False Dichotomies, Package Deals, and Karl Popper

Karl Popper is often misunderstood because he says the debates for several major philosophy issues involve a false dichotomy. The question is misconceived; both sides are wrong; a new way is needed.

(Whether there are exactly two standard positions, or actually more in some cases, doesn't affect my point.)

Popper's epistemology is the most innovative epistemology of note. By that I mean it changes more from prior epistemology than any of its rivals do. It's the most different. That makes it harder to understand.

(Also, to be clear, Popper personally is not important. Like all philosophers, different people have read his books and interpreted him to be saying a variety of different things. I am interested here only in what I regard as the correct, best interpretation. This includes refinements by David Deutsch and myself.)

What commonly happens is Popper (or a Popperian, or a person advocating a Popperian idea, whatever) says a particular epistemology idea is mistaken and tries to explain why. Then people usually interpret Popper as being on the other side of the dichotomy from them, because he's disagreeing with them. "If he says I'm wrong, he must be on the opposing side from me!" That's an easy conclusion to reach when you don't fully understand the point being made. But actually Popper is taking neither of the standard sides.

It's hard conceiving of a new way of looking at an issue. That's harder than understanding that someone has an opposing position which you've heard before and have arguments about. The standard opponent is within your framework, which is easier to deal with.

Look at it another way. For many issues, there are two sides which disagree but also have some points of agreement. For example, they agree on what the right question or dichotomy is, but give opposing answers to it. When popper says that not only is their answer wrong, but also their question is wrong, Popper is disagreeing with them more than their opponents do! So he could be misunderstood as an even more disagreeable version of their opponents, even though he isn't.


This is relevant to Objectivism because Objectivists have misunderstood Popper, and their criticisms of Popper rely on misunderstanding his positions. There aren't any Objectivist refutations of the Popperian ideas I'm advocating. (Nor are there Objectivist answers to Popper's actual criticisms of some Objectivist positions, like induction).

Popperian epistemology does not contradict all of Objectivist epistemology. There are many points in common, such as valuing clarity and accepting the possibility of humans attaining objective knowledge. But there are some major points of disagreement such as induction and self-evident axioms. Objectivists have the opportunity to learn something, and should be happy about that (just as, for example, Popperians could and should learn a lot from Objectivist morality and politics).


Let's look at some example issues where there is a false dichotomy which Popper rejects: certainty and proof, induction, justification, support.

Take certainty or proof: there is a false dichotomy between having certainty and not having knowledge. There is an assumption, shared by both sides, that certainty is a requirement of knowledge. Popperian epistemology rejects that package deal, and offers a new way: a non-authoritarian, fallibilist way to gain objective knowledge.

Take induction: the two main positions both center around the problem of induction. One position is that we can solve the problem of induction (some claim they already did solve it, some expect it to be solved any decade now). Another position is that the lack of solution to the problem of induction presents a big problem for epistemology. The popperian position is that it's the wrong problem, the wrong question. Popper instead raised a different better question and solved it.

Take justification: there is a false dichotomy between "yes we can justify our beliefs/ideas/knowledge" and "no we can't, justification fails due to regress [and several other arguments], therefore knowledge is impossible". The Popperian view is that both of these positions are wrong. They both agree on an incorrect concept of what justification is and why we need it. They package justification together with knowledge.

Take support: consider the idea that we can support our beliefs with evidence and arguments. Some people say we can't, therefore our beliefs are irrational. Some people say we can, and it makes our beliefs rational. Both sides have accepted that we need to support our beliefs with evidence and argument for them to be rational. Popper disagrees with both standard sides. He says we don't have to support our beliefs with evidence and argument for them to be rational; that isn't actually how you get rational knowledge; but there is a different way of getting rational knowledge.

There is a package deal combining rationality and support. And it creates a false dichotomy where either you have both rationality and support, or neither.


Popperian epistemology is a complex subject requiring study to understand well. I cannot cover it all here. I'm going to talk about one example in more detail to give you a sample.

