Banned from Ayn Rand Facebook Group

There is a Facebook group about Ayn Rand with 7000 members. I just got banned (I saw this coming and it wasn't valuable anyway). I was trying to post about how Reason is Urgent; Now or Never, which has four Ayn Rand quotes and discusses Objectivist ideas like how big a problem contradictions are, which the moderator deleted, twice. You can see what happened next in the screenshots below (comments are unmoderated).

Michael Brown is very irrational. It's interesting that he controls what might be the largest Objectivist group in the world. I suspect the way he accomplished it was by filling it up with thousands of non-Objectivists (a little like Wynand's large readership):

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

John Galt Should Not Have Been A Track Laborer

It would have been better if John Galt didn't take a job as a track laborer.

I respect the principle not to spend wealth from Galt's Gulch outside the valley. Don't create value there then bring it back to the regular world to aid non-members.

But Galt had better things to do with his time, like work in his lab, and I see a simple solution. Francisco could have simply given Galt a million dollars. Galt could pay him back in some way in the Gulch, or not, I don't think it matters too much. Francisco already had plenty of outside world money and wouldn't be harmed by giving some to Galt (he was in the process of destroying his outside wealth anyway).

Consider the effect on the outside world. In the one case, Galt does some minimally productive work, then spends money on food. In the other case, Galt doesn't do that work, then spends money on food. In both cases, the grocery store gets some dollar bills for their food, and Galt eats the same thing. In one case, an outside world company gets some extra help, though not of a kind or amount that made any fundamental difference.

If Galt just wanted to observe Dagny and chat with Eddie, he could have found another way to visit that was less time consuming than a full time job.

I don't see how Galt doing track laborer work was a good idea. I think it was a real shame he didn't spend most of that time doing physics, reading, thinking about how to recruit Rearden, etc, rather than doing manual labor. And I think the manual labor was unnecessary.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (36)

Benevolent Universe

The Early Ayn Rand, in a story preface by Peikoff:
“Good Copy” reminds us of another crucial aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: her view that suffering is an exception, not the rule of life. The rule, she held, should not be pain or even heroic endurance, but gaiety and lighthearted joy in living. It is on this premise that “Good Copy” was written.

... Their objection was not to the story’s flaws but to its essential spirit. “It is so unserious,” the criticism went. “It doesn’t deal with big issues like your novels; it has no profound passions, no immortal struggles, no philosophic meaning.”

Miss Rand replied, in effect: “It deals with only one ‘big issue,’ the biggest of all: can man live on earth or not?”

She went on to explain that malevolence—the feeling that man by nature is doomed to suffering and defeat—is all-pervasive in our era; that even those who claim to reject such a viewpoint tend to feel, today, that the pursuit of values must be a painful, teeth-clenched crusade, a holy but grim struggle against evil. This attitude, she said, ascribes far too much power to evil. Evil, she held, is essentially impotent (see Atlas Shrugged); the universe is not set against man, but is “benevolent.” This means that man’s values (if based on reason) are achievable here and in this life; and therefore happiness is not to be regarded as a freak accident, but, metaphysically, as the normal, the natural, the to-be-expected.

Philosophically, in short, the deepest essence of man’s life is not grave, crisis-ridden solemnity, but lighthearted cheerfulness.
This particularly stood out to me:
even those who claim to reject such a viewpoint [malevolent universe] tend to feel, today, that the pursuit of values must be a painful, teeth-clenched crusade, a holy but grim struggle against evil.
lots of people are scared of embracing FI/reason/etc, they think of it like a holy but painful struggle. that's so very wrong. there's nothing to be afraid of. values do have a chance in this world. try for it.

reminds me of The Virtue of Selfishness, "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?":
And then, on some gray, middle-aged morning, such a man realizes suddenly that he has betrayed all the values he had loved in his distant spring, and wonders how it happened, and slams his mind shut to the answer, by telling himself hastily that the fear he had felt in his worst, most shameful moments was right and that values have no chance in this world. [my emphasis]
values do have a chance. and like the tramp who steals a ride on Dagny's train says in Atlas Shrugged, make a try for it:
I think that it's a sin to sit down and let your life go, without making a try for it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (10)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (146)

Measurement Omission Disagreement

I consider measurement omission a narrow aspect of a broader issue. Objectivism, on the other hand, presents measurement omission as a huge, broad principle. There's a disagreement there.

When looking at stuff, we always must choose which attributes to pay attention to, because there are infinitely many attributes which are possible to look at. (This idea partly comes from Karl Popper.) We have to find ways to omit or condense some stuff or we'll have too much information to handle. Like Peikoff's principle of the crow, we can only deal with so much at once. So we use techniques like integrating, condensing, omitting, and providing references (like footnotes and links).

Regarding infinite attributes, let's look at a table. A table has infinitely many attributes you can define and could pay attention to. Most of them are dumb and irrelevant. Examples: the number of specks of dust on the table, the number of specks of dust with weight in a certain range, the number of specs of dust with color in a certain range. And just by varying the start and end of those ranges, you can get infinitely many attributes you could measure.

The way we choose to pay attention to some attributes in life, and not others, is not especially about measurement. Some attributes aren't measurements. I think some attributes aren't quantifiable in principle. Some attributes may be quantifiable in the future, but we don't know how to quantify them today. For example, do you feel inspired when looking at a painting? We don't know how to measure inspiration or what units to quantify it in.

Deciding which attributes are relevant to what you're doing requires judgement. While many cases are pretty easy to judge, some cases are more borderline and tricky. How do you judge well? I'm not going to try to explain that right now, I just want to say I don't think omitting measurements answers it overall (the measurement omission stuff definitely does help with some cases).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Review of Hospers on Rand

Conversations With Ayn Rand, Part 1, by John Hospers

I recommend reading the entire article before my comments.

