Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Philosophers’

Facets of Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on February 18, 2008

The book Facets of Ayn Rand is now available online for free! Published by the Ayn Rand Institute Press, the book is a personal memoir of Mary Ann and Charles Sures, who were both friends of Ayn Rand for more than 20 years.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction by Leonard Peikoff:

Mary Ann and Charles Sures were longtime personal friends of Ayn Rand—Mary Ann for twenty-eight years, Charles for almost twenty. Their recollec­tions in this delight­ful memoir make vivid­ly real the Ayn Rand they knew so well.

[HT: Medworth]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Philosophical Nonsense

Posted by Jerry on January 15, 2008

If you want to look really crazy, you should go up to a doctor and say, “I understand that if I consume poison, I will die; but I don’t understand why I ought not to have poison just because I choose to live.”

Go tell an architect who is constructing a skyscraper, “just because of the fact that constructing a skyscraper requires steel, concrete, and building materials, it does not mean that you ought to use steel, concrete, and building materials to construct your skyscraper.”

Is it really hard to grasp that values are a species of facts? If the architect has identified the fact that constructing a building requires certain specific methods, tools, and materials, then the architect has to (ought to) obtain, acquire, and use those specific methods, tools, and materials to meet his purpose. The identification of the first factual premise necessitates the identification of the second: if you choose to build, you ought to get your tools and materials ready; both statements have the force and quality of stating a fact about how reality functions–in equal magnitude.

The fact that you are a living entity, determines a series of facts pertinent to your survival: the fact that you are, determines what you ought to do–or how reality factually functions in relation to your existence, i.e., matters of facts. For example, your immune system cannot withstand the fatal effects of poisonous venom; therefore, the fact of the matter is, if you consume it, you will die; or, staying alive requires–by force of fact–that you ought not to consume the venom.

The concept of value applies only to living beings–and in greater pertinence, to rational beings–because goal-directed action toward an ultimate end is only possible to living entities. Thus, values (which are a species of facts applicable to living beings) are inextricably linked to living entities and to the specific facts pertinent to their survival.

It is hard to believe that there’s so much nonsense permitted in philosophy. When you begin to understand ethics as a science–as a subject dealing with very fundamental and clearly bounded facts about human existence and all that makes such existence possible–you begin to realize that you cannot permit any of the  philosophical nonsense that is commonly accepted today, such as consciousness invalidates itself as a tool of awareness, the mind is wholly separate and distinct from the body, values are mystical, non-rational, not factual, and non-objective, etc.

The applied and physical sciences are fully dependent on the philosophical framework it chooses to work within. If philosophy itself is so incoherent, chaotic, irrational, and subjective, then how can it possibly provide a coherent, rational, and logical framework for the applied and physical sciences?

If an engineer cannot permit his crew to be subjective about their notions of numbers, measurements, laws of physics, motion, gravity, the existence of steel, the fragility of glass, the identity and nature of physical elements, then how can he be comfortable with a philosophy that preaches that there is no absolute truth, certainty is impossible to human cognitive tools, the noumenal realm is forever beyond our direct perception, the evidence of the senses is illusory, that a bridge ought not require certain methods of construction, etc.?

As Rand said:

“It is not the special sciences that teach man to think; it is philosophy that lays down the epistemological criteria of all special sciences.”

But if such irrationality passes as philosophical thought today, then Wittgenstein was right in insisting that nothing but nonsense can be said about philosophy and vehemently disparaging philosophers as foolish men entangled in a confused web of their own making.

You know that the state of modern philosophy is not healthy when philosopher Quee Nelson has to present her defense of objective reality under the name “naive realism” in her new book The Slightest Philosophy, because, apparently, it is “naive” in philosophical circles to hold that there is an objective reality and that we have direct perception of it.

Aptly enough, therefore, the voice in defense of naive realism in Nelson’s book is that of a young student engaged in a dialog with a more erudite and sophisticate professor. Here’s an excerpt (taken from John Enright’s article on The Atlasphere), where the sophisticate professor wonders whether we really see apples or only patches of the color red; the student replies:

Student: “I wonder why you don’t switch it the other way around, and say that you can only perceive sense data like colors by means of physical objects? Why does the ‘redness’ get the place of pride, instead of the apple? Why don’t you put things the other way around, and say that ‘redness’ is merely derivative, since it is obtained by a secondary process of intellectual abstraction from the apple, which is epistemologically more primary?”

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

The Common Sense of Thomas Reid

Posted by Jerry on January 3, 2008

About the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, John Enright had this to say in a recent post:

I’ve long been a big fan. I think his criticisms of Hume had real merit. But hardly anyone seems to have read him, so I never get a chance to talk about him with anybody!

Thereafter, in a rather succinct series of rhymes, John hints at the substance of Reid’s philosophy:

“I saw an apple.”
That’s what I said.
Could it have been
A mere patch of red?

