a very large role in determining the practical behavior of the individual

ARCHN is saying: you are bad and you can't change. Accept it. Give up, compromise, sacrifice, give in, bend, break.

This dismal view of life is not a criticism of Objectivism. Ayn Rand didn't fail to take GN's position on this matter by mistake. She rejected his sort of thinking on purpose, and said why.

Also he's wrong about Socrates' position. Socrates actually agrees with me, Rand and Popper here. Popper (who GN claims to be familiar with) explains it in The Open Society and Its Enemies (vol 1, ch 7, part IV):

It is important to see that this Socratic intellectualism is decidedly equalitarian. Socrates believed that everyone can be taught; in the Meno, we see him teaching a young slave a version of the now so-called theorem of Pythagoras, in an attempt to prove that any uneducated slave has the capacity to grasp even abstract matters.

Back to ARCHN:

But if becoming a great man depends solely on choosing “honest and correct” convictions, then why aren’t there more great men? If all men can create their own characters, why do so few men choose to be great?

Because they don't know how, and people like GN trick them with bad ideas. Or maybe they are dishonest and evade. Or maybe they think immorality is practical, like GN thinks. There are many, many ways to be mistaken.

Anyway, what GN doesn't understand here is the difference between choosing what to do at each step and choosing where you end up. You don't get to just choose your conclusion directly.

1. Do innate predispositions exist? Rand rejected the existence not only of innate emotional predispositions, but of innate behavioral and cognitive propensities as well. “Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism,” she wrote; “but, at birth, both are ‘tabula rasa.’” (1964b, 30)

Does Rand present any evidence for this view? No, she does not. You can go through all of her writings without finding so much as a shred of scientifically validated evidence supporting her contention that innate predispositions do not exist. There is a very good reason for this: no such evidence exists. The scientific evidence for innate, genetic determination of human behavior is enormous. As scientist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson has noted: “The question of interest is no longer whether human social behavior is genetically determined; it is to what extent. The accumulated evidence for a large hereditary component is more detailed and compelling than most persons, including even geneticists, realize. I will go further: it already is decisive.” (1978, 19)

Note the method of demanding "evidence", not researching what evidence agrees with Objectivism, and then making an appeal to authority as his own "evidence".

GN does not provide any arguments for his position here. Rather, he provides a quote of a supposed authority asserting the conclusion GN wants. He continues with quotes of others. He cherry picks arguments from supposed authorities which are on his side, never quotes anything that disagrees with him, and pretends he's won. I'll give one example:

Studies of identical twins provide further evidence that genetics influence human behavior. Such studies reveal a genetic component in a variety of traits affecting the emotional and cognitive development of human beings, including number ability, word fluency, memory, the rate of language acquisition, spelling, grammar, perceptual skills, psycho-motor skills, and extroversion-introversion. Even when the influence of environment has been factored in, identical twins nevertheless demonstrate a greater similarity in general abilities, personal traits, ideals, goals, and vocational interests then would be expected if genetic determination played no role whatsoever. (Wilson, 1978, 45-46; Pinker, 1997, 20-21)

And how was the influence of environment factored in? (I've read a number of studies along these lines, and the answer is it never really is.) GN doesn't worry about whether the people he's quoting are correct. He doesn't learn about the issue and give persuasive arguments. He just quotes whatever he likes as an appeal to authority.

I can cite authorities too, by the way. For example, why hasn't GN read Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ and answered it? Why hasn't he read and answered Genetics and Reductionism by Sahotra Sarkar? (I didn't just google these now. I read them years ago. I think they are important.) But we won't get anywhere if we just throw authorities at each other. We'll have to think through the topic to learn much.

Now considering the fact that no reputable psychologist believes that emotions are solely the product of our ideas, you would think that Rand would have been eager to back her theory with empirical data.

Another appeal to authority. GN asserts that all authorities in the field disagree with Rand, and he thinks that is impressive. All it really shows is that he's irrational; he doesn't think for himself.


ARCHN talks about lying. It is confused and doesn't understand the Objectivist view.

ARCHN talks about conflicts of interest. It doesn't understand the Objectivist view.

ARCHN attacks Objectivist arguments about abortion. It says they are bad arguments. ARCHN unaware of the argument that a fetus has no mind.