Hospers met and discussed with Ayn Rand many times. He's vague about the timeframe but he visited her every two weeks or so for "many months". I get the sense, from all the stories, that it may have lasted a couple years.

Hospers is an unreliable narrator. As he tells it, Rand has a severe anger problem while he's always perfectly calm. He claims that Rand would get angry and then be illogical and irrational for the rest of the night, and he blames 100% of the discussion difficulties on Rand. It's similar to some accounts of Karl Popper I've read. It's hard to tell what portion of the claims are true, but I do think part of the matter is people having trouble with strong, clear criticism. It's easy to misunderstand an unconventional person who's much smarter than you and highly critical.

Hospers doesn't say anything self-critical, but he does reveal some flaws by accident. He would hide lots of criticism and disagreements from his discussions with Ayn Rand rather than addressing the problems he was having (e.g. confronting her about her supposed temper and hearing her side of the story). And he gets lots of intellectual issues wrong throughout the article.

The article, while superficially presenting somewhat opposite themes, is a testament to the extreme tolerance and patience of Ayn Rand. Hospers was far inferior to her. She did so much to help him learn, starting from basics like the broken window fallacy, and he had trouble grasping principles. He'd get one issue wrong, and she'd explain it, and then he'd get another similar issue wrong. And he was always wanting to make exceptions to principles, showing he never really understood them.

I'm being literal about the broken window fallacy, btw. But you may have missed it:

At Ayn's suggestion I bought a copy of Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson and it transformed my entire thinking about economics

The theme of that book is explaining the broken window fallacy. Reading about broken windows "transformed [Hospers'] entire thinking about economics".

Rand also taught him about Mises, not initiating force, not violating rights, etc

And then what would he do? Time after time he came up with justifications for government force, each of which was wrong in the same way as the previous one. first he wants government force for orphans, then for roads, then against racism, then in Peru. he kept failing at conceptual thinking.

Hospers is the sort of philosopher who likes artificial puzzles. one is you're driving and your car will hit either your dog or a stranger. which do you choose? he thought you'd save your dog. he found Rand's answer kinda unclear. I think it's very easy. If you kill the person on purpose, to avoid property damage, you are a murderer.

and he likes word games. he doesn't know what "force" or "voluntary" means. he has common sense intuitions about it, which are vague and aren't integrated into his logical thinking. and he has definitions which are precise and logical but don't work. but he doesn't know how to handle words correctly. Popper could have helped him out a lot here – start with any halfway decent concept and then improve it as problems come up.

my favorite parts were:

1) the part about ideas ruling the world, which Popperians should appreciate:

"That's where you're wrong," she said. "You deal in ideas, and ideas rule the world." (I seldom quote Ayn directly, and do so only when I clearly remember exactly what she said.)

this is a great them of Objectivism. and i appreciate Hospers' attitude of only using quotes when he's confident.

2) Rand reminding us of the value of good people:

On another occasion I mentioned the inequality in the educational system, which did not confer as much time or money on children from the slums, or on those who could learn in time but could not keep up with the rest.

"And what about the geniuses?" she asked -- the ultra-bright children who could go ahead much faster, but were kept back by the mediocrities. One genius, a Newton or a Pasteur, could improve the lot of all humanity, but many of them, she thought, had been stifled by the educational system catering to the dull-witted.

about Newton and Pasteur, Roark made a similar point:

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.

and so did Rearden about Galt and his motor:

"Hank, do you know what that motor would have meant, if built?"

He chuckled briefly. "I'd say: about ten years added to the life of every person in this country

and about the genius kids:

Then Gail Wynand’s arm went up. The teacher nodded to him. He rose. “Why,” he asked, “should I swill everything down ten times? I know all that.” “You are not the only one in the class,” said the teacher.

And Rand made a similar point in one of my very favorite book quotes, in The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy” in The Return of the Primitive:

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.

3) the idea of looking at things from the perspective of the producers, not the needy:

She then told me again somewhat brusquely that I was looking at the issue from the wrong end. I was viewing it from the point of view of the needy; I should look at it instead from the point of view of the producers of wealth


anyway, Hospers is such a leftist on issue after issue. he consistently doesn't understand liberalism or Objectivism. and Rand kept inviting him over. it says a lot about the world that she, despite her fame, was unable to find better people to interact with. (yes she had some like Mises, but not enough to fill her schedule. Hospers made the cut.) That's really sad and worrying about the quality of thinkers to be found in the world. (it also speaks ill of libertarians that Hospers, who just fundamentally doesn't get liberalism, and is always wanting the government to violate liberty for this or that excuse, is considered a libertarian and is actually the first guy they ran for US president.)

part 2 is much less interesting. a lot of it is Hospers talking about his own (confused) philosophy. one notable part is he's so gullible that he was fooled by ESP (extra sensory perception) claims. and he was very surprised by Ayn Rand's opposition to ESP. previously he was surprised by her opposition to large-scale government confiscation and redistribution of land. he doesn't seem to have known much about her perspective. Hospers is also condescending to Rand in lots of places. Towards the end Hospers is shocked that Rand doesn't respect tenure, and doesn't understand her respect for children's privacy. this part was notable:

Not long after, New York University's philosopher Sidney Hook attacked her in print, and she wanted me to take him on as well. Knowing Sidney, I was disinclined to do this. He already knew about my acquaintance with Ayn, but we had never discussed it further (I hardly ever saw him). Should I now condemn him publicly and destroy a long-standing friendship? I knew that this friendship would be at an end if I condemned him.

what a coward with no intellectual integrity! he cares for maintaining friendships with villains over speaking the truth.

