June 2020
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You Have To Think More Than One Move Ahead

Or, (E), you could have festooned the lampposts with the Statsi beforehand, and have been home in time for dinner.

But it seems like I’m missing the point, doesn’t it?

Noteworthy Nietzsche Family Circus

On the corruption of youth.

But is it really the surest way?

The Internal Monologue of a Common Interlocutor

From The Onion:

What’s that? Now it’s making an appeal to reason? Never! Do you hear me, you eloquent, well-read behemoth? Never! We’ll die before we recognize what we secretly know to be true! The cognitive dissonance only makes our denial stronger!


Thinking About Thinking About Our Interlocutors

I wrote the following as part of an ongoing debate over my solution to the problem of universals. I leave it for the reader to surmise why I thought it worth sharing here.

Let me take a moment to make a meta-argument before I dive back in to addressing the comments in this thread.

I am working under the assumption that Ayn Rand is a hero to most of the participants here. Ayn Rand herself called the problem of universals “philosophy’s central issue.” Those who profoundly admire Ayn Rand do so, in large part, because of her achievements in philosophy. By any measure, then, Ayn Rand’s solution to the problem of universals is an important value to Objectivists.

Now, suppose I am right, and that Ayn Rand either did not solve the problem of universals, or only solved it partially. Ayn Rand’s philosophy then has an error of omission, at the least, down near its very roots in metaphysics.

From the perspective of hero-worshipping Objectivists, it could hardly matter whether this error is a minor error of omission or something more significant; the prospect that Objectivism could have a flaw at a point so fundamental in the hierarchy of philosophy should be disturbing.

Continue reading Thinking About Thinking About Our Interlocutors

The Solution to the Problem of Universals

Late in the week of April 16, 2000, I solved the problem of universals. I have delayed publication for a number of reasons. Before publishing, I wanted to develop the perfect formulations, to have ready answers to all probable objections, and to have acquired a detailed knowledge of the history of the problem. I have never quite been able to find the time. Until yesterday, I figured I would just keep waiting. But then I found myself searching for a fitting way to celebrate a recent victory. It came to me: why not publish? And so I am. I would still especially like to have had time to have developed that detailed knowledge of the history of the problem, but eight idle years is more than long enough. If I am right in my solution, then it is, after all, a matter of some urgency.

Readers of philosophy of a certain bent of mind may wonder why I have been so concerned with the history of the problem, especially if they find themselves agreeing with my solution. It has been my experience that the majority of those who concern themselves with philosophy and its problems are, in fact, concerned not with philosophy itself, but with its history. In the case of the problem of universals, for example, attempts at solutions apparently fallen into one of two mutually exclusive traditions: nominalism and realism. These traditions loom so large in the minds of, it seems, most philosophers, that they cannot conceive of a solution that does not belong to one or the other. But the history of philosophy is their cave, and nominalism and realism shadows on the wall. The real solution comes from outside. My interest in a deeper knowledge of the history of the problem of universals has its origins where philosophy and rescue spelunking meet.

Since I have not had time for a full survey of the history of the problem, I will make do with something more modest.Instead of placing my solution to the problem of universals in the full context of the history of Western philosophy, I will place it in the context of Objectivist philosophy. One reason this appeals to me is that, while I am not an Objectivist, if I can be said to belong to any tradition or school of philosophy, Objectivism is it.

Many Objectivists reading this will now wonder how I might propose to place my own original solution to the problem of universals within the context of Objectivism, given that Ayn Rand claimed to have solved the problem of universals herself.The answer lies in that the problem of universals, while a real philosophical problem, is also a historical artifact. I am not sure exactly how or why Ayn Rand misapprehended the nature of this historical artifact, but, to a significant degree, she did.

Certain critics of Objectivism have claimed that Ayn Rand totally misapprehended the problem of universals, and was therefore totally unjustified in her claim to have solved it. These critics are quite wrong on this point, but their criticisms have been very useful to me, because they have provided an avenue for placing Ayn Rand’s solution to the problem of universals into the larger context of Western philosophy. By borrowing from these critics of Objectivism, I will be able to show that the critics are right on one point: Ayn Rand did not solve the historical problem of universals — and wrong on another, far more important point. Borrowing from these critics will also allow me to compensate somewhat for my own limited knowledge of the history of the problem since Plato.

Continue reading The Solution to the Problem of Universals

"Kids These Days," And Other Snipes

Billy Beck, the best blogger out there, brought Fred Hiat’s June 9 meditation on the "’Bush Lied’ story line" to my attention. Hiat argues or implies that

  1. The Rockefeller report, which has been taken by the "Bush Lied" partisans as clear-cut vindication of their claims, in fact shows that Bush did not lie, but rather based his pre-war claims on bad intelligence.
  2. "Bush Lied" partisans continue to make their claims apart from all evidence.
  3. There will inevitably be times when the president is called upon to make a judgement call based on imperfect intelligence.
  4. Once the president and his military advisors have judged that military action is necessary, it will be necessary to spin such imperfect intelligence until it appears to unambiguously demand a military response, in order to get the gun-shy American people behind the effort.
  5. The Bush administration may very well have spun the imperfect intelligence too hard in the lead-up to the Iraq war, but the "’Bush Lied’ story line" threatens to undermine the president’s future ability to spin intelligence to the American public.