ARCHN attacks what sounds to me like a brief philosopher's history, because GN expected a detailed literal history like a historian would write. This is GN's fault for not understanding what type of thing he was reading. What is a philosopher's history? I mean this like a physicist's history. Richard Feynman wrote in QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter:

what I have just outlined is what I call a "physicist's history of physics," which is never correct. What I am telling you is a sort of conventionalized myth-story

This is a good thing. The point is to focus on essentials and not worry too much about unimportant details. Tell the main story, get the important ideas across, and suggest enough about the factual history that someone who is interested could figure out the rest with study.

ARCHN attacks James Jerome Hill. Why? Because he's a great man and ARCHN wants to show that there are no great men.

ARCHN is confused by the Objectivist view on the unreality and unimportance of suffering. It doesn't criticize it; it's just confused about what it even is.

ARCHN also doesn't understand what the benevolent universe premise is.

ARCHN does not understand or refute the Objectivist view on compromise.

ARCHN incorrectly presents some ideas as unique to Objectivism and rejected by everyone else. I noticed especially because several of them were ideas I already believed before I knew about Objectivism.


The book was interesting to me because it helped me learn about ways Objectivism is misunderstood and attacked. I would not recommend reading it unless you have "the endurance of an elephant and the patience of a martyr" and already know what I'm quoting.

ARCHN and GN are immoral. They are evaders. They are dishonest haters of Objectivism. Beware.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

Objectivist and Popperian Epistemology

Ayn Rand has the best moral philosophy ever invented. Karl Popper has the most important breakthrough in epistemology. Most Objectivists seem to think that Popper and Rand are incompatible, and Popper is an enemy of reason. They have not understood him. These lists are intended to help explain my motivation for integrating Rand and Popper, and also help to highlight many similarities they already have.

Points Popperian epistemology and Objectivist epistemology have in common:

(In Popperian epistemology I include additions and improvements by David Deutsch and myself.)

  • opposition to subjectivism and relativism
  • fallibilism
  • says that objective knowledge is attainable (in practice by fallible humans)
  • realism: says reality is objective
  • connected to reality: we have to observe reality, keep our ideas connected to reality
  • asserts there is objective truth
  • attention to context ("problem situation" or sometimes "problem" is the common Popperian term meaning context. E.g. a Popperian will ask "What is the problem this is addressing?" and be asking about context.)
  • pro-science
  • opposition to positivism
  • opposition to the language analysis school of philosophy
  • say that most professional philosophers are rather crap
  • opposition to both skeptical and authoritarian schools of epistemology
  • keeps our concepts "open-end[ed]" (ITOE). That means: possible to improve in the future as we learn more.
  • says that there are objective moral truths
  • does not seek a "frozen, arrested state of knowledge" (ITOE)
  • written clearly and understandably, unlike much philosophy
  • says epistemology is useful and valuable to real people; it matters to life; it's practical
  • you can't force an idea on someone. they can choose to accept it or not
  • you can't implant an idea in someone. you can't pour it in, stick it in with surgery, make them absorb it, etc. they get to think, interpret, choose.
  • free will
  • people are not born with some unchangeable nature and innate ideas. we can be self-made men. we can learn, change, improve, progress
  • emphasis on active use of one's mind, active learning
  • no inherent conflicts due to objective truth
  • understanding of unconscious and inexplicit ideas
  • if two ideas contradict, at least one is false
  • integration of epistemology with morality, politics, and more
  • rejection of authority
  • full rejection of idealism, solipsism
  • strong emphasis on clarity
  • rejection of limits on human minds
  • reject probabilistic approaches to epistemology
  • looks at man as rational and capable
  • value of critical thinking including self-criticism

Strengths of Objectivist epistemology:

  • stolen concept
  • package deal
  • check your premises
  • ideas about integrating all one's knowledge and removing all contradictions
  • measurement omission and concept formation ideas both worthwhile, though flawed
  • good criticisms of many opponents of reason
  • good understanding of essentials vs non-essentials, e.g. for definitions
  • idea about automating some thinking
  • good explanation of what objectivity is
  • Judge, and be prepared to be judged

Strengths of Popperian epistemology:

  • evolution creates knowledge
  • conjectures and refutations method
  • piecemeal, incremental method. value of every little improvement
  • identification of, and solution to, justificationism
  • addresses induction
  • conjectural, fallible, objective knowledge
  • idea that we progress from misconception to better misconception
  • myth of the framework
  • value of culture clash
  • emphasis on bold highly-criticizable claims, sticking your neck out to learn more
  • no shame in mistakes
  • value of criticism. criticism is a gift
  • understanding of rationality as being about error correction
  • unimportance of starting points. you can start anywhere, improve from there
  • criticism of definitions
  • criticism of foundations, bases
  • criticism of essentialism
  • criticism of manifest truth (and self-evidence, obviousness, etc)
  • static and dynamic memes
  • structural epistemology
  • coercion and common preferences
  • understanding of conflict and symmetry
  • applications to parenting, education, relationships
  • understanding of tradition
  • explanation of value of external criticism (if everyone has some blind spots, but some people have different blind spots then each other, then it's productive to share criticism with each other. a little like comparative advantage)
  • emphasis on critical method, criticism (ideas stand unless refuted)
  • let our ideas die in our stead

Want details and elaboration about any of the topics? Please ask. You can ask in comments or at the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (18)

Epistemology Without Weights and the Mistake Objectivism and Critical Rationalism Both Made

Objectivists accuse Popperians of being skeptics. Popperians accuse Objectivists of being infallibilists. Actually, both philosophies are valuable and largely compatible. I present here some integrating ideas and then a mistake that both philosophies made.

Knowledge is certain, absolute, contextual, conclusive and progressive. The standard of knowledge is conclusiveness not infallibility, perfection or omniscience.

Certain means we should act on it instead of hesitating. We should follow its implications and use it, rather than sitting around doubting, wondering, scared it might be wrong. Certain also means that it is knowledge, as opposed to non-knowledge; it denies skepticism.

Absolute means no contradictions, compromises or exceptions are allowed.

Contextual means that knowledge must be considered in context. A good idea in one context may not be a good idea when transplanted into another context. No knowledge could hold up against arbitrary context switches and context dropping.

Further, knowledge is problem oriented. Knowledge needs some problem(s) or question(s) for context, which it addresses or solves. Knowledge has to be knowledge about something, with some purpose. This implies: if you have an answer to a question, and then in the future you learn more, the old answer still answers the old question. It's still knowledge in its original, intended context.

Consider blood types. People wanted to know which blood transfusions were safe (among other questions) and they created some knowledge of A, B, AB and O blood types. Later they found out more. Actually there is A+, A-, B+, B-, AB+, AB-, O+ and O-. It was proper to act on the earlier knowledge in its context. It would not be proper to act on it today; now we know that some B type blood is incompatible with some other B type blood. Today's superior knowledge of blood types is also contextual. Maybe there will be a new medical breakthrough next year. But it's still knowledge in today's context, and it's proper to act on it.

One thing to learn here is that a false idea can be knowledge. The idea that all B type blood is compatible is contextual knowledge. It was always false, as a matter of fact, and the mistake got some people killed. Yet it was still knowledge. How can that be?

Perfection is not the standard of knowledge. And not all false ideas are equally good. What matters is the early idea about blood types had value, it had useful information, it helped make many correct decisions, and no better idea was available at the time. That value never goes away even when we learn about a mistake. That original value is still knowledge, considered contextually, even though the idea as a whole is now known to be false.

Conclusive means the current context only allows for one rational conclusion. This conclusion is not infallible, but it's the only reasonable option available. All the alternative ideas have known flaws; they are refuted. There's only one idea left which is not refuted, which could be true, is true as far as we know (no known flaws), and which we should therefore accept. And that is knowledge.

None of this contradicts the progressive character of knowledge. Our knowledge is not frozen and final. We can learn more and better – without limit. We can keep identifying and correcting errors in our ideas and thereby achieve better and better knowledge. (One way knowledge can be better is that it is correct in more contexts and successfully addresses more problems and questions.)

The Mistake

Peikoff says that certainty (meaning conclusive knowledge) is when you get to the point that nothing else is possible. He means that, in the current context, there are no other options. There's just one option, and we should accept it. All the other ideas have something wrong with them, they can't be accepted. This is fine.

Peikoff also says that before you have certainty you have a different situation where there are multiple competing ideas. Fine. And that's not certainty, that's not conclusive knowledge, it's a precursor stage where you're considering the ideas. Fine.