It tasted the apple,
I bit through its peel.
Could it be true
That it’s not really real?

I tossed the apple
In the sky.
Doubt its existence?
Please tell me why.

So now I was intrigued and wanted to discover more about the philosophy of Thomas Reid. I doubt that I’ll find any books by or about him in bookstores here; I read up his entry on the SEP and was really impressed with the account of his arguments against Humean and Lockean epistemologies. Reid does a brilliant job of shifting the burden of proof on to the skeptics and the idealists, and in doing so, reveals how incredibly contorted their theories actually are.

Reid was a staunch defender of the common sense method in philosophy; his epistemology can be described as direct realism, i.e., the mind can acquire direct knowledge of the external world via the interaction of the sense organs and external objects, which are the causes of mental acts or events.

Reid’s account of perception caught my interest in particular:

Colors, sounds, tastes and smells are powers to produce certain characteristic sensations in us in normal conditions; to ascribe such a quality to an object is not to perceive any intrinsic qualities of the object, but is, rather, to perceive that the object bears a certain relation to something else: namely, ourselves. So, for instance, say that the skin of the apple in front of me has a certain molecular structure that results in its reflecting light at a certain wavelength which in turn causes in me a certain characteristic visual sensation of red. If I am speaking correctly when I say, “That apple is red”, I am reporting the fact that I conceive of the apple as possessing a particular relational property: I am aware that the apple has the property of being-such-as-to-cause-in-me-sensations-of-red-in-normal-conditions.

The above comes very close to the principle and concept of objectivity in Objectivism:

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic).

Thus, while Kant and others argued that it is impossible to have direct knowledge of the external world precisely because we are conscious of it and since our consciousness has identity, Objectivism turns this challenge on its head: direct knowledge of the external world is possible precisely because our consciousness has an identity and the specific means by which to grasp existence, and that without a consciousness of a specific sort, there can be no concept of objectivity.

Reid illustrates the principle of objectivity with reference to colors by noting that the apple is red objectively precisely because it has in itself the objective properties that cause sensations of redness in the perceiver, who has in himself the properties of responding to such sensations with the awareness of the color red. Objectivity, like all other concepts (including the concept of the absolute) and the rest of human knowledge, is relational.

Posted in Books, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Philosopher Watch 2

Posted by Jerry on December 30, 2007

Philosopher and academic bully Colin McGinn has gotten into yet another public feud with a philosopher (and ex-colleague) over the latter’s book on a theory of consciousness.

In an article published in the Philosophical Review, McGinn wrote a bitter and scathing review of Ted Honderich’s new book.

Apparently, Colin McGinn is no stranger to academic bullying, as he himself admits:

“People have complained about my tone in reviews for the past 30 years,” says McGinn proudly. “I’ve made definite enemies in the past 30 years in important departments.”

But on the blogosphere, professorial authority has little traction, and McGinn comes off looking like just a cheap weasel.

A while ago, I had posted on McGinn’s poor intellectual manners after he had made the preposterous claim of having “dispatched” with the “terrible theory” of ethical egoism and had prodigiously heaped scorn on all who challenged his argument on his blog. At that time, the substance of his responses were slurs, ad hominem attacks, and outlandish charges of ineptness.

Reading about his review of Honderich’s book, I see that very little has changed since.

[HT: Noodlefood]

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Philosophy Today

Posted by Jerry on October 19, 2007

Learn how to write several paragraphs and yet not say a word:

From Philosophy Now

Why Should I be Good?

The term ‘good’ has many uses. We might say: “Kevin is a good footballer”; “This is a good pen”; “It’s a good thing my train arrived on time.” But in none of these cases does ‘good’ have any moral implications. Kevin’s being a good footballer does not in itself make Kevin a good person. Yet when I ask why I should be good, I take this to be equivalent to my asking why I should be a good person. This is a question that underlies moral action.

When I say that Phyllis is a good person, I do not mean that she performs some particular function well. Persons can perform various functions or roles, and can perform these better or worse, but it is not these capacities that we are interested in when we ask whether some person is good. If Phyllis is a good person, this is not because she functions well, but because she acts rightly.

So why should I act rightly? Acting rightly is a matter of doing the right thing. But why should I do the right thing? Some might respond that that’s a silly question, because doing the right thing is simply doing what it is right to do – and if something is the right thing to do, it is simply what one ought to do, and there is no more to be said.

I think there is some sense in this point. To ask why I should act rightly is to invite a tautological response: I should act rightly because that’s the right way to act. And, similarly, I should be good because it is good to be good. This shows that concepts such as ‘goodness’ and ‘rightness’ cannot readily be analysed into more basic constituents.

So I am confident that I should indeed be good, and that this means doing the right thing. But I now need to determine what the right thing to do is. And there, as Shakespeare says, is the rub.