Do we have to support our beliefs with evidence and arguments for them to be rational? Pretty much everyone agrees the answer is "yes". That includes both people who think we can do this and thereby get rational knowledge, and also people who think that our inability to do this prevents us from getting rational knowledge (skeptics).

The Popperian view is that rationality is not about support. It is achieved by a different method. Rational ideas are ideas which are open to criticism. If there's no way to improve an idea, it's stuck, it's bad, it's irrational. If it's open to improvement via criticism – if it's open to reform, refinement, error correction – then it is rational.

Whether ideas are open to error correction does not depend on how much support they have. That is not the issue. (And actually, sometimes when people say, "I've proved my case with all this supporting evidence," it can indicate they are not open to criticism.)

Think, for a moment, about what we want to accomplish in epistemology. For example: we want to sort out good ideas from bad ideas. We want to improve our ideas. We want to get knowledge – ideas that are connected to reality and effective in reality.

Trying to support ideas was a false goal. It's not really what we wanted. It was a way of getting something else. It had indirect value. It's important to identify this gap and separate the concepts. We can reject support but still find a different method to get the useful stuff support was intended to achieve.

Supporting ideas is meant to sort out good ideas from bad ideas. The ones with more support are good. This method does not work. One unsolved problem with it is to define exactly when, why and how much any given idea supports any other ideas. A second problem is whether a less supported idea could be the best one. If it can, what does it really matter that it's less supported?

However, a different method of sorting out good ideas does work: criticism. Ideas which are not refuted by criticism are sorted out from those which are refuted by criticism. (These critical classifications are always open to revision in the future as we learn more.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 | Comments (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.

Hostility

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.

Study

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.

Philosophy

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.

Omissions

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.

Mistakes

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).

Reason

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.

Evil

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.

Popper

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.

Quickies

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.

Conclusions

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 | Comment (1)

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 | Comments (0)

Apple is Proud

http://www.apple.com/designed-by-apple/

(There are two videos here. Make sure not to miss the second one!)

apple is so proud and confident

they are not afraid of arrogance. they aren't shy.

there are some awful anti-greatness mindsets that are prevalent today, and hard to explain, and apple rejects them well.
We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches.
fucking wonderful

Apple is Good and they are proud of it. and they say so (without shouting or bullshitting). their products are great and enhance life.

so many ppl won't claim they are great out of some kind of fear. ppl will disagree, ppl will call them arrogant, ppl will try to tear them down, they invite a high standard of criticism, etc

(also a lot of people are not great. but even some people with some greatness won't say it!)

apple has inspired me. i'm going to be even more explicit than apple is:

I am the best living philosopher.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Apple: Best Company Ever

Apple's WWDC Keynote

So many things so very right.

OS X Mavericks, iOS 7, iTunes Radio, Mac Pro, new Airs, web iWork, iCloud passwords, and more.

Apple thinks that "products", "buy" and "ad" are positive words, not dirty words. And Apple makes products and ads that live up to this wonderful, capitalist attitude. Apple is not scared of commerce, does not shy away from the fact that they sell products and produce ads; Apple is proud, and rightly so.

Apple is also good at philosophy. Instead of bullshit and mistakes, there are some insights and overall a shocking absence of mistakes.

Apple is very good at explaining things clearly. They give explanations about complicated technologies instead of treating it as too hard for the audience. They also give explanations of how they think.

Apple's focus on providing value to human life is just right.
we start to confuse convenience with joy, abundance with choice
The criticism of confusing abundance with choice is wise.
Does it deserve to exist?
Strong words, worthy of Ayn Rand.


What else impressed you? Answer below in the comments.

(And why didn't the stock jump up 5% in response? What's wrong with investors? Not joking.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Green" Energy is Dirty

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JL4fluj004o

This video is about the pollution problems of rare earth mineral mining. Watch it first.

Neodymium is used for strong magnets which are used in wind turbines and hybrid cars.

All large-scale energy production is dirty by "green" standards. That means there's something wrong with their standards.