But then Peikoff makes what I think is an important mistake. He says that if you don't have knowledge or certainty, you can still judge by the weight of the evidence. This is a standard view held by many non-Objectivists too. I think this is too compromising. I think the choices are knowledge or irrationality. We need knowledge; nothing less will suffice.

The weight of the evidence is no good. Either you have knowledge or you don't. If it's not knowledge, it's not worth anything. You need to come up with a good idea – no compromises, no contradictions, no known problems – and use that. If you can't or won't do that, all you have left is the irrationality of acting on and believing arbitrary non-knowledge.

I think we can always act on knowledge without contradictions. Knowledge is always possible to man. Not all knowledge instantly, but enough knowledge to act, in time to act. We may not know everything – but we don't need to. We can always know enough to continue life rationally. Living and acting by reason and knowledge is always possible.

(How can we always do this? That will be the subject of another essay. I'm not including any summary or hints because I think it's too confusing and misleading without a full explanation. Edit: here is the follow up essay.)

Knowledge doesn't allow contradictions. Suppose you're considering two ideas that contradict each other. And you don't have a conclusive answer, you don't have knowledge of which is right. Then using or believing either one is irrational. No "weight of the evidence" or anything else can change this.

Don't pick a side when you know there is a contradiction but have not rationally resolved it. Resolve it; create knowledge; learn; think; figure it out. Neither idea being considered is good enough to address the contradiction or refute the other idea – so you know they are both flawed. Don't hope or pray that acting on a known-to-be-flawed idea will work out anyway. Irrationality doesn't work.

That's not good enough. If you discover a contradiction, you should resolve it rationally. If you fail at that – fail at the use of reason – then that's bad, that's a disaster, that's not OK.

Karl Popper made the same mistake in a different form. He said that we critically analyze competing ideas and the one that best survives criticism should be acted on. Again this is too compromising. Either exactly one idea survives criticism, or else there is still a contradiction. "Best survives criticism", and "weight of the evidence", are irrational ways of arbitrarily elevating one flawed idea over another, instead of using reason to come up with a correct idea.

(For some further discussion about weighing ideas, see also the choices chapter of The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

No One Else Discusses Ayn Rand

This is expanded from a letter I wrote to Per-Olof Samuelsson.

I already knew that quality discussion of Objectivism is virtually impossible to come by. It occurred to me that I've never heard a single word about one of Rand's very best quotes, anywhere, ever, besides by me and my friends who I've quoted it to. I did some Google searches and found a sad situation.

In short, no one really cares about discussing Ayn Rand's ideas in English, online, in public, besides me. (If you're interested, join my discussion group.)

The Return of the Primitive, The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy”:
Who can take any values seriously if he is offered, for moral inspiration, a choice between two images of youth: an unshaved, barefooted Harvard graduate, throwing bottles and bombs at policemen—or a prim, sun-helmeted, frustrated little autocrat of the Peace Corps, spoon-feeding babies in a jungle clinic?

No, these are not representative of America’s youth—they are, in fact, a very small minority with a very loud group of unpaid p.r. [agents] on university faculties and among the press—but where are its representatives? Where are America’s young fighters for ideas, the rebels against conformity to the gutter—the young men of “inexplicable personal alchemy,” the independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth?

With very rare exceptions, they are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed. Consciously or subconsciously, philosophically and psychologically, it is against them that the cult of irrationality—i.e., our entire academic and cultural Establishment—is directed.

They perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

So will the young Russian rebels perish spiritually—if they survive their jail terms physically. How long can a man preserve his sacred fire if he knows that jail is the reward for loyalty to reason? No longer than he can preserve it if he is taught that that loyalty is irrelevant—as he is taught both in the East and in the West. There are exceptions who will hold out, no matter what the circumstances. But these are exceptions that mankind has no right to expect.
i did several searches with pieces of the paragraph about building sanctuaries. they turn up around 5 results, which are are google books and copyright violation, my own discussion group, and one quote site has part of it with no discussion.