Dr. Mikel Burley, University of Leeds.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Philosopher Watch

Posted by Jerry on September 26, 2007

Philosophers in particular have long been happily secluded in the obscurity of their journals, books, and philosophy departments. Rarely have they had to engage with the popular culture and defend their ideas in public, and rarely do they even bother to do so. Even when philosophers publish books and papers, they are mostly just putting their views out there without being pressed into a dialog with their readers to respond to criticisms.

However, with the revolution that blogging is today, practically any person or opinion can be the target of intense scrutiny, analysis, and investigation, and on a medium that is open to a large number of people. Intellectuals, therefore, now have to be more careful of what they say and how they say it because not only can they suddenly be picked up by some obscure blogger out there, but their views can be traced, archived, summoned repeatedly, linked, and distributed.

With the ability to search for keywords and activate keyword alerts, practically every area of knowledge and content on the internet is at the disposal of anyone interested. So, for example, if you’re a philosopher like Colin McGinn, you have much to worry about what you publish on your blog and how/who you engage in a dialog with.

Recently, Colin McGinn presided over what may be the lengthiest comment thread on his blog, on a post about ethical egoism. He began the discussion by claiming to have swiftly “dispatched” with the egoistic moral theory; when several of his commentors highlighted the logical flaws of his arguments, he proceed to label them with ad hominem smears, insult their intelligence, dismiss their criticisms as irrelevant, delete their comments, and even send private e-mails to at least one commentor with immature insults.

Flibbert was that particular target of McGinn’s private cheapshots. In several and persistant e-mails to Flibbert, McGinn comes off looking like a teenage bully in a schoolyard. Now, remember that Colin McGinn is apparently a well-known philosopher in his academic circles. But on the blogosphere, the man is a cheap weasel. Here is a sample of the e-mail exchanges Flibbert had with Professor Colin McGinn, which Flibbert posted on his blog:

McGinn: “What a pompous fool you are.”

Flibbert: “More name-calling? Really? Seriously, professor, I’m not sure which is in worse shape: your manners, your logic, or your integrity.”

McGinn: “There are a lot of fools in the world. The internet has given them a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have. You are a particularly egregious example of the type. I am simply stating the facts.”

Flibbert: “The same could be said of intellectual cowards and their university posts particularly in the case of philosophy departments.

Has it occurred to you that you’re engaging a complete stranger — one you’ve deemed to be obnoxious junk and a pompous fool — with petty insults? You seem to do so without any sense of irony about it. Compounding the irony is the fact that you are again hiding your shameful behavior from others. If your conclusion is so factual, why didn’t you just post an additional comment to your blog calling me a pompous fool?

I’ve told you why I think you’re a shameful and dishonest, not to mention condescending and rude, but as usual you haven’t provided any citations or examples to support your conclusions. No, you’ve simply ejaculated your opinion into this medium and expected others to slaver over it. To use another’s phrase, it’s a bukkake of stupid with you.

You disgust me.”

Professor McGinn continued to delete comments and insult Flibbert in private e-mails. Flibbert, on his part, decided that McGinn’s behavior did not warrant any decent and restrained responses from him any longer (with which I agree); Flibbert responded to him likewise.

After more than 100 comments were written by various commentors, McGinn finally chooses to reveal that he had never even read anything about the kind of ethical egoism Ayn Rand had formulated and which his detractors were pointing out to him. He said that he had never intended to address the ethical egoism of Ayn Rand but was attacking the egoism of Thomas Hobbes and Glaucon in Plato’s Republic.

This admission gives a clear indication of McGinn’s intellectual dishonesty because any honest interlocutor would have explicitly defined the target of his criticism by stating early on who’s theories were under scrutiny. Notably, in contrast, he did indeed define his exact usage of “altruism”–which he was defending–very early on in the comments.

Early commentors politely suggested that he tackle the Objectivist theory of ethical egoism because it was the strongest case ever devised–because it was also true. Instead of coming in right at that moment and admitting that Objectivist egoism was not his proper target because he was not yet properly familiar with it, McGinn chose to insult his commentors as “cultists”, and presided over a comment thread that introduced a whole host of wildly bizarre hypotheticals and contorted theories to distort ethical egoism and paint Objectivists as intellectually inept cultists.

I think McGinn has learned a very stinging lesson from the blogosphere: if you choose to put your intellectual opinions on the internet–even on a blog, you better consider what you say and how you conduct yourself–intellectual dishonesty will particularly be called out and receive scathing attacks. There are potentially a large number of eyes reading every word on the blogs. This cautionary principle applies particularly to professional intellectuals and philosophers because they bear the greater responsibility of being careful with what they say: indeed, they are in the profession of shaping minds!

And with the Internet the way it is today, they can no more hide behind the dusty covers of philosophical tomes, closed academic circles of acolytes, and misty deparmental offices. On the blogosphere, professional authority has little traction.

Posted in General Work/Life, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

 
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