Pollution is sometimes and overblown problem, but sometimes a legitimate problem. The damage in China is important.

But whatever one's standards for what sort of pollution he wants to put up with, keep in mind:

1) Your standards better be compatible with human propserity. If you reject all industrial-scale energy that's going to kill billions and do way more harm than you were trying to prevent.

2) Freedom. Just because you think something should be different doesn't make authoritarianism OK.

Environmentalists look the other way for the problems with some types of energy (wind, hybrid cars), and exaggerate the problems for other types of energy (nuclear, fossil fuels).

Why did they pick that way? If it had to do with CO2 they would like nuclear a lot more. If it had to do with toxic materials, mining and processing, they'd like wind less.

They call wind "renewable". But why? The wind may blow for a billion years, but harnessing it depends on the supply of neodynium. To keep harnessing it beyond that would require new technology. But if you assume new technology will be invented as necessary to make stuff work, then any sort of energy production could work indefinitely.

If you're an environmentalist who none of these criticisms applies to, then I have a different question for you. Where are you statements distancing yourself from the bad environmentalists? Have you criticized and rejected them, and made clear the differences?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Medicalization and Intolerance by Ed Catmull

http://scottberkun.com/2010/inside-pixars-leadersh...

This interview with Ed Catmull, president of Pixar, has some good thinking about fallibilism. He understands that even when he isn't aware of any particular error, he still has to be concerned with errors. And he talks about trying to deal with error but not prevent any from happening in the first place. That's good because preventing all error is impossible and leads to authoritarian policies (because freedom allows for too many possibilities to even dream of preventing all errors).

Ed Catmull also uses a recurring "health" metaphor. He means well in the interview, but he's making two serious mistakes regarding health. He expressed a rational attitude towards criticism, so I will explain the mistakes in hopes of helping.
If the team is functioning well, and healthy, it will solve the problem.
[At Pixar] there is very high tolerance for eccentricity, very creative, and to the point where some are strange… but there are a small number of people who are socially dysfunctional [and] very creative – we get rid of them. If we don’t have a healthy group then it isn’t going to work.
First, this talk of "healthy" is a bad metaphor because it's a medical metaphor, but the issues he's discussing are social-psychological, not medical. This is the (inappropriate) medicalization of everyday life.

Issues of how people treat each other, how they feel, what they think, how they approach interactions, and so on, are all important issues, but they are not medical issues. So a medical metaphor is inappropriate. Thinking about these issues in the wrong way is one of the causes of errors that should be fixed.

Second, the claim here is "very high tolerance". But it's actually saying that the category labelled "unhealthy" is not tolerated. What is in that "unhealthy" category? The use of a vague metaphor hides which things are not tolerated.

It's fine not to tolerate absolutely everything, but it's better to speak clearly about this. The limits of tolerance deserve serious thought and clarity, not vagueness. That would help find and fix any errors in the choice of what not to tolerate.

Being clear and open about what isn't tolerated also lets people know what the rules are. It's good to have openly and precisely stated rules so people can know whether they are following the rules or not, and can choose to make changes to follow the rules better. Clarity would also allow for feedback and would prevent nasty surprises for people who fail to guess the unstated rules correctly.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philosophy First

lots of ppl claim they can't learn philosophy cuz they are busy with life and a big part of that is making money

it's a little like the guy too busy reading novels to ever learn speed reading

it's so important to fit in some powering up ASAP. some becoming more time efficient, becoming more effective at stuff per effort spent, etc

the more of that you fit in and the earlier, the more it becomes easier to fit in even more later

cuz it pays for itself many times over, so you can use the savings to power up more

it's such a virtuous cycle. but people get stuck in the vicious cycle of too busy to ever learn to be more time efficient.

ppl spend decades struggling with money. a few years studying philosophy can yield a significant efficiency multiplier on that effort. which can quickly pay for itself and then provide both more money as well as time for further philosophy study.

if you agree, a good place to begin learning is Fallible Ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lying Microsoft Advertising

Microsoft put up an ad: Windows vs. iPad: Compare tablets - Microsoft Windows. It shows the iPad screen (left) compared with the ASUS VivoTab Smart screen (right).