The Virtue of Selfishness, Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?:
The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.
this one initially appears to have around 100 google results, but there turn out to be only around 19 if you try to go through them all (google’s hit count estimates are often bad – in another case 272 turned out to be 16). most of those are just bad sites with the full text of the essay or book, and there’s also google books, dead links, and me. there is one single link with discussion, a forum post with essay full text and then one short paragraph of poor quality discussion. it received zero replies.

Philosophy: Who Needs It, An Untitled Letter:
Like any overt school of mysticism, a movement seeking to achieve a vicious goal has to invoke the higher mysteries of an incomprehensible authority. An unread and unreadable book serves this purpose. It does not count on men’s intelligence, but on their weaknesses, pretensions and fears. It is not a tool of enlightenment, but of intellectual intimidation. It is not aimed at the reader’s understanding, but at his inferiority complex.

An intelligent man will reject such a book [like Rawl's A Theory of Justice or Kant's Critique of Pure Reason] with contemptuous indignation, refusing to waste his time on untangling what he perceives to be gibberish—which is part of the book’s technique: the man able to refute its arguments will not (unless he has the endurance of an elephant and the patience of a martyr). A young man of average intelligence—particularly a student of philosophy or of political science—under a barrage of authoritative pronouncements acclaiming the book as “scholarly,” “significant,” “profound,” will take the blame for his failure to understand. More often than not, he will assume that the book’s theory has been scientifically proved and that he alone is unable to grasp it; anxious, above all, to hide his inability, he will profess agreement, and the less his understanding, the louder his agreement—while the rest of the class are going through the same mental process. Most of them will accept the book’s doctrine, reluctantly and uneasily, and lose their intellectual integrity, condemning themselves to a chronic fog of approximation, uncertainty, self doubt. Some will give up the intellect (particularly philosophy) and turn belligerently into “pragmatic,” anti-intellectual Babbitts. A few will see through the game and scramble eagerly for the driver’s seat on the bandwagon, grasping the possibilities of a road to the mentally unearned.
This one has one good mention, which has joke replies about sexual endurance and elephants being inferior to humans. (Plus, interestingly, this quote has two non-English pages which have the quote itself in English, one of which appears to have some discussion).

so there you have it. no one else discusses some of the very best of Ayn Rand’s ideas (in english, in public, online). i think this is extremely sad and messed up. i knew decent Objectivism discussion was hard to come by, but these search results are amazing. there’s approximately nothing out there.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Ayn Rand Quotes Discussion

The Return of the Primitive, The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy”:
Who can take any values seriously if he is offered, for moral inspiration, a choice between two images of youth: an unshaved, barefooted Harvard graduate, throwing bottles and bombs at policemen—or a prim, sun-helmeted, frustrated little autocrat of the Peace Corps, spoon-feeding babies in a jungle clinic?

No, these are not representative of America’s youth—they are, in fact, a very small minority with a very loud group of unpaid p.r. [agents] on university faculties and among the press—but where are its representatives? Where are America’s young fighters for ideas, the rebels against conformity to the gutter—the young men of “inexplicable personal alchemy,” the independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth?

With very rare exceptions, they are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed. Consciously or subconsciously, philosophically and psychologically, it is against them that the cult of irrationality—i.e., our entire academic and cultural Establishment—is directed.

They perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

So will the young Russian rebels perish spiritually—if they survive their jail terms physically. How long can a man preserve his sacred fire if he knows that jail is the reward for loyalty to reason? No longer than he can preserve it if he is taught that that loyalty is irrelevant—as he is taught both in the East and in the West. There are exceptions who will hold out, no matter what the circumstances. But these are exceptions that mankind has no right to expect.
This is about Western culture (it's 45 years old, but still applies). Few people care about truth and reason. There are some loud people who claim to be free thinkers, but actually conform to gutter standards.

The people who care about ideas are discouraged because, wherever they look, it's hard to find anyone else who does. So they are isolated, and surrounded by a culture of irrationality. It wears them down and beats them up, and eventually they lose some of their confident eagerness, and start to see the evil in the world, and find it confusing and awful, and eventually they give up, alone. That's the standard story that happens to most of the best of the human species.

And (almost) no one cares. These bright young minds are not an object of sympathy and charity. Far more help goes to trees and ducks than to men with intellectual integrity. Isn't that awful?