after that there's some nice stuff about Rand's views again. even though the narrator is distorting the hell out of her positions, some good stuff comes through about having standards for friends. why would you want to be friends with a very immoral person?

then they breakup because he dishonestly attacks her ideas, not b/c he thinks they are wrong, but b/c he thinks the social situation requires it. what a rotten bastard with no respect for the intellect this Hospers is! quote:

In general I agreed with it; but a commentator cannot simply say "That was a fine paper" and then sit down.

so he thought it was a fine paper, then said something else. he threw Rand under the bus, by speaking ill of her work, because he wasn't comfortably saying what he considered true. she didn't like it. and he blames her for being unreasonable and doesn't see his fault. (he says she got really angry but that could easily be a misinterpretation, it's hard to tell. and even if she did and that was an emotional mistake, she was still in the right on the substantive issues.)

he says he was friends with Rand for 2.5 years.

Hospers is chronically dishonest. it's so ingrained in his life that he actually shares it, throughout, by accident. he doesn't realize how he caused most of the problems with his immorality.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Presupposing Intelligence in Epistemology

I've been discussing with Objectivists. I learned something new:

Lots of their thinking about epistemology presupposes an intelligent consciousness and proceeds from there.

They don't say this clearly. They claim to have answers to epistemological problems about how learning works (with perception, concept formation and induction). They claim to start at the beginning and work everything out.

Traditional approaches to induction try to say how intelligence works. They claim they solved the problem of induction. But they aren't actually focusing on the traditional problem. They aren't very clear to themselves about what problem each idea is meant to answer, and don't consistently stick to addressing the same problem.

Their approach to concept formation presupposes intelligence. How do you know which concepts to form? How do you know which similarities and differences are important? How do you decide which of the many patterns in the world to pay attention to? Use common sense. Use intelligent judgement. Think about it. Use your mind. Consider what you value and which patterns are relevant to pursuing your values. Consider your interests and which patterns are relevant to your interests. And, anyway, why do you want a mindless, mechanical answer someone could use without thinking, anyway?

So induction requires concept formation which requires being intelligent. Their take on induction presupposes, rather than explains, intelligence. It's kinda like saying, "You learn by using your intelligence to learn. It handles the learning, somehow. Now here are some tips on how to use your intelligence more effectively..."

They don't realize what's going on but this is a dirty trick. Induction doesn't work. How do you fix it? Well, induction plus intelligent thought is adequate to get intelligent answers. The intelligent thought does all the work! Any gaps in your theory of learning can be filled in if you presuppose an intelligence that is able to learn somehow.

One of the big points of epistemology is to figure out how intelligence learns without presupposing it works somehow. Yes it does work somehow, but let's figure out the details of the somehow!

I say new knowledge is created by evolution. They don't address the problem of how new knowledge can be created. Intelligence can do that, somehow. They don't know how. They seem to think they know how. They say intelligence creates new knowledge using perception, concept formation and induction. But then when you ask about the details of concept formation and induction, they presuppose intelligence...

Note: I do not blame Ayn Rand for this. I don't know how much of this is her fault. As far as I know from studying her writing, she didn't do this herself in her published works.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Harry Binswanger Refuses To Think

Harry Binswanger banned me – an active-minded philosopher who studies and loves Ayn Rand – from his Objectivist discussion forum.

Binswanger is a well known Objectivist. He knew Rand and Leonard Peikoff. He's affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute and has been involved with some Objectivist books like the second edition of Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology and the Ayn Rand Lexicon. He wrote a book on epistemology, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation. He published and edited The Objectivist Forum journal. Binswanger now runs an online paid Objectivist discussion forum, The Harry Binswanger Letter (HBL), which he started in 1998.

I participated at HBL for the last month. My contributions are publicly available (link).

Binswanger banned me, without warning, because he didn't like my ideas. I wasn't banned for violating any written rule. He didn't try to solve the problem. He hid the problem until the breaking point.

Subjective moderation makes discussion forums bad. Having discussions unpredictably shut down discourages anyone from putting effort into them. (Before banning me he shut down discussions about epistemology, because some readers didn't like them. And he shut down discussion about psychiatry, for no reason given.)

The unwritten HBL moderation policies disallow publicizing any webpage or George Reisman's Capitalism: A Treatise On Economics, but allow publicizing the evil, anti-capitalist and Paul Krugman.

I advise members to find a better forum.

The announcement banning me, which hides the issue behind the title "Administrative note", reads (bold added, except in the first line):

One-line summary: I have removed Elliot Temple’s posting privileges

After much consideration, I decided to remove Elliot Temple’s posting privileges. His posts were not adding value to HBL, and they were: 1) coming from an alien context, 2) nearly always filled with wrong ideas–sometimes startlingly wrong (your eyes are, he says, “opinionated”)–ideas not well argued for, 3) combative, and 4) skating on the edge of violating our etiquette policy. They also were often too long.

All in all, I began to cringe when I saw his name on a post. Instead of the question “Is anything he’s written actually bad enough to take away his posting privileges?” I realized the question was more, “Why do I want him posting on my list, if almost every post brings me grief?”

After I made the decision, but before he knew of it, he posted a piece charging our dismissal of many of his “criticisms” as evasion–the cardinal sin for Objectivism. But, again, I read that only after reaching my decision.

In private email, he asked me to post the following for him:

1) I’ve been banned from posting to HBL, so don’t expect me to reply anymore.

2) It’s not my choice to end the discussions. I didn’t give up.

3) If anyone wants to continue a discussion, email me ([email protected]). I’m happy to continue any of the discussions and respond to outstanding points, but only if people choose to contact me.