Beck seems to have found point 2 above to be the most worthy of comment. He links to a commentary on the Hiat piece by a hand-wringing Catholic matron (Elizabeth Scalia) who sees bad omens in the pervasive Gen-Y perspectivism that is intimately familiar and obscenely comfortable with the partisans’ habit of making claims apart from all evidence.

Scalia’s take? Too much egoism in our young, combined with an infotainment diet saturated with satire and irony is leading to the Nazification of the U.S. (She doesn’t make her point quite this explicit.)

Continue reading "Kids These Days," And Other Snipes

The True Nature of Government

Government is force.

What Really Limits Government?

Force limits government. First, government is limited by the force it has at its disposal. A government whose agents are armed only with truncheons is far more limited than a government whose agents are armed with machine guns, tear gas, and the hydrogen bomb. Second, government is limited by the force its subjects have at their disposal. Finally, a government is limited by the force other governments have at their disposal.

A constitution can limit a government no more than blueprints for a dam can limit a flood. A dam must be built of something concrete, and likewise a government must be held back with force of arms.

Continue reading The True Nature of Government

Heaven, Hell, or Hades: What Comes After the Revolution?

This is the fifth entry in my Antistatism Series.

The more I study the Enlightenment, the more astounded I am at the depth and breadth of its contours, and at boldness of its heroes as they sought to shape the West to their new vision. One contour that I think Objectivists admire too distantly was the attempt by the Founding Fathers to engineer a future for themselves and their countrymen by balancing the forces of society and government against each other. The philosophy of statecraft embodied in the U.S. Constitution is one of containment. What is contained? The whim of the mob and the ambition, self-importance, avarice, and, especially, corruption of men-in-government. The ideal the Constitution sought after was perhaps a government of laws and not of men, but the very tripartite structure it established stood testament to reality: all governments are and must be governments of men. Because this is so, the founders thought, a good government must be divided against itself and against the people; it must be made inefficient on purpose, unwieldy on purpose, self-frustrating on purpose. It seems an Objectivist’s constitution would likely repeat this structure, but would it make use of divided government for the same reasons? Does Objectivism agree with the Founding Fathers’ premise that governments-as-such tend toward tyranny?

Continue reading Heaven, Hell, or Hades: What Comes After the Revolution?

Practicability: The Unanswered Question of the Objectivist Politics

This is the fourth entry in my Antistatism Series. Here my argument begins in earnest. We shall see that Ayn Rand tacitly admits that an account of the practicability of government is a necessary component of any political philosophy — and then proceeds to not provide one.

Objectivism has disturbingly little to say about what might happen after the new-and-improved U.S. Constitution is ratified. I believe that the closest approach to these considerations in the main body of Objectivism, and perhaps in all the extant work of Objectivists, is in Ayn Rand’s essay “Government Financing in a Free Society.”* In that essay, Rand takes up the question of how a properly limited government could be paid for without taxation. She admits that it is necessary to account for the practicability, in principle, of voluntary government financing, but demurs that the specifics of a system of finance are beyond the scope of politics, and belong rather to philosophy of law.

Obviously, if it is necessary to account for the practicability of government finance in a free society, it is necessary to account for the practicability of limited government as such. But no argument for the practicability of limited government, other than for the practicability of its finance, is presented anywhere in Objectivism.

Continue reading Practicability: The Unanswered Question of the Objectivist Politics

Closing the Book on the Open Letter

This is the third entry in my Antistatism Series. Before I can make my own case for antistatism, I must pause to redress a famously misaddressed letter on a related subject.

In 1969 Roy Childs began an Open Letter to Ayn Rand with these words:

The purpose of this letter is to convert you to free market anarchism. As far as I can determine, no one has ever pointed out to you in detail the errors in your political philosophy. … Why am I making such an attempt to convert you to a point of view which you have, repeatedly, publicly condemned as a floating abstraction? Because you are wrong. I suggest that your political philosophy cannot be maintained without contradiction, that, in fact, you are advocating the maintenance of an institution — the state — which is a moral evil. To a person of self-esteem, these are reasons enough.

In part, Childs’ Letter, “Objectivism and the State,” was a response to Rand’s article “The Nature of Government,” in which she had called anarchy a “naive floating abstraction.” Childs went on in his Letter to complement Rand’s dismissal:

[L]imited government is a floating abstraction which has never been concretized by anyone … a limited government must either initiate force or cease being a government … the very concept of limited government is an unsuccessful attempt to integrate two mutually contradictory elements: statism and voluntarism. [Emphasis in original.]

Even those admirers of Ayn Rand’s who are wholly unfamiliar with Childs will be unsurprised to learn that his Letter failed utterly to persuade the philosopher it addressed. Could Childs have done better, then? What arguments would have been more persuasive? Why did Childs fail, fundamentally?

Continue reading Closing the Book on the Open Letter