Ayn Rand tried to help these people. I try, too. I pursue ideas publicly and offer the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group. There, people can experience rational discussion in an atmosphere that puts truth before conformity. They can see that some people take ideas seriously, and are eager for criticism and bold thinking. That can be part of their life. And they can learn about and ask questions about philosophy, liberalism, and any other topics.

A few men can hold purely to reason without help, alone, in a world that punishes them for it. But we must not rely on heroes like that for the future of humanity. We should lead the way and offer some better voices into the public discussion. There are people out there to hear reason, and appreciate it, and they could really use the help.

The Virtue of Selfishness, Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?:
The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.
If you aren't taking reason seriously NOW, when will you? How will waiting help? When will things be easier? Never. If you can't stick to principles now, spending a year compromising them won't help. If purity is tough now, how much harder will it be after you spend more time learning to live in a less pure way?

Lowering your standards temporarily is not how you get high standards. Your standards are never going to go back up. You'll get used to living with lower standards. You'll do more things which violate the higher standards. So, later, the higher standards will be more inaccessible than they were before.

Taking life seriously, and really insisting on the best right now, is the only way to live. Pursuing the truth with no boundaries is completely urgent. Do it now, or you never will.

Philosophy: Who Needs It, An Untitled Letter:
Like any overt school of mysticism, a movement seeking to achieve a vicious goal has to invoke the higher mysteries of an incomprehensible authority. An unread and unreadable book serves this purpose. It does not count on men’s intelligence, but on their weaknesses, pretensions and fears. It is not a tool of enlightenment, but of intellectual intimidation. It is not aimed at the reader’s understanding, but at his inferiority complex.

An intelligent man will reject such a book [like Rawl's A Theory of Justice or Kant's Critique of Pure Reason] with contemptuous indignation, refusing to waste his time on untangling what he perceives to be gibberish—which is part of the book’s technique: the man able to refute its arguments will not (unless he has the endurance of an elephant and the patience of a martyr). A young man of average intelligence—particularly a student of philosophy or of political science—under a barrage of authoritative pronouncements acclaiming the book as “scholarly,” “significant,” “profound,” will take the blame for his failure to understand. More often than not, he will assume that the book’s theory has been scientifically proved and that he alone is unable to grasp it; anxious, above all, to hide his inability, he will profess agreement, and the less his understanding, the louder his agreement—while the rest of the class are going through the same mental process. Most of them will accept the book’s doctrine, reluctantly and uneasily, and lose their intellectual integrity, condemning themselves to a chronic fog of approximation, uncertainty, self doubt. Some will give up the intellect (particularly philosophy) and turn belligerently into “pragmatic,” anti-intellectual Babbitts. A few will see through the game and scramble eagerly for the driver’s seat on the bandwagon, grasping the possibilities of a road to the mentally unearned.
It's so hard to stand up to authority after an entire childhood being bullied by your parents and teachers, and taught to obey authority, and punished for disobedience.

Every "Because I said so" from a parent teaches the child to do things because the government said so, too. Or to believe things because Kant or Rawls said so.

Parents are so shortsighted. They are in a position of temporary power over their kid. To make the most of it, they demand universal obedience to authority from their kid. He ends up obeying many other authorities too, some of which they parents don't even like. And once the kid can read books and get access to ideas his parents don't control, he may well find some greater authority than his parents, so they begin losing control.

One of the saddest things is I have refuted a lot of awful ideas, carefully in writing which is publicly available. And what are the results? Hardly anyone wants it. I don't have Kant's authority. They go by authority, not understanding. So it doesn't matter if my arguments are better than Kant, they aren't thinking through the ideas. If it was effective, I'd be happy to untangle more gibberish. I still do it sometimes, but a man has to have some merit to seek out and benefit from the untangling. And it's hard to find many people with merit. Their parents and teachers attack their minds, and their culture tells them that's life and offers rolemodels who no man of intellectual integrity could seek to emulate.

Most of academia is like Rand describes, but on a smaller scale. Not many read it, but fewer will stand up to it. Most of it isn't as confusing as Kant's writing, but it's still awful and littered with gross errors. And when you try to tell people not to believe some "scientific" conclusion which they read second hand in a magazine, because the actual paper is crap, they don't want to think through the issues themselves and they don't want to take your word for it, they just want to accept the authority of academia and magazine writers.

See also my searches for other people discussing this stuff online. In summary, no one else cares.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)