Binswanger considers critics "combative". He cringed each time I'd post a new criticism. He wants passive participants who drop unresolved issues without trying to pursue them to a conclusion. He isn't interested in different perspectives on Ayn Rand's ideas. After thinking about his feelings, he realized he wanted me gone, whether I'd done something wrong or not. He shut down discussion because of his emotional states of cringing and grief.

He says my ideas are wrong. He selected one example to present, but it illustrates his own dishonesty. I said that eyes can see green but not infrared, Binswanger replied accusing me of primacy of consciousness, I clarified again, and Binswanger dropped the topic.

My point, which Binswanger evaded, is that eyes have an opinionated design in the same sense an iPhone camera does. Apple engineers formed opinions about what types of photos are good and designed their camera to produce those photos. They chose lenses according to their judgement of what photos have value to their customers. They run software algorithms to adjust photos to better please their customers. The iPhone doesn't try to show you raw data, it tries to show you (Apple's opinion of) a good photo. (This is not a criticism of Apple's photography opinions, which I consider objectively good. The point is that Apple's judgement is present in the photo you see.)

Biological evolution created a particular range of human eye designs, and not others. Our eyes see some things and not others, and process the data with some algorithms. Our eyes don't just present raw data. They are not the only possible eye designs. These designs were evolutionary selected over others because of their value to the replication of the genes. The human eye is like an opinionated take on which way of seeing has survival value for humans on Earth – like the iPhone camera, it's designed to be particularly good at some things and bad at others, rather than having a neutral design.

I don't know what Binswanger thinks about opinionated camera designs or evolution's design of human eyes. He refused to discuss it.

It's dishonest for Binswanger to use this example to say I was wrong. He took my words out of context to imply I think eyes are conscious (which is ridiculous), rather than fairly presenting my actual views about opinionated designs. And this was the best attack he could come up with to excuse banning dissent.

No one made a complete case that I was mistaken about any idea I presented on HBL. No one pointed out a mistake I made and then argued the point to a conclusion. Nothing got resolved. They did hit-and-run attacks and then didn't address my counter-arguments. Or they'd misunderstand something, then drop the issue when I clarified.

Seeing how our initial discussions weren't reaching resolutions, I started to post about the topic of how to have a discussion. How to resolve debates is a difficult skill worth discussing. I expected discussing our differences to take time, but Binswanger was already out of patience. I talked about how to pursue issues to conclusions. Rather than reply, Binswanger banned me.

HBL is for Objectivists. I'm an Objectivist. I've extensively studied and discussed Objectivism, including over 50 readings of books by Ayn Rand. I agree with Rand more than most, perhaps all, HBL members. I've also studied other Objectivist thinkers, like Peikoff and Binswanger, but I disagree with them more (e.g. regarding induction and their leftwing political sympathies.)

Philosophical Detection

To get into more detail, I'll analyze Ayn Rand's Philosophical Detection, from Philosophy: Who Needs It. I'll compare her views to mine and to Binswanger's. Italics are from Rand, bold is from me.

A detective seeks to discover the truth about a crime. A philosophical detective must seek to determine the truth or falsehood of an abstract system and thus discover whether he is dealing with a great achievement or an intellectual crime.

Ayn Rand (AR) says philosophical detectives "must" figure out what's true and false. That means taking issues to conclusions, not just making a few arguments and stopping before anything is resolved.

The layman’s error, in regard to philosophy, is the tendency to accept consequences while ignoring their causes—to take the end result of a long sequence of thought as the given and to regard it as “self-evident” or as an irreducible primary, while negating its preconditions. ...

As a philosophical detective, you must remember that nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception—and that an irreducible primary is a fact which cannot be analyzed (i.e., broken into components) or derived from antecedent facts. You must examine your own convictions and any idea or theory you study, by asking: Is this an irreducible primary—and, if not, what does it depend on?

Binswanger said some of his ideas, like 2+3=5, were unquestionable. He said they were too simple to analyze, criticize, or be mistaken about. He maintained this even after two ways to break 2+3=5 down into components were discussed in detail. (One way involves computer circuits, the other involves Peano Axioms.) Binswanger objected to analyzing the components of arithmetic because he thought consciousness just adds and it's trivial. He treated a long sequence of learning math at school as an irreducible primary.

"2", "+", and "3" are components! Are they too trivial to misunderstand? Binswanger himself makes claims about integers that most people disagree with. Either he's mistaken, or others are, so someone misunderstands integers. Binswanger says infinity is a mistake and even says that very large numbers don't exist, like 10100100.

In modern history, the philosophy of Kant is a systematic rationalization of every major psychological vice. ...

... The wish to perceive “things in themselves” unprocessed by any consciousness, is a rationalization for the wish to escape the effort and responsibility of cognition

Binswanger was consistently hostile to my statements about how we don't perceive things in themselves, and have to actually think to figure out what's in reality. We have to take steps like understanding the physical properties of our eyes, the algorithmic information processing done by our visual system, the physical properties of photons, etc... We have to interpret what we see, taking into account many complex factors. This was the issue he chose to highlight when banning me. AR considers his attitude Kantian.

Perception is one of the areas where Binswanger openly disagrees with AR. He says he disagrees with her in footnote 22 on page 64 of his book How We Know.

Correspondence to reality is the standard of value by which one estimates a theory. If a theory is inapplicable to reality, by what standards can it be estimated as “good”?

This is another area where Binswanger and I disagree. Like AR, I value reality (meaning physical reality!) and I care about how theories correspond to reality. Consequently, I was interested in connecting my claims about epistemology to physics (the science which studies reality). And I spoke about what is and isn't physically possible (possible in reality).