This is not to scale. Microsoft has drawn a 10.1 inch tablet 36% larger than a 9.7 inch tablet (140x78 pixels vs 102x79). This is so far off you can visually see it's wrong.

The iPad has a screen area of 45.16 square inches, which I double checked with a calculator.

The ASUS VivoTab Smart has a screen area of 43.56 square inches. That's right, the ASUS screen is smaller than the iPad's.

The iPad screen is 7.76 by 5.82 inches. The ASUS screen is 8.8 by 4.95 inches. ASUS is larger in one direction but smaller in the other direction, and has 3.55% less area than the iPad, not 36% more as Microsoft depicts.

How can the screen with a larger diagonal measurement be smaller? Because it's a different shape. Long and thin gets you a bigger diagonal but a smaller screen, for the same diagonal inches.

At the bottom, Microsoft writes, "The ASUS VivoTab Smart is lighter than the iPad, has a bigger touchscreen...". False. It does not have a "bigger touchscreen".

Microsoft's advertising is dishonest. Twice in one ad.

I got the link from Daring Fireball.

EDIT: Changed text to say "square inches".

EDIT 2: Microsoft changed the webpage within 13 hours after I posted.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (62)

New Discussion Group

Do you like my blog posts? Interested in ideas? Want to get questions answered, have your ideas improved by criticism, get feedback and refinements, etc? You should join my discussion group:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fallible-ideas/

This new group is intended to replace my other groups. Everything is now in one convenient place!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Plastic Bag Bans are not Reforms

Reform is important. People have to make changes to make progress. But some ideas for change are good, and some are bad. To achieve reform, we need to sort out the good changes from the bad changes.

People can and do make mistakes frequently. To achieve reform, we have to use methods which are capable of figuring out our mistakes and improving on them. Methods which can do that are called “rational”.

If would-be reformers do not use rational methods, they will make things worse instead of better. They will implement mistaken ideas. That is destruction, not reform. So, how can we judge proposed reforms?

  • Uses reason to consider the issues.
  • Makes only true arguments.
  • Actually works as intended. Watch out for unintended consequences!
  • Makes things better, not worse. If possible it should be thoroughly better, not a mixed compromise.
  • Reforms should be cooperative, not adversarial.
  • Communicates why and how it is a reform. Aims to persuade people.
  • Most or all people agree to it voluntarily because they understand that it’s good.
  • Goes one step at a time instead of trying to remake society into a utopia tomorrow.
  • Has been considered critically.
  • Refutes all criticisms that try to say it’s a mistake.
Some cities are banning plastic bags at grocery stores. Lobbyists claim that they are reformers and their ban is a reform. It’s not.

Real reforms work as intended. Take a look and tell me if the plastic bag ban is working as intended:



How is this possible? Isn’t it illegal? Actually, where I live, the ban only applies when you visit a grocery store, but not to grocery deliveries. It has a big loophole.

Why does this happen? Because the “environmental activists” did not successfully communicate why the ban is good. Safeway isn’t persuaded that plastic bags are bad, so it still uses plastic bags in legal ways. If the activists had made better arguments, then Safeway would work with them and follow the spirit of the ban. Instead, the activists used irrational adversarial methods, instead of finding a way to cooperate with Safeway for mutual benefit.

Plastic bag bans also increase shoplifting. That is an unintended, bad consequence.

Plastic bag bans (and their arguments) have been critically considered but have not successfully addressed the criticisms, as rational reform would.

Why are plastic bags worse than other types of bags? Why should they be banned? Where is the rational analysis?

Actually this has been studied, but the activists and lobbyists chose to irrationally ignore the results. The study by the UK’s Environment Agency concluded, “The conventional HDPE [plastic] bag had the lowest environmental impacts of the lightweight bags in eight of the nine impact categories.” And that study didn’t even consider the costs of laundry or washing bags!

