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

"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

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?

More Eggs

I will never forget this. One morning, when I was about seven years old, I sat down with my younger brother and sister to a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. I dug in immediately, preferring my eggs as warm as possible.

“Look!”, came a cry from across the dining room table. It was my brother speaking.

I looked over and saw him mashing at his breakfast with the edge of his fork. My sister, seated next to him, was doing the same. Their faces were alight with glee. They looked up at me expectantly, then returned intently to making a mess on their plates, then looked at me expectantly again. My expression must have shown my incomprehension. What was I supposed to be looking at? Three-year-olds playing with their food? What else was new?

“I’m making More Eggs!”, my brother explained.

I tried to return my attention to eating my breakfast, but, before long, my resolve broke down. I just couldn’t let it be, for some reason. “You’re not making More Eggs, just smaller pieces,” I said, setting down my fork.

Continue reading More Eggs

Premature Identification

One of the things I find most striking about Objectivism is its subtlety. I’m in the minority. The lucidity of Ayn Rand’s writing, I think, tends to fool her admirers nearly as often as it fools her critics. She reduces complex issues to essentials, casts fine lines of distinction in sharp relief, illuminates the obscure, and penetrates the impenetrable. She makes it look easy.

It’s not easy.

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. And an argument, to be refuted, must be comprehended, which means it must be surrounded with understanding. Ayn Rand made dispatching her opponents look easy because, far more often than not, she had them surrounded.

To my dismay, I’ve observed too many who call themselves Objectivists surround their interlocutors’ arguments, not with understanding, but with mere words. This isn’t comprehension; it’s circumlocution.

And in fact, it’s often worse than that. Continue reading Premature Identification

Erratic Thoughts on Daedalus I

Philosophizing is antisocial, perhaps the most perfectly antisocial activity possible, easily beating out murder. Even I will readily admit, however, that man is a social animal. Small wonder, then, that philosophy is most popular among those constitutionally incapable of engaging in it.

Those who philosophize risk alienation, solipsism, exile, poisoning, poverty, passion, horror, ennui, and, perhaps most distressing, knowledge. In fact, philosophers risk more than these. I tend to doubt the credentials of those who show no symptoms of distress, such as those courtly artificers of nonchalance: professional philosophers. (Indeed, the philosopher is not a professional. Professionals are craftsmen — and guildsmen, too.)

Abruptly: what are the consequences for human life if we assume that free will does not exist? Ask this question of the philosophically inclined, and, these days, likely replies are:

  1. There are no meaningful consequences. (Compatibilism)
  2. Human life is meaningless, but that’s easy to forget, so forget about it. (Soft Nihilism)
  3. Human life is utterly devoid of meaning; indeed the most fundamental human experience (consciousness) is an illusion: there is no “human” life. (Hard Nihilism)
  4. Human life is meaningless only if we…. Hey! Isn’t science neat? (Prestidigitational Compatibilism)

Now suppose that free will, in the strong — and only meaningful — sense of ultimate origination does exist. What kind of thinkers are apt to believe the opposite?

Ascendant now among the liberal middlebrow intelligentsia is an unseemly and anti-philosophical worship of science, which has evolved to include odd little cults growing up around certain prominent scientists. Cultist “brights” and self-proclaimed “reality-based” hangers on exhibit a particularly revolting mutation of collectivism. They seem to be trying to construct a scientistic counterculture, apparently in order to serve “progressive” cultural goals by aggressively confronting the dominant cultural alliances. What makes the evolutionary biology fanboys’ machinations so unpleasant is that they’re making the world safer for scientism. Even if they manage to weaken the cultural alliances now leveraged by mystics (itself a good thing), they’ll do it by exchanging one opiate for another.

Philosophers — countercultures of one — fix their sights on something that by its very nature is invisible to most: that-which-is rather than that-which-is-said. Science is, or has become, a public enterprise. Whatever cannot be seen by everyone must not be seen by anyone, insists the scientist. This of course means that the world of science is delimited by and subservient to culture, which circumscribes the common realm of the real. The public character of scientific practice, in other words, necessitates that the object of scientific inquiry is a derivative and domesticated nature, rather than the raw phusis, the Nature, which is the purview of philosophers. This intrinsic shortsightedness of science is obscured by the fact that domesticated nature and unadulterated phusis are largely coextensive. The telltale signs of artifice show through principally at the boundaries of nature-with-a-small-“n”. On the quotidian main, even philosophers live within cultured nature. The breadth of cultured reality pushes Nature to the margins of life, until anyone calling attention to the unseen world beyond culture becomes like a prophet for an unpopular god, stinking to the scientistic nose of locusts and honey.

To the blunted sense of dupe of scientism, philosophers (as I pick them out) are indistinguishable from mystics, because the philosopher and the mystic both claim access to privileged knowledge, to a reality beyond the common one. In reality (though not in the world we live in) philosophers reach the highest peaks of thought, and gain the broadest view. The limits of philosophy are the limits of the intelligible world. And so, if philosophy is brought to heel by science, there will be no perspective available superior to the culturally given. Man will live in a bubble. Philosophy, deprived of the high country, its native soil, will wither and die, to the restrained applause of disintrested, objective, professionally detached self-delusional myopic wankers.

Or philosophy would wither and die, were it possible for it to be brought to heel. Just as the quintessentially scientific mind is constitutionally incapable of directly apprehending Nature, the philosophic mind is constitutionally incapable of giving a damn what the herd’s new idol is whispering. But if this were the end of the story I would be considerably less concerned than I am. There’s something profoundly hateful about the scientistic Weltanschauung. Reeking forth with the blithe and breathless pronouncements of the “reality-based communityTM,” I smell disinfectant and rubbing alcohol, latex and blood, cold sweat and ozone, and stacked bodies burning.

To answer my earlier question: the kind of thinker apt to believe that free will is so insignificant that he’d never notice if his own went missing — is the kind of person incapable of philosophy, yet proud of his intellect and convinced of the efficacy of rational inquiry. If he and his ilk command the heights of culture for too long, I don’t think I would like it very well.