Binswanger didn't care about the project of understanding epistemology in terms of physical reality and physical processes. He was content to treat intelligent consciousness as an irreducible primary without concern for the physical components. And he's a dualist! (That means he thinks consciousness is separate from physical reality.)

Rather than consider topics like evolution and computation which relate epistemology to physical reality, Binswanger treats consciousness as a starting point and believes it has special characteristics unrelated to physical reality. He just wants to do philosophy without worrying about physics too. Why dual major in both like John Galt?

Human brains, being physical objects (and computers in particular), do (physical) information processing. This computation replicates, varies and selects information. It's evolution, literally, and that's how humans are able to learn in physical reality. But Binswanger isn't interested in ideas like these. He'd rather divorce consciousness from the physical world.

The problems Binswanger is trying to address, which drive him to dualism, include dealing with the reality of abstractions and understanding emergent properties. David Deutsch has explained these issues in his books. Binswanger won't read the books which explain better views than he has, nor does he know of any refutation of the books by anyone, nor does he care that the books contain unanswered criticism of his positions.

You must attach clear, specific meanings to words, i.e., be able to identify their referents in reality. This is a precondition, without which neither critical judgment nor thinking of any kind is possible. All philosophical con games count on your using words as vague approximations. You must not take a catch phrase—or any abstract statement—as if it were approximate. Take it literally. Don’t translate it ... Take it straight, for what it does say and mean.

Binswanger repeatedly treated words and explanations approximately. He was unable or unwilling to discuss what Popper and I literally said. His attacks were routinely against unsaid conclusions he jumped to, which we denied. He translated our statements into approximate gists and got confused by narrow, limited statements.

Instead of dismissing the catch phrase, accept it—for a few brief moments. Tell yourself, in effect: “If I were to accept it as true, what would follow?” This is the best way of unmasking any philosophical fraud.

Binswanger used tactics like saying his ideas were unquestionable, and smearing critics as skeptics, rather than carefully and literally considering their arguments. Rather than consider and try to unmask philosophical errors, he spent his time presenting excuses for not thinking about criticism.

Since an emotion is experienced as an immediate primary, but is, in fact, a complex, derivative sum, it permits men to practice one of the ugliest of psychological phenomena: rationalization. Rationalization is a cover-up, a process of providing one’s emotions with a false identity, of giving them spurious explanations and justifications—in order to hide one’s motives, not just from others, but primarily from oneself. The price of rationalizing is the hampering, the distortion and, ultimately, the destruction of one’s cognitive faculty. Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.

Binswanger spent more effort rationalizing why not to engage with my ideas than considering my ideas. He felt grief and cringed when I wrote about ideas. He blamed me for his bad feelings. He says he doesn't like my ideas because I'm wrong. He says he dropped out of every discussion because I'm wrong. He came up with rationalizations for his negative emotions about my criticism.

Binswanger didn't win a debate on any point. He dropped out every time. And when I kept talking about ideas, he banned me.

Binswanger didn't make a rational case that I was ruining debate and preventing any conclusion from being reached. He didn't even try. He didn't know of some error I was making that would prevent him from from showing I was mistaken about one point. He just wasn't interested in being challenged. He has a passive mind.

I approached discussion in an active way. When one thing didn't work, I'd try something else. I demonstrated patience and perseverance. For example, I asked people to point out any errors in my methods, but no one had anything to say. And I made a long video where I thought out loud and recorded my writing process. I hoped someone could use the video to point out an error in my approach, but no one did.

I saw Binswanger approach discussion badly in a way which prevented reaching conclusions. He'd make a few arguments, hear a few counter-arguments, and just stop there. He'd refuse to read books. He'd refuse to answer questions. He'd refuse to answer criticisms. He'd misunderstand the same point in the same way, repeatedly, even after multiple clarifications. When I brought this up, I was banned instead of answered. I could have dealt with all those flaws if he'd continued to engage in discussion, but he wouldn't.

I've developed an approach I call Paths Forward for how to take discussions to conclusions. One can always take discussions to conclusions and address all criticism in a timely manner! Isn't that great? Binswanger wasn't interested. He doesn't want to write down his views in public, endorse good writing by others, expose all this to public judgment, and then work to improve his system of ideas to deal with critical challenges. He's content to think he's right, according to his own system of rationalizations, and refuse to deal with mistakes that people point out.

I have an epistemology which gives absolute yes/no answers instead of concluding with the vague maybes that Binswanger favors. Binswanger, like Peikoff, says ideas have a status like possibly, probably or certainly true, rather than dealing decisively with absolutes like true or false. I explained how we can always achieve an up-or-down verdict on an idea in a timely manner. Binswanger wasn't interested.

I say one must address every criticism of one's ideas. I talk about how this can be done without taking up too much time. Binswanger wasn't interested. He felt bad and banned me. What does AR say?

At their first encounter with modern philosophy [like Kant], many people make the mistake of dropping it and running, with the thought: “I know it’s false, but I can’t prove it. I know something’s wrong there, but I can’t waste my time and effort trying to untangle it.” Here is the danger of such a policy: ...

Even if I was advocating Kant (the worst of the worst), AR would say to answer my arguments!

Why bother dealing with criticism? Because you have no way to know which ideas are true or false if you don't. And:

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an “open mind,” but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically.

Critical discussion is just what I advocated and emphasized, and Binswanger banned me to avoid. I was eager to examine ideas; Binswanger was unwilling.

An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them.

AR is saying to pursue ideas to the point of actually reaching answers! Don't just stop in the middle! That's what I attempted. Binswanger faked it. He announced some conclusions (I'm wrong!) that he hadn't rationally reached. (What was I wrong about? He declared I was wrong in the middle of the discussion, then didn't allow me to speak further.)

Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants—a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear.