Environmental impact is not the best way to consider plastic bags. But it is the way the anti-bag lobbyists look at it, and they are wrong by their own standards.

The right way to look at bags is in terms of human impact. What is the impact on human lives? Does a particular policy make life better or worse for human beings? Humans should come first.

When all types of bags were available, plastic bags were chosen because they were the best for humans. Grocery stores wanted happy customers. Plastic bags are strong, light, clean and cheap. Banning them denies humans these wonderful, modern benefits of plastic bags.

The anti-plastic-bag lobby has argued that the bags use up our limited oil supplies. However, this is simply false. Real reform avoids factually false claims.

Anti-plastic-bag activists have not communicated a coherent, well-reasoned, true argument for why plastic bags should be banned. Plastic bags are good for humans and good for the environment, and complaints such as their use of oil are false.

The plastic bag ban does not meet the criteria necessary to qualify as a reform. It is actually irrational, pointless destruction, not reform.

That illustrates how to approach reform the wrong way. What is the right way? Let’s consider a concrete example.

A rational reform was the transition from transportation by horses to cars. Horses had problems such as polluting the streets with poop, getting you wet in the rain, and being slow. Changing to cars made life better for people; it reformed the old situation.

How was this reform accomplished? By voluntary action and rational argument. People were not forced to give up their horses, nor were they forced to use cars. They didn’t have to be forced because they understood that the new way was better. People wanted to make the change and happily participated, rather than working against it (like Safeway continues to use all the plastic bags they can).

Not everyone changed right away. Early cars were expensive and had some other downsides, but over time cars became clearly superior. And some people had special circumstances that made a horse better for them personally (even today some people still have horses, and that’s fine). So each person switched to a car if and when it made sense for him. Forcing someone to buy a car that isn’t right for him, or not letting someone buy a car when he decides it’s best, would both hurt people.

Even when a reform is a good idea, such as switching from horses to cars, it still has to be approached in the right way or it could hurt people. People should only switch when they are persuaded – when they think switching is best for themselves. Reforms should proceed by voluntary methods and people should make changes when their rational judgment says to.

Changes in bag use should be approached more like cars and transportation were.

This is not a new idea. People who want to be thinkers and reformers should know better. They should take responsibility for learning how to reform correctly before trying to do it. The philosophers Edmund Burke and William Godwin explained reform around 1790, for example Godwin wrote:
Let us consider the effect that coercion produces upon the mind of him against whom it is employed. It cannot begin with convincing; it is no argument. It begins with producing the sensation of pain, and the sentiment of distaste. It begins with violently alienating the mind from the truth with which we wish it to be impressed. It includes in it a tacit confession of imbecility. If he who employs coercion against me could mould me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.
People make mistakes. Trying to argue your case is a great way to test if you might be making a mistake. If you persuade people, maybe you’re right, or at least no one knows better. If you don’t persuade people, maybe you’re wrong, maybe someone knows better, maybe someone can tell you something you didn’t know. So attempting persuasion is a rational win/win approach; it works out well whether you’re mistaken or not.

If your explanations fail to persuade people, it’s time to consider that you might be mistaken, or you might not have clear enough ideas. If your ideas aren’t clear enough for other people to understand why they are true, you shouldn’t be persuaded either. Your ideas aren’t good enough (yet). Reconsider or work on them more.

If you can persuade people, that is a good sign that you have a quality idea. It’s a good candidate for reform. If you cannot do that – if your idea isn’t that quality – that’s an unbelievably bad excuse for using force.

Why doesn’t the anti-plastic-bag lobby persuade everyone to stop using plastic bags? Because they can’t. It’s that simple: they would persuade everyone if they could, but they can’t.

Their arguments are not good enough. So far, they’ve failed at persuasive reasoning. And how do they react to that? Irrationally. Anti-plastic-bag lobbyists pretend that they ban plastic bags because their arguments are strong. Actually they do it because their arguments are weak.

They aim to force their bad ideas on us, rather than aiming to improve their ideas. Changing society that way is not reform, it is irrational destruction.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)