This is what I do and have achieved. I deal with all criticism, and have no fear of it. I have no need to dismiss ideas without answering them because I have answers.

People are welcome to try to assail my ideas. That helps me learn. I've now become familiar with all the common assaults. I learned answers to them or, in some cases, changed my mind.

I wish I could find critics with ideas that would take more effort to answer. Unlike Binswanger, I'd love that. It's one of the things I hoped to find at HBL. I seek out criticism that will require effort for me to address. I seek out challenging ideas.

If you keep an active mind, you will discover (assuming that you started with common-sense rationality) that every challenge you examine will strengthen your convictions, that the conscious, reasoned rejection of false theories will help you to clarify and amplify the true ones, that your ideological enemies will make you invulnerable by providing countless demonstrations of their own impotence.

That's been exactly my experience. But Binswanger banned me rather than deal with a challenge.

No, you will not have to keep your mind eternally open to the task of examining every new variant of the same old falsehoods. You will discover that they are variants or attacks on certain philosophical essentials—and that the entire, gigantic battle of philosophy (and of human history) revolves around the upholding or the destruction of these essentials. You will learn to recognize at a glance a given theory’s stand on these essentials, and to reject the attacks without lengthy consideration—because you will know (and will be able to prove) in what way any given attack, old or new, is made of contradictions and “stolen concepts.”

Of course! If criticisms get repetitive, come up with counter-arguments which address entire categories of criticism at once. Then write them down and reuse them. Learn to recognize when ideas make known errors which already have a written refutation, then give a reference instead of writing something new. This is what I advocate and do, but Binswanger couldn't or wouldn't do it.

Philosophical rationalizations are not always easy to detect. Some of them are so complex that an innocent man may be taken in and paralyzed by intellectual confusion.

I agree. But Binswanger finds it offensive to say you think someone is rationalizing or evading and to explain your reasoning. What's offensive about trying to share useful information about a difficult problem? He doesn't want criticism to tarnish his reputation and he doesn't want to reconsider his ideas.

if the false premises of an influential philosopher are not challenged, generations of his followers—acting as the culture’s subconscious—milk them down to their ultimate consequences.

I challenged Binswanger, who is influential in Objectivist circles, and he banned me for challenging him. One of his excuses was that some of his followers had been complaining. He's attracted followers who don't like challenges, and he tries to please them. (Several people contacted me with positive messages. I think they're too intimidated to tell Binswanger what they think.)

If, in the course of philosophical detection, you find yourself, at times, stopped by the indignantly bewildered question: “How could anyone arrive at such nonsense?”—you will begin to understand it when you discover that evil philosophies are systems of rationalization.

AR's position is like my position, which Binswanger opposed: Rational thinking centers around error correction!

How's it the same? AR says "evil", I say "irrational" and consider irrationality evil. AR says "systems of rationalization", and I know those prevent correcting errors.

AR and I agree: It's the blocking of discussion, the refusal to think about criticism, that's really evil and irrational. That's how people not only arrive at nonsense, but keep believing it over time.

I'd be happy to forgive Binswanger a thousand misconceptions. What ruins him is that he approaches philosophy with an elaborate system for refusing to deal with criticism. He's set things up so that when he's wrong, he stays wrong.

A “closed mind” is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices—and emotions. But this is not a “closed” mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

Binswanger has a passive mind. Rather than be curious about new ideas, he bans them. Rather than actively consider challenging ideas, Binswanger passively, stubbornly clings to a mix of unwarranted assumptions, catch phrases, prejudices, mistakes – and emotions. Binswanger doesn't pursue ideas to conclusions, so he's missing out on the limitless possibilities of The Beginning of Infinity.

Binswanger Quotes

Here's a brief sample of what Binswanger said on his forum over the last month. (His italics, my bold.)

There's no computation done anywhere outside the human mind. Even computers don't actually compute. In philosophy, we have to speak literally, not metaphorically.

He refused to explain what he means.

I think that it is unquestionable that counting is a simple operation. And it is unquestionable that an adult who adds, with reasonable care, 2 to 3 cannot be mistaken about what the answer is.

(He clarified that he declares it irrational to question the ideas he declares "unquestionable".)

Counting is a physical process which occurs in reality, so how simple it is depends on the laws of physics (and the method used). Physics is not only questionable, it's highly controversial.

it is impossible that I could be mistaken in saying “Two plus three is five.”

The obvious fact is that ... “2 + 3 = 5” cannot be wrong.

That's a tiny sample of his many infallibilist claims. Meanwhile he cast doubt on his own understanding of numbers:

it is widely believed that there’s a number like: 10^100^100. There isn’t.

He also has a problem with infinity.

[The claim that] You can’t guarantee that you reached your decision rationally. [That claim is] false. You can and had damn well better be sure you reached your decision rationally.

He thinks he can't be mistaken about whether his thinking is rational. He claims an infallible guarantee letting him ignore all criticism of his rationality.

Although I hesitate to use terms from an alien context, the closest, of the conventional terms, for the Objectivist semi-position on the mind-brain issue is “property dualism.”

... I’m not sure, myself, whether or not the issue is exclusively scientific.

What I'm resisting is the idea that on the subconscious side there is some unconscious equivalent of computing, judging, deciding. There isn't and couldn't be.

Addition is an action of consciousness.

He thinks the subconscious is like a hard drive that doesn't do any thinking or even compute any algorithms like addition.

Mr. Temple raises the question of how knowledge arises from non-knowledge. It doesn’t.

Also, when you write that you are not “afraid” of the arbitrary, I think you should be. If arbitrary assertions are good until refuted, nothing can be refuted.

positive support comes down to sameness; non-contradiction comes down to difference.

A child pushes a ball and sees it start to move. That is positive support for “Pushing balls makes them move.”

He's a naive inductivist. You look at the world and you see what causes what (somehow).

Now what can epistemology say about the [process of selecting ideas]? Several things, but none that will result in an algorithm, i.e., a mechanically applicable formula replacing judgment.

He presupposes an intelligent consciousness using intelligent judgment as the base of his epistemology. We know by using our intelligent judgment to know! He has no answers to how an intelligent consciousness actually works.


Ayn Rand wrote in The Virtue of Selfishness, How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?:

One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.
to pronounce moral judgment is an enormous responsibility. To be a judge, one must possess an unimpeachable character; one need not be omniscient or infallible, and it is not an issue of errors of knowledge; one needs an un-breached integrity, that is, the absence of any indulgence in conscious, willful evil. ...
... A judge puts himself on trial every time he pronounces a verdict. ... a man is to be judged by the judgments he pronounces.
The moral principle to adopt in this issue, is: “Judge, and be prepared to be judged.”
When one pronounces moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer “Why?” and to prove one’s case—to oneself and to any rational inquirer.
Moral values are the motive power of a man’s actions. By pronouncing moral judgment, one protects the clarity of one’s own perception and the rationality of the course one chooses to pursue. ...
Observe how many people evade, rationalize and drive their minds into a state of blind stupor, in dread of discovering that those they deal with—their “loved ones” or friends or business associates or political rulers—are not merely mistaken, but evil. Observe that this dread leads them to sanction, to help and to spread the very evil whose existence they fear to acknowledge.

I judge Harry Binswanger to be immoral. He lacks patience, curiosity, honesty and precision. He wants to tell others what to think and be admired, but doesn't want to learn. He has a system of rationalizations instead of an active mind. He calls his ideas obvious and unquestionable, and claims infallibility, to evade critical debate. He doesn't know how to resolve disagreements, judge ideas, or reach conclusions. He bans dissent that he emotionally dislikes.

If you have questions, criticism, or doubts, write them in the comments below. Don't just tell yourself that I'm mistaken and evade my counter-arguments. Either pursue the issue to a conclusion or don't judge it. And remember that my HBL posts are publicly available to read, so you can fact check my claims.

I'll close with Atlas Shrugged (my bold):

There were people who had listened, but now hurried away, and people who said, "It's horrible!"—"It's not true!"—"How vicious and selfish!"—saying it loudly and guardedly at once, as if wishing that their neighbors would hear them, but hoping that Francisco would not.

"Senor d'Anconia," declared the woman with the earrings, "I don't agree with you!"

"If you can refute a single sentence I uttered, madame, I shall hear it gratefully."

"Oh, I can't answer you. I don't have any answers, my mind doesn't work that way, but I don't feel that you're right, so I know that you're wrong."

"How do you know it?"

"I feel it. I don't go by my head, but by my heart. You might be good at logic, but you're heartless."

"Madame, when we'll see men dying of starvation around us, your heart won't be of any earthly use to save them. And I'm heartless enough to say that when you'll scream, 'But I didn't know it!'—you will not be forgiven."

Update: I've been banned from reading HBL for writing this post (previously I was only banned from posting). Binswanger offered no explanation or reply.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (52)

Aristotle (and Peikoff and Popper)

I just listened to Peikoff's lectures on Aristotle. I also reread Popper's WoP introduction about Aristotle. some thoughts:–-founders-of-western-philosophy-thales-to-hume/

btw notice what's missing from the lecture descriptions: Parmenides and Xenophanes.

this is mostly Peikoff summary until i indicate otherwise later.

Aristotle is a mixed thinker. some great stuff and some bad stuff.

Part of the mix is because it's ancient philosophy. They didn't have modern science and some other advantages back then. It's early thinking. So Aristotle is kinda confused about God and his four causes. It was less clear back then what is magical thinking and what's rational-scientific thinking.

Aristotle is bad on moderation. He thought (not his original idea) that the truth is often found between two extremes.

Aristotle invented syllogism and formal logic. this is a great achievement. very worthwhile. it has a bad side to it which is causing problems today, but i don't blame Aristotle for that. it was a good contribution, a good idea, and it's not his fault that people still haven't fixed some of its flaws. actually it's really impressive he had some great ideas and the flaws are so subtle they are still fooling people today. i'll talk about the bad side later.

it's called formal logic because you can evaluate it based on the form. like:

All M are P.
S is an M.
Therefore, S is P.

this argument works even if you don't know what M, P and S are. (they stand for middle, predicate and subject.) (the classical example is M=man/men, P=mortal, S=Socrates.) Aristotle figured out the types of syllogism (there's 256. wikipedia says only 24 of them are valid though.)

Aristotle was apparently good on some biology and other science stuff but i don't really know anything about that.

Aristotle started out as a student of Plato but ending up rejecting many of Plato's ideas.

Aristotle didn't say a ton about politics. What he said is mixed. Better than Plato.

Aristotle – like the Greeks in general (as opposed to e.g. pre-modern Christians) – cared about human happiness and life on Earth. and he thought morality was related to human happiness, success, effectiveness, etc. (as opposed to duty moralities from e.g. early Christians and Kant which say morality means doing your duty and this is separate from what makes you happy or makes your life good.)

Aristotle advocated looking at the world, empirical science. he invented induction.

Aristotle was confused about infinity. (Peikoff and some other Objectivists today like Harry Binswanger roughly agree with Aristotle's infinity mistakes.)

Aristotle was generally pro-human and pro-reason. in a later lecture Peikoff says the dark ages were fixed because European Christendom got some copies of Aristotle's writing from the Muslims and Jews (who were trying to reconcile him with their religions) and then Thomas Aquinas attempted to reconcile Aristotle with Christianity and this made it allowable for Christians to read and think about Aristotle which is what got progress going again.

now Popper's perspective, which Peikoff basically agrees with most of the facts about, but evaluates differently.

Popper agrees Aristotle did some great stuff and got a few things wrong. like Peikoff and a ton of other people. But there's a major thing Popper doesn't like. (BTW William Godwin mentioned disliking Aristotle and Plato but didn't say why.)

Aristotle wanted to say I HAVE KNOWLEDGE. this is good as a rejection of skepticism, but bad as a rejection of fallibility. Aristotle and his followers, including Peikoff, equivocate on this distinction.

Part of the purpose of formal logic is an attempt to achieve CERTAINTY – aka infallibility. that's bad and is a problem today.

Objectivism says it uses the word "certain" to refer to fallible knowledge (which they call non-omniscient knowledge. Objectivism says omniscience is impossible and isn't the proper standard of something qualify as knowledge). and Ayn Rand personally may have been OK about this (despite the bad terminology decision). but more or less all other (non-Popperian) Objectivists equivocate about it.

this confusion traces back to Aristotle who knew induction was invalid and deduction couldn't cover most of his claims. (Hume was unoriginal in saying induction doesn't work, not only because of Aristotle but also various others. i don't know why Hume gets so much credit about this from Popper and others. Popper wrote that Aristotle not only invented induction but knew it didn't work.)

and it's not just induction that has these problems and equivocations, it's attempts at proof in general ("prove" is another word, like "certain", which Objectivists use to equivocate about fallibility/infallibility). how do you justify your proof? you use an argument. but how do you justify that argument? another argument. but then you have an infinite regress.

Aristotle knew about this infinite regress problem and invented a bad solution which is still in popular use today including by Objectivism. his solution is self-evident, unquestionable foundations.

Aristotle also has a reaffirmation by denial argument, which Peikoff loves, which has a similar purpose. which, like the self-evident foundations, is sophistry with logical holes in it.

Popper says Aristotle was the first dogmatist in epistemology. (Plato was dogmatic about politics but not epistemology). And Aristotle rejected the prior tradition of differentiating episteme (divine, perfect knowledge) and doxa (opinion which is similar to the truth).

the episteme/doxa categorization was kinda confused. but it had some merit in it. you can interpret it something like this: we don't know the INFALLIBLE PERFECT TRUTH, like the Gods would know, episteme. but we do have fallible human conjectural knowledge which is similar to the truth (doxa).

Aristotle got rid of the two categories, said he had episteme, and equivocated about whether he was a fallibilist or not.

here are two important aspects of the equivocation and confusion.

  1. Aristotle claimed his formal logic could PROVE stuff. (that is itself problematic.) but he knew induction wasn't on the same level of certainty as deduction. so he came up with some hedges, excuses and equivocations to pretend induction worked and could reach his scientific conclusions. Popper thinks there was an element of dishonesty here where Aristotle knew better but was strongly motivated to reach certain conclusions so came up with some bullshit to defend what he wanted to claim. (Popper further thinks Aristotle falsely attributed induction to Socrates because he had a guilty conscience about it and didn't really want the burden of inventing something that doesn't actually work. and also because if Socrates -- the ultimate doubter and questioner -- could accept inductive knowledge then it must be really good and meet a high quality standard!)

  2. I talk about equivocating about fallible vs. infallible because I conceive of it as one or the other, with two options, rather than a continuum. But Peikoff and others usually look at a different way. instead of asking "fallible or infallible?" they ask something like "what quality of knowledge is it? how good is it? how justified? how proven? how certain?" they see a continuum and treat the issue as a matter of degree. this is perfect for equivocating! it's not INFALLIBLE, it's just 90% infallible. then when i talk about fallible knowledge, they think i'm talking about a point on the continuum and hear like 0% infallible (or maybe 20%) and think it's utter crap and i have low standards. so they accuse me and Popper of being skeptics.

the concept of a continuum for knowledge quality – something like a real number line on which ideas are scored with amount of proof, amount of supporting evidence/arguments, amount of justification, etc, and perhaps subtracting points for criticism – is a very bad idea. and look at it that way, rather than "fallible or not?" and "there is a known refutation of this or there isn't?" and other boolean questions is really bad and damaging.

Peikoff refers to the continuum with his position that ideas can be arbitrary (no evidence for it. reject it!), plausible (some evidence, worth some consideration), probable (a fair amount of evidence, pretty good idea), or certain (tons of evidence, reasonable people should accept it, there's no real choice or discretion left). he uses these 4 terms to refer to points on the continuum. and he is clear that it's a continuum, not just a set of 4 options.

But there is no something more beyond fallible knowledge, before infallible knowledge. And the ongoing quest for something fundamentally better than unjustified fallible knowledge has been a massive dead end. All we can do is evolve our ideas with criticism – which is in fact good enough for science, economics and every other aspect of life on Earth.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Ayn Rand on Thomas Szasz

Rewriting Rand is a long article about how Mayhew and others have made changes to the Rand archive material which has been made public. Books like Ayn Rand Answers don't actually present Rand's original words.

Mayhew also left out a bunch of interesting material include this:

To a question about the ideas of maverick psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, Rand replied, in part, “He seems to be for individual rights, but I cannot always follow his argument—I have questions, I have certain serious questions about some of his premises—therefore, I have not read enough to criticize him. All I can say is he’s promising” (Ford Hall Forum 1976, 40:55–41:32).

I like to find comments by my favorite philosophers about each other. They're interesting. I'm glad Rand recognized that Szasz was promising and was in favor of individual rights.

I wonder why Rand didn't write Szasz a letter and ask her questions. I'm confident he would have answered.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)